21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have to inform the House that Raymond Edward Fitzpatrick and Frank Courtney Browne were released from custody on Saturday, the 10th September, pursuant to the resolution of the House of the 10th June.
– Can the Prime Minister say whether, following upon a recent statement by him and subsequent discussion, any decision has yet been reached with regard to the proposal which he originally made for the appointment of a joint committee on certain possible proposed constitutional changes ?
-Iowetheright honorable gentleman an apology in connexion with this matter. Following our oral exchanges, I should have sent him a memorandum in writing before now. Unfortunately, other matters occupied my attention. However, I shall do so within the next few days.
– I preface a ques tion to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture by stating that in the London market for butter and cheese uncertainty and hesitancy have now ended, and prices have increased by 3s. per cwt. for butter and 13s. per cwt. for cheese. There has been a dry season in the Northern Hemisphere and, together with the approach of winter, conditions ought to be favorable to the marketing of Australian products, at least until next Christmas. I now ask the Minister whether these facts, together with sustained consumption of butter and cheese in Australia, answer two im portant questions in his earlier statements. Can he say whether, even if the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Equalization Committee Limited wished to improve prices to farmers, it has funds for the purpose; and whether there is any way to guarantee temporary credit to the committee, so that the market buoyancy can be reflected in slightly improved prices to farmers for the first six months ?
– I think that the points made by the honorable gentleman can be taken as indicators, rather than as certain assurances, in respect of the concluding portion of his questions. The only butter and cheese for sale in the United Kingdom at the present is, obviously, not butter and cheese of this season’s production, but produce which is owned by the British Ministry of Food. So any price increases at the moment are not reflected in the return to Australian producers. On the other hand, there has been a firming of the market. That is heartening, and we hope that it will be permanent. At the same time, there are indications that the consumption of butter and cheese in Australia is being sustained at a satisfactory level, but there is a normal stocking up by merchants whenever some intending price increase is in prospect. That has probably occurred. The actual trend in Australian consumption cannot be judged with complete confidence for another month or two. So I would say that this indicates a heartening prospect, rather than a basis upon which some change in the returns by the equalization committee to the producers could be decided at this moment.
– In view of the undertaking that has been given to the House by the Prime Minister that he will table the report of the “War Expenditure Committee, will the right honorable gentleman state whether he intends to table the report this week, or whether there is any change in his intentions?
– At the conclusion of questions, I shall make a statement on this matter.
– Will the Minister for
Commerce and Agriculture inform the House of the position regarding the No. 17 wheat pool? Will the Minister consider making a final payment in respect of this pool at the earliest possible opportunity so as to help the small wheat farmer who is looking for some money at the moment to enable him to finance the harvesting of this season’s crop?
– In respect of the No. 17 wheat pool, which relates to the 1953-54 harvest, a first advance of 10s. a bushel bulk basis, and 10s. 4d. a bushel bag basis, has been made. Sales have been slow, as every one knows, and payments subsequent to the first payment are made by the Australian Wheat Board on its own judgment and discretion after it has received from the proceeds of sales enough money to discharge the overdraft incurred by the first advance. Within a week or two a second advance will be made of1s. a bushel for bulk wheat and 1s. 2d. a bushel for bagged wheat. I gather that there is every prospect of further sales permitting a later substantial and final payment in respect of this pool being made at about the end of this calendar year.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Supply whether it is correct that a decision was made recently to continue using standard grade petrol in government cars because scientific reports clearly showed that it was more economic to use this grade of petrol in preference to the higher priced, supergrade petrols. If this is so, will the Minister make available the reports concerning this petrol so that motorists will not be misled by what could be the false claims of petrol companies which have succeeded in obtaining higher prices for their products than those previously allowed by prices commissioners ?
– It is true that, with respect to cars under the control of my department, a decision along the lines indicated by the honorable member has been made. The reason for that decision was that we have varying kinds of cars: some are late models and others are of older vintage. It was decided, after great care and close examination, that it would be better and more economical, in the long run, to use the ordinary grade of petrol. I do not think that the report to which the honorable member has referred would have any bearing on the subject that he has raised because the reason for the decision that was made arose out of the particular circumstances obtaining in my department.
– I ask the Minister for Air whether arrangements have been made for the Royal Australian Air Force to procure a number of Lockheed Hercules turbine propeller transport aircraft. If so, will the Minister inform the House of the special features of this type of aircraft which would make it suitable for use by the Royal Australian Air Force?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is “ No “. The Royal Australian Air Force has not placed any orders for Lockheed 130’s. This is a very good aeroplane of the transport type, having pressurized cabin and turbo-propellers, but no order has been lodged for them.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to the anomaly that exists in the operation of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act under which a tax of 7d. is levied on every gallon of petrol sold whilst the fuel consumed in vehicles with diesel engines is not taxed at all? In view of the fact that vehicles with diesel engines are increasing in number and size, and are causing considerable damage to the roads in Australia, will the Government consider bringing them under the provisions of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act for the purpose of assisting the States in their road and development problems?
– I understand that the honorable member for Batman is suggesting that some additional tax be paid on diesel oil.
– There is no tax on it at all now.
– Then any tax would be additional. I shall have a look at that suggestion. Thank you very much.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture been directed to a statement made by a gentleman who occupies the position of chairman of directors of the Port Curtis Dairy Co-operative Association, who is also a member of the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Equalization Committee Limited, and who has advised dairy farmers that they should not expect any more than 3s. 5½d. per lb. for their butter, even at the end of the season, and that if some final payment should be determined, there will not be any money available to meet it anyhow? The same gentleman stated that the consumption of butter in Australia had fallen to the alarming extent of 20 to 25 per cent. As that gentleman spoke in his official capacity as a member of the Dairy Produce Equalization Committee, should his statements be regarded as the considered opinion of the committee or are they rubbish?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member has referred, but I have been told about it. The gentleman referred to is not a member of the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Equalization Committee Limited. Therefore, anything he says is not uttered with the authority of that committee. He is a member of a Queensland State committee. As to the trend in Australian consumption, the Department of Commerce and Agriculture has been told by the Dairy Produce Equalization Committee only within the past day that the figures for butter consumption in August are not yet available. Therefore, the committee itself cannot speak with authority on that matter. As I have stated in reply to previous questions, it was common knowledge that there was likely to be an increase of price, and that always results in some stocking up by merchants. The actual sales for consumption by butter factories in the first month of the year following the development of that situation are not a true indication of the general trend of consumption. I say confidently and with certainty that any statement that Australian consumption of butter has fallen by 20 per cent. is utter nonsense. Nobody could claim with any truth that that had happened. There is every indication at present that consumption will be maintained about the customary level, and I am confident of that result. The greatest single factor that could contribute to the ultimate returns per pound of butter being lower to dairy farmers than the present estimate would be a very large volume of production resulting from an exceptionallylush year. That would result in a quantity of butter greater than the present estimate being sold on the low export market. Frankly, that could reduce the return per pound slightly below the present optimistic estimates, but, by the same token, the dairy farmers would have more in their bank balances. That should be clearly understood by self-appointed leaders who are trying to stir up trouble in the dairying industry. They should have the decency to point out these facts to the working dairymen.
– Can the Minis ter for the Interior say what progress has been made, or what result has been achieved, by an inquiry that he initiated into the production, distribution and sale of milk in the Australian Capital Territory?
– I understand that the report will be presented to me within the next week or two. There have been some unforeseen delays, but I have been informed officially that the report will be presented very shortly. I think it was intended to imply that it would be presented either this week or next week.
– Is the right honorable the Minister for Health satisfied with the operation of his free milk scheme for school children? There have been many complaints of waste, not only in schools in my own electorate, but also in other rural districts of Australia. In view of the fact that many children are not drinking the milk that is given to them at school, will the Minister consider introducing amending legislation to enable both fruit juices and raisins to be substituted for milk during the summer months? As a doctor, the right honorable gentleman well knows the highly nutritive qualities of raisins ; as a Minister, he is also aware of the present economic difficulties of the dried fruits industry, which would be somewhat alleviated by assistance of this kind. May I say finally, speaking from my own experience as a family man, that children find raisins much more alluring even than chocolates?
– In reply to the last remark of the honorable gentleman, I think he would find that a child who was brought up on milk would be much more likely to live than would one who was brought up on fruit juices or raisins. I have watched the growth of the free milk scheme throughout Australia very carefully, and I think it is working very satisfactorily indeed. I have taken many opportunities of visiting schools when the milk has been distributed, and I have noted that, where the teacher has been really interested in his job, there has been no waste. In fact, the teachers build up a sense of discipline and moral confidence in the youngsters when handing out the milk, which is a very good thing for the school as a whole. All the teachers concerned have told me that. I should say that, where there is waste, it is due largely to the lack of interest by either the parents ot the community. It has been stated that youngsters are allergic to milk, but one factory manager has said, “ We will put in various flavours “. I think he has used twelve flavours altogether, including strawberry, and, if a child happens to be away from school, the other children fight for the remaining bottle. I do not think that the suggestion about children being allergic to milk has any substance in it. The State governments have evinced a very great interest in this matter, and where fresh milk has not been available, they have taken advantage of the permission that has been given by this Government to prepare milk from milk powder, or other substances, mixed with water. South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales are doing a very good job in this respect.
– Will the Prime Minister give favorable consideration to requests for financial assistance for the maintenance and development of our beaches, and grant a subsidy towards beach maintenance similar to those made for the construction of aerodromes and other national assets? As our beaches are of untold benefit to our people and a great attraction to overseas tourists, ] ask the Prime Minister to consider assisting in their maintenance and development. At present, it is almost beyond the financial resources of local authorities to continue doing this work without assistance
– I admit that I am a little shocked by this question. 1 understood that during the course of a year millions of people resort to these beaches and enjoy their benefits. I would have thought that under those circumstances those people might have done something about the matter themselves. If everybody is to come to the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and ask it to do such things as cleaning up Bondi beach, it will be the end of federalism.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation to indicate when construction will begin on the main aerodrome buildings at the Llanherne airport near Hobart. Can he say when the work will be completed, and when commercial flying on a regular scale will begin at Llanherne airport?
– I am aware of the keen interest that the honorable member has taken for some years past in the Llanherne airport. I also remember the occasions when he has interviewed me about it. The airstrips have been completed and the underground reticulation system is also complete. We have just let a contract for the construction of the tower, but the difficulty of letting contracts is one of the limiting factors in this work. A number of works on this year’s estimates has been approved. I believe that the work will continue progressively, and that some time this summer it should be possible to conduct limited operations at the airport. Full night-flying facilities may not be available, but limited operations will be possible. Perhaps in a year’s time the airport will be in full use.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of any offer that has been made, or which is being made, for the purchase of Trans-Australia Airlines, or for its amalgamation with any other airline ? If any offer has been made will he inform the House of its nature, including the amount and terms of the offer? Has the resignation of a former vice-chairman of the board of directors, said to have been tendered some little time ago, been accepted, and did this offer to resign have anything to do with proposals to sell, purchase or amalgamate with any other airline ? If offers have been made, either tentative or definite, can the right honorable gentleman say whether consideration will be given to such offers? If so, will he, before a decision is arrived at to sell an important part of the people’s assets, appoint a committee of this House consisting of representatives of the Government and Opposition clothed with power ro investigate fully the sources and conditions of all offers? I suggest that such a committee should report the result of its investigations to the Parliament so that it may be properly informed before any decision is made.
– I am not aware of any such offer being made.
– My question to the Prime Minister is supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Phillip. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that during the recent floods at Deniliquin, New South Wales, when the rivers rose to unprecedented heights, there was a most amazing community effort by people from the town and district, and surrounding towns and districts, when they threw up major levee banks 12 feet high for a distance of + miles in five days, and thus saved the municipality from a catastrophic disaster? Since an achievement of that kind merits the recognition of this National Parliament, will the Prime Minister express the appreciation of the Government to the mayor of Deniliquin and the presidents of the adjacent shires for the quality of the patriotism demonstrated in this heroic way by so many people?
– This does not surprise me at all. Only an electorate like that, so full of spirit and independence, could have returned so spirited and independent a member of Parliament.
– As the imputations of corruption that are made in this House and elsewhere against men holding public positions are damaging to our democratic institutions, will the Prime Minister, as I requested him some years ago, introduce a measure to make the incomes of public representatives subject to audit and report by the Auditor-General? Alternatively, will he instruct the Commissioner of Taxation to publish annually the incomes and sources of income of all members of the Commonwealth Parliament, and by this means help to protect the reputations of public representatives from the attacks of unscrupulous slanderers ?
– Any attack that is made on the character of an honorable member, without foundation and without proof, is to be deplored.
– Hear, hear! In this House, or outside of it.
– I quite agree, though I have known it to be done.
– Only last week.
– I have known it to be done well before then.
– The Prime Minister has done a bit of it, too.
– I have been at the receiving end when the honorable member for East Sydney has been in operation. However, I do hope that the honorable member for Burke will not pursue this idea that we should all have our financial position audited, certified and published.
– I shall make an exception of the Prime Minister.
– I should be very glad if the honorable gentleman would do so, because for some years now I have enjoyed the benefit of a slight overdraft and I would not like to lose it.
– Is the Minister for the Interior able to confirm a report that maps of the new electoral divisions in Victoria have been printed and will be available for distribution this week? Will the Minister also advise whether the distribution of six copies of these maps for members of Parliament is specifically intended for those representatives whose divisions have not been changed in name? Is the Minister aware that present sitting members whose divisions have been abolished or amalgamated into newly named electorates are not to receive the six copies provided for other members? If this is correct, will the Minister investigate the matter with a view to ensuring that all sitting members, includ- ing those whose electorates have been amalgamated, redistributed, or, more importantly, re-named, receive six copies of the maps of the new divisions?
– I quite agree with the honorable member that all members of this House are entitled to the six copies, and I shall see that they receive them. I do not know whether the honorable gentleman is quite accurate in saying that the copies are to be distributed this week, but I shall ascertain the facts, and I shall see that his wishes are carried out in accordance with the principles of the distribution.
– Earlier in the present sittings, I asked the Prime Minister when I could expect a reply to question No. 2 appearing in my name on the noticepaper, which has been there since the 1st June last. The Prime Minister indicated, at that time, that a reply was about to be furnished, but I have not yet received it, and I ask the right honorable gentleman whether he can now tell me when that question will be answered.
– I confidently anticipate that the question will be answered before the end of this sitting week.
– On the 6th September, the Leader of the Opposition asked whether there was any substance in press reports of increased Japanese armaments, following on the visit of the Japanese Foreign Minister to the United States of America. Since the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in 1950, the Japanese Government gradually has been building up defence forces to take over responsibility for the defence of Japan from the United States forces stationed in Japan under the United States-Japanese Security Treaty. The development of the Japanese defence forces has been very slow. The present strength of Japanese defence forces is approximately as follows : - Army, 139,600 men; Navy, 16,400 men- four destroyers, eighteen frigates and smaller vessels; and Air Force, 6,700 men - 145 aircraft, mostly trainers. On the 10th August, 1955, the Japanese Government announced that a defence programme had been drawn up for expansion of the three defence forces over the next five years. Under this programme, the strength of the three forces in 1960 would be as follows: - Army, 180,000 men; Navy, 33,000 men - twenty destroyers, sis destroyer escorts, eighteen frigates, two submarines and minor vessels; and Air Force, 3S,000 men- 1,284 aircraft.
This five-year defence programme served as a basis for discussions in Washington between Mr. Shigemitsu and Mr. Dulles on when Japan would be able to undertake fully its own defence and so permit the complete withdrawal of the United States troops from Japan. Previous statements to this House by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), have clearly indicated that the Australian Government considers it reasonable that the Japanese should bear the main responsibility for the defence of their own country and that they should not expect to be protected indefinitely by the United States forces. At the same time, we believe that the armed forces of Japan should be for defence only and should not be of a size or type which could be used for aggressive purposes. We have no misgivings over the developments proposed so far.
– Can the Minister for the Army inform me whether it is the duty of officers of the Permanent Army to be present when national service trainees are carrying out combat training manoeuvres? Is live ammunition used on those occasions? If not, is the Minister aware that on the 21st July a national service trainee at Ingleburn was seriously wounded, having been shot in the upper right arm? Is the Minister aware that after five weeks in hospital, the trainee was sent home on leave with his arm in plaster and without any arrangement having been made for further medical or massage treatment? Does the Minister know that for the past seven weeks, no pay has been received by the trainee and that he has had to pay for his medical and massage treatment? If the Minister is desirous of keeping enlistments for the Permanent Army at a high level, will he call for a report to ascertain whether negligence has occurred in this instance, and why wages and medical treatment for this lad have been so neglected by the Army authorities?
– If the honorable member will privately give me the name of the national service trainee to whom he refers, I shall have the case investigated immediately. I will investigate it myself. This Government has seen fit to provide for continuous payments to any national service trainee, or any service man, who meets with an accident in the course of training. If a national service trainee does meet with an accident in the course of training, the pay and allowances that he receives as a national service trainee are continued for one month after the accident has taken place in order to grant ample time for the delegate of the commissioner for Commonwealth employees compensation to investigate the claim and to continue such payment as it thinks fit until the decision on the claim has been finalized. In this case, the lad should not have been without payment for one moment. I will see that the matter is rectified immediately.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy whether he can give any information to the House about the visit of H.M.A.S. Warrego to waters in the Gulf of Carpentaria on what was reported to be an investigation or search for a possible port in the north of Australia for beef exports.
– I have not yet had a report of the results of investigations which have taken place. When I receive such a report I shall inform the honorable member.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the House whether it is a fact that the price of tea is likely to rise by approximately1s. per lb? If this is so, hearing in mind the hardship that will be caused to pensioners, basic wageearners and others on fixed incomes will the Prime Minister consider reintroducing the subsidy on tea in order to keep down the cost of living?
– I shall see that the question is placed before the Minister, and that the honorable member receives a reply.
– I ask the Prime Minister, as head of the Australian Government, whether he will make a statement on the future of the coal-mining industry in New South Wales. Is the Prime Minister in a position to deny statements that a number of mines are to close, with consequent mass dismissal of mine workers? If the Prime Minister is not in a position to deny the disturbing statements which have caused grave unrest in the mining industry, will he immediately cause a searching investigation to be made? Will he assure those vitally concerned that there will be no dismissals, and that prompt and proper action will be taken to stabilize the industry?
– This matter is within the jurisdiction of the Minister for National Development, as far as it is within the jurisdiction of any Commonwealth Minister. I shall direct the Minister’s attention to the question.
– It is one of very great urgency.
– I am sure it is. There are plenty of others, too. I shall convey the honorable member’s question, with all urgency, to my colleague, andI am sure that, with equal urgency, he will provide us with an answer.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. In view of the fact that in the United States of
America the Secretary for the Treasury is obliged by law to publish a return annually of individual incomes which exceed a certain amount, giving the name of each person involved, his taxable income and the amount of tax paid, will the Prime Minister provide by law for the adoption of a similar practice in this country, so that the people may know just who are the lucky ones who benefit from this period of unexampled prosperity of which the Prime Minister speaks, as compared with the Prime Minister and myself, and perhaps other honorable members, who manage from month to month on an overdraft ?
– I venture to say, in all friendliness, that this is a deplorable suggestion. I do not at all agree with the American practice of publishing the names and incomes of income-earners. No doubt it gives great satisfaction to a few people, but it is an occasion of envy, malice, hatred and uncharitableness in others. I am very much more concerned to see that, whatever the income is, the earner of it pays his appropriate tax under the law of this country. As a matter of fact, when he evades the payment of tax he does get his name in the Commonwealth Gazette.
– Is the Minister for Territories aware that large areas of the coastal waters of Papua and New Guinea are uncharted, and that very few inshore coastal channels have been marked for navigation? Does the Minister agree that nothing could so quickly advance the development of our Territories as the encouragement of coastal shipping by providing known safe channels round the coast? Will he cause an investigation to be made as to the need for the charting of these waters, the cost of providing marked channels to all settled parts of the coast, and how soon this work could be carried out?
– The honorable member for Evans mentioned this subject to me some time ago and I have pleasure in being able to inform him and the House that only this week I received from the Public Service Commissioner of the Territory a proposal based on suggestions put forward by the Marine Superinten dent of the Territory for the creation of a hydrographic division in the Public Service of Papua and New Guinea. I approved of that recommendation and steps will now be taken to create a hydrographic division. For the honorable member’s information, knowing his deep interest in this subject, I may say that the proposal for creating these positions was accompanied by a plan of work showing, in stages of urgency, the various lanes of sea traffic that must be charted.
– In view of statements, many of them from authoritative technical sources, and the growing feeling of motor users that there is little or no difference between the different brands of petrol, and that the so-called super brand is simply being marketed as a means of obtaining a higher price for petrol, will the Minister for Supply, with the facilities at the disposal of his department, immediately institute a test of the various brands of petrol in order to assure motor users that they are not being exploited by the oil companies and that the claim being made for the higher price for super petrol is warranted?
– I shall give consideration to the honorable gentleman’s suggestion, but I point out again that what was done in this matter was a result of problems peculiar to my department. We have many types of cars and difficulties of distribution throughout Australia and to maintain uniformity we introduced this system of using one brand of petrol. It does not necessarily follow that the advertised brands of super petrol are not super. On the other hand, it does not follow that they are.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. Honorable members are aware that during the war years post office clocks in most cities and most large towns were removed because it was considered that they would be a danger in the event of air raids. Is it the intention of the Postal Department to restore or re-erect those post office clocks, or is it intended that those conveniences, which were public land marks, shall remain out for all time?
– I think that post office clocks and clock towers add to the architectural adornment of a city or a town, and the department is anxious to restore them where it can. The problem is one of priorities. The demand for telephones and facilities of a utilitarian character is so urgent that priority has to be given, in the finance available to the department, to those projects. However, I am hopeful that in the course of time it will be possible to restore those clocks and towers.
-WillthePrime Minister, as a matter of national importance, consider the possibility of initiating an investigation into recent safety developments as applied to the interior and exterior of motor vehicles? I refer to the recent experiments in the fitting of safety belts and the provision of padded facia boards and head boards in motor ears. In view of the favorable results that have been obtained in the use of these devices not only in the United States of America but also in the recent reliability trial in this country, will he see whether action can be taken in this matter for the benefit of the general public.
– I will discuss this matter with my appropriate colleague, but I am rather at a loss to understand how it becomes a federal matter.
– They are Australian lives.
– Everything in Australia is Australian - lives, health, housing and well-being - but this happens to be a federal, not a unitary country, and the position will become more and more difficult if honorable members continue to take what are obviously State matters and place them at the door of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth does not have all power, and while it has not all power I see no reason why it should have all responsibility.
