22nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Hon. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Mr. Speaker has requested me to inform the House that it is his intention to issue a writ on Tuesday, the 27th March, for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Cunningham, in the State of New South Wales, in the place of Mr. William Davies, deceased. The dates in connexion with the election will be fixed as follows : - Date of nomination, Wednesday, the 11th April, 1956; date of polling, Saturday, the 28th April, 1956; date of return of writ, on or before Saturday, the 9th June, 1956.
– Some time ago, I suggested to the Minister for Labour that he might make available to honorable members the papers, or such of them as are not confidential, which were prepared for the advisory committee of his department, arising from the very important High Court decision in the Boilermakers case. As this is a very important decision, I ask the Minister whether he will produce those papers at an early date.
– I have not overlooked the request of the right honorable gentleman. Instructions were given to officers in the Department of Labour and National Service to prepare an informative document along the lines proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. The department has been kept very busy lately, in dealing with the report of the stevedoring industry inquiry, and also the very matters to which the right honorable member has referred. I am sure that work has been done in preparation of the document. I hope it will be available for honorable members before the House rises for the Easter break. It will certainly be in their hands long before any legislation in connexion with the matter is considered by them.
– ls the Minister for Customs and Excise aware of the press publicity which has been given to a case initiated by officers of his department against a certain person well known in musical circles? Has the Minister considered whether the nature and extent of that publicity have been such as are likely to tend to prejudice the fair trial of the case against this man ? Will the Minister consider whether he should put the matter before the Attorney-General with a view to possible proceedings being taken for contempt of court against any offending newspaper?
– I share the honorable member’s concern at the matters that he mentioned. Allegations on which a summons was issued by officers1 of the Department of Customs and Excise for infringement of customs law were given wide publicity in the press before the summons was issued. I myself have made careful inquiries about this matter, and I am glad to be able to inform the House that I am satisfied that these allegations were not disclosed by my department. The whole matter was handled by the Collector of Customs in New South Wales - ‘and, I feel I must say, handled entirely correctly by him. He himself ensured that knowledge that a search was impending was restricted to a very small number of senior officers of long experience. From the inquiries I have made, I am satisfied that these officers acted with a due sense of their responsibilities and that anything which appeared in the press has not been due to any statement made by them. I will give consideration to the honorable member’s suggestion that the attention of the Attorney-General should be drawn to this matter.
– I ask the Prime Minister: As the Commonwealth has complete legislative power in the Australian Capital Territory, will firm action be taken to control or limit extortionate practices in hire-purchase transactions within this Territory ? Could the action taken by the Commonwealth in this Territory serve as a pattern for action that the Commonwealth might expect the States to take?
– The question relates partly to a matter of policy and partly to a matter of opinion. It seems to be out of order on both counts.
– My question, which is addressed to the Treasurer, arises out of a list of Commonwealth loans for the last ten years with which he was gracious enough to supply me, and concerns the loans which were not open to public subscription but which were launched in June of 1952, 1953, 1954 and 1955. There appears to have been one in each of those years. What institutions took up those loans? Did such institutions include the trading banks? Were any steps taken to see that these loans were not inflationary in the sense of being new money but were subscriptions in some other way?
– Unless I am greatly mistaken, it has been the practice of all governments to treat loan subscriptions as confidential as to the source and as to the amount. However, I shall look into the matter and see to what extent I can assist the honorable member.
– Is the Minister for Immigration aware that, at the present time, bibles on which candidates for naturalization have been sworn in have been supplied free of charge by the British and Foreign Bible Society. As the cost of this supply is now beyond the finances of this society, it has been forced to charge the municipal councils for the bibles so used. Will the Minister arrange either to subsidize the society to cover the cost of these bibles, or to compensate the municipal councils, as it is hardly fair that the ratepayers of these municipalities should bear such expense?
– I have, in company with other honorable members, noted with appreciation the action of the British and Foreign Bible Society in making available these bibles for candidates for naturalization at the time of their swearing in, and I am sure that they are prized by most of the recipients as a memento of a very significant occasion in their lives. This has been a voluntary act on the part of the society, and I learn from the honorable member for Maribyrnong that it now has inadequate funds to continue this practice. I was not aware that it had been pressing the councils to make some payment for the bibles supplied. If my recollection is correct, some months ago a request was made that the Australian Government should provide the finance for this purpose. It was considered by the Immigration Advisory Council, which came to the conclusion that this was not a normal function of government and that the matter of supplying the bibles should be left to those who had previously been willing to supply them - if they wished to continue to do so. It would, I imagine, be possible to consider whether an option should be given to the immigrants concerned to purchase the bibles at a reasonable cost, if they wished to preserve them as a memento of the occasion. If the Government were to supply them, it would naturally have to consider increasing the amount now charged to those undergoing the naturalization process. As honorable members may be aware, recently that amount was reduced from £5 to £1 as an encouragement to immigrants to undertake naturalization. I should he reluctant to increase that amount.
– I ask the Minister for Territories whether there is any truth in the allegation that a native star of the film Jedda is at present in Darwin destitute and suffering from ‘ tuberculosis. Can the Minister give any information as to the conditions under which this man and other natives who took part in the picture were employed? Will he outline the measures employed by the native welfare authorities in the Northern Territory to protect the interests of these people and others who take up similar employment?
– I am glad that the honorable member for the Northern Territory has raised this matter because it has been the subject of a good deal of public misrepresentation. The question refers to a native ward of the Northern Territory Administration named Tudawali, who played a prominent part in the film Jedda. One point that I would like honorable members to appreciate is that Tudawali, whatever he might have appeared to be in the film, is, as a matter of fact - compared with the average white man - an uneducated and not highly responsible individual. That is just something that is due to the circumstances of his birth and upbringing. He vas engaged in this film from the 11th July, 1952, to the 26th March, 1954. During that period he was paid £249 direct into his own pocket - if he had a pocket - and an amount of £448 lis. was paid into a trust account on his behalf, making a total of £697 lis. Subsequently, an additional £110 was paid into the trust account by the film producer to cover a period of six months following the cessation of employment.
– How old is he?
– I should imagine that he would be in his early thirties. After his employment on the film, he returned to Darwin and on the 1st July, 1954, commenced employment with the municipal section of the Administration at award wages. He continued in employment until the 1st February, 1956 - that is, only a little over a month ago - and for that period received wages totalling £989 Os. 6d. That was the award payment, after the usual tax deductions. Thus, during the period from the 11th July, 1952, until he ceased employment a little over a month ago, he had the use of a total sum of £1,787 lis. 6d., quite apart from some other advantages to which I shall refer later. Now, when he commenced employment with the municipal section of the Administration, he was provided with rent-free accommodation in a former Royal Australian Air Force camp at Winnelli, The dwelling with which he was provided was a cottage with three rooms and a shower, and was quite a decent dwelling, similar to those occupied by Europeans. His fellow-employees who received the same wages and worked under the same conditions were able to maintain themselves, and to lead their lives in a responsible way. Unfortunately, however, after a few months Tudawali found that he could not maintain the same standard of living and of responsibility as his fellow workers on the same wages as they did and, of his own choice, and at his own request, he went back to live in the Bagot settlement. This is a settlement which is maintained on the outskirts of Darwin for those persons of aboriginal blood who are not citizens and who are employed in the town. At Bagot he was again given rent-free accommodation in one of the best huts. Although those buildings have been referred to as “ mud huts “ in some of the stories published, they are of solid pise construction. They consist of two rooms and a verandah, and there are ablution facilities on the settlement. The rooms have .ceilings 10 feet high, and measure roughly 10 feet by 12 ft. 6 in., and 10 ft. 6 in. by 7 feet. He lived there rent-free, and in addition food was supplied on the settlement for himself and his wife. Last December, again after a rather regrettable failure on his own part to live up to the standard of accommodation provided, he left that hut and went to live in another hut on the settlement. It was shortly after that that he entered hospital for treatment for tuberculosis. So, on the financial side, his position over recent years was that during the period he was at the Bagot settlement he was receiving the wages to which I have already referred, and, in addition, had rent-free accommodation, and food for himself and his wife to the value of at least £4 a week. There was thus no reason why he should have got into difficult financial circumstances. During the same period he was drawing on the money in his trust account and, without having to pay for any accommodation or any food, he went through his money at the rate of about £13 lis. 6d. a week, and to-day is without resources except for the final £55 that we are retaining in the trust account. The most recent payment out of the trust account was a payment of £55 that was made to him this week. So, I suggest that there was no reason why he should have been in financial difficulties except for the fact, which is the regrettable fact of the whole situation, that, not through any fault of his own, but through the circumstances of his upbringing, he does not have a sense of financial responsibility. When, as the result of the work of the Department of Health, he was found to be suffering from a tubercular gland in one arm, he went into hospital, and received, in exactly the. same institution as a European would enter, exactly the same treatment as a European would receive. During the whole of that period Doth he and his wife were fully maintained, either at the hospital or the settlement. His medical treatment is, of course, a matter on which I can make n-o comment; but the one point I want to establish is that, although he is a young man of scant education and of rather primitive upbringing, he has had financial provision over the years which would have enabled him to have lived at the same standard as that of a lowskilled manual European worker in the Northern Territory. It is one of the regrettable facts that because of the way he managed his finances he has not been able to take advantage of the provision made for him. Another statement which has been made is that his wife, at the time of the birth of the baby, was without normal requisites. Although one can admire the public spirit of those who made donations to provide him with things like soap and baby powder and clothes, there was absolutely no necessity for that to be done, because every one of those things would have been available to his wife for the” child on the settlement, on request. The published statements, in that respect, are completely exaggerated. They completely falsify the position.
– I ask the Minister for Territories a question supplementary to the one that he has just answered. It refers to the case of an aboriginal who is undoubtedly an exceptionally able actor, who is in financial difficulties and who is suffering from the, dread scourge of tuberculosis. Will the Minister, forgetting for the moment whether the aboriginal has handled his finances carefully - which’ would be exceptional in the case of any artist - look into the case himself to see whether he can discharge his duty as trustee for these Australians to whom we owe a very special duty, and not just simply say, as he is inclined to do, “ He has had his chance and his money is finished”? I think that the Minister would do what everybody would like to be done if he undertook to do that. I am sure he would do it carefully and efficiently.
– I think that the facts I have recited show that over the past five years the Native Welfare Branch of the Northern Territory Administration has discharged, with a great deal of care, its responsibility to this ward of the Administration. It has ensured that he received payments commensurate with the payments made to other people. It has provided him with accommodation. It has ensured that he had food. I think that record of five years is a sufficient earnest that, in the coming period, he will receive no less careful attention and consideration.
– Can the Minister for Immigration say how many Cypriots have emigrated to Australia? Can he ascertain how many Cypriots have emigrated to other countries? Is it true that practically no Cypriots have emigrated to Greece?
– I shall try to get those figures for the honorable gentleman. I cannot give them offhand. I do not know whether I can get the figure for emigration from Cyprus tn Greece, but if it is procurable, T shall get it.
– I address a question to the Minister for Immigration. At a sugar conference held in Brisbane, the Treasurer stated that 800 immigrants would be brought, out as sugar workers for the coming crushing season. Will these mcn be brought out under the farmers’ scheme? Can the Minister tell the Parliament how many sugar workers are now available for the next season from the men brought out under the farmers’ scheme last year?
– I shall try to get those details for the honorable gentleman. I think most honorable members are aware that last year we arranged for representatives of the sugar industry to proceed to Europe and, in co-operation with officers of the Department of Immigration, select suitable workers for the sugar cane-fields of north Queensland. That scheme worked admirably. We were prepared to make somewhat similar arrangements this year, but the representatives of the industry had gained such, confidence in the selection methods and the capacity of our officers that they said they were quite willing for them to do the work. I cannot say offhand when the men will arrive on the fields, or how many of those who worked there last year have returned for this season. I shall get as much information for the honorable gentleman as I can.
– As there is a great deal of bewilderment about the nature of the existing financial malaise and the necessity for corrective measures, will the Prime Minister give consideration to having prepared and distributed a small explanatory booklet for the enlightenment of the public and the clarification of their thinking about the involved economic problems now besetting us? I have in my hand a booklet which was prepared in 1930 during the great depression and which was of very great use to the people at that time. I have in mind the publication of a similar booklet now.
– It is, I agree with the honorable member, quite obvious that a good deal of the comment that one reads is completely uninformed. I have given some thought to the possibility of either saying or doing something that might explain some of the elements of the situation. At the moment, although I am considering the matter, I am not at all sure how effectively booklets say these things, because my experience of “booklets and pamphlets is that they remain on shelves undistributed and unread. The topic as a whole is certainly engaging my attention, because, if a booklet would help even to the slightest degree to- throw a few rays of light in certain dark minds, it would have great advantage.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. I bring to the Minister’s attention representations made to him by me yesterday regarding the closure of the works of the Commonwealth Portland Cement Company Limited, at Portland, New South Wales. In view of the desire of the employees to return to work in the industry on pre-stoppage conditions, and in view of the urgent need for cement throughout the nation, will the right honorable gentleman arrange for a conciliation commissioner to bring the parties together without further delay, and thus enable conciliation to work, and encourage the production of cement?
– At the time when the honorable member tried to communicate with me yesterday, I was engaged at a Ministry of Labour Advisory Council meeting, which lasted throughout the day. However, I gave instructions for one of my senior industrial officers to examine the problem to which the honorable member had referred, and to give me the necessary information about it. I have yet to receive a report. It may be in my hands later this afternoon. When I receive it, I shall consider what action can properly be taken to assist in the manner suggested by the honorable member.
– I address a question to the Minister for Territories. Did the Minister see a recent statement indicating that housing loans in the Northers Territory had ceased for the balance of the current financial year ? If the Minister has read such a statement, will he inform the House whether it is correct ?
– This question was raised in the House some time ago by the honorable member for the Northern Territory. Since he raised it, I have had inquiries made. The position is that, as a result of discussions between my department and the Treasury, the Commissioner of Housing in the Northern Territory has been assured of sufficient funds to finance all approved applications for housing loans in the Northern Territory for the remainder of this financial year.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Has the right honorable gentleman received from the Cardwell Shire Council, in north Queensland, a request for financial assistance to repair the terrific damage that was done in the shire by the recent cyclonic floods and for immunity from income tax for the forthcoming financial year as a further means of assisting the people who suffered such damage? Whether or not the right honorable gentleman has received the request from the shire council, will he inform the House whether he has yet received a request for financial assistance from the Queensland Government? If he has received such a request, will he say what financial help the Queensland Government has given? Will the Commonwealth, as usual, supplement the assistance from the State, and, indeed, is it prepared to go a little further in view of the extraordinary damage done by the cyclone in question?
– It would be wrong to pretend that I remember the particular communication from the municipality concerned. Many communications have been received but, as the honorable member knows, we deal, by long established practice on these matters, with the Government of the State. There have been communications between the Premier of Queensland and myself, in which we have pursued what is our normal practice on these matters, so the honorable member may be quite certain that we will do, in relation to the cases that arise, the necessary things on the same principles as have been established in the case, of other disasters in other States. I agree with him that the cyclonic damage in Queensland has been quite phenomenal - I said something about it in the House, I think, last week - but to some extent the amount of assistance will be determined according to the details which the Premier will be in a position to convey to us. He cannot at the moment, in the nature of things, be precise in terms of detail, but whatever it may be, the honorable member may be assured that we will completely, fully, and generously, pursue our normal policy.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Having regard to the dispute between the Seamens Union of Australasia and R. W. Miller and Company Proprietary Limited, will the Minister investigate the seaworthiness of William McArthur, as the suggestions made by the judge hearing the dispute would indicate that this vessel is not seaworthy, and tragic loss of life could easily result from continued operation on the coastal services in its present condition?
– My understanding of the position is that the judge has himself investigated the seaworthiness of this vessel, and the matter is in his hands at the moment for such suitable attention as he may wish to give to it. I do not propose to interfere in the matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is it a fact that there is a rather serious strike in the Australian shearing industry at present, particularly in Queensland? If this is so, is it also true that the strike is directed against an interim award made by a conciliation commissioner acting under the powers of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration for the purpose of determining payment for services rendered in the industry? Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to persistent reports that officials of the Australian Workers Union are actively engaged in fomenting concerted activity on the part of other unions, which activity is designed to paralyse all the operations from shearing to the final despatch of the wool? Assuming the reports are correct, does not this activity, in face of the fact that the strike is against an official award, constitute a concerted act of industrial war against the community at large?
– The honorable member has mentioned some of the aspects of this important matter. In order to put the matter in its chronological sequence, it should be stated that the first decision of an arbitral tribunal in relation to the current dispute was made by the Queensland Industrial Court. It had the effect of reducing the rate for shearing by 10 per cent. Subsequently, a conciliation commissioner in the federal field, Mr. Donovan, reduced the rate which was applying in the federal field - it was not precisely the same rate - by 5 per cent. Following the decision of the Queensland Industrial Court, I understand an application has been made for some punitive action to be taken in relation to that award. The hearing of that application was granted and, I understand, the decision will be implemented at a later stage this week. The Commonwealth Conciliation Commissioner also placed a ban on any limitation of work, but, since the decision of the High Court in the Boilermakers decision of that character has not the same effectiveness.
– If the rate is not satisfactory, why should not the men withhold their labour ?
– The honorable gentleman may not regard the rates as satisfactory, but I think most honorable members are aware that at the time of the phenomental increase in the price of wool an agreement was reached, and, on several occasions, awards were made, which had the effect of varying the rates of the shearers according to movements in the price of wool. I am told that in recent times there have been seven upward movements in the rates. I think four were by award and three by agreement on the part of the graziers, all having the effect of benefiting the shearer. I think this is the first reduction, despite the fact that the rate stood at 81s. per 100 in 1949, and the average price of wool was round 60d., and the rate is now over 130s. per 100, and the average price of wool is back to 60d.
– Who were the parties to those agreements?
– As I understand it, they were the Australian Workers Union and the employers. This latest action is a breach of the terms of that arrangement, and is certainly a breach of its spirit by a union which has had a long record of observance of arbitration processes.
– Is it not a fact that the award only fixes the minimum rate?
– It is. Of course, all awards merely fix the minimum rates, and there is nothing to prevent an employer paying above that minimum rate if he so chooses; but I understood the honorable gentleman’s question to refer not so much to the consideration that applied there but to the fact that the union itself was- not only adopting tactics of intimidation but also attempting to embroil other unions in order to intimidate the shearers and owners who might otherwise be anxious to work and pay in accordance with the terms of the award. A more recent development which, I think, should be put before the honorable gentleman and other honorable members who may be interested, is a report which came over the broadcasting system to-day that Mr. Gunn, representing the graziers, had been requested by a third party to confer with Mr. Bukowski, of the Australian Workers Union, with a view to seeing whether some settlement could be reached in the matter. I understand that both these gentlemen have agreed to meet each other for that purpose later this week. We shall, however, be watching the position closely to see what we can usefully do.
– Will the Minister for Customs and Excise have a special check made of the importation of cheap literature that appears to be entering this country featuring crime and sordid details? Will the Minister take suitable action to protect the community against these undesirable things? By so doing, he will also conserve much-needed external funds.
– I should tell the honorable member that in my predecessor’s time it was found necessary to take special precautions to deal with literature, or so-called literature, of the sort he mentions, addressed to children and sometimes described as horror comics. The number of customs officers needed to examine this sort of production has had to be increased, and special steps have been taken to deal with it. The matter is under frequent consideration. I am keeping informed of the sort of horror comics and allied publications that people seek to import into Australia, and will see that arrangements for their censorship are effective.
– Is the Minister for Customs and Excise aware that certain ceramic goods that are imported from Japan for sale in Australia do not bear any indication of the country of origin? Will he investigate the matter with a view to ensuring that all goods imported from foreign countries are clearly marked with the country of origin so that any person wishing to support Australian manufacturers shall not be misled?
