21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have lo inform honorable members that the Right Honorable the Earl of Home, Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in the United Kingdom Government, is within the precincts of the House. With the concurrence of honorable members, I propose to offer him a seat on the floor of the House.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
The Earl of Home thereupon entered the chamber, and was seated accordingly.
– Will the Prime Minister try to arrange for talks between the Right Honorable the Earl of Home, the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, who is in the House to-day, and the leaders and deputy leaders of the other political parties in this chamber? I think that such talks would be of some value.
– I will have the itinerary examined to see whether effect o&n be given to the suggestion.
– My question i3 directed to the Minister for Works. First, are tenders always called for work to be done for, or materials to be supplied to, the Department of Works? If not, will the Minister explain why tenders are not called? Secondly, can he state why tenders are not opened in public, as is the case with many public authorities? I understand that recently in Brisbane there was a decision to do this, but that a fortnight later the decision was reversed and that tenders are again being opened in private. As this practice leads to considerable discontent amongst tenderers, will the Minister review the system and have all Department of Works tenders opened in public?
– Tenders are called for most public works unless they are to be done by day labour. I think that, including maintenance work, only about 30 per cent, of the department’s work is done by day labour as against approximately 70 per cent, by contract. The only occasions on which tenders are not called for public works are when one or two kinds of urgent defence works are being undertaken. Even then, tenders are usually called from perhaps three, four, or five firms who are known to be able to do the job in a very short space of time. That is done only when the work concerned is very urgent, or for some other very special reason. With regard to the supply of materials, the Treasury regulations lay it down that in every case at least three prices must be obtained. When a very small quantity of material is required, only three or four firms may be asked to quote prices, but when a large quantity of material is wanted, the system generally adopted is to call for open public tenders. Perhaps I should mention that recently some of the big firms had so much outside work that they would not go to the expense of taking out quantities and submitting public tenders. For that reason, in one or two States we were not getting tenders from what might be termed the best contractors, although the biggest is not always the best. We made one or two variations in those particular cases but, there again, the variations were generally due to the urgency of the work which, in most instances, was defence work connected with the Long Range Weapons Establishment or organizations of that nature. Some time ago we received a request from Queensland that tenders be opened in public. For about twelve or eighteen months tenders were opened in public, but it was found that only one or two interested people were in attendance at the tender board meetings. As a result, we went back to the system that operates in Canberra, under which the tender board puts a list of the contractors, in the order of the prices quoted, on a notice board. That seems to have satisfied everybody, with the exception of the members of one association in Queensland. I shall be very pleased to discuss the matter further with the honorable member to see whether there are any real reasons for going back to the other system. I, personally, know of no great objections to it. One objection has been put forward which I think it is only fair to mention. Sometimes, but not very often, the lowest tender is not accepted, either because the firm that has submitted the lowest tender may not be able to do the job in the time specified or because it has a lot of other work on hand and we think it advisable to give the contract to the next lowest tenderer. When a list of the prices quoted was put on the notice board, very often the second lowest tenderer had no further interest in the contract, and withdrew his tender. That was one reason why we went back to the old system of putting a notice on the board which showed the names of the tenderers in the order of the prices quoted, but did not show the actual prices quoted.
– If a decision has been made to charge 3d. for public telephone calls, will the Postmaster-General take steps to see that large coin boxes are provided or that more frequent clearances of coin boxes are made, so that people will not be prevented, as they often are at present, from making calls because the coin boxes are full?
– The decision to increase the charge for calls made from public telephones was announced about twelve months ago. It was indicated then that the increased charge would be made as soon as the coin boxes could be converted. I think about 10,000 boxes have been converted now. At any rate, the number is very large and the work has taken quite a long time. I shall see that attention is given to the complaint made by the honorable member.
– I ask the Minister for Air whether it is a fact that there are certain regulations governing the height at which aircraft, particularly those of the Royal Australian Air Force, may cross built-up areas. If there are such regulations, is it in accordance with them that a Royal Australian Air Force jet plane should “ buzz “ the city of Armidale at least twice, at a height not exceeding 100 to 200 feet above closely built-up areas of the city? I might say that I checked my estimate of the height against that of an experienced instructor in the Royal Australian Air Force, and he confirmed my opinion. If there are regulations which govern such actions, will the Minister inform the House whether they permit behaviour of the kind that I have described? If they do, will he, in the interests of the safety of the civilian population, see that the. are altered? If they do not, will he setthat they are enforced?
– There are regulations governing the low flying of aircraft. Broadly, they provide that the aircraft must be at least 1,500 feet above the terrain, or be able to glide, in the event of engine failure, outside the built-up area. The provisions may be varied a little. For instance, aircraft taking off from, and landing at airports naturally fly low over built-up areas. Occasionally, for display purposes, regattas, shows, and similar events, a special permit is issued for a limited time in respect of a limited area. I should not think that behaviour of the type described by the honorable member would be allowed at all. I shall investigate the case and see how much substance is in the report. If it is correct, a reprimand will be given to the pilot concerned.
– My question itdirected to the Minister for Air. Is the Winjeel training aircraft at present being delivered to the services completely designed in Australia? What proportion of the components is made in Australia ‘’. What is the cost of each aircraft delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force, and what is the scheduled rate of production?
– The honorable member has asked a series of questions, and they are a little difficult to follow. The answer to his first question is that the aircraft itself is designed completely in Australia. A? to the components, I think it would bc fair to say that the air frame itself is completely manufactured in Australia, and the engine and instruments are made outside Australia. The cost, of course, has not been determined yet. It takes quite a while, as the honorable member would well know, to develop an aircraft project, to start it off in the designingstage, to get it through to delivery and the prototypes flying, and so on. The Royal Australian Air Force has just taken delivery of the first two or three aircraft. The others will come along at the rate of about ten a month, I think. I shall have to check that with my colleague, the Minister for Defence Production. I think deliveries will come along quite well now although they have been a little slow up to the present.
– I should like to ask the Prime Minister : Is it according to government instruction to the Public Service Board that public servants of 60 years of age are not considered for th«; more senior appointments? Does this not deny to officers who have served the Commonwealth with loyalty and efficiency the promotions which, during the whole period of service, were anticipated as the reward for faithful service?
– I certainly have not beard of any such ruling, but I shall find out the position and advise the honorable member.
– Can the Minister foi Health give me any information regarding the diagnosis of two cases of leprosy alleged to have been discovered in Victoria? Can he inform me where they came from, and what are the methods that have been taken to safeguard the Australian community?
– I saw the report nf those two cases in the Medical Journal of Australia, and in the daily press yesterday. I made inquiries about their actual history, because I thought it would be of interest to the public generally. The first case came to Australia as an Egyptian, as a full-fare passenger. He was, in reality, a Greek. Some three years after his arrival here, he was diagnosed as a leper, was put in isolation and finally returned to Greece.
The second case was a Maltese who came to Australia in 1950 as a full-fare immigrant. He .stayed here for two years, went back to Malta and has since returned. Last month he was diagnosed as having leprosy. I might say that there are two or three centres in the Mediterranean from which lepers sometimes come; one is Malta. On that account, we take special steps to ensure that all immigrants who are assisted to come to Australia are examined by first-class medical men in Malta itself, and also by our own specialist, who lives in ‘ Rome and goes across to Malta every month. That is the only procedure we can follow. Of course, the position insofar as the examination of visitors to Australia is concerned is a very difficult one. We cannot examine every visitor to Australia to ascertain whether he has leprosy. In the first place, it is a very difficult disease to diagnose. We could not have all distinguished visitors, or indeed any other visitors, examined. The time entailed in so doing would result in the holding up of ships and aircraft. Nor would it be possible to do so. Simply because a leper had to go round with a bell a thousand years ago in Great Britain, we cannot say that every Britisher who comes into Australia should be examined for leprosy. Such examinations take a long time, and it would be quite impossible for us to undertake them. To reassure honorable members, I point out that the number of cases of leprosy detected in the southern States of Australia has been very small. In the last fifteen years, only 26 lepers have been detected in New South Wales and ten in Victoria. In north Queensland and the Northern Territory, of course, there have been many more.
– Arising out the Minister’s answer to the question asked by the honorable member for Gippsland, I desire to ask the right honorable gentleman a question, because apparently one of the two immigrants in whom leprosy was detected has been in this country for some years. Is there any system by which the disease could be detected earlier? Will the Minister review the position so that attempts can be made to deal with the problem of leprosy in connexion with immigrants who remain in Australia permanently?
– Every step that is; possible at present under the laws of this country is taken with regard to these people. The difficulty with leprosy is that a man may be infected with it for many years before he shows any recognizable symptoms. The number of leper3 in Australia is so few that very many doctors complete their medical courses without even seeing a leper. However, skin specialists and doctors who live in places where leprosy has been detected, are constantly on the look-out. I assure the Leader of the Opposition that everything possible is being done in this matter.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral inform the House whether the Postal Department will to-morrow issue a special stamp to commemorate the centenary of Florence Nightingale’s work in the Crimean war? If the department intends to make this special issue, will the Minister say whether it is in conformity with the field of limited special issues which he described last week? If it is, will the Minister classify a stamp to commemorate the work of the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service as one even more entitled to come within the category of an historical issue, and approve the issue of such a stamp in the near future?
– I rise to order! Is it in order for the name of a person to be mentioned in a question?
– The question is in order.
– There is no comparison between the stamp to which the honorable member has referred and the possible issue of a stamp to commemorate the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service. The stamp in which Florence Nightingale is depicted in the background is a stamp to commemorate the nursing services of Australia. In the forefront of that stamp is a picture of a nurse ; Florence Nightingale with a lamp is in the background. As far as the other stamps are concerned, and the comparisons that have been drawn between one and the other, I shall repeat what I have told the honorable member, that we have had far too many of these commemorative stamps. I have given instructions that their issue is to cease.
– In the absence of the Treasurer, I direct a question to the Prime Minister. In view of the fac that the Minister for External Affairs declared only recently that the suggestion that rents of Housing Commission homes would be raised owing to an increase of interest rates was only a rumour, will the Prime Minister take every precaution in the future to see that his Ministers are reliably informed?
– I am quite unaware of what my colleague is alleged to have said. I usually find, not that my colleagues are ill-informed, hut that I am illinformed about what they have said, because I have only read or heard what some one else alleges they have said, which is quite different.
– Is the Minister for the Navy yet in a position to inform the House when the Royal Australian Naval College will be returned to Jervis Bay from the Flinders Naval Depot?
– I regret that I am not able at this stage to give the honorable member the information that ho desires.
– I address a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is it a fact that, in aircraft accidents, lives have been saved by the installation of rearwardfacing seats? If this is so. will the Minister state why airlines, including TransAustralia Airlines, are still permitted to place new aeroplanes in service with the seats facing towards the front? Will the Minister consider amending the civil aviation regulations to make it compulsory for seats to face rearwards?
– The Department of Civil Aviation has now promulgated a regulation which requires that new aircraft placed in service in Australia after 1957 must have rearward-facing seats. Lt is true that, in the event of an accident, a passenger has a much better chance of survival if he is in a rearward-facing seat. At the same time, I should like to point out to the honorable member that not one passenger has been injured in a commercial aircraft accident in Australia in the last three and a half years.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Air whether he is satisfied with the efficiency of the Royal Australian Air Force. In explanation, I direct the Minister’s attention to reports concerning the three Canberra jet bombers that he generously arranged to have available for a display at the Gunnedah air pageant last week-end. It is reported that only one of these aircraft appeared at Gunnedah and that it made only two short sweeps over the town. The other two aircraft became lost.
– The honorable member has asked me whether I am satisfied with the efficiency of the Royal Australian Air Force. I am one of those odd people who arc not completely satisfied with anything, and I hope I never shall be. I am satisfied, however, that the pilots and navigators of the Royal Australian Air Force are second to none in the world, as they have demonstrated in peace and war during the last 30 years, f have not received a report about the incident at Gunnedah to which the honorable member has referred. I recall that, in response to his repeated representations, I arranged for some aircraft to go to Gunnedah for the air pageant. One could think of many reasons for only one aircraft arriving there but I can assure the honorable member that the reason certainly would not be that the other two became lost. A more likely explanation is that the heavy commitments of the Air Force during the Battle-of-Britain celebrations last week allowed the sending of only one aircraft. However, if three aircraft set out, all three would have arrived, unless, perhaps, one developed a technical defect. Regulations provide that if an aircraft appears likely to become unserviceable another aircraft, if available, must accompany it back to its base. I shall inquire into the matter and advise the honorable member later.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Air. Will he institute inquiries to ascertain whether it is possible to issue an instruction or a request that, when air accidents occur during training operations, and particularly when crashes have fatal results, no mention of a crash shall be made in the press until the next of kin are advised? I ask this question with a full realization of the mental strain imposed on all persons who have relatives in the forces and, consequently, have to wait for information until the next of kin have been advised and an announcement has been made in the press.
– The procedure followed under the policy of the Royal Australian Air Force is exactly as the honorable member wishes it to be. If there is either an Air Force accident or an accident to a civil aircraft, the names of injured persons are withheld from the press. But the honorable member is well aware how acute is the news sense of journalists. Sometimes they get hold of names and addresses without the Department of Air or the Department of Civil Aviation knowing about it.
– I asked that no information be given to the press.
– We give no information until the next of kin has been notified.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral how much in sterling currency and how many dollars will be involved in setting up television in this country. In view of the financial difficulties of the country, does the PostmasterGeneral think that this is a suitable time to bring this luxury industry to Australia?
– I do not regard television as a luxury industry. I regard the introduction of television into Australia as keeping pace with the rest of the world. I do not know how many dollars are involved, but, for this year, it would not be a very great number.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether a letter similar to the communication on housing that was sent to the Victorian Premier has been sent to the Premier of each State. Will the Minister be so good as to make available to honorable members the full text of that communication ?
– Unless this letter referred to a specific matter which was peculiar to Victoria, then a letter of similar content would have been sent to the Premier of each State. I do not know whether those are the circumstances to which the honorable member has referred, but I shall bring his question to the attention of the Prime Minister and ascertain whether he can make the contents available to honorable members.
– In view of the currently conflicting statements concerning the cost of production of butter in Australia, can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture tell the House what is the average cost of production? Could the Minister also supply information concerning the component parts of the cost of production such as direct cost, interest, depreciation, return on capital, managerial allowance and profit? fs it the experience that, on particular farms and in various localities, the cost of production is substantially different from the average?
– Happily, I have some figures which I am able to supply to the honorable member. These are not the actual guaranteed price figures but represent a calculation on a certain date and basis. They serve broadly to illustrate the break-up requested. A figure which has been described as the “ average cost of efficiency production “ has been calculated, and I think that I can break that figure up into four simple components. The figure, as calculated on a certain table and at a certain date, is 47.46d. per lb. That figure is included in a table which has been circulated and it is an appropriate figure to use in answer to the honorable member’s question. The amount in respect of actual out-of-pocket expenses paid by farmers in the production of butter is 14.15d. per lb. What are described as imputed costs - that is allowances for the farmer’ own labour and allowances for interest on the farmer’s own equity represent a total of 25.98d. per lb. Other incurred costs, comprising hired labour, together with rent and interest on borrowed capital, account for a further 3.69d. The depreciation allowances, which are real but which are not actually out-of-pocket expenses, represent 3.64d. per lb. Those figures produce the total of 47.46d. per lb. The figures I have quoted are findings of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. There are some other total figures which have been quoted and their “ break-up “ is proportionately the same. There are, of course, widely different costs of production as between farms, and substantially different costs of production as between areas. That fact makes it all the more curious that farmers in Victoria, for instance, whose costs of production, on the basis of the field examination, are pence per pound lower than the Australian average,- should be stimulated to-day to protest that they are not being paid the cost of production. In fact, they are being paid pence per pound above their own costs of production, and all their arguments are founded on the high cost of production of some farmers in some other part of Australia. If heed were paid to the argument that the whole dairying community should be paid an amount which would cover the costs of production of the highest cost producers, and action were taken thereon, the resultant undertaking to the producers could, of course, be discharged only by imposing a completely unjustifiable burden on the whole community, either through the price for butter or through taxation.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister, as Minister acting for the Treasurer, concerning the application of the Bank of New South Wales for a licence to conduct a savings bank. In view of the fact that savings banks are efficiently conducted in every city, town and village throughout Australia, and also in view of the fact that if the bank’s application is approved there will be a drain on the already very short labour supply of clerks - one government department states that its turnover in clerks is 70 per cent. - and since the banks have used every method to increase their advances, not at all in consonance with the spirit of the Government’s requirements, will the Prime Minister decline the application of this bank for a licence to establish a savings bank?
– All I can say is that the application, of which I have heard, is under examination; but I should not care, at this stage, to anticipate what the decision will be, as I myself have as yet given no thought to it. However, I know that it is in the Treasury at the moment.
– Will the Minister for Social Services say under what circumstances pensioners are entitled to reduced fares on railways? Is the cost of those concessions borne by the Commonwealth, or by the State governments concerned ?
Mr.McMAHON. - It is usual, in some instances, for State governments to permit pensioners to travel on State railway and tramway systems at reduced fares. I have not in my mind at the moment the names of the various States which do so, but I shall obtain them and supply them to the honorable member. As to the second part of his question, the responsibility is one purely for the States themselves, and does not concern the Commonwealth.
– I ask the Minis ter for Social Services whether he is in a position to indicate that enabling legislation will be introduced following the passing of the budget and the Estimates to enable pensioners to receive their increased payments from the beginning of this year, and thus to be treated in a similar way to that in which judges, whose salaries were increased in that manner, were treated.
– I am rather at a loss to understand what the honorable member means by asking this question, because had he been in the House last week he would have known that the second-reading speech on the Social Services Bill (No. 2) was made by me to the House shortly after8 p.m. last Thursday. As to the passing of the bill, that largely depends on what the Opposition will do, and on the procedures of the House. I have every hope that it will be passed as quickly as the procedures of the House will permit, and as soon as it is passed payments will be made to all pensioners.
Mr.CREMEAN. - I direct a question to the Minister for Social Services. Is it a fact that children under the age of sixteen years who are admitted to mental institutions are immediately deprived of child endowment? If such is the case, is any allowance in lieu of child endowment paid to the State mental institution in which the child is an inmate? If endowment is so cancelled, and no compensatory payment is made to the State, will the Minister give consideration to continuing the allowance to the parent or legal guardian for the purpose of purchasing amenities for the afflicted child?
– I am not quite certain of the precise answer that I should give, but I can make this much clear to the honorable member: The law of the States prevents the Commonwealth from making the payment to the authority that is looking after the child. If the child endowment were to be paid, it would have to be paid to the State mental authorities in the States concerned, that is the Master in Lunacy or his equivalent. As it is thought that the child is cared for by the States, the money would simply be paid by the Commonwealth to the States, which would be relieved of some part of their responsibility for looking after these young children. I have not heard of any hardship being caused by this method of accounting, but, if the honorable gentleman cares to let me know of any case of hardship, I shall make certain that proper representations are made to the State governments concerned.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether his attention has been directed to a statement, attributed to the permanent head of his department, that, whilst the Department of Civil Aviation, naturally, tries to ensure the safety of passengers and aircraft, it is responsible only for the buildings and installations that are under its control at the aerodromes. In view of the fact that up to £5,000,000 worth of aeroplanes might be on the ground at Sydney airport at any one time, have the Minister and his officers considered some arrangement with, or levy upon, the operating companies to ensure that an effective and vigorous fire-fighting service shall be ready in the event of any catastrophe that threatens the safety of the aircraft, passengers and buildings at aerodromes that are under control? When T used the term “ under control “, I do nOt suggest that the arrangements should apply to country aerodromes where there are no officers in charge.
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable gentleman has referred. I assume that he was referring to the Director-General of Civil Aviation. The Department of Civil Aviation maintains a fire-fighting service at all major aerodromes, and the men are trained to take action immediately in the event of an accident or likely accident. Speaking from memory, within the last twelve months, fire crews have been turned out approximately 220 times, although in most cases there was no need for them when they arrived at the scene. Their primary duty is to look after such things as buildings around the airport. In regard to the second part of the question, the operators take adequate steps to look after their equipment. At the present time, Qantas is erecting a hangar at the Sydney airport, and the Department of Civil Aviation is assisting by providing such equipment as water mains. The department has also helped Qantas at its installation on the other side of the airport, where it has a lot of valuable aircraft. There is little likelihood of aircraft catching fire, because the regulations that govern the care and main tenance of aircraft in the hangars are very strict, and all the mechanics and engineers are well aware of them. I think the honorable member may rest assured that the position is fairly well covered.
– I was thinking of aircraft that were on the aerodrome itself.
– I thought I had answered that part of the question. If I may continue, the Department of Civil Aviation has fire tenders and trained fire crews at every aerodrome. At the Sydney airport, the honorable member may have noticed fire engines, which are equipped with two-way radio, under the control tower. The department has just instituted a complete sub-department under the control of a responsible officer who is re-organizing all the fire services, and obsolete equipment is being replaced by the. most modern equipment.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. The right honorable gentleman may remember representations that I made to him in relation to ex-servicemen who had completed post-war reconstruction training courses in clerical work. ] suggested that the Public Service Board shouuld permit these men to apply for permanent appointment to the Public Service. The Prime Minister, in his reply, stated that the matter had been reconsidered, but that nothing could bc done to alter the position. I now ask the right honorable gentleman if he will ascertain whether the Public Service Board is willing to permit ex-servicemen . who are satisfactorily discharging existing duties to be permanently appointed for those duties.
– The question of enabling temporary employees of thi Crown to become permanent employees is, as the honorable member knows, an old and vexed subject. I have had no occasion of late to look at it, but I will have a discussion with the Chairman of the Public Service Board in the light of the suggestion that has been made.
– I direct my question to the Postmaster-General. In view of the fact that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has recently made some important policy decisions affecting the future development of television in this country - I refer to the decisions that limit our initial television structure to ten very high frequency channels to cover both national and commercial stations, and those in relation to the allocation of considerable overseas funds, both sterling and dollars, to enable the licensees of the television stations to import programmes from abroad - will the Minister make a statement setting out the reason for the decisions so that the House may debate the whole matter ?
– Not only was the decision in favour of the very high frequency band that is to be used in Australia made on the advice of the technical officers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, but also it was a matter on which considerable evidence was taken by the Royal Commission on Television. Experts from business firms and many private individuals gave evidence, and the recommendation of the royal commission was on the lines of the arrangements that have been approved by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. Much consideration is now being given to the introduction of programmes from overseas. I hope that very soon - I do not know whether it will be during this sitting period - I shall be able to introduce an amendment of the Broadcasting Act, and these matters may then be discussed.
– I wish to ask a question which is supplementary to the question that has just been asked by the honorable member for Fawkner. I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether it is not a fact that, since those investigations and the allocation of very high frequencies, the American authorities have commenced to substitute ultra-high frequency for very high frequency, as a result of which the whole nature of television services in. the United States of America has been changed. Will the honorable gentleman give the House some information about that matter?
– That is not correct. The technical details have remained the same for very many years. It istrue that, at the present time in America, ultra-high frequency channels are being adopted in places where very high fre quency channels had been allocated. I understand from my technical officers that very high frequency channels are infinitely superior for television in general. but that for certain purposes, ultra-high frequency has its uses and is being brought into use in the United States of America.
– I have received from the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) an intimation that he desires to submit a definite matter of urgent public importance to the House for discussion, namely -
The continued and persistent failure ofthe Minister for Trade and Customs to furnish the Parliament with information regarding the issue of an import licence to the American Heavy Equipment Company, a subsidiary of Messrs. Thiess Brothers, of Queensland, in respect of second-hand motor vehicles brought to Australia from Honolulu early this year, and the need for an immediate investigation into the matter.
Is the proposal supported?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the proposal,
.- It is rather extraordinary that a member of the Parliament has to take this course to try to extract from a Minister answers to questions regarding a transaction in the department over which the Minister has control. The reluctance of the Minister to furnish the answers creates a grave suspicion whether everything connected with the transaction has been fair and above board. In order that honorable members may have their minds refreshed about the circumstances, let me say that the transaction relates to the issue to a firm registered in New South Wales of a licence to import into Australia secondhand heavy-type motor vehicles from
Honolulu, thus causing the expenditure of a considerable number of dollars, which are in such short supply in this country to-day. I conducted extensive correspondence with the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) in order to ascertain exactly why the licence had been issued, and on whose instructions it had been issued.
I had been informed that the Sydney office of the department had refused to issue the licence, that, subsequently, doubtless because of further representations, the papers were sent to Canberra, and that, in turn, Mr. Meere, the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs, had confirmed the decision given by the Sydney office. I understand that by that time the two barges in which the motor vehicles were brought to Australia eventually had already left Honolulu, although no import licence had been issued, but that before their arrival in Australia an import licence was provided. From my information, the import licence was provided at the specific direction of the Minister for Trade and Customs.
