22nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) look the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Acting Prime Minister a question of urgency and importance in relation to the Suez dispute, pointing out that there have been reports in Australia that yesterday the Australian Cabinet was acutely divided on the question of whether force might be used in connexion with the dispute and also pointing out that, on the wireless during the day, President Eisenhower has been reported as having said that he was certain that the question would be referred to the United Nations before force was used, or words to that effect. Having in view what the Acting Prime Minister said and what the Minister for External Affairs said in that important statement that he made on his arrival in India, in effect advocating conciliation, and in view of the statement of President Eisenhower and the views expressed by the Labour movement, including the supreme governing body of the Labour movement, in favour of reference of the matter to the United Nations, I ask the following questions - First, will the Acting Prime Minister make a statement in relation to the suggestion of a dispute in the Australian Cabinet on this vital question of principle? Secondly, would the reference of the dispute to the United Nations, as advocated by honorable members on this side and, I hope, on the other side of the House, and by President Eisenhower be in accord with the view of the Government?
– I recommend the public to disregard completely unauthorized press reports which purport to be an account of Cabinet proceedings. These are, of their very nature, speculative and usually mischievous in their effects. They are the more deplorable when the matters alleged to be under discussion by Cabinet are of a delicate character and possess grave international implications. One such report, published yesterday, had actually gone into print before the Cabinet even met. Any report of dissension in
Cabinet yesterday over the policy to be followed by the Australian Government in the Suez Canal dispute has no basis in fact. Yesterday’s meeting of the full Ministry was for the purpose of giving Ministers the latest information that had reached the Government from our own Prime Minister and other official sources. No question arose at that stage of the future course to be followed by the Government, nor was any decision taken. We are maintaining the closest contact with the Prime Minister and are being kept fully informed on the views of the British Government. Any decisions required of us will be taken at the appropriate time and in the light of the best information and advice available to us. The Parliament and the public will be . informed as fully as possible of developments as they occur.
– Parliament will be consulted?
– I address to the Minister for Health a question concerning representations I have made to him about the removal of certain liver extract preparations from the list of free drugs under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. I now ask the Minister which liver extract preparations have in fact been removed from the free list. What is their use in the treatment of disease? Will their removal cause hardship, in particular to elderly people and those in receipt of social services benefits? Finally, are there satisfactory alternatives on the free list?
– The honorable gentleman and many other people have made representations to me about the removal of liver extracts from the pharmaceutical benefits list. It is true that all liver extracts have been removed from the list, but this can cause no hardship to any one. These drugs have no beneficial effects in old age which they do not have earlier in life. They have only one value in clinical medicine, and that is in the treatment of a group of diseases known as the macrocytic anaemias, of which pernicious anaemia is the chief example. It is now known that the active principle of these extracts, vitamin B12, which can be prepared independently, is a better preparation than are the liver extracts themselves, and it has been retained on the free list. As the honorable gentleman suggests, I have had a great many representations about this matter. I think it is obvious that they have come from people who are not in ‘ possession of the facts. It is significant that, although I have received so many representations, I have received none from the medical profession itself. In fact, recently, members of the profession, including some of its leading practitioners, have expressed to me their approval of the actions of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee in recommending the removal of these drugs from the free list. I may say, also, that, in order to determine whether these drugs had any beneficial effects other than in the treatment of the disease I have mentioned, there was carried out in England an experiment in which groups of patients were given injections of three different substances - liver extract, vitamin fi 12, and normal saline. No detectable difference in the response to any of these substances could be observed. It frequently happens that, when a drug is highly successful in one field, it is thought, often with some reason, that it will be equally beneficial in other fields of medicine. All the investigations show that, in the case of liver extracts, this is not so. I can assure the honorable member for Mitchell that no ill effects will be felt by any one as a result of the removal of liver extracts from the pharmaceutical benefits list.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that the Chifley Government, on two occasions, and the MenziesFadden Administration, on one occasion, increased the salaries and wages of postal employees by regulation? Will he endeavour to remedy the plight of low-paid workers in the postal service by increasing their wages by regulation?
– I remind the honorable member that, last Thursday morning, in this chamber, the Minister for Labour and National Service made a very full and complete statement of the Government’s policy in this matter. I do not know whether the honorable member was present. I have nothing to add to the Minister’s statement.
– I direct to the Minister for Primary Industry a question which relates to the operation of the Western Australian research vessel “ Lancelin “, which has been working off the Western Australian coast at Learmonth and elsewhere investigating the possibility of establishing a prawn-taking industry in the area. Has the Department of Primary Industry received any reports about the operations of this vessel, and has any recommendation been made as a result of its research? If a report has been received by the department, can it be made available to honorable members? If no report has yet been received, will the Minister endeavour to obtain one and make it available to the House?
– 1 remember this problem arising in the Department of Primary Industry, in respect of the use of the vessel “ Lancelin “ in research work into the lives and business activities of prawns. On pursuing investigations I found that this ship was under charter to the Western Australian Government and was, therefore, outside the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth. I understand that -either the department or the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization had a technical expert on the ship, and the probability is that he will make a report to either this Government or the Western Australian Government in the near future. As soon as that report comes to hand I shall make it available to the honorable member for Moore.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Interior. The Minister is aware that over a period I have been making personal representations to him about the immigrant centres at Parkes and Cowra. Can he now tell me whether those camps are to be handed over for disposal and, if so, what action has been taken? Is he now in a position to meet both the town councils of Parkes and Cowra, and other interested public bodies, to consider suggestions as to how those camps can best be used now that they are no long*– required for Commonwealth purposes? Can services and facilities in these camps, such as water, electricity and roads, which represent capital expenditure of many hundreds of thousands of pounds, be preserved intact and sold to the two town councils?
– The honorable gentleman will recall that I have given him an understanding over the last few months that when those matters did come to the Department of the Interior for disposal he would be brought prominently into the picture. I cannot speak of the Cowra camp at the moment, but the facts are that the Parkes camp has been passed to the Department of the Interior for disposal not, however, as I had hoped, in respect of land and buildings, but only in respect of buildings at this stage. During the current week we have in Parkes an officer of the department who is there to make a physical check of the buildings for disposal, and to assess the market and lay down the method of procedure by which we might realize as much as possible from the sale and meet the convenience of the town councils and others in the way that the honorable gentleman has suggested. This, however, is a purely physical check at this stage. No selling activities are being undertaken, and I should say that within the next week or two it will be possible for us to formulate the plan of attack whereupon I shall have the honorable gentleman completely informed on the matter.
– Is the Postmaster-General aware that economic circumstances have forced the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union to commence a work to regulation campaign in order to direct the attention of the public and of the Government to the just claims of postal workers for an economic wage, which the Government has refused to grant them by regulation or legislative action?
– The honorable gentleman has asked me whether I am aware of the fact that a regulation strike has been set in motion by members of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union. My reply to that is that I am quite aware of that fact.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry satisfied that the quality of Australian exports of wheat and meat fully meets the requirements of the United
Kingdom market? If not, can he suggest what steps should be taken by producers and exporters in this country to meet the necessary standard?
– The honorable member is aware that it would take me a very long time to answer his question fully. Nonetheless, I should like to give him as short an answer as 1 can and to deal with the main problems that he has raised. I am one of those who think that, for certain types of milling, the quality of Australian wheat is high. Therefore, whilst we may want an improvement of quality on some occasions, I cannot say that an improvement is needed over the whole range of production. This problem was discussed with the Australian Wheat Board and at a recent meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council. It was thought to be of such great importance that a special committee was formed to consider what could be done. I might mention to the honorable member that, whilst there are some characteristics, such as high protein content, that may be lacking in a large proportion of Australian wheat, there is no doubt that in other respects, such as volume and whiteness of the flour, Australian wheat is of high quality and is much sought by certain types of millers. Turning to the question of meat, 1 mention that only this morning I was reading some comments written as a consequence of certain questions asked by my colleague, the Minister for Trade, after some discussions that he had had in London with purchasing interests. Whilst there are some difficulties associated with the sale of Australian beef and other meats, I do not think we can say that Australian frozen beef is of a lower quality than that produced by many other countries, lt is true that in respect of chilled beef - or locally produced beef - Australia has to meet strong competition, but. I do not think it can be argued genuinely that Australian frozen beef is not of a high quality. The problem is one that is receiving close attention by the Australian Meat Board and other interests involved. I give the honorable member an assurance that neither the producer nor the Australian Government is ever perfectly satisfied, and that if we receive a suggestion which we consider may be useful we shall be only too happy to explore it to the limit of our ability and see whether, under Commonwealth extension assistance services, quality can be improved. If the honorable gentleman has in mind any particular aspect of these matters that he would like to raise with me or with the department, I shall be very happy to make the services of departmental officers available to him.
– I direct a question to the Postmaster-General.Is it a fact that of the £58 a year marginal increase grantedin 1953 to adult male officers employed in the mail branch of the Postal Department, £40, or nearly 70 per cent. of the total, has been lost to the recipients through the abolition of cost of living adjustments to wages paid under federal awards?
– The answer to that is “ Yes “.
– No. The answer cannot be given in a few words, because the question has been very cleverly designed to produce an entirely incorrect understanding of the position. Therefore, I shall give the honorable member a summary of the position and a complete explanation in writing.
– I direct a question to the Postmaster-General.It is a question which I asked last week, when, unfortunately, he omitted to reply to the specific points that I had raised. I ask the PostmasterGeneral now to say specifically: Has any inquiry been held to ascertain how it came about that as many as 46 telephones were installed in Melbourne in circumstances which, prima facie, must have suggested that the telephones were to be used illegally? If an inquiry has been held, has it disclosed what officer or officers of the department were aware that these unusual installations were made, and what action they took to promote official scrutiny of the facts? If no such inquiry has been held, will the Postmaster-General order an inquiry to determine the circumstances in which the telephones were installed, what officers of the department were aware of what was being done, and why the installations were allowed to proceed while telephone equipment was so short that many applicants could not obtain even one line?
– To my recollection, this is at least the fourth time that 1 have answered questions in the House about this matter. I shall draw on my memory. Some time ago, as the result of a drive by the Victorian Police to stamp out startingprice betting, a raid was made on a block of flats - I think it was the St. Kilda Flats, but I speak subject to correction on that - in which it was disclosed that 46 telephones were apparently being used for startingprice betting purposes. A departmental investigation was, of course, commenced immediately. It was discovered that there had been considerable alteration to the department’s installation. That, in itself, constitutes an offence against the regulations, and the telephones were cancelled within a week. I made a statement on that subject a considerable time ago. Other instances of telephones being used for a purpose other than that set out in the application have since come to the notice of the department. Suitable action has been taken in those cases also.
The honorable member asked whether an inquiry would be made. No such inquiry is necessary because the department is constantly checking reports which suggest that telephones are being used for purposes not specified in the application. I may say that, in the case which I have described, many of the telephones were installed away back in the period before 1950. There has been no hold-up in the provision of new telephones as a result of installations such as these because, almost invariably, they have been in the city area, where there has not been a shortage of cable equipment. The shortage exists mainly in outlying areas, where the problem of improper use of telephones has not arisen. Finally, and here I do not refer to the honorable member’s question, any suggestion - and it has been made in other places - that these installations were made with the knowledge of a departmental official, and for an ulterior motive, is entirely baseless and an insult to a body of departmental officials who do their utmost to serve the public well.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether, in a recent case before the Public Service Arbitrator, a line party leader, in charge of a gang of from three to five men, was granted an increase of 15s. a week. Is it a fact that this increase, which was granted as a margin for skill, has been more than absorbed by the increased cost of living? ls it a fact, also, that the Government, by its refusal to pay quarterly adjustments based on the cost of living, is perpetuating an injustice to postal workers?
– The matters referred to by the honorable member have already been put before the Public Service Arbitrator, and a determination has been made accordingly. The course of arbitration is open to the unions concerned if they feel that, since the hearing, new factors have developed.
– As the Treasurer is aware, an employer now receives a taxation allowance of £200 per annum for each employee for whom he institutes superannuation benefits. Is it intended that the increase to £300 set out in the present budget in respect of insurance premiums will be extended to the field that I have mentioned? If not, may some consideration be given to this aspect?
– I have received some correspondence on this matter, and the honorable member’s question gives me an opportunity to make the position quite clear. An employer may deduct, for taxation purposes, £200 in respect of each employee for whom he provides superannuation or retirement benefits. It is not proposed at present to increase this amount of £200, as the employer may deduct 5 per cent, of the employee’s annual remuneration ‘ if that would represent a greater amount than £200. Moreover, the Commissioner of Taxation is empowered to allow a greater amount in special circumstances, such as when the employee is approaching the retiring age at the time of engagement.
– ls the PostmasterGeneral aware that the postmaster at Townsville instructed postmen not to deliver “ The Worker “ newspaper on Thursday, 6th September, because of a possibility thai overtime would thereby be incurred?
Further, has the Postmaster-General instructed officials of the department not to work to regulations?
– The honorable member’s first question related to the alleged nondelivery of “ The Worker “ newspaper in Townsville, and, naturally, I do not know of any such allegation. But at least 1 can be quite sure that no instruction would have been given to postmen to differentiate between “ The Worker “ and any other newspaper. Deliveries of second-class matter may possibly have been held up because of a failure to clear first-class matter. I shall certainly look into the position, and I can assure the honorable member that there would have been no differentiation of the kind suggested by his question. No instruction has been issued that employees are not to work to regulations. I should like to point out here that the use of the term “ regulations “ is misleading. In the Postmaster-General’s Department there are no such things as regulations, as we understand the term in this House. There are departmental instructions, formulated for the guidance of officials in carrying out the functions of the Postmaster-General’s Department. Those instructions have been in force for a considerable number of years. They are amended from time to time, as changed circumstances demand. The instructions in force now are the same as those under which the department was working until a week or two ago, and under which it was able to perform its various functions with complete efficiency.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Minister for Social Services, with the statement that within the last twelve months or so the Valuer-General in New South Wales has considerably increased the value of properties by way of revaluation. Some of my constituents are disturbed, because they fear that their pension rights may be affected. Will the Minister tell the House whether these increased valuations will affect pensions?
– When an application is made for a means test social services benefit, the means test is immediately applied with respect to both income and property. When the property test is applied and a valuation is necessary, that valuation is always made at the lowest possible level and in favour of the applicant, and is never in dispute. No revaluations are ever made by the department except when the circumstances of the applicant for a means test social services benefit have materially changed. Such revaluations are also made in favour of the applicant and are never in dispute. Therefore, any increases in valuations by the Valuer-General of any State, or by any other authority, do not affect the procedures of the Department of Social Services. If the system has a fault, the fault is in favour of the applicant, and 1 consider that a very satisfactory state of affairs.
– I ask the
Postmaster-General whether he will give an absolute assurance that no postal employee will be penalized for carrying out the instructions of the department.
– I have yet to learn, either since I have been in this office or from my experience in this House previously, that any worker in the Postmaster-General’s Department or in any other phase of the Public Service has been penalized in any way for carrying out the proper instructions of his service.
– My question is directed to the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. In view of the damage and losses caused to cereal farmers by skeleton weed, can the Minister inform the House whether the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has made any progress in combating this pest?
– The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has been actively concerned with attempting to cope with skeleton weed for a number of years. It is economically a most dangerous pest in southern New South Wales, Victoria and parts of South Australia. Some reasonable degree of control of skeleton weed can be obtained by rotational cropping, return to pastures, and the use of hormones and weedicides, but those means do not eradicate skeleton weed, and, of course, eradication is the eventual aim of every one. Consideration is now being given to the use of biological control. That has been made the subject of discussion between interested States, especially following the recent discussion on this subject by the Australian Agricultural Council. A campaign of biological control is a long and expensive one. Next week, a meeting will be held to discover whether that is justified in the present circumstances. In any event, biological control would not result in an early suppression of the weed. It is a very long process. First, insects must be collected from some area such as the Mediterranean countries. Then the insects must be brought to Australia, and lengthy experimental work done to discover whether they are harmful to any economically valuable crop. Nevertheless, if it is decided to implement that action, there is some long-range prospect of eliminating skeleton weed from Australia. However, I do not want to give hope that there is any early prospect of that.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral take steps to instruct the Public Service Board to grant a disability allowance to Fourth Division Commonwealth public servants in Tasmania who are classified as base grade employees, which is the lowest grade, so that their standards of living will be at least equivalent to those prevailing for a similar grade of employee in the other States? The Fourth Division employees include postmen, mail sorters and linemen, and there are about 33,000 such employees throughout the Commonwealth.
– If the honorable member for Wilmot is concerned about the wage conditions of those of whom he speaks, I suggest that the best course he can pursue is to get in touch with the leaders of these men and advise them to follow the proper course of arbitration, when they will have some chance of obtaining what they claim they need.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for External Affairs. Recently, it was reported that certain Communist Chinese military units had established outposts over the border of the Union of Burma and that the Burmese Government was negotiating with the Central People’s Government at Peking for’ their withdrawal. Has the Minister any further information regarding the position in this area, and has any real significance been attached to the movement of the Communist forces in this direction?
– It is true that certain relatively small numbers of Communist Chinese troops have moved into Burmese territory, on the north, the north-east and east of Burma, in areas that have been administered as part of Burma, both during the British occupation and since Burmese independence was achieved in 1948. lt is true, also, that the Burmese Government is in active contact with the Government of Communist China with regard to the withdrawal of these troops. I think it can be said with truth that the Burmese Government is insisting on maintaining the integrity of Burmese territory and is not going to submit to any partial occupation by Communist Chinese troops that would throw doubt on the legality of the Burmese claim to the area concerned. 1 speak from memory, but I think that the Chinese troops involved number only some hundreds, and I do not think that the incident can be regarded as specially significant, to use the honorable gentleman’s own term. I think, too, that there is no occasion for the injection of the interests of any other government into the affair.
– Can the Postmaster-General say whether it is a fact that employees of the Postal Department who are members of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union, such as cleaners, lift drivers and watchmen, are in some States receiving less than the basic wage and in other States only slightly more than the basic wage? Will he take action to relieve the plight of these persons?
– Without in any way wanting to evade questions, as I think I have demonstrated here to-day, all I have to say is that this question is of exactly the same nature as at least half a dozen that have been asked already, and to this question I give the same answer as I have given to previous ones.
– Is the Postmaster-General in a position to indicate the progress that has been made with the long-awaited new post office for the town of Narromine, in New South Wales?
– From recollection, the position is that certain work is going on at Narromine at the moment, but it is not work in connexion with the new building which is to be erected there. Some time ago, public bodies pointed out that the post office grounds were in a rather unsatisfactory state, and that is now being rectified. So far as the new building is concerned, tenders have not yet been called, but it is intended, later this year, to take this proposal to the tender stage. That is all the information I can give to the honorable member offhand.
