21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Yesterday, the Prime Minister was good enough to make a short statement relating to the directives issued by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in relation to the advances policy to be observed by the trading banks operating in the Commonwealth. I now ask him if he can supplement that statement by telling the House whether the current directive to which he referred is a statutory directive under the Banking Act, or a simple request not having statutory powers. In any event, could he do what was done by the present Treasurer some yearsago, and make the terms of thedirectly available to the House, and to thecountry, so that persons dealing with the banks may know what policy is to be pursued, and govern their actions accordingly?
– I shall be glad to acquaint the House with whatever information on the subject is available. The right honorable gentleman will understand that I cannot answer his question offhand.
– Has the Minister for Civil Aviation recently seen, or heard of, a statement made by the DirectorGeneral of Civil Aviation, to the effect that some important safeguards in relation to our air services had not been installed, whilst others were obsolete? Can he say whether those anomalies have been caused by the economic situation, or are there some other reasons for them? If there are other reasons, what are they ? Can he also say what proposals are in train for the immediate raising of the efficiency and safety of that part of our air services to which the Director-General of Civil Aviation referred?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable member has referred, but I can say that air safety aids in Australia are. extremely good. The very fact that we have gone for three and a half years without an accident to commercial aircraft is evidence of that fact. It is true that some of the equipment is not. quite up to date. I refer particularly to the provision for blind landing. We have not the latest equipment for blind landing at all aerodromes, but it is being installed at the major airports - Sydney, Melbourne and others. Progressively, such equipment will be installed at all the major airports of Australia. The honorable member, and the people of Australia generally, can be assured that nothing that concerns the safety of air travel in Australia is neglected.
– Could the Prime Minister supply honorable members with a copy of the proposed agreement on housing with the States? The position is that different versions of it in press reports are misleading the public in relation to the actual provisions of the agreement. For instance, one newspaper states that 50 per cent. of the houses that will be built under the agreement will have to be rented to ex-servicemen. Another newspaper puts the figure at 10 per cent. Whereas one newspaper states that 20 per cent. of the houses will go to building societies, another states that they will go to either building societies or other approved bodies. I think the public generally is being misled, and it would be of advantage if the right honorable gentleman could make available to honorable members a statement of the correct position on which honorable members could inform their constituents accordingly.
– I have already arranged to have the full text distributed to honorable members this morning.
– Has the Minister for the Interior any information regarding the new mathematical method of weather forecasting which has been developed in the United Kingdom and the United States of America ? As it is claimed that the numerical forecasting method improves speed and accuracy in the compilation of weather charts, will the Minister arrange for a study to be made of the method in order to discover whether it could be applied to Australian conditions?
-The numerical prediction method of weather forecasting is still in the developmental stage in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and I should say that at the moment it is certainly not possible to state with any assurance that an improvement of either speed or accuracy in the compilation of weather charts is achieved by this particular method. However, arrangements have been made by our own meteorological authorities to keep in very close touch with those developments overseas and to receive all the latest advice on the results of experiments that are taking place. I can assure the honorable member that, as soon as it has been proved that we could improve the speed and accuracy of the compilation of weather charts by this method, we shall endeavour to adopt it here.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Health by saying that this morning I had brought to my notice the case of an age pensioner whoso medical adviser ordered him into hospital. In the area in which the pensioner lives the only hospital available is a private hospital where the fee is, at the least. £10 10s. a week. I ask the Minister whether the Government, in the case of age pensioner hospital patients, pays anything beyond the hospital benefit of8s. a day. I ask that question particularly as the age pensioner concerned claims - I cannot check the accuracy of this matter at this stage - that advice has been received from the benefits society to which he has been subscribing that, having become an age pensioner, he no longer is eligible for benefit.
– The agreement with the States provides that the Commonwealth shall pay to the States 12s. a day in respect of each age pensioner in a public hospital ward bed, and that was regarded as the only amount that would be paid to the hospital for the treatment of the pensioner. That arrangement was made with theStates themselves. No special arrangement has been madewith the benefit organizations or private- hospitals.
– Has the Minister for Defence, who is the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs, seen the report of a statement made by the Chief Minister of the Government of Singapore that that Government is not optimistic about the Communists relaxing their efforts to take the strategic island of Singapore by aggressive means? If he has seen the statement, will he not say that it is a further justification of the action of the Australian Government in sending Australian troops to Malaya, showing again that the Opposition is once again on the wrong leg?
– I have seen various statements made by the Chief Minister in Malaya and it is true, I think, that the response to the amnesty offered by the authorities to the Communists has not been so good as was expected, but he himself is desirous that time be given-
– The honorable gentleman referred in his question to Singapore, and not to the Federation of Malaya.
– I have not seen that statement, but, in any case, the terrorists in Singapore are very few indeed. The terrorists are mainly located in Malaya, and so I do not think that question arise. But we have advice that both the Chief Minister in Singapore and the Chief Minister in Malaya, particularly the latter, welcome the arrival of Australian troops in that area.
– Is it a fact that the Chief Minister, to whom the honorable member for Lyne referred, has, on more than one occasion, expressed his opinion that it is not desirable in the interests of Malaya or of Australia for Australian troops to go to Malaya?
– Certain reports have appeared in the press to the effect that the Chief Minister in Singapore has made statements to the effect indicatedby the Leader ofthe Opposition. Whether those reports are correct or not I do not know, but I assure the House that we have no reason to believe that the Chief Minister in Singapore is against the proposal to send Australian troops to Malaya.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs whether, in view of statements that are current to the effect that freedom of movement in Russia is now accorded more generally to people not of Russian nationality, he is in a position to make a statement about the restrictions, if any, that are imposed in Russia on the movement of non-Russians, both diplomats and non-diplomats. Are there not, in fact, very large areas of Russia which are forbidden to non-Russians? Will the Minister produce as soon as possible a map showing those areas, and the restrictions which are currently imposed by the Russian Government on the movement of foreigners to them and in them ?
- -I know that there are certain restrictions still remaining - and quite substantial ones - upon entry into and travel within Russia. I shall ascertain just what information we have about that matter, or what information can be obtained, and if possible I shall give that information to the honorable member, together with the map that he has asked for.
– Is the Minister for Civil Aviation aware of the extraordinary length of time taken to convey Canberra and Melbourne passengers from the Williamtown aerodrome to Newcastle? It takes at least an hour and twenty minutes to get from the aerodrome to Newcastle. Because many passengers have expressed the opinion that they will not use the service again until a better system of transport has been arranged, will the Minister endeavour to improve the transport system between the Williamtown aerodrome and Newcastle?
– The honorable member raised this matter with me some time ago, and I made inquiries from the airline concerned - Trans-Australia Airlines - and was assured that that organization was doing everything it could to transport its passengers to Newcastle as quickly as possible. The difficulty is that there is a punt crossing between the aerodrome and Newcastle, and sometimes the airline bus arrives at the punt crossing just after the punt has left. Consequently, the bus has to wait until the punt has discharged its cargo on the other side of the stream and has returned. The punt crossing is not under the control of the Department of Civil Aviation, and ] believe that in order to improve the transport service we must get the co-operation of the local authorities.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Social Services by pointing out that under the law of New South Wales it is extremely difficult for people who let their houses to obtain possession of their property or to get a reasonable rent. Has the attention of the Minister been directed to the circumstances of aged and thrifty people who, because they are in possession of cottages, are placed beyond the property limit, and who, because of the effect of these unjust laws, are prevented from receiving a decent income from those buildings or from selling them at, say, the Valuer-General’s valuation? Has his attention been directed to the hardships that have been inflicted upon these people who are unable to obtain the age pension, to realize on their assets, or to obtain a decent income from rents? Can he inform the House what steps might he taken, in consultation with the New South Wales Government, to amend the law in order to afford some relief to these people who are trying to obtain a stake in the country?
– I am afraid that very little can be expected from the New South Wales Government to assist these very thrifty people who have invested their money in houses and who now, because of the operation of State laws, are unable to obtain possession of them. The honorable gentleman will be glad to know that ‘recently this Government introduced an amendment of the social services legislation to provide that when, because of the operation of a State law. an owner cannot obtain possession of his house, the Director.General of Social Services may admit the house at a substantially lower valuation, than would normally be permitted. In other words, he is empowered to admit a valuation that would be much lower than the Valuer-General’s valuation. This means that if the value of the house is reduced and it comes within the property limit imposed by the social services law, that person will be able to obtain a pension. If the honorable gentleman wants further information on this very important subject, I shall be only too happy to prepare a memorandum for him. If he knows of any special cases that he would like to refer to the department, I should be only too happy to ensure that they receive immediate attention.
– Can the Minister for Social Services explain the reason for the recent change of the policy of the War Service Homes Division in Hobart? E have been inundated with applications from ex-servicemen who have been assured, by written communication from the division, of financial assistance, which was to have been approved between September and December of this year. Recently, those applicants have been notified that no further action will be taken on their applications before approximately December, 1956 - an extension of twelve months. Will the Minister ascertain the reason for that extension, and make a statement to the House in respect of war service homes administration in Tasmania?
– In recent months, the number of applications for war service homes has risen substantially. That is understandable, because the terms under which war service homes loans may be obtained are much better than those of any other lending organization. The honorable gentleman no doubt knows that the amount of the advance for certain kinds of homes has been increased from £2,000 to £2,750. Consequently, the amount of the average loan this year will rise from £2,250 to £2,600. As a result of those two facts, it has been necessary to extend what is called the waiting period for homes. That applies, not only to Tasmania, but also to the rest of Australia. Several of my colleagues have asked me to make a statement on this matter to the House, and I hope to be able to do so when the proposed vote for the Department of Social Services is being considered. I should like to point out that during this year 11,100 homes will be provided for ex-servicemen, and that £30,000,000 will be advanced to enable them to obtain homes. Honorable members who have been in the Parliament for any length of time will know that £30,000,000 is substantially more money than has ever been provided before by any government, except on one. occasion, and on that occasion the money was provided also by the Menzies Government. More homes have been provided by this Government since it has been in office than were provided in the whole previous history of war service homes.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that the trunk lines to Brisbane are heavily overloaded and that telephone operators will no longer accept bookings for calls at fixed times between Brisbane and the south, thus causing considerable delay and inconvenience to callers? Will the Minister look into this matter to see whether the service between Brisbane and the south can be improved?
– The honorable member has stated the facts correctly. There have been some delays on the BrisbaneSydney service. They have been due, in the main, to a very heavy increase of traffic. In the last eight or nine months, traffic on the trunk lines between Brisbane and Sydney has increased by about 20 per cent. Consequently, it has not been possible to handle all calls expeditiously with the existing equipment. However, the department is trying to solve the problem. It is expected that about twelve additional trunk line channels will have been installed by about the end of November of this year and another twelve by about the middle of April of next year. Every effort is being made to rectify the position. In the meantime, fixed time calls are being accepted, but we cannot always guarantee that the calls will be put through at the appointed time.
– Will the Minister for the Army tell the House whether any member of the Australian Regular Army will be sent to Malaya against his will ?
– The honorable gentleman asked me that question a week ago. On that occasion, I told him that I was astounded that a member of this House who knew that it was the obligation of this Government to defend Australia had asked such a crazy question. Every man who joins-
– The honorable member’s deputy leader said he was stupid.
– I did not. I asked, What is the answer ?
– The answer, as the honorable gentleman should know, is that every man who joins the Permanent Army volunteers to serve his country anywhere in the world.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Supply, arises from an answer that the Minister gave yesterday, in which he referred to the activities of an aluminium company that is co-operating with the Australian Government in research in Wessell Island. Will the Minister say whether that company is undertaking any other developmental activity in the north of this country ?
– In 1950, this Government entered into an agreement with the British Aluminium Company Limited to form a joint company, called the New Guinea Resources Development Company Limited, in which the Commonwealth had a 51 per cent. share interest and the company a 49 per cent. interest. Speaking from memory, I think the capital of the joint company was £100,000 to start with. The purpose of the company was to investigate the possibility of generating hydro-electric power in New Guinea, with the ultimate object if it were proved that hydro-electric power could be generated economically in sufficiently large quantities, to develop a great aluminium smelter. Honorable gentlemen will remember that at that time there was a good deal of doubt about the Volta River scheme. Anyhow, it was clear that aluminium consumption was rising rapidly throughout the world, and that the supply could not cope with the demand. The joint company has gone ahead. Its work is being done in three stages. The first stage was a general survey of river systems in west Papua that might be suitable for the generation of hydro-electric power. That stage was completed. Some time afterwards, we increased the capital of the company by mutual contributions on the same basis as before. Then the second stage was entered upon. That stage was the examination of two particular river systems. I cannot remember the native names, but one river system in particular was thought to be capable of yielding something like 80 megawatts and another one, the Purari River system, was thought to be capable of yielding something like 300 megawatts of power, not at present but in the ultimate future. We are reaching the conclusion of stage II., and indications show that in the first river system we shall be able to get 80 megawatts of power and, it is hoped, on a very economical basis. We have had great difficulty with it because the automatic measuring systems which were instituted were interfered with and broken down by the primitive native tribes in the area. The terrain is a very difficult one. It is only by canoe, by pack or by helicopter that one is able to get about in that country. Nevertheless, we are approaching the end of stage II. Stage III. entails an examination of a particular scheme recommended to produce 80 megawatts of power and, later, 300 megawatts of power. It would involve the erection of dams, generators and gigantic smelters and would be a very expensive business. No policy decision can be made about that until it has been closely examined and until we have the data before us. Then decisions will have to be made as to who, if any one, is to do it, where the money is to come from, and so forth. But a pattern is emerging of the possibility of developing great hydro-electric power in West Papua which would support another large aluminium industry to service the rapidly increasing demands throughout the world ; and it would, we hope, if it comes to fruition, obtain its bauxite from the rich deposits of northern Australia.
– By way of preface to my question, which I direct to the Minister for the Navy, I should like to say that the assumption governing Australian naval defence when it was decided to have a large fleet of carriers and fast destroyers was that the main naval opposition in the event of war would be submarines. Since that time, however, there have been immense technical developments in respect of submarines enabling them to remain submerged for very long periods. Is the Minister in a position to make any statement concerning any change in assumptions governing naval defence, having regard to technical advances in atomic weapons and technical advances in gas turbine engines? What consideration, if any, has been given to equipping the Royal Australian Navy with helicopters as an antisubmarine weapon, having regard to their high speed and capacity to hover, using listening devices and sonar equipment in water ?
– The foundation on which the honorable member for Fremantle has based his question is quito correct. The Australian naval forces have been designed up to date in the main to resist fast-moving submarines and those which can be submerged for an indefinite period. There are many devices that the British navy, the United States navy, and the Australian Navy have for meeting that problem, but they are on the secret list, and the honorable gentleman cannot expect me to answer questions about them. In respect of the other matter raised by the honorable member, we have five helicopters at present and there are on order more modern helicopters which will be delivered later. We do not require them immediately because those which we have are adequate for training purposes. The more fastmoving and long-distance flying helicopters are oh. order and will be available if and when required in the event of hostilities.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration. By way of explanation, let me say that I have found that there is considerable confusion amongst immigrants who have been naturalized. I understand that the names of children under the age of sixteen years are included on their parent/ naturalization certificate. When they are older, there are occasions when they need, their own naturalization certificates. Many of them are unaware that they may obtain a certificate. I should like theMinister to inform the House, for theinformation of these people, whether they may obtain individual naturalization certificates, and if so, under what conditionsand what procedure is followed.
– Until recent times it wasthe practice to include on the naturalization certificate of the parent the names of the minor children of that parent- Recently, we have amended the arrangements so that a child of or above the age of sixteen years receives a separate naturalization certificate at the time of the ceremony at which the parent is naturalized. I realize that that does not touch upon the case of a child who reaches the age of sixteen years subsequent to the naturalization of the parent, but it is open to any child, whose name has been included on a parent’s certificate, after reaching the age of sixteen years, to apply for a separate document indicating that he is a naturalized person. No charge is made for the certificate and it is open to any minor in that situation to apply for and receive it.
– Does he become a citizen as from the date of the original naturalization ceremony?
– He becomes a citizen as from the time the parent is naturalized.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. If an existing post office has been included in the departmental schedule of works approved for urgent attention, can the Minister state the approximate time lagbefore the works are commenced? I cite the example of a suburban post office, the Fitzroy post office in Melbourne, which was included in such a schedule over five years ago, and as nothing has been done to date, will the Minister give urgent consideration to commencing the necessary work on this post office immediately ?
– I could not give an answer in regard to a particular post office, because I do not know the facts connected with it. We certainly try to complete as much work as we can, but very frequently when works are included on the schedule it is not possible, for very many reasons, to carry them out. When the Postal Department includes the works on the schedule, it becomes a matter for the Department of Works to complete them. Cuts in finances, the need for completion of other works of higher priority, and various other reasons frequently prevent the completion of scheduled works. If the honorable member will let me have the facts about the post office he has mentioned, I shall have the matter investigated.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy a question without notice, which arises from his recent statement to the press that H.M.A.S.Quickmatch, after conversion to a fast frigate, will be commissioned to-morrow. He also referred to the need for the Royal Australian Navy to build up its anti-submarine forces. Will the Minister make a comprehensive statement about the present state of the ships and air squadrons of the Royal Australian Navy, and the immediate and long-term plans, both for ships in commission and for ships in reserve? I remind the honorable gentleman that he made such a statement some years ago, during his first term as Minister for the Navy, but so far as I can recall no comprehensive statement of that sort has been made since, so that institutions like the Navy League of Australia and others interested in the Navy remain in a state of somewhat unblissful ignorance. I assure the Minister that such a statement would be received with great interest.
– I have a prepared statement which covers the main points raised by the honorable member, and I am looking forward to the opportunity of delivering it. As the time for debate on the service Estimates is subject to the “guillotine”, and I am aware that many honorable members wish to make some contribution to that discussion, I shall make my statement with that fact in mind.
– As Chairman, I present the report of the Public Works Committee on the following subject : -
The proposed extension of wharf facilities at Darwin, Northern Territory.
Ordered to be printed.
Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. C. F.
Adermann). - I have received from the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Lemmon) an intimation that he desires to submit a definite matter of urgent public importance to the House for discussion, namely -
The decisions of the Government to recommend to the States increases in the interest rates charged under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, to recommend to the States the abolition of the rental rebate system, to recommend to the States reduction in the money allocated to the State Housing Commission, and the consequent undermining of confidence in the building industry.
Is the proposal supported?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the proposal,
.- One of the gravest social problems confronting Australia is that of housing. It has been particularly acute over the last ten years, and I doubt whether it will be solved within the next decade. Because the Australian Labour party recognized that the shortage of homes was responsible for an increase in the number of divorces, for broken homes and the limitation of families, a Labour government, in 1944, brought into being the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Building of homes under its terms began in 1945, and since that time approximately 100,000 dwellings have been erected.
– Order ! There is too much audible conversation.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) put -
That the business of the day be called on.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Supply: Considera tion resumed from the 21st September (vide page 866).
Department of the Interior.
Proposed vote, £3,633,000.
Proposed vote, £3,535,000.
Proposed vote, £7,719,000.
Proposed vote, £3,905,000.
Proposed vote, £1,362,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- The item about which I wish to speak relates to the Department of Civil Aviation. Of all Commonwealth departments, I have the greatest respect for the Department of Civil Aviation. I represent a rural constituency, and I must pay a tribute to that department for the valuable work that has enabled the people in the outback to have rapid, efficient and safe contact with the capital cities and with the markets of Australia.
When we consider that Australia has such sparsely populated areas compared with other parts of the world, we realize what a tremendous difficulty the Department of Civil Aviation has had to bring aeroplane contact to the people in the outback. From the figures that are available to me, I find that Australia, with its present population, has an average of three people to the square mile, whereas in Europe the population density is 205 people to the square mile. In the United Kingdom, the population density is 535 people to the square mile. When we compare a population density of 535 people to the square mile in the United Kingdom with only that of three people to the square mile in Australia, we realizewhat air traffic means to the people in the outback areas of this country, and we can appreciate the achievement of the department, particularly as Australia has developed its air services, airfields and other amenities, as well as various technical aids, only since 1910. It may not be generally known that the famous American showman, Houdini, was the first person to fly an aircraft in Australia, and that that historic occasion was a? recently as 1910.
The development of aircraft in Australia was perhaps very much in line with that in overseas countries until 1939, when we had sixteen airline companies, operating over 42 domestic routes and flying something like S,000,000 passengermiles per annum. Following the war, the rate of development increased rapidly, with the introduction of more modern aircraft, and through the efficiency of the department. In 1954, on the figures that are available to me, 42,464,000 passengermiles were travelled in Australia. Despite our thinly populated areas, the charge over the whole of those services averaged out at about 5d. a passengermile, which, in comparison with other countries, was a very excellent record indeed. It is, as far as I can discover, the lowest charge in the world for the transport of passengers by air. I find, on analysing the figures in relation to western Europe, which has an area roughly equivalent to the area of Australia, that the charge in that country - reduced by the United Nations to American currency, as a basis - averaged 9 cents a passenger-mile, although western Europe has a population of about 294,000,000 people. The charge in Australia, reduced again to cents, was 4.5 cents a passenger-mile, although our population comprises only about 9,000,000 people.
One of the factors that has contributed considerably to the development of civil aviation in Australia, has been the volume of both passenger traffic and freight traffic available. It is very interesting to note that since 1949, both of those forms of traffic have risen considerably. Indeed, passenger traffic has trebled, and freight traffic has gone up many times. I think the answer is to be found in the average national income per capita in Australia. “We have one of the highest standards of living in the world. Our capacity, as revealed by the United Nations figures for national income, averages out at 820 dollars a head of population, as against 485 dollars in the western European countries. Brazil is another country the area of which is roughly the same as that of Australia. The average in that country was 125 dollars per annum per head of population, [t is because that wealth is in the hands of our people that we have been able to develop our airlines so considerably. The rate of development reflects the very excellent work that this Government has done in keeping stable both the cost of production and the cost of living. Our national income has risen considerably, and the people have the money to spend on this means of transport.