After a great deal of correspondence with the Minister, I failed to get anywhere in my attempts to secure the information that I sought. I received from the Minister a most peculiar letter, dated the 17th August, 1955, in reply to a letter that I had directed to him on the 11th August. So that honorable members may appreciate fully that there was no reason for the Minister to adopt the attitude that he did adopt to my letter, which was worded in quite respectful terms, I shall read it to the House. It is as follows : -
My Dear Minister.
I am in receipt of your communication dated the 2nd inst. having further reference to information which I sought regarding a consignment of motor vehicles imported from Honolulu. What you now have to say concerning this transaction prompts me to raise a further aspect of the matter.
You state that regular importers from the dollar area do not usually import vehicles of the type under discussion hut had done so occasionally. It would therefore appear that there is no great demand in Australia for this type of vehicle and it is difficult to understand why. under the circumstances, dollars, which are in such short supply, should be made available for the importation of this additional supply.
Further, I am advised that the licence was not issued in the name of Thiess Bros, but in that of a comparatively new company, which however was a subsidiary of Thiess Bros. Unless the department were aware of the connexion between the two companies, the decision would be based on the assumption that the applicant company had never previously been engaged in the importation of motor vehicles of this type.
The reason for approval being given for the importation of this consignment of motor vehicles still puzzles me. I should be pleased if you would let me know whether the issuance of the licence in this instance was recommended by the customs officers in Sydney, or whether it was referred to the head office of your department in Canberra, and subsequently approved from that quarter, or whether you exercised your ministerial powers to grant or secure approval of the application.
That was my letter. Now let me read the reply, dated the 17th August, that I received from the Minister for Trade and Customs. It is as follows : -
Dear Mr. Ward,
I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 11th August and have noted your further views regarding the importation of heavy dutymotor trucks from Honolulu. Coming as it doe3 from a former Commonwealth Minister, the tenor nf your letter is rather amazing. However,I have nothing further to add to that conveyed in earlier correspondence.
That was the letter from the Minister. I think honorable members will agree that it was quite amazing, having regard to the letter that I had directed to him. I had no alternative then but to raise the matter in this Parliament. Speaking on the motion for the adjournment of the House on the 31st August, I stated the plain fact and asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir EricHarrison), who represents the Minister for Trade and Customs in this chamber, whether he would secure the information for me. Honorable members will Tecollect that the right honorable gentleman complained that I had not given him prior notice that I proposed to raise the matter, but he assured me that the following evening, on the motion to adjourn the House, he would give me a full answer. That meant a complete answer to the questions that I had directed to the Minister for Trade and Customs.
I waited until the 6th September, approximately a week later, and then I again raised the matter in the House, but
I received no reply from the VicePresident of the Executive Council. On the 13th September, I attempted to raise it again but was gagged by the VicePresident of the Executive Council, who evidently did not want the matter to be further aired or discussed. On the 15th September I raised the matter once again, trying to force from the Minister and the Government some explanation of the peculiar circumstances associated with the transaction. Let me remind honorable members of what the Vice-President of the Executive Council eventually told me, after having undertaken to give me a full answer. He said -
I approached the Minister for Trade and Customs . . . The Minister said that he considered that it was a matter for him to attend to personally, as he was administering the department concerned. He said that he would correspond with the honorable gentleman … I feel that I have discharged the obligation that I entered into.
He had not discharged that obligation at all, because he had promised to get me a full answer to my questions. He went on to say -
I naturally have no personal knowledge of the matters . . . T am perfectly certain that he-
That is myself - now has received a letter from the Minister for Trade and Customs.
I had not received the letter then, and I have not received it yet. Therefore, I want to know now whether the VicePresident of the Executive Council is in a position to give the reasons for this rather peculiar transaction. It may have appeared to honorable members, as it did to me at first, to be quite an ordinary transaction conducted by the Department of Trade and Customs. Certain information had been conveyed to me, and I decided to test the accuracy of the information. The only way to test it was to ask certain questions of the Minister for Trade and Customs, hut after spending a great deal of time in correspondence with the Minister, he finally refused to give me any information at all.
Let us have a look at the peculiar circumstances associated with this transaction. I have already pointed out to honorable members that, according to my information, the Sydney office of the department failed to recommend the issue of an import licence and that decision was confirmed by Mr. Meere, the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs in Canberra. I ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council to explain how, and at whose direction, 1 he licence was issued. If there is a complete answer, will the Minister produce the documents? Let us have a look at them, because is it not quite obvious to honorable members that, had there been a complete answer, as the VicePresident of the Executive Council believed when he first spoke about this matter in this chamber, they would have supplied it quite readily? In my opinion, they have sought delay so that they could adjust matters, and could then have a complete answer to the allegation.
It will be rather difficult for the Leader of the House, in his capacity as representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, to explain away why dollars in short supply were used for providing the means of importing into this country heavy-type motor vehicles for which, on the Minister’s own admission in his communications to me, there was no great demand, and which were imported only occasionally by the regular importers of motor vehicles. There is one significant feature about this matter. Directions having been given for the issue of an import licence, naturally one would have believed that the dollars required to make possible the importation would have been provided out of the dollar allocation to the motor trade for the importation of motor vehicles, but that was not the case on this occasion. As honorable members are aware, there is an inter-departmental dollar committee which meets quarterly and apportions dollars, having regard to their availability, between the various industries and undertakings according to their requirements, the volume of their trade, and the necessity for the particular r imports in which they are interested. These dollars were not taken out of the allocation for the motor trade, because the Minister for Trade and Customs knew that had that been done the motor trade would then have been up in arms, because it would have meant a reduction of the number of dollars made available to regular importers of motor vehicles. The dollars which made this importation possible were taken out of those set aside to meet contingencies, and that in itself, in my opinion, arouses great suspicion. I shall not say for one moment that the Minister for Trade and Customs had any direct contact with the particular firm concerned, but my information is that Thiess Brothers are the people who are vitally interested in this matter, and that the American Heavy Equipment Import Company is only a dummy. It is only a subsidiary company of the Thiess Brothers, and evidently the intention was not to disclose that it was really Thiess Brothers who were interested in the importation, because one of the earliest letters which I wrote to the Minister in regard to this matter was directed towards ascertaining who had made the application for the import licence, and to which particular company it had been issued. The Minister refused to give that information, saying that it was confidential between the applicant and the department, but later, when I was able to satisfy him that I already knew a great deal about this transaction, he admitted that Thiess Brothers were interested in the importation, and he went to great pains to explain to me that Thiess Brothers for many years had been engaged in the importation of motor vehicles, and that this was not a case of making dollars available to a newly established company for the purpose of importing motor vehicles into Australia. Why did the Minister not say that at the outset? Why did he not tell me that Thiess Brothers was the firm which was really interested in the importation and that they had been engaged in such imports over a period of years? The fact that he refused to make this information available in the first instance, but was subsequently compelled to admit that this was the firm behind the transaction, in my opinion, immediately creates a suspicion that Thiess Brothers did not want to come into the open at all, and neither did the Minister want to divulge that this was the firm behind the transaction. Therefore I say that there is a very simple way of clearing the matter up. if the Government and the Minister want to do it.
After the Minister had given an underraking _ to the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who said in this chamber that the Minister intended to write to me, answering these queries which I had raised, is it not rather significant that the Minister has not written me, or given me any reply whatever? Reading between the lines of the statement by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, I can imagine that, when he attempted to get this information for me, he and the Minister had quite a heated scene, because I can read into his statement that the Minister for Trade and Customs told him to mind his own business and not to keep putting his nose into the affairs of a department over which the Minister had control. When the Leader of the House says, “ I have discharged my obligation”, he has discharged his obligation to the point that I believe he did approach the Minister and try to obtain the information for me, but he has not obtained the full answer which he undertook to obtain for me and which, I think, would really mean a discharge of his obligation, to me and to the Parliament, to let us know the facts.
Let me conclude by summing-up. As I have said, for months aud months - because these motor vehicles were imported in March last-
– Order I The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has made a case which would appear to be an excellent case, only for the fact that practically the whole of the statements made by him are completely untrue. I know of no person who is more qualified to make accusations with regard to maladministration than is the honorable member, because it was due to an act of his own maladministration that a royal commission was appointed, and he has had vast experience in that regard. The honorable member has based his case in this House upon insinuation and innuendo. How did he obtain the information? He obtained it from the lowest form of human life, an informer, a snooper, who went about through the department and sup- plied him with information that is not honest and correct. The honorable member was a sucker, and he fell for it. The honorable member has not referred tohis original request for information from the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan). He wrote him a letter on the 29th March, 1955, in which he wanted information on certain matters. He asked -
The Minister, in his reply, which is dated the 6th April, 1955, said -
I refer to your letter of the 29th March asking a series of questions regarding a shipment of motor vehicles which recently arrived in Australia under tow from Honolulu.
With regard to several of your questions you will appreciate that replies could not be given to them without disclosing price and other detailed information of the kind which is confidential as between any importer and the Department.
I pause there to say that that is the sort of information that the honorable member was seeking. He wanted to get information about a private firm, and the dealings with the firm itself, so that he could take advantage of it on the floor of the House, and, of course, it was refused him. The letter continues -
However, I am at liberty to inform you that the vehicles are 6-wheel drivespecial purpose vehicles of the type generally used for heavy duty off highway work. Some of the vehicles are to be used to mount mobile shovels for quarrying work. Others will be used in other heavy duty work where 6-wheel drive vehicles are particularly suited. This type of heavy duty vehicle is not manufactured in Australia nor is it usually imported by any of the regular vehicle importers. The vehicles have been used but they are in near new condition as to the engines, gears and the transmission assemblies.
Imports involving dollar currency are allocated under Dollar Import Budgets framed quarterly by the Dollar Imports Committee. Each quarterly Budget necessarily includes provision for contingencies. A licence could not be granted except within the framework of the Dollar Imports Budget. The grant of this licence did not affect the allocation of any other importer of motor trucks.
With regard to trucks of dollar origin the major import allocations cover unassembled chassis for assembly in Australia or component parts for use in the local manufacture of motor trucks. Some heavy duty trucks from the United States of America are imported in a fully assembled condition but the volume of imports in this category is small.
The major import programmes for trucks and truck components are being financed under loans from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
So it will be seen that the honorable member did receive the information he was desirous of obtaining; but he was not given information relating to the private affairs of the business itself.
Mr. Ward interjecting,
– I listened to the honorable member without interjecting. He should extend to me the same courtesy. I shall now continue. In the first place, the honorable member’s informant, this snooper, said that Mr. Meere did not give his approval. I tell the honorable member now that he is wrong. His snooper never got beyond Sydney. He has no knowledge of the central files. Therefore, the information upon which the honorable member bases his attack upon a Minister is completely wrong, as T shall prove in a few moments.
Then the honorable member said that specific directions were given by the Minister to have this matter approved. Again, he is wrong. Again, his snooper failed to obtain accurate information. The honorable member imputes all sort? of motives to the Minister in an endeavour to force his hand, to obtain information of a private character concerning a business into which he wanted to get his hands. Then he says that the department was not aware of the fact that Thiess Brothers, the major company, was behind that. Again, the honorable member is wrong. The department was aware of the fact that the company was a subsidiary of Thiess Brothers. Indeed, Mr. Thiess himself, in company with Mr. Foster, approached the department in connexion with this matter. From this it will be seen that everything the honorable member has said has been just hearsay, gathered possibly from some corner of a building where they gather together in a sort of conspiratorial atmosphere to trade information to any honorable member who is sucker enough to fall for it and then comes into this House and dares to impugn the honesty of the Minister concerned.
Let me tell the honorable member for East Sydney that on the 21st January of this year Mr. Thiess and Mr. Porter interviewed Mr. Meere, who is ComptrollerGeneral of Customs in Canberra, and asked for a licence to import 91 trucks, and that Mr. Meere approved of it. The informant of the honorable member for East Sydney says the ComptrollerGeneral did not approve of it. Mr. Meere did approve of it.
– Why did not the Minister say so?
– Never mind ! The honorable member has a nasty habit of being so confoundedly arrogant in asking Ministers for information, and, once he obtains the information, he seeks to get private information, in his customary manner, about a particular business or industry, with a view to endeavouring subsequently to use it against those Ministers in his smear campaign in this House. The department itself will not give that information. It never gives that information.
– Give us a look at the file.
– I have been assured by my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs, that he is agreeable to making the relevant file available to the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna), the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Armstrong) and the former Minister for Trade and Customs under the Chifley Government, Senator Courtice-
– What about me ?
– Never mind about the honorable member for East Sydney, who again wants to go into these files on a muck-raking expedition. The Minister for Trade and Customs is prepared to make those files available to that representative group. At least, that should convince honorable members that there is nothing shady in this matter, as the honorable member for East Sydney has tried to convey. Nothing that his snooper informant has succeeded in giving the honorable member for East Sydney can stand up under cross-examination in any way at all.
I repeat that the Minister is prepared to make those files available. Night after night, the honorable member for East Sydney has risen in his place and cast these innuendoes in an endeavour to smear Ministers. Night after night his demands for information of a private nature have been refused him and he seeks now to take an advantage and to endeavour, by intimidation, to force the Minister for Trade and Customs to make available information that the Minister should not make available with relation to the private affairs of businesses. That technique is as old as the Parliament itself. It is rarely practised by most honorable members, but the honorable member for East Sydney often uses it. Therefore, I suggest to him that in future he might get a much more reliable informant, that he might check his snooper’s operations a little more accurately, that he might not sneak away into the fastnesses of a corridor or the shade of the pillar to obtain information from some of his informants. If he follows that advice, we shall see fewer attempts to smear Ministers of this House and we shall not have these time-wasting practices. A little while ago, honorable members were saying they were not given sufficient time to debate the Estimates, yet the honorable member for East Sydney seeks to waste the time of the House now. I do not propose to allow him to waste it any further, and I therefore move -
That the business of the day be called on.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. P. Adermann.)
Majority . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 15th September (vide page 721).
Remainder of proposed vote, £827,000.
Proposed vote, £2,486,000.
Proposed vote, £1,853,000.
Department of the Treasury.
Proposed vote, £8,537,000.
Proposed vote, £1,547,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- I wish to direct the attention of the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip. McBride), who is acting for the Minister for External Affairs during his absence abroad, to an ever-increasing difficulty that presents itself to an organization which performs a large amount of work on behalf of the Department of External Affairs in stimulating community interest in the work of the United Nations. The United Nations Association of Australia performs a considerable amount of work in that connexion. That organization whilst not directly sponsoring appeals on behalf of the United Nations, such as appeals for donations to the International Children’s Emergency Fund, performs much of the preliminary work. In many other ways, also, that organization assists in appeals to the community in connexion with the work of the United Nations. I consider that the allowance that is made by the Government to that organization is totally inadequate.
– Order! There is far too much noise in the chamber. Theprivate conversations that are now taking place must cease.
– This Government has assisted the association financially to a much lesser degree than did the Chifley Government, and consequently the association has been prevented, through lack of money, from undertaking much work that it wants to perform. Because of the necessity to economize, it now employs a secretary in South Australia on only a part-time basis, compared with full-time when Labour was in office. The shortage of funds is a constant source of concern to those who are engaged in this valuable work. In these circumstances, I make a special plea to the Government to assist this organization to the degree necessary to enable it to do even more effective work in stimulating public interests in international affairs. I hope that the Government will give to those who, quite voluntarily, endeavour to promote community interest in these matters, the degree of help that they have a right to expect in view of the assistance that they render to the Government in this vital field.
Mr.GULLETT (Henty) [3.58].- During the general debate on the budget last week, a number of honorable members drew the attention of the committee to the declining authority of the Parliament itself, and its lack of influence on the future policy of this country. I must say that I, myself, have been generally in agreement with the views that have been expressed. To-day, in the brief time at my disposal, I should like to examine some of the reasons for the situation whereby, it seems to me, this National Parliament has become more and more a sort of franking machine for policies which are worked out by the Government - by which I mean the cabinet of Ministers and senior public servants. I think it is true to say that the importance of the Parliament is far less to-day than it was years ago. One sees evidence of that in such outward signs as the very few number of private members’ bills which are ever introduced - let alone passed. One sees it also in the very few amendments to bills that are agreed to. One of the principal reasons for this state of affairs is the absolute failure of the present Opposition to provide real opposition to the Government. L propose to devote a few minutes of my time to this subject because no democratic parliament can work effectively unless there are two active opponents. As a supporter of the Government, I consider that it would be far better able to govern if there were a wholehearted, informed and united Opposition in this chamber. I think it is fair to say that never since federation has an Opposition been so neglectful of its duty as the Opposition led by the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) has been. The fact is that, instead of directing its attention to matters of national importance, the Opposition for some years has presented us with a most unpleasant spectacle of personal strife between its right and left wings. It has made no constructive efforts and has exhibited only the most modifying personal bitterness. It has forgotten all sense of its duty to the Parliament because certain honorable members opposite wish to exploit one side or the other in the contest between the two wings of the Opposition. Some people consider that this unfortunate state of affairs is entirely due to the leadership, or the lack of leadership, of the right honorable member for Barton. I do not altogether believe that view to be correct. The lack of opposition in this’ Parliament is due te the fact that Labour has fallen into decay and no longer has a worth-while programme to offer to the Australian people. Its ideas are outmoded and no longer appeal. It is extraordinary how little the Australian Labour party has added to its policies during the last 50 years. For a very long time it has allegedly advanced a socialst programme and asserted that it believes in the policy of socializing, or nationalizing, the means of production, distribution and exchange. But members of the Australian Labour party themselves do not believe in that doctrine. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), when he was an official member of the Opposition, repudiated that idea.
– Ask the honorable member for Hindmarsh.
– I do not think the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) believes for one moment in the doctrine that I have mentioned, nor do the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) and many other honorable members opposite.
– Order ! I should like the honorable member to relate his remarks to one of the items in the group of Estimates now before the committee.
– I relate my remarks to the Estimates for the Parliament. There are in this Parliament people who are not worth their salaries, for the reasons that I have mentioned. If the Opposition wished to reduce the Estimates because it considers that Opposition members do not earn the money that they receive, I should be completely in agreement with its point of view. All I say is that we shall not have an effective Opposition in this Parliament until honorable gentlemen opposite bring their ideas up to date and realize that the people of this country have rejected socialism once and for all. The Australian people have seen it in operation in Germany and Russia, and have seen an attempt to introduce it in England. In all instances, the standard of living of the people concerned declined. There was no improvement of their conditions. Indeed, they are forced to make very great sacrifices of freedom, independence and control over their private lives. I make these comments because it is not of much use to bemoan the fact that Parliament does not stand as high as it used to do, unless we give thought to the factors that have caused the decline of its position.
I turn now to the administration of Australia under the present system of government by Cabinet. We should remind ourselves that the system of government by a Cabinet of between fifteen and twenty members entirely responsible for administration developed many years ago when the government of Australia was a very much simpler proposition than it is at the present time. There were almost no social services in this country 20 or 30 years ago, and import licences were unknown. Defence, defence production and many other matters have become of great importance, and the machine that was perfectly adequate for the administration of Australia when it was mainly a primary-producing country with very few secondary industries and few social services or problems related to health and other matters, has proved totally inadequate under present conditions. The time has come for the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and his advisers to consider seriously a reconstruction of the existing system. A Cabinet - or supreme committee, if one wishes to give it that name - of approximately twenty members is rather too large in view of the enormous pressure of work that we know bears upon Cabinet at the present time. The concentration of responsibility for all these items of administration - I shall mention some of them in a moment - in the hands of fewer than twenty Ministers imposes a hopeless task upon them. They should make use of assistant Ministers or under-secretaries - call them what you will - and committees which could help them in their great work.
Let us consider the responsibilities of the Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes), for example. As Minister for the Interior, he is responsible for the administration of Canberra, which, in itself, is a fulltime job, and of Jervis Bay. As Minister for Works, he administers the Department of Works, which I understand is the biggest business in the Southern Hemisphere. In addition, the Minister must make trips abroad to supervise war graves, which, though they may be considered a minor feature of his work, are one of his responsibilities. On top of all these duties, he is saddled with responsibility for the Olympic Games. All these duties constitute an impossible task for one man adequately to undertake. The Minister should have assistants and I state bluntly that he should be made to use those assistants, because it is quite clear that one person if incapable of keeping his eye on so many facets of administration as he has responsibility for.
– The Minister for the Interior has an under-secretary.
– The honorable member does well to remind me of the fact. The Minister for the Interior is one of the few Ministers who has the assistance of an under-secretary. That undersecretary, of course, is the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), who assists the Minister mainly in war service land settlement matters, which are yet another responsibility of the Minister. The honorable member for Canning gives very able assistance, too. I merely drew the example of the responsibilities of the Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works out of the hat, so to speak, to highlight the proposition that the unwieldy machine that was good enough for Australia when it was a small pastoral community is no longer adequate for the country’s administration.
– I wish to comment upon the activities of Parliament and their cost, with particular reference to some of the matters dealt with by the honorable member for Henty (Mr.’ Gullett). The other evening, I was inclined to agree with the honorable member, but this afternoon I am equally as much inclined to disagree with him about what he has called the deterioration of Parliament. I agree that all are concerned with that problem,, but we on this side of the chamber approach it from a different angle. I was rather surprised to hear the honorable member state that the standing of this Parliament has deteriorated because the Opposition has failed to do certain things.
– Hear, hear!
– I am surprised also at the cry of “ Hear, hear ! “. If the honorable member for Henty and other honorable members on the Government side of the chamber imply that the Opposition should be the government, let them rise in their places and say so. If the honorable member for Henty considers that the Parliament suffers from the great disability that the type of legislation introduced by the present Government is not worthy of the National Parliament - and I would agree with him about that - the first thing he should do is to say so in the party room.
– He does.
– Now we have it right from the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley) ! Obviously, something is said in the Government party room. But when it is said, either the honorable member says it with his tongue in his cheek, or honorable members opposite have agreed to support nothing that savours of opposition to the Government’s point of view. When the honorable member for Henty puts a case such as he put to-day, and attempts to lay the blame at the door of the Opposition, he exposes the incompetency of the parties which, for the time being, form the Government. I remind him-
– Order ! I remind the honorable member for Blaxland that we are examining the Estimates at the moment.
– I am speaking on the matter of parliamentary charges. The honorable member for Henty said that party weaknesses are to be found in our parliamentary set-up. You, Mr. Temporary Chairman, allowed the honorable member to speak on those weaknesses, and you allowed him to point to the fact that, in his view, the blame lies at the door of the Opposition. He said that, because the Opposition had not done something during the last 50 years with respect to its policy, this Parliament is weaker. Well, now, the Government had been in charge of the Parliament for six years on the 10th.
June. I believe that honorable members opposite want to celebrate the anniversary.
– It was the 26th June.
– The Minister for Air says that it was the 26th June. At any rate, let us consider that position, and the statement of the honorable member for Henty. The honorable member said, in point of fact, that the Government had failed because of internal weaknesses-
– He said that it was because of the weaknesses of the Opposition.
– No. He condemned the cabinet system. He referred to a period of 50 years. This Parliament has witnessed great changes of policy in the last fifteen, not the last 50, years. This Parliament has been shown leadership in the great matters to which the honorable member referred, and the growth of Australia has been fostered by a party different from that which now occupies the Government bench. If any blame for failure attaches to this Parliament, it lies at the door of the supporters of the present Government because they have not had the courage to rise in their party room and deal on the spot with the weaknesses of the Cabinet. We know that it is easy for an honorable member to rise in his place and join with the members of a splinter group, none of whom is in the chamber at present, and say that certain weaknesses exist in the leadership of the Australian Labour party. I warn honorable members opposite that the people of Australia have just about had that type of excuse from a government which is not doing its job. I am looking for the day when Parliament will ensure that a government, whatever its political views, will be “ lined up “ by its own supporters in the party room in respect of national requirements. What is happening now? Government supporters are bleating in this chamber about something which they cannot alter, and are running away from their responsibility in the party room. What should be the policy of the Opposition? The Opposition should make attacks on the Government’s weaknesses.
– Why does the Opposition not do that?
– Government supporters, in debates such as this, and in debates such as the one which preceded it, spend a great part of their time in abuse instead of directing public attention to the weaknesses in their own make-up and trying to improve the position. In that way, Government supporters leave themselves wide open to the criticism that is being levelled by the public at them for their ineptitude. It is not the responsibility of the Opposition to provide a policy for the Government. We on this side of the chamber can understand why the honorable member for Henty and the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) want the Opposition to provide a policy. The explanation is that this Government has not got a policy.
– The honorable member has only six members sitting behind him in support of his view.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council has only seven sitting behind him, and he is a member of the Government. Nobody knows better than the right honorable gentleman that when the honorable member for Henty criticizes the affairs of this Parliament, as he has criticized them to-day, he is pointing the finger at party control of Parliament. He is pointing the finger at the weakness of party control of Cabinet, such as exists under the present Government. Nobody knows better than the Vice-President of the Executive Council that the members of the Liberal party are not allowed to vote in the party caucus room on any matter that could embarrass the Government.