– I am not aware of the matter that the honorable member has mentioned, but I shall certainly have it investigated and ensure that the law relating to the marking of imported goods with the country of origin - a matter with which I .am not yet completely familiar - is carried out.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. By way of preface, I point out that entire herds of dairy cattle are sometimes slaughtered because of the prevalence of brucelosis. In such cases, payment for the cattle is made by the State authorities. I ask the right honorable gentleman whether owners of such herds are protected against excessive taxation on the same basis as are owners of cattle that are slaughtered under the cattle tick eradication campaign.
– Speaking offhand, I do not think there is any discrimination against owners of cattle slaughtered for brucelosis as compared with owners of cattle slaughtered under the tick eradication campaign. I shall have the matter investigated, and inform the honorable member of the result.
Juli. WHITLAM.- Does the Minister for Social Services propose to continue his predecessor’s practice of handing over, in person, on all possible occasions, the cheques for the grants which the Director-General of Social Services approves under the Aged Persons Homes
Act? When it is not possible for him to attend such a ceremony, does he propose to continue his predecessor’s practice of asking the local member of Parliament to hand over the cheque if the member is a Government supporter, and of deputing a Government senator to hand over the cheque if the local member belongs to the Opposition ? Will he consider substituting the practice -which the Department of Immigration has followed for the past ten years of sending subsidies for homes for immigrant children through the post without a Minister and Government supporters cashing in on public grants and exploiting the feelings of the inmates of the homes and of the churches and societies which conduct the homes?
– I should be very happy if I were able to fulfil all the obligations undertaken and discharged by my predecessor, but I have domestic and other reasons that restrict my activities in that direction.
– Of which the Minister’s predecessor is free.
Mi. ROBERTON.- I should say that at the moment he is free. When I receive invitations to present cheques such as those mentioned by the honorable member, the invitations are duly considered and, if it is possible for me to accept them, I do so. If it is not possible for me to accept them, I do whatever lies within my power to select some one to deputize for me. So far as I am in a position to judge, all my selections thus far have been singularly successful.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that persons who are suffering from chronic arthritis of the spine and who are receiving, at considerable expense, physiotherapy treatment under the instructions of medical specialists, are excluded from all benefits under the medical and hospital benefits scheme? Does he not consider that such physiotherapy treatment prescribed by a medical specialist is as necessary as a prescribed drug or medicine, and will be endeavour to ensure that any administrative or other difficulties in connexion with the payment of such benefits to people receiving physiotherapy treatment under specialist instruction shall be surmounted, and that such payments shall be made?
– The conditions under which medical benefits are paid are laid down in the National Health Act. In general, the principle is that they are paid for services rendered by medical practitioners. If the Government were to consider extending this principle to persons other than registered medical practitioners, there would be almost no limit to the process.
– I direct the attention of the Prime Minister to the decision of the Privy Council which overrules various High Court decisions in finding it unconstitutional for either the States or the Commonwealth to prohibit, charge licencefees for, or regulate interstate road transport, on the ground that such actions offend against Section 92 of the Constitution. In view of the fact that, as a result of this decision, interstate road transport is taking more of the cream- of railway interstate traffic, will the Prime Minister give consideration to the appointment of a joint committee, composed of members selected from both sides of the House, to re-examine the question of standardization of railway gauges, bearing in mind that standardized railway gauges would make for more economical and efficient railway operations ?
– As at present advised, I would not think that further information was needed on the subject of standardization of railway gauges. If any information needs to be brought up to date, no doubt the honorable member’s suggestion could be considered.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service tell the House whether it is a fact that at the time when the Graziers Association of New South Wales made its application to the conciliation commissioner for a red notion in wages of shearers, the Australian Workers Union also made an application for an increase in wages, and that at the hearing the conciliation commissioner indicated that he proposed to hear the two applications together, and that he would not give a decision in respect of one until he had completed the hearing of the case for the other? Is it a fact that, despite this decision, the conciliation commissioner finally gave an interim decision in respect of the application by the graziers’ association to reduce wages, but did not carry out his undertaking to withhold judgment until he had completed the hearing of the union’s case for the increase? Is it also a fact that the present shearing rate represents a smaller percentage of the value of the fleece shorn than did the shearing rate over 25 years ago, under the award of Judge Dethridge, in the depths of the depression?
– As the honorable member has stated in his question, the award of Mr. Conciliation Commissioner Donovan was described by him as an interim award. I have no doubt, however, that in making that award he took into account all the factors that were before him at that time, including, possibly what the honorable member has just suggested - if such a matter were before him by way of comment or evidence - and also, no doubt, the circumstance that when the price of wool was formerly at about 60d. per lb. the shearer’s rate was in the neighbourhood of 80s. a hundred, as against about 131s. a hundred under his present interim award. However, what is clearly before the union and the employers concerned, and, no doubt, before us all at this time, is the fact that an award by the appropriate conciliation commissioner has been given, and I suggest to the honorable member that all of us in this House have a responsibility to support a system to which we have all subscribed in the past, and to encourage those who seek the processes of arbitration to abide by its rulings.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question which is supplementary to the question that he has just answered. Is it a fact that Australian wool is sold to the highest bidder at auction, and, if so, what is wrong with shearers holding out for the 1 Highest possible wage?
– If that is seriously put forward as the point nf view of the Australian Labour party,. I am sure that there will be many people in Australia, including many of the erstwhile supporters of that party, who will deem it necessary to reconsider their political allegiance. The great strength that has come to the Australian working man, and the improvement in his conditions, over the years, have been very largely due to the fact that in times when the bargaining strength was with the employer, the employer was not able to exercise that bargaining strength unchecked. The arbitration system provided a bulwark of protection for trade unionists in those circumstances. There are many trade unionists to-day who forget all too readily the source of strength that the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was to them in those less fortunate times, and the steady rise in living standards that has resulted from decisions given by the court over the years. So I suggest to the honorable gentleman, when he, in effect, recommends a return to the law of the jungle and a resort to the bargaining strength of the parties, that he might bear in mind that there are not always such happy times as exist to-day, in which, because of an over-full employment situation, the unionist finds himself in a much stronger bargaining position than does his employer.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and “National Service whether it is a fact that during the discussion on the bank nationalization issue the right honorable member for Cowper said in this House -
We will fight this measure by every means at our disposal - political, economic, and, if need he, physical means.
If that is a fact, in what measure does the statement by the right honorable member for Cowper differ from the attitude taken up by some of the members of unions in the present dispute in the pastoral industry?
– I have heard the honorable member for Lalor express sentiments, in relation to some of the issues which have come before the House, somewhat similar to those which he has ascribed to the right honorable member for Cowper. If he has correctly reported the right honorable gentleman, then I find no more support for that attitude than I have found for similar statements made by the honorable member for Lalor from time to time. I think that those of us who are elected democratically in order to make the laws of the country have a responsibility to see that even if, from time to time, we happen to be in Opposition, the democratic will, as expressed through Parliament, is suitably observed.
– Does the Minister for Labour and National Service consider the reduction of the basic wage by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court by 10 per cent, in 1931 an example of that court’s support for the workers in difficult times? If he does not, can he tell us when that court has shown such support ?
– My recollection of those days is not as accurate as it might be, but I seem to recall that there was a general political and governmental decision taken at that time, believed to be in the interests of Australia as a whole, to effect reductions in various costs, in order to promote a more confident base for prosperous expansion of the economy, and so overcome the difficulties of those times. If my memory serves me correctly, there were Labour governments which not merely reduced wages, but were driven to reducing the rate of pension for age and invalid pensioners in this country. No doubt, they took that action with a. sense of responsibility, believing that in. the long run it would be in the interest, not only of the country as a whole, but of the people directly concerned. In these matters, I think that we merely make more difficult an already difficult situation if, having entrusted to a tribunal the task of determining, impartially and objectively, these industrial questions of wages and conditions, we then try to weaken confidence in the work of the tribunal by challenging its decisions and throwing doubt upon them. The wisest of men will sometimes, perhaps, fail to decide as they should; but over the lon? term, if one studies the decisions of the court as a whole, one will find that it has given steadily rising standards to Australian unionists who have thereby been enabled to share in the community prosperity and, as at this time, so well have they ordered their decisions that the standards of the Australian worker have never been higher than they are at this date.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the stage that has been reached in the efforts to negotiate a new housing agreement with the States to follow the existing agreement which expires on the 30th June? As the proposed agreement was rejected by all the States at a conference held last year, will the Prime Minister state whether any alterations will be made by the Government to the proposed agreement in order to meet the unanimous objections made by the States? If the new agreement is not concluded by the 30th June, will the Government consider extending the existing one ?
– The honorable member will be glad to know that the Minister for National Development, who is in charge of this matter for the Commonwealth, informed me this morning that he will meet the Ministers for Housing of the various States on Thursday and Friday of this week; so the matter is being taken up right away, having in mind the dates referred to by the honorable member.
– I ask the Minister for
Trade whether it is a fact that our Trade Commissioner in Hongkong has gone to Peking to inquire about trade with continental China. Is this a belated attempt on the part of this Government to increase our trade with continental China at the eleventh hour, after the cream of its trade has been captured by other Western democratic countries? Has there ever been a time since the war when Australia did not trade with continental China?
– The Australian Trade Commissioner in Hongkong, on the invitation of the buying authorities of the Chinese Government, isto visit Peking to discuss the possibilities of China’s resuming a traditional trade with Australia. Chinese purchasing authorities have now evidenced willingness to resume purchases from Australia of products which historically China has bought from this country. Pre-war China was a very important buyer of wool, wool-tops and grains. China’s willingness to resume buying is in the mutual interests of this country and China, and I am perfectly willing to hear what the Chinese have to say.
– I should like to make a very short personal explanation. In my statement last Wednesday evening on the Australian economy, I made, quite inadvertently, a departure from the text circulated to honorable members and which has since been printed. When saying-
Our carefully considered judgment . . . has been that the amount we require will be somewhere between £100,000,000 and £120,000,000 . . .
I interpolated the words, “ in respect of that period of fifteen months “, as I now realize, quite wrongly, as all the other figures indicated that the reference was to a full financial year. I thought, rather than merely correct it in Hansard because it was a complete inadvertence, I should mention it in the House in case any honorable member may have been misled by it. But in the print that has now been made and circulated and in the print that was circulated that night it is correctly set out.
– Would the Prime Minister like to revise the whole speech?
– No. I have never given a more accurate one in my life.
– We shall see.
– The honorable member will not see. He will not be here.
Debate resumed from the 22nd February (vide page 124), on motion by Dr. Donald Cameron -
That the following paper be printed : -
Salk Poliomyelitis Vaccine - Ministerial Statement
.- At the outset, I hasten to assure the House and, in particular, the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), that my interest in this subject was never intended to be harmful and, indeed, it was never intended to be critical. What I was concerned about, as I pointed out in my question to the Minister, was that before the last Parliament ended, terrific reports, in fact violent reports, had appeared concerning safety in the use of the Salk vaccine. Indeed, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), the predecessor in office of the present Minister, made it quite clear to this House that he would not be stampeded into using Salk vaccine until the whole matter had Deen completely investigated and all reports upon it had been examined. Therefore, on the 16th February, soon after the House assembled for this session, I asked the present Minister whether, in view of the reports concerning this matter, he was in a position to allay the fears of parents whose children would be inoculated with Salk vaccine. The Minister replied -
All I would like to say at present is that our arrangements for providing the vaccine are proceeding according to our schedule. So far as the safety of the vaccine goes, it is not, of course, possible to give absolute guarantees in matters of this nature
My concern, and that of honorable members generally, can well be appreciated, indeed, the Minister’s statement astounded both the members of this Parliament and the members of the medical world. The “British Medical Association immediately decided that it would not use the vaccine until the Minister for Health was able to guarantee its safety. On the 22nd February, the Minister gave this House the information that I sought when I asked my question.
– When did the honorable member ask the question?
– I asked it on the 16th February. On that occasion the Minister stated that he could not guarantee the safety of the vaccine. That was not what I asked him. If I had been a member of the Government parties and the Minister had given the answer that I sought I could have been accused of asking a “ Dorothy Dix “ question. I wanted the Minister to give me the information that he subsequently gave in the statement that has brought on this debate. I want to make it quite clear that my only interest in the matter was to allay the fears that might have existed in the minds of parents whose children would eventually be inoculated with Salk vaccine.
I have a personal interest also in poliomyelitis because, although honorable members may not believe it, I was once a sufferer. It was not then known as poliomyelitis. Because of its prevalence amongst infants it was called “ infantile paralysis “. When I was a baby 1 was stricken with infantile paralysis and had quite a lote of trouble getting myself firmly on my feet. For that reason, 1 have a personal interest, in the matter. Fortunately, we now live in a different era. In those days there was no cure and any one who survived infantile paralysis was very fortunate indeed. My parents have told me that all they could give me was castor oil, and by all accounts I had gallons of it. That was all that they could find to give me in those bad old days of medical science. Thank goodness that to-day we live in a different age. A preventive vaccine has been found and for that we should be very pleased and thankful.
However, -when mass inoculation does take place it will be the subject of much criticism, just as was the introduction of serums for the prevention of diphtheria and whooping cough. The Minister is himself an eminent and highly respected physician, and no one knows better than he that some kiddies may be able to take the vaccine in their stride, showing no ill effects, whilst others may have some aftereffects. That will not mean that there is anything wrong with the vaccine, but it will undoubtedly bring forth adverse criticism. I am far from being a doctor, but I know that children who are allergic to ‘the serum may suffer from after-effects.
A couple of weeks ago I had a personal experience of this kind of thing, when a baby who was very near and dear to me was inoculated for whooping cough and diphtheria. It is only as a result of something that we did not expect to happen that the kiddy is alive to-day. If honorable members want to check on that, they can do so by getting in touch with “Mookie” at my telephone number in Brisbane. That child is alive to-day, but if it had died it would not have meant that there was anything wrong with the serum. It would merely have meant thai that child was allergic to it. If the poliomyelitis vaccine prevents even one case of poliomyelitis it will have been worth while. However, as I have said, there will doubtless be much adverse criticism of it. The adverse reports that have been received upon it from time to time have not had a good effect. They have not helped the peace of mind of parents, but it is my considered opinion that any risk that may be involved in the use of the Salk vaccine is as nothing compared to the risk that must be run without its use.
I am very pleased that the Minister has been able to make the statement which prompted this debate. His opinion, of course, has the backing of Dr. Bazeley, a very eminent gentleman who is at present the director of the anti-poliomye-litis campaign and is in charge of Australian vaccine production. From the outset, Dr. Bazeley has asserted his faithful support of the Salk vaccine. His opinion cannot be ignored. In addition, we have had the Minister’s statement that about 60,000 children were inoculated in Canada and that not one subsequently became infected. I am not qualified to discuss the technicalities of this matter, and I shall be satisfied if something can be done to help allay the fear in the minds of some people whose children will be inoculated.
The question of inoculating children is, of course, not a matter for the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth will produce the serum and distribute it to the States. The administration of the serum will then become the responsibility of the health authorities in the respective States. But, even so, I believe that immunization should be compulsory. I assert that if the parents of a child are so apathetic or so neglectful that they are not prepared to tike advantage of the free service offered to them, some government authority should compel them to take that precaution. I realize, of course, that the Commonwealth has no authority to do it, but I believe that the State Department of Health in every State should make immunization against this terrible disease compulsory. Apart from that, I have no more to say, except to repeat that my interest in the matter was not intended to be harmful. My statements were not intended as a crack at the Minister or the Government. They had absolutely nothing to do with politics. I merely wanted the Minister to do in the first place what he did in the second place, and, now that he has done it in the second place, I am quite certain that all the adverse reports, and all the fears that existed regarding this matter, will now be dead, and that this improved Salk vaccine will prove to be a great boon to the children, and also the adults of this country.
Mr. LAWRENCE (Wimmera) [3.47J. - The question before the House is that the paper presented by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) on Salk poliomyelitis vaccine be printed. If it were in keeping with the Standing Orders I should like the question before the House to be that the paper be printed and approved. I have gone very carefully into what I want to say regarding this proposal, but, before doing so, I should like to say one thing to the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds), who mentioned that some children might be allergic to this “ serum “. I should like to inform the honorable member that it is not a serum, but a vaccine, that is used. It is a product made from the virus of poliomyelitis, and does not cause allergic reactions. Therein it is not like many other immunization materials, which are sera, the use of which involves that particular problem.
I am delighted to have this statement before the House regarding the supplies, the anticipated use, and the safety of the Salk poliomyelitis vaccine in Australia. I believe that the Government has been very wise indeed in its approach to this problem. It has not been too early in the release of this vaccine for inoculation purposes, thereby showing that it wanted to have the benefit of the experience of other countries in determining the efficacy of the. vaccine, and in making certain of its safety for use in Australia. On the other hand, the Government has not been too late in its release of the vaccine. This has been shown by the speed and the assiduity with which our scientists have worked, at the request of the Government, in the production and thorough testing of the vaccines at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and at the Fairfield infectious diseases virus laboratories in Melbourne. The Government is making certain also that there will be assured supplies of adequate stocks, so that it will be able to ensure uninterrupted progress with the vaccination of the first age groups, which are those of children under fourteen years of age, and of pregnant women.
I hope that the House will forgive me if 1 state a few facts about poliomyelitis. I do so because I know there is a great deal of misunderstanding about this disease, and because honorable members cannot be expected to know a great deal about the disease. Unless one has had medical training or has done a medical course, or a very large part of a medical course, one cannot keep in touch with the details of the disease. If we, as members of the Government and members of the Opposition - and I know that members of the Opposition will support this statement - are to encourage the people of Australia to use this vaccine, then it is right that we should understand something about the disease itself and of what can be done to prevent the enormous loss of life and limb that it causes, and have some idea of how certain we can be that the immunization programme can be carried out efficiently and with perfect safety.
This disease has long been known popularly as “infantile paralysis”, but is known medically as “anterior poliomyelitis “ - not “ poliomylitis “ as so many people pronounce it. The medical name is made up of “ anterior “, meaning “fore”, and “poliomyelitis” meaning “ inflammation of the grey matter of the spinal cord “. The disease is therefore an inflammation of the anterior horn cells of the motor nerves of the spinal cord. Contraction of the disease is dependent on the invasion of the body by a virus. A virus is one of those very small germs which are so small that they will pass through the pores of a stone filter. The poliomyelitis virus is one of the smallest of the viruses, and it would need to be about twenty times larger than it is now to be able to be seen through the ordinary light microscope. Another important thing about this virus is that it is invulnerable to any known antibiotic drug. The electron microscope has revealed that there are several strains of the poliomyelitis virus, and it is known that immunity to one of the strains does not necessarily mean that a person has immunity to the other strains. Those several strains of the virus may occur in both human and mammalian animal communities. Some of the strains can live in the alimentary canal of man for a long time and, during an epidemic of this dreaded disease, the virus itself can be recovered from sewage. Carriers can contaminate their hands and thus spread infection to food, and it is important, therefore, that during an epidemic there should be practised very thorough hand washing, and that fresh uncooked foods should be avoided.
The disease is characterized by symptoms .which range from a very mild nonparalytic infection to an extensive flaccid paralysis of voluntary muscles and it is, as the honorable member for Herbert has said, by no means limited to infants, so that the name “ infantile paralysis “ is scarcely an appropriate name for it. It is a very old disease, having been recognized for many centuries, but it was not until 1840 that it was first described by a man named Heine. The first recorded epidemic of the disease was in 1887, in Sweden, and even as early as 1896 it was recognized that it was appearing in two forms - namely, the paralytic form and the abortive non-paralytic form. The onset of the disease is often quite commonplace, and the course differs widely. I am happy to say that most frequently it is non-paralytic. The paralysis that the sufferer gets is the result, not of a direct attack by the agent on muscle cells, but of an attack on the motor nerve centres of the central nervous system. It is a notifiable disease, and therefore we have records of the number of cases that have occurred in Australia. I have taken the records over the years 1947 to 1951 and the average number of cases reported during those years was 1894 per annum, including 4,736 in 1951. The average number of deaths was 110, with 346 deaths in 1951. This dread disease causes not only the loss of valuable lives - many of those afflicted are young people - but also an appalling loss of efficiency by the crippling of the vast majority of survivors of the paralytic infection. At long last we can say that the disease can be prevented almost completely. That has been made possible by the use of the Salk vaccine.