As I have said, air transport means a great deal to the people of Australia, because our distances are very great. For example, the trip from Brisbane to Melbourne, even by the modern trains in Victoria and the second-class trains in New South Wales, still takes two days, compared with four hours by modern aircraft.
– What about the thirdclass trains in Queensland?
– When I refer to Queensland, honorable members will see how distance has been annihilated by aircraft. The distance from the City of Mackay to the City of Brisbane is 600 miles, which is exactly the distance from London to Berlin. Yet the residents of Mackay receive the Brisbane newspapers before breakfast each morning. The metropolitan papers from Brisbane are delivered to the people along with their local newspaper. This is one of the phenomena of modern air traffic. When we realize that an equivalent would be the delivery of London morning papers to the people of Berlin before breakfast, we can appreciate what has been done in the annihilation of distances in Australia by the Department of Civil Aviation.
Whilst I am speaking about Queensland, I wish to make a protest about a matter that is holding back the people of that State from being able to utilize the air services. I refer to the iniquitous air tax which is imposed by the Queensland Government on the people who travel by aeroplane, and on air freight. I do not know of any other place in the world where such an iniquitous tax is imposed on the people. I have said before, but this bears repetition, that if I happened to live in Cairns and desired to get to Brisbane quickly for medical treatment or for some other urgent reason, I would have to pay tax of £4 to the State Government on my return ticket before I boarded an aircraft. That is iniquitous. By means of this tax, the
Queensland Government is extracting from the people of north Queensland something like £1,000,000 each year, simply for the right to travel by aircraft which that Government does not even own.
– Did the honorable member say the Queensland Government ?
– Yes. The Queensland Labour Government is imposing this iniquitous tax on the people of the north. I live in Rockhampton, and air tax of 13s. 6d. is payable in respect of air travel between that city and Brisbane. But in respect of passengers from places further north, a flat rate of 10 per cent, applies. Persons who live in Townsville and Cairns and who wish to get to Brisbane quickly, have to pay air tax of between £3 and £4. I hope that the Commonwealth can do something about this matter, because the money collected by the Queensland Government in air tax is not being returned to the field of civil aviation. The aerodromes throughout Queensland are owned and maintained either by the Department of Civil Aviation or the local authorities. I can see no reason why aeroplane passengers in Queensland should have this wretched tax of 10 per cent, levied on them and the money not put back into civil aviation. I can see no justification for it at all, and I hope that something will be done about it because it is an imposition on the people who use this form of transport. It would not be so bad if the tax were imposed only in relation to pleasure trips. People who have to travel long distances and have to find £20 for an air ticket should not be required to pay this tax merely to avoid the discomfort of travelling by Queensland trains.
– What is wrong with the Queensland motor trains?
– We have some excellent motor trains in Queensland, but some trains are not now so good as they might have been during the youth of the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds). Like ourselves, they are getting a little old. But the point I make is this: The Queensland air tax hits fairly and squarely the people who have to make long journeys in that State quickly. I urge the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley) to exercise his authority and endeavour to persuade the Queensland Labour Government to abolish this iniquitous tax on air travel in that State. In addition to its effect on air passengers, this rule applies to air freight carried in Queensland. If a person living in Townsville or Cairns has medicine or drugs sent to him by air from Brisbane, he has to pay a 10 per cent, tax on it to the State government. Thai is wrong, particularly when we reflect that the money is not returned to the aviation industry, but is used for other purposes. It is not as if freight rates in Queensland were lower than they are in the other States. They are the same, but Queensland people are penalized through having to pay this additional 10 per cent. Something should be done to remove this imposition upon the people of Queensland.
In many country centres of Queensland the Government, through the Department of Civil Aviation, has built efficient aerodromes.
– Where ?
– If the honorablemember for Herbert believes that hie electorate is not well equipped with aerodromes, he should take action to get something done, as I did for my electorate. I have been happy to see aerodromes established in several places in my electorate, and I know that they are of great assistance to the people living there. I suggest that the honorable member for Herbert should make representations to the Minister if he thinks something should be done in his electorate. If he does that, his representations will probably have good effect. The provision of these aerodromes in country centres in Queensland provides a quick service for both passengers and freight. Among the towns which have benefited in this way are Biloela and Monto. Within a couple of hours from the time goods ordered by people living at such places leave Brisbane, they are delivered to them at freight rates which are cheaper than the rates charged by the railways, even though their carriage by rail may take as long as a fortnight. I have mentioned those two places merely as examples to show what has been done. If a merchant in one of those towns requires a parcel urgently from Brisbane, he has only to ring the supplier on the telephone, and within a few hours it is delivered to him at his place of business. He does not even have to go to the railway station for it, as he would have to do if the parcel were, sent by rail. This service to the people has been possible only because of the excellent work done by- the Department of Civil Aviation in the provision of aerodromes and amenities for the carriage of people and goods by air.
In addition to the benefits that I have mentioned, there is the fact that air passenger rates in Australia are the cheapest in the world. Australia leads the world in the ton-miles for freight carried by air, and is second only to the United States of America in the passenger miles flown. Australia is third among the countries of the world in the tons of mail carried by air, the only two countries which carry more mails being the United States and Canada, in that order. Australia holds the record for the most rapid, safe and frequent air services of any country. This Government has been able, though the Department of Civil Aviation, which has efficient officers in charge of its undertaking, to expand rapidly air services throughout the country. Those services cater for all classes of the community.
– The honorable member is a “ knocker “.
– As for the honorable member’s interjection, I tell him that fair criticism does not “ knock “ anybody.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I propose to direct my remarks mainly to the Departments of Health and the Interior. I shall deal first with the Stoller report on mental institutions submitted to the Government some time ago. In his budget speech the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said -
This year provision is being made for the first time for Commonwealth financial assistance towards the capital expenditure incurred by the States on mental institutions. The Commonwealth has offered to provide up to £10.000,030 for. this purpose, provided the States expend £2 for every £1 provided by the Commonwealth. An amount of £1,000,000 has been included in the Estimates this year for this purpose.
Those are the Estimates now before this committee. The payment proposed to be made to the States for assistance in the upkeep of mental institutions is totally inadequate. I believe that it is the responsibility of the Australian Government to maintain at a high state of efficiency all the mental institutions in Australia, in the same way as it accepts responsibility for hospitals to treat patients suffering from ordinary ailments. I have more knowledge of the position in Queensland than I have of conditions in the other States, and I know that it is impossible for Queensland to carry on the great work that it has done in this field for many years. The Stoller report points out that the mental institutions in Queensland are superior to those in the other States in the accommodation provided for patients and the treatment given to them. This Parliament, regardless of the political party for the time being in office, has a responsibility to see that our mental institutions are adequate and are efficiently conducted. ‘ Just as this Parliament accepts the responsibility for caring for age and invalid pensioners, and providing hospital accommodation for them, so it should accept responsibility for persons who are mentally ill. Some of the mentally ill patients suffer also from other ailments. The Commonwealth pays a subsidy of 12s. a day in respect of patients in general hospitals, but it makes no payment at all on behalf of the patients in mental institutions. The Chifley Labour Government was the first government to subsidize hospital beds in general hospitals. By an agreement entered into with the States, it also agreed to subsidize mental institutions by an initial payment of lOd. a day for each patient. However, the Menzies Government discontinued that arrangement as from October last year, and now the State governments do not receive any payment at all in respect of mental patients. A payment of lOd. a day was only a small sum, but it was something. The discontinuance of the payment means that the hospitals are faced with greater expense to-day than they were previously. To my mind, the worst feature of the arrangement is that this Government, whilst it pays the ‘benefit of 12s. a day for age and invalid pensioners in general hospitals, and also continues to pay them pensions, or at least the amount to which they would be entitled if they entered an institution, immediately cancels the pensions of age and invalid pensioners who have to enter mental institutions.
– They would not get the pension anyway.
– The honorable member says that they would not get the pension anyway. I say that they should get it. It is the duty of the Government to pay those people, who have been classified as aged or invalid for the purposes of the requirements of the Department of Social Services, but instead, immediately they enter mental institutions, their pensions are cancelled and, in addition, the State government, which is responsible for the institutions, receives nothing from the Commonwealth for the upkeep of those unfortunate people. But if the same pensioners went into a general hospital their pensions would continue to be paid and the Commonwealth subsidy of. 12s. a bed a day would also be paid. That is the unfair part of it. I feel sure that I am voicing the opinion of many thousands of Australians when I say that the present system is most unfair, and that the Commonwealth should accept its due responsibility in this particular matter. As a result of the Government’s action in not continuing to pay the paltry amount that it was paying towards the upkeep of mental institutions, the State governments have to bear an unnecessarily heavy burden. I can speak precisely only in respect of the Queensland Government, because I know the exact position in that State only. The Queensland Government is being deprived of an amount approximating £820,000 a year as a result of the fact that the Commonwealth is not contributing towards the upkeep of mentally ill people. I am one of those who believe that the mentally ill should be treated as well as the physically ill are treated. In fact, I believe that they deserve even more sympathy than do physically ill persons whose pensions continue while they are in hospital. Nobody could claim justly that I am not a keen advocate on behalf of people who receive social services benefits, and I say that the mentally ill should never he overlooked as the Government is overlooking them. If the people who are in mental institutions were physically ill instead of mentally ill, and were in general hospitals, the Government would have to pay a subsidy of 12s. a bed a day, and the cost to the Government would be about £620,000 a year. Queensland - I take it that the same position would apply in other States - makes the same provision for the mentally sick as it makes for the physically sick. It provides doctors, accommodation, medicine, and everything else, a burden which should be borne by the Commonwealth, because, if these mentally ill people were in general hospitals the Commonwealth would be paying out about £620,000 for their maintenance. ] believe, as I said earlier, that the Government should do something in order to help to relieve the position of the States, because it is impossible for them to carry out the recommendations of the Stoller report in their entirety, owing to their lack of the necessary finance. The Government seems to overlook all those things, and claims that this is a State matter. It says that the States should carry on by themselves, irrespective of how people who have to enter mental institutions fare. I hope that the Government will apply the policy that was laid down by the Chifley Government, and will subsidize mental institutions in the same way as it is subsidizing general hospitals, by paying 12s. a bed a day.
I wish now to make a few remarks about the Department of the Interior, which will probably again bring me into conflict with the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). With all due deference to him, I hold the opinion that polling hours on elections days are too long. Even many years before I ever thought of entering this Parliament I was advocating earlier closing of polling booths at federal elections. The present hours, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., during which the booths are open, are unnecessarily long. In Queensland the polling booths for State and municipal elections are open between S a.m. and 6 p.m., and I have never heard any complaint of any elector having been disfranchised as a result of the closing of the polling booths at 6 p.m. I agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), and I believe I speak for the majority of honorable members on this side of the chamber who represent Queensland electorates when I say that the hours during which polling booths are open at federal elections are unnecessarily long. After all, we have come a long way since the horse and buggy days, when it might have been necessary, in some States anyway, for the polling booths to remain open until 8 p.m. in order to enable people in outback area3 to reach them in time. Things have changed considerably as a result of the development of quicker means of transport, and nowadays, no matter in what part of an electorate a voter may reside, he is able to get to the polling booth in ample time. I think I would be safe in saying that to-day 80 per cent, of the Australian people do . not work on Saturday, and that the other 20 per cent, probably finish their work on Saturday not later than L1.30 a.m. or 12.30 p.m., and so have ample time to get to the polling booths in the afternoon. People who engage in sporting activities on Saturday afternoon also have ample time to visit the polling booths either before or after they start their recreation. I believe that if polling booths remained open until 11 p.m. on election days there would always be one or two stragglers coming along to oast their votes at the last minute.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) said that the age pension should be continued when a recipient becomes mentally afflicted, and is committed to hospital. At first glance that seems to be a reasonable proposition, but the honorable member has overlooked the fact that in all the States there is special legislation governing the circumstances of those most unfortunate people who become mentally afflicted. One of the State laws provides that immediately a person is committed to a mental hospital, all that person’s estate and all moneys payable to him shall go to the Master in Lunacy. Therefore, such people can no longer receive a pension. If the honorable member’s suggestion were adopted, the Australian Government would be paying pensions to the various masters in lunacy.
– Is the Minister forgetting that the Master in Lunacy has to expend the money he receives in respect of any patient, on that patient?
– I am well aware of that fact, but a far more desirable way of dealing with the matter is to do what the Australian Government intends to do ; that is. to provide £30,000,000 for the erection of new mental hospitals where these most unfortunate people may live in comfort and cleanliness and in a civilized fashion - which they are not doing in the medieval hospitals where they are incarcerated at present.
I now turn to the Estimates for the Department of Civil Aviation. I thank honorable members on both sides of the House for the most encouraging comments that they have made about the officers of that department. It is quite clear that honorable members appreciate the magnitude of the tasks of those officers, and the meritorious way in which they have discharged their duties. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) spoke of the big problems that face civil aviation in this country because of our vast distances. We certainly do possess vast areas of land, and our population is comparatively small, but our standard of aviation is magnificent. The debate on this most important subject has lasted about three days and I thank honorable members for offering only constructive criticism of the department, and for refraining from harsh criticism of departmental officers.
When last year’s Estimates were before the House I spoke of the spectacular growth of civil aviation in Australia, and again this year I am pleased to be able to report that this growth has continued. For the first time in our history, our airlines have carried more than 2,000,000 passengers in one year. On the international side, the traffic was also a. record, 55,000 people having been carried in safety. It is worth noting that last financial year the airlines carried four times as many passengers as were carried ten years ago, and the freight carried, amounting to S2,274 tons, was no less than fifteen times as much as the freight carried in 1946. The latest statistics that have been received from the international civil aviation organization show that Australia is still making, more use of air services per head of population than any other country iii the world, and we can therefore justly claim that we are the most air-minded nation on earth.
Looking back over the last financial year, we find that not only has air traffic increased, but there has also been a superb standard of efficiency maintained, and an absolutely clear safety record.’ So good is our record of safety that I believe it merits some special attention. In the last three and a half years of commercial aviation in Australia we have carried 6,000,000 people without one single fatality, and no other country in the world can point to a record that approaches ours. Honorable members might ask the reason for that excellent record. It is well known that we have fairly good flying weather in Australia, and also that most of the terrain over which we fly is reasonably safe for flying purposes. But the average passenger who gets into a DC6, a Super-Constellation or a Convair, is quite happy to trust the pilots who fly the aircraft and the department which administers the safety precautions. However, if those passengers knew the vast and complex organization behind the ordinary daily and nightly flights, they would appreciate that- the excellence of our safety record is no accident. It is only because of the traffic controllers and other technical people that a safety net is stretched under all those who travel by air in Australia.
The area of our country is about 3.500,000 square miles, which is greater than the area of the United States of America, yet we have excellent air services. It is worth noting that not only do we have the safety record that I have already mentioned, but also that our airline operators get more use out of their aircraft than do the operators of any other country. Moreover, the fares charged to passengers are appreciably lower in Australia than the fares in any other country of the world. Therefore, Australia is particularly well served by air transport. I should be the first to say that I acknowledge the magnificent pioneering work that has been done by the airlines themselves, but I should also like to associate with that work the excellent work that has been done by the officers and technical men of the Department of Civil Aviation. They have played a most significant role in the economical development of air transport in Australia. The most important duty of the Department of Civil Aviation is its statutory obligation to develop safety standards of the highest quality. The safety statistics that 1 mentioned a short time ago are sufficient to indicate to us that the department has discharged that obligation in a most praiseworthy fashion.
I now turn to the economic regulation of airline development. In this year’s Estimates, the Parliament is not being asked to make the double appropriation for air mail payments in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and the Department of Civil Aviation as has been customary in the past. For purposes of accounting, it is obviously desirable to tidy up that particular matter, but there is more significance than that to the alteration of procedure. For many years, the airlines have been slowly developing commercial independence. To-day, very little recourse is made to the traditional methods of making direct operational subsidies to airline companies. Such subsidies were generally made through airmail payments. To-day. the major operators receive only the reasonable commercial airmail payment for the services that they provide in carrying airmails. Since, in most cases, no element of subsidy is involved, the Postmaster-General’s Department merely pays for the carriage of mail, and the only services which still rely on subsidies to keep them going are the developmental services in the north of the country. In the far north-west of Western Australia, in northern Queensland and in the Northern Territory, those developmental air services may be found. The subsidy payments to such airlines will be continued, although I hope that they will be reduced in the case of the airlines in the north-western part of Western Australia, because of the amalgamation of two companies. It is expected that with that amalgamation greater economies will be made in overhead expenses.
The committee will be interested to know that the assistance previously given to Qantas Empire Airways Limited in New Guinea has been discontinued, by agreement with that ‘ company. The company is in such a sound position that its operations are now financed out of its general revenue. The closest liaison is being maintained between the Department of Civil Aviation and the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in determining airmail payments, and fixing the scale of assistance through contracts. However, it is a good thing to know that less than £200,000 a year, out of a total airmail payment of more than £3,000,000, is paid as direct assistance to offset the operating losses of airlines. I suggest that that is a very real step forward in the growing economic development of safe air services. I should not like the committee to form the idea that the cost of maintaining the Department of Civil Aviation is limited to that sum of £200,000 for developmental services. Reference to the budget papers will disclose that to maintain and operate the aerodromes, and the airway, meteorological, and search and rescue facilities that are required for the airlines system, will cost the department £4,700,000. It is anticipated that only £400,000 of that sum of £4,700,000 will be recouped in air route charges; but that gap is being closed as the industry develops.
The department finds that the demands of to-day’s air traveller place an even greater pressure on its ground facilities system and therefore on the financial provision that it asks the Parliament to make to operate that system. There was a time when regularity of service meant far less to the people than it does to-day. The simple expedients of cancelling flights, delaying flights for hours or for days because of bad weather, or diverting an aircraft to an aerodrome many miles from its destination, were then acceptable, but recourse to such expedients is not acceptable to the 2,000,000 Australians who now use our commercial airlines.
As honorable members who have been delayed by fog in Canberra, or by bad weather in Melbourne, know, such delays are not accepted as graciously as they used to be. Passengers now expect the aeroplanes to reach their destination safely, and within reasonable time. All those advantages must be paid for. The committee will appreciate, therefore, why the Department of Civil Aviation employs throughout the Commonwealth 220 air traffic controllers, 500 communication officers, 520 groundsmen, 200 foremen, 165 engineers of all kinds, and no fewer than 1,400 technicians. The sum of £4,700,000 that the Parliament is asked to appropriate will pay the salaries of those men, and provide equipment for the maintenance and operation of a vast aerodrome and airways system which extends over 85,000 air route miles and which embraces approximately 500 Commonwealthowned aerodromes. The complexity of our airways system is second only to that of the system of the United States of America. It is also worth noting that, despite the enormous increased flow of air traffic about which I spoke a little while ago, the improvements in technical equipment that have been planned and introduced by the professional staff of the department in recent years have reduced the size of the operative staffs that are required to man the system.
The Commonwealth will spend, in addition, £4,600,000 on aerodrome extensions, the acquisition of new sites, and the provision of additional radio facilities. In so doing, it will be spreading its investment over a vast geographical area. I assure the committee that expenditure of the available funds will be spread over the States in a manner that will extend the benefits of air travel to as many people as possible. In particular, the needs of country people will be weighed fairly against those of the city dwellers. The money will be spent on first things first - on facilities that are essential for the safe and economic operation of airlines. I shall not apologize for the lack of elaborate terminal buildings, which, at this stage of the development, we cannot afford. “ Safety first “ will be the motto. It is of no use for people, as they so often do, to ask, “ What about the beautiful buildings at Heathrow in London orat Schiphol in Holland?” Those are fine buildings, but I point out that, although Holland has a bigger population than Australia has, it has only one aerodrome. Australia has a population of only 9,000,000 people, but it has 500 Commonwealthowned aerodromes. There are limits to what we can do. Two million Australians want to use the air services each year, and great demands are made on the available funds to ensure that they are able to do so safely and with reliability of schedule.
I direct attention now to the proposed ordinary services vote for the Department of Civil Aviation. The committee will note that the omission of an appropriation for airmail payments shows civil aviation expenditure in a much better perspective. For the financial year 1954-55, the Parliament appropriated £11,477,000 for the ordinary services. The proposed vote for this year is £7,700,000. I shall outline the break-up of that proposed expenditure. It is proposed that £2,700,000 shall be used for regulatory and administrative activities. That sum will cover, not only the salaries of the purely administrative and executive staff, butalso the salaries of professional men who are responsible for the technical regulation of our operational and airworthiness standards. I refer to such officers as aeronautical engineers, pilot examiners, and airways surveys. A sum of £4,700,000 is included for the maintenance and operation of our vast aerodromes and airways, and meteorological and search and rescue services. It is proposed that £3,000,000 shall be expended on the development of civil aviation, including assistance to aero clubs, the payment of our contribution to the highly successful International Civil Aviation Organization, technical research projects, and aerodrome facilities in the Pacific area.
When considering any business concern - and the Department of Civil Aviation is a big business undertaking - we look also at the other side of the ledger. This year, the department will receive £300,000 as a dividend on Commonwealth share capital in Qantas Empire Airways Limited, and £100,000 as interest on advances to Trans-Australia Airlines. The various airline operators will pay £400,000 in air route charges, and a further sum of £100,000 will be paid for other miscellaneous services. It must be noted, in all fairness, that the Department of the Interior will receive £200,000 for the rental of civil aviation properties and buildings, and that the Department of Trade and Customs will receive nearly £1,000,000 from duty on aviation fuel. In the light of what I have said, I feel sure that the committee will agree that the proposed expenditure is reasonable. 1 am sure that the 2,000,000 passengers who each year enjoy the safety and comfort of our superb airways will regard this Commonwealth outlay on the transport system as being a real public service which is being provided, moreover, at reasonable cost to the taxpayer.