– Does the Opposition take notice of the votes that take place in the Labour caucus room?
– The honorable member is on the receiving end for the moment. Let him take what is coming to him.
– If it made any sense, I would.
– Re- cently, I heard the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence) say that the
Australian Labour party has never departed from the policy of socialism. Every time that I hear a Government supporter making a statement of that kind, I cannot help thinking of a certain State Premier, whoisnot of the same political views as we on this side of the chamber, and who has not hesitated to use socialism to foster the needs of his own State. Honorable members opposite know that, if it suited it, this Government would take similar action. If this Parliament ever sits idly by and watches monopolies control national affairs, it will be treated at a given time by the people in the manner in which it deserves to be treated for running away from something which the Government parties have always run away from but from which the Labour party never has, and never will, run away. Before the honorable member for Henty criticizes the Opposition in the way that he has just criticized it, and lays at its door the responsibility for the failure of the Government, let him look at his own party. If honorable members opposite consider that the Government is not doing its job properly - and we all agree on that subject-
– Do not be too sure about that.
– In a recent debate the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) pleaded with the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to do something for a certain section of his constituents, the fruit-growers, who have not been given assistance. Nothing has been done about it. I say to the members of the Government that in parliamentary government on a party level - and I do not think that anybody will deny the need for party organization in parliamentary government because we know what has happened to other nations that tried other systems - it is not a question of how strong the Opposition may be so much as a question of how strong may be the people behind a government. We say quite frankly, as an Opposition, that we are not satisfied with parliamentary procedure at the moment, but I am not so sure that we agree with statements that the Cabinet system is not working and that more assistant Ministers shouldbe appointed. However, I think that that argument throws up a question that might well be considered. I believe that the time has arrived when our parliamentary system warrants an overhaul so that the men elected by the people will really govern, and not have the bureaucracy outside, the public servants and the like, virtually dictating policy to Ministers.
– What do you think about the men who sit behind you directing you ?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN Order! The honorable member will Address the Chair.
– I am dealing with the subject of the Parliament, and I shall reply to that interjection by saying that we do not do anything different from that which the party to which the honorable member owes allegiance does in the party room in New South Wale?, but perhaps we do not act so callously.
– We all are not as bad ms New South Wales.
– The honorable member should not run away from things. He threw this matter up and must take responsibility for it. I believe that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), in his final remarks, put his finger on the problem that faces this Parliament. In this Parliament we are getting away from the position where the elected representatives who are responsible to the people are really responsible for what is happening in the country. [ believe that week after week, month -after month, in the last six, seven or eight years, or even more, we have been passing out of the stage where the people who are elected really govern, and we are entering the stage in which we have a system under which the people who advise the Cabinet are the people who are really governing. [ say quite frankly that this is a matter which should be dealt with, not by the Opposition, but by the members of the parties at present in office.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) has made a speech that is somewhat typical of the policy of his party in that there was very little in it of a constructive nature, and in that it suggested no alternative. I hope he will excuse me if ] say that, in fact, the party opposite, reminds me rather of an old cockatoo that has still something to say but knows that it will never lay another egg; because the Labour party is a dying party, a degenerating party, and has no future before it, as honorable members on the other side know very well. It may be that things on this side of the chamber could be improved, but at least there is here the susceptibility to improvement, and we are looking at this in a constructive way and seeking practical ways of going about it.
I think that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) is correct in his general, approach to this subject. The committee will remember that some years ago I mentioned in this chamber the need for some reform of the cabinet system. I have not changed my views since then. Indeed, I believe that they have been strengthened by the happenings of the last few years. The Cabinet is too big for top control. There can be no doubt about that. I think that we in Australia have, to go more and more towards the system that has been evolved in Great Britain. At the top of the British Government structure there has been established a small informal body known as the Inner Cabinet. Next, there is a group of Ministers who are in the Cabinet, and then a group of Ministers who are not in the Cabinet, and finally there are, under them, the parliamentary under-secretaries. In other words, there are four tiers, and the general conception has a structure and a coherence that is lacking in Australia to a great degree. After all, we have to remember that we are a changing and developing and growing country, and the things which were good enough for the needs of the. past cannot necessarily be adapted to the conditions of the present. I think, therefore, that we should be, not slavishly copying the British system, but adopting some of its better and more essential features, by having a smaller Inner Cabinet to decide top policy, and by having, also, Ministers who are not fully in the Cabinet, but who are in charge of departments in the executive sense, although under the control of a commanding Minister in the Cabinet. I should like to sec, for example, some structure restored to the system of government that has been evolved in Australia, so we would have junior Ministers who would each be responsible to his appropriate senior Minister, and the senior Minister in each case would have at his ready command a small subcommittee of members of this Parliament, and members of the Government, who would not normally be in Cabinet, but who would be brought into Cabinet on the invitation of the appropriate Minister when matters concerning his department were under discussion by Cabinet. As an example of what I mean, we could have a Minister for Defence, and under him a Minister for the Army, a Minister for the Navy, a Minister for the Air Force, and a Minister for Supply. I myself would think that a Minister for Civil Defence, would also be appropriate. Under such a system there would be some proper chain of command and some structure, so that the Cabinet, while not being unwieldy, could still command, on any technical subject which came before it, the views of members of this chamber who would have access to all the ministerial files and would have been able to inform their minds, with the authority of the Minister concerned, in regard to matters for which they had some responsibility.
I believe that the present system of Cabinet sub-committees is radically bad and should be abolished, because with it we have a system where Ministers, who are already over-burdened by the pressing nature of the exigencies of Ministerial office, are each trying to study things that are outside their own departments and have perhaps no reference at all to the work of their departments. So, the Ministers clutter up their minds with a number of things on which they have to make decisions, and in which they are not expert. Of course, it is quite right and proper, and in every respect desirable, that when matters of policy are before the Government, the Minister concerned should like to have more than one parliamentary mind brought to bear upon them. However good a Minister may be, he may still feel that some facets of a subject have escaped his attention, and he might like to have the benefit of consideration by his colleagues of such matters in case he himself has made a slip. That is where the proposal I make in regard to junior Ministers comes right in, because it would give structure and would make the Cabinet subcommittees work, because it would make them sub-committees of Ministers expert, instead of inexpert, on the subject under discussion. I believe - and this is not the first time that I have put forward this suggestion to honorable members - that a reform of this character is now long overdue.
I think the committee will regret the fact that the very wise proposals that were made four or five years ago in regard to under-secretaries have been allowed to languish, with the result that the undersecretary is now almost part of a blighted race. That was a very valuable innovation, because it could have given to honorable members an opportunity to learn the administrative ropes so that, when they entered the Cabinet in due course, they would not do so as completely inexperienced people. It is unfortunate that that very promising experiment was not pressed forward further than it was. I do not know why that has happened. There are, of course, some natural forces at work. Naturally, Ministers who are in office are eager to ensure that they have no possible successors coming on. That is a human failing; it is something that is common to every human being, and we cannot blame them for feeling that way. But they should be asked, perhaps, to overcome to some degree such natural human feelings, with which everybody must sympathize, and to look at the matter from a broader national viewpoint. It is necessary that they should be preparing their successors instead of preventing them from getting the day-to-day knowledge that is essential if they are to take their place efficiently in the Cabinet structure.
I believe that this Government will turn its mind towards reform of this kind. I believe, moreover, that on this side of the chamber there is a hope that does not exist on the other side. I believe, too, that there is a fundamental goodwill on this side that will make the changes that are overdue. I do not mean that they are overdue in the sense of being overdue in the history of this Government, but of being overdue in the history of the Parliament. I do not use the adjective in relation only to this Government, but also in relation to the governments that went before it. We should have done something sooner; but it may not be very long before we are moving in the direction that I have indicated. On this side of the chamber, there is a desire to approach this whole administrative problem in a constructive fashion, and possibly we are not without some ideas of the way in which to do so.
– I rise to support some of the remarks that have been made by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) in relation to the present working of the Australian cabinet system. I sympathize with both honorable gentlemen in feeling as they do towards the way that Parliament is now being treated by the present Cabinet. It is perfectly true, as the honorable member for Henty has stated, that the Parliament i?, being used by Cabinet merely as a rubber stamp to give effect to decisions that it has made without proper consultation with tho Parliament. The one thing that makes cabinet control under a Labour administration very much better than cabinet control under a Liberal administration is that each member of the Parliamentary Labour party is entitled to a vote when the cabinet is being formed. A. Labour cabinet must be elected by the elected representatives of the people in the party room. Under the Liberal form of government, the cabinet is selected by the Prime Minister without reference to the party.
I can well understand why Government supporters on the back benches are at last beginning to become dissatisfied with what they have seen spring from the selections of the Prime Minister. Without limiting my remarks to the particular persons concerned, I have no doubt, having regard to the manner in which some
Ministers have been carrying out their duties, that if all members of the present Cabinet were, to use a colloquialism, forced to throw their hats into the ring and go to the party room to see whether they would be re-elected under a system similar to that used by the Labour party, many of them would not continue to sit on the front bench. I do not say that those honorable members who replaced them would necessarily be ideal cabinet ministers, although by comparison they might be, but certainly some of the men who are now on the Government back benches would be elected if a cabinet selection were made by the rank and file of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party.
– Whom would the honorable member suggest?
– I have no doubt that the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) would have no difficulty in being selected. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) would have no doubt about his selection, and the honorable member for Henty would probably be one of the first to be selected. Hence, it is easy to understand his dissatisfaction with the present system of control. The honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne-* and the honorable member for Mackellar would be far better Ministers than some of the men who now occupy the front bench.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member should come back to the Estimates.
– It must be said that the honorable member for Mackellar generally makes a constructive contribution to parliamentary debates. I do not agree with everything that he says, but occasionally he advances constructive proposals. This afternoon, he was able, not only to attack the present cabinet system, but also to advance a proposal which, in his opinion, and, incidentally in my opinion also, would prove far superior to the arrangement that we have to put up with at the present time. Is it any wonder that the honorable member for Mackellar and the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay) have cause to be completely dissatisfied with the present system of government? On the notice-paper there appears, in the name of the honorable member for Mackellar, an item relating to the very important matter of civil defence - the Civil Defence Council Bill. That bill was introduced months ago, hut the Parliament has not yet been permitted to conclude its discussion on it. Why is the Parliament being treated almost with contempt by the Cabinet? Why is it being prevented from discussing important items that have been brought to its notice by such honorable members as the honorable member for Mackellar, and also the honorable member for Boothby, who has asked the Parliament to deal with the subject of Commonwealth exemption from local government rating?
This state of affairs cannot continue for ever. The Parliament cannot survive if the Cabinet is to use its weight of numbers to force it to disregard notices of such important matters as those to which I have referred. It is of no use for the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) to sit smugly at the table and smile at me while I speak, thinking, no doubt, that nothing is likely to change the present system and that we can talk as much as we like without anything happening. Did not the right honorable gentleman hear the warning that was issued by the honorable member for Mackellar a moment ago ? The honorable member for Mackellar has told the committee that there is gross dissatisfaction amongst the Government back-benchers, that they have very strong points of view, that they have been discussing those points of view privately among themselves, and that they are reaching the stage when they are about to strike. I ask the right honorable gentleman not to treat this matter in a cavalier manner and to say, “ We have the numbers. We will take no notice of our back-benchers “. Let him not forget that the back-benchers have the numbers at party meetings, and that the day will come when they will no longer allow the Prime Minister personally to select those persons who are to represent the Government at the United Nations. Honorable members on the back benches will insist upon the right, which we already enjoy, to select from their number, by a proper democraticsecret ballot, those persons whom they wish to represent the Government at such important functions as the meetings of the United Nations. But we find that Cabinet has told the honorable member for Mackellar that, under no circumstances, will it permit a discussion of the matter that he has on the noticepaper. Nor will it permit the honorable member for Boothby to discuss further the matter that he has on the noticepaper.
Before I sit down, I want to make some brief comments about the Public Service Arbitrator and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I believe that, just as the Parliament is in danger of being completely discredited in the eyes of the people, or, worse than that, just as the Parliament has come dangerously close to being discredited in the eyes of its members, so too is the arbitration system of this country gradually being discredited in the eyes of the community at large. The reason is that the Government’? policy with regard to arbitration has gummed up the whole of the arbitration system, so that it is no longer possible to get decisions quickly. And unless decisions in relation to industrial disputes can be obtained quickly, we shall not settle those disputes by arbitration. If ever it is true to say that speed is of the essence of the contract, it is true to say it of the arbitration system. But the Commonwealth Arbitration Court if unable to give prompt decisions in relation to the disputes that come before it. and the Public Service Arbitrator’s court, if I may use the expression, also is being gummed up because, as a result of the Government’s policy, it is utterly impossible for the Public Service Arbitrator to settle once and for all the disputes that are referred to him. What happens now is that a dispute is referred to the Public Service Arbitrator, and h,j hears the case. But then, if his decision is adverse to the Government, the Government appeals to the Full Bench of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, which either re-hears the whole of the case or refers it back to the Public Service Arbitrator for him to do so.
That makes proceedings before the Public Service Arbitrator very cumbersome. But even before that policy was put into effect, I, as a trade union secretary, found that it was very difficult to obtain prompt hearings of cases referred to the Public Service Arbitrator. Ibelieve the Government should at once appoint an assistant Public Service Arbitrator. I know of no better person to appoint to that position than Mr. Jack Burkett, a man who now occupies a position similar in status. I believe that Mr. Burkett should be given power to decide and dispose of any matters referred to him by the Public Service Arbitrator. Mr. Castieau, the Public Service Arbitrator, is one of the most efficient men before whom I have appeared. I am sure the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) will agree with me when I say there is no better dispenser of industrial justice than Mr. Castieau, but I believe that he just cannot do the job required of him, because it would be physically impossible for one human being to hear properly and deal with promptly all the cases that are brought before the Public Service Arbitrator. His position has been made even worse by the fact that very often he has to do his job twice, when an appeal to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court against one of his decisions is upheld.
I think it is a great tragedy that this Governmentsecured an amendment of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to permit appeals to be made against decisions of conciliation commissioners. Unless something is done quickly, the gummingup process that is taking place now in relation to hearings before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and the Public Service Arbitrator will become so acute as to discredit the arbitration system completely as a system for the settlement of industrial disputes. If that happens, it will be very difficult to rehabilitate that system. Therefore, I appeal to the Government to act, and to act quickly, to restore to conciliation commissioners and the Public Service Arbitrator the power to determine once and for all the matters that come before them. How can it be argued logically that a judge of the Arbitration Court is wiser than, say, a con ciliation commissioner ? Both are human beings. It will be necessary to appoint another ten or fifteen judges of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and another 30conciliation commissioners if we continue the present system of permitting appeals to the court from decisions of conciliation commissioners. Under that system the court very often rehears the whole case and then refers it back to the conciliation commissioner who, in turn, hears it once again.
– I shall address my remarks to one of the subjects covered by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) and discuss, perhaps from the point of view of an outsider looking in, the general arbitration system. I have no legal qualifications, nor have I the qualifications of one who has appeared in the arbitration courts on behalf of industrial organizations, so perhaps my remarks will not be of a practical nature. But it seems particularly appropriate at the moment to have a look at the general arbitration system.
I should like to say at the outset that none of the remarks that I intend to make should be taken as a reflection on the magnificent service that is being rendered to the nation by those distinguished gentlement who are called upon to make some most difficult decisions - decisions which affect, not only the lives and conditions of employment of many Australians, bur also the economic situation of the whole country.
A discussion of this subject at the moment is appropriate also because of the comments that the Australian Council of Trades Unions has made on the arbitration system in Australia. This country is perhaps unique in having a cast-iron system of arbitration. In Great Britain, most of the negotiations in this field are in the form of collective bargaining, usually between an industry and the unions concerned. In the United States of America, there is a similar form of negotiation, but it is usually conducted by an individual company and the union representatives. I believe that, by and large, the American system has been reasonably effective in solving a lot of the internal troubles in industry there.
Over a period of years, we have developed our form of industrial arbitration, and I can say without fear of contradiction that there is not much future, politically speaking, in suggesting that it should be materially or radically altered. That has been suggested in the past, with dire results politically for the people who have suggested it. The arguments of the Australian Council of Trades Unions are based, I believe, on a situation which lends a great deal of force to those arguments. Let me explain what I mean by that statement. To-day, Australia has over-full employment. In bargaining, the party with a monopoly of the thing being sold is in a much stronger position than the buyer. Therefore, while I understand the reasons for the views expressed by the Australian Council of Trades Unions, in approaching this problem from the viewpoint of negotiation or collective bargaining it must be realized that conditions in the country now are such as to lend force to those views, but at another time in the future, with changed conditions, they might not be so appropriate.
It is quite obvious that, over a period of years, many great gains have been achieved by the employed public of Australia through the arbitration system, in regard not only to financial rewards, but also to conditions of employment. Many of those gains which have been credited to the arbitration system have resulted from one-sided or individual action taken by a State government. I need only refer to the New South Wales Government’s introduction of the 40-hour week as a condition of employment in that great industrial State. The judges of the Arbitration Court were thus faced with a situation which virtually put them in the position of confirming an individual action taken by a State government. We also have had instances where suspension of quarterly adjustments of the basic wage has been disregarded by individual States. Another condition of employment which also requires consideration is the introduction of long-service leave. Such conditions, which are definitely of benefit to people in the industrial movement, who are principally on wages, would probably be attributed to the operations of our arbitration system, but in actual fact all that it Las done has been to confirm the previous action of some individual body or State.
There has been some discussion of the decision to peg wages. I do not think that any honorable member really believes that wages in Australia are pegged to-day. I know from practical knowledge of my own industry that very, very few people are not receiving considerably in excess of the wages determined by the court. Conditions in that industry are comparable with those in many others. There was a case quite recently in regard to the construction of the large refinery at Williamstown, Melbourne, where negotiations were conducted by collective bargaining. The work was done very rapidly, and probably the results were satisfactory from the point of view of the people who required the work to be done. The subject is so complex that I think that when we are discussing the grant for the machinery to carry out the decisions we should examine also the results of the decisions which affect not only the individual but also the general national economy. Whilst I shall try to keep within your ruling, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that the debate be confined to the group of departments under discussion, it is not so easy to do so. The honorable member for Hindmarsh, I believe, put his finger on one of the main weaknesses of the arbitration system, when he mentioned speed. It is quite obvious that in order that both sides shall be satisfied speed is a determining factor, but the system has recently grown so much on the legalistic side - both parties are probably equally responsible for it - that the time factor is completely ignored, and a court which was designed to bring about conciliation in industry is now really a forum for legalistic arguments and for continuing a spirit of antagonism, which io the very opposite of the purpose for which it was designed. One side puts its case and calls a number of witnesses and the other side does likewise. The learned judge has an almost impossible task in trying to satisfy both sides, and very often the net result is that nobody is satisfied. An even worse effect, I believe, is that there is no sense of responsibility in either party to the contract to see that the terms are carried out. The collective bargaining system places a responsibility on both the employer and the employee to do their best to ensure that the terms of the agreement shall be put into effect. I quite realize that I am trespassing on your good nature, Mr. Temporary Chairman, in regard to this matter, but I shall conclude by saying that, in view of the vast importance to the Australian economy of the Arbitration Court and its decisions, the time is appropriate for the general system of arbitration to be made a No. 1 priority subject for discussion by a very early constitutional conference, because it is now, and will continue to be, a source of dissension, when it should be one of peace. In view of the extraordinary increase in the problems of employment in industry to-day; the subject must rank very high in importance amongst matters for discussion.
.- I want to confine my remarks to the proposed vote for the Prime Minister’s Department, and more particularly to divisions 15 and 16, the Commonwealth Grants Commission, and the Office of Education. First, however, I should like to refer very briefly to the speech made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron). I greatly admire the charming solicitude that he has displayed for the ultimate destiny of the Liberal party. I also noted with some surprise that he is at one with the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. “Wentworth). I never thought the day would dawn in this chamber when he would find common ground with the honorable member. I think it means the kiss of death for one of them, but I am not sure which one. The honorable member for Hindmarsh took exception to selection of the Cabinet by the Prime Minister, which, of course, is the system adopted by the present Government. He objected, and rightly so, to the fact that it is authoritarianism. I wonder whether the honorable member for Hindmarsh would apply the same sentiments to the prevailing political situation in Victoria, wherein candidates who support the Evatt side in the present Labour dispute are selected by the Cain-Stout executive, without consideration of the rank and file, and in distinct contradiction of democratic procedure. But that is by the way.
I shall refer to the position of Australian universities generally. In the electorate which I have the honour to represent is the University of Melbourne. At the present time it is conducting an appeal for £1,000,000, of which to date not quite £500,000 has been subscribed, and to which the public response has not been as gratifying as it might be. It is high time that the Office of Education, under the control of the Prime Minister’s Department, looked very closely into the position of Australian universities. 1 am confident that if it did so and undertook a complete review, it would ascertain that the position of Australian universities generally is somewhat parlous. Let us take as a guide the position that existed in 1939 and contrast it with the position to-day in regard to accommodation, equipment, and all the matters which go to make a really progressive institution. In every respect the position has deteriorated. The student population in Australian universities in 1939 was 14,000 ; to-day it has more than doubled. Yet, with very few and perhaps a couple of notable exceptions, the Australian universities are carrying on with antiquated buildings, obsolete machinery, and with complete and most uncomfortable crowding in almost all tutorial rooms. Living accommodation at almost all the universities has remained at the 1939 level. It might be well for the Office of Education to conduct a careful review of the position at all universities, and of the University of Melbourne in particular, with a view to stimulating their finances in order that they might be brought completely up to date. Some figures were published in a pamphlet entitled the Monthly Summary of Australian Conditions, and I propose to read them to the committee. Many people in the community suffer from the delusion that Commonwealth grants to universities, and State assistance to universities, are so munificent that university students, whether they be full-time or part-time, are living in the lap of luxury, and that the financial status of Australian universities compares more than favorably with that of universities in other parts of the world. Such is not the case. The latest available figures - those for 1953 - giving a comparison between only the universities of Australia and the United Kingdom, tell a somewhat different story from the view that is held by so many Australians.
The total expenditure on students attending the Sydney University, who number 6,364, is £1,500,000. This works out at £242 a student. At the Melbourne University, there are 5,578 students. The total expenditure on them is £1,391,000, or £249 a student. Students attending the Adelaide University number 2,992. The total expenditure is £595,000, or £233 a student. I have not named the remaining Australian universities because my time is running short, but the statistics in relation to them fall somewhat below the three figures I have quoted. The total student population at Australian universities is 23,449 while the total expenditure on them is £6,292,000, or £268 a student.
This is a wealthy community. There is employment for all, and there is a growing desire on the part of many people to be properly trained in technological pursuits. That being so, one would imagine that we should be spending at least the equivalent of what is being spent in the United Kingdom on student education at the universities; but when we contrast the position in Australia with that in Great Britain, we see clearly that we fall far behind the United Kingdom.
The following table supports my contention : -
The total enrolment at the universities in the United Kingdom that I have named is88,480 students, and the average expenditure is £422 a student. That compares more than favorably with what is spent in Australia on the education of university students. The Office of Edu- cation, controlled by the Prime Minister’s
Department, might seriously consider in what way the future and scope of education is to be expanded and, of course, a very necessary ancillary to that must be a proper grant from either the Commonwealth or the State, but preferably from the Commonwealth.
Turning again to the pamphlet to which I have referred, I find the following statement under the sub-heading “The Future’s Prospects”:-
By 1960, it has been estimated that enrolments will total approximately 36,000, by which time, it is thought, the full effect of our present immigration, programme will be experienced and student members will be increasing by about 2,000 each year. Already Melbourne and Sydney Universities are almost twice the size of universities in the large provincial cities in the United Kingdom. Although existing universities, provided they are assured of increased financial support, should be able to meet immediate requirements, the establishment of new institutions may prove necessary towards the end of this decade.
I say in conclusion, because my time has almost expired, that education, as members of this Parliament know, is a most desirable adjunct to modern progress. If it is stifled, or if it is circumscribed because of the lack of finance, then, the nation halts and finally commences to deteriorate. I repeat that the Melbourne University has not been successful with its appeal for £1,000,000. The various sections of industry that will be indebted to scientific progress in the future have not played their part towards that appeal. I strongly suggest that the Office of Education should give serious through t to making an extensive survey of the conditions that operate in all Australian universities with a view to making, through the Commonwealth Grants Commission, an increased advance to the States for university education so that this country will benefit by the progress so made.