– Can the Minister for the Interior say by whose authority the Federal Members’ Rooms in the various States have been re-christened “ Common wealth Parliament Offices”? Will he also say, in view of the fact that members of Parliament are not, strictly speaking, officers of Parliament, why this has been done?
– To be quite honest, though I am the responsible Minister and the change must have been made by the Department of the Interior, I do not know why it was done. I will make inquiries and ascertain who made the request, and why the change was made.
– There is a matter in whichI am particularly interested. I would be pleased if the Prime Minister would be so good as to inform me now, or privately later to-day, of the date of the next election for the House of Representatives
– I will be delighted to inform my friend of the date at the earliest possible moment, but I cannot positively promise that I will be able to tell him this afternoon.
– I note that the Prime Minister has agreed to increase the limit of its present grant in respect of the comprehensive water supply scheme for Western Australia from £2,150,000 to £4,000,000. However, for this financial year the Commonwealth will continue to make payments on a £l-for-£l basis within the limits of its existing commitment and the additional funds are to be provided from 1956-57 onwards. To enable the Western Australian Government to do more to assist the comprehensive water supply scheme during the current year, will the Prime Minister consider increasing the Commonwealth’s contribution on a £l-for-£l basis for the year 1955-56?
– The Commonwealth Government has already informed the Premier of Western Australia of what it is prepared to do. This represents a handsome addition to the obligation that it accepted previously. I can hold out no hope that, in the financial year 1955-56, this substantially increased amount will be added.
– by leave - Last week I told the House, in consequence of a certain debate that occurred, that I proposed to table to-day a report made in 1944 by the all-party committee which examined war expenditure during the war years. Towards last week-end, I received a communication from the solicitors for Raymond Fitzpatrick directing my attention to the fact that the War Expenditure Committee had not heard Fitzpatrick in the course of its investigations, had received no evidence from him, and had heard no submission by him or on his behalf. I am not at all SUre that I myself am not to blame for having failed to observe, or infer that fact from the report itself. However, it seemed to me to be a very serious item to be taken into account and I, therefore, caused investigations to be made into the record of the committee’s proceedings. I found that Raymond Fitzpatrick, the person most affected by the contents of the document, had not in fact been heard either himself or through counsel and had had no opportunity of giving evidence or of questioning the evidence of other people. That caused me to re-examine the position, and I came to the conclusion, which I want to state quite simply to the House, that in the light of those facts - and they are facts, because investigation supports them - it becomes clear that the parliamentary committee, which was an all-party committee, was not intending to make a definitive finding of facts, as if it were sitting in judgment, but was determining -whether there was some prima facie case that required investigation, and in that sense its report was made. I had not previously appreciated that aspect of it. The committee made its report. It was mot a report of positive findings. It recommended that there should be further investigation and that the Crown Law authorities .should go into this matter to .find out whether further proceedings might properly be taken. The result was that the report, which, as it now appears, -was not in any sense a -series of findings but represented investigation up to a point, went to the then Prime Minister ‘aird from him to the
Crown Law authorities. Thereafter, further investigations were made by the Commonwealth Investigation Branch. The Crown Law authorities invited counsel of standing from outside to advise whether any criminal prosecution would lie. Counsel advised that it would not. Then civil proceedings were begun against three defendants. Those proceedings went on in the interlocutory stages, as the lawyers say, from about the end of 1944 onwards. Two of the defendants demurred in the High Court on the ground that no case had been made against them that merited investigation. I am putting it in lay terms-
– Portion of it did not.
– In one case the demurrer completely succeeded, and in tb’ other, it succeeded subject to a right in plaintiff to re-plead. In the upshot, one defendant was left. That was Raymond Fitzpatrick, and in February, 1950, on the advice of counsel who had been in charge of these proceedings for some years, the Crown Law authorities accepted the view that the case - this civil action - was not at all likely to succeed. In consequence, it was settled and struck out.
That, in brief, is the position. I have given this matter very earnest thought. I have no feeling of reluctance at all about changing my mind on the production of a document of this kind if I have been satisfied in the meantime that its production would be improper, and I am so satisfied. I think that it would be all wrong, having regard to the history of events, to produce what now turns out to be not a judicial or quasijudicial finding, but merely a report given on prima facie .elements, unchallenged by Fitzpatrick and without the benefit of evidence by him.”
– Did the right honorable gentleman not know that when he read the report?
– I did not know.
– But the Prime Minister read the report - of course he did.
– Perhaps the ‘honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) might say that I am lying now. If the honorable member would come out of his panic and anguish sufficiently to be calm on this matter, he would realize that the simplest thing in the world for me to do would be to be dogmatic and say, “ I said that I would produce it and I will, and the devil take the consequences, because they will not effect me “. I wish the honorable member would pull himself together and understand that I happen to believe in the principles of justice. I do not believe - my attention having been directed to this by the solicitors for Fitzpatrick, and my own investigation having confirmed it - that it would be proper-
– But you understand-
– I did not understand this at all, but I received a letter which I read, and I paid so much attention to it that I sent for the original documents containing the records of the committee and satisfied myself it was right. . Having satisfied myself it was right - and it was much more important for me to satisfy myself than to satisfy East Sydney - I now tell the House plainly that I am not prepared to table the document, which turns out to be not a document of judgment, but in the circumstances quite naturally a document of allegation calling for further investigation. After an interval of eleven years it would be quite unjust to table it, and I do not propose to do so.
– by leave - During the week-end I also received, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) did, a communication from Fitzpatrick, and I also had the opportunity of perusing the report of the committee. What the Prime Minister says about it is correct. The War Expenditure Committee not only did not hear Mr. Fitzpatrick, but refused an application that he should be heard. That refusal was clearly on the ground that the committee was dealing with the matter only provisionally and did not intend to make a definitive finding. It actually recommended to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, that the Crown Law department should make a full investigation of the subject-matter. The committee felt that there should be an examination to ascertain whether criminal proceedings should be instituted against Mr. Fitzpatrick. It is only right to repeat what I said last week, that after that reference, it was recommended by the counsel concerned, in a very long report - and they were assisted by officers of the Crown Law office, Commonwealth Investigation Service - giving reasons for their decision, that no criminal proceedings could properly be brought against Fitzpatrick. It is not so much a case of a differing view from that of the War Expenditure Committee which refrained from expressing a final and definitive view. The matter was determined bv a careful legal examination, as I have mentioned.
Without discussing the technical, legal implications, let me point out that as a result of that report, civil proceedings were started, and as I told the House the other day I take full responsibility for that. It was thought - and I held the view strongly - that the Commonwealth revenues should be protected wherever possible, and consequently, civil actions were brought. A case was brought against Fitzpatrick. He was the subcontractor to a man who was a subcontractor to the main contractor to the Commonwealth. The purpose of the action was to determine whether the under-deliveries - if . there were underdeliveries - were recoverable. Delay occurred in the proceedings, but in the circumstances it was quite clear how that happened. Two of the parties took legal objection to the actions under a procedure known as demurrer. I assure the House, from my inquiries, that every effort was made by the Crown Law department, and by all those who were acting in ministerial posts during those years, to bring the matter forward.
– It might remove any cause for argument if I remind the right honorable gentleman that I made the files on this matter available to him at the week-end.
– That is so. I asked the Prime Minister for these files, and a perusal of them revived my recollection of the matter and it confirms the general view I stated last week. When we examine the matter and find that during that period of five years there were something like 30,000 matters of litigation in the department, no blame whatever can be attached to the department or the Crown Law office or any person concerned with it.
I could not say less than that, but I felt that I should say it.
– by leave - The attitude of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) constitutes one of the most amazing somersaults that has been witnessed in this House for many years. Whatever material was available to the Prime Minister on which to base his statement to the House to-day, was available to him before he made his statement last week, and promised to lay the report of the committee on the table of the House. ‘ Far from the right honorable gentleman’s statement solving or settling the Bankstown affair - or the Bankstown alleged scandal or whatever it may be called - the somersault of the Prime Minister will leave an even greater question mark in the minds of the general public concerning this matter than previously existed. When this subject was debated in this House in 1946, and the right honorable gentleman was Leader of the Opposition, he had this to say -
We have everything to gain, as an institution, by the most far reaching and searching examination of this most remarkable set of charges. All of these charges may be true. They may be false. They may have some truth and some falsehood in them. We do not know. But we are entitled to ask, and I press it upon the Prime Minister- the then Prime Minister was the late Right Honorable J. B.Chifley- that an investigation of them should be made. We do not take sides in this matter.
That was the attitude adopted by the right honorable gentleman in this House last week when the urgency motion was moved. His speech in 1946 continued -
All of us in this House who are affected, and who know the honorable members concerned, will sincerely hope that all of these charges are untrue. But it is quite certain that they cannot go uninvestigated; because, if charges of this specific kind become unchallenged commonplaces of parliamentary debate, than the parliament itself will have taken a very big step in the direction of destroying its own quality and its own authority.
I can find no better words to express my sentiments than those of the right honorable gentleman on that occasion when he moved, as a matter of urgency, that the Government should take action to investigate certain charges, including some similar to those that were made during the debate last week on the proposal to table the report of the War Expenditure Committee. I suggest to the House and to the Prime Minister that this is not now a matter of anonymous charges, unknown to the public or made in a secret, confidential report to the Prime Minister. As I pointed out last week, these charges have been headlined in recent weeks in almost every metropolitan daily newspaper in Australia. They have been made in this Parliament, also. The Prime Minister can no longer say that the Parliament is not entitled to make public certain matters which may affect the character of individuals, because there is available the report of a committee, which has been sent to the Prime Minister for the purpose of deciding what action should be taken. Honorable members are not considering that matter now. They are asked to consider, among other things, what should be done with the report, and they are expected to consider also the statements made in this House by honorable members, including former members of the War Expenditure Committee, who furnished the report, who have not been loath to say what they thought of the activities of certain persons, and who, both in this Parliament and outside it, by medium of questions to the government of the day, asked that prosecutions should be launched against people because of the reports that they furnished, and who, since that date because of the failure of governments to take action which they, as members of the committee, thought ought to have been taken, have quite frankly and openly discussed the contents of those reports with members of the Parliament, with newspapermen, and with members of the general public.
We are not now dealing with a matter which has been kept secret, and which we ought to keep secret because the persons concerned have had no opportunity of answering the charges. If I were in Mr. Fitzpa trick’s position, in view of the publicity which he has received, and in view of the fact that he has been described by, amongst other people, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), as a scoundrel - that is on record in Hansard - and by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) as a man responsible for a security file, or a copy of it, getting into hands in which it did not belong in order that the recipients might attack the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) - that, also, is in Hansard, if anybody desires to read it. [ would suggest that the report of the War Expenditure Committee be made public. If I were Fitzpatrick and those statements had been made, and if I had read newspaper headlines about the scandals in Bankstown and demands by 90 Australian Labour party branches in the western metropolitan area for an inquiry-
– There are not 90 branches in the western metropolitan area.
– I am reading newspaper headlines. They include, “ Fitzpatrick called a crook “, and “ Bankstown scandal “. If I were in Mr. Fitzpatrick’s position, in order to clear my name I should be demanding the fullest of publicity for the report of the committee, so that the allegations made in the Parliament, outside the Parliament, and in the press, would be scotched once and for all. It is not sufficient for the Prime Minister to say, in effect, “ You might do harm to these gentlemen if you divulge the contents of this secret report “. It is no longer secret ; it is no more secret than is Hansard or copies of the daily newspapers. In view of the attitude of the Prime Minister last week and the fact that he had prior notice of the demand for the tabling of that report and should have examined it fully and all the papers in connexion with it, even if he did not do so, I can only express my amazement at the somersault that has taken place in his attitude now compared with his attitude last week, when he gave to the Parliament a solemn undertaking that the papers would be provided. When the Prime Minister gives an undertaking to the Parliament we are entitled to ask him to carry out that undertaking.
– He gave it reluctantly.
– That is true ; he gave it reluctantly. He gave it because it was said on this side of the House that, if he were not prepared to make the papers available, he, like other persons, would have to accept responsibility for refusing to do so and for failing to ensurethat this matter should be cleared up once and for all by a thorough and complete investigation of it.
– The honorable member may save his breath. I gave the undertaking. I have failed to perform it. I have given convincing reasons for my changed attitude.
– The only reason that I heard the Prime Minister give was that, after having given the undertaking, he had decided to read the relevant papers.
– That is cheap and inaccurate.
– The right honorable gentleman said that he received a letter from Mr. Fitzpatrick’s solicitors. I presume that he did not act on that letter. He said that when he received the letter he read the papers and, having read the papers and made himself familiar with all aspects of the case, he decided he would not carry out the undertaking that he had given to the Parliament. I think that is a most remarkable performance.
– I then sent for and read the minutes of the proceedings before the committee. One does not usually read the minutes of proceedings unless one has an abundance of time; one reads the end document. At least, I am pretty busy, and that is what I do. I sent for the minutes of proceedings, and, having read them, I had to concede that Fitzpatrick’s solicitors were right. For me to persist then that they must be wrong would have been nonsense.
– If the Prime Minister will allow me to continue, I shall simply say that if he thought the matter was as serious as he now apparently thinks it is, if he was so concerned with the protection of the names of individuals who might have been involved in the report, and therefore, after receiving the letter from Fitzpatrick’s solicitors, he read the relevant documents, he should have been just as concerned about the reputation of individuals and about justice last week as apparently be is this week. If he had not then had the opportunity of reading the documents, he should have delayed giving an undertaking to the Parliament until such time as he was able to examine all the documents.
In view of the fact this is not a secret matter but a public matter, I agree with the words of the Prime Minister -
If charges of this specific kind become unchallenged common-places of parliamentary debate, then the Parliament itself will have taken a very big step in the direction of destroying its own quality and its own authority.
In view of the debates which have taken place here, and the allegations that have been made here and in the press, that which the Prime Minister feared would be done will undoubtedly be done - we shall have destroyed our own authority. In the interests of the people themselves, we are entitled to have that question mark cleared out of their minds. “We are entitled to have the question answered, “ Was it possible that a contractor, a man who has been described by the responsible honorable member for Melbourne as a scoundrel, who has been described by the Leader of the Opposition as a man who divulged secrets from security files so that people might attack an opponent who happened to be a member of the Parliament, a man who is still involved in contracts and whose name is still a matter of public controversy in relation to graft and racketeering - was it possible for a man like that to do the things which have been alleged and continue to flourish in this community because he is protected by political influence or for some other reason ? “ The people of Australia are entitled to have that question answered and to have every document made available and open to their scrutiny in order that the question may be answered.
There was delay in the taking of action in the courts. There was a delay of almost six years, from 1945 to 1950, before the matter came to finality in the High Court. Until this matter is cleared up, the people of Australia are entitled to ask, “ Are the persons who were responsible for the delay protecting this man? Are the persons responsible for not making these reports available protecting this man ? “ Apparently the questions are still to be left unanswered in the minds of the public, and the public is entitled to have them answered. I regret greatly that the Prime Minister, who, this week, is so concerned with justice and the possibility of injury to the names of Mr. Fitzpatrick and other persons, should now have changed his mind. If he were quite rightly and properly concerned with these matters he should have been just as concerned with them last week. I do not know that there has been any change of front, apart from the letter from Mr. Fitzpatrick’s solicitors, because the Prime Minister could have read the documents before he gave his undertaking last week.
I assure honorable members that, as far as the forms of this House are concerned and as far as this public forum permits, we in this corner of the chamber do not - and I say this advisedly - intend to allow this matter to rest there. The Prime Minister has done neither himself nor the Parliament a service by refusing to make this document available, and I hope that sooner or later public pressure will compel the divulgence of the facts of this matter, in order, if one likes, that Mr. Fitzpatrick’s name may be cleared, that the name of everybody who has been mentioned may be cleared, and in order that if any persons have made false allegations they shall be compelled to answer publicly for having done so. I hope that the Parliament will insist on the production of this report.
– I ask for leave to make a brief statement on this matter.
Leave not granted.
– As chairman, I present the report of the Public Works Committee on the following subject: -
The proposed erection of a court house at Darwin, Northern Territory.
Ordered to be printed.
– I have received from the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews) an intimation that he desires to submit a definite matter of urgent public importance to the House for discussion, namely -
The urgent necessity for the Government to repeal the penal provisions of the Arbitration Act, to which strong objection has been expressed by all sections of the trade union movement at the recent Congress of the Australian Council of Trades Unions.
I have made inquiries about this matter. In find that the legality of the penal sections of the act has been challenged in the High Court. The arguments have concluded, and judgment has been reserved. Although I appreciate that the matter submitted for discussion deals more with the political aspect than with the legal aspect of the sections, I feel it is inappropriate that such an important matter should be discussed by the House now, while a judgment of the High Court upon it is pending. Therefore, I rule that the matter is sub judice.
– I hope that your decision is not irrevocable, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We did not intend to discuss the specific question which is before the High Court. We intended to deal in the very broadest way with the whole of the penalties that can be imposed under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Only one section of the act, involving a certain kind of penalty, is before the High Court.
– Order ! Is the honorable member taking a point of order?
– Yes. I shall be very brief in dealing with the matter. I feel that probably there has been a misunderstanding. I was saying that only one section of the act, section 29, is before the High Court at present. Our intention was to discuss the whole question of the penalties that can be imposed under the act. I point out that, since section 29 was challenged before the High Court, the whole subject of the penalties that can be imposed under the act has been discussed very widely. Indeed, I have reason to believe that the Minister for
Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) has called a conference to consider the subject.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is going very much beyond the scope of a point of order.
– I am trying to explain the position.
– The honorable gentleman must keep to his point of order. In dealing with it, he is not permitted to debate the whole subject.
– I do not desire to debate the whole subject. I want to point out, in particular, that if we adopt such a broad interpretation of the meaning of sub judice, it will be very difficult for this Parliament to exercise rights that are exercised by people in other sections of the community. We ought to take a very narrow view in considering whether any matter that the Parliament wishes to discuss is sub judice. I feel, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have dealt with the matter on the broadest basis imaginable and, therefore, have made a decision which will restrict discussion by the Parliament of a matter which has been discussed on more than one occasion outside the Parliament, without such discussion being regarded as in any way a contempt of the High Court.
– The subject submitted for discussion relates to the penal clauses of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.
– Would the Leader of the Opposition have supported us in the discussion ?
– I would not have supported you in starting it, but if it is to be started, I shall not be kept out of it.
– Order ! That is not the question before the Chair.
– My submission is that it is always in order for the Parliament to discuss the proposed repeal of a section of an act of Parliament, even though the particular section may at that time be under examination by the High Court, not from the viewpoint of its parliamentary merits, but from the viewpoint of its constitutional validity. At the present time, there is a case before the
High Court dealing with a section of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, under which penalties can be imposed. The court will determine whether that section is valid. But a body referred to in the urgency proposal submitted by the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews), namely, the Australian Trades Unions Congress, discussed this matter last week in public. Does any one suggest that the congress should not have discussed it in public? If the discussion had been an attempt to interfere with the case now before the High Court, it would have been regarded as a contempt of that court. Nobody has suggested that it was.
In this federal system, the powers of the Parliament are limited by the Constitution. There happens to be a case pending before the High Court in which the court has been asked to determine the validity of one of the penal sections of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The matter that the honorable member for Darebin proposes shall be discussed is, not the validity of the penal sections of the act, but whether those sections should as a matter of justice be retained. I submit, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that your ruling goes too far. It is proposed that the House shall discuss, not a proposed act of Parliament, but the desirability of retaining certain sections of an existing act. I am not dealing now with anything other than the point whether the proposal is in order. I submit that it is not out of order merely because, in the Boilermakers’ case, a decision is to be given about the constitutional validity of one section of the act. I submit that it will be in order for the House to debate the subject submitted for discussion, so long as you do not permit discussion of the actual legal matter under argument in the High Court.
– I want to say that, while I am in the chair, I intend to allow the utmost latitude for the discussion of all matters. But in relation to this matter, I have no desire to see the judgment that will be presented in due course prejudiced in any way. Furthermore, the judgment that will be given may affect the whole trend of thought on this important matter. So, because I feel that the matter before the court, as well as the political aspect that has been referred to, is definitely involved in the matter proposed to be discussed, I have ruled that the matter is sub judice.
.- I move-
That the ruling of Mr. Deputy Speaker that the urgency proposal is out of order be disagreed with.
The reason I do so is that I believe this Parliament must take to itself, on every possible occasion, the fullest opportunity to discuss matters that are of public interest. Your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would undoubtedly serve to narrow very considerably the range of matters of grave public moment that we can bring before the House under the urgency procedure. Surely it should be possible for us to discuss the desirability of legislation of various kinds, its wisdom in the light of industrial conditions and its effect upon industrial peace, without impinging in any way upon arguments advanced to the High Court in relation to the constitutionality or otherwise of some particular piece of legislation before the court. I put it to the House that we have a responsibility to preserve for this Parliament the right to debate, to the fullest possible extent, affairs of the day that are the subject of public discussion.
It may be said that the constitutionality of section 29 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act is sub judice, but if a general strike occurs to-morrow as a result of the penal provisions and causes grave industrial unrest in this community, is it to be said that this Parliament may not discuss the matter because there is before the court a test case upon the constitutional power of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to do certain things ? I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that your interpretation is far too narrow and that your attention should be directed to widening the scope of discussion in this Parliament as far as possible. As the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) knows, it could easily happen that, within the next few days, and before the court’s decision is given, very grave industrial unrest could occur in the community as a result of the possible application of the penal section.
Surely you, sir, do not suggest that this Parliament may not discuss such a matter, which would be of grave concern to the people of Australia and would have an immediate effect upon their welfare, simply because the High Court of Australia is determining, not the advisability of legislation, not its effect upon industrial relations and not the question whether it promotes industrial peace, but one point, and one point only, for it is the only point that it is competent or is empowered to determine - the constitutionality of the particular provisions of the legislation. I submit that that is the matter that is sub judice - the question whether particular legislation is enacted within the power given to the Commonwealth Parliament under the Australian Constitution. “We did not intend to trespass upon the province of the court. We intend to discuss, by all means, the desirability, in the cause of industrial peace, of removing the penal section from the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is taking far too narrow a view of the powers of this Parliament to suggest that the discussion of the repeal of legislation is an interference with the powers of r,he court. Therefore, to make possible a discussion in this Parliament about a matter that could lead to grave industrial unrest and is poisoning industrial relations at the present time, I have moved that your ruling be disagreed with.