The vaccine which is to be used is a trivalent one, made from three known strains of the poliomyelitis virus. As outlined in the Minister’s statement, it is being produced in Australia under the most rigid conditions and is being double checked for safety. Parents who wish to have their children immunized will naturally want to be sure that the vaccine is perfectly safe, not dangerous like some of the vaccine which was used in America last April and May. When the efficacy of the vaccine was established in America, there was a huge, unforeseen demand for it. A voluntary distribution plan was worked out, but halfway through the development of- the plan there was bad news. There was a series of reports about polio developing in vaccinated children.
There were three possible explanations for the illness of the vaccinated children. First, it may have been coincidence, since the poliomyelitis season was just beginning in California. Secondly, it may have been provocation, in that inoculation with any material may stir up polio viruses already in the body and cause paralysis. Thirdly, it may have been due to live viruses in the vaccine itself. I have not time to tell the House of the steps that were taken by the Polio Surveillance Unit that was set up, but here is a summing-up of the .report, taken from the Saturday Evening Post of the 10th September, 1955, which contained an article, headed “ Where are we now on polio ? “, written by Mr. Steven M. Spencer, the science editor. He wrote -
A summing-up of the Polio Surveillance Unit showed that 131 children vaccinated between the 13th April and the 7th May had nome down with polio within 30 days after inoculation. Of this number, 02 had the disease in its paralytic form. And of the 02 paralytic cases. 01 had received Cutter vaccine. Polio had also struck 103 parents and brothers and sisters of vaccinated children, the (“‘utter vaccine being involved in 58 of these family contact cases.
In a 163-page report on the Salk polio vaccine, Dr. Scheele pointed to findings which, using his own words, “indicate that at least some of the Cutter associated cases developed from the use of poliomyelitis vaccine containing infective virus “. Any doubt remaining on this point was cleared up when virologists isolated living type 1 virus from both of the suspected lots of Cutter vaccine. The Minister, in his statement, referred to this. He said -
The vaccine used for the 1955 United States programme was not always independently tested and was safety tested, for the most part, only by the manufacturer producing the vaccine. Since the Cutter incident, the United States health authorities have instigated a system of independent laboratory inspections.
In America, when five companies, I think, were producing the vaccine, the manufacturers themselves were required to test the product. It was not realized at the time that the manufacturers were encountering great difficulties. In the case of the Cutter company, it was proved that living viruses had got into at least two batches of vaccine. In Australia, we have taken advantage. of the Canadian and American experiences. As the Minister has pointed out, elaborate precautions are being taken here. I submit these will convince us all that an incident like the Cutter incident could not happen here.
The honorable member for Herbert said that he would make this type of vaccination compulsory. I do not agree with him. Although the greatest precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of the vaccine, there is still a chance that at some stage some living virus will get through. In that connexion, it is interesting to note what the science editor of the Saturday Evening Post said in the article from which I have quoted. It is as follows : -
Not all the questions about the Salk vaccine have been answered. No one can guarantee that it is 100 per cent, safe so lon;* as there iti a chance that live virus may at times pass through the inactivation process undetected. Other vaccines we have been using for years, including those against smallpox and rabies, aren’t 100 per cent, safe either. But the Public Health Service officials feel that with the new test standards a “ Cutter incident “ can’t happen again.
Although the risk is negligible, while there is any chance whatever that live virus will pass through, despite the checks, I cannot approve of vaccination being made compulsory.
I think we should look at the probable effectiveness of this inoculation campaign. We can judge, what to expect from a table printed in a report which was tabled in the Canadian House of Commons on the 9th February, 1956. It relates to Canadian children between the ages of five and ten years. Of 589,716 children who received two doses of vaccine, only five developed paralytic poliomyelitis, whereas of S85,000 children who were not vaccinated, 51 developed paralytic poliomyelitis. In vaccinated children, the rate of infection per 100,000 was .84, whereas in unvaccinated children the rate was 5.76. So we see that vaccination is very effective. As the honorable member for Herbert has said, if it prevents only one child from getting the dread paralytic form of the disease, it will be worth while.
The extent to which the vaccine is being used is shown by the Minister’s statement that it has now been administered to more than 30,000,000 children in many countries of the world. The results have proved its effectiveness and safety. But, as I have said before, although almost all of the facts known indicate that there is perfect safety in the use of the Salk vaccine, its use should still remain a question for the doctor and the parent to decide. I repeat that I would not support a scheme for compulsory inoculation. My medical friends have told me that they are perfectly happy with the scheme as it is proposed. My own faith in the effectiveness and’ safety of the vaccine is such that I am perfectly willing to be one of the first to be inoculated with the product of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. In other words, considering the animals used in the tests, it seems appropriate for me to say, “ The Government can make a monkey out of me “.
– I shall not attempt to follow the example of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence), who delivered what was almost a medical paper on poliomyelitis and the Salk vaccine. I have not anything like the knowledge required to do so. The important question for the Parliament and the people of Australia is the Government’s wisdom in introduc ing a scheme of immunization with the Salk vaccine. I agree that it is something for which the people hope. The Government has been, very careful in this matter. When the right honorable member for Cowper (Kir Earle Page), the former Minister for Health, spoke about the delay in making the vaccine available, some honorable members were rather inclined to question the wisdom of the delay. I stated at the time that I entirely agreed with the right honorable member, because I considered that the people should be able to feel completely confident’ of the vaccine when it became available. Very shortly after the former Minister made his statement, we heard about the unfortunate happenings in America following the use of one batch of vaccine that had not been effectively tested for safety. I thought at the time that the former Minister was quite right in delaying the use of the vaccine, but the information given to us by the present Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) convinces me that when the vaccine is used it will prove successful, and that the people may have confidence in it. I do not expect that inoculation with the vaccine will prevent the disease entirely. There is no doubt that chemical or other factors in the bodily make-up of some individuals will resist the action of the vaccine and prevent it from giving them immunity from poliomyelitis. However, generally speaking, the use of the Salk vaccine is something to which we all can look forward with hope.
When I hear talk of compulsory vaccination, I think back to the days of compulsory vaccination against smallpox when I was a child. My own parents were subject to that compulsion, and I recall that many people would go to any lengths to evade- vaccination against smallpox. I am not sure that, if inoculation with the Salk vaccine were made compulsory, we should have the initial success that we might otherwise hope for. When we talk about compulsion, we have only to consider the position in relation to the treatment of tuberculosis. In some States, endeavours are being made to introduce compulsory X-rays in the campaign against that disease. I found, when I was a member of the South Australian Parliament some years ago, that immediately there was talk of compulsion, there would be objections to it on every possible ground, not only from members of the public, but also from individual members of Parliament, both Government supporters and Opposition members.
– But fewer people now have tuberculosis as a result of the compaign against it.
– Yes, and I personally should like X-rays to be made compulsory. However, I am merely stating the people’s probable reaction to compulsion. Tuberculosis X-rays were initially made compulsory only for persons up to the age of 65 in South Australia. Later, the age limit was increased to 70. It has now been found that the incidence of tuberculosis is greater among persons over 70 who submit themselves voluntarily for X-ray than it is among those aged 70 and under who are compulsorily X-rayed. This fact demonstrates the wisdom of compulsion. However, before we make it compulsory for people to submit to vaccination against poliomyelitis, we must get them to realize the great benefit that will result from a successful immunization campaign. It might then be possible, after a period, to make them see the advisability of compulsory treatment. Talk of compulsory vaccination against poliomyelitis calls to mind the wonderful benefits of immunization against diphtheria. I suppose no medical campaign has achieved such great success as has been achieved by the diphtheria immunization campaign. We have only to compare the incidence of the disease over the years among immunized persons with the incidence among those who were not immunized to appreciate the wonderful benefit to the community. I have no doubt that, if the people see great benefits from the Salk vaccine over a period of years, they will accept compulsory vaccination as being in the best interests of the community.
No disease has left so much evidence of its distressing effects than has poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis, as we used to-call it. An epidemic of typhoid fever or rheumatic fever may leave a number of victims suffering from slight, or ever severe-, heart troubles, but those afflic- tions are not so evident in the community as are the effects of poliomyelitis. We have only to look about among our friends and relatives to see a child that has suffered from poliomyelitis, and, perhaps, has to carry a withered leg or arm throughout life. These visible effects of the disease have made the people more keen to find some effective method of preventing poliomyelitis than to prevent even the dread disease cancer. It is at present possible to cure many sufferers from poliomyelitis. Honorable members will recall the wonderful work of the late Sister Elizabeth Kenny, who practised her system of treatment in the United States of America. I recall the time, not so very long ago, when she addressed honorable members in Canberra on the subject of poliomyelitis and its treatment. I had the honour to be present on that occasion. Even when Sister Kenny’s own life was drawing to its close, she continued to do all she could to interest people in proper methods of treating poliomyelitis victims. However, to-day we are concerned not so much with curing those who have contracted the disease as with preventing it. Most people are more concerned for the welfare of their children than for their own welfare, and they now see the hope that they may be able to have their children inoculated with the Salk vaccine, with almost complete certainty of preventing the disease, as the records show.
I do not desire to labour the subject, because I think honorable members generally favour the use of the Salk vaccine. I am merely endeavouring to point out how the problem is looked at by the people generally. It is not a Question merely of cost. The people must feel confident that the Government’s medical specialists have tested the vaccine properly and that the necessary apparatus has been obtained for the production of a safe vaccine which will not expose any one inoculated with it to the danger of contracting poliomyelitis. The Minister has decided the double check being made to ensure the safety of the vaccine. Although the people are in a position to know, as was stated in the report quoted by the honorable member for Wimmera, that it is impossible to guarantee 100 per cent, effectiveness. they can feel confident that the Salk vaccine will be almost 100 per cent, effective. The slight risk of failure which may exist in some cases is as nothing compared with the great gain which is achieved in obtaining a treatment which will be efficacious in nearly all cases of this disease. I should like the Minister to deal in his reply with the practical application of inoculation. As has been stated, Commonwealth officers will prepare the vaccine, but State and local governing bodies will be charged with its actual administration. The final paragraph of the Minister’s statement reads-
It i3 expected that supplies of the vaccine will be available in quantity in about three months’ time. Federal and State health departments will co-operate in its use, and administrative arrangement’s between the Commonwealth and the States are now being finalized. Inoculations will he free and, of course, voluntary.
I do not know whether by “ free “ the Minister meant that only the vaccine will be free, or that the inoculation will also be free, nor do I know whether he has been able to obtain an assurance from the States that they will be able to make the inoculations without cost, or that they will be able to arrange for private doctors to do so. It may be intended that the State Government or local government authorities will pay for the inoculation. 1 understand that in regard to diphtheria immunization, in South Australia at any rate, in many cases municipal bodies have accepted some responsibility. In other States they may have accepted further responsibility. In order to make this venture the success which we desire it to be, the Government should make arrangements with the States, if it has not already done so, for meeting the actual cost of inoculation, unless the States can meet the cost themselves. I think that the medical fraternity will be prepared to do this work at a special low charge, as was the case with diphtheria immunization. I should like some information about that aspect. While the people are keen to have this service, strangely many persons believe that, if it is to be of benefit to the community as a whole, individually they should not be responsible for the cost. I do not advance that view as my own, but T know that it is the view of very many persons.
Undoubtedly, every precaution has been taken and will be taken to make this vaccine perfectly safe. I do not recall the Minister having referred, in his speech, to the recent press report of a new vaccine that is being used in England. Whether it is the same as the Salk vaccine, some improvement of it, or a new vaccine altogether is unknown to me. I do not want to question the merits of one vaccine against another, but I ask whether full consideration has been given to what I believe is later work in England than the work in the United States of America, Canada, and other countries. I suggest that the Minister examine this matter with a view to satisfying himself that the action we are taking with the Salk vaccine is perfectly satisfactory. The honorable member for Herbert referred to the number of children who had been inoculated with Salk vaccine in Canada. He said that he did not remember the figure but that he thought it was about 60,000. The Minister mentioned that nearly 1,000,000 children had been inoculated in Canada and that there had been no reports of any unsatisfactory results from those inoculations. That is a very satisfactory position, and it might be said that the vaccine is therefore so satisfactory that there is no need to consider any other. At the same time, we should have the very best. that is available and ensure that everything has been done that can be done. I support the action that is being taken by the Government. We are taking a step forward to deal with a very disastrous disease which we have had in our community for many years and also to allay a dreadful fear in the minds of our people. Last week I had a letter which told how one of my grandchildren had been ill. She is aged about two or three years, and the doctor who attended her had been very much afraid that she was suffering from poliomyelitis, but later was glad to be able to say that she was not. This shows that at time* even medical men are not sure whether an illness is caused by this insidious disease or by something else, and I know the feeling of anxiety that exists in those circumstances. If we can say to the people, “Here is an opportunity to have your child inoculated with a vaccine which will protect it against poliomyelitis “, a feeling of security will be engendered which has not existed before. I congratulate the Minister on his being able to promise the introduction of this wonderful discovery, the Salk vaccine, in about two or three months from now.
Mr. LUCK (Braddon) f 4.22]. -I should like to add my congratulations to the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) on the steps he has been able to take in regard to protection by vaccination against poliomyelitis. It is very refreshing to hear honorable members opposite supporting the Government, as on this occasion, instead of criticizing U. I should like to congratulate also tho right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who, as Minister for Health, took very definite and early steps towards the eradication of this dread disease. In 1936, the right honorable gentleman established the National Health and Medical Research Council with a Commonwealth grant of £30,000. Since then, substantial sums have been granted to this very worthwhile organization. During this Government’s term of office the amount of subsidy has been increased from £50,000 to £150,000 per annum. The council has done much towards the eradication of disease in our country. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) contended that vaccination should be compulsory. In certain Australian States vaccination or inoculation against some diseases is compulsory and the people are gradually being made to realize that diseases are not spread only by those persons who suffer from them, but that in many cases carriers, who are active, and apparently fit, convey the disease to others. That applies to diphtheria, as all honorable members know. Diphtheria, like tuberculosis, is something against which the community should be protected. In Tasmania, vaccination for whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria is not compulsory, but I think nearly all parents now make sure that their children are vaccinated against these dread diseases. Only one injection is needed, as the three types of serum are combined, and children who have had the advantage of this treatment are accorded an opportunity of combating other diseases that follow whooping rough tetanus and diphtheria later in life.
When Dr. Bazeley was seconded to the staff of Dr. Salk in the United States of America in 1952, it was not apparent that a vaccine could be discovered to treat this dread disease of poliomyelitis. At that time, many people were treated for after effects. They were not having any treatment to stave off the disease. To-day, many thousands of pounds are spent in Australia, and, indeed, many millions of pounds are spent throughout the world, on the treatment of cases of paralysis. The disease has afflicted people of all ages in all parts of the world. 1 have no doubt that the present rate of expenditure - most of it is incurred by the States, but a contribution is made by the Commonwealth - on the treatment of paralysis patients would be reduced if we embarked upon a vigorous campaign to persuade people to permit their children to be given injections of the poliomyelitis vaccine.
The first experimental immunization work commenced in the United States in April, 1955, which was not so very long ago. That being so, it must be admitted that the Minister and the staff of the Department of Health have made tremendous and splendid progress to be now almost in a position to commence the mass inoculation of children up to fourteen years of age in Australia. That goal, of course, will take some time to reach. I have no doubt that it will take some time, after the first round lias been completed, to prepare the vaccine and protect all the children in Australia against poliomyelitis. Each month, 400,000 doses of the vaccine are being prepared in the Commonwealth laboratories, and this alone is a major task. At one time, I suppose, it would have been looked upon as an almost impossible task, but the Government, Dr. Bazeley and the staff of the Department of Health have done a particularly good job since the first experimental immunization was conducted in 1955 to bc in the position to announce that the first injections of the vaccine will be given to Australian children within the next month. Plant, equipment and buildings have had to be prepared. These, of course, are in addition to our own Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Melbourne, which also provide serum for diseases other than poliomyelitis.
I should like to refer to,a matter that arose earlier in this House, when the then Minister for Health, Sir Earle Page, referred to an attack made on him by the Minister for Health in Tasmania. At that time, the Tasmanian Government was prepared to contribute £50,000 for the purchase of poliomyelitis vaccine from outside sources such as the United States of America or any other place at which it was available. That was certainly very commendable, but the Minister for Health in Tasmania indicated at the same time that the Commonwealth was not taking proper steps, was not preparing in time and was not doing the right thing about an anti-poliomyelitis campaign in Australia. The Commonwealth is now providing the vaccine free, whilst the responsibility for the cost of distribution rests with the States.
The estimated maximum cost of treating each child is 7s. 6d. ; that is to say, each of the three injections costs 2s. 6d. The Tasmanian Government is asking the municipalities in that State to contribute 3s. 9d. of that cost, whilst the State itself is prepared to pay the balance. The £50,000 which the Tasmanian Government was prepared to contribute towards the purchase of poliomyelitis vaccine from the United States is more than sufficient to cover the whole cost of distribution and treatment in the State. It is estimated that about 80,000 people, or 25 per cent, of the population of Tasmania, will require treatment. That being so, the cost should be between £35,000 and £40,000. Many of the municipalities and shires throughout Australia are short of money, and it will be extremely difficult for them if they are to be required to contribute towards the cost of this treatment. However, I feel certain that if no other course is open, they will pay their share because there can be no doubt that we are all anxious to eradicate this dread disease from our midst.
.- F congratulate the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) on the statement he ha3 made. In it, he has achieved clarity and simplicity. The statement is extremely informative, and, I should think, very reassuring to the public. I think also that the House ought to con gratulate the Minister’s predecessor, Sir Earle Page, for the commendable caution with which he approached this whole subject. It is worth recalling at thi* stage that he was subjected to a press compaign on a scientific matter, and that attack was both irresponsible and violent. Because he was cautious about authorizing the use of the vaccine, or its importation, there was a quite extraordinary campaign of personal abuse against him. As if the former Minister would have had any personal motive in delaying the use of the vaccine !
I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions in the hope that “when he is replying, he will be able to clarify the position for the benefit of honorable members. In Western Australia, there was an epidemic of poliomyelitis in February and March of 1954 and, as I remember it, there were about 178 cases, which is more than the normal number, in February of this year. I do not know whether there has been any investigation into the periodicity of this disease, and I am not making any scientific statement now, but it appears to me that this disease visits Western Australia in mid-summer. It does not occur every mid-summer, but when there is an outbreak it appears to be during mid-summer, and I wondered whether there had been any investigation into that interesting fact. For instance, has there been any investigation into whether the disease is borne by flies, which are probably at their worst at that season of the year? During the epidemic in 1954, a press article stated that 399 of every 400 persons had poliomyelitis without knowing it, but that in such cases it was not in a severe form. I should like the Minister to state whether that is a technically valid statement. The Minister has also stated that inoculations “ will be free and, of course, voluntary “. Will he state whether the vaccination of a large number of people in any way heightens the risk that is taken by those persons who are not vaccinated? That popular statement has been made about all kinds of diseases from which immunity may be had by inoculation. I should like the Minister, because of his medical experience and qualifications, to address himself to that question, too.
– in reply - It was certainly encouraging to hear the comments of honorable members during this debate. I have already made a statement in the House about most of the details of the campaign, and 1 do not propose to go through them again. Rather shall I use the available time to answer the questions that have been raised by honorable members. I should like to refer, first, to the opening remarks of the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds). Although we are political opponents, I am quite sure that I can say that we are old friends and that he will not misunderstand me if I say that he might have done me the justice of quoting the whole of my reply to his question about guarantees. “When the honorable member asked me whether I would guarantee the safety of the vaccine, what I intended to convey was that the word “ guarantee “ was hardly one that scientific or medical men would like to apply to a biological process. Perhaps I could have made that plainer to him at the time. In my answer to his question, I further stated -
AH that any one can say is that every step that is humanly possible to ensure the safety of this vaccine is being taken, and I have no doubt that when it is available there will be no risk attending its administration.