– My question also is directed to the Postmaster-General, but is not in the nature of other questions that have been addressed to him to-day. It concerns a very grave matter indeed. Is it a fact that the Postmaster-General’s Department is using juvenile labour, aged between fifteen and sixteen years, to clear letter boxes? Will the Postmaster-General give an assurance that action will be taken to discontinue the use of this sweated child labour?
– In the circumstances, perhaps I may be forgiven if I suggest that the use of the word “ sweated “ is rather out of place. My reply to the question is that the Postmaster-General’s Department is not using labour which is in any way outside the bounds of the prescribed awards.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Has the policy in respect of the provision and maintenance of aerodromes in the north-west of Western Australia changed? If so, what were the changes, and for what reason were those changes made?
– There has been no alteration of policy in regard to the aerodromes in the far north-west of Western Australia. As the honorable member probably knows, this Government, like previous governments, has given special and sympathetic consideration to the people in that part of Australia, and the facilities there for civil aviation and commercial flying are really out of all proportion to the population of the area. Speaking from memory, which 1 think is pretty accurate, between Geraldton and Wyndham there are about 140 aerodromes. Of these, 34 are Commonwealthowned, built at a cost of about £1,500,000. There are 104 licensed aerodromes, in respect of which the Commonwealth pays an amount of about £2,000 a year. There are seven aeradio stations, which were erected at a cost of £300,000, ten non-directional beacons, and eight modern radar distance-measuring stations. Our maintenance costs in that region are about £150,000 a year, and whereas subsidies to all the rest of the commercial airlines have been reduced or abolished altogether, a subsidy is still paid in that area, in recognition of its peculiar disadvantages. According to my memory, the density of traffic in Australia is 82 head of population a passenger mile. In that area it is about 450. I remember going into the figures some time ago and finding that the Commonwealth was virtually paying a subsidy of £ 1 0 a head in respect of every person who travelled on the airlines in that region. At the departmental level a study is being made of all the aerodromes in Australia, in the hope of reclassifying them and perhaps formulating some more up-to-date all round policy than that which has been applied for the last ten years. The reasons for that study are obvious. Commercial aviation in Australia is expanding and developing at such a rapid rate that many of the policies that were followed in days gone by are not quite appropriate or desirable at the present time, but at this stage there is no intention whatsoever of interfering in any way with the policy being applied in the north-west of Western Australia.
– No doubt the PostmasterGeneral is by this time aware that members of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union are working in strict accordance with departmental instructions. Will he inform the House by whom those instructions are issued? Are the instructions intended to increase the efficiency of the
Postal Department? Is it a fact that the instructions which are now being followed, to the letter and the word, by officers in the Postal Department are policed by postal inspectors? Is it also a fact that, when it suits the department, these instructions are invoked in order to take punitive action against officers in the department?
– The honorable member asks a further question concerning the operation of the postal instructions which guide postal workers in the performance of their duties. As I said a few minutes ago. the fact of the matter is that these instructions have been in operation for a considerable period of years, and, as is the case with any set of instructions, if some one sets om to place a rather ridiculous interpretation on them, the particular task that he is performing can be held up. 1 repeat that these instructions have been in operation for a considerable period. The work of the Postal Department has been done in accordance with them efficiently, and to the credit of the department itself and of those who are working in the department. Therefore, any contention now that there is something wrong with those instructions justifying the present industrial trouble will not stand investigation.
[3.16J. - I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1953, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report, namely: Construction of food research laboratory buildings at North Ryde, New South Wales.
The proposal provides for the construction of four main groups of buildings on a site at North Ryde adjacent to the present coal research establishment of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization on the south side of Delhiroad. The buildings are required foi research work covering all aspects oi preservation, transportation, and the processing of major foods except dairy produce and bread. The two-story laboratory buildings in groups one and two will be of reinforced concrete with load bearing corridor walls sheeted externally with metal and glass. The single-story processing area in group two and the workshop and stores building in group four will be factory type structures in light steel frame with sawtooth roof construction. The administration, mess, &c, block in group three will bc a light steel frame structure covered with metal and glass walling similar in character to the laboratory blocks. Estimated cost of the project is £644,000. 1 table the plans of the proposed buildings.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
Thai, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1953, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report, namely: Erection of studios for the Australian Broadcasting Commission at “ Rosehill “, Adelaide-terrace, Perth, Western Australia.
The proposal provides for the erection of a building at “ Rosehill “, Adelaide-terrace, Perth, on town lot S.19 and -portions of S.18 and S.20, with a frontage of 246 ft. 7 in. to Adelaide-terrace and a depth of 560 feet, extending to Terrace-road. The building is required to provide broadcasting facilities for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The proposed building, which will consist of administrative office accommodation in a five-story wing, studio, and ancillary facilities in a twostory block, and mechanical and electrical services in an attached two-story block aa lower level, will be in reinforced concrete frame, masonry and metal curtain walling and concrete roof with metal covering. Estimated cost of the proposal is £750,000. I table the plans of the proposed building.
– Before the House agrees to this motion, I should like the Minister for Works (Mr. Fairhall) to tell the Parliament why it is necessary to proceed with the building of studios in Perth before something is done about the erection of studios for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Canberra. I understand that this work which is to be referred to the Public Works Committee is of importance to the people who work for the commission in Perth. I understand that the Australian Broadcasting Commission also wants to have some other works done. ‘ I believe that all those works should be dealt with in turn, but I think that these various propositions are being advanced by the commission and the commission’s officers for the purpose of preventing the transfer of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to the Australian Capital Territory.
The Australian Broadcasting Act, which was passed in 1942, provides that the headquarters of the commission shall be established in Canberra on a date to be proclaimed. All the efforts that have been made since 1942 to have the head-quarters of the Australian Broadcasting Commission established in this capital, city have been thwarted by Sir Richard Boyer, Mr. Moses and their colleagues. The members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission are really members of the Sydney Broadcasting Commission; they have no intention of coming here and the people in the commission, in my view, are sabotaging the intention of the act by putting up all sorts of proposals for the erection of works which, of course, are necessary, in other cities, but in order to avoid coming to the point where they must bring their headquarters and their news service to Canberra and do all the work associated with the broadcasting commission where it ought to be done and where most other government instrumentalities do their work.
– Is the honorable member opposing the motion?
– I am not opposing the motion. I am taking advantage of this opportunity to draw attention to what I believe to be a definite effort by the commission to avoid its responsibility in coming to Canberra. This is one of the few opportunities that I have to raise the matter. I hope that this work will be expeditiously attended to, and that the committee will report favorably on it, and at an early date. But I think the Minister could, in association with the new PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson), do something more than the former PostmasterGeneral did in this matter, because he seemed to aid and abet the members of the commission in avoiding their responsibility to come here. I would not have said that if he had not rudely interrupted me.
.- 1 regret that any protest should have been made by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) against this proposal to erect a new building for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Perth. I can only assume that his protest was made through sheer lack of knowledge of the activities of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. First of all, the commission does not necessarily have its head-quarters in any particular place in the Commonwealth. The commission meets, from time to time, in various State capitals. It has met in Perth and Adelaide and usually it meets in Sydney, but it has a shiftable location. - As far as the provision of an adequate broadcasting building in Perth is concerned, it was under my consideration, as the last Postmaster-General, for a number of years. Unfortunately, lack of finance prevented it from being constructed year after year. The project has been on the Estimates for quite a long time, and in my opinion, the present building is one of the most disgraceful in the possession of the Commonwealth. Therefore, it is high time indeed that something better should be provided for such an important capital as Perth. I only regret that it was not possible to do this work during my term of office, and I congratulate the new PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) on having been able to get it on its way.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Canned Fruits Export Control Act 1926-1953.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to amend the Canned Fruits Export Control Act 1926- 1953 in two respects - first, to enable mem bers of the Australian Canned Fruits Board to hold office for three years instead of two years as at present, and, secondly, to provide that the representative on the board of canned pineapple processors shall be elected on the same basis as other industry representatives, instead of being appointed on the nomination of a State authority. The board is responsible under the act for the supervision and regulation of our export trade in specified varieties of canned fruits.
The proposal to lengthen the term of office is designed to bring this board into line with other boards such as the Australian Meat Board, the Australian Apple and Pear Board, and the Commonwealth Dried Fruits Control Board, appointments to which are made for three-year periods. The longer term would facilitate continuity of experience and policy on the board and would have administrative advantages.
The second proposal seeks to put pineapple canneries on the same footing as other canneries in relation to the method of obtaining representation on the board. When a representative of canned pineapple producers was first appointed to the board in 1933, pineapple production was confined to Queensland, and the marketing of fresh pineapples was controlled by a single State authority - the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing. The committee itself has since become the largest producer of canned pineapples, but there has been some development of independent pineapple canneries outside its jurisdiction. The industry and the Canned Fruits Board consider that the canned pineapple representative should now be elected, rather than appointed on nomination, so as to conform with the position of the other representatives, and the Government agrees with that view. 1 commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to repeal the Wool Products Bounty Act 1950.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
[3.28]. - by leave - 1 move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to repeal the Wool Products Bounty Act 1950 and the regulations in force under the act. As was explained to Parliament at the time of the introduction of the act in November, 1950, the purpose of the act was to subsidize, by means of a bounty to the manufacturers of wool products, the price of woollen goods consumed in Australia. The act was administered by the Australian Wool Realization Commission on behalf of the Australian Government. During the 1950-51 season, the prices paid for Australian wool sold at auction reached record levels, and the aim of the bounty payment was to alleviate the effects of the high prices on Australian consumers of woollen goods. Arrangements were made with the authorities controlling prices in the various States to ensure that the subsidy received by manufacturers by way of bounty was passed oh to consumers. The bounty was paid on all- wool purchased during the 1950-51 season and manufactured into wool products for local consumption before 30th September, 1952. The rate of bounty paid varied according to the quality of the wool purchased by local manufacturers, and was paid in accordance with the Table of Subsidy Limits determined by the Australian Wool Realization Commission. The total value of bounty paid under the scheme amounted to approximately £16,700,000. Regulations made pursuant to the act enabled manufacturers to claim an advance of bounty as soon as wool had been purchased for the manufacture of wool products. Bounty became payable when the wool products had been manufactured. Wool products manufactured after 30th September, 1952, did not qualify for bounty. In view of the fact that the Wool Products Bounty Act has fully achieved its purpose, it is proposed to repeal the act and the regulations made under it. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 11th September (vide page 406), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division No. 1 - The Senate - namely, “Salaries and allowances, £26,500”, be agreed to.
Upon which Dr. Evatt had moved by way of amendment -
That the first item be reduced by £1.
.- I do not propose to try to convince the Opposition of the merits of the budget. Opposition members have shown, by their remarks, that they are completely divided and do not understand the first principles oh which the budget was based. Australia is suffering from inflation. No one denies it. The Austalian Government does not deny it. We have probably more severe inflation than is suffered by any of the countries comparable with Australia, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States of America and Canada. Curiously enough, the administrations of all those countries are Liberal or Conservative governments, and so are of the same political colour as the present Australian Government. One wonders why inflation is most severe in Australia. All the countries I have mentioned have adopted similar methods of dealing with inflation. However, in Australia, we have something that those other countries do not have - the 40-hour working week, which was prematurely introduced. When Mr. McGirr introduced it, he was warned about its effects, but he took no notice because he was interested only in its political value. A number of countries in Europe have not introduced the 40-hour working week. The United Kingdom, for instance, has a 44- hour working week. In Canada, the working week is 40, 44 or 48 hours, depending on the Province. In Belgium and Sweden, the working week has recently been reduced from 48 to 45 hours. In Soviet Russia, the working week is, I think, 46 hours. In certain industries such as coal-mining, 40 hours of work constitute a full week’s work, but there are important industries in which a 40-hour week can be worked only by imposing an extra burden on employees in other industries.
High wages are not the only cause of inflation. Full employment brings its own inflation, and we in Australia have tremendous programmes of development and immigration. The Opposition has made strenuous efforts to discount the effect of wage levels on inflation, and I wish to direct my remarks to that aspect of the problem. The railways bear a very big burden of interest, but wages constitute by far the greatest part of their costs. There arc the salaries of executive and maintenance staffs for every railway line, and the wages of engine drivers and traffic staffs, cleaners and permanent way maintenance men. The greater part of the cost of the materials used in the construction of locomotives and coaches also is represented by wages, and, in addition, there are the wages of the constructing employees. Wages greatly affect the cost of sleepers for the tracks. Thus, labour costs have an important influence on the costs of railways and of transport generally. In the tram and bus services, almost the entire cost, apart from the capital cost of equipment, is represented by wages, Therefore, wages have an important influence on fares, which, in turn, greatly affect costs throughout the economy. Apart from the capital cost of power station equipment, wages represent the main component in power costs, which have important effects on the economy. The same thing applies to hospitals, the costs of which have been greatly increased by the 40-hour working week. Schools also are affected. I ask honorable members to notice that all these fields of economic activity that I have mentioned are fields which the profit motive does not enter and in which the charges made are directly related to costs. The same thing applies in industry. lt is accepted that 80 per cent, of the costs of all industry are wages costs. That is one point I should like to take up. The Labour party - the socialist party - contends that high wages are the effect, not the cause, of inflation; yet 1 have shown here that increases of wages are the principal cause of inflation in Australia. How did the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Cahill, approach the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers called by the Acting Prime Minister recently? He received instructions from the New South Wales Trades and Labour Council on five points. 1 shall deal with those points briefly, because I wish to discuss other matters also. One of the points on which he received instructions was in respect of a big cut in our arms vole and the diversion to the States of the money saved. Another was an immediate raising of the federal basic wage to bring it to the level of the State basic wage, the wage to be adjusted quarterly with the cost of living. The next was the retention of quarterly cost of living adjustments. These are all highly inflationary in effect. Another point was an increase of child endowment, social services benefits and so on, and their linking to the cost of living. All social services are highly inflationary in effect. The last point on which he had been instructed was strict federal control of prices and profits.
Those were the suggestions placed by presumably intelligent men before a highlevel meeting that was called to tackle the problem of inflation. There was not one single act or suggestion there for a real attack on inflation. Either the men who dictated Mr. Cahill’s attitude at that conference are foolish men. or there was some sinister move behind their action. That is the point I want to get at - the sinister motive - because wc have in Australia, unfortunately, conditions that differ from conditions in other nations which also suffer from inflation. There is no country in the world so highly unionized as Australia. There is also no other country where Communists have such power in the trade unions. When the representatives of the State Labour governments at that conference approached the problem of inflation they could have suggested, as an answer to it, increased production. Have any trade union leaders ever suggested increased production as a means of combating inflation? No! Have any of them suggested the working of longer hours in certain light industries as means of combating inflation? No! Have any of them agreed to the adoption of a proper system of incentive payments as a means of increasing production, and thereby helping to combat inflation? No!’ There has been not one single attempt on their part to assist in a real attack on inflation.
Honorable members know that I have attacked political trade unionism in this country for a long time. Let us consider the Australian Council of Trades Unions, for instance. At its last meeting there was a show-down on the question of why the executive of that supreme controlling body of the Australian trade union movement withdrew its support from the Communistled waterside workers’ strike. In that showdown the voting was divided strictly as between moderates and Communists and their supporters. The vote was 220 against 160. That vote shows the extent of infiltration of the Australian Council of Trades Unions bv delegates who are addicted to communism. Here we have the explanation of some of the causes of inflation.
We know that the Labour party is in turmoil. Even in this chamber it has bisected itself. We know that in this chamber, and throughout the Labour party, there is a direct schism between the Communists and their supporters and the antiCommunists. I do not say this with satisfaction. It is no satisfaction to honorable members on this side of the chamber that the Labour party should be associated with communism. But let us look at the facts. Last week, when speaking to the motion for the adjournment of the House, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) attacked a book written by Dr. Burton, who was permanent head of the Department of External Affairs when the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) was Australia’s Minister for External Affairs. The name of the book is “ The Light Grows Redder “.
– That is not its title. The title is “ The Light Glows Brighter “.
– All right, 1 amend my version of the title. After the honorable member for Moreton made that attack we had the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) defending the book. Six years ago such a book would have aroused at least a token antagonism from the Labour party. Today, it is defended. When you live with a bad smell long enough you get used to it. None of us on this side of the chamber suspects either the honorable member for Parkes or the honorable member for Hindmarsh of being a Communist. We neither suspect, nor think, that they are Communists. But the strength of the Communists is not in their officials or their openly avowed supporters. It lies in the fellow travellers, those who, in one way or another, support the Communist line. That is the charge I lay, the question I ask. Are members of the Labour party fellow travellers? We had the honorable member for Hindmarsh boasting of the fact that he supported the Marxian doctrine, which is the basis of the objective of the Labour party. He talked about the nationalization of interests that exploit the people. Surely the nationalization of all the means of production involves the nationalization of trade unions, because wherever there is socialism there are no free trade unions. Under socialism trade unions become an organ of government. Honorable members opposite will probably deny that that is so. Let me cite a case that proves the truth of my statement. Recently, the workers in Poland objected to their low standards of living, and went on strike. That strike was against the 46-hour week and bad conditions. The socialist bayonets suppressed that strike. What protest did the trade unions in that socialist state make in defence of the Polish workers? Why do not honorable gentlemen opposite, and their colleagues in the trade unions, write to the trade unions in Poland and ask them, “ What have you done to help our fellows who were shot down and killed by the Russian troops “ ? What happened in Poland is the sort of thing that the socialist pledge is bringing gradually to this country. The socialists are dividing the whole country in two. Their own party is divided in two.
How are the socialists undermining the national effort? Their main attack is against private enterprise and the Australian way of life. The lever used in the attack has been profits, right from one year ago, when the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) came into this chamber talking of profit inflation. Like a drowning man clutching at the straw the Leader of the Opposition seized on that one feature - profits - and used it in order to reintroduce class warfare into the Australian political arena, with the hope of creating conditions that would enable the capitalist system to be brought down. Why does the right honorable gentleman attack profits? We know that only two things made men work - force or profits. What sort of force? The force of unemployment, the force of requirements? The capitalist system invites profit as an incentive to work. But what sort of offer do the socialists have as an incentive to work? Force, and force alone! Therefore, the socialist policy at the moment is to attack profits, making profit appear ugly so that another system can be introduced in Australia. That is what is happening here. Gradually the Labour party is undermining the Australian way of life so that it can impose the socialist system on Australia - and we all know that wherever the socialist system has been imposed it means only serfdom for the workers.
Are profits too high? 1 have heard the Leader of the Opposition quote from the “ Institute of Public Affairs Review “. Everybody has the opportunity to read that publication. One issue of it shows that profits in Australia are lower than profits in any other comparable nation in the world. It follows, therefore, that the attack on profits ted by the right honorable gentleman is not truthful, but is designed to deceive. The whole of the right honorable gentleman’s speech on the budget consisted of an attack on our system. In it he advocated strongly controls on private enterprise and profits. He mentioned social services only in order to win support for his other arguments, particularly his attack on profits. He advocated prices control as a means of combating inflation. The “ Sydney Morning Herald” described the right honorable gentleman’s speech as his best speech, but on the next day tore him to ribbons in a leading article.