Mr. Keon having submitted his objection to the ruling in writing,
– I second the motion, and I should like to state my reasons very briefly. Members of the party to which I belong have requested you. Mr. Deputy Speaker, to submit to the House a proposal for the discussion of a matter of grave urgency, namely, the necessity for the Government to take action to repeal the penal section of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. In the notice transmitted to you, sir, we did not refer to any case that is being heard before the High Court of Australia or is awaiting a decision by the court. Certain organizations have presented a case to that court in an attempt to prove that certain provisions of the act relating to penalties are invalid; in other words that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has not power under the Australian Constitution to impose penalties upon unions that have disobeyed awards or agreements. We are not questioning the validity of that section. We do not propose to discuss its validity, but we do propose to discuss something that, in my opinion, is a matter of intense urgency - the question whether the act should contain penal provisions. It is our argument that those penal provisions should be repealed. We believe that those penal provisions, instead of having assisted-
– Order ! The honorable member may not canvass the merits of that matter.
– Very well. I bow to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall say merely that we desire to discuss, as an urgent matter, the necessity for the repeal of a certain section of the act. In presenting arguments in favour of such repeal, we should not in any way interfere with the powers of the High Court. We should not advance any arguments that would influence the minds of any of the judges of the court. In fact, we should not refer in any. way to the case that is at present before the High Court.
– The House has before it a motion of dissent from the ruling that the terms of the proposal for urgent discussion, submitted, I understand, by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), are such as to render discussion of the matter out of order because it is sub judice. In discussing the ruling given by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, both the honorable member for Yarra and the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) have strayed into the realms of discussion of the merits of the particular proposition that they proposed to advance. I feel that, although we should accept your ruling on that matter, it would be unreasonable to leave it just where those two honorable members have put it. Therefore, before I discuss the ruling that has been given, I wish to intimate that this
Government does not seek to avoid debate on a matter that we appreciate is important. Indeed, as the Minister who represents the Government in these industrial matters, I myself have received a deputation of representatives of the Australian Council of Trades Unions.
– The Minister did not consider that he should not discuss the matter with that deputation on the ground that the subject was sub judice.
– No. That was not a public discussion, and it took place at an earlier stage in the proceedings relative to this matter. In fact, if my recollection is correct, the matter had not at that stage proceeded to argument before the High Court of Australia. I subsequently received a deputation from representatives of the employers. After I had heard what both sections had to say about the matter, I convened a conference at which these two groups and I were able to have a round-table discussion. I therefore indicate that the Government accepts the matter as being important and has already shown it3 interest in it. It is certainly a matter that, at an appropriate time, could very properly be debated in the Parliament.
I point out to the honorable member for Wills, who has voiced objection to the existence of penal provisions in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, that it was a government that he supported which, in 1947, constituted the Commonwealth Arbitration Court a court of record with disciplinary powers in relation to breaches of awards and agreements. Indeed, the legislation enacted by the parliaments of the States, in most of which at the present time there are Labour Premiers, contains provisions comparable with those that are now under challenge. Having said that, I do not propose to go beyond the ruling that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have just given that we must not canvass the merits of the particular proposition advanced in the proposal for discussion.
I turn now to the motion of dissent from your ruling. I have some sympathy with the point of view advanced that rulings that matters are sub judice in this Parliament should be given a narrow interpretation, or, at least should be applied in a narrow sense. I have no doubt in my own mind that, on some earlier occasions, rulings by the Speaker have applied the sub judice rule in too broad a sense. There is every justification for this Parliament debating, with a minimum of inhibition, matters that are of lively public concern, and a presiding officer who is called upon to determine whether a particular matter placed before him is out of order for debate here, on the ground that it is before the courts, should, as I stated a little earlier, apply a narrow interpretation of the sub judice rule. But here I consider that we have an instance in which your ruling is amply justified, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Section 29 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, to which it is desired to direct argument, has recently been discussed before the High Court. Argument upon it has concluded and the court has reserved its judgment. I am aware that there was some debate about this matter at the recent biennial congress of the Australian Council of Trades Unions in Melbourne. Therefore, it might well be argued that if it is within the compass of such a congress, and proper for it, to thrash out a matter of this kind in public debate, this Parliament has no less competence on such a question. Presumably, the theory on which the sub judice ruling is based is that argument in this place by the representatives of the people could conceivably have some persuasive or influential effect upon the views of the judiciary. If that is the basis for the ruling, then surely the time at which the rule should be applied most strictly is at that point of time at which the judiciary is actually contemplating the judgment to be given in a particular case, which is the situation at which the matter stands now.
There is another aspect, if honorable members in the corner are sincere in their desire to have this particular issue debated in a sensible way, which I believe they should have in mind. The decision of the court will necessarily have some bearing upon the future of a provision such as this. If the validity of the section is upheld, we deal with the matter on its merits. If, on the other hand, its validity is not upheld, an entirely new situation is created and we all must be prepared to then look at it in the light of the decision of the court. So I say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that quite apart from the consideration which has led to your ruling, there i3 I believe the commonsense view of the matter, which should not be out of the mind of the Parliament, that if we are to discuss what is involved in the penal provisions of the arbitration legislation, then surely the sensible time to have that discussion is after the decision of the court has been pronounced. For these reasons, and for the particular reasons I mentioned in relation to the ruling itself, I feel that the House should support the ruling that you have given.
Mr. E. JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) [i.7~. - I rise to say something on this matter mainly because the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) has indicated that this question was discussed at the congress of the Australian Council of Trades Unions last week. I was privileged to lead a section of a delegation at that congress, and I want to put it quite plainly and simply, that the question that the High Court will determine was not an issue that was discussed at the congress at all. Neither, I suggest with respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the matter that you have ruled out of order in line with a decision that the High Court must make on this subject.
– What has this to do with it?
– It has this to do with it, that in my view the ruling is wrong.
– Is the honorable member opposing the ruling of Mr. Deputy Speaker ?
– Why ?
– I oppose the ruling because the decision that the High Court has to make is whether or not the Arbitration Court can exercise dual powers. That is the only decision the High Court will make in the matter. It is not concerned a bit about the Boilermakers’ case ; it will leave that case completely out of its consideration. The High Court will deal only with the one question as to whether the Arbitration Court can exercise dual functions, and it will give its decision accordingly.
With all the experience I have had in the Australian trade union movement and arbitration work, I should not be fitted to rise in my place and debate that subject, because it is a matter for top-line legal brains to determine, and that is the level at which the matter has been argued. I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you desire to maintain public interest in the debates in this Parliament, as well as to do the right thing in relation to matters that are sub judice. However, I submit that you will consider, if you look at the legislation carefully, that it in no way impinges on the decision that the High Court must give in the Boilermakers’ case. Quite contrary to what the Minister for Labour and National Service has said, at the congress last week we did not attempt at any stage to discuss the issue that the High Court must determine.
– Order ! The matter is not before the Chair.
– I understood your ruling to be, Mr. Deputy Speaker - correct me if I am wrong - that you were not prepared to allow this subject to be debated because it was an issue that had been heard by the Arbitration Court - I think you meant the High Court - and you considered that it was now sub judice. What I am trying to point out is that the matter that is sub judice at the moment is not the issue of the application of sections 29, 29a and 78 of the Commonwealth act. As a matter of fact, the meaning of those sections is a matter which is quite distinct from the matter that the High Court must decide.
The High Court is not testing whether, constitutionally, this Parliament has power to introduce legislation such as that covered by sections 29, 29a and 78. It is testing the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court to exercise dual powers. I suggest that you should have ruled out of order any honorable member who attempted - I think the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) would agree with this contention - to canvass the decision that the High Court should give in relation to determining the dual functions of the Arbitration Court. In the light of the knowledge that I have of this subject, and of the matters that the High Court must decide in relation to this issue, I suggest that the proposal is in order and that your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was not right.
– This is a very interesting debate because it throws into perspective quite a number of facets of the House itself. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have given a ruling to the effect, in broad terms, that if the House discusses this proposal there is a possibility that it may influence the decision of the High Court. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) asks, in effect, “ How can that possibly happen, because the Australian Council of Trades Unions discussed this matter in public a little while ago?” But might I suggest to the Leader of the Opposition that this Parliament, which is representative of the people of the country, is much greater in stature and much more important than the Australian Council of Trades Unions, and that it is much more likely to be taken notice of by the High Court than is that council.
But there is another aspect of this matter that rather intrigues me, because in the course of the debate the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), being rather persuaded by the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition, suggested that the right honorable gentleman might agree to support him in the proposal, to which the Leader of the Opposition immediately replied, in effect, “ No, of course I would not support the honorable member with regard to any matter “, and it is a well-known fact that the Leader of the Opposition has instructed his cohorts that in no circumstances must they rise to support any proposal submitted by the Anti-Communist Labour party. But the Leader of the Opposition thought that here was an opportunity, that if he could show that the ruling was out of order, he might come in and gain a little political prestige by taking a stand and saying, “ Of course, this is completely out of order “. He was not to know that the honorable member for Yarra would rise immediately and move dissent from the ruling, thereby putting the Leader of the Opposition right on the spot, because the right honorable gentleman, thinking that at last he had reached security and could support the proposal with regard to the penal clauses of the Arbitration Act, found that he had to support willy nilly the proposal of the honorable member for Yarra. As I have said, the situation intrigues me. The decision of caucus goes by the board because one whom the Leader of the Opposition would not in normal circumstances support must be supported by him or he shall stand forever condemned. It is an unwritten law of this House that it shall take no action whatever that would be likely to prejudice the decisions of the courts. And so, from time immemorial, it has been our custom not to discuss matters that are in course of hearing, or are likely to be adjudicated upon. Accordingly, we on this side have no hesitation in supporting the ruling of the Chair.
Question put -
That the ruling be dissented from.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority … . . 22
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I move-
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1953, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report, namely: - Erection of a new plant and soils laboratory for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization at St. Lucia, Queensland.
The proposal provides for the erection of a building within the area allocated for the development of the University of Queensland. The building is required to carry out research on the agricultural problems of tropical and sub-tropical Australia, and, particularly, of the development of improved pastures for the coastal and sub-coastal regions and the inland cattle country. The proposed building will be a semi-two-story structure designed to take advantage of the site contours. The lower floor will be of brick construction, and the upper floor will be of timber-framed construction. The estimated cost of the proposal is £133,000, excluding roads and drainage, the cost of which is to be met by the State public works department. I table the plans of the proposed building.
.- The Opposition supports the motion and expresses the hope that, despite the fact, that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) conferred with bankers yesterday about restricting credit, no action will be taken to prevent the construction of this building, should the Public Works Committee report favorably on the proposal. Works of this kind are of great importance to the nation, and it may be well to consider the advisability of extending the investigation to cover soils in Papua and New Guinea. These tropical and subtropical areas are danger spots, and the sooner we ascertain what can be grown there, so that people may settle in those areas and grow crops that it is known can be grown there, the better it will be for the future of those who are fortunate enough to live in the temperate zones, but sometimes are foolish enough to believe that, because they live there, they are safe from molestation now, and will be safe in the future.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
hi Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 8th September (vide page 560), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division No. 1 - The Senate - namely, “ Salaries and allowances, £27,700 “, be agreed to.
Upon which Dr. Evatt had moved by way of amendment -
That the first item be reduced by fi.
.- The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in his statement to the Parliament, known as the budget speech, has set forth, I think, quite a masterly analysis of the economic situation at the present day; and he has proceeded, in the light of that analysis, to indicate the policy that the Government intended to adopt in order to meet the trends that had been revealed. The Treasurer invited attention to two problems in particular. The first problem concerned the decline in our overseas balances; the second problem concerned the inflationary situation within Australia. The deficiency in relation to overseas trade balances was far above that which anybody had imagined until the Treasurer revealed it. It amounted to £256,000,000, taking into account, not only imports, but invisible items as well. Overseas reserves at the 30th June, 1955, were disclosed at £428,000,000 compared with an amount of £580,000,000 at the 30th June, 1954. The White Paper, National Income and Expenditure, shows that imports and other payments for goods and services amounted in 1954-55 to £1,035,000,000. At the same time, it has to be borne in mind that our wool receipts will be less this year. There is a large surplus of wheat, not only in Australia, but in the main wheat-producing countries ; and the competition that is being met by our meat and other export industries is much keener than it was. At present, our overseas reserves are only about 40 per cent, of our outgoings, in a normal year, for overseas payments. So it has been considered by all those who are able to speak with authority on this subject that our reserves cannot be allowed to deteriorate any further.
I turn now to the inflationary situation within our own economy - a situation that is evidenced by rising prices, demands for higher wages, the emergence of some shortages, and the prospect within the next twelve months of reduced imports, in other words, a reduced quantity of goods available to the public. All these pressures upon our overseas reserves and upon our local resources have to be met by some means. The question that the Treasurer has posed is, “ What steps are to be taken in order to relieve these pressures on overseas funds and upon the resources of our own economy?”. I suppose that, theoretically, we could seek to increase exports, mainly of primary products, and seek to increase the local production of manufactured goods, in order to replace those imports which we shall not be able to bring in next year. In theory we mav do that, and in practice, we may do that in the long run if certain steps are taken to which I shall refer later. But, in the short run, it is not likely that a great deal can be done along those lines.
The second measure that could be employed - and more immediately - is to reduce imports and to reduce excess spending in the community. By “ excess spending “ I mean spending power in the hands of the community which is in excess of goods available to the community at present prices. An excess of purchasing power tends to bid up the prices of goods and services, resulting in the inflationary situation that we have at present.
It has been suggested - not so much overtly as implicitly - by various authorities who are concerned with different aspects of the control of our economy, that the situation might be adjusted by allowing the exchange rate to float free. I agree that this measure would stimulate exports. At the same time, it would automatically reduce imports, because higher prices would have to be paid in terms of Australian currency by importers. Therefore, only those importers who were bringing in essential goods which were in keen demand would be able to pay the higher prices for the overseas currency. On the face of it, that might appear to be the perfect answer to the problem - to allow the currency to float free, and because it is almost certainly overvalued at present, it would automatically be devalued.
I suggest that that is not a course upon < which the Government should lightly enter. There would be an immediate upsurge of wage demands if the value of our money declined. Considerable hardship would be experienced by pensioners and others in receipt of social services, and all social services payments would have to be increased. All prices and charges within the community would increase, or tend to increase. There would be great injustice to persons on fixed incomes and’ superannuation. The effect on life assurance, mortgages, and government loans could be quite catastrophic. People would cease to make investments of that kind, believing that the value of their money would further decline, and that it would not be worth paying good money in order to receive a promise of receiving bad” money - that is, money of reduced value-« at a later date. Finally, overseas confidence in our economy would be lost,which would result in the failure overseas of efforts to raise loans to aid a country which is underdeveloped and which requires overseas capital in order to be developed as rapidly as the situation demands. So, allowing the exchange rate to float free is not a solution that would commend itself to many honorable members. What, then, is to be done?
The Treasurer has indicated that there will have to be - in the short term - further import controls. That is a measure that can be adopted quickly. Of course, behind the barrier that is set up by such controls, there is a tendency for costs to rise tremendously in our economy ; and in any case, I hope that the Government is really a Liberal government which does not look to such short-term expedients as an ultimate solution of the problem. Surely an attempt must be made to get our resources into balance with our purchasing power. Some attempt must be made to bring about a situation in which, if the exchange rate were allowed to float free, we should find some approximation between the present purchasing power of our money and the purchasing power after that policy has been put into effect.
Much attention has been concentrated, and must be concentrated, on the problem of curtailing excessive spending power within the community, a matter to which I have already made reference. That applies to private individuals and also to governments. So far as private expenditure is concerned, it may relate to consumer goods or to capital equipment; that is, producer goods. The Treasurer has pointed out in his statement that there has been an increase of 9 per cent, in private expenditure on consumer goods in the past year following the increase of 12 per cent, in the preceding year. That is a tremendous outburst of consumer spending in the past two years. Again, so far as private investment in producers’ goods is concerned, there has been an increase of 15 per cent, in the past twelve months. That suggests that some steps must be taken, in the short term, to curb private expenditure on consumer and producer goods, but I wish to pay some attention to Government expenditure.
The Treasurer has suggested that the whole of the economic sins of the community are centred upon the private sector. Up to a point, he has been able to prove his case. For example, the White Paper shows that government expenditure on public works in three successive years was -
That is a relatively stable level of expenditure. It ha3 not increased nearly as much as expenditure of private people on consumer goods and producer goods. At the same time, however, the Government is seeking by persuasive means, according to the second part of the Treasurer’s speech, to induce the community to exercise restraint in expenditure. If it seeks to do that, surely it should buttress its demand to the public upon a moral lead within its own sphere. Surely the Government should put its own house in order when it appeals to the public to do the proper thing so far as its spending is concerned. Therefore, it must apply to itself a standard even higher than the standard it would apply to private citizens.
It may be that the expenditure of governments has been fairly stable, relative to private expenditure, in the past three years, but that is not enough. If the Government wants to give a moral lead, it must be impeccable in its own affairs. The fact is that the Australian Government is proposing to spend, in the current financial year, £SO,000,000 more than it did last year. It is true that there have been increases of expenditure on social services. That is inevitable, and certain other expenses of the Government are unavoidable also, but I believe that it has not cut its expenditure in certain directions to the extent that it might more effectively give that moral lead which is the very basis of its policy to meet the present inflationary situation. For example, the outlay of the Australian Government as it appears in the White Paper accompanying the budget is shown to have increased from £763,000,000 in 1953-54 to £811,000,000 in 1954-55. That is the outlay on all the various items of expenditure, for which the Government is responsible. It represents a very considerable increase to which the
Treasurer, in view of the thesis he submitted, did not draw attention. Honorable members will notice that the States also have increased their expenditure, as the following table shows: -
Indications in the budget speech are that about the same level of expenditure will be reached by the State governments this year. There is a marked increase for which the Commonwealth Government must accept a considerable degree of responsibility, because it is only on account of the supplementation of public loan moneys by tax moneys from the Commonwealth Treasury that the States are able to carry out their public works at the present level.
I believe that the Commonwealth Government itself could cut some of its works. I do not profess to be able to give a complete account of the directions in which economies might be effected, but I agree with the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon), who spoke on the budget last week, that the decision to proceed with the St. Mary’s project at full steam will obviously result in important inflationary pressures in the building trade, in particular. Building workers will be engaged on that project in close proximity to Sydney, and they will be drawn from other building construction, whether on factories or homes. That will tend to raise the bidding for labour and will cause inflationary pressure in that very sensitive sector of the economy - the building trade.
Probably I shall not receive much support from honorable members when I direct attention, in a critical way, to the proposed expenditure of £32,000,000 by the Postmaster-General’s Department this year on the extension of telephone and other services. It is highly desirable that all persons who apply for telephones should get them, but if the situation is that spending power in the community is outrunning its physical resources, and if the Government wishes to restrain expenditure all round, we must do without, for the time being, some of the things we would like. It could be that people, for the time being, should do without as many telephones as they would like, just as they are being asked to do without refrigerators and other consumer goods they would like to have.
I believe the Government proposes to make a start with a vast building project in Melbourne to provide Commonwealth offices. “No doubt it would be convenient to have those offices, but we cannot do everything at once. Spending power is outrunning our physical resources. The expenditure of money on the proposed structure in Melbourne will have the same effect as the St. Mary’s project in Sydney. Expenditure must be restrained. The Government has appealed to the public in that direction, and the Government should give a lead.
I direct attention to an agency of the Australian Government - the Commonwealth Bank - which has been engaged in an aggressive policy of opening branches all over Australia. The banking facilities in Australia are fairly adequate and, in my opinion, there is no need at this time to swell the vast building programme of the Commonwealth Bank. All the examples I have given refer to the building industry, but I am sure that a proper examination of all the expenditure of the Government would show that it could give a lead in many other directions by exercising restraint in expenditure, as it has called upon the public to do.
I direct attention also to the spending programme of the States. Since the Australian Government provides a great deal of the money obtained from the taxpayers for State public works, it could properly exercise the persuasive power that arises from the situation in relation to State works by indicating priorities. I have been studying the last works programme given in official documents of the Government of New South Wales, and have discovered some extraordinary statements. As an example, I have selected expenditure on various water conservation and irrigation works. When the Burrinjuck Dam was authorized, the estimated total cost was £1,852,000. The expenditure to the 30th June, 1954, was £3,721,783, which, of course, was vastly in excess of the original estimate. That gives an idea of the degree of inflation during that time. The amount still required, even on to-day’s values, is £1,400,000. The estimated expenditure for the year 1954-55 was £700,000. That project might be drawing towards completion ; but I now direct attention to the Keepit storage scheme. The estimated total cost was £1,340,000, the expenditure to the 30th June, 1954, was £3,S12,957, and the amount required to complete the work is £4,600,000. The estimated expenditure for the year 1954-55 was £800,000. Quite obviously, that work will take very many years to complete.
I need not go right through the document that I have before me, but the same remarks apply to the Glenbawn Dam, the Burrendong Dam and certain other works such as weirs on the Barwon and Darling rivers, the Menindee Lakes storage, the Blowering Dam and the Warkworth Dam. The Burrendong Dam and subsequent projects to which I have referred have been started, and a total of £3,631,308 has been spent on them. Apparently they have been discontinued because no money was voted for them in 1954-55. So those projects are not likely to be completed within the foreseeable future. I suggest that there should be a concentration upon works that could be completed fairly soon so that they could be brought into production, and thus increase the productive power of the community. I suggest, moreover, that the Commonwealth should be able to exercise some influence on the priority of State works, because without aid from the Commonwealth Treasury those works could not be carried on.
In regard to private spending, the Government envisages some natural decrease in the liquidity of the banks due to the decline of our exports, and apparently it is seeking to persuade the banking system to reduce, even further, the money that is available to the community. I suggest, too, that there may well be a case - although we have not in Australia the bank rates that obtain in England - for increased interest rates all round. Higher interest rates would, of course, reduce the amount of money that is available within the economy. Reference has been made to hire-purchase finance. I wish to direct attention to a significant statement that appears in a paper entitled Economic Monograph No. 180, which was produced in July, 1955, by the Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand. After setting out the degree of hirepurchase business in the United States of America and Australia, the paper had this to say -
The interesting feature of table 3 is that from 1949 to 1952 H. P. as a percentage of national income grew by 26 per cent, in United States of America compared wi’th 22 per cent, in Australia but since then the Australian figures have grown by 77 per cent, compared with 38 per cent, in United States of America i.e. twice as fast.
That statement indicates that, in this field, there is a great pressure of spending power upon our limited resources, and it may well be that the brake should be applied.
I am not one of those who believe that there is anything morally wrong with hire purchase or that drastic measures should be taken to restrict it, but, quite plainly, it is time that a brake was applied. 1 suggest that this Government has certain pressures that it can apply against the State governments. After all, if the State governments want money for their public works, and if some of that money is being siphoned off into hire purchase transactions, surely the States should take some action to ensure that they get the money they need. Therefore, the Commonwealth Government would be perfectly in order in saying to the States, “ Unless you are prepared to help by passing legislation to provide, for example, for a higher deposit on hire purchase goods and a shortening of the term of repayment, there is no reason why we should dig deeper into the taxpayers’ pockets to provide you with money that could come from the loan market if you were prepared to take such action “. That is a lever that the Commonwealth could use.