So I hope it will be felt that I have made it clear from the start that I have no doubts about its safety.
I also wish to refer to his remarks about the British Medical Association, lt is true that the journal of the Australian branch of the British Medical Association published an editorial advising medical men not to use the vaccine until it had been checked by an independent source. I should like to say to the honorable member that that editorial had absolutely no connexion whatever with my reply to him in the House, but that in fact it had been prepared and was ready to be printed long before he asked his question.
– The press made it appear as though they were connected.
– We are not responsible for the press. The administration of the vaccine falls under two headings. The first relates to the scientific aspect, which is concerned with the manufacture, safety and efficacy of the vaccine. I have already stated in the House that the mo3t elaborate precautions have been taken at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, where the vaccine is being produced, to ensure that it will be both effective and safe. I have also stated that arrangements, which have the approval of the organized medical profession in Australia, have been made for the independent testing of the vaccine by the Fairfield hospital which, as I have pointed out to the House previously, is one of the most celebrated infectious diseases institutions, one might say, in the world. So I believe that, on scientific grounds, every possible step has T)een taken and that one can be quite sure that the vaccine that will be used in Australia will ‘be safe and as effective as it can be.
That observation brings me to the question asked by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) about the new vaccine in England. It is truethat reports have been received recently about the production in England of a vaccine that differs from the vaccine we propose to use in Australia. The English vaccine will be of the Salk type and almost the same as the Australian vaccine, the only difference being a minor technical difference which involves the use of one type of one strain of the virus. But the English vaccine has not yet been used, and we in this country have no reason to imagine that it will be more effective than ours or that ours will be less safe, so we do not propose to change our arrangements. The honorable member for Port Adelaide and the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) both asked about free inoculations. It is perfectly true that in my statement to the House I said that inoculations would be free, and I intended that statement to mean that they would be free to those persons who received them. The position is that thi? Government wrote to the State governments offering to bear the whole cost of the production of the vaccine and its distribution to the States on certain conditions, one of which - these, of course, are not the exact words contained in the letter - was that the States would accept responsibility, including financial responsibility, for the campaign in the respective States. The Commonwealth’s offer was intended to mean that the vaccine should be provided without cost to persons who were to bc vaccinated. Although that position seems to have been accepted by most of the States, in one or two cases a query has been raised about whether the words contained in the message from the Commonwealth conveyed that meaning. We are trying to sort out the position. I spoke in good faith when I made my statement, and I hope that I have noi misled the House in relation to these arrangements. I repeat, that it certainly was the understanding of the Commonwealth that we had asked the States to make inoculations free to the recipients, and that they had agreed to do so. If there has been any mistake, it has been merely a mistake in the interpretation of the wording of the message.
The honorable member for Fremantle referred to the poliomyelitis epidemic in Western Australia and the apparent higher incidence in summer rather than in winter. That is general experience. Quite a lot of research into the periodicity of the disease has been conducted, and it is recognized that it occurs more frequently in the hotter months. How the disease is transmitted is not known fully, but I believe it is not now thought that transmission by flies is one of the major modes of spread. However, a full understanding of the method of transmission has not yet been attained. The honorable member also asked whether members of the population who have not been inoculated are at greater risk than persons who have been inoculated. I do not think that is quite the position. In a community in which large numbers of people have been inoculated against a disease, the natural level of immunity becomes altered, and perhaps also the virulence of the disease becomes more manifest, so that persons who are not inoculated are, in a sense, at greater risk than would otherwise be the case. The mere fact that one person is inoculated does not expose other people to greater risk, except in that sense. The honorable member also asked whether it was true that many people could have poliomyelitis without knowing it. That is certainly so, but to suggest that 399 of every 400 per sons are so affected is probably an overstatement. In normal times, when there is no epidemic, quite a number of more or less ill-defined fevers occur, many of which are quite likely undiagnosed mild attacks of poliomyelitis, without paralysis. In fact, in many instances the patient, of the patient’s parents, may not have sought medical advice because the attack has passed off fairly quickly, and these cases are, perhaps, discovered afterwards if the antibody level of their blood is examined.
I hope that those remarks answer honorable members’ questions. Perhaps I can say one or two other things about the administrative arrangements for inoculation throughout the country. The Commonwealth is making the vaccine available free to the State governments on certain conditions, one of which is that relating to finance, to which I have already referred. Another is the condition that there should be a proper recording and following-up of all the cases, because, as honorable members will appreciate, it is immensely important for us to know whether the campaign is in fact, as effective as we would wish it to be, and it is important for us to have knowledge in the future about the effects of our first inoculations. About the only other condition of any importance is that the States should make satisfactory arrangements for the handling of the vaccine, which requires certain refrigeration and storage arrangements to be made for it in order that it shall be effective. If those arrangements are not carried out properly, the vaccine will not be made harmful, but it will be rendered less effective. The final arrangements for administration of the vaccine are at present being worked out and should be completed within the next week. I think that those remarks cover all the questions asked by honorable members.
– Can the Minister tell us whether many repeat inoculations are necessary?
– It is not yet known how long a period of immunity is conferred, but the plan that will be followed provides for two primary inoculations at a month’s interval. Those are expected to produce a state of primary immunity, and at an interval of not less than seven months, and probably about twelve months, after the two primary inoculations, a third, or as it is termed, booster dose should be given. It is then expected that the immunity will last for about three years. We are not certain yet as to the period of immunity that will be conferred, but it is expected that those inoculations will confer a high degree, of immunity for perhaps three years. That is one reason why we require a careful recording of all cases, so that we can estimate the antibody titre of the people who have been inoculated originally - that is to say, the level of antibodies in their blood - and perhaps give them another dose in about three years’ time, which it is expected will produce lifelong immunity.
– The honorable member for Wimmera said that there are many strains of virus that produce this disease. Does the vaccine cover the range of virus strains?
– Yes. There are three main strains of virus, which are subdivided into types. The vaccine, in order to be effective, must be made from the three main .”trains, and that, of course, is being done in relation to the vaccine that is manufactured in Australia, and, in fact, everywhere in the world.
Perhaps 1 may say something about the expected immunity rate. I want honorable members to understand that the vaccine is in no sense a cure for the developed disease. It is merely a preventive for those who have not yet had the disease. It is expected and claimed that it will be effective in at least SO per cent, of cases. The percentage may br even higher, and probably, in my opinion, for what that is worth, it will bc higher, but the expectation is that it will lie effective in »t, least SO per cent, of cases. That mean.’, as the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence) has already pointed out, that, as in the case nf the children inoculated in Canada, the incidence of paralytic polio will be reduced to one-fifth of its present level. That, obviously, represents a highly effective protection against the disease. About 30,000,000 people in various countrip: of the world have now received vaccine of this type, and, as far as we know, there have been no untoward effects on those people. We feel, therefore, that we are on pretty firm ground in saying that it is a safe vaccine.
– Were there any peculiarities about the children who are supposed to have died from the effects of administration of the vaccine?
– There were no peculiarities about the children, but in the unfortunate series of cases to which the honorable member for Wimmera referred, it is considered that the vaccine had not been sufficiently tested to ensure that it was free from live virus. The process of making the vaccine involves growing the living virus in a special medium, with monkey kidney cells, and killing the virus by a special process afterwards. In the case of those children who died after receiving the vaccine, it is feared that the process of destroying the virus had not been fully carried out. That is why such elaborate precautions arc being taken in Australia to ensure that the virus will be destroyed in all the vaccine used here. Tn fact, from each batch of vaccine, which takes about four months to make, thousands of doses will be tested before that batch is released. In addition to the testing of several thousand doses, a number of monkeys will be inoculated and, after a lapse of a month, killed, after which microscopic and pathological examinations will be carried out on them, in order to make sure that there is no possibility of any untoward effects from the vaccine.
– Were the inoculations of the children who subsequently died carried out with vaccine that was made in one batch ?
– If it was not the same batch, it was all from the same laboratories. The vaccine may have been from consecutive batches.
The final remark I would like to make ;<) in support of what the honorable member for Fremantle has said about my predecessor, who, I am sure, the House will agree, proceeded with’ great wisdom in this matter of procuring the Salk vaccine for Australia. I do not want to take credit in this matter, because I have followed his footsteps at a late stage. I feel sure that, as a result of what he and our scientists have done, we will have a vaccine which is, in the first place, quite safe, and, in the second place, extremely effective.
Question resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 4.53 to 8.0 p.m.
Presentation to the Governor-General.
– I desireto inform the House that, accompanied by honorable members, I waited to-day upon His Excellency the Governor-General at Government House, and presented to him the AddressinReply to His Excellency’s Speech on the opening of the first session of the Twentysecond Parliament, agreed to by the House on the 8th March. His Excellency was pleased to make the following reply : -
Mr. Deputy Speaker,
Thank you for your Address-in-Reply which you have just presented to me.
It will afford me much pleasure to convey to Her Most Gracious Majesty The Queen, the Message of Loyalty from the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, to which the Address gives expression.
Debate resumed from the 14th March (vide page 797), on motion by Mr. Menzies -
That the following paper be printed: -
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) agreed to with the concurrence of an absolute majority of the members of the House -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition from making his speech without limitation of time.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, last Wednesday evening, we heard the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) deliver what was called a paper on economic measures but what was, in effect, a supplementary budget. It contained financial proposals which will be followed by legislation making substantial in creases in indirect taxation and, in the case of companies, in direct taxation, if that doctrine can be applied to companies. It is quite obvious, I think, to all Australians that had those measures been brought down at the ordinary budget time, a general election would not have been held when it was held. In other words, the impositions were deliberately reserved, in the circumstances, until the election was safely over. In doing that the Government followed the example of the Conservative party in the United Kingdom which put attractive proposals before the people and, after the election, applied a credit squeeze and has since introduced further limitations and restrictions on credit.
We look at these proposals for what they are worth to see whether the Prime Minister’s assertions and claims in respect of them are true or false. I shall endeavour to show - and I do not think it will be difficult to show to impartial people - that the claim of the Prime Minister that these are measures designed and calculated to counter inflation are absolutely unjustified and cannot be substantiated. So far from being counter-inflationary, I think that every one of the proposals is distinctly inflationary in trend.
One example can be given. These taxes, whether they are customs, excise or sales tax, are indirect taxes. Their very intent is that the burden should be borne by consumers other than those who pay the tax. Their objective is that the price to the consumer shall be increased and, of course, that does not stop with the consumers. The tax on motor vehicles and motor petrol goes right through the country. Therefore, it is as certain as anything can be that there will be increases in prices throughout the whole country.
Similarly with the company tax which has been increased by a flat rate of1s. in the £1 on all companies and which is not an indirect tax in the ordinary sense. When companies have to plan their operations ahead they have to take into account the payment of that tax. They will take that payment into account and they will, in the case of commercial companies, industrial companies and financial companies make provision accordingly, and costs will be increased from that source.
Therefore, I say that, regarded as counter-inflationary measures, the Government’s proposals are a mockery. The use of the term “ counter inflationary “ is unjustified. Nobody knows that better than the Government and every honorable member in the Government parties knows it. I think that every newspaper in Australia, no matter how in normal times it may have supported the Government, has denounced these proposals as adding to the inflation in the community. The nature of the inflation, of course, is a vitally important matter; and I disagree entirely with the Prime Minister’s diagnosis of the nature of the inflation. Prices have increased. The right honorable gentleman and his supporters promised, even before their election to office, to reduce prices in order to make the Australian fi go further. That attempt has completely failed, and the Government has given it up.
Now, the inflation from which the country is suffering cannot be cured by legislation which simply puts up the price of commodities to consumers and which hits the ordinary man and woman and does not hit those who are making great profits out of the present state of the economy. These taxes are directed against ordinary purchasers and consumers, and that is the serious part of it from the point of view of political good faith. If these proposals had been mentioned earlier, at the time of the Prime Minister’s speech in September, following the budget speech in August, there would have been a very different reaction from the Australian public. I think that, to-day, the people know that they have been let down and that they have been deceived by these false assertions and false promises.
I say that these proposals will add to the inflationary forces in the community. One absolutely certain effect will be that the proposals will facilitate the profiteering which is the main source of inflationary pressures in this country. The Prime Minister spoke about consumer demand, and I shall refer to that matter in a moment. But what is to happen, for instance, to the financial corporations and the private banks as a result of these proposals? To the private banks there will be a hand-out, as a result of the proposed increased rates, of something in the neigh bourhood of, and certainly not less than, £1,250,000 a year, making due allowance for the increased interest on fixed deposits as well as the increases on the huge advances. This is a conservative estimate, for which I am indebted to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). He says that £1,250,000 per annum will go into the private banks directly as a result of the Government’s proposal. That, of course, is just a byproduct of the plan. The plan goes much deeper, because if the private banks are to receive such a large sum of money as a direct result of a policy agreed to by the Government, and apparently accepted by the Commonwealth Bank as the central bank, that will add, not only to the element of inflation in the community, but also to the profiteering nature of the inflation. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), who is interjecting, can be quite certain that every detail of that estimate has been worked out very carefully. The figures will be given to him to-night. I think, myself, that the estimate is a conservative one. I ask the Minister, if we prove beyond doubt that the figure is correct, will he oppose the proposal?
– That is not relevant.
– Why does the Minister challenge the facts if they are not relevant 1 This estimate has been carefully calculated, and I will be obliged to the Minister if he will hear the argument, and then we will deal with him when he makes his speech.
Will the flat rate extra charge on companies reduce profiteering? Of course not! The ls. flat rate on all companies, whether their profits are at a small rate or not, whether their prices are fair and reasonable or not, affects all companies in the same way. It is, of course, in the nature of a regressive tax. It will not stop profiteering by those corporations in this country which, during the last two years, have been making profits without precedent in the history of Australia and which have largely contributed to the increase in prices from which stem the main inflationary pressures. The private banks will, by these proposals, be given a fresh charter - not a charter to observe the principles of the Banking Act 1945, which were accepted by the people and have never been openly challenged by the Government, but a charter to gather unearned profits from the newly increased interest rates. What contribution will they make to active production? A purely passive attitude will be adopted by them. That is their business and they are entitled to conduct it; but they are not entitled to receive these favours from the Government just because it happens to be their political friend. That is the truth of the matter. It is no good humbugging about it. Ever since 1949 that has been characteristic of the political life of this country.
What of hire-purchase transactions? The Prime Minister’s speech here last September contained page after page of exhortations to the hire-purchase companies, and those financing them, to restrain their ardour for profits. He wanted interest rates to come down, but we find that some of the private banks are actively participating in the new finance companies, and providing the finance for hire purchase. No wonder the Prime Minister has gone cold on any plan to fix tha rates of interest for hire purchase. I want to make this clear : The view of our party is that the hire-purchase system does provide consumer credit for the ordinary Australian. It is most valuable. It enables him to obtain durable goods for the home or, perhaps, a car, on long and satisfactory terms. Without it we would, as I have said before, have to invent something else to take its place. Hire purchase is characteristic of the United States economy to a much greater extent than it is here, and I think that the extent of it even in this country has been exaggerated. What is the reason for that changed attitude of the Government? The Prime Minister said to the hirepurchase companies in September, “You must make certain alterations “, but I think he was concerned most of all with the interest charges, which are enormous.
There are two parts of that kind of transaction. One between the hirepurchaser - the ordinary member of the public who wants to buy a refrigerator on terms - and the seller. The interest charge is much greater than the consumer usually appreciates. It is very high and it should be limited. Secondly, there is a further transaction of a more dangerous character so far as finance is concerned, between the finance acceptancecorporation, or whatever it may be called, and the concern which makes the contract with the consumer. Those corporations obtain a great deal of their finance from the private banking system. It does not matter twopence to them if they have topay a little higher interest to the private banks. The private banks support them. Indeed, some of the private banks may be numbered among their membership. In any case, the interest that they pay to the private banks is deductible as a business expense in that type of business.
They are on clover. Therefore, here we have an organized system by which profit is heaped upon profit and the only concern of the organizations is to maintain the profit at a rate which we consider the community should not be compelled to stand.
– What would the right honorable member do about it?
– I am asked what could be done to stop it. It is quite obvious, is it not, that if the finance coming from the private banking system to the acceptance corporations were fixed at a lower rate, that would reduce the rate to the ordinary consumer, and he would be able to get his refrigerator or other equipment at a much lower price? But the point about it is that there is no genuine intent to tackle the problem of interest rates in the community. The substantial increase of interest rates will, I repeat, bring an accretion of wealth - without any additional earning effort except bookkeeping - to the private banks of at least £1,250,000 per annum. It is not as though the profits of the private banks are low. They have been increasing. They are substantial. The official records for the financial year 1954-55 show an increased profit for the private banks, taking them as a group, of approximately £750,000. In some records, notably those of the Commonwealth Bank, one finds profits stated in relation to shareholders’ funds. That is most misleading although it is now becoming the customary way of stating the profits of a corporation. Shareholders’ funds include, very often, millions of pounds of reserves. On the basis of shareholders’ funds a profit may be stated to be 5, 6 or 1 per cent., and the average reader will say, “ “Well, that seems to be reasonable “. But it is not the profit on the capital investment at all, and to get at the truth one has to make elaborate calculations which show an enormously greater proportion of profit.
The fact is that the Government has run away completely from the problem of hire purchase. We agree with hire purchase. We want it to be encouraged, but we insist that the rate of interest should be lower. One proposal which could be adopted if the Government were really genuine about it would be that of asking the States for the power to deal with interest rates generally, not continuing to be limited by the power that the Commonwealth already has. I think that that additional power, if sought from the States, would undoubtedly be given. If the States would not give it, an appeal could be made by this Parliament to the people for that power and whatever other powers are necessary to deal with the present inflation.
I think that what my honorable colleague, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr Cairns) said the other night is correct. An argument has been going on as to what is the nature of the inflation. His assessment was that it is, in effect, a profit inflation. I would prefer to call it a “ profiteering inflation “. I believe that that is the main key to the problem in this country, and that some attempt to curb profiteering will have to be made. We know perfectly well on whom the main burden of these new taxes will fall. It will fall on the ordinary consumer - the salary earner and others on fixed incomes. It will be a heavy burden. Some assess it at 10s. or more a week. Others estimate a higher figure ; but the burden will be considerable.
What has been the position of the wage and salary earner during this period of excessive profiteering? Even to-day, after more than two years, the federal basic wage is still frozen. The freeze has been accompanied by rising prices, and prices will rise further as a result of the proposed anti-inflation legislation. What is the use of talking about asking the worker for a greater effort? He is being made to bear the burden of the excessive profits to which I have referred. It is the same with margins, although the margins position has been alleviated.
– Not entirely.
– Not entirely, as the honorable member points out. The position of those on margins for skill is that, under the Galvin award, it followed that their margins were frozen. Nothing for skill! After it took six years for men to become fully trained in their craft their margins were frozen by the tribunals, in the national interest. Thai has been altered to the extent that those receiving above a certain marginal rate have had their margins adjusted ; but 50 per cent, of those receiving margins have had no adjustments, and that enormous group in the community has to face up to that situation. In addition, their basic wage remains frozen, because the basic wage is just as much part of the salary received as is the margin.
– It has caused a lot of industrial disputes.
– My colleague refers to disputes, some of which have involved waterside workers, and, at the moment, the shearers. Behind that, what is the just decision from the wage point of view? How can there be wage justice and economic justice in the community as a whole if this kind of thing goes on? I say that that is of interest to the great bulk of the employees and people on fixed incomes who are paying higher prices than they should. It is from them that the profits in this country are derived, for a comparatively few people. Does anybody dispute the position regarding profits? It cannot be disputed. The facts are ascertainable in the White Paper published with the budget, which ought to be referred to again. The fact is that the increase of profits which is referred to in the White Paper is the highest increase in two years that has ever occurred in the history of the Australian economy.