.- Before drawing the attention of the committee to two other matters, let me say that I agree with the statement of the honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. Cremean) that the university accommodation in this country is far short of our requirements. In a few week’s time, a meeting will be held in my electorate with a view to pushing the claim for the establishment of a Riverine university, somewhere in the Riverina plain. Reference has been made to the financial position of universities. Does the responsibility in that matter rest with the Commonwealth, or with the States? Surely, under our federal system of government, the responsibility under the Constitution belongs entirely to the State governments, while the Federal Government has the responsibility merely of raising loans and allocating those moneys to the States, without attaching any tags or strings to the way in which they should use those allocations. If they prefer to do something else, we have no say in the matter. All that I point out to the honorable member for Hoddle is that this Government has done its utmost to see that State governments receive the largest amount of loan funds that they could possibly get. That statement is proved by the fact that during four years of the Menzies-Fadden Administration, £758,000,000 has been made available to the States by way of loan compared with £212,000,000 in four years under the Chifley Administration. This Government has made available to the States three and a half times as much as the Chifley Government allocated to them. I do not want to harp on that matter any longer. The control of a university is a State responsibility.
I come now to the matters upon which I wish to touch to-day. The first of them is the incidence of sale3 tax. It is an interesting anomaly in sales tax that although this Government has not increased the rate of tax at all, country wholesalers in Victoria and New South Wales this year will be called upon to pay a greater amount of sales tax, not because of any action on the part of the Federal Government, but through the action of the State governments in increasing railway freights. So the Commonwealth is actually getting a profit out of the railway freights charged by the State governments. This is because the wholesaler in the country hot only must bring into account the cost of the article which he buys from the city - generally Sydney or Melbourne - but also must add, before sales tax is assessed, the cost of transport. It seems to me that this is wrong indeed in principle, and I have taken the matter up with the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). But such a matter is generally passed on to the department concerned, and we know that they have a ready file of reasons why certain things cannot be done. That is all I have received in reply to my representations.
I believe that if any one ought to encourage decentralization, it is the Treasurer, particularly as he is a member of the Australian Country party and believes in decentralization. For residents of New South Wales, the farther they are from Sydney the more they pay in sales tax. For instance, if I am in Wagga Wagga, and buy something st a price that includes £10 for freight, and sales tax on that is 12^ per cent., I have to pay 25s. more than would a person in Sydney. The result is that a retailer in Wagga Wagga who wants to get a quote in order to decide whether he will buy ice cream - or anything else - from a wholesaler in Wagga Wagga or Sydney, finds that he can buy at 25s. cheaper from the wholesaler in Sydney. That is wrong. I know that it involves a question of policy, but in this matter there is an anomaly that should be corrected by the Treasurer. It may be that a slight alteration of the sales tax legislation is warranted. I hope the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), who is sitting at the table, will refer this matter to the right honorable gentleman when he returns from overseas. And let us not be given excuses why it cannot be done. The Treasurer should ask himself, “ Is this right or wrong in principle “? Sales tax should be applied evenly throughout the length and breadth of the country.
The second matter to which I wish to refer is one that I raised in this chamber last Thursday. I am sorry that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) is not present, because he followed me in the debate on that day. I suggested that the Commonwealth Bank was incurring excessive expenditure by operating its own private aircraft to convey the members of its executive throughout the country. I said that I considered that the Commonwealth Bank could relieve itself of an enormous expenditure every year by using the regular air services. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports stated, “But they are only doing what all the private banks are doing”. In the first place, that is not correct; no private bank in this country owns an aircraft. Secondly, if the Bank of New South Wales - or any of the private banks - decided that it wanted to operate a Comet, I could not care less, because those banks are using, not public money but their shareholders’ money, and it is clearly a matter for the chairman of the bank and the shareholders to decide whether their funds should be used for that purpose. But in this case public money is involved. We should see that no effort is spared by organizations like the Commonwealth Bank to reduce expenditure as far as they can. We do not want to see bank officers working in tin huts, but, on the other hand, we do not want to see lavish expenditure incurred.
I noticed a statement from the acting secretary of the Commonwealth Bank, in which he stated that this aircraft was used only for official purposes. I say straight away that when I addressed myself to this matter previously, I did not suggest that the aircraft was used for other than official purposes - although I have good reason to suspect that it is. However, I did not make that remark then. I make it now because obviously the bank authorities feel that they have something to hide. I have heard from two sources, which I believe to be fairly reliable, that the aircraft was flown from Sydney to Brisbane to get the children of the manager of the Commonwealth Bank. It is time that we were given an opportunity to look at the log-book of the aircraft. A log-book must be kept for every aircraft in Australia. I want to know whether the position was that this aircraft was just sitting on the tarmac, and the executive decided that it might as well go to Brisbane for that purpose as waste its time down here. Surely, when public money is used for such a purpose, members of this Parliament should be given the details in order to be able to decide for themselves whether or not public funds are being correctly expended.
Qantas Empire Airways Limited is another example of these independently set-up commissions which are, nevertheless, the responsibility of this Parliament. We own the shares in that company, and its accounts are tabled in the Parliament, but when we ask for more details, we are fobbed off with the reply that it is not the practice to supply them. Yet the accounts that are tabled are in such a form that not even the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), who is a chartered accountant, can understand them, and I certainly am unable to do so.
– When we want further information about Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited we cannot get it.
Mr.FAIRBAIRN.- In case the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is interjecting, was not listening a few moments ago, I point out that Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited operates on shareholders’ money, whereas Trans-Australia Airlines and the Commonwealth Bank use public money. We, the elected representatives of the people, have a responsibility to look after public money - not the shareholders’ money in Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited.
– But that company uses Commonwealth money also.
Mr.FAIRBAIRN. - I mentioned Qantas Empire Airways Limited. That company is erecting a new office building in Sydney at a cost of about £2,000,000. It will incorporate provision for dancing in the fourth story. That may be desirable, but why should not parliamentarians be furnished with some of the details of the expenditure? After all, if the company goes broke we are the ones who will have to increase taxation in order to bridge the gap. This is a most interesting aspect of the matter. The honorable member forWarringah (Mr. Bland), who has had more experiencein public administration than most members of the committee, has been good enough to lend me some books that he obtained in Great Britain, which is faced with more of this trouble than we have, because of nationalization of industry in that country. It is a question of how far the Parliament can divest itself of responsibility merely by nationalizing an industry and saying, in effect, to those whom it places in charge, “ Go ahead and run the industry. Do not come back to us at all “. As parliamentarians we do not want to have the responsibility of individual overseeing.
It would be a bad day if we ever bad the right to go to a bank and ask, “ “Why did not John Smith get an overdraft ? “ or go to the British Overseas Airways Corporation and ask, ““Why are you using Viscounts and not Britannias “ ? But when we have reason to suspect extravagance and waste by a commission established by this Parliament, surely we have the right to demand the production of relevant figures. This matter was considered by the British Government to be so serious that a committee of the House of Commons was set up to look into it. I hope that a similar committee will be appointed by this Government, and that the honorable member for Warringah, who, as I have said, has had more experience in public administration than any of us, will be included in it. The committee should be directed to look into this matter, and the Cabinet should decide, in the light of the committee’s report, what information must be given to honorable members, on request, as distinct from information which concerns only day-to-day administration.
.- I again wish to direct attention to the administration of the Department of External Affairs in relation to the Colombo plan, which, I suggest, has been only partially successful. One of the main objectives of those who inaugurated the plan was that it should encourage private investment in the countries which were to benefit. This is a most important factor, because it was hoped that Government contributions to the Colombo plan nations would enable them to increase production which, in turn, would encourage private investors to the field, and so accelerate production still further. Unfortunately, this has not happened. I should like to submit the opinion of the United Nations Research Committee, which went into this matter very thoroughly. The committee considered that the beneficiaries under the Colombo plan needed about £5,000,000,000 of new investment annually to jolt them out of their chronic poverty. That is a vast amount. Total expenditure on the Colombo plan was originally intended to be approximately £2,000,000,000 over a period of six years. Honorable members will understand that any worth-while private investment would have to be on a verylarge scale. Unfortunately, private investment under the plan has been on only a small scale, and as a result the plan will not achieve the results envisaged by its originators. It appears that the economic development of the countries assisted under the Colombo plan, for the time being, must be promoted by public planning and the expenditure of government funds.
Comprehensive annual reports on the Colombo plan are published, but they omit reference to a number of matters. I suggest that this is due not to any design on the part of the authorities but to the fact that it is impossible to obtain accurate information in some of the countries concerned. The latest report reveals that deficiencies in almost every country are numerous and formidable. If the Colombo plan is to be successful, it is essential that countries provided with Australian equipment under the plan - this country has sent tractors to various countries - should have large numbers of training schools at which the persons who will operate the equipment may be trained. It is highly commendable that Australia alone is spending about £200,000 a year on scholarships to enable Asian students to study industrial, scientific, agricultural and administrative methods in this country. Such training is essential, but it does not get to the heart of the problem, which is to give technical training to Asian people who will operate the equipment given to those countries by Australia. So far as I can ascertain, the number of colleges established for the instruction of the average rank-and-file worker in Asian countries is very small. It is necessary to increase the number of schools giving, not advanced technical training, but adequate training in the efficient operation of the machinery so that it shall not be damaged as the tractors sent to Ceylon that I mentioned the other evening were damaged.
One of the problems is that there has been a terrific increase of the population in the area of Asia with which the plan is concerned. Statistics show emphatically that we must expect a population increase in the Colombo plan area of 8,000,000 persons a year. It is estimated that, by 1970, there will be an additional 150,000,000 people living in the area. That will undoubtedly be so, and a prodigious effort will be required to make productivity keep pace with the increase of population. But that is not enough, [f productivity only keeps pace with the increase of population, there will be no improvement of the standard of living, which is one of the principal objects of the Colombo plan. Productivity must increase more quickly than the population increases, and at present it is lagging behind the increase of population. The sponsors of the Colombo plan must make gigantic efforts to increase productivity by the use of mechanical equipment, the provision of technical assistance and the institution of hydro-electric and irrigation schemes, because unless the industrial productivity of the countries concerned is increased, the standard of living will decline. The sponsors of the Colombo plan must give close attention to the increase of population, which more than offsets the increase of productivity achieved by the plan, and threatens to undermine its basic purpose.
I hope that results in the last two years of the plan will be more tangible than were the results achieved in its first four years. I realize the difficulties, and especially the administrative and technical problems, that were encountered when the plan was launched. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that there is in this chamber no more fervent supporter of the Colombo plan than I am. I hope that the multi-purpose projects under the plan, which have shown so little return for the heavy investment made upon them, will be completed as early as possible so that they may begin to make a full contribution to the social and economic advancement of the people that they are designed to serve. I trust that rural self-help schemes will be encouraged in every way possible, and that they will be far more successful than the rural self-help scheme in Ceylon, which I mentioned in a previous speech. However successful may be the projects to which I have just referred, it is obvious to me that a second Colombo plan will he needed. The first plan, though it will be completed on paper in June, 1957, will not have accomplished its purpose. I hope that the Australian Government and the governments of the other contributing countries will not be deterred by the set-backs and vicissitudes that they have encountered from undertaking a programme that will prove to be the best investment this country has ever made and will make a tangible contribution to the improvement of living standards in the Colombo plan countries.
In the few minutes left to me I should like to discuss the Estimates for the Parliament and the workings of this institution. My observations during the five and a half years that I have been a member of this chamber have led me to the conclusion that the experience and talents of members generally are not being utilized to the greatest possible advantage. This is understandable to a great degree. The increase of the number of members has caused a great deal of frustration among rank-and-file members. Only limited time is allowed for the discussion of bills. Though that time may have been ample for 75 members, obviously in a chamber of 123, a number of honorable members cannot participate in the debates. I hope that the Government will take action to ensure that members who wish to give good service to the community in this place shall not be prevented from giving that service by the limiting of the time available for debates. In other words, I advocate an extension of the committee system. I do not want any honorable member opposite to hurl at me a reference to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I do not suggest that any highly controversial and contentious political question be referred to a committee.
– Foreign affairs questions should not be highly controversial and politically contentious.
– They are. The external policies of the major political parties in every country differ very materially. There are numerous matters that are not politically highly contentious. They might well he considered by committees, which should be free from government dictation. One of the disabilities of the Foreign Affairs Committee is that it is subject to dictation by Cabinet and by the government parties. I am a member of the Public Works Committee, which is a good example of a committee that successfully produces positive results for the parliamentary machine. You also, Mr. Temporary Chairman, are a member of that committee, and I think you will agree with me that I can say, without being egotistical, that the committee is highly beneficial to the taxpayers of Australia. An extension of the committee system in this Parliament would give members who are unable to contribute to the debates within the limited time available, and who must content themselves merely to sit and listen, a much greater interest in the proceedings of the Parliament.
The committees that I propose could consider many matters and could make a well-reasoned, approach to national problems, as does the Public Works Committee, without the taint of any particular political outlook and with the good of the community at heart. The committees could make recommendations to the Government, and it would be a matter for the Government whether it accepted them. If it did, it would find that decisions had been made on balanced conclusions arrived at in the conclaves of the committee room after mature consideration beyond the influence of the heat and burden of the parliamentary chamber. Such a system would lead to a better approach to many national problems. Therefore, I suggest to the Government that it should give this matter very serious contemplation indeed. I am satisfied that the extension of the committee system would be to the advantage, not only of the Parliament, but also of the nation. Other parliaments use the committee system to a far greater degree than we do. I realize that the American parliamentary system is somewhat different from ours; but members of Congress depend to a large extent on the decisions at which their committees arrive. It comes down to the fact that parliamentary systems work very effectively with a large number of committees. The House of Commons has not nearly so many committees as the American Congress, but it has some committees which work very effectively.
Discontent seems to be permeating the ranks of Government supporters. I say that because honorable members opposite who suggest that the present system is not effective are brooding over grievances. They have nothing to do but sit here and listen to speeches. From the point of view of the Government, if they had an interest in the functioning of one committee, that would be a far more effective way of maintaining peace and harmony in their own ranks. From the point of view of the nation, an extension of the committee system would also be of the greatest advantage to the people of Australia.
– I rise to order. I ask for your ruling, Mr. Temporary Chairman, as to whether it is appropriate to discuss the Colombo plan under this section of the Estimates. I did not wish to interrupt the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) by raising a point of order while he was speaking, but it seems to me that a discussion on the Colombo plan would appropriately occur under Division 203 of the Estimates. If such a discussion is permitted at this stage, it will be necessary for some sort of ministerial explanation to be given; otherwise, further statements may be made, such as the honorable member for Batman has just made, which was based on a misunderstanding of the whole situation. If you, sir, rule that the discussion should properly come under Division 203, and not under the Estimates at present before the committee, I would not. wish to make an explanation just now. But if you rule that discussion may proceed on the Colombo plan, I should like to correct some of the misstatements of fact which the honorable member for Batman has made.
– I take it that any item of the Estimates on which money is spent can he discussed by the committee. If it is decided that the Colombo plan could more fittingly be discussed under Division 203, there might be very little discussion on the Colombo plan, due to lack of time, when Division 203 is reached. Division 203 might be buried amongst a lot of other matters. In past years, the committee has encouraged discussion on the Colombo plan because it is one of the subjects on which the Government rightly preens itself for having done something for the peoples of the countries; surrounding Australia. I support the Colombo plan. I consider that honorable members should have an opportunity to say whatever they want to say by way of encouragement or criticism of the Government on this subject while the appropriate vote for the Department of External Affairs is before the committee. On the other hand, honorable members may make suggestions, as the honorable member for Batman did when, he suggested a second Colombo plan-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! Is the honorable member raising a point of order?
-I am discussing the point of order that was raised by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). If it happens to be more convenient for Ministers, or their departmental advisers, to discuss this matter later, I suggest that their convenience should suit that of the committee rather than that the committee should suit the convenience of Ministers or their advisers.
– It is merely a matter of determining the appropriate place in the Estimates for a discussion of the Colombo plan.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I rule that the Minister for Territories is perfectly correct. General debate on this subject should come under the heading, “ Miscellaneous Services “ for which there is a special appropriation. As the matter related to the Department of External Affairs, I allowed the honorable member for Batman to mention it; but I find that that was not correct. The matter should be debated in connexion with the special appropriation under the heading. “Miscellaneous Services”
-so you rule yourself out of order?
– I rule that the discussion on the Colombo plan must be confined to the consideration of the vote for “ Miscellaneous Services “.
, - There are four matters which I should like to raise at this juncture. One concerns the Public Accounts Committee.
I believe that the committee, which consists of honorable members from both sides of the chamber, is doing more good for the Commonwealth of Australia than any single section of the Administration. There is no Minister who is doing such an important a job as that which is being done by the Public. Accounts Committee. I believe that if honorable members are fair, they will be compelled to admit that this committee is doing a magnificent job.
No small measure of credit for the work that is being done is due to the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland), who is the chairman of the committee. The membership of the committee also includes the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), and the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Gordon Anderson), who have devoted the whole of their time to the work of the committee when the Parliament has not been sitting, and have even given their time to the committee when Parliament has been sitting.
My complaint is that, up to date, the Parliament has not given proper recognition to the yery great work of the committee. I should like the Government to place the Chairman on a salary not far short of a junior Minister’s salary. I believe that every member of the Public Accounts Committee should also be paid a salary, if that is constitutionally possible. It is not fair to ask these men, who come from both sides of the House, to spend an aggregate of two or three months of the year on the work of the committee in return for a paltry remuneration of three or four guineas a day.
– The amount is £2 10s. a day.
– That is even worse. It is a disgraceful state of affairs that a committee which does thp work that this committee does should be fobbed off with such a miserable payment as £2 10s. a day, and that we should pay others who are not doing anything like the same amount of work salaries of £3,000 or £4,000 a year.
– It is not a payment. It is an allowance for expenses.
– If the members of the committee are not being paid a fee, but receive only expenses, it is a disgrace which cannot be justified. I hope that the Government will give proper recognition to the great work of this committee. Obviously, it has saved the community hundreds of thousands of pounds, and in the future, it is likely to save the community millions of pounds. I know from talks that I have had with the heads of departments that the Public Accounts Committee has had a salutory effect on those departments. Heads of branches in various departments have tightened procedure and improved discipline as a consequence of the exhaustive inquiries that ‘have been made by this wonderful committee, which has worked so admirably in the interests of Australia.
I wish now to refer to another matter, which concerns the Commonwealth Reporting Branch transcripts of evidence in arbitration cases. I do not know whether the Government is aware of the financial difficulties that face many trade unions and employers when they wish to purchase copies of transcripts of proceedings before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. “When I was a union secretary, I had to pay lOd. a folio for transcripts of cases heard by the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator. The transcript in one case ran to about 1,200 or 1,400 folios. It is utterly impossible for some of the smaller unions to bear the expense of paying for transcripts of all the arbitration proceedings in which they are involved. It may be asked of what importance it is to the trade unions, the employers and the public at large for trade union secretaries and employers to be supplied with free copies of transcripts. I shall explain its importance to the committee, and I believe that when I have done so honorable members will readily see the virtue of my argument. Quite frequently, during Arbitration Court proceedings, when conciliation is being attempted, the presiding officer may suggest, foi instance, that agreement might be reached provided the men purchase their own overalls and be compensated for doing so by an increase of 2s. a week in their marginal rates of pay. The parties will confer on that suggestion, and their views will be recorded in the transcript. The case may then be settled on the basis suggested by the presiding officer. With the passage of time, there may be as many as three or four changes in the secretaryship of the trade union concerned. Ten years after the settlement of the case the secretary of the union would have no idea that the rate of pay of his members had been loaded to compensa.tr for the purchase by the men of their own overalls. Ho will never be able to explain the position to his members, because the secretary who held office when the case was heard simply could not afford to pay, on behalf of his union, for a copy of the transcript. The same is true of employers, who are also sometimes not aware of the obligations that have been entered into on their behalf in all good faith, because individually they have not been able to afford to purchase copies of the transcript. A dispute might occur on the same ground years after the settlement of the case, but the mattei could be quickly settled if some of the parties to it, or all the parties to it. had been able to read the transcript of the case in which the issue had been determined years before. They would be able to see from the transcript that the point at issue had been decided quite clearly years before in accordance with an agreement reached on the basis of undertakings by both sides. But very few trade union secretaries and employers can afford to pay £70 or £80 for the transcript of a case. In the metal trades case the cost of a transcript of proceedings was £200.
The Government could contribute greatly to the promotion of peace in industry if it were to provide that copies of transcripts of Arbitration Court proceedings should be provided free to the parties involved. The free provision of transcripts would assist trade union secretaries who are trying to meet their full responsibilities to the trade unionists they represent, and would also assist employers who wish to promote industrial peace, by enabling them to gain knowledge of past industrial disputes that would be vitally important in the prevention or settlement of similar disputes. When a dispute arose they would be able to ascertain from the transcript of the hearing in connexion with a similar dispute on a previous occasion whether that dispute had been properly dealt with, and in what way it had been dealt with. Only the transcript of proceedings can give such information reliably. The Government would be well advised to arrange for the Commonwealth Reporting Staff to cut stencils of all transcripts of arbitration proceedings instead of producing originally merely half a dozen typewritten copies. This system could be applied to cases in which several parties were involved. If stencils were cut a number of copies, at least sufficient to provide for every trade union and every employer concerned in a case, could be run off and, when a federal trade union was concerned, the number could be made sufficient to enable the headquarters of that trade union to send a copy of the transcript to each of its branches in the States. The same could apply to branches of the Employers Federation, the Chamber of Manufactures and other such organizations as have branches throughout the Commonwealth. The amount of money that is now received in payment for copies of transcripts is infinitesimal, and not worth worrying about. The cost of providing stencilled copies of transcripts would also be infinitesimal. It would be hardly worth budgeting for. The system I suggest would give to the arbitration system something that it has never had - a readily available permanent record to which responsible men from both sides of industry could refer. They would then be able to discover readily what was considered in relation to previous disputes, what matters were taken into account, what settlement was reached, and whether the whole position should now be dealt with afresh. Only the transcript could give the answers that they would need to know.
I appeal to the Government to adopt, as a new policy, the supply of free copies of the transcripts of all cases to the trade unions and the employers concerned, federal unions to be supplied with sufficient copies to enable them to let each of their State branches have a copy. This would be one small step towards achieving better relations between capital and labour in this country.
I now wish to deal with a matter concerning the Public Service. I shall refer to this matter only briefly because the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was good enough to assure me, at question time, that he would look into it in respect of one particular case. Although it refers to a certain case, the matter which I wish to raise has a general application. It concerns the appointment of permanent officers in the Commonwealth PublicService. At the moment a person cannot be appointed to permanent office in the Public Service unless he has certain educational qualifications. I quite agree with that principle, but I think that there is one circumstance in which an exception should be made. I refer to the case of ex-servicemen who, on returning from their war service, undertook Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme training in clerical work, and who were issued with a certificate indicating that they had satisfactorily passed after taking the official course in clerical work. These men, who hold certificates from the training scheme, and who are now engaged in the Public Service doing the clerical work for which they were trained, do not have the right of permanent appointment. In my opinion, they should be treated as a special case and given that right. If the Government does not give them the right we shall have a continuance of the anomaly that exservicemen who were trained by the scheme in carpentering, or engineering and so on. will be able to get permanent employment in their trades with some private employers and some organizations because they hold a certificate from the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme, whereas a person who undertook clerical training cannot gain permanent employment in the Public Service on the basis of the same kind of certificate. The person in the case into which the Prime Minister has stated he will inquire is incapable, because of his war injuries, of performing work other than clerical work and therefore had no alternative but to take a training scheme course in that work after the war. He now finds himself ineligible for permanent employment. The particular job that he is doing was recently classified as a job for a permanent public servant. The man concerned has been doing that job satisfactorily at Keswick Army Barracks for five years, but as he is not permitted to apply for a permanent position on his qualifications, he will lose the job, and in his place there may be appointed a person who has had no war service, but who was able to avail himself of educational facilities and opportunities that the ex-serviceman did not have while he was fighting in the jungles of New Guinea. Because of the educational opportunities which the new appointee enjoyed, he will supplant the ex-serviceman, who will have to go to some other temporary employment that carries no security for the future.
Such matters may seem small to us. True it is, they do not affect many people, but if the system is not altered the Government will be perpetrating a grave injustice that we, as a body, cannot afford to ignore. We must do justice to the individuals, even though they represent only a minute section of the community. They are all entitled to justice, and I hope the Prime Minister will ensure that justice is done in this particular case.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I wish to raise three points of administration which seem to me to go right to the root of the policy that is behind this budget, and in relation to which I hope I shall be able to offer some constructive suggestions to the committee. The first of those matters is this : I do not think that we are yet exploiting to the full our opportunities to obtain debenture capital from overseas for the economic expansion of Australia. I believe that the Treasury should review its practice in this regard. Because of our high immigration rate, we are entitled to more capital from overseas. I shall deal with this subject in more detail when the Estimates for the Department of Immigration are before the committee, but now I wish to speak about that aspect of the matter to which I have referred. When an immigrant comes to Australia, a great deal of capital equipment is needed to sustain him. He needs housing and all the things that go with it, and an investment of certainly no less than £2,000 for each immigrant is called for. Australia has taken approximately 1, 000,000 immigrants since World War II. , and it seems that, in equity, we are entitled to approximately £2,000,000,000 worth of foreign investment in Australia to pay for the capital goods that are necessary to support and to sustain these immigrants. Instead, we have only received some £750,000,000, less than 40 per cent. of this figure.