Now I come to the positive side of the matter. I wish to refer to something which I think is lacking in the budget proposals. I have already referred to State loan works and to the necessity to bring productive resources into operation at the earliest opportunity. I suggest that the import licensing policy should give high priority to the import of producer goods, that is to say, equipment that would enable us to increase our production of manufactured goods. It seems clear to me that in the future we shall not be able to import on the same scale as we have imported in the past, and that, therefore, we must either do without some of the goods that we have imported hitherto or produce them here. We can produce them here at reasonable cost only if industry is given such facilities a3 the most modern equipment to produce them. I suggest, as I have already pointed out, that the licensing policy should be used to assist in the mechanization of our industry.
Moreover, our economy lacks an efficient transport system. Transport costs represent perhaps one-quarter of the total cost of goods. When we look at the State programmes, we find that money is being spent on works that will not be completed for very many years. On the other hand, when we look at the expenditure on the railways system, roads and harbour works, we find that those projects have a very low priority and that the expenditure is very small indeed. I see no reason why we should not bring in more diesel-electric locomotives and effect other similar improvements. Above all, there is need for a policy of coordination in regard to rail, road, air and 3ea transport. I believe that it is the duty of the Commonwealth Government to give a lead in formulating a policy as a result of which such things may be co-ordinated. Considering the great influence that it has in regard to public loans and the great pressure that it can bring to bear upon the States in the placing of priorities, the Commonwealth, having set down a policy of co-ordination, should bring the States into line. By developing our manufactures by using the most effective equipment, by permitting their importation and using our limited overseas resources especially for that purpose, by concentrating our public works programme on projects that can become productive within the immediate future, and by concentrating upon our transport system, we can bring ourselves, in the long term, to a point where I hope the exchange rate might be allowed to go free.
I feel that I should not conclude my remarks without some reference to the admittedly difficult task of the Australian
Government in controlling our economy. The economy is like a chariot to which is harnessed a team of horses. Some of them are within the shafts and give some direction, but others are out on the flank out of control and pulling the chariot first to one side and then to the other. I mean that we have, not only the Commonwealth Government, but also the State governments, the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, the Tariff Board, the banks, which are not always working in complete harmony for reasons that I have not time to explain just now, and various other controlling influences in our economy often operating in diverse directions. 1 concede that this Government has the utmost difficulty in controlling the economy - a greater difficulty than has a unitary government like that of the United Kingdom or of New Zealand - but that is no excuse for shelving its responsibility of leadership. The Treasurer, indeed, has given a lead to the community, but I do not think that he has fortified himself sufficiently to perform the task as effectively as he might have done. The Government must use every power that it has - its financial powers are very great - to give a lead and not only state what ought to be done, but also, if necessary, exercise pressure to formulate and carry out a logical policy for dealing with the economic problems that confront us to-day. If I seem to have been critical in this speech, it is not because I do not believe that the budget is an excellent document. I think that the approach of the Government towards our economic problems is the right one. If I have been critical, it is because the Government has not gone as far as I should have liked it to go. However, the psychology of people is a most difficult thing to deal with. If the business community should, through panic, gain the impression that our economy is in an unhappy position, the consequences could be grave. The Government has sought not to give that impression, and I believe that, through its budget, it has succeeded.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I desire to comment briefly on the budget which is now before the committee. In doing so, I wish to make my position perfectly clear; therefore, I say that I wholeheartedly agree with and support the amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). The budget is on all fours with the budget of 1951-52, which was also presented by the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). Honorable members, of course, will recall how lamentable that budget was. The present budget is the most dismal, gloomy, futile and disappointing budget that has been introduced in this Parliament during my long term of office. Indeed, there is only one redeeming feature in it, and that is the increase - although it is paltry - that will be granted to those receiving age, invalid, widow, war, and war-widow pensions. At a later date, when the appropriate measure is before the Parliament, I hope to have a further opportunity of expressing my opinion about that increase granted.
The budget offers not one gleam of hope to any section of the community. On the contrary, in my opinion and in the opinion in many thousands of people, it is a most alarming document. We know that the Government represents big financial interests and combines, and that it has allowed the economic and financial position of this country to deteriorate to such a degree that even the Treasurer himself has become alarmed at our position. Only one remedy has been suggested to rectify this most unfortunate position, and that suggestion came from the Treasurer himself. He stated that the activities of hire-purchase organizations should be curtailed. Every honorable member on this side of the House realizes that if such a suggestion were put into effect it would not much affect people on higher incomes, but it would seriously affect the workers who we represent.
Because of the smallness of the basic wage, the majority of the workers find it impossible to pay cash for those things which are necessary in all households, and therefore are compelled to have recourse to the hire-purchase system. As the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) said, refrigerators are one such item. I believe that in the State which I have the honour to represent, a refrigerator is an essential item for every household. The same applies to washing machines, and to an even greater degree, to household furniture. I am sure that the Government must realize that in order to get essential requirements, such as those that I have mentioned, it is imperative for many people to use the hire-purchase system. As I have said, washing machines are essential to all women, particularly housewives with large families, and it is very important that people should also be able to obtain household furniture. That applies particularly to young couples who are starting homes of their own, because in many cases it is impossible for such people to obtain the furniture that they need unless they can get it on hire purchase.
The alleged remedy for our economic ills that has been proposed by the Government is to curtail hire purchase activities. However, I believe that, instead of restricting hire purchases, the Government should ensure that those who need to use the hire-purchase system should be able to get accommodation more readily than is at present possible. The Government should require hire-purchase organizations to reduce the deposit required, and also to reduce the interest rate on hire-purchase accommodation. Because this Government has allowed inflation to run riot, the workers, the pensioners and those receiving lower incomes are suffering financially, and finding it practically impossible to make ends meet.
Honorable members on this side of the House, as well as the electors, remember the promises made by the members of this Government during the 1949 general election campaign. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer were particularly active in promising to put value back into the fi if they were elected to office. We all know that they were elected, and we all know that they have not yet restored value to the £1. In 1949, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer told the people that the Chifley £1 was worth only 12s. 6d. compared to the prewar £1. They said that they would restore the full value of the fi. However, after five years of office by non-Labour parties, we find that instead of increasing the value of the £1 they have reduced it to about 6s. Sd. or 7s. compared to the pre-war £1. I think it is untrue to say that the £1 was worth only 12s. 6d. in 1949. In my opinion, the value of the £1 at that time was nearer 20s. than it was at any other time in the history of Australia.
The Government has failed to honour its promise to restore value to the £1, which, as I have said, is now worth only about 6s. 8d. Inflation has been allowed to run riot. In 1949, and since then, the Government promised that, in order to halt the inflationary trend, it would cease to control prices. I remember, and no doubt other honorable members do too, that this Parliament effectively controlled prices prior to 1949. When a referendum was held on that subject, the present members of the Government, who were then in opposition, opposed the referendum and advised the people to vote against it on the ground that the States could control prices adequately. The people of Australia appreciate now just how foolish they were to be gulled by that advice. Since then, prices have risen by leaps and bounds. It is true that a number of the States continued to exercise prices control, and during the last two or three months, some States which abolished prices control have again introduced it in order to prevent the cost of living from increasing still further.
The wages of the workers have been pegged for the last eighteen months, and quarterly adjustments of the basic wage have been suspended. Although the cost of living has increased considerably, the workers and others on fixed incomes have received no help from this Government. Profits and dividends, on the other hand, have increased out of all proportion of recent years. It is only necessary to refer to the financial pages of Australian newspapers to see that profits made by practically every industry and business undertaking in Australia have increased considerably, some by as much as 50 per cent. Dividends have increased also. Companies which, two years ago, paid dividends of 5 per cent, or 7^ per cent. are to-day paying 15 per cent., 20 per cent., 25 per cent., and even as much as 30 per cent. I do not wish to weary the committee by giving the names of companies which have made large profits, but it is very hard to overlook the case of General Motors-Holden’s Limited, which last year earned a net profit of approximately £10,000,000. I do not know what, dividend that company is paying, but the profits made by it contrast vividly with the pegging of wages and the abolition of quarterly basic wages adjustments.
Although members of the Government, particularly the Treasurer, have appealed to the people of Australia to increase production, I suggest that there is very little incentive for the workers to do so whilst wages remain frozen and practically every business organization operating in Australia to-day is allowed to make huge profits. I believe in industrial peace, but that result cannot be achieved while such a state of affairs continues.
Between September, 1953, and June last, the workers have been robbed of a considerable amount of money as a result of the freezing of wages. Workers in Sydney have lost £16 8s., in Melbourne £9 2s., in Brisbane £30 lis., in Adelaide £24 ls., in Perth £83 4s. and in Hobart £40 19s., or an average, for the six capital cities, of £34 10s. That is bad enough, but, in addition, we find that the cost of living has risen, according to the index figures, by 2s. a week in Sydney, 3s. in Melbourne, ls. in Brisbane, 4s. in Adelaide, 6s. in Perth and 2s. in Hobart, or an average, for the six capital cities, of 3s. a week. It is only necessary for honorable members to read the newspapers to see that the cost of living is continuing to increase. For instance, I understand that the price of tea was increased by approximately ls. per lb. yesterday. That will add at least ls. a week to the cost of living in the average household. The prices of other commodities have risen also. For instance, in Queensland the price of potatoes has increased, during the last two or three weeks, from about 6-kl. per lb. to ls. per lb. All of those increased prices will make the cost of living, during the current quarter, much higher than it has been for many years.
This is an alarming budget. There is not one gleam of hope in it for any section of the community. I wish to compare the economic position of Australia to-day with that of 1949, when this Government took office. At that time, Australia was regarded, by practically all the financial experts of the world, as having a very sound economy. Indeed, quite a number of people visited Australia for the purpose of ascertaining the prospects for investment of overseas capital in this country. They visited every State in Australia. They also visited Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand. Every one of those visitors - there were at least eight or nine of them - went back and reported to their principals that they were satisfied. They said to their principals - these are not my words ; they appeared in the press - “ We have visited these countries and we are satisfied that Australia to-day is the most economically sound, financially and otherwise, of any country in the world “. That was the position in 194S-49 when the Labour Government was in power. Today, according to the budget we have before us, this country is on the verge of bankruptcy.
As proof of this, we need take only our overseas trade balance. Some time ago, when I was speaking in this chamber, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) said that he doubted the accuracy of some of the figures I had quoted in support of my views. I say most definitely now that when the Labour Government replaced the Menzies-Fadden Administration in October, 1941, the position was indeed desperate. Our overseas balance was down to zero. Notwithstanding the fact that the Labour Government, during the terms of Prime Ministership of the late Mr. Curtin and the late Mr. Chifley, had conducted an all-in war effort, it was able to improve that position. That Government’s legislation and activities were admired all over the world. No government in any other part of the world did what the Australian Labour Government did for the boys who returned from the front. They were rehabilitated, and put into industry, on a very sound footing indeed. Despite the fact that the Labour Government of that day spent millions of pounds upon the rehabilitation of these men, the overseas trade balance rose from zero in 1941 to the favorable figure of approximately £600,000,000 in 194S-49, and continued to increase for some time. To-day, the position has seriously deteriorated, yet this Government does nothing to retard the downward trend. All it does is to aggravate the position.
For those reasons, I say that this is a gloomy budget, which offers no incentive whatever, especially to the workers whom we represent. I believe that this amendment should be carried, because of the sins of omission and commission on the part of this Government. The electors should be given the opportunity to say whether they are satisfied with what has been done. I feel that the Government has fallen down on it? job. It made all sorts of promises, and its eyes were not shut at the time, because it knew the exact position. It was fully aware of the implications of its promises ; but so long as it thought it might gain a vote or two, it was prepared to promise anything, and to publish all sorts of poisonous propaganda and untruthful statements. I am confident that when the election is held, whether it be sooner or later, the people of Australia will not forget the position in which Australia finds itself to-day, and will place the blame on the shoulders of the Government. The Treasurer admits that the position i. alarming, and I am convinced that it is. To my mind, the position is similar to the situation in which the Scullin Government found Australia after the defeat of the Bruce-Page Government in 1929. We all know what happened at that time, and I believe that the position is just as bad to-day. And it is not as bad now as it will be in another two or three months, because it is gradually getting worse. When the Labour Government took office from the Bruce-Page Government in 1929, Australia was bankrupt. There was not sufficient money in Australia to pay even the public servants and pensioner? their next fortnight’s dues.
Unfortunately, the Scullin Government had no opportunity to remedy that position, or to put into operation the legislation which it proposed, and which it believed would safeguard the interests of the Australian people. It was defeated; but before being defeated, it had been in office long enough to demonstrate sufficient foresight to bring Australia back to a fairly even keel. Even though it did not have control of the Senate, it was able, by its foresight and legislation, to correct the adverse overseas trade balance. Because of the maladministration and bad management of the Bruce-Page Government, the Scullin Government, unfortunately, was compelled to do certain unpopular things, and, supported by some of the honorable members who are now members of the present Government, reduced certain social services and other benefits in order to try to make ends meet. I repeat that the position to-day is similar to what existed in 1929, and if it is allowed to become more acute, Australia once again will be on the verge of bankruptcy.
Mr.OPPERMAN(Corio)[5.23].-The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) has devoted a good deal of time to speaking about past performances. I should like to call attention to one or two of the matters to which he referred, especially the state of the country to-day compared with the position when the Scullin Government was in office between 1929 and 1930, and when, almost overnight, the prices of our export commodities fell, and the country experienced a severe economic depression. I point out to the honorable member that one can learn from experience, and irrespective of whether any other government would have treated the situation differently in those by-gone days, we do know that this Government faced a similar position when wool prices dropped overnight in 1950 or 1951. Although there was great apprehension at that time as to how Australia would emerge from the situation, the Government, even in the face of strong criticism, did handle the situation firmly and efficiently.
We know also that this Government has brought the country through difficult times to its present state of prosperity. So, despite the anxiety of the honorable member for Brisbane about the future of Australia because of the recession in our export trade, I can assure him that at least this Government, which is comprised of members bound by a common policy to a common purpose, will certainly do better for the country than could a government composed of members of the Labour party, who are divided in their policy, and who do not know where they are going. Every budget that has been brought down by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), since the Liberal and Australian Country parties have been in office, has been condemned by the Opposition. My recollection is that every one of those budgets has been greeted as a forerunner of doom and disaster for our industries, our rural production, and the economy of the country generally. If honorable members care to cheek the speeches made by Opposition members when those earlier budgets were debated, they will find that the forebodings of the prophets of doom did not come to pass. To-day we have full employment; we have a record amount of money per head in the savings banks; we have a flourishing immigration programme, which is essential for this country; and we have an expansion of our rural and secondary industries. Admittedly we have suffered some headaches in achieving those things, but no country can progress and expand without having its problems. To say that Australia is in the same situation to-day as it was in the pre-depression days is to exaggerate the economic position for political purposes. It has been necessary to impose commercial and financial controls which, at the time of their imposition, were certainly resented and disputed ; but time, which is a great healer, as has so often been said, has proved those controls to have been equitable, desirable and progressive, and in the best interests of the country, especially at a time when our defence commitments are fluctuating because the threat of war has apparently receded, and at a time when good and stable government is most difficult. Therefore, when it has been found, after previous budgets have been brought down, that the decisions of the Treasurer and the Cabinet have been, in the main, quite correct, I suggest that the House can accept the present budget as being sound and logical, and be assured that it will eventually be as welcome as were earlier budgets introduced by the present Treasurer. “We can be guided by past performances, and I venture to say that the thinking and outlook of this Government now are the same as they were in regard to previous budgets.
While this budget is not spectacular in some respects, we can at least say that one section of the community has not been overlooked. The budget could, perhaps, be readily described as the pensioners’ budget. Before I refer to that aspect, perhaps I should pay a tribute to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon). He has not a portfolio which is particularly easy to administer, ft is one which takes a lot of study, and a high degree of sympathetic consideration and determination. He is liable to be subjected to a great deal of criticism by persons who do not understand the difficulties of his portfolio, and the manner in which he is doing his best for our aged people. The same remarks, of course, apply to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). Honorable members on both sides of the chamber who have been in touch with those Ministers from time to time understand the intense study that they have made of their portfolios.
The problem of the aged is not peculiar to Australia; it is world wide. It is not a problem with which we in this country have failed to grapple. It is a problem that the whole world to-day is trying to solve. With the life-saving drugs now in use, and with a better standard of medical attention, the span of life is longer, and it is necessary to study this problem more closely than ever before. Last year, when I was abroad, I had the interesting experience, by a fortunate circumstance, of meeting a doctor from Indiana, who was travelling from Edinburgh to London to attend a congress that had been convened especially to deal with the problems of the aged. I found that the circumstances that exist in the United States of America are similar to those in Australia, and that that country, like ours, is grappling with the problem. There are some people, of course, who, as in all countries, are indifferent to the situation, but, as a balancing factor, there are those who are prepared to devote their time and energy to its solution. The shift from rural to urban living has created a necessity for more care and attention for the aged. There are not so many houses of large size as there used to be, in which aged people can be accommodated. In these days, when young people marry, they build small houses. Their families are smaller than were the families of their forebears, and so there are fewer children to care for the older people, and the cost of maintaining the aged members of the family must be spread over fewer children. Because of the war, there is a further shortage of adequate accommodation. One of the problems we have to face at present is to decide how much to pay in pensions or social services. An article which was published in the Social Services J Journal of December, 1948, contained the following statement: -
A point, however, is reached when it has to be decided whether the needs of the individual and the community cannot better bc met by providing amenities and services rather than further or increased cash payments.
I believe that in Australia we are closely approaching that point, and it is not a question of how much money is given, but of how adequate accommodation and services can best be provided for the aged.
At this stage I wish to refute the implication contained in statements by Opposition members that consideration is not being given to the needs of the pensioners simply because honorable members on this side of the committee happen to belong to the Liberal party. It is easy for the Opposition to say that we on this side have unlimited amounts of money, that we live in ivory castles and are not conscious of the needs of the people. Although I give Opposition members credit for a genuine interest in, and sympathy for, the pensioners, they would give more practical expression to their sympathy, and, I am sure, obtain much more co-operation, if their statements were not weighted with extreme party considerations. Their statements are so often made for their sheer political value, so much so that they must be regarded as irresponsible, and, therefore, they lose any virtue which they may have had. Opposition members should remember that every increase of one shilling in the rate of pensions means that an additional £1,250,000 must be found from taxation. If the Opposition had the responsibility of finding the money, then perhaps it would not suggest vast increases in the pension rate. I think that the most cogent criticism one can make of the Opposition is that it is prepared to make a political football of this acute question of the amounts of money that should be provided for pensioners. When every shilling increase in pensions means that an extra £1,250,000 must be found, it is essential that every shilling increase should bc closely watched, in order to obtain the maximum benefit for those to whom it is granted. I do not think that any one would quibble at that statement. Therefore, the Government has decided to grant hospital benefits of 8s. a day per person. If the extra 8s. were given to the pensioner in money, to be set aside for use when medical attention might be necessary, it is quite certain that it would not be put aside for that purpose. The knowledge that free medical benefits and free medicine is available if required gives them a sense of security. We have come- to the stage where services are better than cash payments.
Probably one of the most forward steps that the Government has made in its effort to help the aged was the introduction last year of the £1 for £1 subsidy to charitable organizations. These organizations which are desirous of erecting buildings for the aged and invalid say without equivocation that this subsidy is the best thing that has been given to them during the time they have been carrying on their charitable work. There are innumerable cases which cannot be covered by government regulations which cater for only the average type of person. Therefore, it is necessary to have organizations which can select and cater for specific cases. I have frequently felt that organizations such as Legacy, which cater for widows and children of deceased ex-servicemen, can study individual cases and use to the best advantage any money they receive. These organizations deal with individual cases which do not come within the normal regulations. Because their own money is invested, their outlook is such that they will not permit to be wasted any moneys they receive from the Government. The community also is responding to this kind of activity.
The Brotherhood of St. Laurence at Carrum Downs is making remarkable progress. It has built its own homes. It selects the aged inmates and is catering for them. It provides them with reading material, and voluntary workers pay visits to the homes and carry out necessary repairs and maintenance. In addition, some of the aged people who have been tradesmen give their services. Doing their own work and planning it not only gives them an interest but also indicates what can be done with a specific sum of money. Therefore, I feel that organizations such as the Brotherhood of St. Laurence have obtained better results than could have been obtained by governmental administration. As a result of their experience they can give advice in regard to planning, accommodation, operating costs, selection of staff, types of buildings and layout and the stage when people should be selected. The Freemasons’ homes in Melbourne cater for inmates right from the time when they enter the homes to which hospitals are attached so that there is no necessity for any one to be taken from the homes in the case of sickness. There is also the Association for the Advancement of the Blind at Brighton and the Queen Elizabeth Benevolent Home at Ballarat which are examples of the best types of effort by citizens who provide voluntary aid and assistance.
In this day and age such activity is a challenge to the younger people who are benefiting as the result of shorter hours and higher pay. In this sphere they can find an outlet for their energies and can put back into the community something in return for the benefits they have received. In America, which claims to have the highest standard of living, young people have been appealed to in this way. There are many examples in hospitals in that country of young people working to a voluntary roster performing work which could not be carried out by a paid staff because of the expense that would be involved. I believe that in Australia, with our better conditions and with the necessity for the aged to be taken care of, this community spirit should be developed. We have the examples of Legacy, Apex, Rotary, the Lions’ Club, Junior Chambers of Commerce and church organizations, all of which are carrying out unselfish work on behalf of the aged. I have no doubt that this is due to the change that has been brought about as a result of our settling down after the war and because of the prosperity that we enjoy. People feel that it is their duty to help those who are not as well off as themselves. In Geelong a club for elderly citizens has been commenced. It started with a donation of £3,600. The local council has given the land on which a building will be erected to provide a club to which elderly citizens can go. Many of these aged people have sufficient money to provide for themselves but they need some place to which they can go to get away from their environment and mix in their own circle. That is a big factor so far as the aged are concerned. There should be no need for the flambuoyant gestures that we saw a few days before the budget was brought down when pensioners were led to Parliament House to express their viewpoint. Parliamentarians on both sides of the House know that the implication that the aged people are neglected and need to apply for assistance is completely erroneous. It was ridiculous for them to come here the day before the budget was brought down, at a time when it had already been hammered out, thinking that it could be altered. Those who associated themselves with the gesture were misleading these people. Perhaps, I should not reproach the pensioners in that respect because even in the business world the same thing happens. For instance, I received a letter from the electrical trades interests the day before the budget was brought down. Those interests put forward an excellent case for the reduction of sales tax on washing machines but it was dated the day prior to the budget announcement. It was not a matter of my receiving the letter too late, because it was postdated. Probably, we can excuse the pensioners for feeling that the budget could be altered, but there can be no excuse for a section of the business world adopting a similar course and showing a similar lack of knowledge.