Now as to prices control. In inflammatory speeches at working places and at Labour rallies, honorable gentlemen opposite have claimed that wages should not be frozen unless prices and profits were also controlled. They say that that is only fair. Let us examine the thinking behind this contention. They know, as well as we do, that awards prescribe minimum rates of wages. If they want profits and prices to be controlled, then, to be consistent, they should agree that the prices fixed under prices control should be minimum prices. That shows how crooked and how stupid is the thinking of the Labour movement. Honorable members opposite do not use their brains at all. They try to inflame the people by saying that the Government has frozen wages and that it will not freeze profits, but when we examine the matter we see that, to be consistent, the prices fixed under a system of prices control would have to be minimum prices. If that would provide a solution to the problem of inflation, I should, be astonished.
Honorable members opposite say constantly that wages have been frozen, but the statistics issued by the Commonwealth Statistician show that wages have been rising for year after year. I agree that the basic wage has been frozen, but margins have been increased and industry is paying more than the awards. I have several times referred to the fact that I do not trust the
Leader of the Opposition and that I believe that he has been guilty of what I call dialectical materialism. The right honorable gentleman is under a considerable handicap when he deals with economic problems, but in his speech on the budget he said -
I shall demonstrate to the committee that profiteering has existed and still exists in Australia, and that a great deal of the excessive profits can be attributed to the fact that almost three years ago to the day the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration froze the basic wage.
That passage has not been taken out of its context. The right honorable gentleman said that he would demonstrate that excessive profits in Australia were due to the freezing of the basic wage. The argument that high profits mean low purchasing power does not make sense, but that did not deter the right honorable gentleman. He made that point. Then, possibly having forgotten what he had said earlier, at the end of his speech he said that a study of - corporations in the United States shows thai although in America the profit rate is high, possibly higher than in Australia, there is one axiom observed by the American corporations, and thai is, to maintain the purchasing power of the main consumers in that country - the employees in industry.
He argues that in America high profits are due to high wages, and that in Australia high profits are due to low wages. Honorable members opposite will remember what I told them about dialectical materialism. Let them consider those arguments advanced by the Leader of the Opposition and then decide whether the man behind whom they sit can be charged with dialectical materialism.
Our opponents continue to make inflammatory speeches to the people. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), whose sincerity nobody doubts, is still an industrial advocate when he speaks in this Parliament. During his twenty years of experience in the field of industrial relations, capital and labour have always quarrelled, and no doubt he believe;, they will continue to do so. Is not it about time he woke up to the fact that perhaps somebody else can do better than he can for the workers, and that somebody else should take up the cudgels for them? As long as there is a conflict between capital and. labour, we shall not get on much further under this system of ours. After all, the private enterprise system is a part of the
Australian way of life, and the Australian way of life is the best way of life that we know. Honorable members opposite believe in a class war - a war of the wageearners against the capitalists. Who are the capitalists whom they continually decry? In view of the fact that over 1,000,000 motor cars are registered in this country, ii seems that a considerable proportion of the Australian population consists of capitalists.
Let me show the committee how foggy Labour thinking is. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) is a man for whom we on this side have some respect, but he is associated wilh people who cannot think straight. In his speech on the budget - it was quite a reasonable speech - the honorable member said thai wage and salary earners received £2,600,000,000 of the national income, which amounted to about 60 per cent, of the total. Then he argued that that was a very small proportion of the national income for so many people who worked so hard. That argument seems quite reasonable until one realizes that many things go to make up the national income.
There are dividends from shares, rents, interest payments and other things. Does the honorable member for Melbourne Ports mean to say that no wage-earners receive rents for houses that they own, or that no wage-earners hold shares in private enterprise companies? We know that many wage-earners do receive rents or dividends from shares, but the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, because he is associated with people who do not think straight, does not tell the whole of the story. Tens of thousands of Australian wage and salary earners own shares in companies. They share in the profits made by those companies. Every man who has a life insurance policy shares in the profits made by many industries in this country.
An extraordinary thing is that although Labour runs down business in this country, it insists that if an overseas company establishes itself here 51 per cent, of the capital shall be subscribed by Australians. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) said yesterday in this debate that it was not right that all the capital of overseas companies establishing themselves here should be provided from overseas, and he demanded that at least 51 per cent, of the money be subscribed by Australians. At one moment he said that business is crooked, and the next moment he demands that we own a large proportion of the capital of overseas companies operating here.
Let me give another instance of muddled thinking on the part of the Labour party. Honorable members opposite say that they do not like capitalists. But what is the sum that a man can win in a lottery conducted in Tasmania, which is under a Labour government? The winner of one lottery receives £250,000, which, invested at 5 per cent., will yield a huge income. The Labour party creates capitalists, although it says that it wants to destroy them. It is high time that it did a little straight thinking.
Inflation can be checked only with the cooperation of the general public, because there is a limit to what governments can do. They can create an atmosphere favorable to the tackling of inflation. They can create a certain financial structure and they can do much in the way of administrative action, but from then onwards the task of combating inflation is entirely one for the people.
Let me give an instance of what I have in mind. The other day, I picked up a copy of a metropolitan newspaper which is always very critical of the Government’s policy on inflation. There struck my eye an advertisement for compositors for employment by that paper. The advertisement said that they could earn £24 or £25 a week, with extra pay for work done on Saturday or Sunday. The men would be required to work five shifts of eight hours a day, less meal breaks - that is, five shifts of eight hours, less a full day’s work. That means four days’ work for five days’ pay. That newspaper will pay a full week’s pay for only 30i hours’ work, but those who run it complacently fold their arms and ask this Government what it is doing about inflation. Are not they creating inflation by offering men a full week’s pay for five shifts of eight hours, less meal breaks? That amounts to considerably less than a 40-hour week. Every man who bludges on his job costs the nation something. Somebody has to pay his wages, and they come out of the pocket of every other person - be he wage-earner or capitalist.
Whenever the Treasurer presents a budget to the Parliament, it is subjected to criticism by the taxpayers’ association, by the chambers of commerce and by the chambers of manufactures. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), in his speech, read leading articles which prophesied that the country was being destroyed. Whenever a budget is presented by this Government, the chambers of commerce and other organizations say how dreadful it is and that it will destroy them entirely; yet profits continue to rise as the years go by. Are the newspapers right when they say that the budgets will destroy the country? Are the critics of the Government right - those people who always say that the Government’s policy will destroy private enterprise? Or is the Government right? 1 point out again that profits continue to rise.
All those critics can do something to make the work of the Government a success. As I have said, the powers of governments are limited. They can create an atmosphere favorable to the combating of inflation, but from then onwards it is the task of every individual and every organization to do their share to make our system work. This irresponsible criticism leads to the destruction of confidence in the system under which we work, and in the only Government that will preserve for Australians the freedom of the individual. I do not mind saying that government expenditure is inflationary. Of course it is, but I challenge any critic - whether in a newspaper or otherwise - to take an individual item of government expenditure and say, for instance, “ The construction of ships, at a cost of £4,500,000, is inflationary and should be stopped “, or, “ The Snowy Mountains scheme is inflationary and work on it should be stopped “. To generalize is dangerous and stupid, and that is the one charge that I do make both against organizations and individuals in this country.
While this attack is going on, those who would destroy us, the Communists, are working their way right through our system. Every time confidence is undermined they are given a better chance of success. There is no short road to success against inflation. The only way is to work harder, produce more, and save more. Honorable members will recall that recently the Prime
Minister (Mr. Menzies) asked us to save more; but each successive account of the money outlay of the population shows that savings are diminishing. The Government is doing its best to defeat inflation, but it must be assisted in that work by the general public.
I have spoken a great many times about political unionism, which I dislike intensely, and I would like to quote from an address given by Mr. Meany, the big labour boss of America, which shows that he and his colleagues are proud of their straightforward trade unionism. He said -
We aren’t obsessed by old-fashioned socialistic ideas, the way your people are. We’re just straight-out trade-unionists.
They get on with the job, which is that of trade unionism, and have no political affiliations. Mr. Meany added -
Why the hell don’t you British and Australians follow our system and dump your Labour parlies into the Irish Sea and the South Pacific? 1 do not know what the radio-active fallout would be if that happened, but it is worth considering. That is the state of affairs in America, where the trade unionist enjoys the highest living standard of any trade unionist in the world. That is so because the trade union leaders work in the interests of the trade union only, and not in the interests of the struggle for political power.
In Queensland we find the Communistcontrolled Trades and Labour Council destroying the State. There is in Queensland very nearly a dictatorship of the proletariat, and if we are not careful the Communists will bring about the same state of affairs throughout this country. Labour is the guilty party because these conditions have arisen among its ranks. Labour may laugh it off, but it cannot deny that, for the last eight months, the Communist-controlled Trades and Labour Council of Queensland has, in the face of an award of the court, completely dominated that State.
Much is said about the balance of trade. How greatly is that affected by our failure to send all our wool overseas? As a result of the Communist action in Queensland, thousands of people are losing their money. I know of graziers who have been shearing under the new award, and the lorry drivers who are taking their wool away are shearers on strike. Those shearers do not mind the fact that there is a strike. The trade unions have placed the workers of Australia in a state of fear. They control not only their bodies but also their minds. Are not the Labour party purges a form of thought control? Are the four freedoms observed by the Labour party? I think not. The budget stands for a system which will bring, and maintain, freedom in this country. Except amongst those who are unfortunate enough to be in the Labour movement there is complete freedom of speech, and we are anxious that this general state of freedom should continue.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. I have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson).
– He did not say a word about you. He was very kind.
– The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) must have been asleep. I was sufficiently wide awake to hear the honorable member for Hume say quite distinctly that I said in this Parliament on the occasion when reference was made during an adjournment debate to a book written by Dr. Burton, called “The Light Glows Brighter “, that I supported the Marxist doctrine and that it was the objective of the Labour party. 1 am forced to quote from “ Hansard “ exactly what I did say. It was this -
Practically every person in Australia believes in some facet of Communist policy . . . The trouble is that some of the people who condemn communism do not know anything about communism. For instance, in the “ Communist Manifesto “ by Karl Marx, one of the things advocated is free education. I believe in the Communist policy of free education, and so does every honorable member opposite believe in free education. I believe in the Communist policy of decentralization, as put out by Karl Marx in his manifesto, and judging by the Liberal party’s policy at the last South Australian election, Mr. Playford, also, believes in the Communist policy of decentralization, r believe in the Communist policy of graduated income taxation, as enunciated in the “ Communist Manifesto “ and as far as I can judge from the budget recently delivered by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), that right honorable gentleman also believes in the Communist policy of graduated income taxation.
I also made this point, which should have cleared up the matter beyond all doubt -
At no stage of the history of the Labour party has any responsible spokesman for that party advocated the socialization of any form of private property for the mere sake of socialization. The only socialization that the Labour party has ever advocated in its long and proud history is the socialization of those forms of industry, produc tion, distribution and exchange which are being operated by monopolies for the benefit of a privileged few.
– That is completely wrong. That is the Blackburn amendment, which was repudiated.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. AdermannThe honorable member is making a personal explanation and is entitled to make clear what he said or did not say.
– I do not want to quote my remarks in full because that would take too long, but that is what I said, and it is recorded in “ Hansard “. 1 made it clear that the Labour party does not believe in absolute socialism of all forms of private property, but only of those forms of private property that are used to exploit the people, and any person who is not prepared to place those forms of private property under public control is not working in the best interests of the Australian community.
.- The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) has said that he could not agree with the Opposition. That is nothing new, because since I have been in this House, I have never heard him agree with the Opposition on any subject. He next stated that the Opposition was divided on the question of the budget, and I want to inform him that, to the contrary, we were never more united. He spoke also of what he called the premature reduction of standard working hours from 44 to 40. I should like to remind the honorable member that when standard hours were reduced from 48 to 44 the same kind of propaganda appeared in the Australia press, and it was said that the economy of the country would be ruined. 1 think all honorable members on both sides of the committee will agree that Australia has made great advances since that time. Similar predictions of ruin were made when working hours were reduced from 44 to 40. In fact, an investigation of the position was carried out by the best legal brains in the country, who found that the country could afford it.
The statements of the honorable member for Hume suggest that he would like to see wages reduced; in other words, he would like to see the workers’ purchasing power considerably lowered.
– He said nothing of the kind.
– He suggested it.
– He did not even suggest it.
– If the Government is sincere in its contention that we must have higher production and more saving, then the kind of talk indulged in by the honorable member for Hume will get this country nowhere. If the workers’ wages are reduced and unemployment increases to any marked degree - and it is undoubtedly increasing - production must fall.
We of the Opposition regard indirect taxation as an attack on wages and living conditions. That is the only way in which we can construe it. It is futile to argue that high wages are the cause of inflation. The fact of the matter is that if prices are allowed to rise to a point beyond reason and control, the workers must wage a continual battle for higher wages in order to survive. Our present economic condition is due entirely to apathetic administration by the Government, and to its inability to realize that the wage-earner finds it almost impossible to make ends meet. Government supporters are constantly speaking about purchasing power, and it is obvious that the purchasing power of workers is decreasing day after day, while company profits are continuously increasing. When the Government cries out for more production and more saving, it is indulging in so much kite flying and is not deceiving any one. That is evident from the criticism that appears in all sections of the Australian press, and that made by many people whom this Government claims to represent.
It is true that imports have had to be restricted because of the precarious state of our overseas trade balances. This action has caused overseas buyers to lose confidence in the Australian market. In spite of all these things, as the Acting Prime Minister has said, there is plenty of money for big building projects, but none for the home builder unless he is prepared to pay vicious interest rates. We are told that sacrifices must be made, but Government supporters who have spoken in this debate have suggested that the worker must make the sacrifices. The truth is that the big businessmen whom this Government represents do not want inflation to be halted.
The immigration programme, the high level of Government spending, and heavy taxes are causing unemployment. The Opposition does not cavil at wise spending on national defence, but waste, theft, fraud and over-estimating are serious matters, especially when millions of pounds are involved. It has been said that this budget is aimed at countering inflation, but it is obviously designed only to raise more revenue for Government spending. Repressive measures will not defeat inflation. They will merely stifle industry and retard development, and they will lead to depressions and unemployment - and unemployment never did any country any good.
I now wish to make some remarks about pensions. I voice my protest, as do other members of the Opposition, at the callous manner in which age and invalid pensioners have been treated. The treatment meted out to aged people has roused widespread indignation in and protest from all sections of the community. Although the Government postulates the theory that we are living in prosperous times, not one Government supporter has raised his voice to claim better treatment for the old people on the sunset trail and for the invalids. As the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has asked, “ Where is all this prosperity? “ What about handing out a little of this so-called prosperity to the pensioners? If the Government is unwilling to increase pensions for the aged and for invalids, 1 suggest that it should relieve them of the obligation to pay fees for broadcast listeners’ licences, and that, special postage stamps be made available at post offices for use by pensioners. The Government should also subsidize the pensioners’ rents and their payments for firewood.
It is true that the Government is willing to provide the States with money, on a £ 1-for-£ 1 basis, for the erection of homes for the aged. That is a very laudable gesture, but, in view of the parlous nature of State finances, how many States are prepared to commit themselves to further expenditure on social services of this kind? In the final analysis, the municipal authorities, who are already bearing the burden of many social services that should be provided by the governments of the Commonwealth and the States, will be asked to contribute to this scheme for the provision of homes for the aged, at a time when municipal finances are at their lowest level. Whichever way we consider the position, the lot of aged people is a hard one. All they ask is to be able to live out the remainder of their days in some small degree of comfort, and to be given some recognition for the services they have rendered to their country. lt has been said that it is a Christian act to help thy neighbour. It is cold comfort, however, for the pensioner that the Government is sending millions of pounds to countries not far from Australia, in order to raise the living standards of people there, while our own pensioners must try to exist on the miserable pittance of £4 a week. How can we expect young couples with families, living on the basic wage, to provide for their aged or invalid dependants? Pensioners are proud people, who do not want to live on friends or relatives or to spend the rest of their days in an institution. They still have the proud Australian spirit, and they will carry on the fight for social justice to the bitter end. I agree with the following statement of the president of the Combined Pensioners’ Association: -
Unless old agc pensions are substantially increased it will not be a case of pensioners slowly starving to death. They will be dying in their thousands.
Many of the aged people are paying 30s. to £2 or more a week for a room containing only bare necessaries, and are compelled to seek assistance from the benevolent and welfare societies that provide clothing and blankets. If these societies can help them in this way, they do so. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, because the societies are also finding it very difficult to obtain sufficient finance even in these so-called prosperous times. The Government’s treatment of the aged people and invalids will go down in history as the greatest social injustice ever committed in this country.
I wish to speak at some length on the subject of roads. The Government has set aside £32,500,000 for expenditure on roads. Although that may appear to be a large amount, if the whole of it were allocated to Victoria alone it would be insufficient to rebuild and modernize the roads system in that State. It may be interesting to examine some facts and figures on road transport, which have a direct bearing on the economy of this country. These statements are taken from a brochure issued in the interests of national development by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. I read the following statement: -
It will be noted that of the total tons annually carried 76.S per cent, are moved by road against 18.7 per cent, by its nearest rival, the railways. This 76.5 per cent, of the total tons carried means an annual movement of 195,000,000 tons of goods over 8,258,000 ton miles. Road transport, therefore, is by far the most important method used foi the movement of goods within Australia.
Other freight carriers, the railways and interstate ships, have different jobs. They haul large unit loads for very long distances over fixed routes, and because their average haul is long, they account for the bulk of freight ton miles
Compared to most other freight haulers, trucks carry small loads, in fact, that is one of their important jobs - to haul daily millions of small loads - but these small loads add up to 76.5 per cent, of all Australian freight tonnage. Many of our commercial vehicles move goods over long distances, but more often the haul is only 20 miles or so. The distance is not really important What really counts is that small loads move quickly and at low cost to the millions of places where they are needed.
The realistic picture of the dramatic growth in this method of transport is projected from the fact that from 1925 the small fleet of 26,000 commercial vehicles increased to 593,000 in 1954 and over 50,000 new trucks, lorries, utilities, panel vans and station wagons are added to this fleet yearly. Thirty per cent, of the total vehicles registered are on rural holdings, while 68 per cent, of new commercial vehicles sold per year are used in areas outside the capital cities.
Over this period, road transport has become an important mover of primary products (the traditional and most economic freight for railway), noi only as a feeder service to rail and ships, bin as a direct means of getting farm produce to distant markets and process depots. However, this service of road transport does not fully account for the phenomenal increase of the number of commercial vehicles on Australian roads.