– Will the Minister tell us about the pilotless aircraft?
– The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has again mentioned the pilotless aircraft. As I told him just recently, 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.
– Mr. Temporary Chairm an-
– I rise to order. I note, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that you have given the call to the Minister for the Interior.
– The honorable member for Grayndler is anticipating. I have not given the call to anybody.
– But will you promise not to do so?
-I shall listen to the honorable member’s point of order.
– In view of the. fact that you will not promise not to give the call to the Minister, I assume that you are about to do so. Without desiring in any way to curtail the contribution that doubtless he wishes to make to the debate in answer to certain criticisms, I submit that you should give the call alternately to honorable members on each side of the chamber. If that procedure were not adopted, Ministers could, if they were unscrupulous - I do not say, for one moment, that they are - by monopolizing the debate, prevent criticism of their departments by Opposition members. I have not known past occupants of the chair to follow the procedure of giving successive calls to Ministers.
– It was done when Labour was in office.
– I do not know what has happened in the past. Mr. Speaker, who is absent through illness, and the Chairman of Committees, have laid down the rule that the call should be given alternately to honorable members on each side of the chamber. I. suggest that you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, are now out of order in giving the call to the Minister for the Interior, particularly as the Estimates are being discussed. The honorable gentleman could probably utilize the last quarter of an hour of the time allotted for this section of the Estimates to reply to the matters to which he wishes to reply.
– Order ! It is a well-established custom that the Minister in charge of a department, the Estimates for which are being discussed, is entitled to rise when he chooses. I call the Minister for the Interior.
– Your ruling, Mr. Temporary Chairman, establishes a remarkable precedent, which we shall remember.
– If the Temporary Chairman’s ruling is a precedent that the honorable member for Sturt (Mr Makin) intends to remember, let me remind him that it was established when the Australian Labour party was in office, but it has been followed only on very rare occasions during the term of this Government.
– This is one of those occasions.
– This is one of those occasions, because, as the honorable member knows, the time allotted for this section of the Estimates will soon expire. Great difficulty was experienced last night in getting Opposition members to speak when there was plenty of time. I have left it as late as possible to reply to the statements that have been made. It is only fair to departmental officers, and to honorable members who have made suggestions and offered criticism, that Ministers should be allowed to reply. Perhaps other Ministers wish to reply to statements affecting their departments, so I shall be as brief as possible.
I want to make some comments on three matters. The first of them was raised by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) in the debate on the Estimates for another group of departments, but it affects one of the departments for which I am responsible. The second matter on which I want to comment was raised by the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm), when he referred to some comments made by the Auditor-General in a report which was published recently. The third matter relates to a subject in which the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay) has been interested for a considerable time, and which has been mentioned on this occasion by three or four other members. I refer to the payments made by the Commonwealth for the use of - shall we say?1 - municipal services in respect of land and property owned by the Commonwealth in municipal areas. I remind honorable members that the Department of Works has very wide ramifications. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley) said that the Department of Civil Aviation covered a wide area of activity, and so it does, but the activities of the Department of Works range from the Antarctic - where it provides huts for the Antarctic expedition - to Kavieng, and from New Norfolk to the far west of Western Australia.
– Including the slums of Westlake?
– I shall take up that argument at another time. There is a place called Camp Pell, which the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) knows well. It would be very difficult to shift some of the people resident there with a bulldozer, even if the State had other houses to put them in, because of the low rents they are paying now. However, we shall have an opportunity to discuss Westlake when the Estimates for the Australian Capital Territory are before the committee.
It is only natural, in an organization such as the Department of Works, with such wide ramifications and with such a tremendous amount of work to do, that some mistakes should be made. I do not suggest for one moment that either I, the senior officers of the department or junior officers right down the line are by any means perfect. But I think that when criticisms are made of the department, they should be answered. Let me tell honorable members about a case that came to my notice recently. It had been suggested that, as the Department of Works had enough work to do already, it would be better to give a certain project to outside architects and engineers. I was quite agreeable to do so. But the upshot was that when work on the project began, senior architects and senior engineers of the Department of Works were offered salaries up to 200 per cent, greater than those paid, by the department to do a job that somebody had told me the department could not do. Those increased salaries would have been paid from public funds through another source. I was amused at what happened in that case, but I was very gratified to see that, in the main, the officers concerned remained loyal to their department and did not accept the offers of higher salaries. They are still in the service of the department. The fact that those offers were made shows what outside people think of the top-rankers in the Department of Works. They are far more capable than many people in the precincts of the Parliament seem to consider.
One of the main problems confronting the Department of Works is to obtain enough personnel to enable it to do its job. The difficulty of obtaining staff is accentuated by the salaries and other inducements offered by outside contractors. That applies particularly in Papua and New Guinea, where we have probably the greatest difficulty in finding men to supervise our projects properly. The honorable member for Bowman said that there was a lamentable state of affairs in Papua and New Guinea and that if I would not do anything, about it, we should get a Minister who would. As soon as the Auditor-General’s comments had been published, I asked the department for a report on the matter. I have a full report with me now, but I shall not go into it in detail during this debate. If any honorable member should like a copy of it, 1 shall be pleased to supply him with it.
– Did the Minister let the honorable member for Bowman know that he was going to reply to him ? The honorable member is not here.
– If anybody likes to tell the honorable member for Bowman that I am replying to his remarks, well and good, but the honorable member did not inform me that he intended to make his criticisms. However. I do not mind that. He can read my remarks in Hansard. I hold nothing against the honorable member for Bowman for what he said. I do not object to criticism by honorable members on this side of the chamber or on the other side. The honorable member for Bowman was perfectly within his rights. He based his criticisms on the Auditor-General’s report, but I point out that the AuditorGeneral’s report did not tell the whole story. I see that the honorable member for Bowman is in the chamber now. Let me repeat for his benefit that I have no objection to criticism from either side of the House but, in view of the remarks that he made about Papua and New Guinea, I propose to tell the department’s side of the story.
I am reminded of the occasion when difficulty arose about stores at Woomera back in 1952-53. As the Minister concerned, I was asked to write-off £30,000 or £40,000 in stores deficiencies. The writing-off had been approved by the chief auditor in South Australia - in other words, by the Auditor-General’s chief staff officer in that State. When the documents were put on my table, I said thai I did not feel inclined to approve the writing-off of those deficiencies and that I wanted further investigation to be made of the methods of stores accounting. As a result of that investigation, a new manual was issued and the system was overhauled. Then the Auditor-General published his report in which he criticized the Department of Works very strongly for what had happened in the Woomera project. I do not propose to go into that in detail. I remember that I said at the time, perhaps a little injudiciously from the viewpoint of future reports by the Auditor-General, that it rather reminded me of the parson who learned about sin from the confessions of his parishioners and proceeded to preach a sermon on it the following Sunday morning. The same sort of thing has happened in relation to New Guinea. However, the Auditor-General is an independent authority, and I hope that he will always say what he thinks, because it is good for all of us to be kept up to the mark.
Reference was made in the AuditorGeneral’s report to a sum of £16,412, representing materials issued to contractors for which payment was not received at the time. The item relates to two Sydney contracts, one of which honorable members know about. Material valued at £3,460 was issued to a certain firm, and the matter is now the subject of a law suit. The material was repossessed subsequently by the Commonwealth Investigation Service. In the other instance, a quantity of steel was issued to a large steel company in Sydney for fabrication in connexion with a departmental contract. There is some dispute about the quantities involved, but the matter will be adjusted satisfactorily and there will be no loss to the Commonwealth.
The second criticism made by the Auditor-General related to the system of closely checking estimates for labour and materials against actual usage on the job. That matter has been under consideration for sime time by the Department of Works, in conjunction with the Public Service Board, and a number of experiments have been made by the department in accordance with the procedure outlined by the board. In other words, action has already been taken by the department, in conjunction with, the Public Service Board, but they have not yet decided the best methods to adopt in future. They are continuing to make experiments in different methods of accounting.
Now let me turn to the unsatisfactory features of the activities of the Department of Works in Papua and New Guinea, to which the honorable member for Bowman drew attention. In this respect, the control has not been as rigid as I and the senior officers of the department would like but, as I told the committee at the outset of my remarks,- it is very difficult for the department to obtain competent staff, particularly in the higher salary ranges, to work in Papua and New Guinea. Unlike a private concern, the department cannot order members of its staff to go there. I suggested at one time that men who were willing to go to Papua and New Guinea should be given extra points for the purposes of promotion when they came back, if they did a good job there. But what happens at present is that a man goes up there for two years and when he comes back he is recommended for appointment- to a certain job in one of the capital cities, but his appointment is challenged by somebody who has never been out of a capital city. He gets no credit at all for the work that he has done in the outposts of the Commonwealth of Australia. We shall continue to have difficulty in getting staff of the calibre we want in outposts such as Papua and New Guinea while the Public Service system - a system which has been approved by most honorable members - continues to operate.
An inspection team from the Department of Works went to New Guinea about twelve months ago and made a comprehensive review of the activities of the department in that area. The report indicated to me that there was laxity of control and suggested certain methods of ensuring closer supervision, but it stated also that difficulties will persist for so long as we cannot pet the staff that we require. So it will be seen that the department took steps immediately to improve the position. Arrangements were made for a senior technical officer to investigate a number of unsatisfactory features, and instructions by way of memoranda and lectures were given to staffs with a view to improving existing procedures and tightening control over works expenditure. I assure honorable members, particularly the honorable member who quoted from the Auditor-General’s report, that the department is conscious of its defects and is doing its very best to overcome them. It might be mentioned that the Auditor-General’s advice in respect of the lack of control referred to was received only a few days ago, just before the report was issued, and it only confirmed investigations made by the department more than twelve months ago. In other words, the department itself realized the defects some time ago; and it is making very strenuous efforts, under considerable difficulties, to overcome the handicap. The statement that audit investigations have revealed a most unsatisfactory position regarding departmental control of projects constructed under contract, would appear to reflect on the overall operations of the department in Papua-New Guinea, but on analysis it will be seen that the queries arise out of two wharf jobs, namely, at Kavieng and Port Moresby. The wharf at Kavieng was built partly by day labour. This was done in order to get it started because shippers were keen to have the use of it immediately after the war. It was finished by contract at a price lower than the department’s estimate. The story in regard to the wharf at Port Moresby is rather long. If the honorable member is interested I shall supply him with the information I have, but I do not think I should take up the time of the committee by dealing with it in detail.
The only other matter I wish to deal with was raised by the honorable member for Henty. He said that more use should be made of parliamentary undersecretaries. To that suggestion I would say a very hearty “ Hear, hear ! “, because I realize the wide ramifications of my department and I have been endeavouring to treat my Parliamentary UnderSecretary as an honorary Minister or as a junior Minister as the honorable member suggested. The difficulty is, first, that the Constitution does not recognize parliamentary under-secretaries. That is not so bad ; but when I try to take advantage of the capabilities, enthusiasm and keenness of the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), for whom I have a very high regard because of the work he has done, the reply I nearly always receive from honorable members is, “ We do not want the parliamentary under-secretary. We want the Minister “. That sort of thing makes it very difficult for Ministers and also for parliamentary under-secretaries to operate in the way they were intended to operate.
– They are limited in that they are not officially recognized.
– I agree. But it is not a matter of not wanting to use the parliamentary under-secretaries. The difficulty is the attitude of constituents, and, therefore, the attitude of honorable members who will not recognize them as junior Ministers.
– Why not promote the honorable member for Canning while the Speaker is away ?
– The honorable member for Canning has done an excellent job for me in carrying out research and inspections and in other ways in the administration of war service land settlement. On two occasions recently I was asked to make inspections and was unable to do so on account of Cabinet meetings and other matters that demanded my attention. In neither instance were the members concerned agreeable to the suggestion that my Parliamentary Under-Secretary should make the inspections. I assure the honorable member for Henty that I agree with every word he said. And I think my colleagues also agree that as far as parliamentary under-secretaries are concerned we are prepared to use them to the limit, providing the general public and, therefore, honorable members themselves, will accept them as honorary Ministers. I thank honorable members very much for the suggestions that have been put forward and for the manner in which any criticism that was made was addressed to the committee.
– I desire to discuss the proposed vote for the Department of Health. I am not anxious to raise the horror and indignation of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) who, unfortunately, is not in the chamber at present. However, I notice that his departmental officers are present and that other Ministers are also in attendance. I hope that they will take heed of what I have to say. I join with my colleagues in protesting against the increase in hospital rates. I personally think it is a disgrace that hospital rate3 these days are being increased.
– By way of personal explanation, I desire to inform the committee that I was going to deal with the matter of rates, but in view of the time limit I was unable to do so. f have a complete statement of the rates that are charged, and I shall be pleased to make it available to honorable members.
– I am referring to hospital charges.
– I am sorry, I thought the honorable member was dealing with municipal rates.
– Honorable members, and Ministers particularly including the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), should realize that the Australian Government controls the nation’s purse. The States now have no responsibility in that respect. As the nation’s finance is controlled almost completely by the Commonwealth, it is logical that the States should ask it to supply their finances seeing that the Commonwealth is the sole taxing authority. It is a disgrace that hospital charges are increasing at the present time particularly as just over a month ago a surplus of £70,000,000 was announced for last financial year after the Government had budgeted for a surplus of only £250,000. [ do not know, of course, what the surplus will be this year, but the Government is budgeting for a surplus of over £46,000,000.
With my colleagues I also ask the Government to give financial assistance to the ambulance services. It does not speak very highly for a government when our grand body of ambulance officers have to operate chocolate wheels on Saturday mornings in order to finance this grand organization which is so important to the well-being of the people.
I pass to the treatment of tuberculosis sufferers and express my objection to the callous indifference of the department in one particular aspect of this matter. The shifting of responsibility for national health services from the States to the
Commonwealth is not overlooked by the people. I condemn the callous and inhumane indifference that permits tuberculosis sufferers to be brought into homes to limit the danger of contagion and then, all of a sudden, to be declared to be no longer a danger to public health. The great drive that has been made to eradicate this awful disease i? something for which the department should be commended, but it looks to me from time to time as if the department has bitten off, financially, more than it can chew. The result i3 that many people in receipt of a reasonable tuberculosis benefit are deprived of it almost overnight. In one particular case while I was arguing with the department, trying to have the matter adjusted, the poor unfortunate person died. I urge the Minister and departmental heads not to make recommendations for the withdrawal of the tuberculosis benefit and the placing of these people who have commitments and responsibilities on to invalid pensions without giving them at least six months’ notice. It is a disgrace to find people in tuberculosis homes notified all of a sudden that within three weeks their payments will be cut in half because they have been placed on an invalid pension.
I rose mainly to discuss a matter that is very dear to my heart and the hearts of a number of honorable members. It is the subject of sub-normal children. It is a disgrace that notwithstanding the assurance I have had from the Prime Minister that something would be done in this matter, nothing has been done. It is extremely disappointing to find that no provision is being made in the Estimates for these unfortunate children. Endeavours have been made in this chamber on a number of occasions to have something done for them. I remember raising the matter with the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) as far back as 1954, when I asked him to assist in the provision of films which could be shown to help the various appeals. Bands of voluntary workers, both men and women, are engaged on this most important work in every State of the Commonwealth. ~No cause is more deserving than their efforts to try to provide a decent way of life for these unfortunate children. Many appeals have been made to the Government to assist in the fields of medicine, education and finance, but in the main the appeals have fallen on deaf ears. With Senator Anderson, a Government supporter, I saw the Prime Minister, who, I say to his credit, appeared to be most sympathetic, but when I received a written reply to our representations from the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who was then acting as Prime Minister, it was a complete wipe-off. In the Parliament I again raised the matter with the Prime Minister, who said -
I am pleased that the honorable member has raised this matter and I shall certainly have a look at it.
Later, he replied to me by letter saying -
We have discussed your request and I am afraid that the best we can offer to do is to list it for consideration during our budget preparations. That is the position on the financial side.
When the Estimates were tabled, I was horrified to find that no provision had been made for this cause. Although the Prime Minister had shown an interest in the matter, the request was refused. I appeal to the Minister for Health to examine the matter of these poor unfortunate young people. The response to appeals on behalf of physically handicapped children, the blind, the crippled, and the spastic, has been magnificent. The brain of a sub-normal child is crippled - not his arm or his leg - having probably been injured at birth or in the pre-natal stage.
When Senator Anderson and I interviewed the Prime Minister, we asked for help of a general and specific character. We pointed out that there was no positive medical explanation of the cause of sub-normality in children. Looking at a sub-normal child, a parent can truthfully say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I “. A sub-normal child is not an imbecile or an idiot, but simply one who has a retarded mental age development. Authorities suggest that between 10,000 and 15,000 families in Australia are directly affected by this problem. The circumstances of these families are tragic, and the Government, with its vast financial surplus, should assist this worthy cause. There are no accurate statistics of the number of sub-normal children in Australia. The estimate of between 10,000 and 15,000 has been arrived at on the basis of world percentages of sub-normal births, but it may be subject to grave error either way. The difficulties in regard to accurate statistics arise from two major problems. The first is the absence of an accurate yardstick to measure subnormality in a child, as distinct from backwardness. The second is the tendency of parents not to face up to acknowledging sub-normality in children. These children grow physically, but not mentally, and they always retain the minds of children. Their life expectancy is not great. We pointed out to the Prime Minister that the parents of these children face many problems. A subnormal child is often repelled by other children and cannot be put into school classrooms with them, even in opportunity classes. Indeed, only a very small percentage of sub-normal children would qualify for opportunity classes under normal school conditions. Most of them require full-time attention and care during their waking hours. When the parents pass away, or become too old to care for a sub-normal child, he usually finishes up in a mental institution, although not afflicted in the same way as are mentally sick persons. I appeal to the Government to try to take some action in this matter. This is not a political issue. Senator Anderson andI are united in making the appeal in all humanity.
The Department of Health, Education and Welfare, in the United States of America, has examined this problem and has issued very fine booklets dealing with it. They are entitled, The Forward Look, The Severely Retarded Child Goes to School, Planning Schools for To-morrow, Needs of Exceptional Children, and Curriculum Adjustments for the Mentally Retarded. These publications might well be examined by the Government with a view to ascertaining how best to co-operate with organizations devoted to this subject. Assistance is sought from the Government along the following lines: First, through the Commonwealth Office of Education, an officer should be directed to investigate the best overseas methods of conveying some form of instruction to the sub-normal child. Secondly, through the Commonwealth Department of Health, research should be pursued to ascertain the probable causes of sub-normal births. Thirdly, a Commonwealth grant of £1,000 per annum should be granted to the federal body of the association, to enable it to continue functioning, to hold all various State branches together, and to keep them informed of modern trends and developments in regard to the treatment, education and care of such children. Fourthly, a Commonwealth subsidy for capital expenditure should be provided on a £l-for-£l basis to the various State member organizations for the purpose of erecting minding centres and schools in various selected areas throughout the Commonwealth to the limit of £10,000 in any one year.
These requests are not unreasonable. The Government’s cry is that it has no money. I remind honorable members that these could be our children or the children of members of our families. This is a human appeal to the Government from people outside the committee. The situation, which is most grave, faces the nation as a whole. Health is a national responsibility, for the sub-normal child no less than for other sections of the community. On a number of occasions I have appealed to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. I now make a final appeal to the Minister for Health to take some action on the matter. The Stoller report makes some reference to the issue, but really skims over the subject of sub-normality and deals principally with persons who are mentally affected. Sub-normal children do not come within that category. I appeal to the Minister to see if something can be done to assist the families which are burdened with these children, who are lovable because all their lives they have the minds of youngsters. The Government should act,’ not only on behalf of the children and their parents and families, but also on behalf of the nation generally. If it does, it will win the approval and support of every decent citizen in the community.
.- I should have liked to refer to the Health Department because it has made great strides during the past five years and brought great benefit to the community as a whole, but time will not allow me to do so. The introduction of free, life-saving drugs, better provision for hospital treatment, improved sanitoriums for the treatment of tuberculosis and many other beneficial provisions have effected a considerable reduction of the mortality rate. In particular, this has been noticeable in maternity hospitals, where both mothers and infants have benefited. These achievements reflect great credit on the administration of the Health Department, and particularly on the Minister (Sir Earle Page).
I wish to refer. however, to a matter concerning civil aviation, about which I asked the Minister (Mr. Townley) a question this morning. At the outset, I assure honorable members that I do not wish it to be inferred from my remarks that the Department of Civil Aviation is not doing a good job. It has an enviable record, which all other countries respect. Part of the responsibility of that department is to provide for the safety and efficiency of air services. That applies not only to airports in the metropolitan area, but to all civil aerodromes throughout Australia. I have been concerned recently, however, to read a statement by the Director-General of Civil Aviation, Sir Richard Williams, that some important safeguards had not been installed, and some of the existing equipment was obsolete. Such a statement is sufficient to cause possible unrest and alarm in the minds of some members of the community, and it is important that they should be reassured by the Minister. I felt that, in replying to my question this morning, the Minister hardly did justice to it because he referred to new equipment, and not particularly to the statement of the Director-General.