– Does the honorable member think that sales tax should be reduced ?
– Even if it can be reduced that is not the way to approach the matter. It is something that Cabinet has to decide. The economy of the country has to be very carefully watched. There has been a lot of discussion about hire purchase, but that again has to be balanced very carefully and very cautiously. Hire purchase plays a fundamental part in the economy of this country by keeping the production lines rolling. Very often in times when labour is in short supply labour-saving devices are essential to the health of the womenfolk of the community. The main thing to watch is that people are not induced to purchase goods on hire purchase at too low a deposit. In some cases persons have been enticed into buying too many things at the one time because they have been able to obtain them on low deposits. If a deposit is required, and purchasers know that they must have a certain amount of money before they can hope to obtain an article, it will do much to adjust the present position. The motor car industry is very dependent upon hire purchase finance, but it contributes in many ways to the buoyancy of the economy, and towards the solution of our transport difficulties. At one time it would have been considered extravagant to go to work in a motor car, but our trams, trains and buses simply could not carry the available passengers if the number of motor cars used for this purpose fell to any great extent. Australia is, above all, a motoring nation. I hope that the Government will be careful before it restricts too greatly the ability of the people to purchase on terms goods that are essential.
Good roads are essential in Australia. I am reminded of a deputation that came to Canberra some time ago and said that the provision of £5,000,000 for roadbuilding was imperative. In the following budget a sum of £8,000,000 was set aside for that purpose. There is a school of thought that believes that money alone will get us good roads, but the construction work itself is of far greater importance. Probably roads are not being built any more quickly to-day than they were before the war. At Guthega construction continued 24 hours a day. Floodlights were used at night, so that the job would be finished within the specified time. The state of our roads justifies speedy construction of that type. Between Canberra and Melbourne traffic is constantly held up because of repairs to the roads. Such emergency work should be done round the clock with the aid of floodlights, and not compressed into eight hours each day. But in conclusion I say that the apprehensions of honorable members opposite concerning the economic state of the country are unfounded. The budget is” the right kind for present conditions’ and I feel sure that under this Government Australia will continue to progress as it has in the past.
.- This debate, and the feeling of the electorate^ clearly indicate that the budget should be withdrawn and recast. It solves no problem, and decides no issue. The’ honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman) said that the members of Her Majesty’s Opposition were forever speaking of gloom and disaster. I remind him that similar views on the economic situation are widely held throughout this country. Almost every newspaper-
– Every Minister says it!
– Cabinet Ministers also have expressed the view that Australia is facing a grave crisis. Something tangible should be done to deal with this problem. Just how does the Government intend to deal with it? The honorable member for Corio says that there is no need for gloom or despair, but in the last few days the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has been closeted with the bankers of this country in order to find out what they are prepared to do to assist his Government in the present crisis. One would expect a responsible government itself to solve the problems confronting it. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is not at this Parliament where he should be during a budget debate. He is not even in Australia. He has gone abroad, cap in hand, to the International Bank to plead for money with which to conduct the affairs of this country. Australia has reached a sorry pass when its Treasurer must absent himself from the
Parliament at such an important time when he should be here to listen to the’ views of honorable members and to order his conduct in conformity with the will of the elected representatives of the people. That, of course, is more than one could expect. Members of the Opposition know that no matter what the circumstances may’ be, one cannot hope that the Government will withdraw the budget and recast it. The Government is so case-hardened and lacking in policy that it is determined to go along willy-nilly, as it has in the past. The only course I can take in interpreting the will of the people is to support the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition by its leader for a reduction of the first item by £1. Our purpose is to indicate the nation’s disapproval of the Government’s lack of planning and its failure to do what even the Government itself suggests should be done. The first statement made by the Treasurer in presenting the budget was -
The budget always is, and ought to be, an occasion for stocktaking on the economic side of our national affairs. This year, I believe, circumstances are such that we must perform the stocktaking with particular diligence, candour and thoroughness.
The Treasurer’s way of dealing thoroughly with the budget is to be absent from Australia when it is discussed ! What the press of this country thinks of the Government, and of this budget, has been made abundantly clear by leader writers and writers of special articles. The Sydney Morning Herald of the 25tb August, 1955, referring to the right honorable the Treasurer in a leading article, said -
His own budget - the most inert ohe presented to Parliament in living memory - is an attempt to maintain an admittedly disastrous stains quo. In fact, it seems more likely to worsen matters; if the new estimates can be accepted at face-value, they may well make an absolute addition to this year’s inflationary pressures.
I agree with the point of view expressed in that leading article. When considering the reliability of figures presented to this Parliament by the right honorable the Treasurer, one has only to turn back to the budget speech for 1954-55 when the Treasurer intimated that there would be a budget surplus of £-251.000. In fact, there was a surplus of £70,200,000. If the Treasurer could be so far astray last year as the difference between £250,000 and £70,000,000 in assessing the income and expenditure of this nation, one might well ask how much credence can be given to the present document. I suggest that the figures in this year’s budget should be accepted with a great deal of reserve, for the T reasurer apparently has no clear understanding of the revenue he is likely to receive, or is likely to spend on the various projects now in hand throughout the Commonwealth.
The Treasurer has always held the view that he is better able to look after the people’s money than they are, and the sum of £70,000,000 is neither here nor there. That is a mere bagatelle to him. The Treasurer pointed out the dire peril facing Australia, and in his customary manner referred to the question of costs, and particularly its relation to wages. Other items were unimportant in his reckoning. He disregarded entirely the fact of dearer money and higher prices and the various components in the Australian economy such as high building costs and allied matters. They were of no moment.
The Treasurer made an analysis of Australia’s difficulties in regard to its overseas trade balance, and told us how badly our nation was faring. This is a vitally important matter, but the Government has refused to act. It has failed to take any practical steps to solve the problem. According to the Treasurer, during 1954-55 the cost of imports, including freight, exceeded the value of exports by £173,000,000. He said-
When net payments abroad for other items such as interest, dividends, remittances and the like are reckoned in, we had a deficit on current, as distinct from capital account of no less than £250,000,000.
The Treasurer admits that that is a grave state of affairs, but he proposes to deal with it like a gambler - a man who spends his money recklessly and wildly. Instead of trying to put our national house in order, he follows a policy of borrowing the money necessary to adjust the deficiency in the overseas trading account. As a result, the nation is living from day to day - -paying some accounts and owing others like a person incapable of maintaining his private business affairs on a sound financial basis.
– Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner, I was referring to the failure of the Administration to deal effectively with the great problems which are facing Australia. I had referred, in passing, to statements by Cabinet Ministers to leaders of industry and to the press, as borne out by headlines in daily newspapers from one end of Australia to the other, irrespective of whether or not the journal concerned nominally supports the Government, or whether it supports the cartels and groups opposing the Australian Labour party, which holds the only hope for the realization of the justifiable aims and aspirations of the people of this country. In every instance these newspapers have, as with one voice, attacked this budget. It is not surprising that the budget has been condemned, because it satisfies no section of the Australian people which is really concerned with the growth and development of our country. If this is the best pre-election budget which the MenziesFadden Administration oan offer to the Australian people, it indicates a very sorry state of affairs and shows that the budget which would follow an election, should the people unwisely return the composite government to power, would indeed be something to fear. Despite the surplus of £70,000,000 which existed before the Treasurer dealt with it as indicated by him in press statements, and despite the state of unprecedented prosperity, as claimed by Government supporters, this budget is all that is offered to the Australian people. To manufacturers it gives no hope, and it brings gloom and despair to people in country districts. When one considers the difficulties associated with the balance of payments, and the falling off of our balances abroad, accentuated by a drop in exports and the maintenance of a very high volume of imports, the Government has not attempted seriously to deal with the problem. One would have expected that, faced with a deficit in the balance of payments in the twelve preceding months of £256,000,000, as indicated by the Treasurer, the Government would have taken positive steps to arrest this drift. What does the Government propose to do about it? How does it plan to overcome this problem? Does it intend to attempt to export more and import less? If it desires to import less, in what classes and categories of commodities will the quantity be diminished, and what new range of goods will be brought to Australia? Is there any indication that less oil and petrol will be brought to this country? The Government stands condemned for the destruction of the shale oil industry at Glen Davis, which could, to some degree, have helped to solve this problem. The Government, which failed in this respect, most certainly will continue to import oil in very great quantities. The Treasurer is not in this country and able to heed my words, but I suggest with seriousness to the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), who is at the table, that some positive action be taken to try to restore the oil industry in this country and that practical means be found to utilize our coal so that less oil will be imported for the engines which drive our industrial plants. Such action has taken place in other parts of the world. Some countries which have great oil supplies, and others which have oil conveniently placed for their economic needs, have decided to develop the production of oil from coal. In this chamber to-day I addressed a question to the Prime Minister in which I asked that steps be taken to assure those persons engaged in the coal-mining industry that they would not lose their employment and would be able to continue in their jobs in their own districts. This is a most important matter, because many of those miners own their own homes. They are pioneers in the areas in which they work and some measure of security should be granted to them. They served the nation well in war. They helped to supply the coal needed to gear our industries for maximum production, and now when the Government is asked to preserve their occupation for them, it has not one word to say, although at the same time our overseas balances are diminishing.
Another important matter to which I wish to refer concerns almost the whole range of our primary products, including wool, wheat, dried fruits, butter, and meat, which we are finding it increasingly difficult to sell. These commodities are freely available and we are offering them to the customers whom we supplied during the dark days of war. Many of those customers, if they want the commodities, are telling us very plainly that they want to buy them much cheaper than they bought them previously. Some of these countries supply us with motor vehicles, engines, trucks, tractors, and various types of machinery needed for primary production and industrial activities. This Government, speaking on behalf of the Australian people, should say to those countries, “ “We want you to reduce your prices just as we have been obliged to reduce our prices “. That is a logical attitude to adopt, but this Governmen will not protect the people of this country. It will not protect our currency, and 1 should not be at all surprised if, at a very early date, proposals are submitted with a view to reducing further and diluting our currency in relation to the f] sterling and the dollar. I am implacably opposed to that. I see no reason for it. I believe that the Australian commodity, which is the real measure of value, should not be written down in relation to products from any other country. A good standard is vital, whether the commodity be a bushel of wheat, a loaf of bread, meat, fruit, vegetables, steel, or iron. We have the commodities necessary to make a great country. It is our responsibility to see that the Government does something constructive, but instead of taking the course I have indicated and trying to overcome these difficulties, it reiterate? with tiresome repetition the parrot cry that wages are too high and costs are spiralling. In the matter of costs the only element with which the Government concerns itself is the wage paid to the employee. In other parts of the world, and notably in the United States of America, that is not regarded as the criterion in all cases. Efficiency in industry is regarded as a vital matter, and I believe that a much greater efficiency could be developed here. When one considers wages, one must consider profits, but never do Government spokesmen refer to the high profits ma, !e by great undertaking?. A unique opportunity presented itself to this Government. For some considerable time, the margins and wages of the working men of this country have been pegged.
The basie wage has been pegged since 1953. One would have expected that, during the period when the basic wage and margins for skill were pegged, the Government would say, “ Here is a chance to bring to a standstill, or turn back the process of rising prices; there is a chance to turn back the hands of the clock of time and reduce our costs “. But the Government failed to act. It disregarded that opportunity. Now, having disregarded that opportunity and having closed its eyes to excessive profits made by almost every undertaking, it directs its attention, not to profits and profiteering, but to the wages paid to those engaged in industry.
The average working man looks for no more than a fair deal. Many working men accepted wages control in the hope that it would result in the stabilization or reduction of prices. In the hope of achieving that objective, the working man accepted pegging of the payment for his labour, for that was all that he had to sell. But although the Government wanted wages to be pegged, it was not prepared to peg prices and profits also. How are profits obtained? They are obtained from the brains, energy, sweat and industry of the workers. For all the comforts we enjoy, we should thank the men in industry. “We should pay a tribute to those who have developed this country. It was only quite recently that men employed on the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme created a world’s record for driving a tunnel through solid stone. That sort of achievement has been repeated throughout the history of this country. Yet this Government - sectional, narrow and class-biased in every possible way - directs its attention only to the working men’s wages. Never at any time, with the sole exception of an occasion during an election campaign when it promised to impose an excess profits tax, has it suggested that profits should be controlled. Over and over again reference has been made to these things by spokesmen for the Australian Labour party, trade union leaders and others, yet the Government remains cold and indifferent. The Sydney Morning Herald was so incensed at price increases that it stated -
The round of price increases since prices control was suspended in April has led a number of Labour men to argue that controls mould be re-imposed.
It stated also -
The recent monopolies commission in England showed how widespread and open to abuse such trade arrangements become, and there is no reason to suppose that they are less prevalent in Sydney.
They are prevalent throughout Australia. A government which professes to hold the scales evenly and to deal fairly with all sections of the community disregards the profits of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. It is inactive and immobile. It is indifferent to the intention of the shipping combine to increase shipping freight rates by 10 per cent. It passes that problem on to an ad hoc committee. It says that the problem is the concern of the committee, not of the Parliament of this country. What factors have a greater influence on our trade balance than shipping freights, insurance charges and other invisible items ?
Every day in every newspaper we see headlines such as “ Dunlop profit again tops £1,000,000 mark “, “ Larke Hoskins profit up 44 per cent.”, “ A.C.I. doubles record of previous year “, “ Cox’s profits ; high record “, and “ Holden’s serious dollar drain”. One newspaper referred to the record profit of £9,900,000 made by General MotorsHolden’s Limited and also to the parent company’s “ substantial and amazing profits in the United States of America”. There are references to the profits of the sugar companies of Queensland, the profits of overseas firms, the profits of Moulded Products Proprietary Limited and the profits of Associated Securities Limited. One could go through a long list of companies, all of which are making excessive profits. But there is no action by the Government. I suggest that before the Government says any more about how much the working people are taking out of the economy, it should, in fairness, apply itself to the problem of the profiteering that is taking place.
In the few minutes left to me, I want to say a few hurried words about housing, for I believe that the provision of houses is of the utmost importance in this country to-day. We need a greater population, but before we invite great masses of people to come to Australia we need homes for the people already in
Australia. I am one of those who believe that we need an immigration policy, but no plan or policy will be complete unless it makes provision to house the immigrants who come here. Every member of this Parliament must be inundated from day to day with harrowing stories of the experiences of people living in flats, tenements, sheds and sub-standard dwellings of all types.
This social evil, from which flow many of the causes of divorce, distress and hardship, should be dealt with as a major problem. But what do we see? The Government believes that housing activities should be conducted for profit, not for the benefit of the people. Because of the failure of this Government to deal with monopolists and because of its disregard of the activities of those who make profits from providing housing for the people, we read in the press about building costs going up by 5 per cent. and about the price of homes going up again. Fewer new houses are being completed.
We read recently the report by Mr. Justice Richards on infamous activities by timber organizations. It showed beyond any shadow of doubt that there were monopolies in the timber trade, especially in regard to softwoods. These profiteers had increased the profit margin on softwoods from 8s.8d. to 33s. l0d. a hundred super. feet. I asked a question in the House about that matter, but I received an indifferent reply. No action was to be taken in connexion with it. Company balance-sheet after balancesheet reveals what is happening with cement, timber, steel and other commodities. The Kandos Cement Company made a record profit. Broken Hill Company Proprietary Limited increased the price of steel by 5 per cent., despite a record profit for the previous year. We all know how important steel is in building. Galvanized iron, for example, is required for roofing and for a number of prime cost items in a home. These facts indicate the need for positive and drastic action by a government which should be concerned about providing houses for the people of our country, yet the Government refuses to act and refuses to deal with the problem. If at any time this Government really accepts its responsibility as a government, it will first set about trying to deal with this problem in a realistic manner.
The Australian Labour party, which has criticized this budget, believes that great development can occur in Australia. That development must be associated with housing. Instead of reducing the amount of money made available for housing, the Government should increase it. Greater sums must be made available to building societies and to private builders too.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I think it is perfectly obvious that this budget debate is fast running its course and is almost completed. However, on the principle, “ better late than never “, I join in to relate a few of my impressions. The best press comment about the budget that I have read was contained in an article entitled “‘Second Thoughts “, published by the Melbourne Argus, a journal which, in recent years at least, has leaned heavily towards the philosophies espoused by honorable members opposite. I shall read briefly some of the comments of that newspaper, as follows : -
Sir Arthur Fadden has been the most unpopular
I shall give honorable members the worst first - man in Australia since he introduced his shock budget on Wednesday night.
But the nation could ultimately come to respect the Federal Treasurer, and the Federal Government, for sacrificing popularity for responsibility.
To some honorable members that would be political heresy. The comment continues -
The Government, by proclaiming a “ tightwad “ financial policy for the coming year, has deliberately thrown away a chance to capitalize on Opposition disunity by precipitating an early election.
Why this politically unrealistic course?
Beside that comment was published an article written by Mr. J. F. Cairns, a Master of Commerce and senior lecturer in economic history in the University of Melbourne. He set himself out to explain this apparent political unrealism.
It is evident from this gentleman’s article that he is in full accord with the principles and objectives of this budget.
– He is no gentleman.
-Do not be too quick. Mr. Cairns expressed some doubt whether the objectives of the budget could be achieved. For the purpose of clarity and to establish a foundation that will be useful later, I shall read some of Mr. Cairns’s comments. He said -
The express central purpose of the 1955-56 Commonwealth budget is to restrain and discourage spending of all kinds in the coming year.
During the past year, private spending rose by 27 per cent. and Government spending by 7 per cent. Sir Arthur Fadden believes that unless steps are taken rates as high as these might continue.
What would be the consequences if they did and why should steps be taken to prevent them ?
The first result would be that with such a high rate of spending, a great deal of it must “spill over” into buying from other countries and our imports would rise rapidly.
Last year, we spent over £140,000,000 more in this way than buyers in other countries spent in Australia - despite import restrictions.
Even with them, it is predicted that our overseas funds will fall by more than £100,000,000 in the coming year.
Sir Arthur Fadden, therefore, has introduced a budget aimed to discourage spending, so that this “spillover” and the resulting fall in overseas funds will be kept as low as possible.
A second result would be that if spending increases at the rate it has, the supply of goods (local and imported) cannot increase at anything like the same rate, and so Australian prices and costs must rise . . .
High prices and costs in Australia mean losses of real income by all those people whose incomes are fixed periodically . . .
It means also that Australian industry’s power to compete with imports is weakened, and this in turn means more imports and further demands on overseas funds.
There can be no economic doubt-
This is rather important - that too high a rate of spending (inflation) is a great danger to Australia-and spending has been too high.
It is useless to talk about tax reductions as an incentive to increased production and therefore a counterto spending.
– Who stated that?
– I emphasize that I hare no wish to be provocative in my contribution to this debate. I merely desire to devote some of my time to a criticism of the critics. The important thing to know after having read that commentis that the gentleman who wrote it is the selected Labour candidate for the electorate of Yarra at the next general elections. I repeat that he is an experienced lecturer in economics. His attitude to the budget is diametrically opposed to the arguments advanced by honorable members opposite. The fact that, as I repeat, he is the selected Labour candidate for the Yarra seat is enough to expose the weaknesses and insincerities that are so euphemistically styled in the attack on the budget.
Since this budget debate began I have listened, sometimes under compulsion, to speeches that have been alleged to be an attack on the budget. I have experienced many emotions, not the least of which have been amazement on the one hand, and a certain degree of admiration on the other. I have* felt amazement and admiration because honorable members opposite apparently have not forgotten a single line of the speeches that they made in this chamber six years ago. Each year we hear from them the same theme without variation, the same platitudes and the same old cliches, and we witness the same lack of logic and the same irresponsible approach to national problems, particularly when a responsible approach would damage their election prospects. If anything, honorable members opposite are a little more naive this year than they were before. They have resurrected the old hackneyed phrase about putting value back into the £1. On this occasion, for purposes of comparison, some of them have selected 1939 values as a measuring-stick. They show a horrifying lack of appreciation of the factors that make for a happy and prosperous community.
Of course, there was great value in the £1 in 1939, but it was mainly because there was little or no value in the things that it would buy. In those days, as is well known, any one who was fortunate enough to get a job could earn a wage of about £3 10s. a week. There were many thousands of people unemployed, simply because the producers in the community were not receiving enough for their products to enable them to employ labour.
Let me give honorable members a reminder of the conditions that existed in those “good old days”. Butter could be bought for between 9d. and ls. per lb. Butter fat was only ls. 3d. per lb. Eggs could be bought for 6d. a dozen. Wheat could be bought for ls. 8d. to 2s. a bushel. Milk was ls. a gallon. Wool, upon which the national economy depends so much, was only 2s. 6d. per lb. Fruit could not be given away.
– Which government was responsible for that state of affairs?
– It was the Lyons Government.
– This Government claims the credit for the present conditions. Let the members of the Government parties take the responsibility for the conditions that existed in 1939.
– Honorable members opposite should not want to go into the question of who started it. The last item that I shall mention is a staple item of diet, potatoes, which were selling for as little as £1 a ton. I shall make it simpler for honorable members: That is the equivalent of ls. 3d. a sack. Even in those days it cost a farmer an average of £24 an acre to grow potatoes, and his return was as little as £6 an acre. Those were the “ good old days “ which honorable members opposite compare with the present. Several of them stated that the £1 is now worth only 7s. 6d. of its value in 1939. I say: What of it? That is at least one-third of the value of the 1939 £1, whereas wages are now four times as high as they were in 1939. There is a very vital difference inasmuch as to-day there is available for every man able and willing to work a job commanding a decent wage; in 1939 such jobs were available only to relatively few. Nobody who advocates a return to the conditions of 1939 is a friend of this country. Amenities which are considered essential to-day, such as electric washing machines, cake mixers, refrigerators, sewing machines, and, to a lesser extent, motor cars, were only dreams in 1939; to-day they are practical realities. Some honorable members try to create a different impression. They try to persuade the workers to believe that they are entitled to wages at to-day’s rates but should be able to buy their requirements at prices that obtained in an earlier period. 1 emphasize that in that earlier period the farmers, who had no power or authority to fix either costs or prices, worked round the clock, but gradually their assets were dissipated until, paradoxically enough, they got relief from heartache and mental strain in the bankruptcy court. That was a nice prospect for them ! To-day things are different. As I have said, they are vitally different because the value of the £1, which is allegedly much less than formerly, has not been dissipated into thin air. The value that has gone out of the £1 has found a resting place in the value of farm produce and other products. It has given greater happiness and prosperity to the people than they have ever known before. I challenge any honorable member opposite to contradict that statement. As the value still exists, every member of the community has a share of it. In other words, every one is receiving a share of the national dividend, compared with the position in former day? when only relatively few people got the lot, and the remainder got none and many were actually hungry. The budget is designed to hold on to this prosperity, instead of risking a return to the conditions of the days when many people were hungry. I believe that a little pessimism when there is a chance to adjust matters is far preferable to foolish optimism which could result in many years of regret. One could really hope that Labour would help in this design instead of hampering those who attempt to safeguard the future by exercising a little bit of control to-day.