The full answer to the importance of road as a transportation medium lies in ils service to the Australian manufacturer - not only does ii transfer raw materials to the assembly plants, but it also moves the finished products directly to consumer outlets. To-day there are 45,843 factories in Australia, which employ close on 1,000,000 workers. In 1925 there were only 20,795 factories giving employment to 428,000 people.
The percentage increase in the tons output over this period of such basic manufacturing components as coke, pig iron and steel ingots, has been 85 per cent., 172 per cent, and 230 per cent., respectively. Allowing for the changes in the value of the Australian pound, by applying a real wage index to factory production, the value of output of all Australian factories rose by 400 per cent.
So much for the lack of production -
In the short period 1945-46 to 1951-52 the increased use of road transport in the movement of goods has shown outstanding growth. For example, on a toll-bridge located on an interstate and inter-city highway the number of lorries exceeding three tons tare and paying toll increased by 1,516 per cent.
The article continues -
There are 593,000 commercial vehicles on Australian roads, or one commercial vehicle for every 15 people within the Commonwealth. These vehicles give employment to over 300,000 paid drivers, or in other words, one person in every nine wage and salary earners is a paid driver of a truck, bus or utility. The yearly wage bill for these drivers is over £220,000,000. All of the railways of Australia give employment directly to only 144,000 wage and salary earners, who receive £112,000,000 in wages and salaries.
The statement that commercial road transport does not pay its fair share of the roads provided by the Government is not borne out by facts. The total amount spent by Main Roads Authorities on roads in 1951-52 was £36,300,000. Yet commercial road transport alone (excluding passenger cars) paid approximately £33,000,000 in both State and Commonwealth motor taxes. These include such items as State Vehicle Taxes, Drivers’ Licences, Commonwealth Government Petrol Tax, Sales Tax, Customs Duties and the Ton Mile Tax.
An estimate of the amount spent by local government authorities on roads in Australia for 1951-52 is £23,000,000. To this expenditure road transport operators pay their just tax as ratepayers to local government authorities. Therefore, even if the most traditional and firmly established view of public finance is held - that an investment such as public roads should be paid for by the user - commercial road transport itself more than meets this principle.
However, it must be remembered that the importance of State or national investments, such as that in roads, lies not in the benefit given directly to the haulier but in the value given to the economy as a whole.
Australia has embarked on an era of national development, the size and diversity of which is unparalleled in our history. The success of this vast programme depends, of necessity, on the correct planning and implementation of economic and political priorities. Basic and essential to the economic considerations is an efficient and cheap transportation system, for without the means to take in the necessities for development and production and bring out the produce to market, economic activity - le! alone development - would exist only on primitive localized levels.
Road hauliers are merely a mobile extension of the factory production line and form an integral part in the economic process of production and distribution. Until modern roads are built, the waste in time and loss of efficiency will persist, seriously inflating costs, and all costs, including taxation of all kinds, in the end are paid by the consumer. That is why the provision of good roads is the intimate concern of all rightthinking people in Australia. The article I have read is ample illustration of my statement.
The increase in road fatalities and accidents on main roads can rightly be laid at the door of this Government for its failure to provide sufficient funds for road construction on modern lines. It is true to say that our main roads are dangerous. They are death traps. To have to move over to allow another vehicle to pass is to court disaster. The Melbourne “ Herald “ yesterday reported a typical instance of this. The accidents and deaths resulting from this courtesy are staggering. They make the provision of wider, safer and more modern roads a necessity. The only way this can be achieved is by a national plan operated by a national road construction authority. The pooling of equipment, technicians, planners and engineers is the only method by which to avoid waste of man-power, material and time, and to achieve what is most necessary to the economic development of this country - a system of national highways.
Further facts on road economics are contained in a survey taken by the traffic engineers of the Victorian Country Roads Board. These are very interesting, particularly when the Government is considering economic measures. The survey contained the following statement: -
If a heavily trafficked section of arterial road 20 feet wide can be shortened by only one mile, the capital value of the saving to the traffic using that road would be about £1,350,000.
When traffic on such a road reaches congestion level, the reduction in time and accidents following the doubling of the road width will be worth about £7,600 a year for each mile. One project now being undertaken is the doubling of the road width for four miles between Oakleigh and Spring Vale, at a cost of £30,000 a mile. This seemingly heavy outlay will be repaid to road users in four years by the saving in time and wasteful accidents.
Replacing a half-mile section of congested city street with traffic lights at five intersections by a modern traffic motor-way would result in an annual saving in fuel, time and accidents of £380,000 - equivalent to a capital expenditure of £8,500,000.
Accordingly, any marked improvement in our road systems will ensure lower transport costs, and therefore costs to most companies.
Colossal wastage of time and efficiency because of our roads problems is apparent from the investigations that have been carried out. Elimination of wasteful and unnecessary costs at all points is essential if the marginal company is to become an exporter, and the present exporter is to consolidate his position, lt is essential for our economic well-being that our road transport system is kept sufficient and efficient - in a country the size of Australia, with population in widely separated cities, the cost of transport is an important item in the accounts of the successful manufacturer.
These surveys serve to emphasize the grave economic loss that the nation is suffering. The worst feature is that all the extra maintenance costs, all the extra time, and all the extra wear and tear on vehicles occasioned by the frightful condition of our main highways is passed on in the form of increased prices, and, as in most other cases, in the final analysis the wage-earner pays the piper.
The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) suggested, during the debate on the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill 1956, that all the revenue from the petrol tax should be held in a fund until sufficient man-power and materials were available for major road building. I respectfully suggest that, with the rapid growth of unemployment, man-power is available now. There is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that the necessary materials and equipment also would be available if the Government were prepared to join with the States in a national road-making plan. Such a plan is essential for economic stability.
The problem of road maintenance and construction has proceeded far beyond the “ pass the buck “ stage. It has proceeded, too, far beyond the ability of the States to solve. In these allegedly prosperous times when, so we are told, the measures that the Government introduces will prevent a breakdown in our economic structure, honorable gentlemen opposite blithely overlook a factor that is becoming of the gravest danger to the economic stability of this country - the rapid deterioration of Australia’s roads. The stage has now been reached when some authorities suggest that turnpikes should be built to raise finance for the construction and maintenance of our main roads. 1 agree that, whatever methods are used to raise finance, there can be only one plan for road construction, and that is a plan that will provide for the construction of modern roads, wide enough to meet present day and future needs and strong enough to carry the ever-increasing numbers of heavy transports which are being used by hauliers to-day. Modern roads are the greatest defence need of any country. This fact has been established through the centuries, but if ever a nation lacked modern roads it is Australia.
A striking example of the dangerous road deterioration can be cited by referring to the scandalous disorganization of interstate road transport that look place in July of this year when flood waters turned the Hume Highway into a quagmire. This holdup cost thousands of pounds in lost time and wasted goods. Of course, the losses eventually will be passed on, in the form of increased prices, to the wage-earner, who always pays in the end.
It is said that constitutional difficulties prevent the implementation of any national plan to improve our roads. I conclude my remarks on roads by saying that, if this is so, then there is a golden opportunity awaiting this Government to show to the people of Australia that it is genuinely concerned for the economic development of the country, by taking immediate steps to alter the Constitution as it applies to roads. This would be evidence of the Government’s consideration for the welfare of Australia and its determination to remove not only the greatest drawback to national development, but also one of the most obvious causes of inflation and high prices. This statement is supported by remarks of Sir John Latham, which were reported in the Melbourne “ Age “ of 3rd August last. In the course of the article, Sir John, referring to two anomalies that should be rectified, said -
One is the constitution of the Senate, created as the protector of State rights, which has become the House of no importance; the other is the famous section 92 which has wrecked our road system in the name of inter-State free trade.
I wish now to address a few remarks to the subject of public works. The increase of our population demands a review of government policy in relation to public works and semi-government bodies. Concern and alarm are mounting rapidly in the undeveloped and partially-developed areas. A warning has gone out from the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works that, due to the lack of sewerage and drainage, Melbourne could become a giant fever bed in the summer. This position has been accentuated by the reduction of loan money from £10,000,000 to £7,423,000. In addition, there are 67,000 unsewered homes in the metropolis, and the city is 335 miles short in water reticulation. Sewerage works have been cut by £1,096,000 and drainage works by £250,000. These loan cuts mean that there will be many dry taps in Melbourne during the coming summer. This position, of course, is causing serious concern, and it is reliably stated that hepatitis has reached epidemic proportions due to the lack of drainage and sewerage. The incidence of this disease is causing grave alarm in medical circles.
The lag in State public works is serious, but even more serious is the plight of the municipalities because of their failure to obtain sufficient funds to undertake the construction of streets and permanent roads, drainage and other essential public services. In Sunshine, which is a part of my electorate, private street construction is to be carried out at a cost of £1,500,000; but needless to say, the municipal council is unable to find the finance that is necessary for this work.
I also wish to refer to the subject of unemployment. The attention of the Government was directed to this matter by the Victorian Employers Federation in March last, when the little budget was introduced. The federation, members of which support this Government, warned the Government that unemployment would result from the recent economic measures. Its forecast has proved correct. Indeed, unemployment has already commenced because of the budgetary measures. Workers are being dismissed from State and Federal government departments, and from private enterprise.
Some indication of outside opinions concerning government expenditure can be gleaned from a statement made at a taxpayers’ conference in Hobart recently. Those who attended the conference also were supporters of this Government. The statement read -
Government to-day has become too big; the Public Service has swollen out of all proportion to the population and the expenditure of public moneys is absorbing more than 25 per cent, of our entire national income. The average citizen is uncomfortably conscious of the vast size of our government. We all want and expect many services from the Government, to be sure, but we are baffled by its magnitude, puzzled by its complexities, and frightened by its cost. Instinctively we see a possible danger to democracy itself.
If taxpayers, manufacturers, retailers and other supporters of this Government affirm their objection to the “ baron “ budget - for that is what it should rightly be called, because those who will derive the greatest benefit from it are the monopoly barons - then the Government cannot take exception to complaints from the workers, who will be hurt most of all. It should not object, either, to the rightful indignation of age and invalid pensioners, or to the cries of dismay from ex-servicemen when they appreciate the nature of the higher interest costs they will have to meet. It has truly been said that there are two worlds - the world that we can measure with line and rule, and the world that we feel with our hearts and imagination. I am of the definite opinion that this Government does not know either world, if it is to be judged on its attitude to the workers and the pensioners.
.- Mr. Chairman, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is to be congratulated on bringing down his ninth successive budget, because in spite of the derisive snorts of one or two honorable members opposite, at least the ranks of Tuscany, if not those of Hindmarsh, could afford to cheer on this occasion. One does not, sir, necessarily have to agree with the right honorable gentleman in everything he puts forward to be generous in appreciating the sincerity with which he has carried out his task in this budget, and also the tremendous responsibilities he has been bearing as Acting Prime Minister during the last three and a half months. Therefore, I think it would be the view of all honorable members that, for what is very nearly a record, the Treasurer should be most warmly acclaimed. It is, moreover, whichever way one looks at it, a singularly honest document. It would have been so easy for him, of all people, to take the easy path, to bring down a series of proposals which would enhance his personal popularity and generally make the Government more popular, for the moment at any rate, in the eyes of the Australian electorate. I think it is greatly to the Treasurer’s credit that he has applied himself to the extraordinarily difficult controversial problems confronting Australia in its position in relation to the outside world, and refrained from doing the things which so many honorable members, no doubt on both sides of the committee, would have liked him to do.
The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor), who has just sat down, almost concluded with the words - I think this was the phrase he used - “ the budget favoured monopoly barons “. Of course, one has heard the same complaint from other sections of the Opposition. There could be no more emphatic disproof of that accusation than the stringent criticisms of the budget from commercial and industrial leaders. Indeed, as we all know, it is the captains of industry, the mouthpieces of big business, who have been most vociferous in their condemnations of these proposals. Therefore, it is merely trying to raise a false wind, without any substance whatsoever, for honorable members opposite to raise the old, false socialist cry, that we on this side of the chamber are the expressions of monopoly capitalism and the tools of big business. The Australian Labour party is convicted out of its own mouth in putting forward such silly and unreal comments at a time such as this.
The Opposition speeches, interesting as some of them have been, have added very little to the opening speech of the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) in his attempted analysis of the economic position and his proposed remedies for it. What the right honorable gentleman said may be resolved, I think, to two or three propositions. He repeated what he had told us months before, his belief, no doubt supported by the Australian Labour party, that the primary cause of inflation is that profits are so great that the money derived from them is going back into circulation and thereby creating more demand. I think that that is a fair paraphrase of what the Leader of the Opposition said. This will, no doubt, appeal to the unthinking, but I suggest that it is a proposition that cannot be sustained by examination. To begin with, I remind the committee that profits and dividends in Australia are considerably lower than they are in many other countries. They are several degrees lower, for example, than in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Canada. But if we look at the economies of those countries we see that the inflation there in recent years has been nothing like so rapid as it has been in our land. I would say, in refutation oi the Leader of the Opposition, that contrary to what he and many of his supporters have been saying, profits of many companies in Australia have been falling, noi rising, this year; indeed we have only to open the pages of the metropolitan newspapers, day by day, to see how many companies are reducing their dividends. In spite of that, as we all know to our cost, inflation is still continuing. How true it i> that without an adequate profit level for developmental capital, compared with the level in other competing countries, there can be no really continuing overseas investment in Australia on the scale that we require, and which is so necessary for the rapid exploitation of thi.» country.
The other proposition that the Leader ot the Opposition advanced, and which ha.” been echoed by one or two of his supporters, is that the Commonwealth Government must move forward with a national plan. Apparently, though, he is continuing hh completely one-sided outlook in this. He asks, and we would agree with him in asking, for a national plan, but he mad quite plain by implication that it is on’ to be a plan on Labour’s own terms When we had the Premiers conference hen. a month or so ago, did any of the Premier* evince any real intention of abandoning their preconceived positions and joining hands with this Government in a great cooperative effort involving, as of course ii would with Premiers of such differing political views, some degree of compromise in the national interest? Not a bit of it! Did the Premier of New South Wales or Queensland, for example, display the slightest sign of co-operation or attempt to reconcile the conflicting Commonwealth and State views on the national economy? We all know that at that conference the Treasurer offered to help the States b> providing the machinery for the coordination of price fixing, but they would have none of it. I think that the majority ot honorable members will agree that the diagnosis, whether sincere or not, made by the Leader of the Opposition cannot be sustained. The same might well be said about the solution that he offers for these evils The Australian Labour party, of course, bases its claim chiefly on price fixing and the reintroduction of a fairly elaborate system of controls. I suggest - and this is certainly the view of honorable members on this side of the chamber - that price fixing, if its introduction is feasible and practicable - can be effective only if the nation is put, as in war, into an economic straitjacket. Honorable members opposite, like honorable members on this side, know perfectly well that Australians as a people are far too individualistic to countenance that sort of thing. The people are prepared to make a sacrifice of freedom during a great national struggle; they are not prepared to make it under any other conditions.
– I believe, though, that they would carry a referendum proposal on the matter to-morrow.
– The honorable member is entitled to his views, but I disagree with him.
– I am sure about it.
– The people do not wish to return to war-time conditions. They do not desire to surrender their freedom. They are not willing to sanction the creation of an even bigger bureaucracy to administer these proposed controls, and they know very well that prices control would lead, as before, to many articles which are now available becoming once more in short supply, .simply because it would not pay the manufacturers to produce them.
– We were at war then.
– The people remember, in spite of the interjections of the honorable member for Adelaide, the almost infinitely unscrupulous practices that arise from these artificial restraints. We on this side know very well that if one is really sincere in wanting to introduce a system of national prices control, to be effective one must introduce a great many complementary and ancillary controls, such as man-power control, direction of labour, and others. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers), likes to continue in his world of illusion that it is acceptable to the people, but we on this side of the House know better. We know that they would not tolerate it. But I can understand members of the Opposition putting forward these ideas, especially those who pride themselves - and they have been very loud lately this session in reminding themlselves of it - on their subscription to a policy which merely amounts to doctrinaire socialism. One suspects that they are seeking to impose these measures for a tightly controlled economy merely for the sake of giving effect to their doctrinaire beliefs. I can think of many honorable members opposite who regard with avidity this opportunity, this economic disturbance, as a grand occasion to delude the public, in order to fix on the clamps for a controlled socialist economy which it is their avowed objective to put on the Australian people.
As in all matters dealing with economics - and the intolerant attitude of the Opposition will never recognize this - one cannot be dogmatic on the subject. The proposition that I want to put to the committee is that this inflation that we are suffering from is the price of the rapid progress which has been taking place in Australia since the war. If one studies the history of every country in those periods of great forward development, one will see the same thing occurring. I think that we should recognize this quite frankly and, in doing so, we could clear our minds of a good deal of cant in considering what measures should be taken to remedy it. If honorable members will look at the matter from a purely economic point of view, theoretically there is a very strong case for marking time - for consolidation. But I think that every member of the Committee would agree that in a period such as this, we must survey the Australian financial problem in the wider sweep of international affairs.
We are confronted here with an ever more rampant nationalism in Asia, and with a world population increasing at the rate of 40,000.000 a year. The population of the world will be doubled by the end of the century, that is to say, within the lifetime of the youngest members of this House such as my friend the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser). One sees, too, an international public opinion being expressed increasingly through the United Nations which quite clearly has shown signs of refusing to tolerate a mere 9,000,000 people proceeding in a leisurely way to develop and populate a continent.
Concurrently, there is the necessity in peace-time for an inordinately high defence expenditure, which, I say quite frankly, and I hope the committee will agree with me, it is absolute folly even to think of reducing. We know full well the pattern of the postwar world in which there has been a series of international crises such as the grave one in the midst of which we find ourselves to-day. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, the Government is right to disregard the purely economic considerations, to emphasize the continuity of national development, to maintain, in substance, its immigration programme, to press on, with moderation, with national public works. How, indeed, can we do less when we think, as the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) has reminded us. of the condition of our roads, and we reflect on the deplorable condition of many of our railways, and the deterioration of so many of our public utilities? Of course it is necessary.
If we admit the inevitability of some degree of inflation, it is nonetheless necessary to bring it within reasonable bounds. What are those limits? One, I suggest, is the degree to which overseas capital is discouraged from being invested in Australia. This is the situation which, if not actually happening, is now threatening. Inflation, as 1 reminded the committee a few moments ago, has been more marked in this country since 1939 than in other countries of the world of comparable importance. Whatever one’s ideological views, 1 think that the majority of the people will agree that we cannot proceed to develop quickly without the assistance of private and public capital from abroad. The Treasurer, of course, recognizes this and that is one of the reasons why he presents us with such a stern, unbending, unattractive, and uncompromising budget.