It appears that equipment for firefighting at some aerodromes is not up to date. It is some consolation to know that, generally speaking, it is adequate, but that is not so in all cases. Recently I was at Tennants Creek, in the Northern Territory, and saw the aftermath of a fire that had occurred on the aerodrome the previous day and had completely burned out an aircraft. The fire was only 100 yards from the fire-fighting post. The fact that the machine was totally destroyed indicated that there must have been some difficulty in bringing the firefighting equipment to the spot quickly enough, or that the equipment was not efficient. Fortunately, no one was in the aircraft at the time, but had the fire occurred in any aircraft, large or small, carrying passengers or crew, the result would have been tragic. I admit that these things happen on rare occasions only, but in view of the Director-General’s statement, fire-fighting equipment at all aerodromes should be maintained at the maximum level of efficiency. An assurance from the Minister that this will be done would be most welcome. According to statistics, civil airlines carried 2,000,000 passengers in Australia last year, which was two and a half times more than the number carried ten years ago. That indicates that Australians are air-minded and reflects great credit on the administration of the Department of Civil Aviation and also on the commercial airline companies. No major trouble has occurred on any aerodrome in the past, but that is no guarantee that it will not occur. Cost should not deter the department from providing adequate protective equipment, because lives and valuable aircraft must be preserved. I hope that the Minister will be able to make an appropriate statement, and allay the fears that may have been aroused in the minds of some people by the statement of the Director-General.
. I wish to refer to the Department of Trade and Customs and, in particular, to the operations of the Commonwealth Tariff Board. I am unable to say whether responsibility for the tardiness in dealing with applications coming before the tariff board rests upon the Minister or upon the tariff board itself, but there is an urgent need for the board to report more quickly to the Minister, and for the Minister, in turn, to avoid delay in presenting the reports to the Parliament. I have here a letter from a pen nib manufacturing concern at Leura, New South Wales, in my electorate. A great problem facing Australia is the balance of payments, about which a great deal has been said, and it is essential that Australia’s overseas trading balances should be preserved. One way of doing this is to manufacture, to our full possible capacity, essential commodities in Australia. Representations were made to the Tariff Board in 1950 by Eastford Pens. Proprietary Limited for tariff protection, and a further application was made in 1953. but so far no decision has been given. If the board has dealt with the matter, the report of its decision has not been presented to Parliament. That is a most serious matter. This small firm is selling pen nibs in Australia at 4s. 9d. a gross. which is less than the cost of production. Consequently, it is in urgent need of tariff protection. It has brought skilled tradesmen to Australia from the United Kingdom, who are adding to our population and assisting in the development of our country. If the board has made a determination on this matter, I hope that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) will present it to the Parliament without delay.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The time allotted for consideration of the proposed votes of the Department of the Interior, the Department of Works, the Department of Civil Aviation, the Department of Trade and Customs, and the Department of Health has expired.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
Proposed vote, £1,952,000.
Proposed vote, £2,614,000.
Proposed vote, £1,034,000.
Proposed vote, £180,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- I wish to make one or two points, which T hope will be constructive, in regard to the Estimates for the Department of Territories and the Department of Shipping and Transport. I shall reserve some remarks about the Northern Territory until the debate on another estimate, when that Territory will be particularly under review; but at this stage I shall make one point in regard to the Northern Territory. I may give point to my observation by referring to a story which I heard when I recently visited the Northern Territory and which may or may not be true. A certain person, who was not a member of the administrative staff, told me that at one stage it was desired to provide certain pumping equipment for the water supply in one part of the Territory. The head-quarters of the administration in Canberra asked why an engine was required at all, because the officer making the inquiry was under the impression that water used in the Territory was artesian water, which rose to the surface without the assistance of an engine, windmill, or anything else. As is well known to all honorable members who have been in the Territory, and to many who have not, the water there is entirely sub-artesian, and it has to be brought to the surface by a windmill or some other mechanical means. The point of the story is that an officer at the head-quarters in Canberra apparently did not know something that was quite elementary and would have been known to any one who had ever been in the Northern Territory.
– Sack him!
– The story may or may not be true, but it is the kind of story that is current in the Northern Territory. Surely it is important that those officers at the head-quarters in Canberra who are responsible for a territory so distant from the capital, should be well aware of conditions in that territory, in regard to which they have to make decisions. In the Department of External Affairs it is the common practice for an officer to be stationed at some place abroad, and then to be brought back to Canberra for a period. With the knowledge that he has gained through work in the field, he is a more efficient officer at head-quarters. I know that the normal practice in the Public Service is that when a position falls vacant, it is competent for any officer in the service, who possesses the requiredqualifications and belongs to the correct classification and so on, to apply for that position. A Minister has no right to post officers where he chooses and where he thinks they will be most useful. But I suggest that the administration of the territories has been and is very much under criticism, because of the supposed lack of awareness in Canberra of the requirements of those territories. Surely that situation calls for some reform. If the officers at headquarters are to bebrought more closely in touch with the needs of these distant peoples, there is surely a case for the interchange of officers between the administration in Canberra and the administration in the field. It might be a departure from the normal practice of the Public Service, but special circumstances and conditions surely require special treatment, and I suggest that something should be done to facilitate such an interchange, which clearly is highly desirable. In the past, the lack of such an interchange of officers has militated against that understanding of the problems of the territories, without which an administration cannot be successful, and for the lack of which it has been so much criticized in the past. I believe that the Minister will be well advised to look into the practicability of altering a system which, however appropriate in other departments, is not appropriate in this case, and which requires alteration if we are to achieve the desired results. I shall say nothing more about the Northern Territory at this stage. I hope to have an opportunity later on of dealing with certain other matters more fully.
I pass now to a matter of some importance regarding the Department of Shipping and Transport. First, I should like to pay a tribute to the work done by the former Minister of this department, the late Senator McLeay, in trying to devise a transport policy for the whole of Australia. No less than one-third of our national income is paid out in transport costs, and 17 per cent. of our work force is engaged in transport operations. Australia is a country of great distances, and it requires a transport system not only as efficient as, but more efficient than, the transport systems of those countries whose products are in keen competition overseas with ours. When those matters are considered it will be seen that the problem of transport is one of paramount importance. I agree entirely with the substance of the views expressed to the committee by my friend the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) about the need to make our railway system, in the first instance, fully efficient. This is not the time to go into the reasons why it has not been so in the past, but I think it is abundantly clear that until the gauges are unified on the trunk lines, and until diesel electrification is introduced on a substantial scale, we shall not have an efficient railway system. The importance of the railway system has been emphasized by the recent report of a committee appointed by the late Minister for Shipping and Transport. The fact that we have not had an efficient railway system, and that it. has been undercapitalized, so that necessary works have not been carried out, has had an adverse effect on our roads policy. Because we have had an inefficient railway system under the control of State governments, those governments have been not merely unable because of cost, but also unwilling, to do anything substantial about improving our roads. That is the first matter to be put in order.
The main thing with which I am concerned, having made those preliminary remarks, is the improvement of roads. On a recent road tour which I made through Queensland and the Northern Territory, one aspect of the problem was forcibly brought to my attention. I refer to the effect of rain on the vast extent of black soil country in the north of New South Wales, in Queensland, and in the Northern Territory. The black soil country extends, with very few breaks, from Moree in New South Wales to central Queensland; and with the exception of a break in the vicinity of Cloncurry and Mount Isa, extends across to the Barkly Tableland practically to Newcastle Waters. In that country, after twenty points of rain have fallen, the roads are quite impassable. So far, no means has been found of constructing allweather roads in the black soil country. There are many separate problems involved in the overall roads problem, depending upon the nature of the soil and the terrain in each case. At the moment, I a”! directing mv attention solely to the problem of the black soil country.
After rain, when vehicles commence to move again along the roads, they turn them into quagmires, and ultimately, when the soil is baked hard, they assume all the aspects of a battlefield with shell craters in it, and scarcely resemble roads at all. When I was at Charleville, I heard of a new kind of road construction which, I consider, should be investigated fully by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. I suppose a more appropriate time to mention this matter might seem to be during the consideration of the Estimates for that body. However, I hope that my remarks will be brought to the attention of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Spicer) and that he will have a special reason for placing before the council a request for the particular kind of road construction research to which I refer to be prosecuted with activity and diligence.
We have spent vast sums of money on discovering an answer to the rabbit pest, with very great advantage to this country. In many other directions, also, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has been of tremendous benefit to the people of Australia. I believe that research into the methods of construction of all-weather roads at a cost that Australia can afford to pay is as important as the research that has been conducted in those other fields.
I mentioned a moment ago that, whilst I was at Charleville, I was brought into touch - quite by accident - with a possible solution to this problem. I have before me a brochure that has been issued by the Tecton construction organization, a British company with substantial resources established in Lebanon. It has this to say about the method of establishing all-weather roads in country where clay is present in the soil -
Clay is present in many forms ranging from the purest to the opposite limit. All soils, whether agricultural or lying on the surface of deserts, contain a certain amount of clay. When dry, clay is very tough and possesses high resistance to crushing stress. It has great plasticity when moistened and has all possible advantages for being worked and shaped when in the plastic condition. However, natural clay has one big disadvantage, whatever work may have been executed with clay, contact with water will destroy it.
The brochure goes on to claim that if 5 per cent. of the product to which it refers is mixed with soil containing clay, it protects the dry and finished article from damage by water, and that it is thus possible to put clay to practical use in any form in which it may occur. The brochure goes on to say that a road that is treated in this way is completely impermeable. The relevant paragraph reads -
This averts the danger of subsidence or wavinesswhichis caused when surface water penetrates through the road itself and causes the ground underneath to becomesoggy, and thus reducesits bearing capacity. This is a common fault in road construction, particularly when stone pitching is used as foundation. In connection with this latter, the traditional method of road construction using heavy stones, blinded, and then coated with smaller stones, is of course extremely expensive, and in many cases is not waterproof.
According to the brochure, the product is the perfect answer to road problems. Whether or not its use would solve our problem, I do not know. But if, by the addition of only 5 per cent. of this substance - which is cheap - to a clay soil, the necessity to cart gravel for lengthy distances into country where there are only limited deposits of gravel, could be obviated, this may well solve our problem. All I am asking is that the Minister shall direct the attention of the Commonwealth Scientific and IndustrialResearch Organization to this product, and request that organization to carry out research to determine whether its use would solve our problem or whether any other method can be devised to solve the problem. The brochure claims that this product has been used in the Middle East, where contracts have been let for the construction with it of many hundreds of miles of roads in Iraq and Syria, as well as in other parts where clay is even less plentiful than in the large areas of Australia to which I have referred. I shall be happy to make available to the Department of Shipping and Transport the brochure from which I have quoted, and I hope that research will be conducted with a view to the provision of all-weather roads throughout Australia.
The main roads organizations of the States are not unmindful of the desir ability of doing this, but they are concerned with the practical day-to-day business of constructing roads. They have not the resources to spend on research and, in any case, it is desirable, since there are so many State governments concerned with this problem, that the research should be centralized in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. As this is a matter of paramount importance, I urge the Government to take action as quickly as possible.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Like the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner), who has just resumed his seat-
– No, I said like the honorable member for Bradfield, I desire to. tackle the problem of roads, and I shall connect my remarks with the participation of the Department of Shipping and Transport in conferences with the Australian Transport Advisory Council, which meets from time to time to discuss important matters connected with the Australian transport system. I consider that the time has passed when the Commonwealth’s participation in roads matters should be limited to collecting the petrol tax, distributing a portion of the proceeds to the States, and paying the remainder into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. This National Parliament should make an entirely new approach to the matter, and give a lead to all bodies connected with this problem.
I remind the committee that when various problems were discussed at the conventions prior to federation, roads were not of major importance in this country. As we were then in the horse and buggy era, it was agreed on all sides that the States should construct and maintain the roads. The contention that the States should control the roads system was upheld; there was no dispute about the matter. But that was over 50 years ago. As a result of the greatly increased number - and size - of motor vehicles that have been placed on the roads since the war, which has accentuated the problem, there must be a complete change of attitude. I am well aware of the constitutional difficulties in connexion with the matter, but I believe that they could be easily overcome.
The Commonwealth should demonstrate to the States its awareness of these problems, and its willingness to participate in a national practical and constructive plan. The Commonwealth has been playing about with this problem for many years. Time and time again, Ministers or honorable members on the Government side have pronounced that something ought to be done about the matter, but nothing has been done. 1 hoped when the Australian Transport Advisory Council was established some years ago that it would be able to deal with the all-important problem. It is true to say that the council has been of distinct advantage to the railway and shipping systems, but the roads system seems to be the Cinderella in the transport field. The council has met on a number of occasions this year, ostensibly to deal with road problems. At these conferences the State transport Ministers, who with the Commonwealth- Minister comprise the council, pointed out clearly and unhesitatingly that the States are completely impotent in the matter, and that the roads problem had got completely beyond them. The only government which can give a lead towards a solution of this problem is the Federal Government, because of its control of the pursestrings of the nation. I had hoped that when the Australian Transport Advisory Council met on the 29th August - its third meeting for this year - something would have materialized, because the newspapers had given publicity to the meeting, representatives of six major transport associations were invited to attend, and it was confidently hoped that something would come out of the conference which would encourage those in the community who believe that a truly national roads system is needed in Australia. If we had received such encouragement from the conference, it would have marked the beginning of a new approach to road problems. I had hoped that, as the result of the conference, this country would, in the foreseeable future, begin to have roads of a standard demanded by modern traffic. Only the Federal Government can provide the co-ordination and supervision required for a national roads plan, and only the Commonwealth can provide the additional money required to carry out such a programme.
I suggest that this Parliament should ‘ give consideration to the many aspects of our roads problem. First, it should insist that there should be an immediate merging -of at least all main or strategic road development into a national policy. I do not say that the Commonwealth should assume responsibility for all roads in Australia. That would be ridiculous. The work must be done in stages. The first stage must be the acceptance by the Commonwealth of responsibility for the main and strategic roads of the nation. As a layman, it seems clear to me that a good roads system can be connected with our defence programme. However, I understand that the defence authorities do not regard roads as important from the defence aspect. They are disposed to rely more on rail and sea transport. It would appear that they have advised Ministers accordingly, because, according to reports I have received, Ministers have not associated road development with defence. In my opinion, they have been given bad advice, for surely roads play an important part in the moving of military personnel and equipment, and the evacuation of civilians from dangerous areas. With a good roads system, transport would be more rapid and satisfactory, and that should appeal to the defence authorities. Their attitude in this matter is entirely different from that of the defence authorities in the United States of America as the introductory paragraph of a report made to the President of the United States by an advisory committee shows. Dealing with a national highway programme planned on a ten-year basis, that committee reported -
A safe and efficient highway network if essential to the country’s military and civil defence and to the economy. The existing system is inadequate for both current and future needs. It must be improved to meet urgent requirements of a growing population and an expanding economy.
I subscribe to those views, and suggest that they be acted on in connexion with our future roads policy. What is our present policy but one ofpatch-up and make-do? That is a dangerous policy for a nation which is exposed to attack. Our Australian interstate roads network is national in both scope and function, and should be regarded as such by this Parliament.
The Australian Government should be responsible for interstate arterial highways and should assume responsibility for their construction and maintenance. These highways are defence roads although in time of peace they are used largely for commercial purposes. Notwithstanding the importance of a satisfactory roads system to the defence of Australia, the only contribution by the Commonwealth under the existing legislation is for strategic roads, which, in practice, means roads giving access to Commonwealth property and other roads serving Commonwealth purposes. The contribution by the Commonwealth is only £800,000 a year. At the same time, £7,500,000 of the amount received from the petrol . tax is put into the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
The first requirement of a national highways system is the construction of highways with four lanes, with centre separation, linking the capital cities of Australia.
– Who prepared the statement that the honorable member is reading?
– I am reading from a statement in my own handwriting, and expressing my own ideas, although it is true that many other people agree with those views. No doubt the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) also agrees with what I have said, but he will not admit it, because his policy is always to declare that no good can come from honorable members on this side of the chamber. The volume and type of traffic on our main roads justifies this kind of construction on the highways connecting our capital cities. The inadequacy of our existing roads system is apparent for all to see, especially as the roads that do exist are fast deteriorating under increased traffic. Onlong stretches of road the centre of the roadway may be in fairly good order, but the edges are generally broken and full of potholes. The result is that the effective road surface is constantly getting narrower, and therefore more dangerous. One fault with our main roads is that they are far too narrow. This is a matter beyond the powers of the States to remedy. Because of their limited taxing powers, they have not the necessary funds to deal with the situation. There was a time when the States imposed a tax on petrol, but the High Court declared the tax to be invalid. The result is that the only body with the necessary power to provide good roads is this Parliament. The States cannot do it, because the revenue they receive from motor registrations and drivers’ licences, together with the payments made to them out of petrol tax, is not sufficient for the purpose. The funds in the hands of the States are sufficient to maintain only 45,000 miles of highway, but as that is only about a half of the total road mileage for which the States are now responsible, it is obvious that they cannot do more than maintain existing highways. They cannot construct new roads or highways, or reconstruct existing roads, where that should be done. It is clear, therefore, that the States, as States, cannot cope with the urgent problems of road maintenance and development. The only way to deal with this problem is for the Commonwealth and the States to face up to the position fairly and squarely as partners in a common enterprise. This Parliament should recognize that a national roads plan is inevitable. The machinery to give effect to that plan is already in existence in the Australian Transport Advisory Council. I submit that it is this Government’s bounden duty to announce that, as the controller of the national purse, it will make money available to take over main arterial highways, and will draw up a proper plan for road construction and development throughout the Commonwealth.
– A good many statements have been made recently about the dairying industry, both in. the press and on the public platform, and as these have created, I believe, a considerable amount of confusion in the public mind as to whether the dairying industry is in fact receiving a guarantee which was given to it by this Government, I propose to say to the committee something about that matter, and I want to start, sir, by saying that there is no doubt at all that the guarantees given to the industry by this Government are being carried out to the letter. If I could explain the situation, there are three sources from which the dairying industry draws its revenue. They are, the borne market, overseas sales and a government subsidy, and the latter, of course, is related to a fixed ez-factory price of butter. Of these three the home market is much the most important, but let me first of all say something about this guarantee which has been called into question so much recently. The guarantee was given by the Government, not for the whole production of butter, but for the amount of butter produced5 and consumed in Australia, plus an amount of that exported equal to 20 per cent, of the amount produced and consumed in Australia. That is to say, not for the whole butter production, and not for every pound of butter, so that at no time did the Government guarantee to the dairyfarmer a price for every pound of butter he produced, and at no time did the leaders of the dairying industry imagine that the Government had given such a guarantee. Now, the subsidy, as I say, was related to the ea;-factory price of butter, and obviously if the Government which paid the subsidy was to support the price to which that subsidy was to be related, then the Government doing so must have control over what the price of butter was to be, and that was done by an agreement which gave the Australian Government the power to fix the ea;-factory price of butter.
I want to stress the fact that this was an agreement entered into between the Government and the industry, and was clearly understood by both; but there were other parties to the agreement besides the two major principals. The other parties were the State governments concerned, which not only accepted all the arrangements that the Commonwealth now implements, but also in fact passed special legislation to put them into effect. If they had not done so, of course, the whole of this arrangement under which the dairying industry has stability could never have worked. So it ill behoves any State government now to criticize any action of the Australian Government in the carrying out of this arrangement, because in fact the State governments are themselves consenting parties to and principals in the arrangement. One of the main purposes of the subsidy, perhaps its most important purpose, was to ensure that an adequate amount of butter would be consumed on the home market. The subsidy is .related to the cost of butter, because the cost of butter paid by the Australian consumer is definitely related to the amount of butter consumed on the market. Therefore, I say, one of the main purposes of the subsidy was to ensure an adequate home market, which was, in fact, the main market for the industry. Last year was a year of very high butter production. About two-thirds of the total amount produced was consumed in Australia and about one-third exported. It must be obvious to the committee thai when the home market is of such importance to the industry, the price of butter should be, from the point of view of the industry, a satisfactory price al which a large quantity of butter can be sold. The question of the cost of butter on which the guarantee is to be based is. of course, arrived at from a calculated figure which is called the figure for the cost of efficient production. The figure is calculated every year by the Dairy Industry Investigation Committee and iE recommended to the Government. The Government has on every occasion, and without question, accepted the figure recommended to it by the committee. The committee, sir, I remind you, consist? of three people. The chairman is Sir Alexander Fitzgerald, a man with very long experience of the dairy industry, and the members are Mr. J. P. Norton, past president of the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation, and Mr. Hedley Clarke, a man of extensive economic knowledge. The figure they have recommended is, of course, a theoretical figure. I do not say that in order to disparage it, because it must be obvious to the committee that this calculation is very difficult to make. The final figure they arrived at is of course an average figure for the whole of Australia, and it has been accepted by the Government on every occasion, without question.
So, it is quite unreal and, in fact, untrue to say that the Government has in any way departed from its agreement with the industry.What has happened this year is that the Government, taking into consideration the state of the home market, and taking into consideration the amount of the subsidy - because it is a very large amount-has decided that the industry will suffer no disadvantage if theex-factory price is allowed to rise by about, I think, 3d. or 4d., which means in effect that the retail price of butter will rise by the same amount and that the subsidy shall be reduced by an amount of £1,200,000.
– I hope the honorable member is discussing subsidies and bounties merely in passing, because they are provided for in another proposed vote.
– Yes, I am really discussing the price of butter. I am just relating the effect of the subsidy to the home-consumption price of butter. What I want to say is that the net result of this - and it is not the first time it has happened to the industry - is calculated to be, not a falling off in the financial return derived by the industry from the home market, which is its main source of revenue, I believe, but in fact an increase of £4,600,000. So the action of the Government has in no way prejudiced the industry. If there had been no rise in the retail price and the ex-factory price then perhaps some damage might have been done to the industry, but as this compensation has been made, not only has no damage been done to the industry, but in fact Actual advantage has accrued to it.
– Tell us something about the price of a pound of butter to the housewife.
– The price of a pound of butter to the house- wife has risen to the average family by not more than1½d. a week, so it has done no damage to the consumer either.