I believe that, if the Treasury had approached this matter overseas in a constructive Avay, we could have obtained a great deal more help. When I was overseas quite recently, I discovered that in this regard there were opportunities available to the Treasury of which advantage was not being taken. May I cite just one example? I hope to develop this matter in greater detail when the Estimates for the Commonwealth railways are before the committee, but in the meantime I wish to deal with that aspect of it which concerns the Treasury. It is highly desirable that in Australia there should be some standardization of our trunk railway lines and that more dieselelectric locomotives should be used in order to reduce transport costs. The Government will say that it is difficult to sustain such projects in terms of both money and material, but there is open to the Treasury an opportunity to do it.
When I was in Washington, I had a conversation with the head of the ExportImport Bank, who, without commitment - he could not give any commitment, just as I could not give any commitment - assured me of his generally favorable approach to this matter. He said that, if the technical details could be ironed out, and I have no doubt on that score, it seemed that we could get the money for a twenty-year term at a reasonable rate of interest. If we were to do that, the better handling of our affairs overseas would enable us immediately, without inflationary effect, to reduce the cost of transport to all Australian industries, which is one of the vital costs that we should be combating as a means of raising the standard of living of all Australian people. I know that, unless we could get money and materials from overseas, such a programme might have an inflationary effect. But if the money and materials are available to us from overseas, there seems to be no reason why we should delay for one instant in putting such constructive proposals into effect, thereby reducing the burden of costs which weighs upon all Australian industry and all Australian workers. I hope that the committee will accept this as a constructive suggestion. It is one of which I have some practical knowledge, and one which I believe the Treasury has not exploited to the full.
The second matter that I wish to raise relates to the Bureau of Census and Statistics, which also comes under the administration of the Treasury. In the Bureau of Census and Statistics, we have an excellent instrument which is doing great work by presenting the economic figures in a way that assists an appreciation of the whole economy. I believe, however, that there is some breakdown in the transmission line by which the information from the Bureau of Census and Statistics reaches those in government and those of us who sit in this chamber. Very often, because of printing delays and other delays, there is a time lag, which means that the information comes through too late to be of practical service. So far as we in this chamber are concerned, there is no doubt about that fact ; we can establish it from our own first-hand information. As far as the Government is concerned, my statement is one of deduction rather than of first-hand information. One notes that sometimes the Government plays the correct economic strokes a fraction too late, and by so doing those strokes seem to be wrong. A very good example of that occurred some years ago in regard to the balance of payments, when the accumulation of information apparently was not appreciated at governmental level and when the corrective action was taken too late and therefore had to be more drastic than it would have been otherwise. It seems to me - [ say this as a matter of deduction and not of first-hand information - that there should be devised some better means of getting the information from the Bureau of Census and Statistics through to the Government so that it is available for more immediate use, and so that it may have an immediate and corrective effect upon policy.
The third matter to which I wish to refer, also under the administration of the Treasury, is the administration of the Commonwealth Bank. I noted yesterday, I think, a report from a financial house in Melbourne that one of the difficuties associated with maintaining control over the monetary system was the lack of confidence that existed between the private trading banks and the Commonwealth Bank, which the trading banks regarded as being a competitor. If the banking system is to work satisfactorily and efficiently, we must have the maximum degree of confidence between the trading banks and the Commonwealth central bank. That degree of confidence is grossly impaired by the operations of the Commonwealth Trading Bank, inasmuch as it is under the same control as the Commonwealth central bank. The private bankers say, with some reason, “ We cannot give our full confidence to the central bank, because, in another guise as the Commonwealth Trading Bank, it is our competitor “. I am not suggesting that we should shut down the Commonwealth Trading Bank or anything like that, but that we should effectively divorce the Commonwealth Trading Bank from the Commonwealth central bank so that the central bank would stand in the same relationship to the Commonwealth Trading Bank as it stands to any other trading bank. That divorce can never be complete or effective whilst there is not a divorce of domicile. Whilst we have the same manager, the same person, the same identity, controlling both banks, we must have a perpetuation of the present undesirable situation in which there is mistrust between the trading banks system and the Commonwealth Bank system, as a result of which the Government is unable to make as entirely, or as instantaneously effective as it should, the economic impact of its policies. Because we lack that better instrument of control, it becomes more difficult for the Government to keep the economy on an even keel.
I make those three suggestions - a better overseas loan programme, the more immediate use of information that is supplied by the Bureau of Census and Statistics, and the divorcing of the Commonwealth Trading Bank and the central bank.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– I shall relate my remarks to Division 55 - Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, item 7, “ Court conducted ballots, £1,500 “. That item has caused me to wonder whether even so small an expenditure for that purpose is worth-while. Court-controlled ballots may be conducted under the authority of section 96m of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. sub-section (1.) of which reads as follows : -
An organization or a branch of an organization may request the Industrial Registrar to conduct an election for an office in the organization or in the branch (as the case may bc) with a view to ensuring- that no irregularity occurs in or in connexion with the election.
That provision gives to trade unionist’ the right to petition for a ballot to be conducted by the Industrial Registrar in order to ensure the purity of elections within their organizations. Of course, any expenditure which ensured that ballots in trade unions were conducted properly would be worthwhile, because properly conducted ballots give trade unionists the means to control .their organizations. But if it can be shown that the provisions of section 96m of the act are not achieving the purpose for which they were intended, that would indicate that the money voted under the item to which I am relating my remarks was not serving the purpose for which it was intended.
In Victoria, we witnessed recently the spectacle of a supposed Labour party uniting with the Communists. I refer to the Cain-Evatt-Communist unity ticket to secure the election of Mr. J. J. Brown, an avowed Communist, to the office of assistant secretary of the Victorian branch of the Australian Railways Union. Each of those forces should be diametrically opposed to the other, yet they have entered into this shocking union. Apparently the unity ticket system will be adopted in the future elections of delegates to the annual conference of the union. Every attempt is being made to intimidate members of the union who, in accordance with the provisions of the section of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to which I have referred, are preparing petitions for a properly controlled ballot. Some of the unionists associated with the preparation of the petitions have been assaulted, and others have been threatened with reprisals of various kinds if the petitions which have been prepared are not destroyed.
Let me ask a very simple question. What have the Communists and their allies to fear? Can it be that there would be any difference between a union ballot properly controlled by officers appointed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and a ballot conducted by union officials? If there would be such a difference, we must ask ourselves seriously whether these people can be permitted to continue to defy the provisions of the act.
In the Victorian branch of the Builders Labourers Union there are many people who are opposed to the Communistdominated officials who hold office in the union at present. They have endeavoured to secure the necessary number of signatures to a petition for a court-controlled ballot, which they believe would have a very desirable result, but again we have witnessed the technique of intimidation. Bashings and assaults have been the order of the day. These opponents of the Communists obtained an order from the Registrar of the court that the union should make available to them a list of the members of the union, so that the procedure prescribed in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act could be complied with. But the union - this is something that I want to emphasize strongly - has refused to comply with the order, and it appears that there is no power to enforce compliance with the Registrar’s order. That seems to underline a very serious defect.
The unionists, finding themselves frustrated in their efforts to secure membership lists from the union itself, went to the employers and asked them if they would supply the lists which they had been unable to obtain from the union, despite the Registrar’s order. But the employers were threatened immediately that if they supplied any lists, their jobs would be declared black and they would be unable to carry on in the industry. J am sorry to say that the employers refused to supply the lists. They squibbed the issue. When they found that they were threatened with disruption of their industry, they refused to supply the lists. They did not mind other people fighting to make it possible for the union to be conducted with economic and industrial decency, but they refused to fight for that themselves.
I think we aire entitled to ask a pertinent question. Why are these union officials scared, when all that is demanded of them is that they shall supply lists of members so that a ballot can be conducted by an independent authority of whose integrity there can be no doubt ? It seems to me that only one reply can be given to that question. The point I am trying to make is that it is not of much use to provide money for court-controlled union ballots unless the expenditure of that money will serve the purpose for which it is intended. It is apparent that the people controlling the Victorian branch of the Builders’ Labourers Union believe that, even with an Evatt-Communist unity ticket, they would not be successful at an election if the election were conducted properly because the rank-and-file unionists have realized that such an unnatural union of forces must be Communistdominated. Therefore, they want to frustrate the efforts of the members to obtain a court-controlled ballot. Their actions underline a very serious position, “‘bich cannot be emphasized too much.
The pattern becomes even clearer when one considers what is happening in the political field. Even in the political organization that has been established in Victoria, candidates to contest parliamentary seats are not selected by proper ballots. The pattern in that case is the pattern of every Communist-dominated organization. So the position is the same in both the political and the industrial field in Victoria. It is most serious that these people can raise their voices so effectively against properly controlled ballots. The only objective of the provision for ballots to be controlled by the court is the purity of elections, because it is only by a properly controlled election that trade unionists can ensure that their organiza tions will he conducted with economic decency and in such a way as to give economic freedom to those engaged in the industries concerned. It is merely an obligation of decency which lies behind the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and the vote to which I am making particular reference. It seems to be most necessary that this matter should be emphasized. I believe that the Government should look at this vote in order to determine whether or not it is worth while continuing with it in view of the reason, for its inclusion in the Estimates. The Government should examine the vote with a view to determining precisely what should he done about it in the future. I sincerely hope that something can be done to strengthen the position, which is most serious because it affects the economic conditions of the people of this country, when rigged ballots are the order of the day to elect Communist-controlled bodies, whether by unity tickets or otherwise, assisted by a supposed Labour party in conjunction with the Communist party. It . is very necessary that this position should be emphasized now because it obtains in two unions which are of very great importance to the economic stability of this country.
.- The proposed vote for the Department of the Treasury includes an item of £37,780 in respect of the banking trade and industry branch. That branch presumably exists to provide a liaison between the Treasury and general business, and particularly reserve banking and trading banking in Australia. In these times everybody knows the high degree of co-operation between government and reserve bank and between government and general business and trading banking. I think we might ask at this moment whether thi3 liaison between the Government, the Treasury, and the banking and industry systems in the country is adequate. Does it adequately inform the Government of what goes on, particularly in relation to the reserve bank and the Commonwealth Trading Bank? I very much doubt, in view of some events which have happened during the course of the last year, whether the Government is adequately informed o?” developments. In these days, we all concede that every government needs a reserve bank. It is necessary to exercise some degree of control over tie economy, and over the private banking system in particular. That need is conceded by people of all political colours. The method of exercising that control, however, is very much more open to questionReserve banks, as they exist in most modern democracies, vary in form from one country to another. The special and individual characteristic of the Australian reserve bank is that, under the control of the same board that directs it, there is a very powerful trading bank, the Commonwealth Trading Bank. In my opinion, the placing of a reserve bank and a government trading bank under the control of one board was a very great mistake, and I think that most of my colleagues on this side of the chamber are aware of my views on this matter. The reason why this system is mistaken, of course, is that trading banking is a highly competitive business, and the association between the Government Trading Bank and the Government Reserve Bank gives the trading bank such great advantages that, in the course of time, private banking must inevitably disappear from the scene. I can see my friend, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), looking with great approval at the suggestion. It is the policy of the Labour party that that should occur, but it is not the policy of the Government parties, and I often wonder whether the Government understands that it must inevitably occur under the present system. Human beings are so constituted that one cannot give one body of mcn, or a single man, a dual function in which his capacities, his inclinations, and his interests conflict with each other, and expect the advantage which occurs from one office not to be applied to the other; it is asking too much of mortal flesh. Furthermore, one cannot expect that the business community, and in particular those who concern themselves hi private banking in Australia, can possibly have confidence in a reserve bank which is administered by the same board as that which administers its most potent and successful rival.
I have recently become aware of two most convincing examples of the truth of what I have been saying to the committee.
The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in his budget speech, when referring to the inflationary conditions with which our economy is threatened at present, said -
This most formidable upsurge of spending has been facilitated by a far too generous expansion of credit on the part of the banking system, together with the rapid growth of hire-purchase finance.
He gave two important causes of the present inflationary trend - a far too generous expansion of credit on the part of the banking system, and a rapid growth of hire-purchase finance. I ask the committee to consider for a moment who has been responsible for these conditions. Which bank has been most responsible for this generous expansion of credit? I propose to quote from the Statistical Bulletin of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for the month of August, 1955. At page 13, under the classification “ Major private banks “, a comparison is made of the advances by those banks between July, 1954, and July, 1955. There is an increase of £105,000,000, which is equivalent to 14.5 per cent, of their total advances. In other words, the private banks have expanded their advances by £105,000,000, or 14.5 per cent. The next item on the same page deals with the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia, and conveys the interesting information that that single trading bank, between July, 1954, and July, 1955, increased its advances by £22,200,000, or 27.4 per cent, of its total advances.
– Hear, hear!
– I very well understand the applause of the honorable member for Melbourne, who is a socialist, and whose avowed policy is to see that there ia only one bank in Australia. We do not happen to agree on that policy. I hope that my colleagues on this side of the chamber, and the Government, will become fully aware of what is happening at the present time. There was an expansion of those assets of the Commonwealth Trading Bank of 27.4 per cent, in the same year. I suppose that the answer which might well be given by the Commonwealth Trading Bank is that its state of liquidity during that period was greater than that of the private banks, and it was able to make this expansion of credit more readily than they were ; but I do not think that that is the answer at all, because during the course of last year we went through a period when public financial policy required a general restriction of credit, and £14,000,000 is not chicken feed, but is a very formidable increase in the advance of credit in the community, and an increase of 27.4 per cent. is a very considerable expansion of advances. We therefore have this interesting state of affairs, that the bank most responsible for the harmful activity of expanding credit in a period of potential inflation, which has been criticized by the Treasurer in his budget speech, is the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia. One might reasonably have expected that the one bank that would have observed reserve bank policy religiously, completely, and faithfully, in such a time, would be the Commonwealth Trading Bank itself, and it is very interesting to observe that such has not been the case. There can be no doubt as to what was the reserve banking policy - at the beginning of last year, in any event.
I draw the attention of the committee to the annual report of the Commonwealth Bank for the financial year ended the 30th June, 1954. At the beginning of the financial year 1953-54, banking policy permitted of the expansion of credit. There was an expanding and thriving state of business affairs. The expansion of credit was permissible and desirable. But towards the end of the financial year 1954, the situation changed, and I quote the following passage from the fourth paragraph on page 22 of the Commonwealth Bank’s report: -
With the progressive increase in activity during the year and the high and rising level of employment, the Bank in the later months of the year sought the co-operation of the trading hanks in the exercise of greater restraint.
That was in the closing months of the financial year which ended on the 30th June, 1954, but that policy has not been carried out by the Commonwealth Trading Bank itself.
Next, the Treasurer criticized the undue expansion of hire-purchase finance. Recently, I discovered a most interesting fact. It may be purely coincidence, but two hire-purchase finance companies were given quite remarkable increases in their overdrafts when they transferred their accounts from private trading banks to the Commonwealth Trading Bank.I think the total increases amounted to more than £1,000,000. This is not a disclosure of private information, or anything in the nature of breach of confidence, because the information I have for the committee comes from the published balance-sheets of public companies.
A company known as Hire Purchase Securities Limited, which was incorporated in New South Wales in March, 1954, shows, in its first prospectus, issued on its incorporation, that its bankers were the Bank of New South Wales. Its first annual report, filed a few months later on the 30th June, 1954, again shows that its bankers were the Bank of New South Wales. No accounts were filed on that occasion; for the company had just incorporated and begun business. However, its balance-sheet for the year ended the 30th June, 1955, shows that it then had an overdraft of £273,439 with the Commonwealth Trading Bank. Another hire-purchase company, Consolidated Finance Corporation, issued a balancesheet as at the 30th June, 1953, which showed that it had an overdraft of £299,000 with the English Scottish and Australian Bank Limited. At the 30th June, 1954, it had an overdraft of £969,739 with the Commonwealth Trading Bank, and in the next year, as shown by its balance-sheet as at 30th June, 1955, it had an overdraft of £1,777,181 with the Commonwealth Trading Bank - an increase of some £800,000 between the 30th June, 1954, and the 30th June, 1955.
This may be capable of some explanation that I do not understand, but it appears to me to involve twoserious charges. One is the failure of the Commonwealth Trading Bank to observe public financial policy during the current year for the obvious and clear purpose of expanding its own business at the expense of its competitors.I suggest that it also involves the criticism that there has been abuse of thepowers of the reserve bank in the interests of its child, the Commonwealth Trading Bank. If this is allowed to continue, there will be no private trading bank system in the country in a comparatively few years.
Opposition Members. - Hear, hear !
– I respect the attitude of the Opposition, but that does not happen to be my attitude.
– It is their attitude.
– But it is not our attitude. This arises, quite clearly, from the non-separation of the reserve bank and the Commonwealth Trading Bank. I do not believe it is possible to have a truly fair operation of the reserve banking system while the same board controls a principal and rising competitor in the private banking system. I do not want to criticize individuals about this matter, but it is my belief that the banking acts place the Governor of theCommonwealth reserve bank and the chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board, which controls the Commonwealth Trading Bank, in an absolutely impossibleposition. There is a distinct conflict of interests. As head of the reserve bank, he has the duty to order the private banks to observe the directions of the reserve bank. As head of the board which controls the Commonwealth Trading Bank, he has the duty to see that his bank competes adequately and on even terms with the private banks. It is beyond the power of restraint of one individual properly to perform both functions.
Such a situation has been known in the past. The fertile imagination of W. S. Gilbert conceived an individual named Pooh-Bah, who had more than two functions in the town of Titipu, he was First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, High Admiral-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- It is quite obvious that the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) has a very great interest in private banks. That is quite understandable, because his brother is the general manager of the Commercial Bank of Sydney, most of the shareholders of which do not live in Australia. He would foster such a banking institution in preference to the people’s bank, the Commonwealth Bank, because the Commonwealth Bank’s profits go to the people of Australia.
I wish to deal with items under the loans and general services branch, which comes under the administration of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). In doing so, I shall draw the committee’s attention to the national debt. AfterI have referred to the colossal amount of that debt, the honorable member for Evans will understand the reason why we should do more for our own people’s bank than we should do for the private banks. I also wish to discuss the National Debt Sinking Fund. The national debt has reached colossal dimensions, and is racing away from the redemption provisions. According to the present budget, the national debt at the 30th June, 1955, had reached the colossal figure of £3,749,400,000. The honorable member for Evans will understand the position better if I give a simple illustration. If each person were required to pay his share of the debt, it would amount to £416. That means that if the family that had the “ quads “ in Bundaberg recently were rushed into a corner and required to pay their share of the debt, it would cost that family £2,496. That gives a clear indication of the vast dimensions of our national debt.
In 1945, at the end of the war, the national debt was £2,629,000,000. Of course, included in that amount would be the cost of our war effort to that point. In order to defend Australia, the Labour Government had to borrow £1,500,000,000. thus increasing the national debt to £2,169,000,000, and it has been rising steadily since then. The only time that ithas been reduced in the last ten years was in 1947. when it was reduced by £27,000,000. To-day, it stands at the colossal figure of £3,749.000,000. When Labour went out of office in 1949, the national debt stood at £2,827,000,000. Under the Liberal-Australian Country party Government, it has risen to the figure I mentioned of £3,749,000,000, or £922,000,000 more than when Labour was in office. Expressed in another way, our national debt has risen by 32 per cent. since Labour went out of office. In ten years the national debt increased by £1,120,000,000, which is equivalent to £132 per head of the population.
Mr.Hulme. - What is the honorable member trying to prove?
– It would be difficult to prove anything to the honorable member for Petrie, who is interjecting. Our national debt rose by more than £1,000,000,000 in ten years. The annual average increase was about £112,000,000 during that period. In the five years of Labour’s reign, the national debt increased by £19S,000,000, but during the last five years of this Government’s term of office it has increased by £6S9,000,000- which is three times the increase under Labour. If the national debt continues to increase at that rate - as, apparently, it will, because this Government has done nothing to halt the tremendous annual increase - it will rise by at least £1.200,000,000 in the next ten years, to the tremendous figure of £5,000,000,000.
The worst feature of the matter is that the interest burden is increasing enormously. In 1953, the interest on our national debt was £100,000,000. It rose in 1954 to £115,000,000, and this year is £125,000,000. It will be seen, therefore, that the amount of interest payable on our national debt is increasing yearly by £12,500,000. If that rate of increase is maintained for the next ten years, the yearly amount of interest payable on our national debt will be £240,000,000 in 1965. I believe that the present rate of increase will be maintained, because this Government is yielding to all of the investment pressure groups and allowing the interest rate to rise as much as they want it to rise.
It is wrong for the Government to borrow money with which to carry out national work. I remind honorable members that the Commonwealth Bank was established without the necessity to borrow money. It will be remembered that that bank was established by a Labour government in 1910. Its first governor, Sir Denison Miller, who was appointed by that government, was provided with- I think- £1,000,000 for that purpose. As the bank was not burdened with interest liabilities, it was able, in addition to repaying that advance within a relatively short period, to develop into the great institution that exists to-day. [ believe that the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme should be financed similarly. The most recent estimated total cost of that project was £450,000,000, on which interest at the rate of 4^ per cent, will be payable to private investors from whom the money is being borrowed. The interest bill alone will be about £20,000,000 a year. It will be seen that, within a relatively short period, the interest paid on the capital amount borrowed will equal that amount.
In order to appreciate the impact of interest commitments, it is necessary only to realize that an increase of the interest rate payable on our national debt by one-half of one per cent, would cost thi.1 nation an additional £18,000,000 a year. Yet this Government is allowing interest rates to rise ! Let us consider our war debt of £1,500,000,000. That amount of money was borrowed for the purpose of defending Australia during the war at much cheaper rates of interest than now prevail. It was borrowed by Mr. Curtin and Mr. Chifley, who led successive Labour governments, at the rates of interest varying from 2 per cent, to 2-J per cent. To-day, interest at the rate of at least 4-i per cent, is paid on loans for national development. It will be seen that the amount of interest payable on our war debt of £1,500,000,000 at the rate of 2^ per cent, was £37,500,000, compared with £67,500,000 based on the present rate of interest of 4-£ per cent.
I come now to the impact of increased rates of interest payable by State instrumentalities. According to the last annual report of the New South Wales Commissioner for Railways, the New South Wales railway system showed a surplus on working expenses of £6,500,000, but as interest, exchange, and sinking fund payments amounted to £8,500,000 the New South Wales railways showed a deficit of £2,500,000 at the end of the financial year. This illustration shows clearly the tremendous impact of interest on public utilities.
Recently, I directed to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) the following question : -
What was the amount of (i) national debt and (ii) interest on national debt owing at the 30th June, 1955, to (a) Australia, (6) London, (c) United States of America, and (<Z) Switzerland?
The answer furnished by the right honorable gentleman was as follows: -
The amount owing to Switzerland was equivalent to £12,000,000 in Australian currency. The answer continue. I -
Fu other words, our total annual interest bill on the national debt is, in round figures, £126,000,000 a year. As I have pointed out, the amount of interest payable will rise rapidly, because most of the loans which are now coming due for repayment or conversion were for periods of from ten years to fifteen years, and bore interest at from 2 per cent, to 2-J per cent., whereas, conversion loans will carry interest at the rate of 4^ per cent. Doubtless, my estimate of our future interest commitment will be exceeded.
I asked the Treasurer also about the National Debt Sinking Fund, and I pointed out that it is not reducing the national debt. The Treasurer, in answer to questions that I asked about the fund, stated that the total amount paid into it up to the 30th June last was £768,921,768, of which £188,775,000 had been invested in Commonwealth securities. The invested sum comprised £90,650,000 received in respect of loans from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and £98,1.25,000 received under the National Debt Sinking Fund (Special Payment) Act 1951. The sum of £564,892,400 has been applied to the redemption of debt. These figures indicate clearly that the National Debt Sinking Fund, which was established under legislation enacted in 1923 for the purpose of liquidating the national debt, is not serving its purpose and that, in spite of the action that has been taken, the national debt is increasing by more than £100,000,000 a year. It is amazing that the Treasurer omitted to mention the matter specially in his budget speech. He stated, to use his own words, that the budget is an annual stocktaking. Surely the state of the national debt warranted some explanation by him. It is obvious from the figures I have quoted that the national debt redemption scheme that was planned in 1923 is falling short of requirements. The position is so alarming that the Government should appoint a competent committee to investigate the existing scheme and modernize it to enable it to do the job that it was originally intended to do. Finally, so long as we allow national development to remain at the mercy of private money lenders,, such as the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited, the national debt will continue to increase.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- We have so far heard the driest debate on the Estimates that I have listened to since I have been a. member of Parliament.
– The honorable member will break the drought.