-. - Go back to 1949.
– Ah ! I am speaking of the profits in the last two years, during the very same period that has followed the loosening of the controls by the Commonwealth, Bank in connexion with the private trading banks and,, in addition, the freezing of wages, the basic wage in particular.. That is the source from which the profits have been derived. That is the source of inflation. The Prime Minister stated in his September speech that this was a consumption boom. That view was contradicted by the Institute of Public Affairs of Victoria. That institute disputed the Prime Minister’s figures, because it argued that me base rate taken was wrong. The Prime Minister said -
The present condition is rauch more accurately described as a consumption boom than as a developmental boom.
But the Institute of Public Affairs took the exactly opposite view. We say that the boom, or splurge, whatever phrase may be used, is explained by the budget speech of the Treasurer. He pointed out that a characteristic of the economy of Australia was the enormous expansion of private investment, referring to the private sector of the economy. Putting that into language that is not the language of the economic experts, it simply meant that relatively too little was being spent on schools and hospitals for the people, on roads and on water conservation and irrigation, and too much was being spent by making money available for the purpose of making profits. And the profits were so high and so attractive that, of course, profit-making concerns sought more profits. The Treasurer had the active assistance of the private banking system in carrying out this policy. The vicious circle ran in that way.
I believe that to be the position, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Now I want to refer, as I said I would do a moment ago, to one argument in the Prime Minister’s speech, which I think, sums up the situation. He said -
To achieve economic health, we must, clearly, increase our output, or reduce our demand, or both.
Now, so far as increase of output is concerned, the Government cannot be heard to say that the workers of this country have not increased productivity. I shall revert now to the article published, not by a Labour journal, but by the Institute of Public Affairs of Victoria, which say9 this about the increase of consumption expenditure -
When account is taken of improvements in productivity over the last four or five years, which have frequently been pointed to with pride by Cabinet Ministers-
And by no one more than the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt)- the- increase iri consumer spending indicated by our figures could hardly be regarded as excessive;
The point is that, having mentioned productivity, the Prime Minister withdraws from the field, because he has no case whatever against the workers in relation to productivity. Indeed, in a speech the other night, an official of the Chamber of Manufactures in Victoria claimed that 90 per cent, of the difficulties in the processes of productivity in this country were due to inefficient management. The man who made- that statement was speaking on behalf of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures. I do not know whether that is a correct assessment of the percentage,, but it is sufficient for me, at any rate, to negative any suggestion that the effort put forward by the workers in industry has relevance to any productivity failure. Let me read again to the House what the Prime Minister had to say in his statement, lt was -
To achieve economic health, we must, clearly, increase our output, or reduce our demand . . .
Our output! Out demand1 To continue -
We must clearly increase our output, or reduce our demand, or both.
On the subsequent page of the Hansard report the Prime Minister is recorded as having said -
It seems to be merely academic exercise to try to determine whether the excessive demand and, therefore, the inflation, arises from demand for consumption goods or from demand for capital investment.
I think it is very important to see what is the cause of that, in spite of what the Prime Minister said. Before he announced his taxation proposals he developed the basis upon which the Government is acting, fie said -
But the truth is that, in the short run, the most effective immediate way to relieve the pressure is to reduce the volume of purchasing power- which creates it.
Therefore, our demand must be. reduced ! Our purchasing power must be cut down f What does that mean ? Whose purchasing power is it? Is it the purchasing power of every one in the community? Of course it is not! The purchasing power referred to is an aggregate figure of actual economic power, or credit, or cash, with which to buy things. It is a figure which must be examined. I say that the demand in this country at present is in the hands, not of the ordinary people, but of the same interests to which I have already referred, namely, the great corporations and those who benefit from them - the great financial, industrial and commercial corporations. They have possession of the demand. It is their demand. It might be said that the whole demand is too much, but why increase taxes, as the Prime Minister immediately proceeded to- do, in order to cut purchasing power - imposing taxes on groups which are not endowed with sufficient purchasing power and, therefore, are unable to exercise sufficient demand?
I say that that is the great failure running from beginning to end of the Prime Minister’s speech. He speaks of demand or purchasing power, as an aggregate, but he will not divide it up into sectors of the people of Australia which have the necessary credit or cash in order to satisfy their demands. Their demands are not excessive. Their demands are demands for an ordinary reasonable standard of comfort. If they wish to add something to the comfort of the home, and buy it on hire purchase, or buy a car on terms, that is- not unreasonable demand, and expenditure on such items cannot be condemned as excessive. But at the other end of the scale we see luxury expenditure. The press contains many illustrations of extravagant luxury imports which have disfigured this country for so long. Some cut in those imports has been announced, but that is a fact which the Prime Minister has to take into account. I do not think it is necessary for me to examine the Prime Minister’s proposals point by point. Every one of the indirect taxes is intended to be passed on, at least to the amount of the tax that the Commonwealth will collect. It is for that very purpose that it is done in that way. All indirect taxation is. regressive, because an indirect tax falls most heavily on those who are least able to pay it. The tax on a packet of cigarettes, for instance, is the same for the wealthiest person in the community as it is for the poorest member of the community. That is regressive taxation, which, as far as possible, the Labour party has always opposed.
The Labour party says that there has been no diagnosis of the inflationary pressures in Australia during the last two years. The Prime Minister says that it is irrelevant to determine whether inflation arises from demand for consumer goods or from demand for capital investment. We say that the extra demand has been created as a result of the possession of increased purchasing power by the profiteering forces to which I have referred. The increase in profits as shown by the white paper presented with the budget proves that beyond doubt. The Prime Minister presented certain detailed arguments at a later stage of his speech, to which I shall refer as I deal with other aspects of the matter.
To sum up, we have this imposition of further indirect taxation, which will fall, in the way that I have described, mainly upon the family men, not upon those who are more able to bear it. The view of the Government is that the demand on resources must be reduced. Therefore, tho Prime Minister proposes to introduce his legislation. But he treats the demand quantitatively, as a whole, without examining how the taxation should be applied, and without seeing that the persons who will be hit by it most are persons in the groups to which I have referred.
Then he adds, in effect, as though it. were an afterthought, “ I should tell the House that this extra money will be needed in any event “. For what purpose ? For the purpose of contributing to the finance that will be needed by the States for public works. That is the position taken up by the Prime Minister, lt is very important to remember that matter, in examining the right honorable gentleman’s speech, because the present situation is that support for Commonwealth loans by ordinary investors has fallen off as a result of this Government’9 mismanagement of the bond market during the last five or six years.
During the war and the post-war period, it was possible for the Government to raise money from the public at an interest rate of 3k per cent. Mr. Chifley insisted time and time again that the development of the nation and of our industries would be impeded if interest rates were allowed to reach high levels again. Therefore, a fundamental part of the Chifley’ Government’s policy, accepted by the people, was that the interest rate should be low. Investors, being appealed to by the Government, contributed to Commonwealth loans. I think the total value of Commonwealth bonds held by individual investors is in the neighbourhood of £750,000,000. Commonwealth 3 J per cent, bonds remained at par, or very close to it, during the whole period of office of the Labour Government, and for a portion of the period of office of the present Government. The policy of the Labour Government was supported by public opinion in this country. That was the position in the bond market until 1952.
In 1952, for the first time, a change was made. The Commonwealth Bank and the National Debt Commissioners, acting as government agents, failed to support the market, with the result that the market prices of bonds fell, but the yield for purchasers at the reduced prices went up to approximately 4-J per cent. The ordinary investor who held bonds to the face value of £500 or £1,000, sometimes representing his own savings and sometimes those of another member of his family as well, awoke to find, if he had not been following the market closely, that there had been a decline in the market value of his bonds by 9 per cent, or 10 per cent., or even more in some cases, with a corresponding sharp increase in the yield for purchasers at the reduced prices. That matter has been treated by the Treasurer in this way. He says that there is no legal obligation on the Government to support the bond market. It is perfectly true that there is no legal obligation on the Government to support the market, but surely there is a moral obligation for it do so. That was the view that was always taken previously.
It is extraordinary that, just before the Prime Minister made his statement, two moves were made by the Opposition which had a bearing on the questions of interest rates and the increases announced later by the Prime Minister. In the Address-in-Reply debate, we submitted an amendment attacking the Government for its failure to support the bond market. Debate on that amendment -was prevented by the Prime Minister, who said that the problems of the economy should be discussed together. But he has not discussed the matter in the way that it must be discussed.
The position seems to me to be quite clear. The Bank of New South Wales, through its chairman, demanded that the Commonwealth should not continue to support the bond market. His argument was that if the Commonwealth Bank did so, the effect on the community would be inflationary. Imagine the Bank of New South Wales objecting to it on that ground! Then Mr. Rickettson, in many articles that he wrote, took the same point of view. He claimed that the Government was bound to withdraw support from the bond market. We found that, in the end, such support was withdrawn. In his speech, the Prime Minister said that the Government had decided that the levels to which the prices of Commonwealth bonds were falling would have to be accepted. That meant, in effect, that he approved of the yield to purchasers of bonds at the reduced prices going up from 4^ per cent, to 5 per cent., thereby reducing still further the capital value of bonds held by the ordinary investor.
No doubt that decision of the Government was made with the approval of the Commonwealth Bank Board, because the Commonwealth Bank Board has taken that view before. It took that view in 1952, when the interest rate was increased from 3£ per cent, to 4£ per cent. Now the rate has gone up from 4rJ to 5 per cent. A capital loss will be sustained by every bondholder who is compelled to sell. If a bondholder has kept his bonds in order to use them as a deposit on the purchase of a house, there will be a very substantial reduction in the value of the bonds for that purpose. The whole purpose of the withdrawal of government support from the bond market was that the withdrawal should be followed by a general increase of interest rates. That was the view which this party expressed a few weeks ago, and that view has been proved now to be correct.
I have already indicated what it means so far as the private banks are concerned. But there is a broader aspect of the matter - that is, whether increased rates can be justified at all. The attitude of the Labour party is one of absolute opposition to an increase of interest rates. A further increase of interest rates will injure every active element in the community. I have referred, by way of illustration, to the effect on homeowner.ship. The increase of the interest rate3 will be a direct addition to the cost and will delay the completion of homes, whether constructed under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement or by the great co-operative building societies. That in itself is a very great objection to the increased rates. Primary producers know that they will be a great handicap to primary production. They will be a great handicap to all productive activity in the community. They will handicap secondary industries, and, indeed, all economic activity except that of the banking system, credit organizations and financial institutions generally, which are not concerned with production. All productive activity will be subjected to an additional burden.
I have said that Mr. Chifley made the policy of cheap money absolutely fundamental during the war and in the early post-war years. The present Government accepted that policy until, in my opinion, the private banks became so powerful that the Government was forced to change it. That change has undoubtedly been one of the prime causes of the profit inflation from which Australia is now suffering. “We are entitled to know all the circumstances associated with tha sudden withdrawal of support for the bond market by the Commonwealth and its instrumentalities. We have not been given a full explanation, and, as Leader of the Opposition, I now ask that the details be disclosed to the House. We know, as I have pointed out, that the private banks wanted that support withdrawn. The hundreds of thousands of Australians who have invested in government bonds are entitled to know that it was due to the ceaseless agitation of the private banks and their officials and associates that Commonwealth support of tha bond market was withdrawn. The Prime Minister stated that abnormal support was required, and that this would have taken many millions of pounds. But he overlooked the fact that small investors have invested hundreds of millions of pounds. The Prime Minister stated also that the abnormal support required would have caused great inflationary pressure. I dispute that statement. Inflationary pressure would not have been caused in the circumstances, because the Commonwealth has an obligation to the small private bondholder which it has simply to discharge under certain conditions. When war savings certificates were issued, the private investor was well protected under the terms of his contract with the Government.
One of the first steps in the current situation should be the restoration of the confidence of the small investor in the bond market, on which both the Commonwealth and the States depend under the Financial Agreement of 1927. This is important because we cannot have the Commonwealth always called upon to pay for public works out of taxation. Broadly speaking, public works should be paid for out of loan moneys, although I admit that there are circumstances, especially in prosperous times, in which loans should be supported from revenue. However, generally speaking, this should not be required. In order that public works can be financed from loan moneys, confidence in the loan market must be restored. My attention has been directed to the position in the United States of America, where special bonds, very much akin to the war savings certificates issued in Australia during the war, are issued. The fact is that the small investor in Australia will not invest, not because he doubts whether the full face value of the bond will be paid at maturity, but because, if he has to sell before the bond matures, he will lose a proportion of his capital. The bonds could be issued on terms that would protect the investor against this loss. The series E savings bonds, similar to the war savings certificates, were issued in the United States for that very purpose. They are non-negotiable. Interest is not paid periodically, but accumulates throughout the ten-year term of the bond. The bonds are sold at an issue price of 75 and mature ten years later at 100. This represents a return of approximately 3 per cent, over the life of the bond. I would point out that I am not at the moment concerning myself about the precise rate of interest. The bonds are redeemable at the option of the holder at any time 60 days or more after issue at redemption prices fixed in advance and printed on each bond. Consequently, they are not subject to any risk of price fluctuation. During the first year after issue, no interest is paid. Thereafter, the rate rises gradually. The bonds may be purchased ‘ only by individuals, and no investor may buy more than 10,000 dollars worth in any year. They are available in low denominations and are readily replaced if lost. This is a very convenient system of investment in’ bonds, and I think no less than 13 per cent, of the entire public debt of the United States has been taken up by small investors under those terms. A similar scheme should be adopted in Australia in an attempt to restore confidence in the loan market.
The lack of confidence in the bond market has made it necessary for the Commonwealth to come to the rescue by supporting State public works. This would not have been necessary had the integrity of the bond market been protected as it was for so many years by the Labour Government and by the present Government during its early years of office. Unfortunately, the lack of confidence has been made even worse by the sudden withdrawal of support, at the instigation of the Government, by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and other Commonwealth agencies in order to bring about an accomplished fact, which would be and must be accepted, as was argued by the Bank of New South “Wales Limited and Mr. Ricketson in relation to the increase of interest rates generally. Their argument was that, if the yield on bonds were increased, the increase of interest rates generally would be as certain as it is certain that night follows day. This is exactly how it has worked out. It has a very important aspect. Many passages in the books of the great economists deal with this problem. Lord Beveridge, in his book Full Employment in a Free Society, derides the Prime Minister’s idea that an increase of the interest rate on advances will control inflation. He concedes that an enormous increase might do so in some circumstances, “but lie strongly supports the maintenance of a cheap money policy and the lowest possible rate of interest. So also do Samuelson, the great United States authority, Keynes, and other great economists. Why is the Government retreating on the question of interest rates when, for so many years, low interest rates have been accepted as vital to all productive activity in Australia?
– Especially to the primary industries.
– Representatives of the primary producers know it, of course. Recently we have heard the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock) and other representatives of the Australian Country party telling us how important to the primary industries low interest rates are. The Opposition proposes to seek a special vote of the House during this debate to ascertain whether the increase of interest rates is approved by the House. It is vital that we prevent an increase of interest rates. As I have said, Lord Beveridge, in dealing with this problem, derides the proposition that an increase of interest rates will have the automatic effect, which used to be attributed to it. of controlling inflation, He states -
An integral part of a policy of full employment is a “ cheap money “ policy . . .
The rate of interest used to be looked upon as a price which adjusted the demand for savings to the supply.
He added that that view is now completely exploded as an economic doctrine. So it has been, but apparently it is now accepted by this Government. I shall try now to sum up the position. First, the people have given no authority for any of these taxation measures, which are all inflationary in character. The statement that they are disinflationary is completely wrong. It can have been made only as the result of the Prime Minister’s acceptance of the views of. the many economists, the multitudes of economists, who were engaged in helping in the preparation of these proposals. They speak of the necessity for draining off spending power from the people. Of course, they are not in the groups to which draining off will make much difference. They W:,Ut to drain it off - they sometimes speak of mopping it up - from the basic wage-earner and from the ordinary people on small fixed incomes in this country. I say, therefore, that the basis of the proposals is fallacious. Secondly, their real purpose is to raise money for the purpose of loan to the States for public works, and it is necessary to do that only because of the collapse of the bond market so far as ordinary investors are concerned. That collapse was deliberately brought about, not for the sake of producing a collapse, but because the Government was pledged to the private banks to ensure that the interest rate would rise, and pledged to accept the advice of the Bank of New South Wales, which made public demands - some of them in peremptory language - that the Government’s support should be withdrawn.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! Honorable members must maintain silence. Honorable members on the Opposition front benches are included in that injunction.
– The Prime Minister has said that this step is disinflationary, but according to those persons who have written on this problem that is just as true as saying that inflation is disinflation, because it actually causes extra prices and is so intended. All these proposals will be resisted and opposed by the Opposition. I think the interest rate proposal is the most important of all. The first thing that has to be done in this situation is to try to restore from the wreck the bond market, trusted by so many hundreds of thousands of Australians for so long. I have indicated a way in which that might be attempted. At the same time, some attempt should be made to meet cases of hardship amongst bondholders already holding securities. Any attempt to solve that problem will be .assisted by the Opposition. If higher taxation is to be imposed on companies, instead of applying the flat rate of ls. in the £t, the proper course is that which was indicated by the Labour party at the last election, namely, the imposition of an anti-profiteering tax, limited to companies whose profits are excessive having regard to the capital invested and all the other circumstances. That is the appropriate way of getting rid of the inflation, if it is, as we contend, a profiteering inflation. The import policy of the Government -is connected, of course, with an inactive export policy. We were pleased to hear, after so many months or years of resistant, that Government representatives are endeavouring to establish markets, as the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) said this afternoon, in China, which is the best market in Asia. We ‘have continuously pressed for that to be done, but instead of some public servant the Minister himself should go and see if he can do for Australia in the export market what has been done by Canada and India in establishing markets of a similar character.
The Government has no plan to deal with hire purchase. I say that the interest rate in hire purchase has to be reduced, even if it means asking the States for power to deal with interest, beyond banking, and I think that a great deal can be done without acquiring additional powers from the States. The problem is a technical one and can be dealt with in detail later. It is of no use for the Government to talk about voluntary restraint, as the Prime Minister did in September. He said, in effect, to the hire purchase organizations, “ I appeal to you not to be too tough with your profiteering. We have helped you as much as possible. You have made enormous profits. Be satisfied “. But they are not satisfied. The very purpose of these organizations is to make profit and then more profit. The demands of private investment are to increase the profit still further. I say that the whole of the Government’s proposals show a complete absence of plan. It will not think of the word “ planning “. It will not see that these problems have to be faced boldly, and its conduct over the last six or seven years as one crisis succeeds another shows that it ‘has no idea of the manner in which the economic problems of this country can be solved. Later in the evening a specific amendment will be introduced on behalf of the Opposition demanding a vote from the House, in particular against an inn ease in interest rates.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker-
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! Honorable members must maintain silence.
Mr. Pollard continuing to interject,
– Order ! The honorable member for Lalor will apologize to the Chair for disobedience.
– I apologize.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has occupied the time, if not the attention, of the House for almost an hour, and he has purported to present to the House and to the country the views, on our very complex and difficult economic problems, of what would be the alternative Government in Australia as pronounced by the alternative Prime Minister in Australia, and it is well for those who have been listening to what he has said to bear in mind that very important consideration, because there, but for the grace of the electors, would have been the leader of the country and the economic policy to meet the times through which we are passing. The right honorable gentleman opened his speech by telling us that we had deferred informing the country about the nature of the economic problem, that we had waited until we had got the election out of the way before we Vought these measures forward, that e had, in effect, deliberately misled the people of Australia as to their own situation-
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! Honorable members must maintain silence.