I think it is fair, in a debate of this nature, to ask whether the Government is taking all requisite steps to muffle the contemporary inflation. I approve of the Treasurer’s budgeting for a large surplus. lt is true that the sum of £108,000,000 on the face, of it. is staggering, but, after all, this is the classic method of anti-inflationary finance. Furthermore, the right honorable gentleman, being faced with loan repayments amounting to £278.000,000, is perfectly right to declare, as he did in his budget speech, that over £100,000,000 might have to be found in cash. We all know that it is just playing with words, an illusion of ideas, to think that the loan market will supply £190,000,000, or as the Premiers voted, £210,000,000, for the States. Consequently, we come to this very unpleasant proposition, that if the people of Australia will not save for national development at the urgent tempo which we feel is necessary, and if the requisite degree of capital is not forthcoming from overseas, the only alternative, unless there is to be a cessation of great public works, is to raise the required sums by taxation.
The Government, too, has the great misfortune to be hampered by constitutional limitations. Practically every other national government in the world, I should think without exception, possesses the inherent power to control capital issues, hire purchase and things of that nature. I speak only for myself when I deplore the lack of this power in the Commonwealth Parliament to-day. The United Kingdom, New Zealand and the United States of America, to give three examples, all possess power to control capital issues. The United Kingdom and New Zealand possess that power in respect of amounts over £10,000. So far as hire-purchase agreements are concerned, we are aware of the control that is being exercised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the United Kingdom, and by treasurers in other countries. Although this is my own personal view, 1 believe that had the Government these powers it would have exercised them by now. The fact that they are denied to the Commonwealth by the Constitution adds considerably to the task of any Commonwealth Treasurer.
Although 1 applaud the general tenor of this budget, and the general outline of the Government’s economic policy, I do feel that there is a case for more stringent economy on the part of the administration. I believe there is need for a sharper realization that the Government must really resolve to set an example if the people are to follow the exhortations of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer and take their admonitions seriously. 1 admit all the difficulties, from a practical and administrative point of view, in cutting down expenditure, but in these matters the Government always seems to overlook the homely adage that “ economy “ means “ going without “. One could give many examples, of course, but time will not permit me to give them. I shall content myself by saying, to begin with, that I think there is a strong case for the shelving of less urgent public works. One example that immediately springs to mind is the controversial subject of television.
– Hear, hear!
– If honorable members examine the budget papers, they will notice that expenditure on the operating costs of television is to be increased this financial year by £1,000,000, and expenditure on buildings and equipment, by £1,500,000. This, let me remind the committee, is for national television alone. As a result, this scheme which, in the long run, no doubt, will be very entertaining, and may be beneficial, will be launched, but the only people to derive direct benefit from it for the next few years will be the denizens of Sydney and Melbourne. Of course, it is too late now to cancel this extravagance, but I repeat it as an example of the type of thing that should have been foreseen. A few moments ago, I heard an interjection from my honorable and gallant friend, the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse). I remind the committee that he has been one of the foremost critics of the national television scheme and, for two years now, has urged upon the Government the necessity of deferring it in view of Australia’s economic difficulties.
I suggest again, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that the Government could well apply itself once more to making economies by considering the growing civil service and the possibility of merging departments and of generally cutting down expenditure, and by exhibiting a real desire to do these things which one does not see put into effect sufficiently. Thirdly, and again by way of an example, I repeat what I said some months ago in my speech on the supplementary budget: There is an overwhelming case for the Commonwealth Public Service being asked to work a standard 40-hour week.
If we admit the inevitability of some degree of inflation in our present predicament, and in this phase of world history, a corollary follows. The Government, in acknowledging this, must try to mitigate the lot of the financially defenceless. I feel il is certainly not doing this adequately for some people in the community. I refer particularly to retired people on superannuation, to small investors in fixed interest securities - for example, those who years ago invested in low interest bearing Commonwealth loans at between 3 per cent, and 4 per pent, interest - and to elderly people with joint incomes of less than £1,000 a year. Age pensioners, of course, in principle, come within this class, but they are so numerous and so special a problem that they form a category of their own. lt is greatly to the Treasurer’s credit that he has admitted in principle his desire for fairer treatment of this economic class. I would remind the committee that, in 1951, this Government introduced legislation to exempt men over 65 and women over 60 from the payment of income tax where their incomes were not above £234 for single people and £468 for married couples. These limits were raised in 1952. and again in 1953 by a considerable increase to £375 for single people and £750 for married couples, where they stand al the present time. Unfortunately, inflation has increased appreciably in the last three years, and I now appeal to the Treasurer to remember the plight of these people when he makes his next financial statement, and to extend the exemption limits consonant with the decline of the value of money. 1 would suggest £600 for single men am! women and £1,000 for married couples in the age groups mentioned as the limits foi exemption from income tax.
We all know, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that the major producing and receiving sectors of the community have been insulated very well against inflation. In spite of the talk of Opposition members, salary and wage earners have been taken care of by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration and, in some States, by the State legislatures. We have also seen the operation, which Opposition members persist in forgetting and almost wilfully overlooking, of the law of supply and demand; of the bargaining power of wageearners over and above the basic wage, which, of course, is what the term implies - merely a minimum, to which very few people are limited at the present time. We know, too, from the reports of companies that shareholders and investors have been well looked after during the period of inflation. Company reports and balancesheets tell their own story. Civil servants. both Commonwealth and State, have been well looked after, too. And let us be honest and admit that we in this Parliament, and the members of the State parliaments, have safeguarded our own interests in the way of salary adjustments. But the group of retired people, who depend on fixed incomes, is in danger of becoming a forgotten class. It is the duty of this Parliament to remember them, to provide for them, and lo save them from being ground to powder by the inexorable processes of inflation.
I see my time is nearly up, Mr. Temporary Chairman. In conclusion, I would liken this budget to a helping of plum pudding which, at first sight, looks stodgy and uninteresting, but surprisingly, improves with the eating and subsequently becomes readily digestible. The Treasurer had a heavy dish to prepare.
– It had some South Australian dried fruits in it.
– But his inherent honesty prevented him from enlivening it with the kind of silver trinkets that the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) delights in. In the coming year, this plain, solid fare, despite all its omissions and limitations - some of which I have exemplified this afternoon - is certain to benefit Australia. By contrast, the Australian Labour party’s flashy, highly spiced concoctions, so attractive superficially, and so injurious internally, would merely dangerously aggravate the complaint that Opposition members seek to cure.
.- The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer), in his closing remarks, likened the budget to a Christmas pudding. All I can say is that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has kept all the pudding for himself. He has not handed out any helpings. This is the ninth budget presented by the Treasurer, and it follows the pattern of most of the others. The right honorable gentleman deviates from his road from time to time, but, fundamentally, his principle remains the same. One of the outstanding characteristics of his budgets is that his surpluses always prove to have been grossly underestimated. At the end of each financial year in which he foreshadows a surplus, it grossly exceeds the estimate. I have no doubt that at the end of this financial year the same trend will show itself, and that the actual surplus of revenue over expenditure will be higher than that expected by the Treasurer. Should that prove to be the case, I think that the attitude evinced by the Government in this budget in respect to social services and taxation will become untenable. Honorable members opposite will then find it very difficult to reconcile the amassing of such a surplus, and their compliments to the Treasurer for what they term his sound financial methods, with the fact that the recipients of social services benefits have, in the main, been ignored in the budget, although the cost of living has increased steeply since the rates of social services benefits were last fixed.
People on high salaries, and those who receive high incomes from other sources, have done exceptionally well in the past year. This Parliament has even legislated for extremely large increases in the salaries of high-ranking public servants and of members of the judiciary. Members of Parliament themselves have had the benefit of increases of salary. In view of those facts, and the Treasurer’s stated expectation of a surplus of £108,000,000 from the current year’s operations, I find it impossible to understand why the budget makes no provision for increases of age and invalid pensions. The failure of the Government to increase those pensions at a time when the cost of living is high, and when, it claims, there is abounding prosperity, is something that I cannot fathom.
Members of the Government are always happy when they are repeating cliches and mathematical formulas. I suggest that if our national finance is purely a matter of mathematics, the whole business should be handed over to professors of mathematics instead of our wasting our time in attempting to solve the country’s economic problems. The Government’s supporters, and its members, seem to be obsessed with the idea that because the Treasurer is budgeting for a surplus of £108,000,000, his financial methods are sound, although in budgeting for that surplus he is completely ignoring the needs of the indigent people. It was confidently expected, before the Treasurer brought down this stand-pat budget, that such people would receive at least a small increase of pension to help them to meet the present cost of living which, according to figures produced before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, has increased in the last. year. The Government has told the 500,000 or 600,000 recipients of social services benefits that they must sustain themselves for the next year on the same pensions that they have been receiving for the past year, despite the increased cost of living.
Now let us examine what has happened to our economy since this Government came into office. In 1949, the Government took over a stable economy, and overseas balances that were on a level that has never been exceeded. No government ever took office in more favorable circumstances. But look at what has happened since to our economy, both internally and externally! Let us appraise impartially and accurately the benefits that the Government has brought to the nation. To-day, our overseas balances stand at £325,000,000, having been reduced by more than half during the Government’s term of office of less than seven years. Internally, the effect on our economy of the Government’s administration has been that our national debt has increased by more than £800,000,000, and we are paying, internally, £43,000,000 a year more in interest than we had to pay in 1 949, when Labour left office. In the light of those facts it is fantastic for supporters of the Government to claim that the Government’s economic policy has brought us prosperity. The truth is that the economic position has got beyond the Government’s control, and that, although honorable members opposite talk about doing something to combat the serious situation, they are never either prepared or willing to measure up to realities.
Inflation in Australia has increased, since the Government took office, on a scale not comparable with that in any other country. Prior to the advent of this Government there was some measure of control over inflation, and our internal economic situation compared more than favorably with that of other countries. The cost of living was considerably lower and more stable than that of comparable nations. But, as a result of this Government’s rule, inflation and the cost of living have risen more rapidly in Australia than in other countries, particularly the United Kingdom and New Zealand. That fact alone is an indictment of the Government - an indictment which Government supporters cannot escape - and it is all the more damning when one realizes that when the Government took office it made no pretence of trying to deal with the situation but attempted, instead, to camouflage it and to obscure the real issues by the introduction of irrelevant issues.
I remind honorable members of the financial year 1951-52, when the country was treated to a surfeit of statements, for three or four months, from responsible members of this Government - statements that verged on propaganda designed to distract the attention of the people from the real issues, and to consolidate the Government’s tenure of office. Unfortunately, those statements succeeded in their purpose, but the members of the Government who were responsible for making them will not be favorably viewed by history. I am referring particularly to the statements on defence preparations and on the imminence of war made by both the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who is at present the Acting Prime Minister. Both of these right honorable gentlemen figured very prominently in creating the atmosphere that the Government wanted to create. For instance, on 1st October, 1950, the Prime Minister made the following statement: -
Over the next few years we must build up such defensive strength in all arms that we shall be able to say to Great Britain, as in the past. “ We are ready with you, not at some time in the future, but now”.
On 6th December, 1950, the Prime Minister, dealing with the same matter, made this statement -
Australia must prepare in every possible way, and without a moment’s loss of time, against the contingency of a third world war. We must get out of our minds the idea that we can develop our real army after war begins. In other words, unpreparedness is an inducement to the aggressor.
That was a continuation of the theme begun some months before that. On 12th December, a week later, the Prime Minister, still speaking on that theme, said, amongst other things -
There is a popular notion that time is wilh us, and that time can be gained. But. time can bring disaster and finally turn against us unless we use that time while we may.
No one will quarrel with the sentiments that the Prime Minister expressed then. But why were they being expressed? What was their background? On 2nd March, 1951, still on the same theme, the Prime Minister made this statement -
We must be ready for war on the day it breaks out. If we are to be ready, we cannot and must not give ourselves a day more than three years in which to do it. The possibilities of war arc so real and so serious that Australia cannot with justice to herself and her allies grant herself a day more than three years in which to be prepared. There is disaster in the idea that if and when a great war breaks out, we in Australia, being far from the vital zones, may start more or less from scratch to train armies, navies and air forces, and to build the things without which they cannot fight.
On 2nd March, 1951, the Prime Minister moved into the realm of prophecy and he told Australia that it had three yeats in which to prepare for war. That was, perhaps, a little exasperating for the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). He had disagreed with the Prime Minister on other occasions, and he disagreed with him then. On 14th May, 1952, the Treasurer said -
Australia must prepare for possible mobilization for hostilities by the end of 1953.
I have gone back to the years 1950, 1951 and 1952 in order to bring back to the minds of honorable members the artificial atmosphere that was created then by the Government and its supporters. Eventually the Prime Minister staled the year in which war would break out. Then, not to be outdone, the Treasurer, who was the Deputy Prime Minister, put that date forward by a year.
What do we find now? In August, 1956, giving evidence before the Public Accounts Committee, Sir Frederick Shedden, the Secretary of the Department of Defence, said that Australia was not ready then and could not mobilize for war. The balloon was pricked by that statement. It causes vis to wonder just how much honesty there is in the approach of this Government to any problem. I have read statement after statement made either by the Prime Minister or by the Treasurer about the necessity for Australia to be prepared for war within a specified time. Yet we find now, four or five years after those statements were made, that the Secretary of the Department of Defence has to admit that Australia is not in a position to mobilize. Furthermore, that gentleman, replying to questions by the Public Accounts Committee, admitted that our army was 5,000 below strength and said that aircraft production was being held up because Ministers could not make up their minds as to the most suitable type of aircraft for production in Australia. That is a classic example of the vacillation and oscillation of this Government. In 1952 the Prime Minister told us that war was inevit able, and that we had to prepare for it, but to-day we learn that the Government cannot make up its mind about the type of aircraft most suitable for the defence of this country.
There is grave doubt whether the money voted for naval purposes is being used to the best advantage. There is serious doubt whether we are getting the best value for our money by spending it on medium aircraft carriers. Men with wide naval experience have stated from time to time that aircraft carriers of that type have considerable limitations. The history of the World War II. shows that the most effective weapons against submarines were, first, land-based aircraft; secondly, naval vessels; and thirdly, aircraft from aircraft carriers. The events of the last war show that, as anti-submarine weapons, aircraft operating from aircraft carriers are not as efficient as some people would have us believe. Therefore, a doubt arises whether we are justified in spending money on aircraft carriers. We wonder whether the money would be employed more usefully if it were used to buy land-based aircraft capable of dealing with submarines.
What can be said about naval preparations can be said also about the St. Mary’s project. It is amusing to recall that this Government, which told us time and again that it could not find more money, produced that project out of the blue, as it were. After two or three years, the Government has nothing to show for its expenditure other than a scathing indictment of the project by the Auditor-General. The record of the Government in the field of defence is far from encouraging. Indeed, it merits the most damning criticism.
In view of the rate at which our population has been increasing recently, one would have imagined that the Government would have done something in the field of housing. I know that honorable members opposite claim that housing is a matter for the States, but I do not believe that the Commonwealth can be absolved from all responsibility for it. I submit that housing is a national problem. Insofar as it is a national problem, this Government cannot run away from it, any more than it can run away from the problem of roads. The Government has admitted, in effect, that there is a housing problem in this country, because it has reduced the intake of immigrants by at least 18,000 a year. I suggest that it is not so much the intake of immigrants which has contributed to the housing shortage as the use that has been made of the immigrants in the industrial field. If many of the immigrants had been permitted to work in industries that had for their purpose the erection of houses, rather than the erection of other buildings, or if private capital had been prepared to move into the field of house building, the present situation would not have occurred. It is a sad commentary on the prospect of overcoming the housing shortage that the number of houses built last year was the lowest since 1950-51.
Until 1954, many Government members never lost an opportunity to criticize the New South Wales Government for its handling of the housing problem. They told us time and again that the building of houses was being restricted by the system of rent control operating in New South Wales. They said that if the New South Wales Government were to remove those controls, private capital and private enterprise would move into the home-building field. Let me remind honorable members that in 1954, as a result of amending legislation passed by the New South Wales Parliament, rent control became no longer applicable to new homes built in that State. Any home that is built in New South Wales to-day is free from rent control, as is any home that has not, since 1941, been tenanted. So, two factors operate in New South Wales today. Last year there was a distinct reduction in home building. Government supporters are always trying to tell us of the virtues of private capital; that if it is not controlled there will be no anomalies; and that Australia’s housing lag is attributable to the restrictions imposed upon home building by the State Labour governments, but though in 1954 all such restrictions were lifted in New South Wales, the figures for Australian home building in 1955-56 showed a decline. It is quite obvious that lack of finance is one of the reasons for the hold-up in home building throughout Australia, and this Government is responsible for that situation. No one can convince me that the Commonwealth Bank - the central trading bank - is following a policy that has not the support of this Government. I go further and say that if it is, this Government should do something about it. lt is quite apparent to members of the Opposition, and to people outside this Parliament, that the lack of finance for home building is very serious, and is having a retarding effect. Unless this Government moves in and does something, it will be faced with a very serious situation. J would like to quote the remarks of the vice-president of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, who subscribes to that point of view. A report in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 8th September, 1956, reads -
The central bank should make more money available for home building, the Vice-President of the Real Estate Institute Mr. Daniel Currie, said last night.
Building material production was at a record level, labour was plentiful and building costs were steady. “ The Bank should act now and assist the trading banks to make finance available “, he said. “ A great deal more than the few millions now being made available by the new private savings banks is needed. “ Co-operative building societies have a waiting list of 25,000, War Service Homes 13,000 and the Housing Commission another 25,000.
I take it that the figures are those for New South Wales. The report continues - “With such lucrative rates of interest offered by many large Sydney companies to the general public, the amount of mortgage money available from this hitherto good source is now negligible. “ Never before has there been greater need for finance from the banking authorities.”
That is the opinion of the vice-president of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, and this Government must face up to its responsibilities in the matter. It is neither convincing nor sufficient for Government spokesmen to say that finance for war service homes will be the same this year as it was last year. Each year the number of applicants is growing, and the waiting period is being extended.
I am very disappointed in the budget, because I believe that the Government has lost a great opportunity. The difficulties with which we have been confronted in the last six or seven years have flowed directly from Government policy. Many of the difficulties that we have had to endure have arisen as a result of the short-sightedness, the panic-mindedness, and the inability, of the Government to face reality. The fact is that we have virtually been saved by factors for which the Government cannot claim any credit. I refer to the very satisfactory prices that our wool and wheat have brought overseas. Surely the Government will not attempt to claim any credit for that. Indeed, it has frittered away the advantages that our overseas earnings have brought us. The Government, instead of keeping our overseas balances at a stable and satisfactory level, and despite every warning, has allowed them to run down to such a level that Australia recently faced unemployment on a scale that it had not experienced for more than fifteen years. Looking back over seven years of administration, and considering what this Government has accomplished, one is forced to the conclusion that it must say to the people, “ The Australian cost of living is twice as high as it was when we took over, and our overseas balances are now only half what they were “. So far as I am concerned, the Government is welcome to any credit that it can take for such a record.