The Opposition has repeated its annual wai] over the success of private industry, a success which ensures that the roseate dreams of socialism will register on the public mind a dream of a different hue - a dream which would be a menace to individual freedom. I would never subscribe to a price range which savours of exploitation, but I could easily approve of a dividend which is re-spent in further development in order to ensure continuous employment. Two of the companies which seem to be bete noir of the Labour party are the Broken Hill Proprietary
Company Limited and General MotorsHolden’s Limited, each of which is reinvesting millions of pounds in expansion projects in order to meet increasing demands. Neither of those concerns could expand its activities without money. General Motors-Holden’s Limited has been subjected to a lot of criticism because of its recently announced profit of £10,000,000- which, admittedly, does look rather exorbitant. It is establishing new works at Dandenong in Victoria, which, if one judges ‘by their size, will provide work for hundreds, if not thousands, of our citizens.
– The company is building those works out of profits; it has made :450 per cent, on ordinary capital.
– Honorable members opposite should at least approve of an enterprise that will provide such a vast field of employment.
I come now to social services benefits, expenditure on which in this financial year will reach the colossal amount of £179,0.00,000. If we add to that amount the cost of the national health service it will be seen that in this financial year a total amount of £218,400,000 will be expended on the provision of social services benefits. In order to appreciate the significance of this expenditure, let us consider some of the budgets of the past. Before the war, no budget in this country exceeded £100,000,000. One item alone in the budget now under consideration is 100 per cent, greater in amount than was the total budget of 1939. Unless we are satisfied that this costly structure should be built on the shifting sands of chance, a budget of this description is necessary in order to prevent a complete collapse of the economy. I recall - as many other honorable members will no doubt recall also - that a former Treasurer, in the person of the late Bight Honorable J. B. Chifley, warned his followers that social services benefits should come out of national income and should never be financed by loans or bank credit. That warning loses none of its meaning when applied to present-day trends. A social services item of £218,000,000 compared with a total budget of £100,000,000 in 1939 should make the nation sit up and take notice, and cause us to consider where we are going.
I am amazed at the pretended solicitude of some honorable members opposite for the needy pensioner - a solicitude with which their actions do not accord. I believe that my approach to this subject is very much more sincere than theirs, because if I were to agree - which I do not - that the present system of providing pensions is the best, I would double the pension payable to those who are wholly dependent on it before I gave a single penny of public money to those who do not need it. As a matter of interest, I should like to know what is Labour’s policy apart from the things that honorable members opposite have been talking about to-day. During the last general election campaign, supporters of Labour stated that, if returned to power, they would leave the needy on the same inadequate allowance but give a similar amount to the directors of the millionaire companies whom they now condemn so vigorously. How can their protestations on behalf of the pensioners be taken seriously? It is necessary for us to approach the problem of the care of aged people in a businesslike manner, as long as the community accepts the view that that is a public responsibility. The handing out of millions of pounds will not alone give to the pensioners security or peace of mind. This is a recurring national problem. As I said before, according to Mr. Chifley, pensions should be a charge on the national income.
I have derived great inspiration from the praiseworthy public response to the Government’s decision to subsidize, on a £l-for-£l basis, the provision of homes for aged persons. This scheme has been most successful during its year of operation, and has awakened a degree of public enthusiasm which could not have been envisaged twelve months ago. Its success has been more outstanding than many honorable members realize. These cottages, each with its own vegetable garden, spell comfort and security for the aged couples who occupy them. During this debate we have heard honorable members say that pensions should have been increased by £1 a week more than is proposed by the Government. Indeed, some honorable members have advocated an even greater increase. An increase of the pension by £1 a week would represent an additional £25,000,000 or £30,000,000 a year. I am convinced that this line of least resistance, involving the continual handing out of more and more millions, would never allay the fears which pensioners have regarding the future. The money would have to be paid this year and next year, and during the years that would follow. There would never be any end to the payments. If I had an additional £25,000,000 to spend at the moment to assist pensioners, I should expend it in the building of 20,000 cottages to cater for 20,000 aged couples, or 40,000 persons in all. Many of them to-day are paying high rents, and they would at least be free from that payment. I would charge them only a token payment, to cover such services as electric supply and so on, and I would continue this policy for five years. By this time the pension problem would cease to be a problem and the aged and afflicted would be assured of comfort and security. I suggest that the Government give some thought to this proposal, because if it were tried and it proved a success, it would accomplish two important and worthy objectives. First, it would relieve the Government of an annual nightmare, and, secondly, it would give peace of mind to the aged people in the community. It is our responsibility to do that for them within the limits of our power. However, I emphasize that this golden age can be bought at too high a price. The incessant demand on industry and governments for more and more millions of pounds to be loosed into the economy is having disastrous results, because it merely adds to a cost structure, which is already too high for successful competition. That is reflected particularly in the exports of our primary products, although it does not seriously affect products which are sold on the home market, and does no harm, so long as we can balance receipts and expenditure.
The primary producer is as eager to respond to any appeal for increased national production as is any other section of the community, but he has the unhappy knowledge that the goods he produces above the limited home market demand must be sold abroad at prices much below the cost of production. The dairy farmer is a case in point. He is guaranteed a home-consumption price, based on the cost of production, for all butter consumed in Australia, plus 20 per cent., but that means that all the butter produced over and above that limited demand must be sold overseas in competition with butter produced iD countries where costs are lower. This year the export surplus of butter rose by approximately 27,000 tons over the quantity exported last year. I emphasize that that figure is not the total quantity of butter exported, but the increase over the quantity exported last year. The sale of that quantity of butter at low prices overseas is reflected in a gradually diminishing overall return to the producer. Consequently, the dairyman cannot help thinking that the more he produces for export the less his overall return will be. I invite the nation to reflect on the dangers inherent in that very natural human reaction. We must try to devise ways and means of reducing costs, instead of encouraging an attitude of “ Grab while you can, and let the future look after itself”. That attitude is not a characteristic of any one section of the community, for, unfortunately, all of us are selfishly reaching out for the end of the rainbow, and we are encouraged to do so by at least a half of the members of this Parliament. When we discover that it is only a shadow, we excuse ourselves by blaming the Government, or some one else. This is not a new trait in human character. I am reminded of a quotation from an eighteenth century writer, who said that man is a benevolent animal ; when A sees B in distress, he thinks that C should do something about it. Human nature has not changed since that time. To-day, if individuals, or companies, or State governments fail or are embarrassed, they blame the Federal Government. I believe that that process will continue so long as the Federal Government possesses the full taxing powers for the whole of Australia.
In the short time left to me I should like to deal with the problem of our roads. Whilst I would never agree to diverting money needed for defence while there is any danger to this country, I am of the opinion that, if there is any lessening of tension overseas which gives promise of a better chance for peaceful conditions continuing, we should in some way relate our roads programme to our defence projects. Each year we should allocate money over and above the amount received from the petrol tax to bring our roads up to a condition which would make them useful to our defence forces in time of trouble. That capital expenditure should be continued for a period of years.
I conclude by saying that this budget is not the first budget brought down by this Government which has been severely condemned by interested parties. We still await a budget from this Government which has failed to prove that it is a reasonably true reflex of economic trends both here and abroad. In my opinion, the budget before us has many virtues which far outweigh those things which may be considered to be its shortcomings.
.- The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) commenced his speech by saying that during the time that he had occupied the chair in this debate he had listened with some amazement to honorable members on this side of the House parading the same views as they had expressed since 1950. He then said that he did not intend to be a critic of the critics, but he went on to say that each year the remarks of those who had opposed the budgets of respective governments had been distinguished by a complete lack of variation. Those of us who, over the last six years, have listened to the speeches of the honorable member for Gippsland, can say truthfully that each year he presents to this chamber the same theme. There has been very little variation of his remarks as a protagonist of the Government. It is true that we on this side have opposed this Government’s proposals in the budgets presented to us since 1950, but there is a sound reason for that opposition. Every one of those budgets has been distinguished by a complete lack of sympathy and understanding of the requirements of the great mass of the Australian people. Although it is true that Australia to-day enjoys a nominal prosperity, it is only a veneer over a seething mass of discontent. There is a general belief on the part of the people that this budget will do little to solve the problems that the ordinary man in the street, the working man and the family man, has to face day by day throughout the year. Therefore, the theme of those who attack this budget is well based, because they have a proper appreciation of what a sound budget should contain.
I subscribe to the belief that has been voiced on many occasions during the past few weeks that this budget does nothing to relieve the fears of Australians for the future; that it does less than nothing to highlight those things that are required in a community such as that of Australia. For these reasons, we say that the budget is flat and unimpressive and that it holds out no hope for the future; and that whilst it has been contended that it is a holding budget, it is merely an appreciation of matters about which the Government apparently intends to do nothing. The people are faced with mounting costs, and there is an everpressing burden of responsibility on those whose duty it is to supervise their domestic budgets; and also on those who are least fitted to bear it. Is it not right then, that honorable members who oppose the Government should try to parade the palpable weaknesses in such a very poor structure?
The honorable member for Gippsland, when he said that honorable members who oppose the Government gave their usual presentation, ignored the fact that since this Government achieved office the lot of the working man and the continual struggle of the housewife to achieve a reasonableplace in the sun and to see that the family budget is balanced every week has become more and more difficult. Whilst it is perfectly true to say that it is not very fair to set values of 1939 against those of 1955, for purposes of comparison it is quite inescapable if we are to appreciate the true relative rise and fall in the value of the monetary unit, the £1. In 1939, although it is agreed that conditions were different, the £l was worth, let us say, 20s. Although, in 1950, the Government claimed that it would effectively harness what it called the “ rising tide of inflation “, the £1 is now worth 7s. 6d. The housewife knows to her sorrow that, every day, the amount she receives from her husband buys less and less of the necessaries of life. The impositions that have been inflicted in relation to the household budget impose an intolerable burden on that great mass of the community, the ordinary man and woman who have to bear the mounting costs of this Government’s reckless expenditure. So it can truthfully be said that our comment on this budget of 1955 has an echo back to 1950. The obvious reason is that the Government has failed in the period since 1950 to do the job that it said it would do.
Let me remind honorable members that, in 1950, the Government asserted that it would harness inflation. Each successive budget since 1950 has seen that promise reproduced. Now, the Government has presented to the Australian nation a woeful admission of its own failure, and it has said that this budget is a holding budget. The Government has said that, by means of its impositions, it will hold off the tide of inflation. The Government made that statement in 1950 and has repeated it in successive years since 1950. No protagonist of the Government can disguise the obvious fact that the Australian economy is now in a parlous condition. Not only is it in a parlous condition, but all the signs and portents are present which accompanied a depression early in the 1930’s. Our imports are exceeding our exports. That is the same ominous portent that preceded the depression of the 1930’s which saw this nation plunged into economic gloom.
– I think that we heard the honorable member say that last year.
– I have said this before, but apparently it has not impressed itself on the mind of the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne). The same statements have to be made year by year because, apparently, the Government fails to understand plain, common-sense English. Apparently, all the lessons of the past are lost on the protagonists of the Government.
Let us examine the position in regard to the balance of our international payments. Imports of merchandise into the Commonwealth for the financial year 1954-55 amounted to £846,000,000 and exports of merchandise amounted to £7SO,000,000, leaving an adverse balance of £66,000,000. The position over the past two years has steadily deteriorated. In 1952-53, imports of merchandise amounted to £511,000,000, but exports in the same year amounted to £863,000,000. In other words, we were a creditor nation. Government supporters cannot say that our economic position is such that they can avoid the implications of that lesson. These were the portents that presaged the depression of the 1930’s; and the Government’s remedy is to produce this holding budget, adopt a “do-nothing” attitude, and hope to stave off the flood of disaster which threatens to engulf Australia within the next year.
Whilst it is true that the percentage of the national income that is going to the working man has shown some sign of increasing since the last budget, in terms of real value the percentage of the national income that goes to the worker is as nothing, compared to the percentage that goes to those companies that see eye to eye, politically, with Government supporters. According to the paper, “ National Income and Expenditure “. the amount of wages and salaries including pay to members of the forces, in 1952-53 was £2,039,000,000. In 1954-55, that amount increased to £2,321,000,000. Although the amount paid in wages and salaries increased over that period, the figures that I have quoted did not represent a very great increase when we consider an increase in the number employed. Over the same period, company income increased from £378,000,000 to an estimated £505,000,000. The paper, “National Income and Expenditure, stated -
The decline in export, income was chiefly due to H fall of about 12-i per cent, in wool prices . . . average earnings per employee increased by between 4 and 5 per cent, in both 1053-54 and 1954-55. . . . Company income is estimated to have increased by 20 per cent, in 1953-54 after remaining at about £380,000.000 from 1950-51 to 1952-53.
Those who oppose the budget have some justification for their contention that Australia is becoming a happy hunting ground for the promoters of big companies. All that can be squeezed from the reluctant companies and company promoters for the working man is merely sufficient to keep pace with the price of the humble necessaries of life.
For those reasons, honorable members who support the Anti-Communist Labour party say with truth that this Government lacks an appreciation of the requirements of the great mass of the community. We claim that it shows that lack of appreciation by its continued failure to remove the iniquitous sales tax burden, which presses with undue severity on the shoulders of the family man. It is unfair in its incidence. The same rate of sales tax is paid by the wealthy and the working people. Although it was introduced as an emergency tax by the Scullin Labour government in 1931, and was intended only to be an emergency measure, successive governments have continued to apply the sales tax with varying degrees of severity since it was introduced. In the nineteen years between 1931 and 1949, £404,000,000 was collected through this unfair impost, an average of £21,500,000 a year. This Government, which stated in 1949 during its successful election campaign that it would reduce all sorts of taxes, has a very unenviable record since it achieved office.
I remind the committee that in the nineteen years preceding the election of this Government, the average yearly collection from sales tax was £21,500,000. Since 1950, and including the proposals contained in the budget now before the committee, this Government has collected, or will collect, from sales tax, an average amount of £90,000,000 a year. The annual collections of sales tax since the Government was elected to office and its proposed collection in this financial year are -
In the six years since this Government was elected to office, it will have collected almost £540,000,000 in sales tax. Compare that figure with the total of £404,000,000 collected in sales tax in the preceding nineteen years. Every person in the community, and every honorable member, knows that the imposition of sales tax on the necessaries of life, and on the goods that are required by every young couple embarking upon matrimonial life, is an intolerable burden. This Government, and any other government that might succeed it, should consider abolishing the sales tax outright, or a progressive reduction of the tax to the point of disappearance.
I wish to refer to the speech that was delivered in this debate by the honorable member for Gippsland. Although I have a great personal regard for the honorable member for Gippsland, I deny his imputation, as does every other honorable member on this side of the House, that those who speak of social services do so to attract votes. That might be said of any honorable member who rises to speak in this chamber on any subject. I prefer to give credit where it is due. Those who speak intelligently and sympathetically on the subject of social services do not deserve to be decried. They should be given full credit for their contributions to the debate.
When I, and other honorable members, refer to social services, we are talking of something that enters our daily lives, and as the result of observations we have made in the electorates we represent. I shall not be unfair enough to say that this Government has not done anything for the pensioners and others who are in receipt of social services benefits. It is to the eternal credit of the Government that it has relaxed considerably the income and property qualifications in connexion with invalid and age pensions. It has extended the scope of eligibility, and it is entitled to credit for its benevolence in that regard. However, the fact that impinges upon the minds of those who oppose this Government is that those persons who have nothing beyond their pensions, or so little more in income or property as not to affect the amount of pension, have received very scant and discourteous attention from this Government. The decision to give the pensioners a measley increase of 10s. a week is a gross insult that will be repaid in due course when those who have been misled by this Government get an opportunity to express their opinions at a general election.
In the electorate that I represent, there is a big percentage of persons whose only crime is- the fact that they must carry the burden of poverty and indigence in their old age. During their working lives, those people, who are grand Australians but are no longer employable, have reared big families. Generally, they reared them upon the income of one working unit in the family. It was not possible for them to save from their meagre wages a competence for the days when they would not be employed. Those persons are entitled to social services benefits because their present economic circumstances result from causes not of their making. To-day, 89 per cent, of persons who receive age and invalid pensions have less income or property than would make a full pension rate non-effective. In my electorate, 9.5 per cent, of the people are over 65 years of age.
Recently, a survey was made by a doctor of the Melbourne University who published his findings under the heading, “ Old People in a Modern Community “. Fie found that the essential requirements to keep an elderly person in a decent state of nourishment and comfort were hot met by the hand-out given them by this Government. The Anti-Communist Labour party directs attention again to a suggestion that was made by its leader, the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua), in his budget speech. He suggested that serious consideration should be given by the Government to the appointment of a royal commission or a commission of inquiry to investigate every phase of social services benefits in order to determine the minimum requirements’ in food clothing, &c, to maintain elderly persons in comfort. Once that standard has been determined, it should be related to the contemporary basic wage. It should then be taken front the control of the Parliament. That unique proposal has not received any publicity. We parade it again, because it possesses unusual merit. It should be considered; it cannot be lightly ignored. I present it fdr the careful consideration of the committee. Pending the adoption of the suggestion, the Anti-Communist Australian Labour party submits to the Government with_ great respect that age and invalid pensions should be raised to an amount equal to half of the basic wage.
The Government should also consider the position of the civilian widows, of whom there are 46,000 in the Commonwealth. They have received from the Government the worst possible treatment. Until this Government assumed office, the widows’ pension, which was introduced in 1943 by the Curtin Labour Government, never fell below a sum equal to one-third of the prevailing basic wage. Indeed, at one stage it was equal to 40 per cent, of the basic wage. To-day, however, this benevolent Government pays the following sums to the categories of civilian widows to whom I shall refer: - Class A, widows with one or more children, £4 5s. a week; class B, widows of not less than 50 years of age with one child, £3 7s. 6d. a week; class C, widows in necessitous circumstances following the death of the husband, £3 7s. 6d. a week. I ask, in all sincerity, whether any honorable member in this chamber would like to see a widow related to him, endeavouring to keep a child or to keep a home together on a miserable moiety of £4 5s. or £3 7s. 6d. a week.
The time available for my contribution to the debate is running out. I realize perfectly well that I have said nothing new. I realize, moreover, that there has been a thread of reiteration through the remarks of those honorable members who have spoken in opposition to the Government during this debate ; but that reiteration has been necessary because the Government has failed to appreciate the necessity for prompt and vigorous action if the impending evil of inflation and the possibility of economic disaster for Australia are to be averted. The Government heeds to be told time and time again that the needs of pensioners, widows, and other persons who are in receipt of social services benefits, must be constantly pressed before its reluctant nose. Otherwise, it will fail to appreciate the dire plight of those people. I repeat, in my concluding remarks, that the matters to which I have referred must not be considered lightly or as being merely soap-box tactics in an appeal for votes. They are genuine heartfelt grievances. While inflation continues without check by this Government, while the Government continues to ignore the lessons of the past, and while it contents itself with a “stayput” budget, how can it possibly hope to gain the confidence and respect of the people of Australia? The members of the Anti-Communist Australian Labour party repeat with emphasis that their idea of a proper Australia is not an Australia that receives indiscriminate handouts, but a progressive community in which the working man, and the employer too, receive the maximum benefit based upon the wealth of that community so that the burden that now falls upon the shoulders of the working man, the family man, may be less severe. We believe that not until the principles and true Christian ideals for which we stand are applied to the problems of this age shall we see a united and properly developed Australia.
– I thought, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that I detected a note of wistfulness in the speech of the honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. Cremean), i. thought I could visualize him sitting behind the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) during the last budget debate, manfully going over, word by word, reiteration by reiteration, the speech that he has made to-night with a sort of nostalgic yearning to be back whence he came. I am just wondering what sort of a reception he would get if he were to return. I have no doubt, however, that the honorable member will try to reconcile himself to the shades of the corner party on that side of the chamber. I had hoped that when he took his place in that party his attiude might change somewhat, and that he might become a man with more liberal ideas than those which he has expounded to-night. It seems that that change has not taken place.
One of the most distressing sights in the public life of this country is the manner in which a once great party, whose boast was solidarity, has become just a mere rabble. It is pathetic, indeed, to see the leader of this once great party changing his front so rapidly that his Own followers are becoming completely bewildered. From his shameless wooing df big business during his policy speech of 1954 he has turned to a shameful betrayal of his erstwhile love. I could not help but look at the party that sat behind the right honorable gentleman when he was delivering himself of his budget speech. The change of expression on the faces of honorable members opposite was remarkable, especially when they realized that, instead of seeking an increase of the initial depreciation allowance, the right honorable gentleman was casting that proposal overboard. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) rushed manfully into the breach and claimed that the Government should immediately increase the allowance. Clearly he was astounded at what his leader had said. The result, of course, was obvious in the speeches that have been made by Opposition members.
The honorable member for Hoddle used the word “ reiteration “. There has been reiteration of one theme - that the volker is being paid too little. Honorable members opposite think that that is the theme that will win them most vote3. The Leader of the Opposition, in his speech on the budget, said that it was a fact that the worker was being paid too lit tie* Opposition members have seized, upon that statement, in the hope of making some political capital out of it. The reason why the right honorable gentleman attacked the budget is quite clear. In my opinion, there is no scope whatever for constructive criticism of the budget. It is the budget of a conscientious government that is deeply concerned about preserving the prosperity that this country has won. I listened with great interest to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. He admitted that there was increased prosperity.
– - He did not admit that.
– He admitted that there was increased prosperity. The honorable member for Melbourne is completely out of step with his leader. This is yet anéther matter on which the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy do not see eye to eye. He admits that there is ah enormous increase of production, and his complaint seems to be against big business and the profit that it is making.
I listened to the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), and I heard him read out a list of companies and the enormous profits that they are supposed to have made. In other words, I heard him read out a list of industries that have been successful in this country, and I would that more industries were successful and were making more profits. If they were, Australia would be a better country for all of us. I desire now to refer to the 1954 policy speech of the Leader of the Opposition. He said in that speech -
The maintenance and expansion of a vigorous and efficient secondary industry in Australia is vital to the defence and economic security of the Australian people. . . . Labour is pledged to assist this expansion.