– I am quite certain that, far from that being the case, the Government parties were returned with a record majority at the last election because the people of Australia fully realized that they were up against a difficult situation, and they knew that if a Government was to meet that situation it was certainly not one to be drawn from the party of the right honorable gentleman opposite. Indeed, if anybody now cares to examine what the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said when he went to the country, and what the Leader of the Opposition said, it is abundantly clear that the people of Australia were told in no unmistakable terms that there was a great economic problem. The Prime Minister did not attempt at that time to put specific proposals before the people. It was one election policy speech in which no attempt was made to put proposals of that character, however attractive they might otherwise have been, because the Prime Minister wanted to feel that he could face up to the situation as he found it after he took office without any prior commitments of any kind whatever, and far from lacking faith in the Prime Minister, far from requiring of him that he should put down in precise terms what he intended to do, the people of this country, knowing how he had steered the affairs of the nation through the years in which he had held office in Government, gave him the overwhelming mandate of the last election. On the other hand, it was left to the Leader of the Opposition to put forward the attractive proposals. He was the one who was going to lift the pension rates, to double this and treble that, and to sugar every pill that otherwise would have to be swallowed. But the people had’ learnt something about the leaders who were offering themselves for selection at that time, and they came down unhesitatingly in favour of the present Prime Minister. If they wanted confirmation of the wisdom of their judgment, they had it here to-night. The Leader of the Opposition spoke for the best part of an hour, and if he were critical of what this Government had put forward - he did express some criticism - the people were entitled to hear from him what programme he would offer the country at this time in order to get it out of its difficulties.
– You are the Government.
– If they were looking for any help in that direction, they must have been bitterly disappointed. One honorable member on the Labour front bench says, “You are the Government”. In other words, the Labour party is washing its hands of any constructive suggestion which might be helpful to this Government or to its people. That is the attitude of a party so lacking in realism that its members have been condemned to the Opposition benches for the last six years, and that is the attitude which is likely to keep them there for a very long time to come. I have no alternative programme from the Labour party to examine and analyse for the House to-night. In those circumstances, I must content myself with examining such criticisms as Labour offers?
The first major criticism made by the Leader of the Opposition was that our proposals constituted an attack on the standards of the small man.
Opposition MEMBERS - Hear, hear !
– There are the “ Hear, hears ! “ from the Opposition side. It is not unfamiliar ground that we are on to-night. During the election campaign, the Leader of the Opposition predicted that the country was in for trouble under our leadership. He said we were determined to seek the traditional anti-Labour way out of our difficulty - to reduce spending, consumption and credit of an essential nature. We have reduced credit, we have reduced spending, and we have reduced consumption. Does anybody but the most hardened addict to some of the commodities with which we have dealt describe those as reductions in essential spending ? I think most people would not.
The Leader of the Opposition proceeds to say that this will add to the difficulties of the Australian producers, that the situation is very similar to that of 1952, from which stemmed the highest level of unemployment since the end of the war, and that the present situation is more serious than that of 1952. So the right honorable gentleman was clearly predicting that, as a result of the measures to be adopted by this Government, we would have unemployment more serious than in 1952. He follows that up by saying that we are attacking the standards of the little man. The little man, if we can so describe him, has voted with overwhelming strength for this Government at every election at which it has gone to the people in recent years. He has done so for the very important reason that never in the history of this country has this so-called little man - I prefer to call him the average Australian trade unionist - enjoyed a more genuine and lasting prosperity with conditions of full employment than he has during the term of this Government. Nothing which has emerged from these proposals will shake in any way the substantial prosperity he has enjoyed or the substantial security he has possessed under us during our term of office.
– Give us some figures.
– I will give some figures because facts can speak louder even than the Leader of the Opposition and those who shout most vociferously behind him. I remind honorable members opposite that we have heard a good deal in this generation of the technique of the big lie. The big lie of honorable members opposite is that we ou this side desire to depress the standards of the Australian working man and his family, that we are a low-wage party, and that we believe in a pool of unemployed people. Let us examine the facts. I hope they will convince honorable members opposite.
As to low wages, I find in the latest issue of the statistician’s Review of Business Statistics that when we took office the average weekly earnings per employed male in Australia were £9 5s. For the last quarter recorded - the September quarter of 1955-56 - that figure had grown to the all-time Australian record of £17 3s. 4d. a week.
– In terms of purchasing power ?
– I should like to take my friends opposite through a lot of figures to-night because, if they are receptive to the truth, even they must be convinced by them. I refer them to this interesting document. If they want to know how that money works out in terms of real purchasing power, I advise them to analyse the information in the document, and they will see that accompanying the rise in costs there has been a more rapid increase in the rate of wage paid to the average worker in Australia.
Now let me take another interesting fact. It is suggested that we are out to depress the standards of the average Australian worker.. We have certainly applied some indirect taxation,’, which will move right through the community. The Leader of the Opposition has said that this would- put a great burden on the working man. I suppose that if the working man drank enough beer each week, he would have a great burden added to him in more senses than one ; but if he’ is the average family man in Australia, he has little burden to carry from the imposts that we have put on here. I invite honorable members to cast their minds back to the time when we came into office, and to- the tax situation then. We find some very interesting disclosures. Most people measure their standards or are able to adjust their- standards by the net income they have after their taxation from personal exertion has been paid. Let us look at how these taxes affect the people” iii the lower income groups1 as we understand them today. I take the case of the breadwinner with a dependent wife and two children. In 1949, the last year of office of the Labour government, the taxpayer earning £600 a year would have paid £26 5s. in tax. Today that man pays only £11 5s. An income of £1,000 a year is not an abnormal figure in these days. If that married man had been earning £1,000 a year during the term of office of honorable gentlemen opposite, he would have paid £96 5s. whereas today he pays £60- 2s. A taxpayer earning £1,500 a year would have paid £226 14s. in- tax under the Labour government, whereas to-day he pays only £159 8s.
– What point is the Minister trying to make?
– One would expect to see that greater purchasing power reflected, in the standards of the family man in those financial circumstances, and, of course, it has been. Never in his history have he and all those in that category known such availability of the durable goods that go into the home. I refer to facilities and amenities for the housewife, such as refrigerators, washing machines, radio sets and all those other comforts which we recognize now as part of our modern living. The motor car, which was- once- the “luxury of the rich man, has become almost the commonplace of the average working man.
I should like, now to say a word, or two about these indirect taxes, because we get some interesting comparisons with, our opposite numbers in the United Kingdom. Undoubtedly, some of these imposts seem heavy when they are related to what has1 gone Before: I am not able to give a precise figure for beer, because it varies in the United Kingdom-, I understand, according to its alcoholic content. With this additional payment, a packet of 20 cigarettes would cost 3s. 2d. The Australian equivalent in the United Kingdom would be 4s. 7d. Our luxury tax now on the new scale is of the order of 25 per cent. In the United Kingdom, it is 60 per cent. There was a gasp when we announced a sales tax of 30 per cent, on motor cars. The current rate in the United Kingdom is 60 per cent. The cost of petrol in Australia^ under our measures, will be an average of about 3s. 8d. a gallon, and if we relate that to the 1939 purchasing power, we find that it is. very much less than would have been the case in those days. On the same basis, it is cheaper to buy petrol and beer to-day, even with the taxes added’, than it was in 1939. We in Australia are paying 3s. 8d. a gallon for- petrol, but people in the United Kingdom are paying the equivalent in Australian currency of 5 s. 10£d. a gallon. If we bear in mind that the average wage level in the United Kingdom is lower than that in Australia, we note that, despite this recent attempt by the Government to raise additional revenues for essential purposes and’ to reduce the inflationary pressure, Australian consumers are by no means badly off when compared with their kith and kin in the United Kingdom.
I should not have thought there was much scope for the suggestion that the Government has dealt a blow to persons in- receipt of lower incomes. The Leader of the Opposition had a lot to say about hire-purchase- finance. Although time will not permit me to go through his argument, let me make it quite clear that the Government bears no hostility towards the hire-purchase system of finance, which affords to people on smaller incomes an opportunity to purchase some of the durable goods to which reference has been made. On the contrary, the
Government regards it as a very desirable feature of modern community life. We in Australia are attempting to do very many things all at once, but we must exercise some moderation if we are to do the most important things. One need only look at the movement in hirepurchase transactions to see what has happened in that field. At June, 1953, the balance owing on goods purchased under hire-purchase agreements in Australia was £87,000,000; in December, 1955, it was £207,000,000. Moreover, registrations of motor vehicles rose from 7,400 a month as at June, 1953, to 16,475 a month as at June, 1955 - a phenomenal increase. If the States were to give to the Commonwealth the power to deal with the problem of hire-purchase finance, the Government would be greatly strengthened, but we do not share the confidence of the Leader of the Opposition that the States would give that power to the Commonwealth. Indeed, when the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last raised the matter at a Premiers’ conference, one of the Labour Premiers returned to his State and lowered the deposit rate on hire-purchase transactions.
Many attacks have been made on the profits of companies. Such attacks constitute a hardy perennial for honorable gentlemen opposite, who have a phobia about profitable investment and profitable company transactions in Australia. Again, time will not enable me to give all the answers, but let me say that the revenue that is raised for the provision of social services benefits, the employment that we are able to give to hundreds of thousands of Australians in the manufacturing industries, the very stability of the nation, our internal security, and our a.bility to resist aggression, all depend upon profitable industrial investment in this country. Bather than condemning mid attacking efficient management for making profits we should be grateful to it. Let us get some competition into the field, if you like. But honorable members opposite are opposed to competition; they want a socialist community. Let me remind them that greater competition is likely to lead to lower prices and lower profits. We believe that a considerable part of increased profits should be passed on in the form of lower prices, and management might well take that suggestion to heart. But I repudiate thestatements of the Leader of the Opposition about the inefficiency of management and the statement that he attributed to an alleged spokesman of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures.
– The Leader of the Opposition referred to the Victorian Chamber of Commerce.
– The right* honorable gentleman referred to the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures, and that organization has to-night sent me a message entirely repudiating his statement. The Government has- set itself certain broad national objectives such as national development, adequate defence, rising standards of living, and full employment. It has been the proud boast of the Government that it has had a vested interest in prosperity, just as honorable gentlemen opposite have a vested political interest in depressions. We survive politically at the hands of the Australian people because we stand for prosperity, and they know it. Moreover, we are consolidating the prosperity that we have established during the time we have been in office. The measures that the Government has placed before the Australian people have that as their objective and, given a reasonable measure of co-operation by the people, which we confidently expect, we shall attain that objective for this expanding and developing nation, this secure nation, in which the people enjoy not only full employment but also rising standards of living.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, one of the most distinguished members of the “ first eleven “ has returned to the pavilion without making i a hit. I listened to the right honorable j gentleman with great interest to see whether any answers were forthcoming from the Government to the charges that were made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I note, too, that the order of batting has been changed, and that the stone-waller who usually comes I in with his leader is now leaving the I chamber. I refer to the Treasurer (“Sir I Arthur Fadden), who should certainly participate in this debate, and should do so very soon. Has he refrained because he does not believe in what the Government is doing? Is it because it is hopeless for him to make any protest, and because he can only nod about it to his cronies or make some dark curses on the stairs? “Why is he not taking part in this debate ? The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) made no valid reference to the problems with which we are dealing. In every instance, he made a sort of circumlocution of the perimeter, if I may say so. He made a pre-election speech, dug up some stale slogans, and sat down.
– What is the honorable member doing about it?
M? HAYLEN.- I shall say in a moment or two what I am doing, and if the honorable member likes to be personal, I shall do so too. No one in his sane senses believes this poppycock that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has produced a cure for inflation. We are tired of the right honorable gentleman standing before a national problem and elocuting to beat the band. We want to know the factors that have led to the production of such an imposing document. Obviously, the measures that he has announced do not provide a cure for inflation. Rather do they constitute a balancing of the budget.
– Opposition members said that in 1951, too.
– Of course we said it, and we will say it again. If the honorable member believes that Nostradamus has the answer to everything, he must know that he will not be here after the next general election. Clearly, the Prime Minister’s statement is a financial statement rather than a general statement about how to deal with the perils of in nations. Suggestions have been 35 jade about what might happen following an increase of interest rates and other similar measures. Certain things have been done, but the reasons for doing them have f.01 been stated. The Leader of the Opposition has run through the position briefly.
– The right honorable gentleman has not run through the position; he has stampeded through it.
– Not even the right honorable lord high executioner, who rises in his place only to cut down somebody else, believes that by taxing a man’s beer and charging him 3s. Id. for a packet of cigarettes the Government can save the nation, nor can he assure us that there will not be another wage demand following this raising of prices. Surely there is something to be said for the contention of the Leader of the Opposition in relation to that matter. Surely the Government is not suggesting, too, that the motor car industry should be taxed out of existence. Let me tell the Government that the motor car has come to stay.
Government supporters interjecting,
– Honorable members opposite laugh, but let them wait a moment. If the suggestions of the Government were carried to a logical conclusion, we would be reduced to a camel shuttle service. If the Government increases the price of petrol by 3d. a gallon it will see the difficulties. I say to honorable members opposite who are responsible for the jeers that marked my statement about motor cars, that if they will wait a little while I shall be able to explain and then the boot will be very much on the other foot. If the Government attacks and puts a savage sectionalized impost upon an industry that has never had a major strike throughout its development, and which pays the highest salaries and provides the best amenities in the country, then it has a case to answer. The suggestion that the interest rate should be increased, in order to give the trading banks another £1,500,000- it may be £2,500,000; the figure is extremely conservative - reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. The suggestion implies that you take a drink from a certain bottle to increase your size, or take a nibble at the magic biscuit to make yourself small enough to enter the hole down which the inflationary rabbit went, or stay outside it.
I want to get on to the real reason why the Prime Minister would not tackle this problem in a tradesmanlike way. As every honorable member knows, the situation is that the Government parties stand for high interest, hard money, and dear money, whereas we on this side of the House believe in cheap money. That is the situation, and we all accept that, and that is the way the battle is joined.
The horrible aspect of it is that it has been disguised by a series of statements by the Prime Minister as though he were correcting the economy and putting things in order, when underneath is the fact that a savage battle has been raging since 1949 to destroy the Chifley policy of cheap money, adequate controls and sane development, and the Chifley belief that a man should share in the country’s riches and part of its dreams. To-day, the Government has sold out completely to the trading banks, as I shall prove in the time left at my disposal. In 1953, when the banking legislation was altered, the Commonwealth Bank began this horrible business that has been going on ever since. When I attempted to bring the matter up in the House as a matter of urgency, I was told, again by the Lord High Executioner, that I could not speak. That is the first occasion in my recollection, after twelve years in this House, that that sort of thing has happened to an honorable member who has sought to use the forms of the House in order to discuss a matter of urgent public importance. The reason was given that the Prime Minister did not want the case for economic controls fragmented, that he wanted us to see the situation as a whole. Well, we are not so silly as that, because if we had gone any further we would have fallen into the “ hole “. The Government’s case was to be, to use a new word, “unfragmented “. Since the Government itself is a coalition and consists of two fragments, and as it has an upper and lower set in its Cabinet - another two fragments - and has brought into this House three differing views on interest rates - another three fragments - the fragmentation of the Government’s case is absolute and I shall touch upon it no further.
This is the situation and the struggle: The trading banks, if they are to eliminate cheap money from this com.munity and this economy, must first get rid of the legislation implemented by the Chifley Government, and they will have to attempt - and they did attempt as they are still attempting to-day - to do southing with the Commonwealth Bank. Sn the whole heat of the attack, disguised from time to time by statements by Government supporters, is upon the Commonwealth Bank. The Common wealth Bank is to do the bidding of its bosses. There is no nimbus of immortality upon any member of the Commonwealth Bank Board. I have considered their records. The only one in any way noteworthy is Professor Hytten, of whom the slogan was coined, “It is pretty cool in the Hytten pool”. He would be a stalwart advocate of full employment! Would he not mouth that lovely phrase, that desecration of English, “ Over-full employment”! I have never heard such an extraordinary phrase.
So I get back to the point that the Commonwealth Bank Board is assisting in this breakdown of the Commonwealth Bank itself, and the breakdown has occurred in those departments of the Commonwealth Pank that are concerned with cheap interest, and that were instituted by the Chifley Government. In the 1953 legislation the trading bank was separated from the other functions of the Commonwealth Bank, and it was. capitalized at £5,000,000. So, immediately, in order to survive, it had to get more deposits and had to lend on short terms. As a result, the housing project suffered immediately. No matter what honorable members may say about it, it no longer had the central bank as a bulwark. It was left naked to the world so far as its competitors were concerned. Then the Commonwealth Bank Board, urged by the friends of this Government who want to get rid of the cheap money philosophy from the economy before they can move any further in this squeeze, decided to attack two departments of the Commonwealth Bank. Before I come to that point, I may mention that it is significant that there is now resolved in the minds of big business, and it is obvious to any one who gives a moment’s study to the matter, a determination to make the £1 have value. If the Prime Minister cannot do it in seven years the businessmen believe they can do it now, and the battle is joined. The profits that have been made since the war, and the new aggregations of capital gains made during the war, have beon very large, but inflation has acted to reduce their value. The only way to make them strong and real, and to make the people who possess plenty of money solid millionaires, is to make money scarce and difficult to obtain. If we have scarcity we have demand; if we have demand we have a further pressure upon that demand; and that is exactly what hey want.
There is the plan. It is quite obvious.
This is what occurred in regard to the Commonwealth Bank. The Industrial Finance Department of the Commonwealth Bank consisted of two sections, the advances section and the hire-purchase section. When the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), who has now left the chamber, was talking about this matter, he referred to how much the worker had. How much has the worker lost through the fact that there is now, in no circumstances, any bank for him to go for cheap money, which is the essence of development of this country ? Because of the pressure upon him resulting from the weakened value of the £1, he has no chance of saving any money. The Prime Minister himself admitted, when addressing the electors of North Sydney at the recent State election - and thus ensuring the return of the Labour candidate - that the value of the £1 had been reduced by 60 per cent, since he had been Prime Minister. I merely mention that in passing, and I return to my remarks about the two sections of the industrial finance department of the Commonwealth Bank. In my view, deadly attacks have been made on the Australian economy. The increase of 2d. a glass in the price of beer, the increase of the price of tobacco, and the change in the interest rates, are all symptoms of these attacks, but the real and drastic struggle is taking place in the directorates of the trading banks and in the Commonwealth Bank Board. The Industrial Finance Department of the Commonwealth Bank has now disappeared. The advances section, created by the Chifley Government, had as its purpose the lending of money to young men, returned soldiers, young businessmen, men with ideals and with faith in this country, who did not have full security. They may have had some collateral, perhaps in the form of patent rights, and they may have had some money or some stock, but it was essential for them to obtain extra money. It was the direction of the greatest Treasurer this country has ever had, the late Mr.
Chifley, whose shadow lies heavily over this debate to-night, that money should be lent to those people on their face value. The amounts of the loans ranged from £200 to £5,000. An amount of between £16,000,000 and £17,000,000 was employed in that way, and small businessmen, such as corner grocers, and men with ideas, were enabled to commence in business and to develop their plans. Many big businesses have had to start in that way.
After the 1953 legislation the Industrial Finance Department of the Commonwealth Bank was abolished, and the operative interest rate of 4J per cent. - the cheap money - went with it. Shades of the hire-purchase “ interest rates! Shades of the new rise in interest rates ! There was the nigger in the woodpile, and it had to be eliminated, and so 4$ per cent, was no longer the opportunity interest rate. All the accounts of the small borrowers were transferred to the Commonwealth Trading Bank under the 1953 legislation. They are now on a reduction basis; they are gone with the wind. The Commonwealth Bank was advised that it must not conduct business of that kind, because it meant cheap money. That was the Chifley economy, and therefore it was abhorrent to the government of the day. We know that people have suffered, and have been hurt. We ask ourselves and the Government: What of the £17,000,000 to £20,000,000 lent from this department? Where do people go for it now and what will they pay in interest? The Government will not answer that question.