I want to make one other remark about subsidies. It is not related strictly to the amount paid this year, but it is a general statement that when this agreement was made between the Government and the industry in 1952, it was recog nized by every one, and declared by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), that no industry could find permanent prosperity and stability if it were to rely to a large degree on a heavy government subsidy. And this has been a huge subsidy, because since this Government assumed office, and up to the end of the present financial year, the dairy industry will have been subsidized by the Government to the extent of about £100,000,000. No other industry in the history of the Commonwealth has ever had from any government anything approaching that degree of assistance. Recently, an invitation was extended to dairy-farmers in Queensland to join the Australian Labour party.
– What is wrong with that?
– If the honorable member who interjected will listen, I shall tell him what is wrong with it. Of course, the dairy-farmers can accept that invitation or not, but let us trace the advantages that they have got from the Australian Labour party and what this Government has done for them. In 1950, when this Government came to office, the cost formula on which the subsidy was paid to the dairy-farmer had been calculated by the Labour party on a 56-hour week, in spite of the fact that everybody else was working a 40-hour week. Moreover, overtime was taken into consideration only after the farmer had worked his 56-hour week. The present Government discarded that basis of calculation, and gave the dairy-farmer managerial status and salary, and calculated the subsidy on a completely different basis. Before this Government assumed office the dairy-farmer had his equity calculated at a low figure, but this Government raised that figure.
The elements on which the Labour party made its valuations were all on the pegged levels of 1942, but this Government raised them to the levels calculated by the Commonwealth Bank. The low, local price then prevailing for butter was made up by government subsidy under the last Labour Government, but in spite of that the highest subsidy ever paid by the Labour Government to the dairying industry in one year amounted to £9,000,000 less than the lowest subsidy ever paid by the present Government. I could continue to recite the advantages that the dairy-farmers have enjoyed under this Government, but I think I have said enough to show that if dairy-farmers wish to join the Australian Labour party they are gluttons for punishment. “When this remarkable invitation was issued, it was not made clear which Labour party the dairy-farmers were being invited to join, and it would be illuminating to Queenslanders in this chamber to learn which one was intended, because even the Premier of Queensland has failed to make it plain which Labour party he adheres to. Only a few days ago, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), and Mr. Dougherty, a prominent member of the Australian Labour party, went to Brisbane and launched a rather heated attack on the Premier and Treasurer of Queensland. I suggest that in the midst of these opposing counsels, the dairy-farmers are more than likely to maintain their allegiance to the party that has given them real prosperity.
– I do not accuse the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) of endeavouring deliberately to mislead this phamber. I think rather that his remarks were based on a profound ignorance of the position in the dairying industry. Such misstatements as he made could only be due either to profound ignorance or to a desire to mislead. However, it is quite impossible for the honorable member to mislead the dairyfarmers of Australia any longer abeut this matter. The facts are that just before the Menzies-Fadden coalition assumed office a survey made in Queensland showed that only 250 dairy-farmers in that State were making the equivalent of the basic wage each year. The remainder were making less.
– That was the fault of the Queensland Government.
– The Minister tries to pass the buck. He carries on his habit of refusing to accept responsibility.
– Except when there is any credit to be gained.
– That is so. This is the position, and I believe that the honorable member for Oxley will agree that what I shall put before the chamber is correct. It was the Curtin Government that first gave a guaranteed price to the dairying industry, established the machinery of a cost structure to ensure to producers the cost of production, and an assurance of such stability for a period of years. The dairying industry had none of those things until the Curtin Labour Government came to office. When the honorable member for Oxley spoke of the 56-hour week and no payment for overtime, he evidently forgot that the cost of production, upon which the Curtin Government based the guaranteed price, was itself based on the wages and conditions prevailing in the industry at that time as the result of an award which had the approval of the dairyfarmers themselves.
– Forced on the dairyfarmers by the Curtin Government.
– That is the most peculiar misstatement that I have heard in this chamber. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) has suggested that the 56- hour week award was forced on the dairyfarmers by the Curtin Government. He pictures the dairy-farmers as desperately trying to get a shorter working week for their employees, and the Labour Government standing over them and refusing to give it to them. In fact, the 56-hour week was an award of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and was the best that the dairyfarmers would approve at the time. It is useless for the honorable member for Oxley to point to improvement made in the cost formula by this Government, because whatever the Government has done on paper it has repudiated in fact. The Government has improved the cost formula of the dairy-farmer on paper, but it is not paying him the ascertained cost of production. To-day, the Government allows the dairy-farmer to receive 5d. per lb. less for his butter than he should be receiving on the Government’s own cost basis.
– It is an interim payment.
– The honorable members on the Government side can make any excuses they choose to make, but they should not believe that they can fool the dairy-farmers for ever. As the honorable member for Oxley has said, it has been traditional for dairy-farmers to vote for non-Labour candidates at general elections, but year by year, and election by election, the number who vote for non-Labour candidates has decreased, and that is simply because non-Labour governments have consistently betrayed the dairy-farmers of Australia. What was the promise made by this Government immediately before the last general election? It was a promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his policy speech, and was repeated by the leader of the Australian Country party and the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) to guarantee the dairy-farmer a ten-year period of stable prices, during which period they were to receive a guaranteed price for their product equal to the cost of production. That promise has been repudiated by the Government.
– Thedairy-farmer know that it is all right.
– The dairyfarmers certainly know the position. The division of Eden-Monaro is one of those great dairying electorates which, because of the betrayal of the interests of the dairy-farmers by successive nonLabour governments, have become staunch Labour electorates.
Delays in the payment of social services benefits continue to be far too great. In New South Wales at least, of which I have particular knowledge, it is not uncommon for a period of months to elapse from the time an application for an age or invalid pension is lodged to the time when payment is made. Moreover, it is not unknown for applications to be lost in the Department of Social Services, with the result that payment of the pensions is delayed indefinitely. It is quite obvious that the human element must enter into these matters, and I am not making any accusation against the officials of the department. My experience in dealing with them has shown them to be exceedingly painstaking, courteous, and humanitarian. They do their best, but very often, because of the immensity of the centralized organization, undesirable delays occur.
I direct the attention of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) to an example that has been brought to my notice within the last few days. Twelve months ago, a dear old gentleman down at Goulburn lodged his application for an age pension. It was processed and approved. Then the application was simply lost in the head office in Sydney. As the old gentleman received no word, he came to believe that his application had been refused, and he has struggled on ever since without the pension payment to which he is entitled. On Monday night last in Goulburn, when I was attending a dinner arranged by that great trade union organization, the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen, some one reported the plight of this gentleman to me. With my usual promptitude, I made inquiries on the following morning to ascertain why he was not being paid the age pension. I discovered that the application had been approved as from November last but that in some way it had becomelost, and that no further action had been taken. It is quite obvious that, if the matter had not been mentioned to me at this trade union dinner on Monday night, that old gentleman might have lived for the rest of his life in the misery of totally undeserved poverty.
Mr.McMahon. - Is he receiving it now ?
– I should like to acknowledge that fact immediately, and to pay tribute to the Sydney office for what it has done. The Director of Social Services gave an assurance that a cheque for the full amount of the arrears would be posted to this gentleman on the same day, and that every effort would be made to repair the consequences of the unintentional mistake. I thought that that was a very fine attitude for the department to adopt. Such mistakes occur, not through the fault of the officers, but because the whole head office organization of the Department of Social Services is top heavy. Each State has a Director of Social Services. Tasmania, with a population of 350.000 or 400,000, has one director, and New South Wales, with ten times the population of Tasmania, has one director. There is no virtue in adhering to State boundaries in deciding the forms of federal administration. To adopt a system of State directors insread of a system of regional directors is quite illogical.
I believe that the Minister is well aware of the importance of this issue, and I ask faim to press forward as quickly as possible with the decentralization of social services administration. For example, Canberra is expected to have a population of 60,000 by 1960. Why should not a region be formed to include Canberra and the whole south-east corner of New South Wales, with full power vested in a deputy director, stationed in Canberra, to make decisions and to perform the normal functions of a director of social services ? That authority to approve payment of unemployment and sickness benefits is already vested in regional officers. But pension applications all have to go to head office. A procedure which requires that, after investigation, a recommendation must be sent to Sydney from every town and village in New South Wales, is completely out of accord with the development of the State and the immense increase of population since the existing procedure was inaugurated. I again ask the Minister to do his utmost to decentralize the administration of social service benefits. Except in difficult or complicated cases, the lapse of time between the lodgment of applications for, and the grant of, pensions should not be more than a fortnight. From my experience, I should say that the average lapse of time in New South Wales is two months. It is rarely less than that, and frequently it is more.
I wish also to direct the attention of the Minister to a legislative anomaly, which, though small, needs to be corrected. I refer to the plight of a person who is certified by a medical officer to be totally and permanently incapacitated for work, and who applies for an invalid pension. Because he has applied for an invalid pension, that person is ineligible for sickness or unemployment benefit. If the grant of the invalid pension is delayed, he is placed in a very difficultposition.ifbecausehehasno other income, he is forced, despite hi* invalidity, to try to earn some money, and in fact earns more than 15 per cent. of the basic wage, he is disqualified for the invalid pension. I wrote to the Minister about one such case. I am grateful to him for his personal interest in it, and for having had the matter adjusted.. The person in question received payment as from the date of his original application. On that occasion, the Ministergave me the following assurance: -
When a person who is receiving or has claimed an unemployment or sickness benefit applies for a pension, payment of the benefit is made until his claim for pensionis determined.
That is all right, but I wish the Minister to consider the reverse position. Under the existing law, when a person who has been medically certified to be totally and permanently incapable of working, and who has applied for invalid pension, also applies for sickness or unemployment benefit to carry him over the interim period, his claim for that benefit must be rejected. It is particularly unfortunate, because, as I have stated, an application for an invalid pension must be forwarded to Sydney and very often there is a long delay before a final decision is made, whereas an application for an interim sickness benefit may be determined by the regional officer.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), at the commencement of his remarks, took the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) to task for his statement about the present position of thedairying industry. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro said that obviously the honorable member for Oxley had been actuated by either profound ignorance or a desire to mislead.
– I prefer to assume that it was ignorance.
– Having listened to the remarks of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. I feel that the charge that he levelled against the honorable- member for Oxley would have been better levelled against himself. Some of his statements - I noticed that he was very careful not to go into the subject very deeply - showed either that he was not fully appraised of the present situation in the dairying industry or that he did not desire those engaged in the industry to know the true position, and if that were the case, he was guilty of trying to mislead them.
He said that this Government was not giving the dairy-farmers the costs of production. In answer to that statement, 1 say that this Government has discharged all the obligations into which it entered under the 1952 agreement and that it is providing for the dairying industry the costs of production, determined by an independent body, of the volume of production to which the agreement applies. Lft me explain that the agreement applies to butter consumed in Australia and, in addition, to a quantity of the butter exported which represents 20 per cent, of the Australian consumption. In other words, the dairying industry is in an extremely favorable position compared with the other primary industries, as far a3 subsidy is concerned. When the agreement was entered into, the position was «cch that the provision that a proportion of the butter exported, equal to 20 per cent, of Australian consumption, would attract a subsidy meant that the greater portion of the total production of butter in Australia was covered by the guarantee. The fact that during this year at any rate a smaller percentage of the total production will be covered by the guarantee arises from increased production. Those of us who have had practical experience in the primary industry know that although increased production may sometimes reduce the average price per unit, it brings in a greater gross return, which more than compensates for the reduced price per unit. That is what is happening in the dairying industry this year. So I repeat this Government has honoured, And is continuing to honour, to the full its obligations under the 1952 agreement.
But some of our opponents may say, *’ That is all very well, but you cannot get round the fact that the price being received at present by dairy-farmers from the factories is below the determined cost of production “. That is quite correct, but the reason for that is not the reason given by our opponents. It arises from factors which are beyond the control of this Government, and which should be made quite plain to the critics and to the industry. Those who are being so vociferous now, and are attempting to use the present position to prejudice the Government, would do well to hold their horses, because in six or nine months’ time, when their statements have been proved to be completely wrong, they will be made to look extremely foolish.
I have said that the present position arises from factors other than those which are the responsibility of this Government. Let me tell the committee briefly what they are. For the first time since the commencement of the war, the dairying industry is operating on the export market under a trader-to-trader system, introduced, not by the Australian Government, but by the British Government . over which we have no control. Therefore, for the first time for many years, those responsible for the distribution of the funds available to the industry do noi know right at the start of the season the prices that will be received ultimately for the products of the industry. Previously, the equalization committee, which is responsible for determining what shall be paid to the dairy-farmers from the dairy factories, was in the happy position of knowing exactly, before the butter was sold, the price that would be received for it, first, on the Australian market, and secondly, on the British market, but ii is not in that position now as far as the British market is concerned.
Therefore the equalization committee, quite rightly has, to use a colloquialism, played safe. It has fixed the interim price at a level that it knows will be well below the ultimate price. That is one reason for the present situation. I know that the committee, in determining the first amount to be distributed by the factories, and in dealing with the first element of the cost structure - that is, the price that will be received on the British market - has worked on the basis of 2s. 8d. sterling as the retail price of a pound of butter sold in Great Britain. At the time at which that estimate was made, the retail price of a pound of butter on the British market was 3s. 4d. sterling. So we see that in relation to one element of the price structure the equalization committee has left a margin of 6d. sterling per lb., or 7£d. per lb. in Australian currency. Naturally, the price so determined must be below the price actually received. Therefore, for a start, the price appears to be low, and one cannot blame the dairy-farmers for being somewhat disquieted when they find that their first monthly payments amount to less than the determined cost of production; but one can blame other people, who know these facts just as well as we do, for not apprising the dairy-farmers of the position and for not letting them know how the change in the economy of the industry is likely to affect them.
There are other elements of the price structure with which the equalization committee has had to deal and which have had a result similar to that which I have just outlined. The committee has to estimate the total consumption of butter in Australia. Obviously, it is the butter sold on the Australian market which is most profitable for the industry. Therefore, any quantity over and above the total of Australian consumption, plus 20 per cent., which is sold on the unsubsidized British market must depress the overall price. So the equalization committee, again playing safe, has said that it will take 114,000 tons of butter as representing Australian consumption during this coming year.
– A very conservative estimate.
– It is a very conservative estimate in view of the fact that the consumption last year was 120,000 tons. The committee has left a margin of 6,000 tons in order to be absolutely on the safe side. I can see a faint smile on the face of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. Probably he is saying to himself, “ I did not think he knew these facts and I did not think he would bring them out “. Last year, 120,000 tons of butter was consumed in this country; but, in its estimate for this year, the committee has decided to work on a consumption 6,000 tons below that. That is not the whole story. On an average, over the last three or four years, the home consumption of butter has increased by from 4,000 tons to 5,000 tons a year. Therefore, in the year with which we are dealing, if there were no falling-off in consumption, one could reasonably expect a total consumption of about 125,000 tons of butter, but the committee is working on the basis of 114,000 tons. So any butter in excess of 114,000 tons which is eventually sold on the Australian market will represent so much more money to be distributed to the dairyfarmers when the final adjustments are made.
There is a third element in the cost structure. The total volume of production must be taken into account, because any butter over and above 114,000 tons, plus 20 per cent., sold on the British market will depress prices. In this instance, the equalization committee has again played for safety. Last year, the total production of butter by the dairying industry was 1S7,000 tons, which represented an increase of the production during each of the two previous years, but this year, for the purpose of the estimate, the equalization committee is working on 200,000 tons. There again is another safety margin.
– It is 210,000 tons.
– It is 210,000 tons for one element and 200,000 tons for another. This is a very involved matter and I am trying to avoid any divergencies that could mislead. I am taking the lower figure of 200,000 tons, but the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) is quite right in saying that in one estimate, dealing with the distribution of the subsidy per pound, the equalization committee has worked on an overall production of 210,000 tons. The total result of those estimates which I have just indicated is that the equalization committee has recommended a payment which it knows, on present figures, will be at least 4d. - and possibly 4£d. - per lb. below the ultimate realization. In addition, in recent weeks, the British market has been hardening, and it is likely that when the carry-over from last year’s trading held by the British Food Ministry is disposed of within the next two or three months, there will be a further improvement in the British market. Charges that this Government has failed to discharge its obligations to the industry will then be proved to be completely baseless. Then those who are attempting to use such a suggestion for political purposes will become very red in the face. I considered that it was not fair to this Government or to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) or to the honorable member for Oxley to allow the remarks of the honorable member for EdenMonaro to go unchallenged.
I now turn to the Department of Shipping and Transport, and I pay sincere tribute to the late Minister, Senator George McLeay, on this, my first opportunity to do so, on behalf of myself and of all those people in northern Queensland whom he helped so much with shipping services. We all deeply appreciate his work. I know that my remarks will receive unqualified support not only from honorable members on this side of the chamber, but also from those on the other side who represent north Queensland electorates. The late Minister was untiring in his efforts to improve shipping services in north Queensland. If the present situation there is still unsatisfactory - as, unfortunately is the case - it is through no fault of his. He had a keen realization of the needs of the outlying parts of Australia, and knew the north Queensland position very well. He visited the area and spent considerable time in acquainting himself with its requirements. He had a definite determination to do all that he could to develop those areas of the Commonwealth which needed assistance from his department. Many times I asked him to improve the shipping services to north Queensland, and to deal with the shortages which developed from time to time because of the failure of the various authorities to provide an adequate and regular service to those parts, and on each occasion he immediately set the whole of his department to work to iron out the difficulties and always managed to provide a remedy. Although he knew that it was only temporary, nevertheless it resulted in supplying the areas concerning which representations were made with the goods and services they required.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- 1 assure the committee that I will not slip and slide about this chamber on pounds of butter, but I wish briefly to refer to some of the remarks which have been made on that subject. Unlike the honorable .member for Dawson (Mr. Davidson), I shall not use nine-tenths of my time in speaking on a subject with which I had not intended to deal. I suggest that the doctor from Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron), whom honorable members all like very well, has his diagnosis all wrong in regard to butter. He referred to the cost of production, and it was interesting to hear about what the dairy-farmer receives. The honorable member for Oxley referred to the position of the dairy-farmer in 1942. The fact is that until the advent of the Curtin Labour Government the dairy-farmer, as the honorable ‘member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) said, received hardly the basic wage. Few of them received a living wage. There is a difference, as persons receiving the basic wage know, between a living wage and the basic wage, because to-day the basic wage is not a living wage. It was a Labour Government, led by the late Mr. Curtin and followed by the late Mr. Chifley, which first of all put the dairy-farmers on their feet. All suggestions to the contrary by Liberals, particularly in this House, is so much eye-wash. That is true of the speech of the honorable member for Dawson, who seemed to suggest that the Liberals have no right to defend the dairyfarmer, that being the prerogative of members of the Australian Country party.
When honorable members talk about the cost of producing butter, it can be said with complete truth that this is one sphere in which the worker cannot be blamed. No answer has been given to the housewife who asks why she has to pay the present price for a pound of butter. Almost every day in this chamber some honorable member on the Government side says that the price of various commodities is attributable to the fact, that the worker is receiving such high wages. The dairying industry cannot be subjected to that criticism. In 1942, I was one of the officials who tried to obtain an award to cover the wages and conditions of workers in the dairying industry.
Recently, an application was made to the Queensland Industrial Court for a State award. It was opposed strenuously by a large body of employers’ representatives. The history of workers in the dairying industry is almost too bad to mention. Even to-day, nobody employed in that industry, except the dairy-farmer himself, is receiving anything worth while from it. I say again that the Curtin Labour Government, followed by the Chifley Government, first assured the dairy-farmer of a return sufficient to keep body and soul together. It is hypocritical for any tory member to suggest otherwise, or to say that non-Labour governments gave dairyfarmers the right to live, something to which all decent people are entitled. Somebody might be able to convince the housewife that she ought to pay the present price for a pound of butter.
– How much does she pay?
– 4s. 5½d.
– Whatever she pays is too much. The cost of productionis part and parcel of this vicious inflation which has developed during the regime of the present Government. I confront the Government with that fact.
I now wish to deal with social services. [I take this opportunity to express my personal gratitude to all the officers of the Department of Social Services with whom I have come in contact. Each and every one of them is endeavouring to do his duty in accordance with the spirit of the social services legislation. If anybody suffers by delay or wrong decisions, I believe that the delay is not deliberately caused and the wrong decisions are not deliberately made. However, there are some aspects of the legislation which need examination. The first relates to pensioners who are living away from their homes. Sometimes acting on medical advice, and sometimes because they themselves think it necessary for health purposes, pensioners leave their homes and reside for limited periods with members of their families in other places. All honorable members must have had complaints from pensioners who have temporarily left their homes to live, for three months or so, with sons or daughters in other places. Because a pensioner’s income is limited, he cannot resist the temptation to let his home during the temporary absence. If the rent received were taken into account in determining: his right to continue receiving a pension, that would be bad enough, but that is not the position. We know that the capital value of the home is taken into account and most, if not all, of these persons are completely deprived of a pension during the period that they are away from home, or, in the alternative, the pension is reduced. I put it to the Government that that is morally wrong. It can haveno other effect than to take from a person., who has established his eligibility, a right which has been conceded by the passage of legislation. The only offence of these persons is that, for health reasons, they have let the homes which they ownand lived with sons or daughters. An old lady pensioner, who would have been entitled to an invalid pension if she had uot been aged, left her home in Brisbane to live in Townsville for two months-
– With the intention of returning?
– Yes. She could never convince the department that she intended to return. She received 23s.a week for her house.
– Will the honorable gentleman let me have the name and the facts ?
– I gave the facts to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), but he rejected the application. If he likes, I shall give them to him again.
– The honorable member certainly did not give me those facts.