To clinch the matter he said that if it were elected to office, Labour would direct the Commonwealth Bank to provide the credit necessary for an expanding economy. He also said that it must help to maintain our expanding industries which produced the national wealth. Yet, now we hear criticism in the most virulent terms of the very thing that the Leader of the Opposition said that he would endeavour to achieve if elected to office. The Leader of the Opposition surely has not forgotten that expansion is only achieved by ploughing back the profits that are made in industry, or by investment. But investment is only attractive if the terms are sufficiently profitable. If we want expansion there is no way in which we can get it except by the two methods I have indicated. The capitalists on the Opposition side of this chamber have their investments in business and industry, and they would certainly not invest unless they could be sure of a reasonable return for the money invested. The Leader of the Opposition forgets that profits would have been much greater than those which have been spoken of by the honorable member for Macquarie if Labour had been returned to office at the last general elections. Let me repeat some of the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition during his policy speech of 1954. He said-
A Labour Government is pledged to taxation allowances to encourage the modernization of plant and equipment, both for primary and secondary industry.
I ask honorable members opposite what does that mean if it does not mean that he would assist industry to make greater profits by means of taxation allowances. When honorable members opposite applaud, they do not realize the results that would have flowed from the implementation of the policies of the Leader of the Opposition. On the 26th May, 1954, the Leader of the Opposition said that if he were elected to office, Labour would restore initial depreciation allowances for industry as from the 1st July. That proposal would have cost about £23,000,000 annually and the honorable member for Melbourne has remained true to the 1954 policy of the Labour party, but his own leader has walked away from him and is now not prepared to support that policy. Now that the election is over, the Leader of the Opposition’s courtship of big business is no longer necessary for his purposes. It is much more important for him to maintain his position as leader of the Labour party than it is to court big business as he did on that occasion. Therefore, he has turned his attention to the underprivileged classes, and has told them that prosperity is illusionary and is enjoyed by one section only. Then, in a fashion which would have been most illogical had it come from some other source, he advocated an increase of wages as a check to inflationary trends. No wonder the famous Bulletin cartoon referring to the present state of politics shows the Leader of the Opposition upsidedown. His policy is completely upside-down. His statement about inflation is in direct contrast to what he said in his statement of January, 1952, before the last general election. But, of course, he changes his coat so often that it is difficult to keep track of him. However, he correctly interpreted the position when he made the following statement: -
The increased cost of production due to increased wages must cause further increases in prices, and all families dependent on fixed incomes not only get no benefits from the wages adjustment, but receive a further setback as costs go higher.
Yet the right honorable gentleman has the temerity to stand in this chamber and advocate the very contrary to what he advocated in 1952. But that is nothing strange to him. In 1954, he changed his 1952 views, and now he has changed his views again. The Leader of the Opposition said that there was too little spending in the community, and quoted from the White Paper to support his argument. He said that there had been a reduction of basic consumption, but the figures published in the White Paper reveal just the opposite. The White Paper shows that personal consumption increased from £2,545,000,000 in 1952-53 to £3,110,000,000 in 1954-55. That is an increase of £565,000,000. Personal consumption increased in greater proportion than the national income, which increased by only £445,000,000. Therefore, the argument of the Leader of the Opposition that personal consumption has decreased is completely wrong according to the figures in the White Paper.
The money to finance personal consumption comes mainly from salaries and wages, and as that total has increased, so salaries and wages must have increased. The Leader of the Opposition has said that prosperity is illusory and is enjoyed by only one section of the people. In saying that he meant to imply that the wage-earner is not participating in our prosperity, but I think that honorable members will agree that the real test of whether he is participating is how money is spent in leisure hours. Therefore, let me consider one or two matters in connexion with the leisure of the individual. However, before doing so, let me establish as a basis the fact that savings bank deposits in the month of June, 1955, increased by £21,848,000 to £1,073,394,000. Those deposits represent the savings of working men. Compare the difference in the three years between 1953 and 1955. In 1953, there were 6,633,000 operative accounts. To-day, there are 6,861,000. In 1953, the total amount deposited was £947,497,000, whilst to-day it is £1,073,394,000. Those are savings bank accounts, and I submit that that shows conclusively that the average man cannot only satisfy his own needs in the home and in his leisure hours, but also can find sufficient money to bank, in everincreasing amounts. In my opinion, that is indicative of prosperity, and that the average working man is sharing in that prosperity.
I do not wish to deal with motor cars, because a tangible asset is involved, but we know that the number of cars on the roads is increasing each year by scores of thousands. Let us come down to homely things. Take, for example, beer. Last year, the consumption of beer reached the record figure of 219,000,000 gallons. Excise from beer alone increased from £59,914,000 in 1951-52 to £76,361,000 in 1954-55. I direct attention to that increase to show that there is spending power for personal benefit and satisfaction in the leisure hours.
Now let us take betting. I have just received a report from Perth, where legalized starting price betting is in operation, which discloses that the turnover of starting price betting shops and course bookmakers in that State was £1,357,916 for the four weeks which ended on the 27th August last. Sporting authorities estimate that the State betting turnover for a year will approach £20,000,000. That is in Western Australia, where legalized betting is an established fact. Now let us compare the position in the other States. I suppose we could say that the figure in South Australia would go up by another £5,000,000, and I have no doubt that I am being conservative in my estimate. In Victoria, it probably would be £40,000,000; in Tasmania, £15,000,000; in New South Wales, £50,000,000; and in Queensland, £35,000,000.
– More than that!
– Much more, possibly. Those figures total £185,000,000. In 1953-54, the people of NewSouth Wales subscribed £10,587,000 to lotteries and taking into consideration lotteries in the other States it would mean that more than £250,000,000 is being spent in betting each year in Australia. I do not object to a man having a bet, if he wants to do so, nor do I object to a man having a glass of beer, if he wants to have one; but I do object to members of the Opposition saying that the average man enjoys none of these luxuries in his leisure hours, because the facts and figures disprove that contention entirely. When honorable members opposite say that the workers have no share in the general prosperity of this country, I point to the Savings Bank deposits, to the £250,000,000 spent on betting, and to the extraordinary circumstances associated with the increased consumption of beer, and I say to them that that is money which is spent in the leisure hours of the average worker who, by his actions, shows that he is partaking of the prosperity that the country is enjoying.
As I said earlier, I admire the versatality with which the Leader of the Opposition changes his political coat. During the last general election campaign be was a non-socialist, cultivating big business. Now he is a socialist again, bent on .shearing businesses of their profits and taxing them as exploiting monopolies. He wants to limit their expansion. The right honorable gentleman, whose recent speech on the budget I am criticizing, has never suffered from embarrassment through changing his front. He was once the champion of the anti-Communist industrial groups, which he lauded in July, 1953, at their annual conference. He told them that they were entitled to the congratulations not only of the Labour movement, but also of the majority of Australians. But that was before he saw them as a sectarian instrument and ruthlessly denounced them, and in doing so wrecked the Labour movement.
What has happened in Victoria and New South Wales, within the ranks of the Labour party, is so apparent that there is no need to say anything more about that matter. But let us have a look at the intrusion of the right honorable gentleman into liberalism. There was an occasion when he wrote the Beauchamp Prize essay entitled “ Liberalism in Australia “. Let us see what he thought of Labour at that time in his life. In 1915, he condemned the Labour pledge, that thing that is sacrosanct to Labour. He condemned the caucus, and he condemned preference to unionists. He wrote that the Labour pledge was neither moral, expedient, nor necessary. I wonder whether he still holds that opinion ? Of caucus, he wrote that it was wrong that ideals of political and social philosophy should be sacrificed on the altar of utility and party discipline. That is very interesting. Recently, the right honorable gentleman abided by a decision of caucus, even to the extent of leading his .supporters out of the House in a body, rather than support the ideal of civil liberty that he prates so much about. Of preference to unionists, he wrote thai extreme discretion should be used in awarding preference to members of political industrial organizations, and thai existing political parties were vindicating the ideal of equal opportunity. Those are criticisms which the right honorable gentleman made in an essay which was described, at the time, as “ an historical sketch of Australian politics “. I should think that it might well be described now. in retrospect, as a hysterical sketch.
The Leader of the Opposition says tha; the defence vote should be reduced. There is nothing very strange in that, because normal Labour policy, since I have been in Parliament, has centred round reduction of the defence vote and, indeed, the complete destruction of any defence policy that, might have been laid down by a previous government. During my period in this House, I have seen the Royal Military College at Duntroon closed and destroyed by Labour. I have seen the Royal Naval College at Jervis Bay closed and. destroyed by Labour. I have seen compulsory military training abolished by Labour, and I have seen Labour opposing the Empire air training scheme, which was the salvation of England and civilization during the war. I have seen the Australian Labour party block the passage of legislation to introduce the present national service scheme, until an outraged public opinion forced it to reverse its decision. I have seen what happened to Manus Island at the hands of the present Leader of the Opposition. That bastion of Australian defence was sacrificed by the right honorable gentleman and now, running true to Labour form, he wants to cut the defence vote. I should like to know where he would start. Would he do what the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) said he would do? In Mansard, volume 157, page 641, of the 12th October, 1938, he is reported to have said -
Personally, I would not spend threepence on armament works or on defence works of any kind in Australia.
In reply to the question, “ Then why not cease all defence preparations?”, asked by the present Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt), the honorable member said, “ I would “. I should like to know whether he would follow the policy which the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) advocated during the last war, when he wanted to negotiate with Hitler to end hostilities. I should like to know whether he would follow the policy of the then Minister for Labour and National Service, Mr. Holloway, who, in November, 193S, said, “ The Government is expending much too rapidly on defence. It is making plans for more than the adequate defence of Australia “. Does the honorable member agree with the late Mr. John Curtin, the then Prime Minister of this country, who said, “ As a Labour man, I have to accept the responsibility, as does the Labour movement of the whole world, that it made no preparation for war “ ? He made that statement to a crowded meeting at the Sydney Town Hall in October, 1942.
So I should like to know where the Leader of the Opposition would want to cut this vote. Would he want to cut dora the vote of the services because in 1949 there were only 11,000 permanent men in the Royal Australian Navy? To-day, there are 13,300 men. There were no reserves in the Navy in 1949; there are 5,550 to-day, and the national service intake is 4,400. In the Army in 1949 there was a grand total of 7,500 men, and there were no reserves. To-day there are 23,551. From national service training sources there was no intake. Now we have an intake of 9,783 men a year. In 1949 there were 14,000 men in the Citizen Military Forces. To-day we have 81,121 men.
The same story goes for the Royal Australian Air Force. In 1949 there were 11,000 in the permanent force. To-day there are 15,400. In 1949 there were 5,000 reserves, whereas to-day there are 23,105. There was no intake of national service trainees in 1949, but to-day we have an intake of 3,300. Would the right honorable gentleman cut the services still further? Australian-made Sabre jet fighters and Canberra jet bombers are being used to-day by the Royal Australian Air Force. Would he destroy those aircraft? Would he refuse to build any more of them? A robot jet target aircraft, wholly designed in Australia, and the first to be made in the British Commonwealth, is in production. Would he destroy that machine? We are making here the main armaments and engines for our destroyers. Would he cut those operations? We are making the latest types of high-explosives and ammunition. Would he cut that production. Preliminary steps have been taken for the production in Australia of the .30 rifle, which has been adopted as the standard rifle for the Allied nations. Would he destroy that? We are commencing the construction of a £23,000,000 ammunition-filling and assembly factory which will be in operation by the end of 1957. Would he stop that work?
– That is just the point. The honorable member would destroy the defence planning of this country. Conventional armaments are powerless unless we have ammunition to fire from them. It is of no USE having artillery unless we have shells for the guns.
Those are just a few of the matters with which we on this side of the chamber are concerned. Therefore, one is quite justified in saying to the right honorable gentleman, “ You talk of cutting the defence vote. Where would you begin? Would you go back to the traditional Labour policy of destroying completely the defences of this country? If you would, then you would have to meet exactly the same circumstances that faced you in the years gone by when a Liberal government had to pull you out of your trouble and establish the record of service to which the late John Curtin referred in October 1941. When his government assumed office, the Navy was at its highest pitch of efficiency, the home Army was well trained, the strength of the Air Force had been largely increased and ammunition production and the development of productive capacity over a wide range of classes including aircraft was growing weekly. The facts in .that statement were given by Labour’s own Prime Minister, by a man whose name the Opposition in this chamber reveres. Therefore, I say to the Opposition, “Destroy the present defence programme and you will have to fall back on to a Liberal government to pull you out of your problems so that you could start again on a proper basis “.
– Order! The right honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The remarkable characteristic of the speech to which we have just listened is the fact that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), who was supposed to be defending the Government’s budget, said practically nothing about it.
Again, one of the remarkable features of the whole debate is the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), has been billed to speak three times in this debate and each time, for some reason or another, has vacated the stage. Now, he has left to-night, the final night of broadcasting, to the party hack to put up the case for the Government.
What does the Vice-President of the Executive Council say.? Let us examine his speech, for it is just as well that we correct one or two of his misstatements. He referred to a statement made by a former Prime Minister, the late Mr. Curtin, when we took office in October, 1941. I remind honorable members that we took office then, not as the result of a general election, and not because the people voted us into office. We became the Government in October, 1941, because the Government of which the VicePresident of the Executive Council was a member collapsed. That Government walked out, after some of its own members had helped to defeat it, because they had lost confidence in it.
It is perfectly true to say that when Mr. Curtin took office, the defences of this country were in such a deplorable state that it was essential for the government of the day to do a little bit of bluffing so that the Japanese would not know exactly how defenceless this country was. With the Japanese threatening us to the north would it not have been utter stupidity for the Prime Minister to indicate exactly how defenceless we were? It is quite true that Mr. Curtin indicated that the defences of this country were in an efficient state of organization. But he knew that was not true, and so did every member of the present Government, the party that was then in Opposition, know that it was untrue. You will remember, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that the then Minister for the Army, who is now our representative in Washington, declared on one occasion in this Parliament that one brigade of Japanese, landed on Australian shores, could have occupied the whole of the Australian territory.
– When did he say it?
– The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) knows when he said it. The occasion was a secret meeting of this Parliament during the war years.
Let us examine the position. Honorable members will remember that away back in 194’3, and a little earlier, when we discovered what had been happening in this country under an anti-Labour government, I disclosed the strategy that the former government had adopted of surrendering large areas of Australian territory without firing a shot. It was a defeatist plan. That is known from one end of the country to the other, and in other parts of the world, as “ the Brisbane line “. Honorable gentlemen on the opposite side were parading up and down the country calling it “ the Brisbane lie “. Let the Vice-President of the Executive Council, the Minister for Labour and National Service or any other honorable member who sits behind the Government to-day declare that Major-General Willoughby and MajorGeneral Whitby, both of whom were on the staff of General Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief in this theatre of operations, and who have now written and published books relating the exact situation as they found it when they arrived in Australia, are telling untruths when they refer to “ the Brisbane line “ ! Is any honorable member on the Government side prepared to stand up and say that those two eminent American soldiers, who served under General MacArthur in this theatre of operations, are lying, too? I notice that honorable members opposite are very silent.
– Tell them about Sir Leslie Wilson.
– Sir Leslie Wilson, who was then Governor of Queensland, disclosed upon his return to Great Britain, the plan that was prepared .by the present Government, which was at that time in charge of affairs in Australia. I do not propose to spend any more of my time in exposing exactly what the situation was when we took office in October, 1941.
I am more concerned at the moment about the situation that lies ahead of this country. It is of no use for the VicePresident of the Executive Council to ignore the budget completely. It has been referred to as the “ stayput “ budget ; C prefer to refer to it as the “ predepression “ budget, because there is no doubt in the world that this country is now facing tremendous difficulties because of the mismanagement of the MenziesFadden Administration. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), who does not happen to be in his place in the Parliament this evening, received a deputation in Canberra recently from the master builders and the building workers’” trade unions. The members of the deputation asked the Minister to agree to pay increased rates to workers employed on building construction in the Australian Capital Territory and on works elsewhere under his control, and the Minister in refusing their request replied, “We ar. facing an economic blizzard “.
– Who said that?
– The Minister for the Interior said that to a deputation, and he knows full well that all the portents in Australia to-day point to another depression equal in intensity to, or probably more intense than, the depression from which the people suffered so much in the early ‘thirties. When that happens again the Australian people, as they always have done in critical times, will turn to a Labour government to help them out of their difficulties.
Let us consider what was said by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), who interjected. He said, “ Australia is running into a most difficult economic position “ - and so it is. On the first occasion when the Prime Minister was to speak in this debate, an emergency meeting of the Cabinet was called. Dr. Roland Wilson was summoned to attend the meeting, as also was Dr. Coombs, because there is a difference of opinion between Dr. Wilson and Dr. Coombs. Dr. Wilson wrote the Treasurer’s budget speech. He does not believe in controls, but Dr. Coombs has been urging the Government to introduce the most rigid controls, because he realizes that only by imposing controls can the Government possibly hope to extricate itself from its present difficulties.
Where is the Prime Minister to-night? He is not in this Parliament. He has not spoken in this debate. One would have imagined that at least he would have come forward and told us what he has discussed with the private bankers in the past few days. It is rather significant that in a period such as this the Prime Minister should have had a secret conference with private bankers, and we should not be told one word of what they discussed or what decisions they made. Yet we hear Government members talking about the difficult times that lie ahead. The leaders of the Government speak of Australia as having enjoyed years of prosperity. I am not denying that there are certain persons in this country who have become very prosperous under the administration of this Government, but they are not the ordinary rank and file of the Australian community. They are not the pensioners or the workers in industry. The great wealthy monopolies and combines have waxed fat under this Government. They have enjoyed a period of prosperity. But what does the Government propose now? I shall not take up too much time in speaking of social services, because that subject has been adequately dealt with by other members of the Opposition. The Government proposes to give 10s. a week to the age and invalid pensioners, which will bring their weekly payment to £4, which is approximately 32 per cent, of the basic wage. Under the Labour Government in 1948, the pensioners received the highest percentage of the basic wage that they have ever received. I am not arguing that even that rate was sufficiently high, but what does the Government propose to do now? It proposes no increase in the maternity allowance, in a time when it says that there is great prosperity* The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) only a few months ago was talking about a surplus of £70,000,000 and, when we wanted to know what he was going to do with it, we discovered that, according to him, it no longer existed. The Government proposes no increase in the unemployment and sickness benefit, which has remained at the dame figure since it was introduced by a Labour government. There is no increase proposed in child endownment. As to the Government’s hospital benefits scheme, which it is always parading before us, the Government refuses to increase the subsidy paid to hospitals. As a result, State governments, because of lack of funds, have been compelled to increase the fees charged to persons who are forced to seek hospital treatment.
I come now to repatriation benefits. How often have we heard members of the Government talking about their sympathy for ex-servicemen and how many of them have seen service? Let us consider how they treat the men who served with them. They have decided to grant an increase of 10s. a week to the special rate pensioner, the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. Every member of this Parliament knows exactly to what degree ex-servicemen have to be disabled before they can qualify for such a pension. That increase will bring their weekly pension up to £9 15s. In addition, there is an amount of £1 15s. 6d. for the pensioner’s wife - which remains at the same figure as it was previously - bringing the total to £11 10s. 6d. a week* That amount still represents only 92 per cent, of the basic wage, and that is for the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. Let us consider the general rate pension. An increase of 5s. a week is to be granted to the man who receives the 100 per cent, disability pension, but the increase is at a proportionate rate for those in receipt of a lesser rate of pension according to the amount the ex-serviceman is now receiving. If he is 50 per cent, incapacitated he will receive 2s. 6d. a week; if he is 10 per cent, incapacitated he will receive 6d. a week. Those are the amounts that are to be granted by this Government to disabled ex-servicemen whilst it talks so much about prosperity.
What advantages will these increase* confer upon the unfortunate persons who receive them? They will not receive these paltry increases until the enabling legislation is passed by this “Parliament and receives the Royal assent, and the cost of living will continue to rise. Everybody knows of the recent tremendous increase in the price of tea. We also know what is happening in regard to rents, both in Victoria and South Australia, where anti-Labour governments are unpegging rents, which are now increasing tremendously. The increase of 10s. a week which is to be given to a limited number of those who receive social services payments will disappear before it is actually received.
What does the future hold? The Treasurer said -
The spiralling of prices and costs can be expected to go forward in real earnest.
That is, after the effects of this budget are felt. It has not started to go forward in real earnest yet, according to the Treasurer. What will happen to these unfortunate people when, if the Treasurer’s prediction is correct, the spiralling of prices and costs goes forward in real earnest?
Let me consider for a moment the prosperous people in the community, the people who approve of this Government. Let us see how they are faring under the administration of a government which, in 1949, declared that profits were excessive. The Prime Minister in his policy speech in 1949 declared that, if elected, he intended to introduce an excess profits tax. If profits were excessive then, how would the Prime Minister describe them to-day? Let us consider the profits made by only a few concerns. If one reads the newspapers, one finds every day that one concern or another is making record profits. General Motors-Holden’s Limited, which has been mentioned frequently in this debate, made a net profit of £8,000,000 in 1953-54. That company’s profit has increased to £10,000,000 net this year. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that it is a good thing that companies make tremendous profits so long as they plough them back into the industry. He does not tell the Australian community, however, that the money which is ploughed back is money extracted either from the people who purchase their products or from the employees who work for them. When the right honorable gentleman talks about ploughing the money back, he conveniently overlooks the fact that it is really money that has been withheld or extracted from the Australian community. What is the position of General Motors-Holden’s Limited? I understand that its assets in Australia now amount to about £41,000,000, which is in addition to the enormous dividends which have been paid. The amount actually subscribed by the shareholders in the undertaking was only £3,500,000. In this year the company’s profit represents 260 per cent. on its ordinary invested capital.
Now I turn to the position of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. That company, in the year ended the 30th June last, made a profit of £4,340,000. It provided also £4,000,000 for taxation, and £5,000,000 for depreciation. That makes a total, under those three headings, in that one year of £13,340,000, an increase in the year of £1,622,000. This great monopolistic concern, which dominates, controls and dictates to this Government, has assets in this country amounting to £86,500,000, reserves amounting to £14,600,000 and shareholders funds of £52,600,000. Those are figures taken from their published balance sheet and every honorable member well knows what a great capacity these people have for hiding away their profits in hidden reserves. In the five year period from 1950 to 1955 they made an allowance for depreciation of £21,168,000. In the year 1954-55 they were not satisfied and they decided that there ought to be a special allowance provided for the increased cost of plant replacement and that amounted to £1,690,000. We can see that these people are prospering. Then the great Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited had the audacity, in November, 1954, after making this enormous profit, to increase the price of steel by 9 per cent. In August of this year it again increased the price of steel by 5 per cent. during a period when it was making enormous profits. This is what Mr. Syme, the Chairman of Directors said -
We are always loth to increase prices hut there is no alternative in the present circumstances.