– I wish to assure honorable members that my remarks, as far as possible, shall be non-party political; so there is no need for honorable members opposite to become excited. The debate on the Estimates affords honorable members an opportunity to consider and discuss allocations of funds with a view to the approval or rejection of those allocations. That is how the debate should be approached, but nothing could be further from the fact, because, since federation, once Cabinet and the Government have approved the Estimates and brought down the budget no change has ever been made. Not a member on the Opposition side of the chamber can truthfully say that Labour did otherwise when it was in office, and not a member of the Liberal and Australian Country parties can say that any non-Labour government did otherwise. It is’ no wonder that the debate on the Estimates is dry. Honorable members have no hope of achieving anything by it, irrespective of the party to which they belong and the political outlook of the Government in office.
I shall address by remarks to the Estimates for the Parliament. Therefore, I think, you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, will agree that I shall be complying with your ruling. The criticism of the Estimates debate that I offered applies also to the budget debate. Are honorable members aware that some members of the public believe that an honorable member who suggests, during the debates on the budget and the Estimates, that pensions be increased or that something else be reduced has a hope of having something done in the Parliament? Nothing will be done. It was not possible for a member to have anything done when Labour was in office, and the position will be the same if Labour takes office again.
– That is not right.
– If it is not correct, let the next speaker from the Opposition side of the chamber say in what year the budget or the Estimates were changed after they were brought down in this Parliament. The honorable member’s interjection is only a repetition of the old cat-call. I try to approach the debate in a non-party political spirit, but honorable members opposite do not give me a change to maintain that spirit. They should know that later in the debate on the Estimates I shall speak in accord with my own political view.
The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) recently stated his view about the Leader of the Australian Country party and his desire for decentralization. I appreciate that point of view, and every honorable member in this corner of the chamber supports it. The honorable member also criticized alleged lavish expenditure by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia on one old aeroplane, which I understand was bought when Labour was in office and is still in use. If the honorable member had only looked at the Estimates be would have learned that the conveyance of “ members of Parliament and others “ last financial year cost £1S0,007. Perhaps a fraction of that expenditure on transport for the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank is not too much for a country like Australia. I should like the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony), who is now at the table, or any other Minister, to explain who the “ others “ are. On many occasions when I have arrived at an airport and wanted a car to transport me, I have been left to do the best I could for myself while the “ others “ were looked after. All honorable members know who the “ others “ are. I do not mind them being transported, but I do not like an honorable member to ignore such happenings and to find fault with the provision of an old aeroplane to transport a very important officer quickly to Canberra and to other places where official business takes him. The honorable member for Farrer stated that the aeroplane was sent to Sydney to transport that officer’s children. I do not know whether that allegation is true, but my memory is good enough for me to recall that on one occasion an official car was sent to Brisbane to bring back the luggage and the wife of a member of Parliament whose residence was in Sydney.
– Only once!
– Once that I know of it, and I mention only that occasion. If the honorable member is aware of other occasions, I invite him to name them. These things are interesting and they should be investigated. The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) stated that the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) should investigate certain expenses and try to reduce them. I stated when Labour was in office, and I state again, that there should be some liaison officer to remove overlapping between departments and to eliminate much unnecessary expenditure; but I do not suggest that that officer should be the honorable member for Warringah, who has. had considerable experience in public administration. Public administration everywhere is making big losses, and the more experience one has in public administration, the greater the losses appear to be. As honorable members know, great profits are being made by private enterprise. As some one said a long time ago - I do not wish it to he thought that I coined these words - “ We want more business in government and less government in business “. We want some one to apply to government departments the methods of administration thai prove so wonderfully effective in private enterprise. We do not want more public administration by more experts. We want people who are showing good results to take part in government administration and to provide a liaison between departments in the matter of expenditure.
Naturally, every Minister wants as large an allocation as possible for the departments that he administers. I am told on fairly good authority that the Ministers compete for their allocations. The more important the department that he administers, the more important is the Minister’s portfolio, and one cannot blame him for building up his department and the allocation of funds to it, because it is human nature to do such things. If we had more of the spirit of private enterprise in government affairs we should do much better. But how would it suit Labour if private enterprise methods were introduced in government administration? When this Government tried to introduce some of the spirit of private administration by reducing the staff of one department - I think it was the Postmaster-General’s Department - by 10,000 officers, what did Labour do? They moved the adjournment of the House in order to discuss a matter of great national importance - that these men should not be put out of these positions! Now, private industry all over Australia is calling for more and more man-power. If the Government had let these men go out into private enterprise they would have been assisting Australia in two ways - by increasing production, and by not working in government departments and thereby piling up the expenses that we see mentioned in the Estimates.
The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) found something wrong with the ages of members of the Cabinet. I can speak on that matter, because I am not one of the very young, nor am I one of the very old. I am one of the “ inbetweens “. The honorable member for Henty said that the appointment of younger members to the Cabinet would produce more up-to-date ideas. If that is so, why should we not have those ideas produced in this chamber and put before the Government? Does a man have to wait until he gets into Cabinet before he can put forward these ideas? Surely the young men would have the ideas before they got into the Cabinet. If they have, let us hear them in this chamber. They tell me that there are two ways of getting into Cabinet. One is to show real ability ; the other is to make yourself a nuisance to the Government. I hope that the honorable member for Henty is not just trying to exploit the nuisance element of himself. I hope that he will demonstrate some of the ability that he believes that young men would display if they got into the Cabinet.
I notice under the heading of High Commissioner’s Office, United Kingdom, there is an item, “Municipal and other taxes, £13,350 “. If the Government is prepared to pay municipal taxes in the United Kingdom, why does it not pay them in Australia? Many towns and cities have large Commonwealth buildings. Commonwealth buildings are being constructed in Melbourne on 9£ acres of country. I objected to that when Labour was in power, and I object to it now. Taxes will not be paid on those buildings. Taxes are not being paid on many government buildings in Victorian country towns. If the Government is prepared to pay municipal taxes in the United Kingdom, why does it not pay them in Australia? The municipalities need all the money that they can get. If the Government did not occupy these office buildings, they would be occupied by private enterprise, which would pay taxes, and enable the people of some decentralized area - or even the cities - to be given more amenities. I have treated these matters, as far as I could, in a non-political manner. Other matters which came to my notice occur later in the Estimates, and I inform Opposition members that I shall be with them when those matters come up.
.-] want to congratulate the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) on demonstrating his capacity to find fault with the views of the Liberal party as well as with the Labour party. I am sorry that he did not speak a little longer because, if he had done so, he might have made some criticism of the Australian Country party as well, and that would have been very helpful.
I desire, in the first place, to address my remarks to the Department of the Treasury, particularly in respect of the administration of the Gold Mining Industry Assistance Act 1954, which is under the control of the Commonwealth Treasury. This measure was passed late last year. It is an act for the purpose of assisting the gold-mining industry and for the furtherance of the production of gold. I think that, when the measure was passed last year, the House believed that it would assist all gold producers in Australia, and increase our sterling balances overseas. As our sterling balances are falling, the necessity for increased exports in order to build them- up becomes more and more apparent every day. Yet one finds that only a section of gold producers is able to secure the assistance of the subsidy for which provision has been made in the Gold Mining Industry Assistance Act. After having applied to ohe Treasury for a subsidy on the 8th August, one of my constituents received the following reply : -
I desire to acknowledge receipt of your application, as a small producer, for payment of subsidy under tile above Act, but have to advise that subsidy is only payable to the producer of the minerals from which bullion is derived. As it is understood that the gold was obtained from the treatment of tailings dumps, no subsidy is payable in respect thereof. [ desire to protest against that action, and to suggest to the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley), who is seated at the table, that the Government should review this measure in order to assist those who, when all is said and done, are the smallest producers of gold in the Commonwealth, It is all right to pass a bill for an act that will assist large producers of gold. But the small man who has not very much capital and who desires to play his part in the production of gold, does that by using what is known as the cyanide process on what the Treasury calls “ tailings dumps “. Numerous dumps of this kind are spread throughout the old mining areas of the states. Many large dumps exist in Bendigo from which a fair amount of gold is still being extracted, and I have no doubt that the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) finds the same situation in his constituency. I suggest that more consideration should be given to the small producer, and that the Gold Mining Industry Assistance Act should be amended for that purpose.
I want now to refer to Division 55 - Court of Conciliation and Arbitrationunder the Estimates for the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. I support the remarks which the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) made last Thursday in respect of the provision that has been made for the holding of compulsory conferences. According to the Estimates for the year 1954-55, the amount spent on compulsory conferences by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, including fees and other expenses, was £44. The provision in the Estimates last year was £100, and the provision in this year’s Estimates is also £100. I desire to protest at the inadequacy of the amount that has been provided for in respect of the taking of necessary steps to help to bring about harmony in industry. It appears to me that at present the conciliation commissioners are placing more reliance on section 14 of the act, which was inserted in 1947, than they are on section 15, which has been in the act since it was first operative in 1904. The whole object of section 15 was to enable the court, on its own initiative, to call a compulsory conference between parties to disputes in industry, in an endeavour, by means of conciliation, to settle the dispute. Since the insertion of section 14, however, conciliation commissioners apparently have decided to dispense altogether with conciliation, and to plunge the parties in dispute immediately into the arbitration machinery. The result is that the method of conciliation which was intended to be the first method used in disputes has been departed from entirely.
It is just as well to remember that the Constitution gives to the Parliament the power to legislate, in respect of conciliation and arbitration, “ for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State “. In the early stages, right up until the 1930’s, it was a common practice of the judges of the court, starting with Mr. Justice Higgins, and continued by Chief Judge Dethridge and a number of other judges, to convene compulsory conferences and endeavour, by conciliation, and by presiding over conferences between the parties, to narrow the issues in dispute and bring about agreement. But in recent years this whole spirit of conciliation has been departed from, and now the court makes no, or very little, attempt to bridge the chasm between the parties. The consequence of this is causing a good deal of concern to both employers and employees. In order to substantiate that point I shall again quote from the JulySeptember issue of Review, the organ of the Institute of Public Affairs of Victoria. Nobody could regard this institute as being a trade union authority or a trade union body. In an interesting article on the whole subject of a review of arbitrational machinery the journal states, amongst other things - (One of the disadvantages) of the present machinery is that it is slow moving, cumbersome, costly, roundabout, and wedded to a procedure ill-suited to the determination of major industrial and economic issues. These defects are what the critics have in mind when they speak of the need for “ streamlining “ the existing methods. There is a strong, and justified, feeling that the machinery could be simplified and the administration of industrial justice greatly expedited with advantage to all concerned.
I suggest that that expression of opinion is typical of the feeling, growing in industry to-day, that the manner in which the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is functioning is not in the best interests of industry, because it does not lead to a bringing together of parties to disputes, but is, as it were, dividing them and building up hostility and frustration. There is a general call now for greater efforts to be made to achieve industrial harmony by means of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining has achieved remarkable results in countries with greater industrial problems than Australia has, and has been able to settle disputes of greater magnitude than we have ever had in this country, at the same time bridging differences between employer and employee. That has been demonstrated on many occasions in both the United States of America and Great Britain. We have had recent examples of that spirit in this country. When some American enterprises have established themselves here they have indicated, by their willingness to meet the representatives of the workers in conference, their desire to make eontracts or reach agreements that will enable work to be carried on in their industry without dislocation. I believe such a system is essential in this country. 1 believe it is necessary for our industrial machinery to be overhauled so that once again the emphasis will be on conciliation. Only the week before last, when the congress of the Australian Council of Trades Unions was in progress, a good deal of its time was devoted to this question of the growing hostility in Australian industry as a consequence of the methods being pursued which keep employers and employees apart. One of the motions carried at the congress was that the arbitration machinery be reviewed, that conciliators be appointed whose sole task would be to bring the parties to industrial disputes together, to preside over conferences between the disputants, and to endeavour to settle the differences between them. In the event of inability to settle the differences the whole matter would go to arbitration, but the arbitrator would be a person who would be chosen by the parties from a panel of arbitrators which would be provided for under the measure. I believe machinery of that description would do a good deal to bring about a better understanding between the two sides of industry than exists at present That view is held by employers, as I can show by quoting again from the journal of the Institute of Public Affairs of Victoria, which states -
The methods of direct negotiations and voluntary settlement possess one overwhelming, indeed conclusive, advantage. They promote a high sense of responsibility on the part of employer representatives and unions. If the decisions reached are bad ones, that is, if they react adversely on the industry concerned, or on the wider national economy, the contending parties cannot avoid their share of the responsibility. They cannot shelve it off on to some third party. Moreover the fact of having to thrash out their differences in often lengthy and difficult negotiations, gives each side a better appreciation of the difficulties confronting the other. Over the years this tends to build up a bond of mutual respect and understanding. This responsible approach bears a sharp contrast to the highly extravagant attitudes which not infrequently characterize the claims and advocacy of Australian employer and union organizations in Arbitration Court proceedings.
I think that that summarizes the position, and I hope that the Government will take those facts into consideration, and will shortly bring down amending legislation that will help to clear up the present unsatisfactory position.
.- We are discussing, amongst other things, the proposed vote for the Parliament. It is unnecessary to state that the House of Representatives is the centre of democracy in Australia, the very fountainhead of democracy, and according to the way in which it conducts itself it represents the aspirations of the people, and of the Western democracies in this part of the world. We hope that members who come here shall have clear minds and shall be able to work in surroundings which will enable them to give to the people, to the Parliament, and to the Government, the results of the clear thinking they must do in order to perform their duty correctly. One is reminded of the last words of the Gettysburg address of Abraham Lincoln - “ We shall act so that government of the people by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth “.
I suggest that there are a number of matters that could be examined if honorable members are to give of their best in this place. I wish to speak, first, about the atmosphere in this chamber. The atmosphere around Mr. Speaker’s chair and the centre table may be all right, but by Thursday night of each week there is no good air in this part of the chamber. People in the galleries, who sometimes may be surprised to see honorable members lounging in their seats, should remember that we have to stay here for many hours at a time. The atmosphere is not good; the air is not pure in my view. 1 know that the engineers try to provide a good air-conditioning service, but they do not always succeed, and I think that something ought to be done to give those of us who occupy the back benches clean air instead of hot air. I am not happy about the lighting in the chamber. It ought to be examined. Many honorable members are not satisfied with the amplification of speeches. It is impossible for honorable members sitting on the back benches to hear the remarks of a Minister who speaks at the table while facing in the opposite direction.
If I may be permitted to do so, I wish to say a word or two about order in the chamber. Honorable members, under the guise of raising points of order, often criticize the rulings of Mr. Speaker or of the Chairman of Committees. Let me remind honorable members that the rulings of Mr. Speaker may be criticized only upon the submission of a substantive motion. Just a few days ago, points of order were raised which in fact were criticisms of a ruling.
– Order ! The honorable member may not discuss procedures while the proposed vote for the Parliament is before the committee.
– I must bow to your ruling, Mr. Temporary Chairman. I do not know whether I may object. I suppose a substantive motion would have to be submitted before I could do so. Perhaps I can now discuss another part of the Parliament - the Opposition. I quote the following passage, which appears at page 246 of May’s Parliamentary Practice: -
For the Opposition, regarded as a Parliamentary institution, it may be claimed that no better system has yet been devised for ensuring that, the indispensable function of criticism shall be effectively co-ordinated and exercised in a constructive and responsible spirit.
I emphasize the latter part of that passage -
We have been told that the Opposition is a very important part of the Parliament. Often, Government supporters, having been elected to carry out a policy that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has enunciated and which has been approved by Cabinet, are almost compelled to vote in support of that policy. But the Opposition plays a very important part. If it is offering its criticism in a responsible and constructive way, the Parliament is a healthy institution. But that is not true of the present Opposition. I suggest to the committee that the Opposition has let itself down. It has let its own party down; it has let the country down; it has let down the people who support it ; and, in fact, it has let all the people of Australia down.
Mr. Daly interjecting,
– One of the worst offenders, perhaps, is the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), who has just interjected. I should like to remind him of some of the statements about the Opposition that have been made in this chamber within recent months. I remind him of the following statement that was made by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua), who is the Leader of the Anti-Communist Labour party, about the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt)-
The hallmark of hia work is that it assists the Communists, whatever else it may do. There is always in it assistance for, and sympathy with, the Communist ideals.
They are the remarks of one section of the Opposition about the other section. The honorable member for Ballarat further stated, when referring to the right honorable member for Barton -
I denounce everything that the Leader of the Opposition has said as being non-Labour, completely impractical, and in favour of the Communists.
– I think the honorable member is off the beam.
– The honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Davies) says that I am off the beam. I think other honorable members have a better memory than he has.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member for Macarthur should relate his remarks to some item in the schedule.
– I am relating my remarks to the Parliament, the proposed vote for which is now before the committee, and I am talking about the work of the Opposition in the Parliament.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member is referring to a debate that occurred in the House, not in the committee.
– I rise to order. If the honorable member for Macarthur is to be permitted to outline the actions of the Opposition in this Parliament, could you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, ask that he include also his comments about the New South Wales Opposition, which is led by Murray Robson, so that we shall know the two parties are linked in that respect ?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! If the honorable member for Grayndler had been observant, he would have noted that I tried to prevent the honorable member for Macarthur from proceeding.
– Speaking to the point of order-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! There is no point of order.
– I wish to raise h further point of order.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! I have ruled that there is no point of order.
– I withdraw any reference to a point of order. I propose to continue to speak about the Parliament and to say that the honorable member for Grayndler has exemplified the very behaviour about which I spoke earlier when I said that honorable members, under the guise of raising a point of order, often do something that is frivolous. I suggest that such conduct contributes to disorder. The honorable member could not have exemplified more clearly what I was trying to say to the committee. To return to the Opposition, which is expected to provide constructive and healthy criticism in the Parliament, let me remind honorable members of another incident that occurred between honorable members who once belonged to the same party, but amongst whom there is now some slight disagreement.
– I rise to order. Did I understand you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, to say that you had prevented the honorable member for Macarthur from proceeding along these lines?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member’s ears are very good. The honorable member for Macarthur will confine himself to the proposed vote for the Parliament.
– On the occasion to which I was about to refer, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), who was a member of the main Opposition party, stated -
I put it to the House that the Communist party, and the Communist party alone, benefited from the work of the Leader of thiOpposition
– Order ! Those remarks were not made in the committee. They were made in the House, and they may not he discussed at this stage. I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the Estimates.
– Probably enough has been said about those matters. I do not think I shall go to the length of disagreeing with your ruling, Mr. Temporary Chairman, by submitting a substantive motion. I have strong feelings about what has been going on, and I believe that, when we are discussing the proposed vote for the Parliament, we should be able to refer to such matters.
The remarks of the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) and the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) in relation to the banking situation were very interesting. I am referring now to the proposed vote for the Treasury. The Government’s policy on banking has been carried out. It promised to repeal Labour’s bank nationalization legislation and to amend the 1945 banking legislation to provide for the re-appointment of the Commonwealth Bank Board. Those promises have been given effect to, but I think the time has arrived when we ought to proceed further with amendments of the existing banking legislation. The Government has carried out its policy satisfactorily up to that point, but I think that the suggestion made by the honorable member for Mackellar that the central bank ought to be divorced from the trading bank should be implemented as soon as possible, because, as either the honorable member for Evans or the honorable member for Mackellar has said, there is distrust by the banking system of the arrangements as they now stand. Because of that distrust, the co-operation that we need in order to prevent the crisis that may be approaching, is not being given. There ought to be 100 per cent. co-operation between the private trading banks and the central bank. It is an extremely difficult position for the great private trading banks if they are required to send statistics to the central bank when they have a suspicion that those statistics will be used by the central bank for its own advantage, through its trading bank section. We feel that some of the present difficulties, particularly those relating to hire purchase, would not have arisen if there had been complete trust in the banking system.
I have suggested outside, and I put forward the suggestion here, that as soon as possible a conference of the best brains in the banking world be convened. We have been very happy to know that the Prime Minister has been calling together the leaders of the banking system, the leaders of commerce and the leaders of other activities in the community to discuss these matters, because a better understanding may arise from the discussions. When they have been completed, a conference should be called to discuss further amendments of the banking legislation.
Perhaps it will be suggested that the central bank should be located in Canberra, because Canberra was selected as the place for the head-quarters of all the great governmental institutions of the Commonwealth. There is no need for the central bank to be in Sydney. It should be here in Canberra, completely divorced from the Commonwealth Trading Bank. I believe that if something were done to make the central bank a true central bank, completely separated from the Commonwealth Trading Bank, that would help to create confidence and trust. In my view, the central bank should act not in the spirit of controlling and coercing the private trading banks but in the spirit of consultation and co-operation, saying, as it were, “ Gentlemen, here are the problems. What do you suggest “ ? At present, instead of taking that stand, it says to the private banks, “ If you get any more deposits, a very large percentage of them must go into the special deposits account “. If the present financial trends continue, in a few years time huge sums, liable to be called up, will be standing in the special deposits accounts, which will cause the banking system a great deal of anxiety. I think the time has come when further amendments of our banking legislation could be made with safety and with great benefit to the community.
– In the discussion of these Estimates, a good deal of time has been devoted to a consideration of the Commonwealth Bank, which is closely linked with the Treasury. In effect, it is a department of the Treasury, because it is bound to the Treasury by the law. A good deal of what has been said about the Commonwealth Bank is untrue and unworthy of members of this Parliament. Perhaps those are strong words. Perhaps some honorable members such as the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) really believe what they have said, but I feel that they should be more circumspect in making statements such as those they have made. Some months ago, I observed that a very vicious newspaper campaign was being directed against our Commonwealth Bank, so I wrote to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and told him that newspaper articles were appearing which criticized that worthy establishment and I suggested that some reply should be made to the criticisms. No reply was made, but I am glad to say that the newspaper articles stopped. I hope that the Treasurer took action to have them stopped.
The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) agitated for a separation of the central bank from the Commonwealth Trading Bank. He seemed to believe that the Commonwealth Trading Bank was casting a bad spell on the centra] bank. Only twelve months ago, members of the Government parties were saying that the central bank was exercising a bad influence on the Commonwealth Trading Bank, and that the two banks should be separated. They have been separated. We have the Commonwealth Trading Bank, which is a separate entity. Therefore, there should be no complaints from honorable members opposite. There should be nothing but praise for the excellence of the service provided by the Commonwealth Trading Bank. As one who has had many years’ experience of banking, I want to say that the service given by the Commonwealth Trading Bank is equal to that provided by any other bank in the country.
– That does not mean that the two banks should not be separated.
– I shall deal with that point in good time. The Commonwealth
Trading Bank competes actively and vigorously with the other trading banks. What objection can be taken to that position by members of the Government, parties? From what we have read in the newspapers, it appears that when the accounts of the Commonwealth Trading Bank are published we shall see that the bank has made great progress, that it is in a flourishing condition and that it is doing very well indeed in active and vigorous competition with the other banks. I cannot see anything to complain about on that score.
The Commonwealth Trading Bank competes with the other banks on similar terms. The honorable member for Evans went to some pains to show that its advances had increased more than the advances of other banks. Everybody knows that banking is conducted in accordance with definite and customary margins of safety. Those are the considerations that control the banking system. One of the criticisms levelled against the associated trading banks is that they have departed from the customary percentages and, by so doing, have sought to increase their deposits, because they know that if they can increase their deposits, they will be able to increase their advances. That is the cause of a great deal of the present trouble. We find that the private trading banks are making every effort to increase their deposits because, if they do so, they will be able to increase their advances. We find that the Bank of New South Wales, in spite of the high rate of advances in the community, is attempting to start a savings bank, with the idea of increasing its deposits so that, under the formula arranged by this Government in February, 1953, it will then be enabled to increase its advances. That may not be a good thing for the community.
– It is a very shrewd move, though, is not it?
– It is a move to which I would not object in other circumstances but, coming at present, I think it is most ill-timed. It will cause a drain on our very thin resources of trained clerks. Several hundred extra clerks will be required for that saving? bank work. It is quite wrong to say that the increase of work caused by the establishment of a savings bank would be offset by a decrease in the fixed deposit business. The fixed deposit business of that bank is very small, so a decrease of its volume would not save much in the way of labour.
Another good feature of the Commonwealth Trading Bank is that it acts independently and exercises a certain amount of advance control in the best interests of the community. It is not ashamed to show what it has done to the other banks, and tell them that is what it believes should be done and that they should follow suit. Under a previous government, it was possible for the Commonwealth Bank to direct the other banks to follow its advance control policy, but the present Government does not require them to do so. All that the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank can do now is to indicate his advance policy, and ask the other banks to follow it. I may say that the associated trading banks operate advance control, but they do not tell anybody what it is. Their advance control policy is designed for one purpose only; that is, to preserve the security of the private banks and to enable them to make the greatest profits possible from their operations. At times, the policy falls very heavily upon the small man. If a small man applies for an advance, he cannot get it, but if a big customer who has plenty of security to offer applies for an advance, he is not refused.