Then we come to hire purchase. It was a concept of Mr. Chifley that 4f per cent, should be the maximum rate of interest in respect of motor cars and he provided in this hire-purchase section of the bank enough money to finance the purchase of motor cars, and some agricultural machinery. He intended to extend the idea to all the durable goods required in the home. Before the Labour Government was able to implement that proposal, it left office, and, little by little, this department has been whittled down until, on the 28th February of this year, the hire-purchase section of the Commonwealth Bank was abolished. Tt has gone with the wind, as I said before. This is why the time-payment firms are flourishing and this is why the trading banks have time-payment adjuncts in their offices which are thinly-disguised banks for the getting of high interest rates. They have gone into the black market for money at the expense of the Australian people who have not enough money to buy things for cash and they have been exploited by these monsters of finance. The figures here are interesting and important, but I see that my time is limited, so I shall have to read them hurriedly. I am all the more sorry for that, because there are a lot of things that should be said on this issue. But here are the vital figures. In 1953-54, the sum of £14,200,000 was lent by the hire-purchase section of the Commonwealth Bank. The amount of £13,800,000 was lent in 1954-55. May we ask where people are going for that £13,000,000? Of course we know why debentures are offered at 6 per cent, and 7 per cent, by the hire-purchase houses. They have got the lot. The Government does nothing about this because it knows that there is no answer to it. The same position applies in regard to housing. To-day, the Commonwealth Bank can lend only £2,500 for a brick house and £1,700 for a weatherboard cottage. Those are shocking figures, which belong to ten years ago. The battle is for cheap money on the Labour side versus dear money on the other side. That is where the battle is joined and that is where the trouble exists. There is no other way of explaining this.
The Prime Minister’s statement is not worth consideration. As the Leader of the Australian Labour party said, the Prime Minister pontificated in front of a subject but got no nearer to it. A vital struggle is in progress. We of the Labour party will pin our colours to the mast in relation to the fight for cheap money for the people, for development and for a stake in the country. The rest is despair and depression, whether you like it or not. If we are called depression pedlars, remember that the Government can make that como true by its own act.
To sum up, I say that, nobody has taken the Prime Minister’s statement seriously because he set out to talk about inflation but showed, within a few moments, that he was concerned only with balancing a budget which is a horo scope that he cast a few months ago and has found to be badly out of reckoning.
There is still the big question mark. Why did. not the Prime Minister tell the public about these things during the election campaign? At that time, this was the best of all possible worlds. Prosperity was permanent. 1’ OW he is going to save prosperity by abolishing it. As a member who is deeply concerned for the future, I am very tired of this posturing in front of a very difficult financial position. 1 think that the Prime Minister has “ had it as far as finance is concerned. He is prepared to let go. He does not know where to go. In the meantime, he walks the mountains of his eloquence, secretly enjoying his public agony and behind him, at a respectful distance, come his eight black-robed economists bearing tho sacred abracadabra and hurling incantations at the coming storm. Surely there is a better way than that. Surely the Leader of the Labour party has shown a better way than that. The way, first of all, is the fight that we will keep up for the retention of these things within the Commonwealth Bank, which will make it impossible for pirates of finance, or bankers, whatever their colour or capacity, to make it certain that money will be dearer, and that conditions will bc worse. The only way to do that is to return to the Chifley policy of cheap money, which produced in our time the highest level of employment, the highest standard of living and a basic wage that fluctuated’ only within a very small limit over the years of his occupancy of the Prime Ministership and the Treasury. That was a pretty good example which I commend to the tired, frightened and incapable members of the Government.
.- The honorable member for Parkes is always entertaining and I think that that is a great benefit to the House. But he is seldom convincing, and that is a great disservice to his own party. Listening to the twenty minutes of eloquence and headlines that he gave to ns, I think that any person would have had some difficulty in realizing until the last five minutes, that the subject with which he was dealing was an economic crisis in the Australian nation.
When, eventually, he came down to recognize that that was the subjectmatter of this debate, what did he say? In those concluding few minutes, he made two mis-statements which I think I cun refer to, without exaggeration, as gross mis-statement. In the first place, he said that the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to this House contained nothing but a certain proposal, which he specified. Of course, every member of this House and every person in the Australian nation knows that the Prime Minister’s speech began, and was threaded through, with an attempt to analyse the economic situation to-day; an attempt to define the causes of that situation; and an attempt to propose in a logical and practical way the remedies that could best be applied to the situation.
The second exaggeration or misstatement that the honorable member for Parkes made was that nothing was said about this subject during the December election campaign. He has only to refer, as every citizen can, to the policy speech given on behalf of the Government parties by the Prime Minister to know that in that speech attention was drawn to the grave concern that the Government was feeling about the economic state of the nation. Not only was attention drawn to it but we said, without attempting to hoodwink, bluff or mislead the people of Australia, that if returned to office, we would take immediate action to deal, as necessary, with the emergency that presented itself. It is in keeping with that policy speech which was delivered in December last, a policy speech which led to the return of the Government parties, that the Prime Minister has now put forward these proposals.
I return to the remarks of the honorable member for Parkes in that concluding five minutes of his speech in which he attempted to deal with the economic situation. What did he put forward as a suggestion from the Labour benches as to what should be done in this crisis? He referred to the shadow of the former great Labour leader, Mr. Chifley, hanging over this debate. He suggested that Mr. Chifley would have done this and Mr. Chifley would have done that. Does not he realize, and do not the members of the Australian Labour party realize, that Mr. Chifley was dealing with the situation which existed eight, nine or ten years ago, and not with the current situation ? I would warrant - and I think every member on the Opposition benches would readily admit in the privacy of his own mind - that if Mr. Chifley were alive and leading the Opposition to-day he, as a man with some realism in economic affairs, would be grappling, not with the situation of eight or nine years ago, but with the situation of to-day, and he would be proposing measures quite different from those which the honorable member quoted out of his mouth.
What I want to do in the few minutes available to me in this debate is to take just one section of the Government’s proposals and set out as clearly as I can the action that the Government is proposing to take and the reason for that particular action. One of the first of the Government’s proposals is that an additional tax should be placed on motor vehicles and on petrol. Why are we proposing that particular action? It is not just in order to be vexatious.
– You can tell us.
– I will tell you. The reason for that action is not simply “to be vexatious. It is in order to try to produce certain economic effects. The first economic effect which we hope it will produce is that it will cut spending in a particular direction, a direction which is helping to promote a high level of imports. As honorable members realize, the high level of imports is leading to our present difficulties in overseas balances. We also hope that that particular action will cut spending in a direction which at the present time is increasing internal capital demand.
The second form of action that we are taking in that department of our proposals is the imposition of additional taxes on beer, spirits, tobacco and cigarettes. Why have we chosen that particular form of taxation ? One of the reasons is that we wish to secure added revenue in order to avoid deficit finance because, as every honorable member will appreciate, deficit finance would have an inflationary effect at the present time. Later in my remarks. if time permits, I will return to that subject. Another reason why we have chosen that particular form of action is that - to some extent in the case of beer, though perhaps not .in the case of spirits and tobacco - it will, if it results in reduced spending, check a growing internal capital demand.
A third form of action that we are proposing is an increase in company taxation. Why have we chosen to do that? We have chosen to do it because we believe that that particular form of taxation will check the demand for investment which it is beyond the capacity of either our saving or our borrowing to provide.
The fourth form of action that we are taking is to increase sales tax on a series of goods which have been selected because we believe that an increased tax on these particular goods will produce a certain effect. We believe that it will check consumer demand and will have consequent effects both on the demand for imports and on the capital demand inside Australia. Secondly, it is also likely to have the effect of raising revenue to help us, as will other revenue, to avoid deficit finance. It seems to me that a good deal of the situation with which we are dealing in Australia to-day can best be considered by examining the nature of the demands that are present in Australia to-day. [Quorum formed.]
The section of the economic problem with which I am dealing can probably best be considered under the heading of demand. The demand that we are experiencing in Australia to-day is, on the one hand, a demand for capital goods, and, on the other, a demand for consumption goods. It will be plain to all honorable members that the demand for capital goods results in a higher level of investment, and that the demand for consumption goods results immediately in a higher level of spending. Both those results interact, one with another, so to produce the sort of pressures that add to the general inflationary situation. Demand is not in itself, I would suggest, in any way bad. The demand for capital goods which we are experiencing in Australia to-day is part of an attempt to develop our country; it is part of an attempt to maintain a higher standard of living; it is part of an attempt to provide a larger measure of services to the people of our country ; and, in part, it may be a response to some demands on the part of the customers that are, to put it in general terms, not altogether healthy. So long as we want the right things and do the right things, this demand is all to the good, but no government can let demand of that kind run away and take control of the country if it retains any sense of responsibility about either the way in which the country should develop or the way in which the economy of the country needs to be protected against unusual influences. That problem of demand comes to a head when we reach the point where the resources that we have in order to do what we want to do are less than the need to do those things.
– That is very clear.
– I will put it in more simple terms for the benefit of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). The position is something like that of a man climbing up a rope. When hp reaches the point where there is no more rope he cannot climb any higher. It is just the same with investment. We can go to a certain point, but if we have no wherewithal with which to continue the investment, we can go no further. The alternatives are either to save more, to borrow more from inside our own country or outside of it, or to do less. I would not suggest for a moment, nor does the Government, that we should take any one of those courses solely, but rather a little of each. We can save more. If it is possible - and at the present moment it does not seem to be - we can borrow more outside Australia or from the people of Australia and, temporarily - and perhaps unfortunately - we can also decide that we have reached the point where we must do less. However, in deciding that, we must be careful not to check development to too great an extent. We must realize that what we are doing is an action of temporary adjustment. It is an attempt to save the economy, and is not a permanent policy. I think that is the point which separates the approach of this Government from the approach which has been shown by members of the Opposition. We believe that we are dealing with a situation which can be a temporary situation - which we hope is a temporary situation - and we are trying to apply to it expedients appropriate to that particular sort of situation. The Opposition, on the other hand, I suggest, is seriously handicapped by the fact that it is hanging on to lots of tag ends of old policies, and lots of imperfectly understood ideas., and is trying to :apply them willy-nilly to all sorts of situations without regard to the exact nature of those situations.
Now, the other sort of demand to which I have referred is the demand for consumption goods. That is, of course, a consequence of our prosperity. The fact that there is full employment, the fact that ‘people have high wages, the fact that there is a liberal provision for social services, means that we are in a state of prosperity in which there is a high consumer demand ; and in a free country such as we still have in Australia purchasing power reflects itself in the idle fancies of the people, as well as in their considered judgments. A good deal of this spending - although I do not speak critically of it - is not made “with very careful calculation. It is just spending made to meet the momentary fancy of the particular customer who may have the money to spend. Now, that is illustrated, I think, very -well by a subject, which is almost too sacred in this country to mention - the subject of beer. The consumption of bear has gone up, I think, beyond the normal requirements of the human body.
– What are the normal requirements ?
– I think something less than an annual consumption of 223,000,000 gallons for 9,000,000 people. In the old days of temperance the argument was often heard that if we did not spend so much on beer we could spend more on schools. I think that all honorable members are familiar with that argument. But the case cannot be expressed so simply as that, by saying that a reduction in the £50,000,000 which we spend on beer would mean an equivalent increase in the expenditure on schools. Nevertheless the old temperance argument still has some relevance to the situation with which we are dealing. The expenditure of a sum of the order of £50,000,000 on beer each year involves commitments for buildings required by the brewing industry, the tying up of a labour force for the brewing industry, commitments for plant and machinery for the brewing industry, .and the withdrawal from other avenues of raw materials and ingredients for the brewing industry and, so far as all those things are tied up by that demand, they are not available for something else. I think that, at the present time, the situation expresses itself most clearly of all in the demand for capital investment in the brewing industry. Brewing is a thriving industry, and it is responding to the pressure of the present very great demand, which is a consequence of our prosperity.
What does the tax on beer do? lt collects revenue which is applied to other tasks than those represented by the brewing industry. It also checks consumer demand, or it is hoped that it will do so. and thus reduces capital demands from that particular industry, and relieves that area of pressure on our economy. Thus, by one action - and I use this as an illustration, not as an absolute argument - the Government is raising revenue, it is diverting the consumption demand, and it is slackening the investment demand. 1 think that that illustrates fairly clearly the method that the Government has chosen to follow in its economic policy - applying a selective tax on a particular commodity in order to bring about three particular effects, each one of which will contribute in some way towards the easing of our economic situation. Then there is another important effect that the raising of the revenue will have, and that is the effect on our budget. Now, the cash position in the Commonwealth accounts thi? year - and I emphasize the cash position as distinct from the revenue budget - is likely to result in a deficit at the end of the present financial year. Why is there likely to be a deficit in the cash position at the end of this financial year? There are two or three main reasons. One is that we are finding £67,000,000 from revenue to provide money for the loan works programmes of the States. Another reason is that there have been heavy redemption”! of matured loans. For those two reasons alone we are likely to have a cash deficit. The prospective figure is 30,000,000. Now, if we have a cash deficit at the end of this financial year we shall have to face the problem oi financing that deficit. We could do it by creating money, through the Commonwealth Bank, to the amount of £30,000,000; which would have a clear and immediate inflationary effect: the other way would be to raise more revenue and finance the deficit that way. The second method is non-inflationary. S*o that gives us a third and added advantage in the Government’s proposals for raising revenue by selective taxation which will have a non-inflatioinary effect in the financing of our cash deficit.
– Order! The Minister’s time has -expired.
– There are two proposals before the House, embodied in the economic statement presented by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last week. One of them might be called the fiscal, .or taxing, proposals; the other is the proposal to increase interest rates on bank overdrafts, which might ,be called a monetary measure. To begin with, the Labour party disagrees with both proposals in the form enunciated -by the -Prime Minister. We do not disagree -with the Prime Minister’s assumption that there i& some degree of inflation to-day. We would go as far as to say that that state of inflation has existed for a considerable time, and that it has been aggravated only as a result of the policies that the Government has pursued from time to time. We would also say that, rather than abate the evils of inflation as it exists at the moment, adoption of the proposals now before the House will only accontuate if. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) brushes the whole thing off in a categorical manner by saying that the issue of -treasury-bills is inflationary, and that the taxation measures that the Govern ment proposes are not inflationary. Hp was quite categorical about it. I think that, we need at times, to ask ourselves whether we are not becoming bamboozled by certain words and, certainly, bv the application of those words. As I under stand the tax proposals before the House, they do increase the price of certain commodities. They increase the price of beer and spirits. They increase the price of petrol. They increase the price of motor cars. Now, surely in some definitions, increased prices are regarded as inflationary. But the Minister for Territories says, “ No, those matters are not inflationary”. I suggest that the only difference between the tax proposals enunciated by the Government, and the other alternative, which the Minister rejected, of resort to the issue of treasury-bills, is that the tax proposals will channel the inflation in particular directions, whilst the issue of treasury-bills would make the inflation bear upon the community as a whole. There may be some justice in the placing of a burden on the community as a whole rather than the measures proposed by the Government, which are sectional. If some of the contradictions in the speech of the Minister for Territories were disentangled, he would seem to assume that the Government’s measures will lead to a reduction of the consumption of beer, spirits, petrol and tobacco. Yet the assumption of the Government is that the present rates of consumption will continue and that the increased taxes will yield an extra amount estimated as approximately £30,000,000 by the end of June, and yield an estimated extra amount of £100,000,000 in the next financial year. I suggest that if the Minister for Territories reads the Prime Minister’s statements closely he will find that that is the implication of the measures. Similarly, the additional taxes on motor cars and on petrol are supposed, apparently, to abate the flow of imports. Yet, again, the words of the Prime Minister are clear. He says that at present levels of clearances of petrol we can expect to get £12,000,000 this year in increased revenue. The phrase “ at present levels of clearances does not seem to me to connote any reduction of the drain on our overseas fund? so far as petrol is concerned.
We say this about the present situation: The Prime Minister has indicated clearly that in .this financial year he will be £30,000,000 short between his over-all commitments, taking the State loan works programme into account, and his expected revenue. There is no doubt about that. That statement is definite enough. But he has indicated certain measures that are to be taken to make up that £30,000,000.
What we say about those measures is that the Prime Minister, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and the other members of the Government ought to have seen at the time of the last budget that there would be an overall deficit. If they had foreseen it then, they could have brought down measures for taxation that would have borne with justice on all sections of the community. There could have been higher company taxation. There could have been higher income taxation, if necessary. But no! The Treasurer presented his budget, knowing that shortly afterwards there would be an election. The Government went to the electors on the 10th December of last year. In the four or five months that elapsed between the presentation of the budget and the election, surely there ought to have been some realization by the Government of the deterioration of the nation’s finances. Surely the Prime Minister should have been able to tell the electors during the election campaign that they could expect tough measures. But nothing was said about that during the campaign. We were told that never before had Australia experienced such unbounded prosperity. I think’ that was the grand term used. Nothing was said then about the deterioration of the nation’s finances. But now, three months after the election, we are told that the Government must get £30,000,000 in the quickest possible time.
What is the easiest way in which to get £30,000,000 of extra revenue in the quickest possible time? It cannot be done by increasing company taxation, because the returns will not be lodged until the end of June. The Government has already warned the companies in advance of what the increase is likely to be. I suggest that it could be a great deal more, if the Prime Minister’s statement of what is wrong with the Australian economy to-day is well founded. In his statement, the right honorable gentleman has said that the large growth in capital demand has been in the pri vate sector. It has been pointed out to-day in this debate that the greatest cause of aggravation so far as the private sector is concerned is the size of the incomes going to the large corporations.
During the last election campaign, the Labour party said that it wanted an excess profits tax. In support of its contention, it pointed to the White Paper on National Income which showed that during the last financial year what are called companies in this country earned a sum of £700,000,000, taking excess of revenue over expenditure before depreciation was allowed. Of that £700,000,000, the Commissioner of Taxation permitted £200,000,000 to be treated as depreciation allowances. That concession is expected to enable companies to put their plant and machinery back into the state in which it was at the beginning of the year, by means of maintenance or replacement. There was still left an aggregate’ sum of £500,000,000, out of which company taxation for (his year will take £190,000,000 and dividend’s, estimated on the basis of the previous year, will take about £110,000,000. Of’ that sum of £500,000,000, £200,000,000 will be in the hands of these private institutions to spend on further capital investment - to spend in a direction in which the Prime Minister says there has been too much spending already. When there is £200,000,000 actually in the possession of these companies, does any one in the community say that an alteration of 1 per cent, of the rate of interest charged on bank overdrafts - which many of the companies will not need anyway - will restrict investment? Surely any one who says that is not being serious.
We on this side of the House are concerned with the welfare, not of particular sections of the Australian people, but of the Australian people as a whole. When the last budget was presented we pointed out that, if investment was excessive, there was too much investment, not in the public sphere but in the private sphere. I commend to the attention of honorable members a very excellent diagnosis of public investment in Australia contained in a publication issued in December of last year by the Australian Industries Development Association. It shows that, of the total expenditure on investment in the year that ended in June, 1955, £833,000,000 was on private account and only £412,000,000 was on public account. The items under the heading “ public account “ included the post office, railways, roads, transport, electricity and gas, coal and briquettes, water supply and sewerage, irrigation, forestry, land development, dwelling construction, schools and hospitals. Schools accounted for the miserable sum of £14,000,000 and hospitals for the miserable sum of £15,000,000. Miscellaneous items accounted for £26,000,000. The latest year for which a dissection is available is 1954, when the total investment on public account was £398,000,000.
When the last budget was presented, we said that the direction in which the economy was going wrong was clear. We said that, if there were too much investment, the balance was too much in favour of private development, and that not enough money was being spent on essential public undertakings. It is to the credit of the Government that it is attempting now to maintain the present level of public development. No one will join issue with the Government for supporting the States in their public works programmes, although a large amount of development in the States still has to be done by what are called semigovernmental authorities, which will not receive any of this £30,000,000. In Victoria, bodies such as the State Electricity Commission and the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works must obtain the finance that they require from the loan market, confidence in which has been destroyed by the policy of this Government.