Anybody would imagine they were paupers and were struggling to exist but as a matter of fact they are making record profits.
Australian Consolidated Industries Limited made a 97 per cent. increase in profits in its last year’s operations and even the Australian Financial Review which is published by the Sydney Morning Herald referred to the increase in profits as “ a spectacular rise in profits”. In the year that has just passed 55 companies have issued bonus shares for which the shareholders paid not one penny. These 55 companies increased their share capital by £11,400,000 upon which the workers of this country will now have to produce dividends. In this period of great prosperity for the great combines and monopolies in this country,t he workers’ wages were pegged because, according to the Government, what we had to do was to get stability, and it thought it might be a good thing if stability could be achieved by pegging the wages of the workers.
The Vice-President of the Executive council misquoted what the Leader of the Opposition said in regard to the consumption of food in this country. The VicePresident quoted total consumption; but there has been a vast increase in the population of this country which he did not take into account. If he cares to get the consumption of foodstuffs per head in this country it will be shown that the actual living standards of the Australian people have been reduced since this Government came into office.
I now turn to the position of the national economy and the great dangers that lie ahead. The position is precarious. People talk about our economy being on a razor edge. The VicePresident of the Executive ‘Council said nothing about our overseas reserves; but the Government knows the position is critical. It has been said for many years in this country that once our overseas reserves fall below a certain figure they will have reached the danger mark. I understand that the present safety mark is fixed at £400,000,000. The Treasurer said that on the 30th June last our overseas reserves had been reduced to £428,000,000. Those reserves are still running away. The Sydney Morning Herald of the 6th September pointed out that at the end of August last our reserves had fallen to £333,000,000, a reduction of approximately £95,000,000 in nine weeks. What does the Government propose to do about that matter? We know that the trading position is going from bad to worse. Last year we were in the “ red “, as it is termed to the tune of £256,000,000. However, as a result of loans raised overseas and private capital intake the Government was able to reduce the adverse balance by £114,000,000, leaving us £142,000,000 to the bad. The Treasurer lias now gone abroad to try to borrow more money under the International Monetary Agreement. If he succeeds in getting sufficient to alleviate the position, is it not a fact that such relief will be only temporary and that our last position will be worse than it is at present. Loans have to be repaid and every time Australia borrows overseas it undermines its own independence because the more foreign capital that is invested in this country the less independence we can exercise in regard to our domestic affairs and our international policies.
The Government cannot increase the income from exports, and it realizes that fact. Last year the wool income was down £49,000,000 and it is expected that wool prices will fall by another £50,000,000 this year with the easing of international tension. Honorable members opposite long for war because they know that the demand for material for war purposes helps to keep prices up. And they know that when international tension is eased and there is less demand or less necessity for the great powers to seek material for war purposes, the prices of commodities decline. We know what brought about the fall in the price for wool. The Government must accept some responsibility for the initial decline in the Australian wool cheque, because as a result of the Petrov “ frame-up “ it drove out of this country Russia’s representatives and not only broke off diplomatic relations but also severed our trade connexion with that country. In the year preceding the Petrov “ frameup “, the Russians had bought £26,000,000 worth of Australian wool. We must also remember that the with drawal of Russia as a competitor must necessarily have affected the overall market price for the commodity.
What is the position with regard to wheat? The Government is at its wits end to know what it will do with the next harvest. A man who is interested in the wheat trade told me that the Government was hoping that there would be a drought this year because it would help the Government in its storage problem. We have a carry-over of 93,000,000 bushels. The United States of America and Canada with record crops and subsidizing growers in their countries are able to sell under world parity whereas this Government is merely sitting by and talks only of storing wheat on the farmers’ properties. It is financing the farmer to erect bins for this purpose on his farm. The Government knows it cannot correct Australia’s adverse trade balance by increasing exports of primary products. Everybody knows the situation that exists in the dairying, meat and dried fruit industries. The fact is that there is unlikely to be any improvement in the situation. I read in a pamphlet circulated by the Lombard Investments (Australia) Limited the following statement : -
Authoritative opinion appears to hold out no hope of any improvement during 1955-56.
Furthermore, our difficulties are accentuated by the rise in shipping freights which have gone up again recently by 10 per cent. The Government was going to make a strong stand on behalf of the Australian producer. What has become of its negotiations with the Australian Overseas Transport Association which consists of representatives of 21 British and foreign shipowners? The Government knows full well that it is only pretending to the Australian public that it is doing something on their behalf, because the Government is under the control of the great monopolies and combines and is powerless to do anything in opposition to their wishes. The policy of the Government is going to create unemployment in this country because if it cuts down on imports to the extent that will be necessary to adjust the adverse trade position overseas there will be a large number of Australian workers displaced from their employment. We know full well that consumer goods form only 15 per cent, of Australia’s imports. The other S5 per cent, consists of materials for industry, industrial equipment and transport vehicles. If the inflow of these items were cut off it would result in widespread unemployment. Australia has become a great industrial country. The position is very different from what it was in 1933. The census which was then conducted disclosed that 670,000 people were employed in primary industries and 550,000 in manufacturing industries. However, in 1955, only 550,000 are employed in primary industries and 1.0SO,000 in secondary industries. The Government knows that many industries in this country have capacity for expansion but that the available market for their goods in Australia has reached saturation point. The Government also knows that these industries cannot dispose of large quantities of their products overseas unless they can first bring down the cost of production. Of course, when the Government speaks of reducing costs, it does not refer to the reduction or regulation of profits but to the reduction of the wages of the workers. In my opinion, the Government parties would welcome a depression in this country. If they can bring about a situation similar to that which existed in the early ‘thirties, they will begin to talk about another Premiers plan, about equality of sacrifice and about the need for every one to accept a reduction of income. That will apply to the pensioner, the worker and every one else in the community in the lower income bracket. Dr. H. C Coombs, one of the Government’s economic advisers has said, “ The cost structure rose as price controls were relaxed”. Who relaxed price controls? Who, when Labour sought from the Australian people power for the Commonwealth to control prices, said that price control could be more effectively applied by the State governments? Honorable members opposite knew full well that price controls could not effectively he exercised by the States, and now this Government has destroyed this economy by allowing inflation to run wild.
Apparently the Government hopes to deal with the present position by curbing hire purchase. It hopes to get the banks and the financial institutions to apply certain restrictions voluntarily. There is a great need for the governments of thi, country to do something about the extortionate terms and conditions that have been imposed upon workers under th, hire-purchase system; but it is a vastly different matter to consider cutting 0U hire purchase altogether. What do thiworkers buy on hire purchase? The* buy Holden cars, washing machines, refrigerators and other things that are made in this country by Australian workmen. A reduction in hire-purchase finance would simply mean an increase in the volume of unemployment. Whichever way one look.at the situation, one can 3ee the aim of this Government. It has said, “ Public works must be reduced to bedrock “. The Commonwealth Government is doing nothing in the way of extending its public works programme. To the States this Government has said, “ We are agreaable to you raising £193,500,000 on the loan market “, but its supporters have admitted that that sum cannot be found on the loan market.
In the quarter ended the 30th June last, fewer homes were commenced in thi,country than in the same quarter of any of the last five years. Although the Government is reducing home construction by its restrictive financial policy, it proposes to bring into Australia this yea r 125,000 more immigrants. Where arn they to be housed ? This nation is entering a critical period. It is facing another depression. There will be widespread restrictions and unemployment. As, in 1941, in the critical days of the war, this country turned. to Labour to help it 0U of its difficulties, so in this economic crisis it will once again ask Labour t<> restore stable government and prosperity
.- The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has to-night adopted the bitter, ranting pose with which honorable members are so familiar. The whole of his speech was based on an attempt to create class hatred, and it contained noi one constructive suggestion. The honorable member did not deal in a sensible fashion with either the budget or it= economic effects. He is everlastingly attempting to widen the gap between the employer and the employee by attacking bitterly the great industries of this country and creating unrest among the workers. He is the most dangerous man in the political life of Australia, and I say that advisedly.
The honorable member said that the living standards of the Australian worker had been reduced by this Government. In doing so, he followed the Communist line. On page 170 of the Communist Review of June, 1955, an unnamed economic expert, who is supposed to be attached to the United Nations organization, is quoted as saying that in some unnamed period the real wage of the Australian worker had fallen by 9 per cent. The Commonwealth Statistician’s index of wages was reprinted in the Monthly Review of Business Statistics, which is the authoritative document on real wages in Australia. It shows that since this Government has been in office there has been a constant and progressive increase in the real value of wages paid to workers. If the index for the base year, 1939, is taken as 1,000, the figure for 1950-51 is seen to be 1,201, for 1952-53, 1,217, for 1953-54, 1,223, and for 1954-55, 1,229. Despite all this we have statements to the contrary from the honorable member for East Sydney, who on all occasions appears to follow the Communist line.
The honorable member said also that this country was running into a period of depression and unemployment. That was a completely wrong statement. Australia is enjoying the greatest prosperity it has ever known. Another false statement was that the States were forced to increase hospital fees. As most people know, only when this Government introduced its hospital benefits scheme were the finances of Australian hospitals placed on a proper footing. Until then, each State had contributed a certain amount of money to its hospitals annually. This was especially so in New South “Wales, where the Government has seen fit to reduce its hospitals subsidy. Now, it alone has decided to increase hospital fees in order to cover up the reduction of its contribution to the hospitals. I do not want to waste any more time on the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney because they are of no account; but I am concerned that this debate should be marked by so much, moaning and gloom about the difficulties that we face in this country. Is it not time that some one said something about the magnificent progress and prosperity of Australia?
There is every possibility of making this a greater country and of maintaining our prosperity so long as there is stable government. The present Government has a stable policy, and while it remains in office the people need have no fear of depression, unemployment or any of the ills that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. “Ward) mentioned. There is no need for alarm, but the way to improve the present state of affairs is to achieve greater efficiency in production by both labour and capital - by men and management. The most important things must be done first, and this involves careful planning by every government on matters such as roads, transport, power, water supply and so on, so that the country’s energies are not dissipated. Our standard of living can be measured only in the terms of the productive capacity of the country, and nothing else matters.
Australia has made amazing progress in its short history since federation. The years from 1900 to 1914 represent the rugged period when the States settled down to the system of federation. Then came World War I., and, afterwards, in 1921, an event took place that is still affecting Australia. The Australian Labour party adopted its famous objective to socialize this country, and although that policy was not implemented fully it has had a profound effect on Australia’s economic welfare. In the years following, until 1929, considerable progress was made, and from then until 1935 Australia went through a major depression. That was a tragic era which should never have come, and under a government whose policy is like that of the present Government such a time will never come again. This Government will never allow it to happen because such an experience is unnecessary in a country like Australia.
In 1939, World War II. broke out and continued until 1945. From 1945 to 1949, the greatest economic waste in the history of Australia took place. It was during that time that the Australian Labour party sought to achieve its socialist objective, and as a result it was voted out of office. In 1949, the people of Australia revolted against the socialist attitude of the Labour Administration. That was when this Government came into office. It faced a situation in which prices were rising steeply and production was at the lowest level in Australian history. There were shortages of all kinds of goods, and blackmarkets flourished on all sides. The investment confidence of Australians was completely destroyed, and trades unions were in the hands of the Communists. Only one year after this Government took office most of those difficulties had disappeared. Production had increased considerably, and a strong attack had been made against the Communist control in the unions. As a result, an entirely new atmosphere was created in industry.
In 1951, wool prices soared and it was necessary to take firm and quick action to prevent a serious economic situation from developing. Did this Government shirk its responsibilities? Of course not. Although the action taken by the Government made it unpopular it proved that it was prepared to sacrifice its popularity for the good of the people and to maintain economic stability.
Now, again, there are signs of inflation, but there is no need for panic. One sign of this inflationary trend is the fact that 56,112 positions in industry throughout Australia are unfilled. There has been a period of over-full employment, and everywhere to-day employers are keenly competing for labour. In spite of what members of the Opposition have said, because of this competition wages and salaries are being offered far above the accepted basic wage standard. Although production is at a high level it is still not sufficient to balance the purchasing power in the hands of the people. For that reason imports have been under rigid control and our overseas trade balances are running down. The public should realize that the purchasing power for both consumer and capital goods in Australia is greater than the total production of goods for local consumption and for export. In those circumstances, some sort of inflationary pressure is inevitable. The
Government is tackling this problem in a sensible and logical way and without panic. Exports must be increased and overseas investment in Australian industries must be encouraged. Since this Government has been in office, investment from the United States of America and Great Britain in Australia has been phenomenal. There has been great expansion of the economy also. Capital equipment purchases in Australia increased by £108,000,000 last year, or 15- per cent, more than in the previous year. Expenditure on consumer goods and services increased by 9 per cent., and these two increases are represented by a total of £268,000,000. That was in’ addition to an increase last year of 12 per cent., making the total increase £297,000,000.
I am not concerned over increased expenditure on capital equipment, because it has an effect on the national economy. Some risks must be taken. It is only common sense that the purchase of capital equipment should be encouraged, because that sets the pace for future developmental works. Even at some risk, the country’s resources must be strained to encourage an increase in capital outlay. The pressure of the demand for consumer goods and services may be a dangerous inflationary pressure, but there are other pressures operating in the community as well. The increased demand for consumer goods, in spite of the curb is perhaps dangerous, but Australia has reached the stage when too large a proportion of the population is employed in the civil service. The proportion is one in four. Consequently, too many Australians are not engaged directly in production. While that condition obtains there must be a smaller production of goods than we need and an increasing demand for them.
Another strong pressure that is not recognized fully is caused by the growth of the welfare state in which there is no incentive to save. It is in the light of these circumstances that this budget was prepared, and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and the Government are to be congratulated on doing everything in their power to maintain present prosperity, and at the same time promote further development. That is the purpose of the budget programme. It is a completely honest budget, as is usual with budgets presented by this Government. It is an honest statement dealing with the economics of this country, as the Government finds them. What could the Government do but present a budget of this kind? Will anybody suggest that it should have lowered taxes at a time such as this? I do not hear many people say that it should have done so, even outside the Parliament. Should the Government have increased the rate of pensions by a greater amount?
Opposition Members. - Yes !
– This is the most magnificent increase in pensions that has ever been proposed in the history of this country, and the pensioners know it. Whilst I know the difficulties under which pensioners exist, it would be very foolish to carry these increases beyond the figures proposed, because they would be ineffective. The only effect would be to press prices up further, and no benefit, perhaps would accrue to the pensioners in such circumstances. One might say, perhaps, that taxes should have been increased in order to pay for the increases. That might have been better economics, but it certainly would not help the pensioner or the country if pensions were increased by £1 a week, as has been suggested. The proposed increases are very good, and I am certain that level-headed, thinking pensioners will agree with that statement.
The Australian people have learned to trust this Government, which brings with it stability in our economy. Any one in Australia need only ask himself whether the Government is honest and sincere and doing its best in the interests of the Australian people. Considering its past record, I am certain that the majority of the people will say that the Government can be trusted in all circumstances. One might ask whether the Government possesses more information than does the average individual upon which to assess economic development. The answer must be that the Government is in possession of more facts and more intimate details in this connexion than are available to the community at large. That being so, I see no reason why the Australian people should have any fears or any doubts that this budget has been drafted in their interests and with a view to the growth of this nation. It has been necessary, of course, for control of imports to be im posed. The curb that has been applied to imports is not an ordinary control. The simple fact is that unless controls are applied to imports in the manner in which they have been applied by the Government, we shall not have the necessary money overseas to pay for the goods we desire to import. It is not really a question of control, but of allowing the purchase only of so much as may be paid for with the money available.
I have only one point of criticism to offer in relation to the budget. I refer to the proposal to increase the cost of departmental activities. I believe that the Government is entitled to do all that it has done in relation to the maintenance of existing rates and other matters. I do not criticize the Government severely, because in this respect it had no alternative. However, I believe that no government is entitled to increase its own expenditure in the circumstances disclosed by this budget. The Government proposes to expend approximately £77,000,000 more than it expended last year. That amount includes £30,000,000 in increased pensions, £13,500,000 in increased broadcasting and postal services, £21,000,000 for the State governments, £4,500,000 for defence, £2,000,000 for territories. Only about £6,000,000 is left for other purposes. I am sure that honorable member!’ opposite would not criticize the greater expenditure on pensions, or on postal services, because there is a great need in thi? country for the development of postal services.
– There will be increased revenue from the Postal Department to offset that increased expenditure.
– There is an estimated increased revenue of £6,000,000 which may be offset against that expenditure.
– The Postal Department is revenue producing.
– I criticize the additional £21,000,000 which is given to the States. I believe that that payment i.one of the weak links in any effort by the Government te curb inflation. After all. the same people in the States will receive the money as would receive it if we expended it ourselves. In most of the State there is talk of legislating for further increases in the wage structure and the abandonment of our arbitration system. If that is done, bearing in mind the inflationary tendency I have mentioned, the probable effect will be that this increased payment to the States will be of no value at all to the workers. Every man and woman in Australia who is capable of working is employed to-day. There is no doubt that that fact has a tremendous influence on inflation.
The States think that they can reduce the cost of living by a system of prices control. They do not seem to realize that a system of prices control is completely ineffective. Prices control stimulates the demand for controlled goods and discourages their production. Labour governments seem to have the fantastic idea that they can cure economic ills by a system of controls, but it can never be done, because such a system completely discourages production and at the same time increases the demand for the controlled goods. Under that system the goods are not produced or, if they are produced, they go under the counter and a black market is created. It is very interesting to note that with Commonwealth control of prices, backed by every conceivable authority, prices rose by only 24 per cent. That, of course, is the disclosed figure, as no records are made of black market figures. From 1948 to 1953, under State prices control, prices rose by 83 per cent. The States lifted most of their prices controls in 1953, and in 1954, without prices control and without any action by this Government, prices rose by only 2 per cent., which is very significant when the price structure is examined. Only economic conditions determine prices, and only competition inside industry will reduce prices. It is sheer madness to think that prices control will lower living costs. Only ample production to meet demand in competitive trade can do that.
I was very pleased that the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) took the line he did in reply to the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). The policy of honorable members opposite seems to be to attack the profits of big companies. It is very strange, because we all have heard the Leader of the Opposition lauding and applauding big industry, and trying to attack the Government on its policy in relation to industry only about a year ago. To-day, he has changed face. With the Vice-President I ask, “ What is wrong with profits? “ Most of the big companies are owned by the people of Australia, not by individuals who are extraordinary creatures. What are the facts in relation to big business ? What do the earnings of big companies amount to? After all, salaries and wages in Australia amount to £2,321,000,000, and dividends to only £117,000,000. Pent and interest amount only to £165,000,000. Set those figures against the sum of £2,321,000,000 for wages and salaries! It is obvious that this is only a trumped-up charge, intended to deceive the people so that they will believe this Government is doing something that is not in the interests of the Australian workers.
The attitude adopted by honorable members opposite discloses that the Australian Labour party has no real policy. Not only has the Leader of the Opposition shown how he can jump on the band wagon, but his deputy, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), also has made most inconsistent statements. He wanted £614,000,000 instead of £2S5,000,000 to be spent on capital equipment. Honorable members opposite appear to have no consistent policy. Where are they going? It is almost impossible to believe that, in an important debate on the financial arrangements of the country for the next year, a once great party should have no consistent policy except, on the one hand, to attack the companies that are building Australia and, on the other hand, to try to create unrest in the country. That is extraordinary.
There are some honorable members on the other side of the chamber, particularly the honorable member for East Sydney, who, together with the Communist party, advocate the policy expressed in the pamphlet that I am holding. That policy is expressed in the words, “ Strikes defend living standards, peace and democracy “ That appears to be the policy of some honorable gentlemen opposite.
– Who printed it?
– It was printed by the Communists’ organization. I think it could be referred to the Minister as an illegal document. There it is. It states, “ Strikes defend living standards, peace and democracy “. It is shocking to try to persuade the people to believe that their standard of living can be raised by strikes in industry.
What are the dangers to be avoided? We must not allow complacency, resulting from our prosperity, to impede our progress. I believe that much should be done to try to dissipate the distrust between employer and employee which is fostered so much by the honorable member for East Sydney. After all, this country can never be built into a great nation until we have that co-operation between employer and employee which this Government is striving so hard to achieve. It is the disruptionists who are dragging Australia down. I believe that the people of Australia so trust this Government to do the right and honorable thing by the workers of Australia that they will keep it in office for many years to come. If they allow a rabble like the Labour party is at the present time to occupy the treasury bench in this Parliament, God help the development of Australia, and God help the living standards of the workers of Australia! Those living standards would disappear in the chaos that would be created.
We in this country have a great opportunity to get together, and increase prosperity. This must be a great country. We require the greatest optimism from our people. Certainly, we shall have difficulties - we have a few now - but they must be faced in the proper way and must not be allowed to interfere in any shape or form with the progress of the country, which is going ahead in leaps and bounds. We must get on with the great job of immigration, which is always sneered at by the honorable member for East Sydney. Let us get all those good people from the other side of the world, because we need them. Members of the Government, especially the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt), are to be applauded for the way in which they are handling our immigration policy. We must have more people, and we must have them quickly. We should be prepared to take calculated risks in order to develop the country as quickly as we can. Some people have criticized the fact that capital equipment is being brought in. I disagree with that. Certainly we must do something. Let us encourage industry to develop here. Letus encourage the importation of overseas capital both from the United States of America and from Europe.
I commend the Government on the budget that it has produced. It is not a “ stay-put “ budget. It is a budget designed to hold the prosperity of this country and to keep the people in work as they are to-day. The level of employment has never been so high as it is at the present time. The people can be sure that this Government will never allow a depression to develop in this country with consequent unemployment, as has been suggested by the honorable member for East Sydney.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) pro posed -
That the House do now adjourn.
Mr. WARD (East Sydney [10.47].- Mr. Deputy Speaker-
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 19
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.52 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
16th March, 1949. 3. (a) The functions of the Commonwealth Investigation Service are - (a) the enforcement of laws of the Commonwealth and the investigation of alleged irregularities in Commonwealth administration; (b) the exchange of information with or requests for the assistance of the police forces of the States. In addition the Director of the service holds office as Superintending Peace Officer and as such controls the Peace Officer Guard, which is broadly responsible for the physical protection of Commonwealth property and establishments.
Board is a member of that committee, which ensures that the salaries paid are properly related to salaries paid within the Public Service of the Commonwealth.
z asked the Minister acting for the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. The Commonwealth air beef panel has not yet submitted its report but expects to do so very shortly. The panel’s findings and the means by which they should be made public will be considered when the report is submitted.
n asked the Minister forWorks, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
Department during the period the 1st January, 1951, to the 31st July, 1955?
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following answers to the honorable member’s questions : -
b asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 September 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1955/19550913_reps_21_hor7/>.