– This lady’s pension was reduced, although following a doctor’s advice she had left her home in order tolive in the tropics for a limited period. I put it to the Government that very serious consideration should be given to this aspect of social service legislation.
I wish to deal also with the funeral benefit payable on the death of a pensioner. When the benefit was introduced - and it was not introduced by a tory government - it was fixed at £10, and made payable to the person responsible for meeting the funeral costs of a deceased pensioner. In spite of rising costs since that time, the amount is still £10: If this amount was considered in 1941 or 1942 to be reasonable and adequate, it should be greatly increased to-day. Nobody ever thought that £10 would cover the full cost of a pensioner’s burial. I hope that the Minister will give this matter serious and sympathetic consideration. I do not want to exaggerate the figures, but if £10 was considered a fair benefit in 1941, at least £15 should be provided to-day.
– Earlier to-day the committee was considering the question of import restrictions, and there is always the other side to this matter, because, quite apart from the possibility of cutting down our imports, we can obtain solvency and balance by expanding our exports. Now that the proposed votes for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture are before us, I think that we might perhaps turn our minds to a few of the things which can be done in this regard. Australia’s export income has become unduly dependent upon wool, which of late years has constituted something like one-half of the total of our exports. To chat extent we are adopting almost a single crop economy. That is all verywell when the price of wool is high, but it exposes us very largely to the vicissitudes of fortune if it should tend to fall. During the last few years the price of wool has been some five or six times as high as it was in pre-war years, whereas the prices of other things we export have been only three or three and a half times as high. I am speaking of the general average. So, it is quite clear that wool has been exceedingly profitable. I do not know whether we can continue to rely on these high prices. I hope that we can, but lest they should in any way diminish we have to be thinking of other strings to our bow. The same position, [ think, is true of butter. Quite apart from the internal market, export prices, which we cannot hope to control, are dependent to a large extent upon the competition of margarine in overseas countries. Here again we have to be thinking of some substitute, some second string. I believe that two things we have to be looking for are, first, an increase in our meat exports, and, secondly, an increase in our exports of dairy products, other than butter-fat. These are not increases which we can hope to make overnight, but which we can work for and towards which we can hope to make some gradual progress.
In regard to milk products, the new techniques of reconstituting milk surely open a new market for the dairy-farmer, something which he can rely on if butter prices should become less favorable overseas. The technique is very simple. The fats are separated from the proteins and then the skimmed milk is evaporated under high vacuum to avoid temperatures which would change the flavour. Then, at the other end, both the fats and the powder are reconstituted with water to give milk which is almost indistinguishable from fresh milk and which has all the medical virtues of fresh milk. These new techniques will not come suddenly, but they open up a prospect of a milk market for us overseas to substitute for any loss of a butter market. Even in India there is some market for reconstituted milk. As honorable members know, most of the milk consumed in India is buffalo milk, which is several times as rich in butter fat as is milk from a cow of a normal breed. So, in terms of human consumption it is desirable to break down the milk in terms of fat content by adding to it more protein. By imaginative marketing there is an outlet for Australia’s milk proteins in India which can be an extremely valuable addition to the income of our dairy-farmers. It is no good just taking the negative attitude of trying to keep our butter market and not doing anything about these new markets. We have got to look forward.
I think the same is true about meat. As honorable members know, there have been two methods of sending meat abroad, namely as chilled meat and frozen meat. In the first place, sending the fully frozen carcass is probably in most respects not of the first acceptability to the consumer. In the second place, the chilled carcass is a better product but is more expensive to handle as the most delicate adjustments in shipping are required. It can keep for only a limited time, which,, unfortunately, is only a little longer than the voyage takes from Australia to British and European markets. Now, a third technique of snap-freezing is becoming available. Snap-freezing of meat can be successfully applied only to small cuts, because it is only with small cuts that one gets the peak ratio of surface to volume and, therefore, the quickness of the freezing which is the essential part of successful snap-freezing. The success of snap-freezing depends on the smallness of the ice crystals which form during the process of freezing, and it is only if they can be kept small by rapid freezing that one can get a successful product. In America, I understand that nearly half the meat is sold in the delicatessen type of shops, that is to say the meat is pre-cut and wrapped, perhaps, in cellophane. I believe we have to look to the European market and to the British market for meat sold in that fashion, that is for meat pre-cut in Australia and snap-frozen before export. It is something that cannot be approached on a small scale but has to be done on a considerable scale or not at all.
– T rise to order. Do you rule, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that it is not necessary for a Minister to be seated at the table in charge of the business before the chamber? I have never seen the table deserted in this way before by Ministers in a. responsible government.
– I make no ruling at all. A Minister is in the chamber on the front bench.
– As I was saying, there is a market available to us through the delicatessen type of shops which would enable us to by-pass the normal butchers’ shops. That is a market that we should exploit. I put these matters forward simply as examples of a practical and constructive approach to our balance-of-payments problem. They are not developments that will dramatically come in, or will have a dramatic effect; but over a long term they will help us to remove the necessity for import licences and import cuts.
Another thing we should be doing is making an effort to reduce our costs as much as we pan. I must confess with some disappointment that I do not feel that the Government has been tackling the transport problem with the vigour that is its due. I certainly cast no reflection upon the late Senator McLea; who, at the time of his death, was Minister for Shipping and Transport. I believe that he did not always receive from his colleagues the support that his ideal were entitled to. We should be doing more about the standardization of our trunk railways. That is something which would react favorably upon every other form of transport because it would remove the congestion at ports and, therefore, make our interstate shipping problem more tractable. It would enable the railways to run efficiently and by so doing would make it unnecessary to continue to their full extent the burdensome restrictions upon road transport. Ii would enable the railways to take their proper place as carriers of those goods which they are most fitted to carry by reason of their very nature, and it would therefore enable us to treat both shipping and road transport in a more rational fashion. Fix the railways first and the other things will fall into their place. I cannot for the life of me understand why some limited standardization of trunk lines has not yet been undertaken by the Government because, as 1 have pointed out on previous occasions, the finance and the materials are available to us immediately. They could be obtained from overseas, if we needed them, almost overnight. Of that, I have first-hand knowledge.
Another thing is that diesel-electric locomotives have shown that they can save - each one of them - something like 60 per cent, of their capital cost in every year of operation. They are, in point of fact, a 60 per cent, investment and 1 do not believe that any country is rich enough to be able to afford to discard a 60 per cent, investment. Why have we not got them? I admit that this is very largely the fault of the States. The Commonwealth railways which were under the administration of the late Senator McLeay have an almost complete dieselisation of the most satisfactory nature and the little bits that are noi yet fully dieselized are in process of dieselization. But in the States there is an entirely different state of affairs. 1 believe that one of the great reasons why
State revenues are in persistent difficulties has been the failure of governments, in New South Wales and Queensland in particular, to face up to this problem. Finance for everything else is short because the railways are not being efficiently run. The railways are a great part of State budgets and because of this failure on the railway transport front every other State activity, whether it be schools or hospitals, or whatever activity one may like to name, gets into financial difficulty. By putting the railways on a proper basis, the finances of New South Wales and Queensland would themselves be placed on a proper and secure basis. I am told, and I believe it to be true, that even this year New South Wales cancelled the quite inadequate orders which it was prepared to place for diesel-electric locomotives.
– I do not know why. I think it is utter madness, and it shows that the administration of the department is quite inefficient. After all, how can one turn down a 60 per cent, investment in favour of an investment which pays a much smaller dividend, and believe oneself to be efficient? That is what the New South Wales Government is doing, and it is because it has, over the past eight or nine years, failed to take advantage of this diesel opportunity, that the railway finances are in difficulty. The railways simply go from one financial crisis to another, because they have not known how to approach this problem. The New South Wales Government has spent immense amounts of money in recent years upon steam locomotives which should never have been ordered and whose operation represents a continuing loss. That is one of the reasons why the finances of New South Wales are in such a parlous condition, [f the Government of New South Wales wants a successful budget, and if it wants to carry on its other governmental functions properly, it must first make its transport system efficient. I do not know to what extent the Australian Government can help or advise the New South Wales Government, or how it can assist achievement of the two essentials - partial standardization of trunk lines and faster conversion to the diesel-electric system - which would put the railways on a paying basis, but I think that those things should be done with the least possible delay.
– Order! The honorable member’s time is expired.
.- I am very pleased to follow the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), because he has made a brilliant contribution to the debate. It is a pity that there were not more members of the Australian Country party listening to his very valuable comments on what could be done to dispose of Australia’s primary produce overseas. The honorable member can always be relied upon to make a good speech on matters concerning atomic energy, and it is pleasing to see that he has entered fresh fields this afternoon. I hope that he will not be rebuked by the junior party in the coalition for taking a stand which members of the Australian Country party should have taken on behalf of those whom they profess, in this chamber, to represent. I agree with the honorable member that much more should be done to’ assist in the disposal of our primary products overseas. The Estimates for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture show that it is proposed to appropriate quite considerable sums of money for our commercial intelligence service in various countries. I believe that the salvation of the Australian primary producer in his search for markets lies in the Far East. I may be biased in this respect, as I come from Queensland, the most northern State of the Commonwealth; but Australia is the closest all-round primary producing country to the markets in the Far East. That gives us an advantage in those markets, although we are at a corresponding disadvantage regarding markets in Europe. Our trade commissioners in eastern countries such as Indonesia, Malaya, Hong Kong, Japan, Pakistan, Ceylon and India should be pushing to the utmost the sale of our primary products, which are to some extent a drag on the market. Australia has a most adverse trade balance -with many far-eastern countries, and we have every reason to increase our exports to those countries. For example, our exports to Indonesia in the year just ended amounted to £3,700,000, but we imported from that country £22,414,000 worth of goods, mainly petroleum and shale oil. Our exports to Indonesia consisted mainly of plain white flour. Surely there is reason to believe that we can do better in the matter of exporting our primary products to Indonesia. It is quite a wealthy country, and is developing rapidly now that it has achieved self government. The same remarks apply to Ceylon. Our balance of trade with that country is tragic. We import from Ceylon £19,000,000 worth of goods a year, and we sell to that country only £S,700,000 worth. Prom India we import £25,000,000 worth of goods but we export to that country only £19,000,000 worth. The position in relation to Malaya is equally bad, and we all know that Malaya is a very wealthy country, in which, as we have been told frequently by commercial men who have made visits to the Far East, we could dispose of a much greater volume of goods if our products were suitably processed and packed. To Malaya we export £S,000,000 worth of goods, and we import £12,500,000 worth from that country.
The same criticism can be made of our trade relations with other far-eastern countries ; yet they are the places in which we should be trying to push the sale of our products. We all know that Australian primary producers are searching for markets and of course, their problem is the problem of the nation. It affect3 not only the primary producer, but also the man who processes those products and the person who is engaged in transport, either on land or at sea. We are all involved in this all-important matter. I hope that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) will instruct the trade commissioners, even though they have done good work in the past, to make a still greater effort, in the interests of the Commonwealth, and of the primary- producer particularly, to see that more of our products are sold in the countries I have mentioned. We must search for markets and create goodwill for our products in those places.
I wish to make some reference now to the matter raised by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), when he dealt with the Estimates for the Department of Shipping and Transport. It is true that early this year the Privy Council decided that State governments have not the power to tax interstate hauliers, and, as a result, State revenues have decreased alarmingly, and the main highways have deteriorated considerably. There appears to be a tendency for trucks of ever-increasing size to use the interstate highways. As a result of the decision of the Privy Council, the interstate motor hauliers do not pay additional road tax, and the diesel oil which most of them use as fuel is not taxed. Therefore, they are doing very well at the expense of the private motorists, the general taxpayers and the State governments. It is true that constitutional difficulties exist in connexion with this matter, but I believe that if more money was given to the States, those difficulties could be overcome. Municipalities, as well as the State governments, are affected.
– Order! The honorable member is getting wide of the mark. He should keep within broad principles.
– I thought that I wat following valuable precedents, Mr. Temporary Chairman, but I am always co-operative. I wish to say a few word? about highway construction, particularly in relation to the interstate highway which runs south from Brisbane. It is true that the cost of constructing highways is increasing at an alarming rate. The honorable member for Batman made a sensible approach to this matter when he advocated the construction of four-lane highways. The Queensland Government has adopted that system on the main western highway of Queen.? land, but as it is very expensive, tinmoney available for roads could very quickly be eaten up by expenditure on only one or two highways of that description. Instead of granting more of th* proceeds of the petrol tax to the States for roads purposes, the Commonwealth icontinuing to pay a large part of the yield into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. In common with other honorable members on this side of the chamber, I consider that money should be appropriated from the defence vote for the construction of highways, which form an essential part of our defence system. I hope that the defence authorities do not subscribe to the view that because invaders would become bogged down on some of our highways, money from the defence vote should not be expended on their improvement. We should establish the best possible lines of communication within Australia in order to facilitate the speedy movement of goods both during war-time and in peace-time.
The honorable member for Mackellar has referred to the standardization of railway gauges. I, also, had intended to direct myself to that subject, from the defence point of view, but by doing so - in view of your ruling a moment ago. Mr. Temporary Chairman - I might find myself on dangerous ground. I shall therefore reserve my comment in that connexion for another occasion.
.- One of the things about which I am very pleased is the acceptance, in toto, by the Government, of the Dairy Industry Investigation Committee’s report each year. I have always held firmly to the conclusion that if the Government appoints a committee in which both it and the other parties to the agreement have complete confidence, the Government should accept the reports as a whole, and not tinker at them. I accept, and strongly support, the principle adopted by the Government that people who have the benefit of hearing the evidence of all interested persons in a certain matter are much more entitled to give, and much more able to express, a concise and deliberate opinion than are a group of politicians gathered here in Canberra. The Government has accepted in full, and has decided to implement, the recommendations contained in the latest report that has been presented by the Dairy Industry Investigation Committee. I was interested in, and at times amused by, the attempts of various members of the Opposition this afternoon to show that the Labour party - whatever might be meant by that term those days-
– Which one?
– I do not know which one they meant, but they tried to give the impression that the Labour party was the friend of the dairy-farmers. They invited the dairy-farmers, in effect, to come to their bosom, and they would nurture them. My mind goes back to the days when the Chifley Government had its last chance to do something for the dairying industry. That Government had appointed the Joint Dairying Industry Advisory Committee, which had made recommendations to it. The present Government has accepted, the committee’s report each year, but in 1949 the committee furnished a report which showed that the cost of production warranted an increase to the dairy-farmers of 2M. per lb., that factory costs had risen by -id. per lb., and that for the industry to be prosperous this amount of money should be paid to the dairyfarmers
– And in those days, the Commonwealth subsidized the whole production.
– The honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) is an authority on these matters, and I thank him for his helpful interjection. What happened when the Chifley Government had an opportunity to do something about the matter? It said, in effect, “ We will not be in it. So far as we are concerned, the dairy-farmer can go to the State governments which have control of prices. If the State governments care to put up the price to the consumers, they can do so, but we will not be in it”. The States refused to increase the price, and the factories had to reduce their return to the dairyfarmers in order to meet their loss of -Jd. per lb. Although, under the Chifley Government’s own formula, the cost of production of butter rose by 3d. per lb., the dairy-farmer was denied a corresponding increase by the Labour party, which is now trying to convince the people that it is the great friend of the dairying industry. The report on the cost of production was furnished in July. 1949, but it was not until the October of that year that the Chifley Government, having decided to hold an election on the 10th December, said, in effect, “We will give dairy-farmers an increase of 2½d. per lb. from October until twenty days after the election “. In other words, honorable members opposite, who then formed the Government, saw the election coming. They saw the storm clouds in the sky, and said, “ We will carry the dairyfarmers over until just after the election, and then we will deal with them “.
The Chifley Government was defeated, and the dairying industry has since gone from strength to strength. Under this Government’s ad ministration, the wives and children of dairy-farmers have been able to relinquish their duties on the dairy-farms, and enjoy their homes. This Government has placed the industry on a stable footing. It has honoured its obligations to the industry by accepting the committee’s reports in full as they have been made. We have a splendid record in respect of the dairying industry.
Apart from various signs of trouble that may lie ahead for the industry, there is one great menace to which the industry should pay heed. I refer to the growing threat to the dairying industry of the increased manufacture of margarine for sale in Australia. The floodgate for the increased production of margarine was opened by the Queensland Government some years ago. Before the breaking of the agreement by that Government, there was a limit to the amount of margarine that could be produced in Australia. For no apparent reason, the Queensland Government increased the margarine quota for Queensland to a little more than the whole of thr Australian quota before that. Now, the Australian quota for table margarine to bo manufactured each year is about 12,000 tons. At the moment, that quantity is a little beyond the capacity of the producers of margarine, but they are increasing their factories all over Australia in the hope that the quota will be further increased, and that an even greater production of margarine will be permitted.
It may be all right for people to say that margarine is good food. I am prepared to debate that point, but I now put it to the committee that Australia is still a young country, and that its primary industries are situated mainly in country or outback districts which must be developed. We look to the dairying industry as one means of developing this country, and so if anything happens to cripple that industry the whole of the Australian economy must suffer. Therefore, it is essential that the dairying industry should be protected against the competition of the manufacture of margarine in unlimited quantities. When the quotas applying to the manufacture of margarine were lifted, I protested and said that the decision menaced thi3 country’s future. I still believe that to be so. The limitation of the quotas will probably not have any marked effect, because I do not think that the States have the constitutional power to limit quotas, and, therefore, we must turn to other means of controlling the manufacture of margarine. Personally, I should not care if the margarine manufacturing industry folded up completely, because as it grows, so the dairying industry weakens. Any weakening of the dairying industry means that those engaged in the production of dairy products are attracted away from the farms to factories in the cities where margarine is manufactured. That is a bad thing for Australia.
We have, therefore, to seek some other alternative to stand between margarine and butter. I believe that the most effective way to deal with this situation is to make it obligatory that in no part of Australia shall margarine be coloured to make it look like butter. It should be left in its natural colour - a pasty white - or, so far as I am concerned, it could be coloured black or pink. The word “ pink “ rhymes with “ stink “, but that word applied to margarine would not worry me. Manufacturers should be allowed to colour margarine as they like, so long as it does not resemble butter. I think that the right thing to do would be for margarine to be sold in its natural colour, as it comes from the vats. That is what I call a pasty white colour. Margarine owes much of its popularity to the fact that manufacturers make it look like butter, and taste something like butter. If we can control the colour of margarine so that it does not resemble butter, I am sure that its sales will fall off, and the only people who will be encouraged to buy margarine will be those who firmly believe that it is a substitute for butter, or those to whom the lower price is an attraction. I suggest seriously that at the next meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council the question of the manufacture of margarine should be seriously discussed, and that it should be made unlawful throughout Australia for manufacturers of margarine to colour their product so that it resembles butter. I am serious in making that proposal, because the manufacture of margarine is making serious inroads on the butter industry.
As the honorable member for Dawson (Mr. Davidson) pointed out, the equalization committee has estimated Australia’s annual consumption of butter at about 6,000 tons, on the basis of lastyear’s figures, but it could go up by another 5,000 tons, making a total of 11,000 tons a year. If another 11,000 tons of margarine were sold in Australia, that would mean that 11,000 tons less butter would be sold. Such a state of affairs must affect the home-consumption returns to dairyfarmers, because of the lower price of butter overseas. This is a serious matter. There are some people who are foolish enough, and in my opinion, wicked enough, to advocate a policy which would eliminate the sale of margarine by the imposition of an excise duty on all coco-nut oil grown in the territories under Australia’s control. Such a proposal is un-Australian. These people argue that copra, from which coco-nut oil is extracted, is grown under slave conditions in territories controlled by Australia. Such statements going out from Australia to the rest of the world can have a most damaging effect on our relations with other countries, and upon our hold on the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. Not all the copra that comes into Australia is used to manufacture margarine. Indeed, only asmall proportion of it is used in that way.I repeat that it is a wicked thing for the leaders of an industry to speak in that way, “and to ask the Government to do something which might imperil the security of our nation by causing us to lose our hold on mandated territories. I trust that they will see that concerted effort is made in the direction that I have indicated. The policy that has been advocated could be most harmful, but the placing of an excise duty on margarine, or the prohibition of the importation of margarine into Australia, would not injure us in the eyes of other nations.
There are a thousand alternatives to using coco-nut oil in the production of margarine. Peanut oil, or any other oil that can be emulsified can be used. There is no scientific reason why margarine could not be made out of sump oil. That is the position when we get clown to basic facts. Therefore, for any section of the community to argue that we are doing wrong in supporting industries in our mandated territories is wicked, and perhaps, treasonable. I repeat my proposal that at the next meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council efforts should be made to convince people like Mr. Collins, the Queensland Minister for Agriculture, who is a sworn advocate of margarine, as well as the Minister for Agriculture in New South Wales, who does nothing to oppose the sales of margarine, that in damaging and smashing the dairying industry of this country they are hindering and retarding an industry that has done much to develop Australia, and if not interfered with will continue to do so in the future.
. - We have listened to an extraordinary contribution to the debate from the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce), who supports a government that believes in free trade, and. no controls. The honorable member has proposed that manufacturers of margarine should be compelled to colour their product so that it shall not look like butter. Looking at this proposal from the viewpoint of the dairy-farmers of Australia, I could say “ Hear, hear ! “, but when the honorable member advocates controls to protect one industry, whether it be a primary industry in the country or a secondary industry in the city, he is advocating a policy of the Labour party - a party to which he is opposed.
– Has the Labour party any policy?
– Yes. Labour believes in the protection of Australian industries. I agree which much that the honorable member for Capricornia said, but the plain truth is that the increased sales of margarine are the result of what we are doing in the industrial sphere - pegging the basic wage and so on.
– The average wage is £lv a week.
– I do not disagree about the average wage. I am talking now about the lower-wage group.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member may not discuss the lower-wage group. He will return to matters relevant to the proposed votes under discussion.