.- The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor) has spent the last half-hour making an appeal for the spending of more money on pensions, defence and building, which he describes as a national problem. Most honorable members, and most citizens of the Commonwealth will agree in principle with that sentiment, but unfortunately, as taxpayers, they will disagree most heartily, because it entails the raising of more taxes. Increased pensions and increased defence expenditure cannot be obtained without dipping deeply into the taxpayers’ pockets. All reasonable people these days will agree that the social services system does hit a certain section of the pensioners very hard, and I am sure that that particular section will receive the consideration of the Government, and of the Department of Social Services, in the course of the. next few years. I refer particularly to single pensioners who are obliged to pay rent. Their pension is scarcely enough to enable them to sustain a reasonable standard of living. There could well be some flexibility in the application of the pensions system where they are concerned.
As for the defence question, it must be remembered that we are paying per head, for defence, only about two-thirds of the amount paid by our allies, the people of the United States of America. But our ally is satisfied with the arrangement that we have made, and we have worked in harmony with the United States of America on all defence projects since the end of World War II.
When the honorable member for Dalley was considering the changes of policy on defence that have occurred during the life of this Government, he. overlooked the fact that the needs of defence have changed radically in the last few years. Not only have new weapons been invented and new techniques evolved, but the pressure of hostility has changed. At one time we contemplated the possibility of the outbreak of a world war, and it may very well be that during the next few years the world situation could build up to a similar climax. It should be remembered, however, that it was only the strength that the western nations were able to show that prevented the outbreak of a war during the last five years.
This ninth budget of the Treasurer is a sober document. It has no surprises, and, within its limits - and a budget has very strict limits - it will be most effective in controlling the economy of Australia. I have noticed, however, during the course of this debate and in criticism outside this chamber, that there is a theory widely held that the budget can do far more to raise the standard of living and to direct the destinies of our economy than is actually possible. It is quite fallacious to suggest that the budget can be a means of producing money except by means of taxation. Even if provision is made to increase credit, that is still an indirect form of taxation. The budget can no more create money than it can increase productivity. A number of factors that have a very direct effect upon our welfare lie right outside the scope of the budget. One of those factors, which is really a matter of economic life and death to Australia, is our overseas trade balance. On our balance of trade rests the whole edifice of the Australian standard of living and rate of development. If we are able to sell goods of a greater value than those we import, obviously we can develop at a fast rate, continue to take in immigrants, and raise our standard of living. For that reason we hope for the success of the talks that are currently in progress in London, for the purpose of revising the Ottawa Agreement between Australia and the United Kingdom in order to allow Australia opportunities for more flexible operations in world markets.
Great Britain has undeniably been served well by the Ottawa Agreement, particularly in recent years. That agreement has undoubtedly operated in favour of Great Britain. Consider one commodity as an illustration. While Australia has had its silos stuffed wilh wheat during the last few years, and has carried over abort 100,000,000 bushels each year, Great Britain has been buying wheat all over the world. If we look at a list of the countries from which Britain has purchased wheat during the last two or three years, we find that it is almost a roll call of the United Nations. Like a good housewife, Great Britain has been buying in the cheapest market. That is a dangerous policy in the long run, because Australia produces the cheapest wheat in the world, and unless we can evolve a sensible agreement with Britain, both that country and Australia will suffer in the long run. That is one factor that is entirely beyond the scope of the budget, although it has a very pronounced effect upon our day-to-day welfare.
The second factor that is not within the scope of the budget, and yet has a definite effect upon our welfare and prosperity, is productivity. Productivity and inflation go together. Either we have high productivity and stability, or we have low productivity and inflation. The two are inseparable. It is unfortunately true that our wage system, which provides for a wage by regulation instead of a wage by result, has, in this period of full employment, resulted in low productivity. It has operated to destroy the incentive to produce more goods. It shackles the man with ability and the will to work hard, even though it may protect the man who is not prepared to work hard and, perhaps, lacks ability. In these days o! full employment we must return to the method of payment by results if we are to have a high level of productivity and cure inflation.
The wage system becomes sillier every day. The first case that came before the reconstituted Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was presented by the Australian Railways Union. That organization, demonstrating its high regard for the intelligence of its members, asked for a 30-hour week, a minimum wage of £30 a week, with eight weeks leave a year and a great number of other benefits. That is just about the height of irresponsibility. Another outcome of this socialist wage system is shown in a policy that is pursued in too many places in Australia by trade unions, and which is completely anachronistic in these days of full employment. I have before me an extract from the “ Coal News “ of 23rd June, which reports a few of the appeals made by miners against fines imposed by their own lodges, to the Board of Management of the Northern District of the union in New South Wales. In each case we find that the appeal was rejected by the Northern Board of Management. Some miners were fined for filling the full fortnightly darg in fortnights when ten days were not worked by the miners. Some of them filled the darg in four days. They were advised that the practice must cease. Miners who had been fined by the lodge for filling more than the darg appealed against the fines on the ground that the lodge president had incorrectly counted their skips. Those appeals were rejected. Seven mechanical unit employees who were fined by their lodge for working when the mine was idle appealed against the fines. A number of shift men and the loader crew had. gone to work on a day when a meeting of the lodge had decided to go home, but a majority vote of the lodge had decided to return to work. The appeals were rejected. An assistant banksman on an idle day when he had nothing to do obeyed a direction of the management to assist in unloading chaff. He had been fined by the lodge for working outside his classification and appealed against the fines. The appeal was rejected. The lodge had decided to “ stand down “ five men who had worked on a day when the mine had decided to strike. The men claimed they commenced work at 6 a.m., and had not been informed by the lodge of the decision to strike. They claimed also that the lodge had penalized them without the lodge committee giving them a hearing. The board rejected the appeals. That is typical of what is happening in far too many instances throughout Australia. A limit is placed by the union on the production of men who are willing and able to work. It sometimes seems that union dues are no better than the protection money which was paid to gangsters in America. I leave the subject of productivity, although it is vital to Australia.
– There is over-production of coal now.
– We should take a leaf out of the book of the coal trade in America. The highest wages are paid to men in the coal industry there; yet the coal industry in America can sell its product in the lowest market in the world - Europe. lt is sending many millions of tons there each year. There is nothing wrong with high wages. Let us unshackle the men with ability. Let them earn high wages, but let us have high productivity and, therefore, ;i reduction in costs.
There is a third factor that has a direct bearing on costs but is not touched in this budget, because it is outside the realm of the budget. I refer to the crippling inefficiency of State administrations. Since uniform taxation was introduced, the sense of responsibility of the States has steadily deteriorated. I speak from knowledge gained in New South Wales. We find a great number of public works in progress which have no value whatsoever save a political one. They are started in direct competition with highpriority industries that are serving our export trade. They compete against our export industries for the short supply of labour and materials.
The States have consistently refused to co-operate in the introduction of a system of priorities for capital works. The result is chaos. Too much of the taxpayers’ money is going into those works for it to be at all funny. We cannot afford to have that situation continuing for very much longer, and I urge the Government to take strong steps to stop this waste of money. The only true and lasting cure is the division of the States into smaller and more practical areas. As honorable members know, the services provided by State governments deteriorate progressively as the distances from the ‘capital cities increase. That applies to every State. The reason the Hume Highway broke down at Tarcutta recently during floods was because it happened to be a long way from the seat of State government. Until we have smaller States, this country will never be properly administered.
State and Federal powers should be reallocated as a matter of urgency. The sooner the general public realizes the urgency of this matter, the better for the health of Australia, because the present arrangement throws a very heavy burden on the taxpayers. These capital works are not being paid for entirely by loan money; they are underwritten by the Commonwealth out of taxation revenue and indirectly subsidized by the Commonwealth Bank, which has been buying bonds to support the bond market. That is another indirect tax. The sooner we clear up this matter, the sooner we can get along with really effective work in developing this country.
A fourth matter, which I will touch on, is the wastage of human capital. A great deal is heard about the orthodox form of capital, but the most precious form of capital is human capital. Are we making the most use of the skills and abilities of our youngsters? The chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Professor Baxter, has estimated that 20,000 youngsters who have the mental capacity to become atomic physicists leave school each year and take up unskilled jobs. If that estimate is right, or nearly right, how many skilled technicians, skilled tradesmen and professional men are lost each year? That claim by Professor Baxter should be investigated as a matter of urgency. An authority should be set up to examine the position throughout Australia and to make suggestions to the Government. If this wastage exists, we cannot afford to allow it to continue much longer.
I have a suggestion to make to the Government in relation to the more usual form of capital. This country is suffering from an abysmal shortage of capital. That fact is quite well known. We are short of capital to carry out our works. It is very difficult to raise money to fill the loans each year. As a result, the loan market must be supported from revenue and a great number of public works are now carried out from revenue. The Snowy Mountains scheme, the capital works of the Postal Department and a great many others are financed from taxation revenue. If there were sufficient loan money, those things which are being built for posterity would be financed from capital savings. 1 suggest to the Government that the means test for deferred annuity benefits should be reviewed completely to encourage people to save in that way. It would be extremely easy to administer and to control.
– That is taxation.
– It is purely voluntary saving. A voluntary means of saving has nothing to do with taxation. More positive encouragement should be given to people to save along those lines and the Government should consider giving some special consideration to companies that operate superannuation schemes. If the Government adopts my suggestion, a great deal of new money - and I emphasize the word “ new “ - will be available for capital works through superannuation schemes and, for the self-employed, through the purchase of deferred annuities. It would certainly cost the Treasury some money, but the benefits in the form of savings and the restoration of the sense of personal responsibility and thrift would be incalculable. We must get away from this creeping socialism, as President Eisenhower called it. We must combat this creeping socialism, and that is what our social services system represents at present.
In the short time that I have left I wish to refer to something that is not a corrective, but which is more positive. We know that Great Britain has launched itself well and truly into the atomic age with a plan to construct a great number of atomic power plants, the first of which is in production now, although the switching-on ceremony will not take place until next month. That is Calder Hall. It is my opinion that Australia should plan now to erect an atomic power station. In this country, which is so barren of fuel and which needs power so urgently, it has been estimated that we shall need a billion pounds in the next 25 years for the construction of electricity generating plants. We should start now to embark on a programme of building power stations. There are available, even at this early stage, some fairly accurate estimates of the costs involved. It has been estimated that atomic energy costs less than half as much again as does power produced from the cheapest coal, which means that it is a practical possibility in places at some distance from sources of coal. I believe that it would be possible now to construct an atomic generating plant in the north of Australia, possibly in the Northern Territory, and to use the vast bauxite deposits round the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the western side of the Cape York Peninsula, and in the Wessel
Islands, to produce aluminium. 1 further believe that such a plant would cost Australia nothing at all. We could have it built by means of foreign loan, a method that is detested so much by honorable members opposite. It could be constructed by means of a loan from whatever country, be it America or Great Britain, sold the power plant to us. It could be built without drawing on Australia’s funds at all. and it could be paid for in a few years from the immense bauxite deposits in the north. I commend that suggestion to the Government.
The sooner we start out in this atomic age the better it will be for Australia in the long run, because it is obvious that atomic energy is going to supply the power of the future, and that it will become cheaper and cheaper. We need to train technicians. We shall need a whole army of scientists and technicians, and the sooner we begin to train them, the better it will be for Australia. Further than that, we need exports. The bauxite deposits in the north of Australia are worth millions of pounds. Th,world needs aluminium; we have the raw material. We want atomic energy power plants. I believe that we could do a deal with the United States of America or Great Britain in this matter.
Apart from the direct benefits that the construction of an atomic energy plant would confer on Australia, we should also have the indirect benefit to be derived from increasing the pride of Australians in their country. The Australian people are immensely proud of the Snowy Mountains scheme, which is vast in concept and also in scope. Australians do not want to be left behind in this atomic age. Countries such as France, Belgium, Japan, and some of the Scandinavian nations are entering the atomic energy generating field years ahead of Australia. We should make our plans now and get on with the job. I think that it would give the Australian people a tremendous fillip if we were to make a start now. It would help to build confidence in the future of this country, because it would ensure a rich and prosperous future, and it would be an indication that we were not going to withdraw, curtail, and cut down for ever. In addition, it would ensure that Australian prosperity and strength increased as the years went by.
There are other matters which also could be tackled by the Government on these lines. I see no reason why it should not draw up a positive plan for the development of Australia, using the suggestion which recently was put forward during this debate by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) that, by giving foreign countries a charter and a franchise, loans could be limited to a definite period of 25, 30 or 50 years.
Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.
.- The electorate of Watson, which I am honoured to represent in this Parliament, and the electorate of my colleague, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue), probably contain more aged pensioners than any other electorate in Australia. Therefore, I intend to devote portion of my speech to the many very difficult problems confronting these persons to-day. During the budget debate last year, very many Government supporters spoke in glowing terms about what was done for the pensioners last year, when the pension rate was raised by 10s. a week, from £3 10s. to £4. But it is most noticeable that this year many of the same honorable members are carefully avoiding any mention of whether or not they think that £4 is still adequate. It is quite evident, too, that the Government is also embarrassed because of the reception of this budget by its own supporters, that is, the newspapers, by the man in the street, the business man, and persons on street corners. I should like to quote a statement of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), during the debate on social services last year, when he was Minister for Social Services. He said -
The increase is to be 10s. a week. The Government, of course, considers a matter such as this in a scientific manner and takes many facts into consideration when it is deciding what the rates of pension should be. It looks over a very broad vista, taking into consideration its other commitments, changes in the purchasing power of money, and all the other factors that must be considered if the Government is to act responsibly, and if due consideration is to be given to the demands of all sections of the community.
I was just wondering whether the Minister’s ideas are the same this year as they were last year and whether the imminence of an election caused him to talk in that manner.
Last Wednesday night in this chamber the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald
Cameron) spoke in eulogy of the Government’s social services. He mentioned pharmaceutical benefits, medical benefits for pensioners, child endowment, and so forth, but he was very careful to avoid mentioning anything about the rate of pension. By way of interjection, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) tried to draw him out, asking him to tell us about pensions, but the Minister carefully avoided any mention of that subject. I wonder whether the Minister for Health, and his predecessor, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), in their private capacities as doctors, as opposed to politicians, consider that £4 a week is adequate to keep body and soul together in these days of inflation. What may have been done by such and such a government many years ago or by this Government last year, and the percentage relationship of pensions to the basic wage do not matter. We need to get down to basic facts and try to ascertain how far £4 will go when it is directed to buying the bare essentials of life. I have a list of commodity prices compiled last week-end at my request by my wife when doing her shopping. I think everybody will agree that these items comprise only the bare essentials of life. In the butcher’s shop steak for frying or grilling cost from 4s. 6d. to 5s. 6d. per lb.; steak for stewing, from 2s. 9d. to 3s. 9d. per lb.; lamb chops and cutlets, ls. 4d. each; a small shoulder of lamb, from 9s. 6d. to 12s. 6d.; a small leg of lamb, from 14s. to 20s.; a small roast of beef, from 8s. 6d. to 12s. 6d.; and sausages, 2s. per lb. At the grocer’s shop, bread cost ls. lid. a loaf; milk, lid. a pint; butter, 4s. 5id. per lb.; eggs, 5s. 6d. a dozen; margarine, 2s. 8d. per lb.; tea. 6s. 9d. per lb.; flour, ls. 9d. for 2 lb.; dripping, ls. 6d. per lb.; sugar, lOd. per lb.; toilet soap, lid. a cake; washing soap, 2s. 34d. a bar. At the greengrocer’s shop, beans cost 3s. per lb.; peas. 2s. per lb.; tomatoes, 2s. 6d. per lb.; lettuce, ls. 6d. each; small cauliflowers, 3s. each; onions, ls. lOd. per lb.; and potatoes, once the main diet of pensioners because of their cheapness and nutritional values, cost 2s. Id. and 2s. 2d. per lb., and they were only second rate. Only a few days ago I received an invitation to a dinner in Sydney and written on the invitation was, “ Bring your own potatoes “, which is an illustration of just how high the prices are.
I realize fully that a surplus of £108,000,000 is to be set aside for the financing of public works. That is really to make up the deficiencies in loan subscriptions which are not forthcoming because of the people’s lack of confidence in the loan market while this Government is in power. I say without apology that it is wrong and un-Christian to budget for such a surplus and to allot £190,000,000 for the purpose of defending this country, and £4,700,000 for Colombo plan purposes, while there are in Australia persons in dire circumstances, desperately struggling to keep their heads above water.
– How much is allocated for social services? It is £230,000,000.
– If the honorable member thinks that £4 a week is enough to live on, let him get up and say so. I suggest that the defence vote should be pruned by from £25,000,000 to £30,000,000, so that we may properly look after the pensioners. The Government’s policy seems to be to worry about pensioners only just prior to an election, and then to let them starve for the ensuing two years. These poor unfortunate people have been cruelly deluded by the Government. What does it matter for whom they voted, or whether they support the Australian Labour party, the Liberal party, or any other party? It makes no difference. It is the duty of this or any other Commonwealth government to ensure that they are catered for.
– Would the honorable member have liked to live on £2 2s. 6d. in 1949?
– It bought much more then than does £4 now. It is all very well for the right honorable member, who lives in a lovely palatial home in Victoria, to interject in this fashion. I saw a photograph of his home not so long ago. He may put his legs under the table. Probably he receives about £7 7s. a day in expenses. Yet the pensioners are trying to exist on £4 a week. I am not using the problem of these people for political advantage or gain. Any person or party that uses the problem of these people to gain political advantage is beneath contempt. That is my opinion of it. I am not worried about what the pension was ten years ago, fifty years ago, or last year, or what percentage it was of the basic wage. The only thing with which I am concerned is whether it will keep these people to-day.
Now I refer to the increasing difficulties experienced by unskilled workers in finding employment. Recently, I asked the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Harold Holt) the simple question whether he could guarantee a job to any unskilled workers in Australia or guarantee work in the near future to any unskilled immigrants coming to Australia. The answer that 1 received was not a complete answer. It was more or less an evasive one. For the purpose of illustration, I should like to state that yesterday I made inquiries in my electorate of Watson, which I expect is one of the most industrialized electorates in Australia. from certain firms as to the possibility of an unskilled man getting a job. These are the firms and the answers I received -
Firm - Answer.
Australian Consolidated Industries Limited. - No.
Imperial Chemical Industries. - No. Nothing. Put name on the list. Things may brighten up in the future.
Nuffield (Australia) Proprietary Limited. -Put name on list.
General Motors-Holden’s Limited. - No.
Metters Limited. - No chance. Laying off men Bradford Kendall Limited. - No.
Austral Bronze Company Proprietary Limited. - No.
Peters Ice Cream Proprietary Limited. - No.
Smith Brothers Proprietary Limited, timber merchants. - No.
Stedman Henderson’s Sweets Limited. - No.
Australian Paper Manufacturers Limited. - No Dunkerley Hat Mills Limited. - No.
Whiddon Proprietary Limited, wool scourers. -
President Consolidated Limited. - No.