– What about the hirepurchase company that got nearly £2,000,000 from the Commonwealth Bank?
– Ishall not deal with hire purchase because I have time to deal only with the Commonwealth Bank. The Commonwealth Bank has increased its advances only within the customary margins of safety on which banks work. It abides by the rules by which the other banks abide. It is doing very well, and should be praised for what it is doing.
The only sensible remark that the honorable member for Macarthur made was that he thought the time had come to amend the banking legislation. It is quite clear that we cannot devise a system and say that if the banks work on that system everything will go along all right. There must be same means of control in the hands of the Government which can be exercised if things do not go right. I think the Government should propose amendments of the legislation to provide for some methods of arbitrary control, so that control can be exercised if a serious situation arises. Such a control was in the hands of the Government before the amendments of February, 1953. At that time the Government could call into special account, proportionately from all banks, certain amounts according to the situation. It could call in as much as it felt was necessary. That provision was deleted and the Government introduced an amendment whereby if the banks increased their deposits they could increase their advances by virtually a similar amount, bearing in mind the general and customary margins of safety. Of course, it was not long before the banks devised means of getting round this system, and they are using those means at the present time. I merely want to see the banks continue to compete. I do not want to see them all nationalized, but I believe that eventually that will happen. The honorable member for Evans said that some people wanted to see the banks nationalized. I say straight out that I do not believe in nationalization. 1 believe that the most sensible comment on the nationalization of the trading banks was made by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who said that, in due course, the Commonwealth Bank would appeal to the people so much that they would, of their own free will, subscribe to it and open accounts with it. That is coming to pass. The Commonwealth Bank is becoming a very popular bank indeed. I believe that, consistent with the economic policy which the Government is applying and with the banking policy which is necessary to implement that economic policy, the Commonwealth Bank should be given complete scope to expand as much as it can in the interests of the people. If people want to open accounts and do business with it, they should be allowed to do so. I do not think that there is anything at all in the suggestion that the Commonwealth Bank uses funds entrusted to it, such as, for example, the special accounts of the private banks and funds lodged by governments, for the purpose of competing against other banks.
– “Who said it did so ?
– “When I asked the Treasurer whether it did so, he told me that the trading banks lodged their money with the Commonwealth Bank because they had to do so, that the Commonwealth Bank had duties to carry out and carried them out, and that it makes its profits in fair competition with other trading banks. I am aware that the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) is interjecting very vigorously because he does not like the truth coming out. He ought to be behind the Commonwealth Bank, which is a great institution doing magnificent work in the community. I feel sure that every member of the Opposition believes that to be true, and that every Government supporter, in his heart of hearts, also believes it to be true.
– Did the honorable member believe it when he worked for a private bank? Did the honorable member bank with the Commonwealth Bank?
– The honorable member for Petrie cannot contain himself. His views are obvious. This is a magnificent institution, which deserves all our praise, and the present criticism is just the pattern of a conservatism designed to discredit the bank and try to take away its definite power and retard its great progress. I commend the Commonwealth Bank to the people.
– First, I address myself to the Prime Minister’s Department, and I hope to have a word to say in regard to banks of various kinds before I finish my brief address. I suppose that there is no more important element in the life of the country, after securing subsistence, than education, yet if one looks at the proposed vote for the Office of Education, which comes under the Prime Minister’s Department, in one respect one might have some considerable doubt as to whether education is really as important as we believe it to be. The Office of Education is the section of Commonwealth administration which has liaison with the States and administers Commonwealth grants in the matter of reconstruction. Looking at page 154 of the Estimates, one finds that the director is allowed a salary of £2,S50 per annum. It is common knowledge that the salary paid to a professor in a standard university is at least £3,000 and, having regard to the altered value of money, I do not think that that amount is excessive. It appears to me that something is lacking in proportion and appreciation, when the man who is entrusted to be the adviser of the Australian Government in respect of liaison work on the subject of education throughout the country is paid a salary of only £2,850 per annum.
I want to refer to certain comments which have been made in this committee on the heinous offence of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank in having an aeroplane to fly him and his officers to various parts of Australia in the quickest possible time. May I preface my further remarks on this subject by saying thai like certain honorable gentlemen, including the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne), from the outset I have held that the sooner we bring about a condition of affairs where the Governor of the central bank is not expected to serve two masters, the better it will be for him and foi1 the banking system of Australia, and that is no reflection upon his undoubted ability in many directions. I am rather astonished that men who speak as representatives of the progressive section of Government supporters should decry the use of an aeroplane in order to save time in getting from one place to another by a man who, I suppose, is paid a salary of £10,000 a year. 1 am not sure of his salary, but if he does his job that is what he should be receiving. The only comment I have to make is that I once saw him fly off in an aeroplane while a most senior Minister of the Government was sitting amongst other passengers who had to wait for about two hours for a connexion with a delayed ‘plane. This Minister, if he received his just dues, would also be paid about £10,000 a year. There is a complete lack of proportion in the facilities provided for those who occupy high posts in the affairs of the country. There is a time-lag in the thought of people in this country in changing conditions of affairs. I have some slight knowledge of business and business enterprise - a mere bagatelle compared with that of some honorable members who sit in this chamber - and I have learned that the most economical investment which can be made in business reconstruction is to put moneys as fast as possible into laboursaving machinery. The age demands that the strictest limit shall be put upon excessive use of time in work. Whether one likes it or not, one has to face up to the fact that that is so, and it lies at the base of a 40-hour week. Consequently, if we are to run our nation economically, we have to scrap old machinery and use modern machinery. In this Parliament and outside it we have to scrap some ideas which belong to the horse-and-buggy days, and the spectacle of senior Ministers sitting on their’ tails waiting for a delayed ‘plane while the business of the nation goes by, strikes me as being so utterly ridiculous that I shall not refer to it any further.
The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) advanced the extraordinary idea that in relation to the money we borrowed from overseas, the payment of interest could have been avoided, by implication, by issuing money here. My goodness, what an elementary proposition that is, and how lacking is the honorable member in an appreciation of the simple economics of this world ! When we borrow, we do not borrow money; we borrow the wherewithal to build such things as railways, and hydroelectric works. We borrow, not money, but the capital goods that may be brought in, such as bulldozers to tear out the side of the mountain to build the Snowy Mountains scheme. We borrow the wherewithal to build diesel engines for the railways, and all sorts of things that we either have not got at all, or have not got in sufficient number. The extraordinary proposition put forward by a member of the Opposition that by turning a wheel and sending out sheets of paper we have got capital, is just too childish for words. This argument applies equally to what is done inside Australia. Unless the paper is printed in order to enable us to use what is here, we are simply creating an inflationary spiral that will land us in trouble.
I wish to refer now to the sinking fund provision that the honorable member for Banks mentioned. Since 1923, the total has risen to £550,000,000. Since 1947-48, we have paid £2,000,000 off our national debt. We have still about £300,000,000 in kitty. Again, £1,57S,000,000 of our total national debt of £3,750,000,000 is represented by the cost of holding this country, a cost that we were all mighty glad to pay when the Japanese appeared on the horizon. So we have a national debt of £3,750,000,000 and, speaking from memory, a total national income of over £5,000,000,000. If that is not solvency on a big scale, what is solvency?
Great emphasis was laid on our total interest debt. That is £52,671,000. Of that amount, we have £3,000,000 in London and Switzerland, £4,S00,000 in New York and the rest in Australia. We also have a sinking fund of £68,338,000 out of a total national income of something like £5,000,000,000. That should be sufficient answer, in the very brief time at my disposal, to the suggestion put forward by the honorable member for Banks. If he has no sounder ideas than that upon banks, or if his friends who sit on the other side have no better ideas than that, then all I can say is that they are very elementary ideas indeed, and I can quite understand why they cannot see that the private banks of this country are indispensable to-day as a counterbalancing factor, as something that must be preserved in the life of this country if it is to remain a free economy for free people.
.- I desire to speak on the Estimates of the Department of the Treasury. Until to-night, we have never heard from any member of the Government parties any hint that there was a need to pass the trading functions of the Commonwealth Bank to the control of a body separate and distinct from the body that controls the central bank. Why do we hear it for the first time to-night? It is because yesterday, in the Age newspaper, Mr. Rickettson, on behalf of the financial interests, said that that was most desirable, that there were difficulties in the monetary system of this country and that it was necessary to manipulate and “ play around “ with the Commonwealth Bank. Because of that statement, his representatives in this chamber immediately jump up and say that suggestion should be carried out forthwith.
For three years or more, the members of the Labour party in this chamber have been pointing out the relationship between the monetary policy of this country, between the issue of credit in this country by private banking institutions and the inflation that has been operating. But members of the Government parties poohpoohed the idea. To-night, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. “Wentworth), the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) and other honorable members on the Government side have admitted that one of the main factors in deciding whether there shall be inflation, stability or deflation in this country is the credit resources and the manner in which they are manipulated by the private banking institutions. It is because of this that we on this side have always said that something should be done to control those banking institutions. If inflation is determined by banking policy, and if the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is to govern this country, he must govern the instrument that can bring about either inflation, deflation or stability. That is only ordinary common sense.
The honorable member for Evans said this evening that the Commonwealth Bank had utilized a big proportion of its moneys to invest in hire-purchase organizations and that private banking institutions had done so to the same degree. But private banking institutions are the hire-purchase organizations of this country. The National Bank of Australasia has a 40 per cent, interest in Custom Credit Corporation Limited, and its branches act as agents for that hirepurchase organization. The Bank of Adelaide has a 40 per cent, interest in the Finance Corporation of Australia Limited. The English, Scottish and Australian Bank operates a hire-purchase organization of its own. That hirepurchase organization, like all hire-purchase organizations, is separate from the bank altogether.
– But financed by them.
– They are financed by the banks. The Bank of Adelaide has stocks in the Finance Corporation of Australia Limited and the National Bank of Australia has a 40 per cent, interest in Custom Credit Corporation Limited. Then they appeal to the ordinary mem bers of the public to put their money into hire-purchase organizations. That money does not go through the banks at all; it goes into the hire-purchase organization, and in that way the hire-purchase organization itself exercises the functions of a bank. It utilizes other people’s money to finance purchasing transactions between members of the community. Because of that, and because of the purposes for which the money is utilized, inflation, deflation or stability can bp created.
I have before me an authority whom honorable members on the Government side could not say is a Labour man. It is Mr. W. F. Crick, general manager of Research and Statistics, Midland Bank. London. In an article entitled “ The Need of an Economic Policy for Australia”, he says -
The Commonwealth Government, for example, seems powerless of itself to put any check upon a temporary over-expansion of instal ment selling. Further, there is no effective brake on the supply of finance made available for the purpose, even though banks themselves as one source of such credit, may exercise du»> restraint.
That gentleman is a private banker. He says that private banking institutions might exercise restraint on the issue of credit. But if banking institutions such as the Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited and the Bank of Adelaide operate vast hire-purchase systems, what restraint will they exercise on the operations of hire-purchase organizations? If they do exercise any restraint whatsoever, how will they do so? Of course, it will be exercised to the advantage of the particular banking organizations that are interested in hire-purchase business. It seems to me to be absurd for the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to go cap in hand to the private banking institutions and suggest that they should do something - he does not specifically tell them what they should do - in order to assist him to control inflation by restraining the excessive expenditure that is now taking place in the hire-purchase field. What will they do? What would anybody in the same position do? They will give advice to the right honorable gentleman which will not militate against their material interests. No banking institution, and no representative of a banking institution is such an infidel as to believe that its business is not directed to the making of profit. They all believe that. Therefore, those organizations which are interested in the hire-purchase business will suggest anything that does not militate against hire purchase - anything so long as expenditure on the particular items in which they are interested is not curtailed. In these circumstances, the Government should not rush in, willynilly, to adopt the suggestions that were made to-night by the honorable member for Mackellar and the honorable member for Evans, which were directed towards the strangulation of the Commonwealth Bank. The Commonwealth Bank may not be perfect; I do not think it is. We know that, for a time, during the regime of the previous Government, the Commonwealth Bank was able to call up certain of the deposits of the private banking institutions, and thereby restrict their capacity to issue credit for the purchase of certain goods to the detriment of our economy, but in 1953 the present Government deliberately abolished the power of the Commonwealth Bank in relation to private banking institutions. The Government said, in effect, “ There shall be a free go as far as credit issue is concerned, and the purposes for which 1’edit is issued “.
– Be truthful about this.
– I am absolutely truthful. When the war started, the Treasurer introduced a regulation to control the deposits of the private banking institutions, and to provide for the calling up of special deposits by the Commonwealth Bank. That was made law by the Curtin Government. In 1953, that law was repealed by the present Government. Its repeal, and the non-exercise of the powers that were provided under it, have been responsible, in a large measure, for the difficulties with which the Government is now confronted as a result of the over-expansion of the currency for hire-purchase and other kinds cf business in the community which are detrimental to the best interests of our people.
If the present difficulties have done nothing else, they have caused the members of the Government parties, who previously scorned any imputation that private banking institutions were affected in any way by inflation, to admit that those institutions which have control of the issue of the currency determine in a large measure the extent to which inflation operates. That that is so, is evident from the fact that the Prime Minister is conferring with the representatives of the private banking institutions behind closed doors. We, the common members of the community, desire to share the confidence of the right honorable gentleman and the bankers in order to find out exactly what they determine, because we have vivid recollections of the depression of the 30’s, which was more acute than it need have been because of the deflationary policies of the banks. Every economist of note admits that on that occasion the banks should have released credit instead of curtailing it. They did not have sufficient capacity or public spirit to do so. Therefore, the policies that they are now suggesting to the Prime Minister should be closely studied. We, the ordinary members of the community, who learned so much from the control of banking which operated not only during the depression, but also during the war period, want the details of the banking policy revealed fully, so that the people themselves can have a say in the matter.
.- The matter that I wish to raise is of importance to a number of honorable members on both sides of the chamber. I refer to the office accommodation for honorable members in this building. At least fourteen members of this chamber - members of all parties - are forced to do research work and prepare their speeches and questions either in the caucus room, the party room or the Library. I seem to be no nearer to receiving office accommodation than when I was elected to the Parliament two years ago. Many honorable members who have been here much longer than I have, are in a similar position. This matter has been mentioned in this chamber previously by the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) and it has been discussed, without success, with both the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) and the chamber officers.
If it were impossible to provide office accommodation in this building for all honorable members, we would accept the position, but when the fact is that a great deal of office accommodation is monopolized by the Ministers and their staffs, as well as by the press, to the detriment of honorable members, it is time that something was done about the matter. At least honorable members on both sides are practising socialism in that two, three and in some instances four members share a room. On the other hand, the majority of senators have rooms to themselves; only in exceptional circumstances do they share offices. If the Cabinet and the chamber officers believed that all honorable members should be provided with appropriate office accommodation in which to perform their duties with the assistance of adequate facilities, they would make representations to the President of the Senate for additional offices to be shared by senators, and so make available office space for the honorable members who are not at present provided with it.
There are a couple of other matters to which I wish to refer. It will be seen from page 150 of the Estimates that a new position has been created in the Senate, known as “ Ministerial Liaison Officer “, for which a salary of £1,797 per annum is provided. There are only five Ministers in the Senate, compared with fifteen in this chamber. In the Estimates for the House of Representatives; no provision is made-
– Order ! The time allotted for consideration of the proposed votes for the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Department, the Department of External Affairs, the Department of the Treasury and the Attorney-General’s Department, has expired.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Department of the Interior.-
Proposed vote, £3,633,000.
Proposed vote, £3,535.000. Department of Civil Aviation.
Proposed vote, £7,719,000.
Proposed vote, £3,905,000.
Proposed vote, £1,362,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- Mr. Temporary Chairman-
– I rise to order. During the discussion on the previous group of Estimates there was only one Minister in the chamber. My understanding of what is proper in these matters is that a Minister should be in the chamber while the Estimates for his department are being discussed. That practice was faithfully followed by all Ministers in the Labour Government between 1941 and 1949. I ask you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, whether you will use your influence to ensure that during the-
– What is the pointof order ?
– I am stating the point of order.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! There is no point of order. There is no standing order dealing with the matter and the honorable gentleman cannot take a point of order about it.
– Is it possible for you, sir, to have the attention of Ministers who administer the departments to which the present group of Estimates relate directed to thefact that these Estimates are now before the committee, and that the least they can do is to be present during the discussion of them?
– On the point of order, the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) stated something that is completely untrue.
– Order ! I have ruled that there is no point of order.
– The Minister for Defence, who is acting for the Minister for External Affairs, has just left the chamber. The Prime Minister is ill, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro knows well. Yet he stated that Ministers were not present in the chamber this evening! I have been present and three Ministers have been in the chamber most of the time.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. I have been misrepresented by the Minister for Air, who stated that I had declared, completely incorrectly, that no Minister was present in the chamber. That is not what I said.
– The honorable member stated that only one Minister was present.
– I said that, while the Estimates of four departments were under consideration, for most of the time there was only one Minister in the chamber at a time. I ask that all the Ministers who control the departments to which the Estimates now under consideration relate be present while those Estimates are discussed.
– Now that the pleasantries have ended, may I point out to the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who is the present temporary Leader of the Opposition in the chamber, that the group of votes previously under discussion related to the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Department, the Department of External Affairs, the Department of the Treasury, and the Attorney-General’s Department. The Minister for Defence (Mr. McBride), who is acting for the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) in his absence overseas, was present. In the circumstances one could hardly expect the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to be present.
– What has that to do with these votes? The Minister is out of order.
– I am telling honorable members opposite what it has to do with the matter. The Minister who administers the Department of the Interior and the Department of Works is present, and the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley) is in the chamber. As honorable members are aware, the Minister for Trade and Customs is a member of another place. The Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) also is present. I do not know what the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is complaining about.
Very briefly, by way of introduction to the Estimates for the Department of Works, I wish to direct the attention of honorable members to the supplementary budget document entitled “ Civil Works Programme 1955-56 “, which relates to works under the control of the Department of Works. During the debate on the Estimates for the financial year 1953-54, 1 foreshadowed a re-organization of the Department of Works and an endeavour to integrate the works programme with the acquisition programme of the Department of the Interior for each current financial year. At the same time, the Public Accounts Committee was investigating the Department of Works and - I think about 24 hours later - made recommendations, one of which concerned the presentation of the papers relative to the works programme. As a result, I think it is only fair to say that the Public Accounts Committee should receive a measure of the credit for the preparation of the supplementary civil works programme paper. That paper will give honorable members a clearer picture of the operations of the Department of Works. They will notice that the works programme for each department has been divided under two headings - “ Works in Progress “ and “ Proposed New Works “. The estimates of the amounts required for new works cover such things as furniture and services, which have been deliberately included. If we stated the exact estimate of the Department of Works merely for the building it would be of great advantage to tenderers when we . called for tenders for each one of those individual works. The reorganization of the current works programme was not easy. Although it was foreshadowed in 1953, it has taken a long time to find the best methods of dealing with all the various details and to overcome all the difficulties that had to be overcome by both the treasury officers and the officers of the Department of Works, who worked together in the effort to achieve the objective that we set out to achieve in the first place. I pay tribute to those officers for the manner in which the re-organization has been effected.
The Department of Works this year, for the first time, has been able to proceed with a smooth programme from the beginning of the financial year on the 1st July, instead of slowing down all the works until the Estimates had .been approved and then, in the remaining months, trying to make up for the time that had been lost earlier in the financial year. Sometimes, as in the case of Papua and New Guinea, the wet season intervened several months after the Estimates had been approved, with the result that the works in those areas received a further setback. However, I hope that from now on the current works programme will be able to proceed at an even rate throughout the financial year. Before the end of 1955, the design section of the Department of Works will be brought into harmony with the current works programme, and the design programme for the current financial year will be confined in the main to new works that it is expected will be included in next year’s programme, instead of, as in the past very often, being required for problematical works which might or might not commence some time in the future.
So not only have we brought the current works programme into operation earlier but, by the end of this calendar year, we shall have the design programme integrated with the current works programme. So in this document showing the current works programme with the design programme, concentrating on the new works which we expect to put into the second-year programme, there is a two-year programme for the Works Department; and there is a third, or supplementary, list which shows, in order of priority, the public works which will probably be started in the third year but which might be changed according to economic or other circumstances. In other words, we now have a three-year programme operating with sufficient elasticity to allow an increase or decrease, according to changing economic circumstances. The design programme for the Department of Works has been integrated with that works programme and, furthermore, we have now also integrated with the works and design programme the acquisition programme which is carried out by the Department of the Interior. There again, we are trying to confine acquisition, as far as possible in each year, to the amount that will be required for the next year’s works programme, or for works which are of high priority on th? supplementary or third year’s works programme.
As regards the relationship between th.current works programme and the current economic situation, honorable memberswill find, on examination of the budge! papers, that there has been very little variation in the civil works programme during the last three years. The annual expenditure has varied between £13,000,000 and £15,000,000 each year. In his budget speech, the Treasurer said -
Fer several years past the steady policy ot the Government has been to keep a firm hand on the public sector of the economy. It hatendeavoured to prevent public expenditure from rising unduly - such expenditure has in fact been kept relatively stable for the last four years. It has sought in particular to maintain a stable, though adequate, rate of spending on public works, an clement which, through iti” sudden steep increase in the years 1949 to 1952, did much to accentuate the difficulties of thai period. By this policy the Government ha> kept to a minimum the additional calls made by the public sector upon the available resources of the economy, lt has done thic with the conscious object of providing a counter-balance in a time when rapid expan-sion was going on elsewhere. Between 1951-52 and last year, net expenditure on goods and services by public authorities in Australia, as estimated by the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, increased by less than 7 per cent. Over the same period the rate of private expenditure on goods and services increased by no less than 27 per cent.
On page 218 of the Estimates, honorable members will note that the vote for this year for capital works and services is £104,000,000 as against £107,400,000 for last financial year. Although the overall expenditure last year was about £96,000,000, the proposed vote is £3,000.000 less than it was for last year. and it is reasonable to expect that the expenditure will be in a somewhat similar proportion. When honorable members turn to the votes for civil works, as distinct from civil and defence works, on page 221 of the Estimates, they will note that the vote for civil works is £6,000,000 less than it was last year. Last year it was £66,506,000. This year it is £60,666,000. Therefore, the vote has been reduced by approximately £6,000,000, and is about £1,000,000 more than the actual expenditure for last year. But again, the vote and the expenditure may probably be in a somewhat similar relationship. In auy case, it shows that the Government, in accordance with the terms of the budget speech, has endeavoured not to increase civil works votes, but has endeavoured to reduce them and keep expenditure within bounds. At present, expenditure is being watched very carefully, and the current works programme can be slowed down or speeded up in accordance with the economic necessities of the country. I trust that this very brief overall picture will be of some value to honorable members in discussing the works Estimates.
I come now to the Department of the Interior. The section of the Estimates now to be considered excludes the estimates of receipts and expenditure of the Australian Capita] Territory, which will be considered under a later heading. It will be noted that, for the first time in the Estimates of the Department of the [nterior, a new divisionhas been inserted which covers the expenditure for the News and Information Bureau. This expenditure was previously incorporated with that of the administrative division of the Department of the Interior. The estimated expenditures with which I am concerned total £7,746,000. That figure exceeds the total expenditure of last year by £1,681,000. Again, I thought that, at the outset of this debate, honorable members were entitled to an explanation of what might be termed a fairly heavy proportionate increase in the Interior vote. The estimate of £3,633,000 for ordinary departmental expenditure covers the cost of carrying out those functions of the department, including the acquisition and management of Commonwealth property, survey work for the Commonwealth, national mapping, the Electoral Office, the Meteorological Branch, the Observatory, the Forestry Bureau and the News and Information Bureau. Honorable members will notice that the patchwork quilt which is sometimes known as the Department of the Interior covers a lot of small sub-departments. This Estimate is £268,0C0 in excess of the expenditure for last year. About half the increase is due to the increases in salaries and payments in the nature of salaries. This is the direct result of a full year’s operation of marginal increases which last year operated for about six months only. There has been no significant increase in employment in any branch of the department.
The provision of £1,750,000 for financial assistance to the States under the war service land settlement scheme is almost £1,000,000 higher than the actual expenditure for last year. Items which have contributed to this increase include Commonwealth contributions to the writing off by the States of the excess of costs of acquisition and development of land settlement which is estimated to require £1,139,000 as against an expenditure of G359,824 last year. The increased provision is due to the fact that claims expected to be submitted by the States last year lagged and will need to be met from this year’s expenditure. The increase of £1.000,000 is also due to remissions of interest and rents which will amount to £125,000 compared with £67,814 last year ; and the provision of living allowances to settlers is expected to require £273,000 or about £95,000 more than last year.