– If you had waited, Mr. Temporary Chairman, until I had said a few more words, you would have realized that I am talking about the subject of butter. The economic position of this country has reached a stage at which the family man in the lower -wage group is not able to purchase butter at its present price. Nobody in this chamber can tell me that the average Australian would put margarine on the table for his children to eat if he could afford to buy butter for them.. The plain unvarnished fact is that the price of butter is too high for people on low wages. The honorable mem!ber for Capricornia has risen here, quite rightly so, to protect an Australian industry, and has pleaded with the Government to do something about the control of margarine; but he has ignored the facts that the Government’s policy is ostensibly opposed to controls, and that that very policy is the reason why people are forced to buy margarine instead of butter. He talks in terms of the sale of another 11,000 tons of margarine on the Australian market as a menace to the dairying industry. I do not disagree with that statement, because I was horn and reared on a dairy farm, and my closest relatives to-day are still in that industry. They still vote Labour, strange though that may be according to some of the things we have heard in this chamber. But they are concerned with the very situation that is worrying the honorable member for Capricornia. The incontrovertible fact is that margarine is taking the place of butter on the tables of the workers because they cannot afford to buy butter at its present price.
– What nonsense!
– It is all right for the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) to say that that is nonsense. He lives in the lap of luxury. Let him ask wageearners who have big families and small incomes for the facts.
I leave that subject now, because there are some other matters with which I want to deal. I am rather sorry that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) is not here at the moment, because I wish to raise now a matter that I have already raised to-day in a question that I put to the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page). I refer to the payment of hospital benefits in relation to pensioners. The Minister for Health told me, if I understood, him correctly, that the position is that 8s. a bed a day is paid to the States for pensioners in hospitals, and an additional 4s. a bed a day is paid provided the pensioner enters a public ward of a public hospital. Alternatively, I understand - I am open to correction if I am wrong, although I do not think I am - if the pensioner enters a private hospital the additional 4s. is not paid. That position should be examined by the Minister for Social Services, in conjunction with the Minister for Health, because I believe that hospital benefits due to pensioners should be paid by the Department of Social Services direct to the hospital, thus relieving pensioners of any obligation in respect of either paying the hospital or having to make any calculation at all in respect of payments to the hospital. I think that that plan is feasible.
– If they are insured they can easily go to their hospital benefit fund.
– I agree with that, but every 3d. or 6d. means something to a pensioner. The right honorable gentleman will agree that there are some instances of pensioners who are members of hospital benefits funds in respect of whom the Government accepts no obligation to pay the full 12s. a bed a day, unless they enter a public ward of a public hospital. I think that the Government should undertake that obligation on a broad basis, and not on the present narrow basis.
I know I am trespassing somewhat, Mr. Temporary Chairman, by raising the subject of transport, but the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) spoke about the dieselization of rail services. I listened closely to his remarks, and I have considered them in conjunction with the remarks of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), on the subject of roads. I think that we have reached a point in Australia’s national development where, if we do not do something about our transport system, we shall have failed as a nation.
– The honorable gentleman should tell that to the Labour Premiers.
– I do not disagree with that statement, because T think that the time has definitely arrived when State governments, irrespective of their political colour, have shown that they have failed to meet Australia’s requirements in transport.
– Does the honorable gentleman want to pass the buck?
– No, 1 do not want to pass the buck. I want somebody to grasp the nettle and do for this country the job that requires to be done. The most important thing is that we have what is necessary for the good of Australia. Both the Federal and State governments should be concerned, along with everybody else, in promoting the development of this nation. The States, irrespective of the political colour of their governments, have failed miserably in relation to transport. Irrespective of whether the root reason is financial, and of where the responsibility ultimately lies, we have to face the reality that our transport system, for a nation of the size of Australia, is possibly the worst in the world. It is not sufficient to rise in this place and condemn the New South Wales Government, or the Victorian Government, or some other authority or person. We have to face this problem as a nation, and build our roads to link with our railway systems, and provide airfields in places that will enable our air services to be co-ordinated with both our road and rail systems.
– Will the honor.able gentleman get the States to give us the necessary powers, or are we just to provide the money?
– The position to-day is that if the people were able to express their opinion, by means of a referendum, of our transport systems, they would, I am sure, vote almost unanimously that something should bo done immediately to perfect them. This matter is so important that it is beyond politics. I repeat my previously expressed conviction that either we do something about our transport system now, or we have failed as a nation. Every day we fail to do something about putting our transport system into really good shape is another day on which we are letting this nation down, because an efficient transport system is a most necessary foundation for a nation to build on.
– The honorable member should be careful, or he will be reported to the New South Wales executive of the Labour party.
– The first things Hitler did in Germany, when he was trying to build Germany into a nation with which he thought he could conquer the world, were to co-ordinate road and rail transport, and to develop a vast and efficient complex of highways. The United States of America did exactly the same thing long ago. I agree with the honorable member for Mackellar that the time has arrived when there should be extensive dieselization of our rail services. Such a programme should be on a national level, because the use of diesel locomotives in our railway services, and the replacement of steam locomotives, would have an effect on the coal-mining industry. In addition, we should have to consider what the position of the nation would be in the event of a war if it were relying on overseas supplies of fuel for its locomotives. We should be tackling now the problem of standardization of rail gauges, because we cannot hope to have an efficient rail transport system in Australia while we still have six or seven railway systems using different rail gauges. That is because the buck is continually being passed. The honorable member for Mackellar condemned New South Wales because, he said, that State had not introduced diesel electrification more widely on its railways. But he did noi take into account the fact that about 1,000 miners in New South Wales will, perhaps, lose their jobs before the end of this year. If we want to build Australia into a great nation, we must establish an efficient transport system, and in order to do that we must co-ordinate all forms of transport.
We have spoken about the standardization of rail gauges, but standardization will not be of much use to us if we’ do not co-ordinate all forms of transport in this country. The matter now before the chamber deserves much thought, perhaps as much as can be devoted to any important public matter. That is because it is upon our capacity to co-ordinate our transport systems that the greatness of this country depends. If we are to be a great and prosperous nation we must look to our transport systems first of all. If we could properly co-ordinate Australian transport, State governments would no longer need to complain that they cannot properly maintain their road systems, or build new roads because they have not sufficient money. The maintenance and expansion of the road network would then be the responsibility of the co-ordinating authority.
I suggest that there is no better way of ultimately destroying the capacity of this nation to survive than by not taking vigorous action in regard to our transport. Surely nobody would maintain that the great oil refinery at Kwinana, in Western Australia, should not be linked with the east by the most efficient form of transport. If we believe that, then we must believe that it is in the interests of Australia that all our large industries and undertakings should be made much more efficient by a co-ordinated transport system. Such co-ordination should be a responsibility, not of the States, but of the Commonwealth.
– I desire to speak about a matter that was raised by the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) in his opening remarks. A great deal has been said about the butter industry during the debate on the Estimates of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) referred to the encroachment of the margarine industry on the butter market. Now it may be that in time to come science will discover the elusive quality in butter which makes it so palatable and nourishing, and will be able to incorporate it in margarine, but that time has not yet come. Just as science has not been able to find a substitute with all the qualities of wool - among them the remarkable quality of increasing in warmth as it gets wet - so no one has yet been able to find what may be called the trace element in butter that makes it so useful to humanity. The point made by the honorable member for Capricornia was overlooked by the honorable member for Blaxland, who scoffed at Government supporters for adopting socalled Labour policies for the protection of the butter industry against margarine.
This matter goes back a long way in time. I recall that, when I was a member of the New South Wales Parliament, we were constantly hampered by the attitude of the Labour party in regard to the production of margarine when butter was so cheap that it did not return a decent profit to the butter producer. However, the honorable member for Capricornia was not urging that margarine should not be produced ; he was suggesting that it should be manufactured in such a way that it could not be foisted on to the consumers as butter. In other words, he did not want it to be camouflaged so that it could bc sold for the pure article. This Parliament has passed legislation to ensure that garments made all of wool shall be described as pure woollen materials, and the honorable member for Capricornia argued that margarine should be described as “ margarine “.
In spite of the tears that have been shed over the persons who cannot afford to put butter on their tables at the present, time, I should like to see an expert investigate the dining-rooms of high-class hotels in the various States. He should conduct a survey without warning to find out whether they have pure margarine or butter ontheir tables. I am not referring to the hotel at which I stay, but I know enough about butter to know whether I am getting the real nutflavoured butter that we used to get on the farm or a substitute. I suggest that there would be some very interesting results from such an investigation.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Eraser) told the committee what the great Australian Labour party had done for the butter industry. He detailed the way in which the gentleman who is now Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) introduced a certain agreement between the Commonwealth and the dairying industry under which, if the industry accepted an award, it would get a certain price for its butter. I was an executive of a producers’ organization at that time, and I well remember the circumstances under which the agreement was made. Perhaps the right honorable gentleman was unable to offer anything better, but the price of the acceptance of the stabilization scheme was an award in the industry, and that award was based on a 56-hour week. I remember going thoroughly into the matter with expert dairy men, and the price offered by the Labour Government made no provision whatever for such normal things as droughts and a certain amount of profit that was necessary to build up a reserve of the kind considered normal in other industries.
I remember very well that that was a hectic time for the gentleman who led the dairying industry, a Mr. Gibson, because the dairy-farmers believed that they had been badly treated. I know that considerable difficulties are experienced in time of war. but I do not want my friends opposite to get away with the idea that they were the people who really thought about the dairying industry. When the Australian Country party, during the prime ministership of Mr. Bruce, tackled this problem through the agency of Mr. Tom Paterson, the total return to the dairying industry was £500,000 a year less than the sum that it will receive this year in subsidies and other forms of assistance from the Government. The respective figures are £18,500,000 and £19,000,000. Whenwe tackled the problem, not only ““as the dairy-farmer receiving the over seas price for his product, but also transport costs, based on the home-consumption price, were deducted. If transport costs to the overseas markets were 6d. per lb. and the price received was 2s. per lb., the net return was1s. 6d. per lb.
All this talk by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, whose heart doubtless bleeds for the dairy-farmers who live around Cooma but who are working on the nearby mountain sides and in the Snowy mountains area, is beside the point. The return to the dairy-farmer for this financial year cannot be calculated finally until the end of the year or later, as the honorable member for Dawson (Mr. Davidson) has stated. The wheat-farmer sends his wheat to a pool, but, after receiving his first advance, he does not know what he will get eventually until his product is sold on the world’s markets. The same statement may be made about the dairying industry.
I wish to refer to a shocking canard that has been circulated throughout Australia. It has been stated that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who is the leader of the Australian Country party, has referred to all dairy-farmers as being Communists. Such a statement is utterly ridiculous. The right honorable gentleman represents a dairying community. He knows and respects dairyfarmers, and he would not make a statement like that. His statement, which has been misconstrued - and statements are dishonestly misconstrued for political purposes - was that those people who challenge and criticize the Government without really knowing the facts are playing the game of the Communists. Any man in any walk of life who, without knowing the facts, uses some pretext to stir up strife between various sections of the community is playing the game of those who are seeking to disrupt the country and who are adherents of international communism.
In passing, I wish to direct attention to a point that was made by the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) concerning transport. The honorable member, in good faith, made a statement upon which he based a certain argument. I think his premise was wrong, and that consequently his argument was unsound.
He stated that, because of a certain legal decision, it was now impossible for a State government to collect taxes from the great interstate transport agencies. I may be wrong - I do not think I am - but, as I understand the judgment of the Privy Council, that body decided that there was nothing to prevent a State from collecting taxes from an interstate transport organization if those taxes represented a fair charge for the wear and tear of the roads. I believe I am stating the position correctly when I say that the judgment further stated that, if there were an attempt to impose a penal tax for some such purpose as subsidizing railways, that tax would be illegal. I have seen a published statement by the interstate hauliers’ organization which indicated that the hauliers were quite prepared to pay their share of taxes. I can quite understand their point of view. Any agency that has to depend upon a levy upon some other section of the community for its success will go to the pack sooner or later. I believe that the New South “Wales railways are in a mess partly because there has been an attempt to lean upon somebody else rather than to probe for the basic causes of inefficiency.
This problem bristles with difficulties. Let me cite a case in point. In New Zealand, lime, which is essential to agriculture, is carried at a nominal rate. Why is that? It is not because the Government is generous, but because it realizes that, if production is increased, it will receive the benefit in the form of increased income tax. Under our present system of uniform taxation, if New South Wales or any other State were to offer a nominal rate for the transport of lime for agricultural purposes, it would be paying the piper and the Commonwealth would be reaping the benefit. That is true also of superphosphate. I know a. man in «ny electorate who has used 10,000 cwt. of superphosphate in one year. When the price of wool or of stock falls, the cost of using superphosphate becomes prohibitive, and the beneficial movement to which I have referred slows down. There are other matters relating to transport and State relations that ought to be remedied, but my own humble opinion is that the unsatisfactory position in New South Wales dates from the time when the then Premier, Mr. McKell, introduced the principle of absolute seniority in making appointments. The rot has continued ever since, and the railway system of that State is now in an appalling condition. New South Wales trains are scarcely safe. To allow them to remain in that condition is not fair to the staff, to the passengers, or to the public whose money is invested in them.
I am not quite sure whether further time is available to me. If it is, I wish to refer to the Estimates for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. CREAN (Melbourne Ports) [4.53 . - I wish to refer to two matters, one of which is related to the Department of Social Services and the other to the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. The honorable member for Herbert. (Mr. Edmonds) who spoke this afternoon, referred to the funeral benefit, in relation to which the margin between what might be called decency and degradation is very narrow. It will be noted that the total proposed payment for funeral benefit is £320,000. To treble the benefit by raising it from £10 to £30 for each person would cost the Government only an additional £640,000. It might be argued that child endowment should be doubled but to do that would moan getting into large figures, whereas to treble the funeral benefit would not involve the Government in a great deal of additional expenditure. I appeal to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) to examine my suggestion. Each year, various organizations approach him and point out the inadequacy of the funeral benefit, but on each occasion they receive the reply that the matter will be investigated when the next budget is being considered. With a budget of £1,100,000,000, surely the expenditure of another £640,000, or, if the benefit were increased to £40, another £1,000,000, would not affect the economy of this country very much.
The other matter to which I wish to draw attention is related to the Estimates. for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. If those Estimates are examined, it will be seen that Australia has a considerable network of what are called commercial intelligence services. Those are establishments in various countries designed to promote Australian foreign trade. I think it was the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) who pointed out this afternoon that Australia, in its external trade, is largely dependent upon primary products such as wool and wheat. At the moment, the price of each of those products is falling, and wheat is becoming very difficult to sell.
I remind honorable members that even before our wheat is sold, the wheatgrowers receive certain advances in anticipation of the sale. Sales of Australian wheat overseas are not viewed quite so optimistically now as they were in the past. Payments to wheat-growers are the subject of a guarantee given, I understand, by the Commonwealth Bank. That prompts me to reflect on the fact that the volume of our exports determines the volume of our imports. At the moment, we are imposing import restrictions because our exports are flagging, but I have reason to believe that the opportunities to sell Australian goods to other countries are being missed in some instances. I have an example in mind. Some time ago, an Australian firm that manufactures tractors and other earthmoving equipment would have been able to sell to an Asian country machinery to the value of several millions of pounds, but for the fact that the prospective buyers could not pay for the machinery immediately. Because that Australian firm could not obtain the kind of assistance that other countries extend to their export industries, the sale was lost.
I refer to what are called export finance arrangements. In a recent issue of the Economist, there was an article about a new American organization called the American Overseas Finance Corporation. It consists of a group of banking companies that have put something like 120,000,000 dollars into a kind of rolling fund to provide assistance for American exporters who find difficulty in obtaining early payment for their goods on the Asian markets. I suggest that something of that kind should be done by this Government. We are in the absurd position that, in order to obtain foreign currency, we are virtually being forced back to the trading that existed before the war. I think that autarchy was the broad term used to describe it. In order to earn sterling currency, we are selling our butter overseas at lower prices than at home. Perhaps that kind of thing must be indulged in occasionally, but I do not think it should be regarded as inevitable.
We have the appalling spectacle of somebody on the other side of the chamber who, because the Australian consumer finds that margarine is cheaper than butter, hits upon the ingenious idea of destroying all the margarine, in preference to subsidizing butter consumed in Australia. That would not fill the stomachs of the people, but apparently it would help to bolster the economy of the butter industry. I do not deny the importance of the butter industry in the Australian economic framework, but that attitude illustrates the unimaginative approach to these great problems by this Government.
It is better to expand trade than to restrict it. We must cut our coat according to the cloth. In the last analysis, we cannot buy more than we sell. I suggest that it is the duty of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, in association with the Treasury, to find out whether the development of overseas markets for some kinds of Australian products is being impeded by minor difficulties. I have already referred to an Australian firm making tractors and other earth-moving equipment which had an opportunity to sell in Asia machinery to the value of some millions of pounds. It failed to do so, not because of costs of production in Australia - that is a bogy that is quite often raised here with an air of inevitability, but because it could not afford to wait for payment for two or three years. There was no doubt that payment would have been made in the long run. The machinery was eventually bought from an American firm, backed by the banking organization to which I have referred. In the upshot, Australia lost the contract and our balance of trade suffered in consequence.
Various chambers of manufactures in Australia have suggested that the Government should examine the possibility of providing export finance, but nothing has been done. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has rushed to the other side of the world to raise more dollars in order to bridge the dollar gap for the time being, but I believe that, instead, he should be seeking ways to expand our markets overseas. Instead of putting £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 into a new international organization, why does not the Treasurer set that money aside for the purpose of creating in Australia a new branch of the banking system which could give assistance to Australian firms which want to export the kind of equipment that is vital for the development of Asia? Exports of that kind would stimulate our economy and Improve our balance of payments. The Government has taken the easy road of import restrictions. As a short-term policy, import restrictions may be necessary, but the long-term policy should be to expand our trade. We on this side of the chamber believe that, as we expand our trade and come into economic, social and cultural contact with other countries, so shall we improve our relations with those countries.
– Will the honorable member help us to get costs down?
– In the case that I have referred to the difficulty was not caused by costs of production. It was a financial difficulty that could have been overcome by an organization such as I envisaged. There is no doubt that some technical difficulties would be associated with the establishment of such an organization, but I urge the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) to use the imagination that I know he uses in speculative fields from time to time. Let him be an inspiration to his colleague? to expand our languishing overseas trade. If we do not expand it, we shall run the risk of falling into that very narrow system of trade that I have characterized as autarchy. Even at the moment, we are selling goods overseas at a loss in order to earn foreign currency. If one country begins to do that, it will not be long before other countries seek to do the same. In that case, we shall encounter the kind of competitive disadvantages that we had in the pre-war period. It was hoped that this sort of thing had vanished, but it seems to be creeping back again. Because we wanted sterling, we were willing to sell our butter overseas at a loss, and make up the difference by charging a higher price to the unfortunate Australian consumer. As we have seen, the consumer to-day has not too’ much to spend, as some people would have us believe. He has to spend more on commodities such as butter because of this stupid policy, and in consequence he has less left to spend on other things that are necessary to a decent standard of living. I leave the matter there, hoping that the Government, in the talks about prices in which it is now engaged, will not put its faith in restrictions, but will seek to expand Australia’s overseas trade, thus helping to promote better relations with those peoples who are now our near neighbours.
.- I wish to speak briefly on the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. I am somewhat in agreement with the suggestion of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) that the Government should assist in financing exports. Australia must go far beyond relying exclusively on exports of primary products to pay for imports. It is an undeniable fact that, notwithstanding the importance of primary industries to our economy, Australia is almost as highly industrialized as the United States of America. We must come to that conclusion if we compare the proportion of population engaged in secondary industry as compared with that employed in primary industry. The time must come when this country will have to find markets overseas for its secondary products, as well as develop markets for primary products.
Perhaps this situation calls for a new look at the machinery used in our export trade. In particular, we must revise the old, orthodox system of trade representation overseas. I know, that recently the Minister took action to ensure that our trade representatives had some business experience, and that is important. But the Department of Commerce and Agriture is something more than just another government department. Export trade for Australia is big business. However, in the case of government appointments, there is always an unfortunate atmosphere of control which suppresses the officer’s ability and initiative. Our trade representation should not be subject to full government control. Trade representatives should have more practical commercial experience than has hitherto been the case, and should be free to collaborate with commercial interests.
This may be a revolutionary suggestion, but recently the Minister announced that more money was to be spent on propaganda. We have not yet learned the rudiments of propaganda, nor do we realize how much adequate representation, linked with propaganda, can do for us. That particular part of the machinery of government should be brought to a high degree of efficiency, and freed from the cold hand of government control.
I now wish to deal with the Department of Territories, and particularly with the Northern Territory, where there is need for a greater degree of selfgovernment. The same could possibly be said of other territories under the control of the Australian Government. Recently, a legislative council was established in the Northern Territory as a first step towards self-government. I say, advisedly, that in many respects lack of self-government in our territories inhibits their growth and retards their proper development. There is no semblance of municipal government in Darwin, except that directed by the Administrator. Some needs of the community are looked after in a perfunctory sort of way, by the Government through its departments, hut that is nothing like enlisting the interest and enthusiasm of the citizens of the area under a system that calls for self-control and selfdetermination. Many services which are essential to the people, and which are normally administered by municipal authorities, are now administered by government departments. A good and worthy doctor in Darwin is the instrument who approved building plans. I discussed town planning with him, and when I asked him what could be done in this matter, he threw his hands in the air and said, “ I know nothing at all about it”. That kind of thing is happening not only in Darwin, but also in many other parts of the Northern Territory where building is an important factor in development.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member is dealing with the Northern Territory, but that is covered by another item.