We say that the States’ works must be kept going. But we say also that, if we must get £30,000,000, this is not the way to do it. We say that the Government should have foreseen the present position twelve months ago, and that it should have increased taxation generally then. A much larger tax could have been imposed on companies, not for the twelve months to come, but for the current financial year. If the revenue required cannot be raised by company taxation, the way to raise it is not by indirect taxes on con sumption goods. I make that statement despite the moral lesson read by a Minister about beer in particular and tobacco by inference. The imposition of indirect taxes in not the just way in which to raise additional revenue. The most just tax of all is the income tax, which is based on people’s ability to pay. When the Government has taken from the taxpayers what is required by the community, they have a free choice how to spend their money. If they desire to spend it on beer, cigarettes, chocolates or refrigerators, they can do so. We say that the time has come when there ought to be a reconstruction of the income tax structure. Greater allowances should be given for children and wives. Then, on the basis of what is left, there should be a higher rate structure in respect of higher incomes. That would be a just method.
It seems to me that the approach of this Government to the problem is cynical. It sees that the quickest way to raise £30,000,000 is to impose additional taxes on beer, cigarettes and petrol. It takes the view that consumption of those articles will continue at the present rate. More money will be paid for them, so there will be less money left for food, clothing and other things. Those are the directions in which reductions of consumption will take place. There will be a further deterioration of the balance of the national income in favour of the lender as against the borrower or the average consumer, the man whom the Minister for Labour and National Service said to-day is getting an average wage of £17 3s. 4d. a week. How would the Minister like to support a wife and several children on the magnificent weekly wage of £17 3s. 4d. ? These are the human considerations that are forgotten by the Government and the economists. When they talk about aggregates, they sometimes forget individuals. As I have stated, the Opposition objects to the methods now adopted to increase taxation. It considers that the Government should have foreseen the need for the increase. If it had not done so, the fairer way would have been to levy increased taxes on the community according to ability to pay, in conjunction with monetary measures, which, to my mind, are equally important. On behalf of the Opposition, I move -
That all words after “ paper- “ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof : - “ so far as it discloses a policy of increasing interest rates on bank overdrafts is injurious to the large majority of the people of Australia and should be rejected “.
In the few minutes that remain to me, I shall explain the reasons for the amendment
– The Opposition would do very much the same as the Government has done, if it had the responsibility.
– I would not do the same. I join issue with the Government on its action. For the best development of Australia, there should be a continuance of cheap money. There should be also some attempt to segregate the various kinds of interest. In August, 1952, the overdraft interest rate was increased from 44 per cent, to 5 per cent. Three months later, the interest rate on gilt-edged securities was increased from per cent, to 44 per cent.
– History repeats itself.
– Perhaps history will repeat itself. I point out that those measures were taken in 1952. as so-called anti-inflationary measures. It was said then, apparently with conviction, that that small increase of interest rates would settle the balance- of the economy. Yet, here we are, four years later, going a step further and increasing the overdraft interest rate from 5 per cent, to 6 per cent. ! I suggest that, when the next meeting of the Australian Loan Council takes place, the loan market interest rate will be increased to 5 per cent. The Government is in a dilemma about the future of the loan market as a whole. In the past, the loan market was largely based on what were known as long-term securities. There has been a tendency recently to shift the balance more towards short-term securities. In the process of adjusting the market to short-term securities and raising the short-term interest rate, the ordinary patriotic investor has been used as a guinea pig. The proposal advanced by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt”! would take that kind of investor out of the turmoil of the market, as it were, and would give him security. The market could then be a battleground for two classes of monopolies. It could be a battleground between the Government buyers in the form of the National Debt Commission and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and its various agencies on the one hand, and, on the other, the various financial institutions such as the banks and the- insurance companies, which, by their very nature, have to invest in Government securities, and which, at the expense of the small man, have been waging a battle between themselves and the Government over the interest rate, not to obtain a higher yield on securities, but basically, to obtain a higher yield on the overdraft interest rate. Unfortunately, they seem to have succeeded, and what has happened not only is prejudicing the future of State development works, which will have to be financed in the future at a higher rate of interest, but also is affecting ordinary overdraft interest rates and every other interest rate, including that on housing loans, which will increase accordingly. That is why the only announcement made by the Government is the bald statement about the overdraft interest rate.. As the Prime Minister has stated, nothing can bc said about the loan market, because any proposal in relation to it will have to be sanctioned by a meeting of the Australian Loan Council.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. McLeay) - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Is the amendment seconded?
– 1 second the amendment, and reserve my right to speak later.
[10.16 1. - During the last twenty minutes, I have had nothing but compassion for the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). No Opposition member is in a better position to understand the state of Australia’s economy than is he. or was more willing tn confess that the situation could be described as exceedingly grave. The honorable member implied that the diagnosis made by the Government in September last was correct, and he suggested that the action proposed now should have been taken then. If the Government had taken this action in September of last year, would the honorable member and his Opposition colleagues have supported it then? I suggest that the criticism offered by Opposition members would have been just as fearsome and as nebulous then as it is now. I must confess that I personally am undismayed by the situation,, grave as it is, that confronts every man, woman and child in Australia. I wholeheartedly approve the remedial measures that have been taken already by the Government, or are about to be taken, to remedy the position. If there is any fault in them, it is surely that they are too temporary and too tentative. They are too temporary because they are expected to remedy the situation in a period of months, and too tentative because, the situation having been remedied, we shall return to the status quo ante. This is the only fault that I can see in the Government’s proposals.
In this extraordinary age of infinite ease and spurious affluence, it was inevitable that, sooner or later; the tide of the balance of payments would turn against the people- and the economy of Australia-, and that both public and private expenditure would ultimately reach a peak, as they have done. It was inevitable that full employment, which restricts work to a few hours a day and a few days a week, would ultimately lift our cost structure to dangerous heights, as has already happened. It was inevitable that our money market would become sick to death of controls which limited legitimate trading and gave unbridled licence to illegitimate trading. These circumstances, if they are allowed to go unchecked, can serve only to destroy the prosperity of our people, to aggravate inflation and depreciate our currency still further, and to reduce our standard of living to wretchedness and woe. That cannot be allowed to happen under this Government. It must be recognized that there are those who desire to destroy the prosperity of our people and our country. There are those who hope to profit politically from the misery of inflation, and to cause disaffection in our community. They believe that it is their manifest duty to resist and resent the measures which are now under discussion, but their influence has been shattered in the last six years, and the fragments that remain are no longer of any great importance. Even the bits and pieces lying - how appropriate that word is ! - about this place are of no great importance. It is not in dispute that the tide of the balance of payments has turned against us. Even that was confessed by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, and, indeed, by the Leader of the Opposition.
Mr. Ward having directed attention to the state of the Mouse; the bells having been rung, and Mr. James proceeding towards the door of the chamber,
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, the honorable member for Hunter is about to leave the chamber. Under the Standing Orders he must remain.
– Order! The honorable member for Hunter must remain in the chamber.
– I did not call for a. bloody quorum at all.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker-
-Order! I shall deal with the honorable member directly. [Quorum formed.’].
– The honorable member for Hunter will withdraw that remark and apologize.
– I withdraw and apologize.
– I regret that what I have to say has disturbed the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and caused him to call for a quorum. I could have proceeded quite easily with my argument without the presence of the honorable members of the Opposition who do not want to hear the facts of the case as presented by the Government. I had said that it is not in dispute that the balance of payments has turned against us. Briefly stated, our favorable trade balance, which was cause for pride and which stood at £570,000,000 in June, 1954, is expected to fall to less than £350,000,000 in June of this year. If that position is not corrected, it is obvious that our favorable trade balance will disappear altogether. Do honorable members opposite want that to happen? Do they want that situation to develop in this country when, by taking appropriate action now, it can be prevented. Our favorable trade balances are created when our exports, in terms of monetary value, exceed our imports. That is elementary, but what is not so clear in the public mind is the fact that our favorable trade balances are created almost exclusively by our export industries, and our export industries are almost exclusively primary industries. There are some 563,000 persons engaged in the primary industries, including mining, or, roughly speaking, one-eighteenth of the total population, and they are entirely responsible for the fabulous production of primary products the value of which aggregated more than £1,131,000,000 in 1950-51, or more than 97 per cent, of our total export trade. Those are the latest figures available to me. Half a million people are belting out primary production aggregating, in terms of money, more than £1,000,000,000 per annum. It is that handful of people, spread all over the Commonwealth, who engage their energies and resources in bringing to production great areas of our arable land, all our pastoral land, and our mining fields, and who make possible not only our favorable trade balances but also our high standard of living. Quite obviously, the long-range solution to the recurring problem of our balance of payments is to be found in a vigorous expansion of our rural population and of our primary industries. That is recognized by the Government, and year in and year out the Government takes appropriate action to give all the assistance it can give to those industries. But in order to conserve our national reserves a short range solution had to be found, as a matter of extreme urgency of the kind referred to by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. There is no need for me to dwell on the inducements that have been offered to the valiant handful of country people to remain at maximum production within the primary industries. These include the extension for a further period of three years of the special depreciation allowance of 20 per cent, for five years, covering expenditure on plant, machinery, fertility and structural improvements, and residential accommoda tion for employees; the selective differential in the overdraft interest rate designed to assist the export industries; the exclusion of oil fuels from the proposed increase in petrol tax; the increase to 8d. a gallon of the payment from petrol tax to the States for roads, not less than 40 per cent, to be applied for rural roads; and the continuation of all the Commonwealth services designed to assist the primary industries. The short range solution to our immediate difficulties required the imposition of import restrictions, but, whereas import restrictions can conserve our diminishing overseas balances for the duration of the restrictions, that very measure of conservation tends to increase by a like amount the inflationary pressure to spend on the already overburdened domestic market. To meet that situation, customs and excise and sales tax have been increased, covering a variety of goods remote from the necessaries of domestic life and living. That was deliberately designed by the Government to ease the situation for the family and the family man. The policy of full employment restricted to a few hours a day, a few days a week, “with nothing to do and lashings of overtime “, which is a phrase that has passed into common usage, has already forced our cost structure to dangerous levels, priced many of our secondary and tertiary industries out of the market, and reduced many of our public utilities to a state that can only be described as penurious.
It is a stark tragedy that people who have been trained to the trades and professions are expressly forbidden to engage their energies by industrial laws, usages and customs that can only serve to destroy the character of a traditionally resourceful and resolute community. These industrial laws, usages and customs do not apply in this place, nor do they apply where people can escape from them, but let the master baker be found in his bakehouse before the appropriate starting time in the morning and he is subjected to a criminal prosecution. Let the shoe-maker go to his last before some one in authority says that he can go to his last, and he is faced with a prosecution. Let any engineer go to his bench, let any tradesman go to his workshop, and if he works five minutes before time or five minutes after time, he is liable to he prosecuted. These are conditions that do not obtain in this place, they do not apply to the Leader of the Opposition and they do not apply to any of the members of the Opposition. They apply only to the little tradesman and craftsmen who are valiantly trying to improve their own social position.
These conditions have been forced upon an unsuspecting generation that can have no knowledge of the dire social and economic consequences of idleness. Honorable members on both sides of the House have made impassioned references to child delinquency. Child delinquency, and indeed, adult delinquency, are caused by idleness, and by nothing else. The sooner we can encourage our young people and our middle-aged people to engage their energies and to devote what intuitive senses they have to gainful employment, the better it will be for us all. In the meantime, Mr. Deputy Speaker, all our competitors throughout the world are at work. They are working 40, 44, 48, and even 50 hours a week, in Europe, in Africa, in America, and even in Asia. Here, we are, with the most beautiful country on the face of God’s earth, frittering away our time, working a few hours a day and a few days a week, dissipating all our energies and all our resources.
In this debate, as in all other debates, we have heard, and we shall hear, the lamentations of the Labour party over measures that are designed to strengthen our economy and stabilize our prosperity for the benefit of our people. It has been argued, and it will be argued, that we should use the credit resources of the banking system to meet our difficulties and that we should savage private enterprise by direct taxation and make it impossible for private enterprise to function. The Leader of the Opposition referred to some of the profits made by the private enterprise institutions throughout our country. From time to time, the trading banks have come under violent criticism from members of the Opposition. I have the balance-sheet of one of our prominent trading banking institutions, and I want to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the total earnings of this private trading bank last year, were £861.396. and its total assets amount to £283,523,000.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I draw your attention to the fact that the Minister has already exceeded his time.
– Order ! The Chair will decide that.
– I know it is the purpose of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) to stop me if he can, but it is most important that I should complete what I have to say.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Duthie) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.37 p. m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
– On the 6th March, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) asked the following question: -
I ask the Prime Minister whether the restraint exercised by hire-purchase companies, prior to the recent announcement of their intention to reinstitute lower deposits, achieved the target reduction in this form of investment. Could he inform the House of the general trend in the number of agreements completed and the value of new business written during the period of restraint?
Following my discussion with representatives of hire-purchase finance companies in September last, a meeting of representatives of a number of these companies was held at which a resolution was passed to restrain the rate of increase in hire-purchase business. Broadly the resolution was that the growth in hirepurchase business between September, 1955, and June, 1956, would be limited to 10 per cent. The Acting Commonwealth Statistician has estimated that as at the 31st December, 1955, the outstanding balances owing to finance companies in respect of retail hire-purchase agreements was approximately £208,000,000. This was an increase of approximately 7 per cent, over the corresponding amount of £195,000,000 as at the 30th September, 1955. In respect of the volume of business the Acting Commonwealth Statistician has estimated that approximately 262,000 new agreements were written by finance companies in December, 1955, quarter. This was an increase of approximately 8 per cent, over the 243,000 new agreements written by them in the September, 1955, quarter. When considering these figures it should be borne in mind that the December quarter is normally the quarter in which the greatest increase in hire-purchase business takes place. In 1955, the December quarter showed a smaller percentage increase in the outstanding balances than was the case for the September quarter, and only a slightly larger percentage increase than in the March and June quarters.
– On the 34th March, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) asked the following question : -
I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government has invited Mr. John Foster Dulles to call at Canberra on his way from the Seato conference. If so, will members of this Parliament have an opportunity of hearing him address them so that they may obtain firsthand information about the world trouble spots he has visited?
Some time before the Seato meeting we were aware that Mr. Dulles would have a heavy programme of visits in Asia after leaving Karachi, which would ultimately take him northward on his way by the United States of America. In these circumstances the Government does not consider that it would have been a suitable occasion for Mr. Dulles to have been asked to come to Australia. Mr. Dulles was in Karachi from the 5th to 9th March, where the Minister for External Affairs was in close contact with him. Mr. Dulles’ itinerary after the Seato meeting took him to New Delhi, Colombo, Djakarta, Bangkok, Saigon, Manila, Taipeh, Seoul and Tokyo, and thence to Washington on the 21st March. Had he been able to spare the time, we should indeed have been happy to have received a visit from him.
Standing Orders Committee.
It will be seen that nearly all the men out of employment are in the Cessnock district. This is due to the closure a few weeks ago of the Bellbird colliery. A series of negotiations have occurred since this mine was closed, and it is now ready to be re-opened. Employment can be found at the mine in the course of four or five weeks for approximately 300 men. There were also 203 retrenched from the Stockrington mine on the 9th March, which is a date later than that at which the foregoing figures were prepared. The information available is that 52 of these men have not yet obtained employment elsewhere. The rest have done so. There is considerable activity in research upon methods by which the use of coal can be increased. The Commonwealth finances a special section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization which concentrates on the basic research problems of the coal industry. More recently the colliery proprietors of New South “Wales and Queensland have formed an Australian Coal Research Organization with which both the Joint Coal Board and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization will be associated. This work which is seeking methods of increasing the use of coal is being matched by corresponding efforts to improve mining practices, and as a result costs of producing coal are falling.
n asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
What is the nature of Australian representation on the island of Formosa?
– The Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following reply: -
Australia has no permanent mission in Formosa. Its relations with the Chinese Government are conducted through the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
These officers may be eligible for the following allowances : -
The last three mentioned allowances are based upon the principal of reimbursement of actual costs reasonably incurred on official business.
Supply, operates 794 cars, 405 of which are attached to other departments. The Post Office operates 408 cars, and in Canberra the Department of the Interior operates 271 cars and utilities, 247 of which are attached to other departments. These figures do not include other special-purpose types of vehicle, nor do they include the vehicles operated by Commonwealth authorities or agencies.
e asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The Attorney-General has furnished the following answer : -
The questions asked by the honorable member related to the objects, control and operation of the Australasian Performing Bight Association. This company, which is incorporated under the law of New South Wales, is in no sense a government body and is not subject in any way to the control of the Attorney-General.
– On the 13th March the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) asked me a question about hire purchase. He requested information about the rate of profit made by hire-purchase companies on the borrowing of money at 5-J per cent, and 6 per cent, and the subsequent use of this money in hire-purchase transactions. He also asked whether it was a legitimate practice of the Commonwealth Trading Bank to facilitate borrowings from the public by hire-purchase companies. The effective charge payable by a hirepurchase buyer usually works out to be slightly less than double the “ flat “ charge imposed by the hire-purchase company. For instance, a “flat” charge of 64 per cent, is commonly imposed on the balance owing on a new motor car after payment of the deposit. This is usually equal to an effective charge of about 12 per cent. To take another example, the “ flat “ charge on domestic appliances like radios and washing machines is usually around 9 or 10 per cent. Depending on the arrangements for payment of instalments, the corresponding effective charge works out at between 16 and 184 per cent. The difference between the effective charges and the rate of interest on public borrowings does not, of course, represent clear profit to hire-purchase companies. Costs of administration and the risk factor have to be taken into account, but I have no information to show what these costs amount to in figure terms. Regarding the second part of the right honorable member’s question, I am advised that when a company offers to the public issues of shares, debentures, notes, &c, it is the normal function of that company’s bankers to act as “ banker to the issue “. I am further advised .that, of 25 issues of this nature made by hire-purchase finance companies since January, 1955, various private banks acted as “banker to the issue “ in twenty instances and the Commonwealth Trading Bank in five instances.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to to honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r. - On the 6th March, the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) asked me a question concerning the suspension of the Malaya allowance paid to our troops in Malaya when a member is admitted to hospital. This matter has now been examined in detail as a result of which approval has been granted for payment of the Malaya Allowance of 5s. 9d. per day for corporals and below and ranging to Ss. 9d. per day for colonels and above, to continue to be paid to single members and to married unaccompanied members of the Australian Army Force in Malaya when they are admitted to hospital. This decision is retrospective and in cases where members have already forfeited their Malaya allowance on admission to hospital this will be restored.
r asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Australian troops in Malaya are entitled to a Malaya allowance which is intended to compensate for the higher cost of living in that country. The rate of allowance for single members or married unaccompanied members varies according to rank from 5s. 9d. per day for corporals and below to 8s. 9d. per day for colonels and above. When the Australian force first went to Malaya instructions provided that payment of the allowance should cease when single members or married unaccompanied members entered hospital. This matter has recently been examined in detail as a result of which it has been decided that payment of this Malaya allowance will continue during the period of hospitalization. The decision is retrospective and in cases where members have already forfeited their Malaya allowance on admission to hospital this will be restored.
b asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has furnished the following replies: -
Advisory Council. The report, which is based on information supplied, by state road constructing authorities, summarizes the position regarding capital road construction costs, and indicates the financial requirements of main roads authorities over the next ten years to bring principal roads up to the standards needed to cater for anticipated traffic.
b asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answers to the honorable member’s questions: -
D asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The: following replies have been furnished by the Minister for Shipping and’ Transport : -
The Australian Transport Advisory Council has approved practically ali the committee’s recommendations and has commended them for adoption by the. State and Territorial authorities concerned. Many of the recommendations are already in force or in course of adoption. In 1954 a progress report covering the five meetings then held was published and, at a meeting of the. Australian Transport Advisory Council held- in February, 195C, it was decided to reprint this report in loose-leaf form for the purpose of incorporating recommendations subsequently approved by council from time to time. Council further agreed that the report, when reprinted, be circulated to States and Territories who should be asked to indicate: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 March 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1956/19560320_reps_22_hor9/>.