Taubman’s (New South Wales) Proprietary Limited. - No.
Standard Telephones and Cables Proprietary Limited. - No.
Wunderlich Limited. - Put name on the list Something may brighten up in the near future.
Surely this proves, as I suggested in asking my question, that it is unfair to bring people from the other side of the world when the people who are in Australia to-day cannot get employment. Many of the people from overseas have sold their homes and all that they possess in order to get here, but the Minister for Immigration cannot guarantee continuity of employment for the unskilled workers among them. It is unfair not only to them but also to the people who are here at present and who are already out of work.
There is no concrete proposal in this budget to better the state of the economy. As a matter of fact, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) merely made a statement to the effect that we shall carry on as in the past and hope for the best in the future. In the past policy of the Government has been import restrictions on-off-on-off; bank credit restrictions on-off-on-off. If things get much worse we shall be a lot worse off than we were in 1951 when 150,000 people were out of work in Australia and when, on one occasion in Sydney, there was a riot in Martin-place by new Australians who were demanding work. It may be that this is the first step in the Government’s proposal to implement Professor Hytten’s plan.
Let us examine the Government’s record. lt is a record littered with broken promises such as those concerning the tax on excess profits, putting value into the Chifley £1, and stabilizing the economy. It is a record littered with misleading statements such as, “ the States can control prices “, “ healthy competition “, “ holding prices stable “, and especially “ war in three years “. Let us deal with the promise to impose a tax on excess profits. If the Treasurer thought that profits were excessive in 1949, that is an admission that the people are being exploited. The profits of 1949 were only peanuts compared with present profits. I should like to quote an article concerning these excess profits by the financial editor of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “, which reads as follows: -
There are many, many things to be said in praise and justification of the efficient General Motors-Holden’s Ltd. I am conscious of those things. In the past I have said them all.
This, however, is the fundamental point just now. Last year Sir Arthur Fadden traipsed around the world seeking a suitable capital loan for Australia. He succeeded in getting a modest loan of IS million dollars in Canada. It was a capital transaction; it will have to be repaid, and meanwhile it will cost us interest. The loan is not much more than will be needed to pay the General Motors-Holden’s dividend to U.S. investors for a single year. That dividend works out at 10.8 million dollars, subject to Commonwealth taxation of about 1.6 million dollars.
General Motors-Holden’s has not invested a net dollar in Australia since the war. The loans made by the U.S. parent company in the 1001ingup period for their fine Australian car have been recouped. On the permanent investment of £1,750,000 made by the Americans long ago, the dividends in the last two years alone have totalled more than 500 per cent. Had there been special circumstances behind one or two large dividend payments, nothing need be said; but G.M.-H. gives the impression of having settled down to a policy as regular as it can make it.
Some Americans have criticised the parent General Motors this week for earning 31 per cent, on its capital. That profit is at least being shared by members of the U.S. public who are the shareholders. And America is a country with no critical trade problems.
Turning to Australia, G.M.-H. is earning 550 per cent, on its ordinary capital. To Australian preference shareholders, it pays £33,696 out of the earnings of £9,757,835. The company is even reluctant to write up its ordinary capital because it would have to pay a tax of 15 per cent, to the Australian Government. In fairness, we should observe that the taxable profit on each vehicle, though still extremely high at something evident: more than £150 a unit, is less than it was in the previous year.
Holdens are used for more than pleasure purposes. One does not join those who will distort the picture for their . special interests. But Sir Arthur Fadden did not go round the world to raise funds for the dividends on Holden cars foi which there has been no net dollar investment in Australia. This policy of G.M.-H. is making it harder for us to meet the double-tax obligations we accepted a couple of years ago with a view to encouraging true dollar investment. In my opinion, last year’s Holden dividend was, in all the circumstances, excessive. The 1956 dividend is higher, and it is being taken from an Australia that is less able to afford it.
That is an example of what the profits have been since 1949. In view of the fact that the Treasurer thought that the profits of 1949 were excessive and as he made that promise that was not kept, what does he imagine this profit is to-day?
Now I should like to deal with that other great problem - putting value back into, the £1. When this Government took office in 1949 the basic wage in New South Wales was £6 12s. a week. I ask honorable members to compare the purchasing power of the basic wage in 1939, when the £1 had a purchasing power of 20s., with that of the basic wage of £6 12s. in 1949, when the value of the £1 was only 12s. 3d. The present Government parties, which were then in Opposition, as usual adopted a policy of deception. They were willing to do or say anything so long as they could induce the people to elect them to office, and they said, “We will put value back into the £1 “. Let us see how they have put value back into it. When the basic wage was £4 ls. a week in 1939, the £1 had a value of 20s. The basic wage in New South Wales is at present £13 3s. a week, and the £1 is worth exactly 6s. 2d. As the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has stated, the only way to prevent the chaos of further inflation is for the Government to seek the powers needed to control prices, charges, interest rates and capital issues. At the abortive conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers held recently, the Treasurer sought from the Premiers power to control capital issues, but Mr. Bolte refused to hand over that power. Why should the Commonwealth be deterred by the whims of one Premier? Let us take the matter out of the Premiers’ bands and go to the people, as we should do in a realistic approach to the problem, and ask for the powers we need to control capital issues.
From time to time, various Government supporters have said, “We do not want prices control. We do not want to control anything”. The only thing they want to control is the quarterly wage adjustments. They would let the workers starve. I shall now cite for the committee some wage figures relevant to the era of federal prices control. 1 have already stated that, in 1939, the basic wage was £4 ls. a week, lt had increased to £4 5s. a week by November, 1940, and to £4 9s. a week by November, 1941. It had increased further to £4 17s. a week by November, 1942. It had risen to £4 19s. a week by November, 1943, and remained unchanged for three years. By November, 1946, it had increased to £5 ls. a week - a total increase of 2s. a week in four years. By November, 1947, it had increased to £5 12s. a week. When federal prices control was relinquished on 20th September, 1948, the basic wage was £5 12s. a week. So, over a period of nine years, it increased by only 31s. a week. I point out, also, that under federal prices control all workers received true margins for skill, and State governments were able to balance their budgets. Since the abolition of federal prices control, the basic wage has risen to £13 3s. a week, an increase of £7 lis. a week in eight years. Yet the Government and its supporters ridicule federal prices control!
It was the propaganda of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, with the assistance of the press; that defeated the prices referendum in 1948. That propaganda embodied such bed-time stories as “ The States can control prices “ and “ Private enterprise and healthy competition will keep prices stable “. The defeat of the prices referendum is the main factor contributing to the present industrial unrest, because only 40 per cent, of the workers have received increases of margins. My trade is the glass trade. In 1948, my margin was £2 lis. a week, which represented 45 per cent, of the basic wage of £5 12s. a week. The margin is at present £2 17s. a week - only 6s. a week more than in 1948 - and it represents only 21 per cent, of the present basic wage of £13 3s. a week. Is it any wonder that there is industrial unrest in Australia to-day?
I should like now to say a few words about the Colombo plan. I agree with this scheme in principle, but I think it should be entirely suspended for the time being. It is not my view that we should assist other countries while many Australians need our help. I refer to those who are unemployed and to the pensioners who are paid a paltry pension of only £4 a week. I shall now offer a few criticisms of the working of the plan, for which £4,700,000 is to be voted this financial year. The Asian students who come to Australia to study are apparently free to choose the courses they will take here. I shall cite only two categories of study to illustrate my argument. Agriculture has been studied by 108 students, and public administration by 239. Probably the Asian students have been influenced by their observation of our own public servants in action! I thought that the production of food was the main problem of Asian countries. Yet only 108 Asian students have studied agriculture, compared with 239 who have studied public administration! If Australia is paying for these studies, it should have some voice in the courses that students will take for the benefit of their own countries. The choice should not be left to the students or to the countries from which they come. I offer those criticisms because I know the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) is to follow me in this debate. 1 hope he will discuss my criticism of the Colombo plan, which I direct to the advisability of spending £4,700,000 on the plan while pensioners and others in Australia need assistance, and also to the freedom of Asian students to choose the courses they will take.
I conclude by emphasizing that we can hope to retain a semblance of economic stability only by obtaining power for the Commonwealth to control prices, charges, capital issues, and interest rates. We of the Australian Labour party make no irrational promises to put value back into the £1. Our present problem is to stop the value of the £1 from deteriorating further, because, as we are going, it will not be worth anything soon. I appeal to the people to give the Commonwealth power to control the factors I have mentioned if the question is submitted to them at a referendum shortly.
– I should like to begin my remarks this evening by directing the attention of honorable members to an address given by Professor Arndt, who is Professor of Economics at the Canberra University College, when he delivered the Chifley memorial lecture at the University of Melbourne a short time ago. I may say that Professor Arndt is a very keen supporter of the Australian Labour party, and has been a Labour supporter all his life. He is an extremely intelligent man, and I think the invitation to him to deliver the Chifley memorial lecture establishes his status in the Australian Labour movement. A very short time ago Professor Arndt delivered as I have said, the Chifley memorial lecture. Some quotations from it have been given already - yesterday afternoon by my friend from Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon) - but I should like to pursue the matter again, not, I should hope that honorable members would believe, in a piddling effort to make some party political capital, although, of course, there is great party political capital in it. But that is not my intention at all, because every year, for the last four years at least, in this general debate on the budget I have devoted myself to one theme at this particular stage of the debate. Nobody on the other side of the chamber, of course, is likely to believe me when I say that I am not trying to make political capital, but I repeat that in my speeches on the budget, for the last four years at least, I have been trying to stimulate members of the Labour party to raise their sights a bit, instead of spending all their time in the budget debate talking about wages and social services and the like - important things, quite certainly, but by no means the most important in respect of the Australian economy in this present expansive phase. Now, I have said before, and said without apology, that the Labour party ceased to think 30 years ago. I am now supported in this view by Professor Arndt, who is a member - a respected and senior member - of the Labour movement in Australia, and I should like to quote a few of the things he has had to say. He says this -
How far and in what circumstances can the standard of living of wage earners be raised by raising wages? How far can we go in redistribution of income through taxation and social services without unduly detrimental effects on the efficiency of the economy?
These are some of the subjects of discussion. He continues -
How far and in what circumstances can nationalization promote the objectives of economic progress, equality and democracy?
All the time he is covering a series of subjects that should be of interest to, and should be discussed by, Labour members in this Parliament and outside it, in the interests of the economy of Australia and of their supporters, a number of the workers of Australia. Then he goes on to say -
Labour takes a keen interest in wage policy but forgets about exchange rate policy … to think all the time about redistributing the national income but rarely about ways of increasing it.
The Labour Party . . . desperately needs fresh uninhibited thought and discussion about economic policy.
Twenty years ago, Australia had only the rudiments of a system of social security; to-day only gaps remain to be filled. Twenty years ago, nationalization of industry could be regarded as a cure for all our ills because it had not been tried; since then British experience has compelled us to think about the practical problems of running nationalized industries and to revise our expectations about nationalization as a cure-all . . All these changes have as yet hardly caused a ripple on the surface of traditional Labour thinking in this country … it is the Left that has become the stronghold of conservatism within the Labour Movement, content to repeat the old slogans, fearful of departures from the beliefs of its fathers. In part, the anxiety of the left is a hangover from its flirtations with Communism . . Such fresh thinking as has been done in the last few years has come almost entirely from right-wing Labour men … but this is not true of the views of people like Lloyd Ross or Laurie Short . . .
Names that are well known to us. He continues -
No party can survive which regards all questioning of traditions as “ dangerous thought “. Unless the Left is prepared to think for itself, it will assuredly lose out in the long run.
– Sounds like a “ Grouper “.
– No, this was said by one of the main intellectual supporters of Australian Labour. He goes on -
When a Party clings unthinkingly to policies which no longer necessarily serve as the best means of advancing towards its fundamental objectives, when it refuses to develop new policies to deal with new problems, when it takes refuge from worn-out platforms in day-to-day opportunism, it can no longer call itself progressive merely because its formal principles once implied drastic change.
In a period when Australia’s number one economic problem has been inflation. Labour has done little more than advocate direct controls which it knew to be impracticable . . . On banking and monetary policy. Labour’s sole contribution since Chifley’s death has been to demand cheap money and condemn credit restrictions. Its contribution to the problem of raising productivity has been confined to resistance to proposals from the anti-Labour camp and half-hearted talk about nationalization of industry.
But because they are new and sometimes technical and difficult, because they are not readily answered by Labour’s traditional panaceas, and because constructive radical policies in these fields are not obvious vote-getters they have received virtually no attention within the Labour Party.
Voters are not as stupid and selfish as politicians Seem to think. Thousands may be caught by election promises, but thousands of others are put off by their transparent dishonesty.
The way towards higher living standards for the ordinary people is not through a redistribution of the cake but through increasing the size of the cake.
Once you abandon revolutionary socialism, you must, if you are to pursue your objective of higher living standards for the ordinary man, do what you can to improve the efficiency of all enterprises, public or private.
But productivity is, of course, not only or even mainly a matter of hard work. It depends much more on good management, rapid technical progress, efficient allocation of our resources, and above all on a high rate of investment, on improving the quantity and quality of the capital equipment of our industries.
What rate of population growth and economic development can we afford and are we prepared to pay for - pay by restraining improvements in current living standards and by taking the necessary steps to expand export production?
This is a problem which cannot be cured with the old liver pills from Labour’s medicine chest, “ profit control “, “ price control “, “ excess profits tax “.
It needs a considered policy which takes into account the commitments entered into by this country, the advantages to Australia of the use of overseas technical know-how, the value but also the high cost of overseas capital, the availabiilty of alternative sources of capital, the practicability of methods of obtaining the use of know-how without the capital, and so forth.
Then he speaks of the development of Australia’s territories and says -
That is all I have to say in quotation from Professor Arndt. If any one can show me a more drastic condemnation of the Labour party in Australia to-day, in this exciting period of our development, I should like to see it, because I doubt if any condemnation of the Labour party could be more drastic than that of Professor Arndt, a member of the Labour party - a most intelligent member of it. Now, after that lecture had been delivered, I ventured to write to the editors of a number of newspapers throughout Australia, commending the courage, the power of analysis and the refreshing candour and vigour of mind shown by Professor Arndt. In those letters to the newspapers I also said among other things -
When the budget is debated in the Federal Parliament in September, let any thinking Australian decide whether the Labour Opposition has any considered and constructive views on the economic and financial situation, and on our future as « developing country.
Well, the challenge has not been accepted. We have now had a week of this general debate on the budget. I have looked carefully through the report of every speech that has fallen from the lips of honorable gentlemen opposite, and I can say that 95 per cent, of everything that has been said by the Opposition in this debate has concerned itself with rates of social services benefits and the means of determining wage rates in Australia.
– That is not true.
– Ninety-five per cent.! 1 can show the honorable gentleman the inches of type in “ Hansard “.
– I should say 99 per cent.
– lt may be 99 per cent. That is against the background of the fact that in Australia we have a system of social services, and have rates of wages for work which, 1 think without any argument, are the highest and most beneficial in the world. Heavens alive, we are all Australians, surely! We live in the most exciting period of the history of Australia except possibly the 1850’s. One hundred years ago, for a few years, there was excitement, movement and expansion. Now here we are, a nation of just over 9,000,000 people, trying to occupy a continent in a very troubled, disturbed and angry world. For five or six years this Government has been trying to strengthen Australia by increasing our population to the limit of what we can support, by strengthening our primary and secondary industries and by strengthening our defences. It has been trying in every way to make Australia a nation that will have a reasonable chance of survival in the future. We have been doing all that. I think it is a privilege to be an Australian in this great era - particularly a member of the Parliament, taking some part, whether on the Government side or on the Opposition side, in a vast and exciting Australian experiment that has very few equals in the world’s history.
Yet, against that background, we have this fiddling, nagging insistence on the small change of party politics. There is h great range of subjects that could be discussed by the Opposition. We are not perfect. We have made mistakes, heaven knows! Is not the Opposition here to stimulate us to greater efforts all the time? It will not do so by fiddling along with a nagging insistence on a shilling or two on the basic wage and a shilling or two on social services payments when there are monumental subjects to be discussed. I venture to say that not a single constructive proposal has come from the Opposition in this exciting period of Australia’s expansion.
There was a dominant note in the budget speech of the Treasurer. He spoke of the vast expansion that this Government has brought about and is still bringing about in this country, but also - so far as I know, this point has been entirely missed by the Opposition, although it is reflected on every second page of the budget documents - he drew attention to the conflict between efforts to expand the economy at the rate at which we are trying to expand it and efforts to maintain the present high level of consumption in Australia. That is the great conflict of the time, but it has been ignored entirely by the Opposition. The tremendous efforts at expansion that we are making - which are, I think, almost without parallel in the world - inevitably bring strains with them. Those strains are reflected, as I have said, on every second page of the budget documents. Through the gallant efforts of my friend and colleague, the Minister for Immigration (Mr/ Harold Holt), we have been trying to bring here the greatest number of people that our economy can absorb. There may be some argument about the precise level of immigration at any one period of time.
– Who started the immigration programme?
– Labour started it. My friend from Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) started it. But the great burden of the pro.gamme has been carried by this Government during the last five or six years. I have not heard during this debate any intelligent discussion by members of the Opposition about what the rate of immigration should be. We want to absorb the maximum number of people and double our population in the minimum number of years - at least, 1 would hope, in a generation. None of those matters has been discussed. Perhaps that would be a discussion on too high a level for the Opposition.
Thanks to the efforts of my friend and colleague, the Minister for Immigration, a great number of immigrants is coming here. But immigration is not something that happens in a vacuum, so to speak. Our large-scale immigration programme must be balanced by long-term developmental projects to provide the raw materials for a constantly increasing population and industry, and to maintain a steady increase of our exports. So long-range developmental works in both the public sector and the private sector are matters of immense importance, upon which depend our ability to continue to expand at the present rate.
The Opposition has not said a word about the great potential of Mount lsa in northern Queensland, which could absorb, I suppose, £10,000,000 or £15,000,000 in the next five to ten years. That investment would result in enormous increases of the production of copper, zinc, lead and silver. Has anything been said - if so, I have not heard it - about the great bauxite find in the Cape York area by the Zinc Corporation? One expects that tens of millions of pounds of new capital will be required to finance that undertaking. Has any member of the Opposition spoken of the £20,000,000 that General Motors-Holden’s Limited is spending on the expansion of its activities in this country? Has anything been said about Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and its £100,000,000 programme for a vast expansion of iron and steel production in Australia during the next five years? Those are some of the highlights, but there are hundreds of projects on the developmental side that could very well have been the subject of some comment from the Opposition side.
– Does the Minister remember which government gave General Motors-Holden’s Limited its start? lt was not this Government.