– I am using the Northern Territory as an illustration. I am discussing the Department of Territories, and my remarks apply to items such as health, town planning and subdivisions. The land is all leasehold, and a certain process is followed in administering its disposal. That is to say, the availability of land is determined by the subdivisions that are approved by the department. Auction sales are held when the department decides that there is a public demand for land. It exercises complete control. I suggest to the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), who is now at the table, that if we are to assume responsibility in relation to the development of the territories, cheap land should be available to those who seek it at all times, for whatever purpose, but that is not the case now. If a person sought to buy a block of land of a certain type in the Northern Territory he could not obtain it. He would have to wait until the next auction sale, which would be arranged at the whim of the department.
– Is the honorable member speaking as an estate agent now?
– I am speaking as one who knows a good deal about these matters. These conditions should be rectified at the earliest possible moment. We should encourage the investment of private capital in the Northern Territory. That cannot be done by keeping it under the complete domination of governmental administration, which inhibits progress and prevents development. What is more important, perhaps, is that it instils into the minds of residents a far greater reliance on government than should be the case. Such an atmosphere grows to the point where the setup becomes completely governmental, irrespective of what the people are doing. When I was in the Northern Territory, I met a lad whose parents I knew before he was born. He had been through an agricultural college and had spent a number of years on big grazing properties in the Northern Territory. He is very fond of the Territory and understands the land. It took him eight months to get a suitable block of land with the type of soil he wanted. That is utterly wrong.
– He was lucky. That is good time.
– Perhaps he was lucky. I plead with the Government to see that something is done in relation to these matters. There should be a greater degree of self-government, instead of a complete domination by remote governmental control. I do not want to be considered a carping critic. I make suggestions for improvements in administration. I shall have more to say about these matters when we are debating the proposed vote for the Northern Territory itself. At present I am speaking only in relation to administration. It is most essential that a port authority similar to that which exists in all other Australian ports should be established in the Northern Territory. At present matters in relation to the port come under the jurisdiction of the Administration. This also needs immediate attention.
I hope that the Government will take note of the suggestions that I have made. I seriously believe that the territories can play a great part in the development of this young nation. If we properly guide their destinies, millions of people will be able to live in them. Transport and roads are major problems; without them the territories cannot develop. Money should be expended where it is necessary for development. Anybody who has visited the territories can dispel from his mind the idea that they are places where the average Australian would not like to live. Under certain conditions their climate is delightful, and with proper amenities and development living conditions could be vastly improved. I shall tell the Minister about certain specific matters at an appropriate stage. There should be a drive towards greater freedom and selfdetermination in the territories so that they may be developed in the proper way.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) that much should be done to improve the administration of the territories. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) is at least as capable as the average Minister, but I do not believe that any Minister can adequately control or administer the territories of this country merely by flying to them very infrequently and staying in them for a very short period. The Minister for Territories should be willing to spend a considerable period of each year in the territories. He should see the conditions and understand the problems that confront the people. Under the system which operates at present, it is very difficult for the Minister to visit the territories as often as he should do. When the Parliament is in session, he must be here. When the Parliament is not in session, he must spend portion of his time in his electorate, because of the difficulties and responsibilities of political life. It is difficult for him to sever himself for long periods from his electorate and from the head office of his department.
– No other Minister for Territories has travelled as much as has the present Minister.
– If that be so, it is a grave reflection upon the others.
– The Minister for Territories in the last Labour Government visited them only once.
– This is a question which is above party politics; it should be treated on a broad national basis. Irrespective of which government is in office, the Minister should spend a considerable time in the territories, and the present Minister has not done that. I am making excuses for him. Because of the demands of the Parliament and of his electorate, it is difficult for him to do so, but the Government could remedy that position. The Minister could suggest to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that he exchange his portfolio with that of the Leader of the Senate, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan). Gentlemen in another place enjoy a longer tenure of office. They represent States and not electoral divisions, with which members of the committee must maintain close personal contact. If the portfolio of Minister for Territories were held by a member of another place he. could spend a long period of each year in the area he administered, familiarizing himself with the problems of the inhabitants, without endangering his political future. I suggest that the Minister bring this suggestion to the notice of the Prime Minister at the earliest possible moment.
I desire to take advantage of this opportunity to make a few remarks on the subject of social services. Over recent years, a very grave problem has arisen in this country. I refer to the problem of the aged and infirm who desire to obtain admittance to institutions because of their inability to care for themselves and who, because of the limited accommodation made available by religious bodies and State instrumentalities, are unable to obtain that accommodation. Therefore, they must live in deplorable conditions, even in illness. They sometimes live two together, and sometimes singly. Because there has come into being what we call the “ wonder drugs “ the cases of fatal illness have been reduced and accommodation in institutions has become correspondingly restricted. Every month applications are being made to me by people who desire to enter some institution because they are unable to take care of themselves owing to age and infirmity. When I seek to secure that accommodation I am faced with all the difficulties in the world, and I am mostly unsuccessful. I pointed out these difficulties to the administrator of one institution and he said, “ Well, the position is that if an aged person to-day contracts, for example, pneumonia, we give him whatever the wonder drug for pneumonia is and he is up in a few days. In days gone by he would have died and made room for another patient “. Because of the longer period that people live in institutions to-day more accommodation is needed for the same number of cases that were dealt with in the past. A greater number of people require accommodation but the available accommodation is diminishing because of the increasing survival rate among patients.
I suggest to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) that a survey be made in the capital cities and suburbs and also in the country districts to ascertain the number of people requiring hospital accommodation with the object of seeing if something cannot be done through his department to increase the accommodation to enable more people to gain admission to institutions in their old age. The survey would not be difficult ; it would necessitate only another line being added to the document which is sent out annually to the aged and infirm, asking them whether they are in a position to care for themselves. This community should not shut its eyes to that problem, but should do its best to see that the aged and infirm receive the attention that is so necessary for their well-being in their declining years.
.- In the short time at my disposal I desire to draw attention to three aspects of the group of proposed votes now under discussion. The first proposed vote I wish to deal with is that in respect of social services. We are all extremely gratified at the extent to which the Government has been able in this budget to increase the general pension level by 10s. a week. It is my experience that that has been well received by that section of the community which is most interested, the pensioners themselves. However, in pursuance of an undertaking given to a deputation from a branch of the original Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association in my electorate, I draw the attention of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) to the fact that the funeral benefit for pensioners has not been increased since it was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943. In the whole scheme of social services, this is, perhaps, the least important benefit provided, but it is one of very considerable human interest. It is the desire of every person that he will be decently and respectfully buried; and that is a perfectly natural and understandable desire. I hope that in the future some consideration will be given to the fact that the cost of burial has greatly increased since 1946.
I turn now to the proposed vote for the Department of Shipping and Transport. I should like to say that I greatly admire and respect the work of the late Senator McLeay in all that he did in the very difficult circumstances which Australia’s transport faced during the period of nearly six years that he was Minister for Shipping and Transport. However, one does not imagine that the problems of transport, above all things in this country, will ever be fully solved in our time. There is one aspect of the Government’s shipping policy to which f should like to draw attention. There lias been a steady proportionate increase in the size of the Government’s shipping line compared with those of private companies operating on the Australian coast. What is the reason for the maintenance :ind continuous expansion of the Commonwealth shipping line? One of the reasons we have been told in the past is the need to ensure that Australian shipbuilding yards are kept in existence and working as a defence measure. That is an understandable and proper reason - that we shall have an effective shipbuilding industry in this country against the time we may have to build our own ships again in war. However, it seems to me to be odd that if that is one of the principal reasons for maintaining the Commonwealth shipping line, the Government should have placed an order for a large number of ships with British dockyards. If one of the principal reasons is to keep our shipyards in being then why does the Government expand its shipping service by pretty continuous and fairly extensive building abroad? If the Australian Shipping Board continues to expand its fleet and its activities at the present rate, the probability is that before long it will be not only the biggest single shipowner on the Australian coast as it is now, but also the only one. I know that a number of honorable members think that is a desirable objective. For my part I do not; and many of my colleagues do not think that it is a desirable objective. So, attention should be drawn to the danger that private shipping will be wiped out on the Australian coast if the Australian Shipping Board continues to expand its activities at the rate at which it is doing at present.
I ask the committee to give some attention to that part of the proposed vote for the Department of Territories which deals with its marine services. There is a very great need for carrying out quickly a complete survey of the coastal waters of Papua and New Guinea. It is fairly well known that those waters are most inadequately charted. It is also accepted that the resources of the survey section of the Royal Australian Navy cannot cope with great additional demands at the present time. I directed attention to this matter quite recently in this chamber by way of a question to the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), and I was very glad, indeed, to hear him reply that a proposal had been approved for the establishment of a survey section in the marine department of the Administration of Papua and New Guinea. It follows that in the near future a survey section will be established, hydrographers will be employed, small vessels will be obtained, and the long and meticulous business of making a survey of the coastal waters will be put into operation. That will inevitably take a number of years to complete. The need for the marking of safe channels for coastal navigation in New Guinea is more urgent than will permit of a delay of several years before they can be marked. I therefore suggest to the Minister that there is a pressing need to mark known inshore channels, so that the coastal commerce of the territories will not be dependent upon the local knowledge of the skippers who trade in particular areas, but so that the channels will be marked so that strangers can use them with safety.
I want to direct the committee’s attention to the difference between marking known channels and carrying out a complete hydrographic survey. For a complete survey, soundings of all the coastal waters have to be obtained at short intervals over the whole coastal area, and it is a very long and meticulous job. It has to be carried out, admittedly, and I am very glad indeed to know that a survey section is to be introduced, and that the work will be put in operation soon. However, this other matter of marking channels is quite different. As most members of the committee will be aware, the coastal waters of Papua and
New Guinea are particularly dangerous, because they are bound with coral reefs, and the channels between the reefs are difficult and can only be navigated with safety, on the greater part of the coast, at present, by people who know from long experience where the channels lie. They can also only be navigated in safety in daylight and in periods of good visibility and those facts place very heavy limitations on the coastal shipping of New Guinea. It would be a comparatively simple matter, and not a very costly one, for the marine sections of the administration to undertake the job of marking known channels. Where reefs are exposed or close to the surface, permanent marks can be put into the reefs, in the shape of a beacon - some sort of shaped piece of metal on the top of a piece of railway line or heavy galvanized piping. Where there is no exposed reef or reef close to the surface at the place where the mark is required, a simple buoy, anchored in the required spot, can be used. These channels could be quite simply, inexpensively, and quickly marked if the job were undertaken by the marine section.
I emphasize the difference between marking known channels and carrying out a hydrographic survey. A survey has to be done with all that professional skill and accuracy which will enable the results of the survey to be placed on Admiralty charts, published and available all over the world, and used by ships approaching the coast. They must be completely accurate. Therefore, the surveys will take a long time to carry out. The marking of channels is quite different.If the Administration were itself to undertake this job, or perhaps, more practicably, to subsidize trading vessels which now operate around the coast, and whose skippers know the channels already, the job could be done comparatively inexpensively. It is my own belief that there is no single thing which the Administration could do towards helping to open up the trade of the territories than to make coastal shipping easier and safer than it is at present. I commend this suggestion, which, I might add, has been put to me recently by a resident of the Territory, who himself was involved in a shipwreck when trying to take his vessel through a coastal channel with which he was not very well acquainted. The opening up of the Territory can only be done by people who are prepared to take the sort of risks that our pioneer ancestors took, and many foolish things have to be done in the pioneering days of a new territory. But the risks involved in the brave acceptance of pioneering conditions could be greatly reduced in New Guinea by marking the coastal channels, and I hope that the Minister will consider my suggestion seriously and see whether it can be put into operation quite soon.
– I do not propose to take up the time of the committee in discussing in detail some of the matters relating to the administration of the Northern Territory, or of Papua and New Guinea, which have been raised in this debate. The particular item before us concerns the expenditure of the Department of Territories, narrowly defined as the head office of the department, situated in Canberra. As this debate will continue when we resume next week, and, furthermore, as there will be another opportunity at a later stage of the Estimates to discuss matters relating to each of the territories individually, I shall reserve until that time any comments which may be necessary on particular matters raised.
But one or two things have been said this afternoon which, I think, call for some comment on my part. The honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) produced a thesis which seemed to me to be rather novel - that the Minister for Territories, whoever he may be, and no matter to which government he may belong, should himself, in some peculiar way, undertake the detailed acts of government in these territories. I do not think, with all respect to the honorable member for Burke, that he has rightly understood the structure of government which has been set up, not by the present Government, but which has been in existence for many years in respect of the administration of Australian territories. But before I deal with that, I would like to set the record straight in respect of one remark he made, which was directed at me personally. It was some sort of a suggestion that instead of, as it were, loafing around the place, I should get out and have a look at the territories.
I should like to inform the honorable member that in no year since I accepted office in this Government have I had more than 64 days at my own home and in my own electorate. The rest of the year has been spent in the actual duties of the portfolio, and in one year, the time spent at home was as low as 46 clays. In no year since I became Minister for Territories have I spent less than two months, and in most years over three months, actually travelling in the territories. The rest of the time has been spent in the duties of my portfolio, where my department is situated in Canberra. I think that that record in itself shows that I have not been inattentive to the duties of my office, and that I have not been inattentive to the claims of the territories that I should visit them, or to ray own responsibility as a Minister to learn something about them. I should also like to say that if, in a visit to the territories, he may have picked up some gossip to the effect that nobody has seen me, I can well understand it, because if the gossip was picked up in any of the towns in any of the territories it is probable that they did not see me. But if they had been out on the stock-routes, or at the native settlements, or at the lonelier and less frequented parts of the territories, they might very well have encountered one. I think that if he were to travel as far afield as I have travelled in the Northern Territory, and meet drovers, station-owners, miners, mission superintendents, gougers, and workers on native settlements he would then find a great number of people who had met me and who remembered my visits quite well. But he certainly would not have met so many people in the streets of Darwin who remembered me.
Having said that, by way of a personal explanation, I shall get back to my main point, that is the structure of government which has been set up for the administration of the territories for which this Parliament is responsible. Of course, the Minister for Territories - under whatever title he may have borne that responsibility in the past - is responsible for, and accountable to, this Parliament for what happens. He is the member of the Government charged with the efficient administration of those territories. He is the member of the Government directly responsible for the laying down of policy and the direction of policy in relation to those territories. No one would concede for a moment that it is the duty of the Minister for Territories to actually engage in the tasks of government over an area which spreads from east to west, linearly, a distance of perhaps 6,000 miles, and which comprehends areas larger than most of the Australian States.
Of course no one could do that sort of a job, and so in each of the territories the Government has appointed an administrator, and has erected under the administrator the whole structure of a public service - the whole structure of a Government for the territory itself. The position of administrator, in that scheme of things, is a very responsible one. I think that we have been fortunate in finding a succession of people to discharge the task of administrator who have had signal capacity, who have displayed great devotion to the job, and who have been able on the spot to apply both local knowledge and local understanding in an administrative capacity in order to see that the Government runs locally in accordance with the requirements of policy laid down by this Government, which is answerable to this Parliament, and to spend the finances which this Parliament votes from time to time.
In the Northern Territory, for example, we have as an administrator a man who, I think, richly deserves the respect, and, indeed, the admiration of all Australians. He is a man of experience, who can be relied upon. Under him, there are a number of branches of the Public Service, each of which is headed by a director, who, again, is a public servant of experience and training. There is a director of lands, a director of animal industry, a director of mines, a director of education, a director of health, and so on. These are the people who actually engage in the tasks of day-by-day government in each of the territories. They are people on the spot using people on the spot. It is a twelve-month-of-the-year governmentnot simply a government which depends on the occasional visits of a Minister.
I should like to take this opportunity to express, on behalf of the Government, appreciation of the way in which our local administrations in all our territories have carried out their onerous and responsible job, and have made great changes and great improvements. This Government, during its term of office, has attempted in many ways to build up and strengthen that local structure of government. As has been remarked by an honorable member during this debate, we have strengthened the Legislative Councils in both the major territories, and we have tended to place upon them a greater responsibility. Instead of attempting to draft the ordinances down here and sending them to the territories, we have tried again and again to get more and more of the ordinances prepared and drafted, and indeed, to have their original conception in the Territory itself rather than down here.
We have strengthened, to a very considerable extent, the public services, the expert personnel, the trained administrative staff to do the duties in the territories that are required to be done there. We have increased financial delegations that are given to the Administrators and some of the officers under them so that, without reference to Canberra, they can make those variations in the application of the approved budget that are necessary in the day-by-day administration. In addition to that, we have, particularly over the last two years, tried to give greater assistance to these territories by making arrangements under which more frequent visits are paid by the senior officers of the Department of Territories stationed in Canberra to the respective territories, so that they may confer with local officers and may tackle on the spot such problems as may arise, and may require the assistance of some one with a wider range of knowledge of administrative affairs.
I am quite sure that there is not a senior officer in the Department of Territories in Canberra who has not, over the last two or three years, visited either Papua and New Guinea or the Northern Territory, not once but several times, in order to work for a period of a week, two weeks, three weeks, or even in some cases three months alongside the local people, so that there will be close liaison both between the head office of the department and the Territory itself, and vice versa. As an extension of the same sort of system, we have made this practice : If any of the senior officers in either of the great territories has a particular problem which could be dealt with more expeditiously by his coming to Canberra, he comes down most readily, and again, enters into conference with his colleagues in the head office in order to deal with that task.
Although the task of government is a complicated one there, although it is one that requires much patience, and much diligence, and calls for exceptional qualities in the people who undertake it on behalf of the Government and the people of Australia, I feel that we are seeing signs steadily, month by month, of the improvement and of better results of government in both the territories. No one - at least no one who is not completely foolish - would claim that there is perfection. We have not got perfection. In no branch of government, no matter which political party occupies the treasury bench, is there ever perfection. If we thought there was perfection, we ought to cease to pretend to be a democracy and fall back on our own selfsatisfaction and perish in it. Of course there is not perfection, but we are always working to get something better than it was in the past. Again, I should like to pay a tribute to those officers of the territories who are bearing the heat and the burden of a very difficult job and carrying it out with credit to themselves and with great advantage to Australia.
In conclusion, I should like to refer in passing to a remark that was made by the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) about local government. I do wish that the honorable member had done perhaps a little of his preaching in the Territory itself.
– I did.
– One thing that we have been trying to induce the people of Darwin to accept over the last two years is the responsibilities of local government. It is not a case where you can force people to form a local government, to accept the responsibilities of local government, or to manage their own municipal affairs. If you try to force them and they are unwilling to accept it, there would be failure. But in the past two years, we have been trying consistently to induce them to embrace the responsibilities of local government. So far as this Government is concerned, we are waiting and eager for Darwin to set up its own municipal enterprises, and we have promised them that the attitude of the Government and the provisions which the Government will make to assist them to that end will be not only reasonable and just, but they will be generous. Hitherto, we have not had from Darwin or Alice Springs that response from the local citizenry for which we had hoped.
As I said at the outset, the other matters dealing with particular questions can be left for the continuation of this debate, and perhaps for fuller treatment when we are dealing with another section of the Estimates.
House adjourned at 5.55 p.m.
The following answers to questions were cir culated: -
Motor Vehicle Safety Devices.
Mr.Menzies. - On the 13th September, the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R, Fraser) asked the following question : -
Will the Prime Minister, as a matter of national importance, consider the possibility of initiating an investigation into recent safety developments as applied to the interior and exterior of motor vehicles? I refer to the recent experiments in the fitting of safety belts and the provision of padded facia boards and head boards in motor cars. In view of the favorable results that have obtained with these devices, not only in the United States of America, but also in the recent reliability trial in this country, will he see whether action can be taken in this matter for the benefit of the general public?
In recent years this matter has been receiving world-wide consideration by manufacturers and operators of both motor vehicles and aircraft, and also interested safety organizations, which with the aid of specially selected research teams have been engaged in the investigation of various aspects of travel safety. A number of reports of findings have been published on the subject. The provision of safety belts, padded facia boards and head boards has been the subject of extensive research by the Harvard University, United States of America, and is dealt with in two published reports entitled “Human Engineering as related to Motor Vehicles”. Vehicle manufacturers are progressively eliminating or reducing possible injury hazards arising from internal and external fittings. Examples may be seen in the rounded corners of modern vehicles, recessed and rounded handles, knobs and door and window fittings and the like. According to press reports certain makes of cars are being equipped with padded faciaboard. and safety belts are or will be available shortly as extra equipment. In regard to padding of head boards, &c, as only a relatively thin layer can be provided, it is generally conceded that the use of rounded sections or liberal radiusing of corners is often preferable.
It is recognized that safety belts do not provide effective protection in all types of collisions, as for example the capsize or combination of roll and violent deceleration of vehicle, and that safety harness rather than a single belt is necessary. Moreover, to withstand what may be required of it, commensurate with the deceleration which the human body can withstand, a safety belt and its anchorage to be effective must be capable of supporting a weight approximately eight times that of the driver or each passenger. The stage has not yet been reached in Australia where standards for such matters have been laid down by the Australian Motor Vehicles Standards Committee, one of the standing committees functioning under the Australian Transport Advisory Council. The committee has in mind always the safety aspect of motor vehicle operation as one of its principal objectives, and the results of overseas investigations are being closely followed with a view to taking whatever action is deemed to be appropriate and practicable in this country in the light of overseas experience. The honorable member should bear in mind, however, that although the Commonwealth is interested in these developments, their implementation is more appropriately a matter for the States.
Mr.Minogue asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is Mr. Reginald J. Halligan, formerly an officer ofthe Department of Territories, still a member of the Commonwealth Public Service; if so, what is his status and his salary?
on asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Director, Posts andTelegraphs, New South Wales ?
Mr.Anthony. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 September 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1955/19550922_reps_21_hor7/>.