The total sum provided for the acquisition of sites and buildings for Commonwealth purposes other than defence is £1,516,000 or £155,428 more than last year’s expenditure. More than £1,200,000 of this year’s provision is for the Department of Civil Aviation, Department of the Interior and the Postmaster-General’s Department. The greater part of the expenditure for this year will be absorbed in meeting the cost of acquisitions that have been committed in previous years. As I have said before in this chamber, we are doing our utmost to try to clean up past acquisitions, which in some cases date back to more than ten years ago. New proposals have been kept to the minimum of requirements. As I said a moment ago, they are largely dealing with what will be required for proposed new works in next year’s programme. Those items - together with £250,000 provided for the Senate election - virtually account for the increased provision for the department above last year’s actual expenditure.
I have given that brief resume in relation to the proposed votes of both the Department of “Works and the Department of the Interior in the hope that it will be of assistance to honorable members when they are speaking on the Estimates.
.- There are one or two matters that I should like to bring to the attention of the committee. First, I should like to congratulate the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) for having brought into the chamber, even at this stage of the debate, Ministers who represent the majority of the departments whose proposed votes are now before us. “Without casting any reflection on previous debates on the Estimates, it is rather unusual to see Ministers even in Canberra, far less in the chamber, at the time when the votes for their departments are under consideration. I believe, with other honorable members, that when the Estimates are being considered the Ministers whose departments are under discussion should be present in the chamber. The honorable member for “Warringah (Mr. Bland), who is a close student of matters pertaining to expenditure, would, I feel certain, agree with that sentiment. If the Ministers concerned are not present, what is the use of honorable members on this side of the chamber, or the usually silent Government supporters, expressing criticism of the activities of departments? It is a great thing to know that the Ministers are all in Canberra at one time. That is a change. It is also a welcome change to see them in the chamber, and I hope that they will pay some attention to what I have to say in respect of a number of matters that affect the public purse.
The first item I note in the proposed votes for the Department of the Interior relates to the rent of buildings, the estimate for the year being £598,000.
That represents an expenditure of £11,500 a week on rent. It is possible that the buildings rented are essential, for the use of Commonwealth, departments, but I believe that there is a good case for more money to be expended on the erection, in every State, of permanent Commonwealth offices to house various departments.
– We are trying now to provide such an office block in Melbourne.
– That is a desirabitapproach to the problem. I believe that even in a short period of time the amount of money that the Commonwealth now pays for renting and leasing buildings could provide a considerable amount towards the cost of erecting permanent Commonwealth offices in the various States. I hope that the Government will progressively give effect to a policy of providing centres of Commonwealth administration in the States. It is hardly pleasant for the public, or members of the Parliament, to have to deal with Government departments that are scattered all over a capital city. I think it will be of mutual benefit to the people’s representatives and the people themselves if. as far as is humanly possibly, Government offices can be progressively concentrated in one block in each capital city. I offer that suggestion, and I am pleased that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) has seen fit to give an indication that moves are being made in that direction.
Another matter of vital concern to tinParliament affects the Department of Civil Aviation. I think that everybody in Australia was not only amazed, but dumbfounded, by the recent flight of a pilotless plane over the Sydney area, and the combined and almost unavailing efforts of the Army, Navy and Air Force to bring it down. The proposed votes for the Department of Civil Aviation provide for the expenditure of almost £4,500,000 for the maintenance and operation of civil aviation facilities. How much of that huge sum is to be used to prevent a recurrence of a pilotless and dangerous flight by an aircraft over a densely populated city? Surely there must be in that amount of almost £4,500,000 some money to provide safeguards against the recurrence of such spectacular, but highly dangerous, incidents.
– Keep a pilot in the aeroplane.
– That is an admirable suggestion, but it is not always possible, and evidently occasions can arise when an aeroplane can take off without a pilot, and without any previous indication that such an independent flight is about to be made. We are not told that any of the money to be provided for maintenance and operation on civil aviation facilities is accounted for by expenditure on the very desirable prevention of pilotless flights by aircraft. Perhaps the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley) may tell us what precautions are being taken in the future to prevent aircraft from indulging in jaunts on their own initiative. Is it not fantastic that in this age of jet propulsion, with the Government expending £200,000,000 on defence and proposing to expend almost £4,500,000 on the maintenance and operation of civil aviation facilities, that all this great expenditure and the products of science in the way of aircraft and anti-aircraft armament, cannot enable the quick shooting-down of an out-of-date and pilotless aircraft travelling at a speed of about 50 miles an hour over Sydney? Is it not a sorry commentary on the administration of the Minister concerned? I think there is a case to be made out for revision of the provisions regarding the maintenance and operation of civil aviation facilities, in order to prevent a recurrence of this astonishing incident. Do not forget, the lives of my constituents were endangered by that aircraft careering over Sydney, and many other people were also in danger in the event of it crashing over a heavy industrialized area in Sydney. Therefore, whilst the incident may have been spectacular, and in some ways humorous, it must not be forgotten that that pilotless aircraft represented a great danger to public life and limb. I hope that the Department of Civil Aviation will confer with the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy and the Department of Air in order to evolve some system, which can be financed out of this amount of nearly £4,500,000, which will enable the services to bring clown expeditiously any pilotless 50 milesanhour aeroplane which is endangering the public.
There are other matters in the Estimates which provide interesting reading for a student of finance. I notice that the proposed votes for the Department of Trade and Customs provide for an amount of £14,000 for law costs. Last year the amount voted was £2,000, and the actual expenditure was £1,504. This year’s estimate represents a tremendous increase. I do not know what has been responsible for the increase. Has the department been defeated in the courts and had to pay costs to the successful litigants? What is the reason for this tremendous increase? I think the committee is entitled to know, and I hope that the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs will give us some indication of it. An increase of £12,000 is no small increase in one year in respect of law costs, even allowing for the exorbitant fees charged by all kinds of lawyers.
Last year £15,800 was provided for the Prices Branch of the Department of Trade and Customs and the actual expenditure was £13,578. That is a sorry commentary on the Government’s policy generally in regard to control of prices. No effective steps have been taken to control prices, and this year there has been no provision for the expenditure of even a penny in an endeavour to prevent the increase of prices and costs of basic commodities which is reflected in the cost of living.
Mr. Hulme interjecting.
– I hate to be interrupted by humorous interjections such as the honorable member for Petrie is constantly making. But I point out to him, as an accountant, that, in relation to prices, the Government, by its failure to allocate even one penny towards the establishment of an administrative organization to safeguard the people against exploitation, has shown that it does not care what course inflation takes, or what will be its effect upon the wage earner or the person who is dependent on social services benefits. Perhaps the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), who represents the Minister for Trade and Customs, will tell us why the Government has not displayed any interest in rising prices and spiralling inflation.
I note that, despite the statement of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) that we must curtail spending- and no doubt the Government has spent its money better than anybody else - almost without exception the proposed votes that are under discussion reveal increased expenditure for all types of services and activities associated with the administration of the departments in question. Possibly the Treasurer was earnest in his intention to curtail expenditure, but why does he not set a practical example? Why does he ask industry and the citizens at large to curtail their expenditure and not to invest money in various ways ? If the Government wants the people to curtail expenditure, and wants industry to curb expansion schemes, why does it not set an example by reducing its own expenditure ? For instance, in the proposed vote for the Department of Health, provision is made for the expenditure of £1,178,000 for stores and plant, as against £520,000 last year. I should like the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) to tell us, if he can, why there should be such a tremendous increase in that item. If one goes right through these items, one discovers that, despite the Treasurer’s request that expenditure should be curtailed, there is a tremendous increase in the proposed expenditure on almost every one. There are many items of expenditure, including wages and ordinary running costs, for which no explanation is forthcoming. The committee might well be informed why they are necessary, and what effective effort the Government is making to implement its own policy of reducing unnecessary expenditure to safeguard the economy.
I repeat that I am delighted, not only for my own benefit but also for the benefit of others, to note that the Ministers who are responsible for the departments now under discussion are in the chamber. They will be able to hear at first hand the criticisms that we offer, and to explain why certain votes are being increased and what is the policy of the Government in relation to various other matters. I ask those Ministers to give consideration to the views that I have expressed, particularly in relation to items that are included in the proposed votes for the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Customs. I could not conclude my remarks without emphasizing the necessity for the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley), who is about to rise to his feet, to assure us that never again in this country, whilst he is Minister for Civil Aviation, will an aeroplane take off without a pilot and fail to be brought down by the united efforts of our defence services. I hope that the honorable gentleman will explain the incident to the committee, and that he will be able to assure us that the money that is being expended on civil aviation is not being wasted, as most of us fear, but is being used in an effective manner to give us a worthy civil aviation service, and to maintain a record which I understand is one of the best in the world. I must say that I was somewhat perturbed by that episode to which I have referred.
– It is not my intention at this late hour to discuss the proposed vote for the Department of Civil Aviation, but 1 feel that I should rise for a few moments to reply to some of the comments of th»honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) about the incident that occurred at Bankstown recently. The honorable mem ber has made rather light of it, but ] should like to point out to him that it could have had very serious consequences. If that aircraft had dropped on to a hospital, into a busy street, or on to a school or similar building, a serious tragedy could have occurred. The officer? of the Department of Civil Aviation acted with speed and with the most commendable efficiency. They alerted the public of Sydney through the broadcasting stations, and they kept track of the aircraft wherever it went. They kept the police, fire brigades and all the emergency services informed so that, if the worst happened and the aircraft spun in, the emergency services of Sydney would be able to go into operation immediately. Moreover, the airlines were warned. It was possible that the pilotless plane could have collided with a commercial aircraft that was flying about with a load of passengers. I wish to emphasize that the officers of the Department of Civil Aviation acted with commendable efficiency, and that they did everything that was right.
The honorable member referred to the participation of the Royal Australian Air Force in this incident. The proposed vote for the Royal Australian Air Force is not before us, but I think that you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, might allow me to touch upon the point that was made by the honorable member. Let me emphasize that the Air Force did everything that was right and sensible. The Air Force, knowing that the aircraft in question was a very slow one, naturally sent up the slowest aircraft that it had, which was a Wirraway. I repeat that the Air Force did what was right. When that aircraft got up to 7,000 or 8,000 feet, the man who was to operate the gun found that, because of the cold, he could not do so. He did the correct thing; he called up one of the fighters from the Williamtown base where fighter aircraft were ready to go into action within a reasonable time. Within six minutes of receiving the report, a jet lighter aircraft was on the way. The pilot of that aircraft did everything that was right, but he experienced plain bad luck when there was a stoppage in his gun. He did not panic and call out the whole Air Force. There were a couple of Navy fighter aircraft nearby and he said to the pilots of those aircraft, “ Will you please come and shoot down this aeroplane?”
I deplore the contemptuous references that have been made to the Royal Australian Air Force, particularly to 77 Squadron, which is one of the most gallant fighter squadrons that this country has ever had. Throughout the budget debate, and again to-night, we have heard these contemptuous references to the Air Force, and particularly to the members of 77 Squadron. In conclusion, when I think of that little aeroplane away up in the clouds with nothing in it but a bit of gas, with nobody at the controls, and with a close association with Bankstown, I cannot help thinking of the Australian. Labour party!
– The remarks of the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley) were very interesting. When considering the proposed expenditure of the Department of Civil Aviation, the question of Government policy comes into the picture quite a lot. We know that a very large sum is being expended on civil aviation. Quite apart from the joking attitude of the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), when he referred to the chasing of the pilotless aircraft that flew over Sydney, we know that the Department of Civil Aviation does not possess aeroplanes for the purpose of intercepting such aircraft. The Department provide? navigation and other facilities for the safe use of aircraft, and builds and maintains the aerodromes on which they land. It is not concerned with the conveyance of people or freight in aircraft. Honorable members will remember that, some years ago, there was a great dispute over the payments that were made to the department for the services that it rendered. When this Government came into office, it went into the matter. There was an argument about the position of Trans-Australia Airlines and about the amounts owing by Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited in respect of services provided for it. We know that the Government formulated a policy. That policy is that the Department of Civil Aviation shall do everything possible to make air travel in this country safe, and that the operating companies shall not be required to pay anything like the amount necessary to cover the cost of the airports, navigational aids and other services provided for them. I do not desire to discuss the matter of the subsidies that are, in effect, paid to the airways companies under that policy. The contention is that the railways of this country also are subsidized by the Commonwealth. For instance, a considerable proportion of the grant made by the Commonwealth to South Australia is used to offset the deficit in the budget resulting from the operations of the railways in that State. Some people agree with the Government’s policy in relation to civil aviation, and others do not agree. Personally, I do not altogether agree with it. I believe that commercial undertakings, when they are provided by the
Government with a service which is of value to them, should bear a reasonable proportion of the cost.
Generally speaking, the task of the Department of Civil Aviation is to make conditions in this country safe for flying. The Public Accounts Committee has been investigating the work of the department, and I think it is only fair to tell the people of Australia that the committee believes that the department is doing everything possible to make air travel in Australia as safe as it can be made. Expensive navigational aids are being installed, and the money for them has to be provided by the Government. Although I question whether it is right and proper that the airways companies should get the advantage of those navigational aids without paying what I believe to be reasonable charges, I feel that I can tell the people of this country, who are so air-minded and are making so much use of their civil aviation services, that the department is doing everything it possibly can to make air travel safe in the Commonwealth. I believe that it is doing a very good job.
I want to refer to the Estimates for the electoral branch of the Department of the Interior. This evening, an honorable member complained about the condition of the air at the back of the chamber, and about the lighting. If that complaint about the lighting in the chamber is justified, I do not know what we can say about the lighting provided for the electors when they go to the polling booths to record their votes. I say, in all seriousness to the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), that it is high time that more was done by the electoral branch to improve conditions in polling booths. We talk about the wonderful rights that we enjoy in Australia. We talk about democracy and we boast that our people can elect the men and women whom they want to represent them in Parliament. Therefore, we should ensure that the people will have a reasonable opportunity to record their votes correctly. Conditions in polling booths throughout the country have been deplorable, not only during the life of this Government, but also under the administration of other governments.
I have been to the electoral office in my district to complain about this matter.
I suppose that every honorable member has received complaints about polling booths. When people go to record their votes, they find, generally speaking, that the electoral officers have put boards together to make small cubicles about 2 ft. 6 in. wide, round the wall of the building in which the polling is taking place. There is just enough room for a. voter in the cubicle. He sees a little shelf in front of him and a pencil with which to mark his ballot-paper. Generally, the only light comes from thf middle of the room. Voters are shut in on both sides by boards. The only light comes from behind them and a shadow is thrown on the voting papers. If a man’s sight is at all weak, he cannot distinguish the names of the persons for whom he wants to vote.
– That has not done much damage to the honorable member.
– It has done alot of damage to me, and I feel it very keenly. If proper lighting had been provided, many votes would not have been informal, but would have been cast for me, as the electors intended. With proper lighting, perhaps I should have had bigger majorities. However, the important question is not whether the lighting affects my majorities, but whether, when we compel people to vote, we should provide enough light in thf polling booths to enable them to mark their ballot-papers properly.
The presiding officer at one booth told me that, to improve the lighting, he had taken electric light globes to the booth to replace the globes that had been installed in the building. I hope that my remarks on this subject will stir the electoral branch to do something in time for the next general election. I do not know how long the officials of the branch will have to do the job. When the polling booths will be needed again is the 64 dollar question, as I think it is called. We all should like to know when the next general election will be held, so that we can prepare accordingly. I hope that the Department of the Interior will take this matter up, and instruct every electoral officer that he must make every possible effort to provide adequate lighting in the polling booths so that the people will be able to see the names written on the ballot-papers and cast their votes for the candidates whom they wish to be elected.
I wish to refer now to another electoral matter. In my electorate, people have had to travel for quite long distances to cast their votes because the electoral branch has not been able to obtain suitable buildings, for use as polling booths in the districts in which they live. The electoral branch could well consider the possibility of using caravans or tents as polling booths in some places. As we have made it compulsory for people to vote, I think we should make some provision for them to record their votes at places reasonably nea)’ their homes.
There is another matter about, which I am not altogether happy. It affects the Department of Health. I know that the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) takes a great interest in the matter of the life-saving drugs that should be provided free of charge. I know of medical men who believed firmly that their patients should have certain drugs, but they did not prescribe them because the drugs were not on the free list and they knew the patients could not afford to buy them. The Minister may ask me to tell him the drugs concerned. I admit that I am not able to do so, but I do know that people come to me continually and complain that they have not been able to take advantage of certain very expensive drugs which their medical men have said are necessary for them. I admit that free lifehaving drugs have been a wonderful boon to the people. I know that many patients are now being treated with special drugs which previously they could not use because they could not afford to buy them. T know also that many medical men are now prescribing drugs which are doing their patients a lot of good, but if those drugs were not supplied free by the Government, the doctors would not prescribe them, because their patients could not afford to buy them. Every effort should be made to make these drugs available. In the past I have approached the Minister in regard to certain drugs, and he has informed me that his medical officers, who went into the matter very carefully, found that the inclusion of the drugs on the free list was not necessary or desirable. I am not arguing about that, because he has explained some of the circumstances to me. Any drug which could be of benefit to the people should be made available. I do not know whether the Minister can give an assurance that he examines any claims made as to the life-saving or health-restoring properties which are claimed in respect of new drugs. He may be able to give me that assurance. People ask me from time to time why they have to pay for some drugs which they think should be provided free of charge.
I do not desire to mention other matters. I have mentioned those I specially wanted remedied. I hope that the Minister for the Interior will consider my remarks about lighting in polling booths and see whether it is possible to improve conditions in some of these places.
– I am very glad indeed to notice that the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), after a very diligent search of the proposed votes for the Department of Health, could find only one item to criticize, namely, “ Stores and Plant, £1,178,000”, the vote for which has been increased by some £600,000. It gives me great pleasure to say that that increase is almost entirely due to provision being made for the new poliomyelitis vaccine to be made available for the people of Australia. It will be supplied free by the Government to the States, which will do the work of vaccination. I do not think that anybody in this chamber would say that we should not make that provision. I have been importuned by numerous people, by State governments, by organizations, and I think by every honorable member on behalf of local governing bodies, in this connexion. The honorable member for Grayndler may rest assured that if that is the only item he can criticize in the proposed votes for the Department of Health, we have a very good answer indeed.
The matter raised by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) in regard to the utilization of various drugs, is one which is worthy of explanation. There are, of course, hundreds and thousands of drugs, some very good, some no good at all, and some made only for sale and not for any real effect. A great deal of discrimination has therefore to be exercised, because, after all, it is the public’s money which is being spent in providing these drugs and we have to make certain that we obtain proper value for it. In order to enable that to be done, the National Health Act provides that the Minister may not himself decide which drugs shall be included on the free’ list or on the pensioner list. That decision may be made only on the recommendation of a group of specialists who are expert in this matter and who can give an opinion which carries weight throughout Australia.Drugs have been prescribed by certain doctors for the treatment of various diseases. The experts have said that they are of value for the treatment of certain cases, but for general use they are most dangerous and therefore great care must be taken in their use. Cortisone has caused us a tremendous amount of worry, because in many cases it has the effect of an irritant poison. It is one of the most dangerous drugs which can be used. Only recently medical men have brought to my notice the fact that it is being used in cases where it should not be used, and have suggested that it should not be prescribed by doctors and dispensed by chemists unless its use has been recommended by two consultants of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. This advice is in accordance with information I obtained on my visit to the Mayo Institute at Rochester when this drug was discovered. I was taken to see every specialist and was told that what we are doing in Australia in respect of cortisone is the wisest thing being done in any country in the world. Certain other drugs which are prescribed are not on the free list, and upon examination we find that they are virtually identical with other drugs which are on the list, and if a little more care was exercised by the prescriber they could be obtained free.
Still other drugs are prescribed which ought not to be on any list. I am interested to find that the authorities in England are very worried indeed about what is happening there in connexion with the issue ofproprietary medicines.
In fact, they are discussing whether they shall remove them completely from the list.We refrained from including them at the very beginning because of the trouble in the United Kingdom, but despite that decision our bill for free lifesaving drugs continues to rise.Wedo not mind that as long as the job we set out to do is being done, that is, ensuring that people receive these very powerful, and in some instances expensive, drugs, when the treatment of their ailments actually requires their use. 1 am satisfied with the effect of the strong antibiotics in cutting short diseases like incipient pneumonia, which in the old days may have involved three or four weeks in hospital, with a further period of convalescence, but which now may frequently be cured in a couple of days at home. Hospital beds are thus saved for other people who are sick, and we arc short of hospital beds. In addition, people are back at work and carrying on a normal life in the community week? earlier than would otherwise have been possible. We have evidence over four or five years that this method of treatment is actually paying for itself, and in addition people are seeking earlier diagnosis and treatment, with quicker results and shorter periods of illness, and many lives indeed are saved. That is the purpose of these drugs. They are not intended to be exploited or wasted by wrongful use. We have to impose checks. They are professional checks which, I assure the honorable member for Port Adelaide,are carried out by the best experts we can possibly obtain. We are very careful indeed in this respect.
House adjourned at10.59 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
n asked the Prime Minister. upon notice -
Willhetable the reports of theJointParliamentary War Expenditure Committee, containing findings of extensive frauds by a Bankstown contractor, Raymond Fitzpatrick, in relation to supplies of materials for the Captain Cook graving dock and other vital defence undertakings ?
– For the reasons which I gave the House last Tuesday I do not propose to table the reports.
Royal Australian Navy.
s. - On the 13th September, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) asked me the following question : -
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 he an investigation or search for a possible port in the north of Australia for beef exports.
I now supply the following information : -
H.M.A.S. Warrego carried out a survey of the Gulf of Carpentaria in June, 1055, to ascertain whether it wouldbe possible to construct a port or provide for beach landingfacilities and to make possible a more rational approach to the long-term development of that area. Reconnaissance of the -southern shore of the Gulf nf Carpentaria between Calvert. River and Baily Point indicates there is no possibility of wharf site or beach landing site. All inlets are cut off by drying sand banks and the surroundings and the situation generally are very much as previously reported by Captain Flinders.
b asked the Minister acting for the Treasurer, upon notice -
As sales tax adds up to162/3 per cent. to the price of many articles, will he, with a view to reducing prices, consider reductions in the rates of this tax?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
Only a small proportion of the total sales nf goods is subject to sales tax at the rate nf162/3 per cent. A very wide range of goods is exempt from tax. Most taxable goods are taxed at the rate of 12½ per cent., and household furniture is taxed at the minimum rate of 10 per cent. The tax is calculated on the wholesale sale value of goods and not on the retail sale price. The question whether the rates of tax should be reducedwas very fully examined during the preparation nf the budget, having regard to the present state of the economy. For the reasons explained in some detail in the budget speech of the Treasurer, it was decided not to make taxation concessions in this financial year.
z asked the Minister repre senting the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
The whole responsibility for atomic energy research liaison with the United Kingdom ha.been transferred from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. Answers to the questions therefore are -
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is not for this reason any longer responsible for providing scientists as research workers in the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Research establish ment at Harwell.
Since this is so, the second questionis being referred to the Minister in charge of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.
z asked the Minister representing the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
De-salting of Water.
z asked the Minister representing the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Tuberculosis in Asia.
z asked the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs. upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
b asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Will he advise whether consideration has yet been given to the recommendation of the Tariff Board that films produced especially for children be admitted free of duty, irrespective of origin?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished the following answer to the honorable member’s question: -
The Tariff Board’s report on films produced especially for viewing by children was tabled in the Parliament on the 28th October, 1954. On the same day a tariff proposal was introduced into the Parliament providing for the admission of these films free of duty from all countries, subject to prescribed conditions, a? recommended by the Tariff Board.
– On the 13th September, Mr. Webb asked the following question : -
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 approximately ls. per lb. I If this is so. bearing in mind the hardship that will be caused to pensioners, basic wage earners and others on fixed incomes, will the Prime Minister consider reintroducing the subsidy on tea in order to keep down the cost nf living?
The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished the following answer to the honorable member’s question : -
In regard to the first part of the question. I would point out that the fixation of tea prices is not now a matter over which the Commonwealth Government has any control. I understand, however, that the retail price of tea was, in fact, increased quite recentlyIn answer to the second part of the question, involving as it does a matter of policy, I feel I can say no more than that the Government does not at this stage propose to consider reintroduction of subsidy on tea.
e asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
b asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
In view of the significance of the town of Guildford in the early history of Western Australia and as, originally, Perth airport was known as Guildford airport and is referred to by that name in preference to Perth airport, will he consider changing the name to Guildford ?
– In accordance with accepted overseas practice, the Department of Civil Aviation several years ago adopted the policy that an aerodrome should be known by the principal town or city which it serves. As the airport established at Guildford was the primary airport for Perth, it was under that policy designated officially as the Perth airport. You will appreciate that an airport is more readily identified by pilots and passengers, and particularly ones from over seas, if designated by the place name which appears on small-scale maps that are available throughout the world. Having regard to the policy, and being cognizant of the factors which led to its adoption, I could not agreed to any change in the present official name of Perth airport.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 September 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1955/19550920_reps_21_hor7/>.