– That is chicken feed. I am trying to raise our sights a little. This great effort in both the public sector and the private sector necessitates a great volume of capital investment. The rate of development in Australia to-day is not very far short of the rate of development in the United States of America between 1850 and 1900 - the peak period of development there. The rate of population increase is probably about the same. The rate of general expansion, relatively, is just about the same. Yet America had access to almost unlimited capital from the world’s financial markets. The Americans could get almost any amount of money for their great developmental work almost by whistling for it.
But our position is very different. We are making our great developmental effort m a period of tight conditions so far as international investment is concerned. The result has been that we have had to finance our great efforts in the public and private sectors very largely from our own financial resources - which means from our own savings. According to the Commonwealth Statistician, in 1955-56 total developmental investment, both public and private, was about £1,370,000,000. On an average, we have received during each of the last five years about £100,000,000 from overseas for investment in Australia. So it will be seen that domestic Australian capital employed in our developmental task and capital imported from overseas stand in the ratio of 14 to 1. The vast majority of our developmental expansion has been financed from our own Australian resources. That necessitates, as Professor Arndt has pointed out to his friends on the Opposition side, a lot of concentration on the business of getting adequate investment in Australian industry, as well as in the public sector. We have stood up to that, because no less than just over 25 per cent, of the gross national product of Australia has been ploughed back, developmentally, into the public sector or the private sector.
Side by side with this developmental effort, there is in Australia a very understandable aspiration that everything which we have and use should be as modern and up to date as possible. This can be seen by running through the budget. It reflects, from every few pages, the money that we are spending on, for instance, making our aviation facilities the best that can be had. We have the best that the world can offer in aviation - the most modern aircraft and the latest facilities. Television will cost us a great deal of money. We are to build an atomic reactor. We are spending enormous sums on telephones and radio. We want the most modern schools, hospitals and housing. Quite understandably, we Australians must have the best of everything that is offering, both in amenities, and on the developmental side.
However, almost all of this has had to come out of our own pockets. Our task would have been infinitely easier, and would have been accomplished very much more quickly and successfully, if we had had access to a reasonable number of hundreds of millions of pounds of overseas capital. As it happens, we have had to rely on our own savings. Of course, savings can take a number of forms. They can be created by the undistributed profits of public companies. Fortunately, far-sighted companies have held back £100,000,000 or £200,000,000 of their earnings for the development of industry and the replacement of old plant. Probably the most useful single form of saving is that effected by individual Australians, lt represents a very large sum indeed, and we may thank Heaven that that is so. Then, too, we have forced savings. We are imposing a very heavy rate of taxation and, by so doing, we are financing about half of our public works programme from current taxation revenue. Have we heard anything from the Opposition about the effect of high taxation, used for that purpose, on incentive in Australia? We have heard not a word, though this very fruitful subject is debated in every other Labour party that 1 know of in the world.
Our secondary industries are almost as important, in numbers employed, turnover and output, as are our primary industries, on which Australia is traditionally dependent. Secondary industry depends very largely upon the relationship between the employer and the employee - the worker-boss relationship. That, too, is a most fruitful subject of debate in every Labour party of the world except the Australian Labour party. A great deal has been written about it in other countries, but very little, if anything, has flowed from the pens of the Labour party in this country. The national personality of the Australian worker presents us with a worker-boss problem that is peculiar to this country. If that subject has been given any attention by the Opposition, I do not know of it. We, on this side, are very conscious of it. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has seen to it that a special section of his department deals with this matter. It, too, should be dealt with competitively by the Opposition, but it is not. lt is one of the many subjects that are really ripe for discussion and research, butnothing of the sort has happened.
These are some of the things that lead me to the conviction that the Australian Labour party, the Opposition in this National Parliament, is fiddling away, with its eyes on the ground, while an infinite number of subjects, economic, political and social, should be engaging its attention. The Opposition could be helping in these matters if it wanted to. Honorable members oppo site appear indifferent to the future of Australia, and that, I think, is a crying indictment of them.
I should like to deal with many other subjects, but time does not permit. I have, in mind some of the things that bedevil our Australian Loan Council meetings, and Premiers’ conferences, especially thefinancial relationship between the Commonwealth Government and the State governments. The present state of affairs is so serious that it cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. Every year the Commonwealth Government pays out to the States large and constantly increasing sums on the budgetary side and on the works side, yet the States are in constant financial difficulties. I should have thought that a little research might have been done by honorable members opposite in an attempt to unravel that tangle, and ascertain why it has occurred. If they did that they might see that it has been caused very largely by the persistent and increasing losses of the State governments on their so-called business undertakings. In each of the last five years every State of Australia has made formidable losses on those undertakings. The total average loss has been more than £20,000,000 a year. Indeed, if, in the last five years, the business undertakings of the States had broken even, making neither profit nor loss - not an outrageous thing to suggest - the States would have had a total surplus each year of about £23,000,000. That money could have been spent very profitably on health, education and other vital services.
– It is your job to tell the State governments that.
– As the honorable member well knows, the State governments are largely Labour governments. These facts have become apparent to the New South Wales Government and in recent months it has engaged Ebasco, an expert American management company to come here at a cost of £75,000 and investigate its business undertakings in an attempt to put them on at least a non-losing basis. That is evidence of an attempt to face up to one of the main problems that bedevil the State budgets. I welcome it very much and commend a similar attitude of mind to the other State governments, regardless of their political colour.
– Why pick on New South Wales?
– Because it is the only State that has taken this action, and in doing so it has shown very great initiative. lt has suffered greater losses on its business undertakings than has any other State in Australia. I have only a moment or two left-
Opposition Members. - Hear, hear!
– 1 know that the Opposition does not like what I have been saying. I did not expect it to. I have’ tried, very rapidly, and perhaps incompletely, to paint a picture of the era through which Australia is passing. I do not suppose that any country has in the last 50 years attempted the task that we have set ourselves. Our expansion effort, especially over the last five years, has been almost unique in the world.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– I am sure that honorable members on this side have listened attentively to the entertainment offered by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey). He spent at least ten minutes of his valuable time in dealing with a lecture that was supposed to have been given by Professor Arndt, who, he claimed,, was a stalwart of the Australian Labour party. 1 have never heard of Professor Arndt being a stalwart of the Labour party, but no doubt that gentleman’s assessment of Labour’s past and future policies will find a responsive chord in the heart of a tory Minister because, in part, it was critical of Labour. This is the only reason why the Minister considers Professor Arndt a hero and a great intellect. Of course, he displays similar approval of any person who criticizes Labour. There is an old saying that even the devil can quote the Scriptures for his own purposes. Instead of giving the committee some information about his activities in the sphere of external affairs, the Minister spent a lot of his time in reading this article by Professor Arndt in an effort to damage this great Australian Labour party and to criticize its policy. I think all honorable members will agree that it was a pitiful exhibition from the Minister who seeks the deputy leadership of his own party. He said not one word about how we can avoid war or solve the grave Suez Canal problem. He gave not a thought to the Department of External Affairs, but devoted his time to matters outside his own intimate knowledge. That is about all that one can say of the Minister’s speech.
– He was only a camp follower of the Suez party.
– As the honorable member for Werriwa points out. he was only a camp follower. I understand that the Cabinet of which he is a member sent him overseas to represent Australia, but that the Prime Minister broke his Journey to the East, returned to London, and said to the Minister for External Affairs, “ Leave this to me. You go back and look after your own business in Canberra “.
I now wish to make some comments on the budget that is before the committee. I have listened very carefully to most of the speeches delivered by Government supporters. Each of those honorable members congratulated the Treasurer on presenting his ninth budget. I suppose that I, as well as many others, can also congratulate him on the presentation of his ninth budget, but I cannot congratulate him on the contents of it. I have sat in this chamber for many years, and I have listened to many budget speeches. This is the most barren, futile, and gloomy budget that 1 have seen introduced into the Parliament. Not one gleam of hope has the Treasurer given to the people, nor any indication of constructive proposals to arrest the inflationary situation into which this Government has led Australia.
On many occasions during his speech the Treasurer informed us of the prosperity thai Australia is experiencing. He claimed thai the country is in a properous state economically and financially. We on this side of the chamber are satisfied that Australia is a prosperous country, but the Government has not attempted to stabilize that prosperity that we enjoy to-day. It is true that one section of the community has been enjoying properity, but unfortunately the workers, and those on fixed incomes, and particularly the pensioners, have not enjoyed any of it. Although Australia is prosperous to-day, it was never so prosperous as when the Labour Government left the treasury bench in 1949.
– That is not so.
– Australia was the most prosperous country in the world.
– I shall try to prove my statement later. In the period from 1941 to 1949 the Labour government fought an all-in war for Australia. That Government was able to raise millions of pounds a day for the prosecution of the war, and at its conclusion every Australian soldier who returned was rehabilitated at a cost of many millions of pounds to the Commonwealth Labour government.
– Every soldier was not rehabilitated.
– Every soldier who returned and applied for rehabilitation training received it, and 99 per cent, of them are now fully fledged journeymen. That is different from the treatment that returned soldiers received after World War I., when a government of a similar colour to the present Government was in power. Notwithstanding the huge amounts of money that were spent on the war and its aftermath, the Labour government left a favorable overseas trade balance of no less than £630,000,000. We find that to-day that trade balance has shrunken to about £260,000,000, and I understand that it is considered very dangerous to allow the trade balance to go below £400,000,000.
The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) interjected a few minutes ago and said that Australia was not prosperous when the Labour government relinquished office, and that it has been prosperous only since the present Government came to power. I remember that in 1 947-48 a number of overseas businessmen visited Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, for the purpose of ascertaining whether it was advisable for their overseas principals to invest in those countries. It was reported in the press that those financiers found that Australia was the most favoured country financially and economically in the world, and they advised their principals to invest their money in Australia. Many millions of pounds were invested during the term of office of the Labour government.
– And more since.
– That may he so, but it was the Labour government that paved the way for investment in Australia. 1 well remember, and I feel sure the Australian people will never forget, the promises that were made by the MenziesFadden coalition during the 1949 election campaign, when the people were told that Australia was not really in the prosperous position that they thought it should be, and that the only way to attain prosperity would be to return a tory government. The supporters of the present Government made all sorts of promises, which, of course, they have never fulfilled and never intend to fulfil.
– That is not right.
– That is right. The Menzies-Fadden Government has never fulfilled any of the promises that were made by its supporters in 1949. Let me remind the committee of just one promise, which was of vital importance to the people of Australia. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who, in 1949, were the leaders of the composite Opposition, said, “The Chifley £1 is worth only 12s. 6d. If we are returned as a government, we will increase the value of the £1.” As a matter of fact, the value of the £1 in 1949 was nearer to 20s. than it had ever been. But what do we find to-day? The value of the Menzies-Fadden £1 has decreased. It is now worth somewhere in the vicinity of 5s. 6d. The result is that when housewives purchase goods for the home, they now get only 5s. 6d. worth of commodities for £1 instead of 20s. worth, as they did in 1949.
Both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer said at the 1949 election and at every subsequent election that they would arrest the ever-increasing cost of living. Everybody knows that the cost of living has risen by leaps and bounds. It has risen more in Australia than in any other country of which we know. But nothing has been done to arrest it. They promised also that they would preserve the value of the age. invalid and widows’ pensions and would abolish the means test. That promise has not been honoured. It is true that they have increased age, invalid and widows’ pensions and other social services, but they have not brought them up to the value that they had in 1949. To be correct, I should say 1948, because that was the last assessment of social services made by the Chifley Labour Government.
– They have only increased pensions in terms of money.
– That is so. The value of pensions to-day is nothing like what it was in 1948. They have failed to keep all those promises. I regret that very much, because if there is a section of the community that deserves to be treated as human beings, it is those unfortunate people who are not able to look after themselves.
Pensioners unfortunately do not belong to any active organization; they cannot use influence with those in authority in the same way as industrial organizations do. They have to depend on the humane feelings of whatever government is in power. No section of the community deserves to be treated better than those unfortunate people.
The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) to-night cited some very startling figures which show the unfortunate plight of these people. I have in my electorate more pensioners and persons receiving social services benefits than any other federal member in Queensland. I know the plight of many thousands of those unfortunate people. The majority of those aged people have been the pioneers of this country. There must always be a majority of workers without any skilled trade who receive only the basic wage. Nobody has ever been able to convince me that those unfortunate men can save sufficient money during their working lives to put a little aside for the time when they retire.
– There was no child endowment, either, in those days.
– That is so. Those unfortunate people are left to the mercy of whatever government is in power. Pensioners never receive a fair deal from any government other than a Labour government.
– That is the only government ever to reduce pensions.
– I shall deal with that aspect. I am very pleased that the honorable member has drawn my attention to it. The Labour government at one time was compelled to reduce pensions temporarily. That was when the BrucePage Tory Government was defeated on the floor of this House and the Scullin Government took office. There was not sufficient money in the Treasury to pay even a fortnight’s salary to public servants, apart from age and invalid pensions. It is true that the Labour government was forced to reduce pensions by 2s. 6d. a week, but that was because of the action of the tory members who were sitting in opposition to the Scullin Government. But what do we find? In 1931 the Scullin Government was defeated and the Lyons national Government - » government of the same political colour a* the present Government - was returned with an overwhelming majority. The Lyons Government reduced pensions by another 2s. 6d.
Undoubtedly, that is news to the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan). The honorable member is doubting my word After I finish my speech, I will produce evidence - documents from the Department of Social Services - to prove that what 1 am saying is correct. For the information of the honorable member for Gwydir, who does not know very much about social services and who cares less, I tell him that in addition to reducing pensions by 2s. 6d., the Lyons Government amended the social services act to compel relatives who were receiving the basic wage or more to keep their parents. Furthermore, it introduced into the act a provision requiring pensioners to mortgage their property to the government, and the government would recover the money when the pensioner left thi* world. That is what the anti-Labour government did and the present Government would do it again if it had the chance Supporters of the Government have no interest in pensioners - those unfortunate people who are not able to look after themselves. I say no more on social services because there will be another opportunity at a later stage.
In his budget speech, the Treasurer dealt with the question of wages. He said -
The Government has not proposed any freezing of wages. It does not believe in freezing wages or prices or profits or anything else. On all past experience that approach solves nothing and it can do very great harm to the economy. As to wages, its fundamental belief is that they should be determined by independent tribunals, which are the proper bodies to assess the issues, weigh the facts unci apply consistent principles of justice as between wage-earners and employers. It also believes that there is much to be gained from a substantial uniformity throughout Commonwealth and State jurisdictions in the principles and practices of wage determination.
Like the majority of Australians, I am satisfied that this is a low-wage Government and that, if it had its way, it would control wages and nothing else. What has the Government done to control rising costs? I suggest that it has done nothing, lt was of interest to me, and to the majority of the Australian people, when the Treasurer called the State Premiers together recently to endeavour to arrive at a uniform system of wage fixation throughout Australia. In doing so, the right honorable gentleman may have impressed the supporters of the Government, but he did not satisfy the workers or honorable members on this side of the chamber, because this Government was responsible for freezing wages in 1953. Whether the Treasurer thought that he would catch the Premiers napping with his proposals, I do not know, but. I was very pleased that the Premiers would have nothing to do with the proposition to freeze wages without, at the same time, tackling prices and profits.
I remember, and I think that many other Australians do too, the promise concerning costs and prices that was made by the present Government parties during the general election campaign in 1949. We also remember that during the war years prices were controlled by the Labour Government by means of war-time regulations. Profits also were controlled to a considerable degree, and during that time the people of Australia generally were better off than they had been before or have been since.
– They could not buy anything.
– There was plenty of everything. I remind the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) that this Government has imposed more controls than did the Labour Government. The only controls imposed by Labour that this Government did not carry on were control of prices and control of petrol and commodities of that kind. Every commodity with which the supporters of the Australian Country party are concerned is controlled in some way or other.
– What about wool?
– That is the only one, to my knowledge, that is not controlled. Every other primary commodity is subject to some form of control. This Government says that it does not believe in controls. Of course it does, except when control is likely to affect those who support it at election time. It wants to safeguard the interests of those who are making huge profits at the expense of the working people.
When the Chifley Government appreciated that it could not continue price fixing under wartime regulations it submitted certain proposals to the people by way of referendum. At that time, those who are now in government were in opposition, and they said, “ We do not believe in price fixing. We believe that competition will bring prices down and keep them stabilized. We believe that the States are in a better position to fix prices than is the Commonwealth”. All the State Premiers, except two, told the people at the referendum that the States had found it impossible to operate successfully an effective system of price fixing. Despite that, price fixing has been left to the States, with the result that prices have soared and are still soaring. No action to prevent them from doing so has been taken by this Government. The same comments may be made in respect of profits. Huge profits have been made over a long period of years, but no action has been taken by the Government, although it promised to introduce an excess profits tax. It has done nothing because it does not care to interfere with the interests of those who support it financially at election time.
I now want to say something of the Government’s handling of defence expenditure which, to my mind, has been a scandal. If ever a government deserved censure, not only by this Parliament but also by the people of Australia, it is this Government for the way in which it has handled the defence of the country and defence expenditure.
– It has wasted money.
– Exactly . For evidence of that, one has only to read the report of the Auditor-General for the year ended 30th June last. He points out that extravagance, careless book-keeping and mismanagement have resulted in hundreds of millions of pounds being wasted. I have in my hand articles which appeared in the Brisbane “ Courier Mail “ and the Brisbane “ Telegraph “, both lory newspapers which are always against the Australian Labour party and which support the Liberal party and the Australian Country party at practically every turn.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I have endeavoured to follow closely the remarks of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Lawson), who is a member of long standing in this Parliament and a person of considerable experience. Unfortunately, I found that his speech, like those of many other honorable members opposite, contributed nothing constructive to the budget debate, nor did it present the Government with alternative proposals. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) took the opportunity, in their speeches, to expound the principles of this new-found democratic socialism. One of the prerequisites of democracy, as I know it, is freedom from regimentation. Yet, what has the Labour party advocated? It has proposed control of prices, control of capital issues, control of interest rates, and control of profits. If the people of Australia were to be asked whether they wanted these controls, I believe that they would do exactly as they did on two previous occasions and refuse to give the Commonwealth any more power.
If we are to have a federal system of government, the States should not be left in such a weak position and so bereft of power that they become mere puppets of the Commonwealth. This would inevitably lead to the Commonwealth becoming a Colossus of government in Australia, and the federal system would inevitably become weaker. This, of course, is in line with socialistic belief, as socialism must have power, control, and regimentation to be implemented effectively and to prosper. Too much power in the hands of any government or individual is extremely dangerous and strikes at the very root of democracy. Why the Australian Labour party refers to its scheme of socialism as democratic socialism is hard to follow. If power, control, and regimentation amount to democratic socialism, then the Australian people will not have any truck with it. Surely the failure of socialization in British and America should be sufficient warning to the Australian Labour party that it is not in the best interests of this country.
The honorable member for Brisbane, in his concluding remarks, said that our defence expenditure was a dreadful waste of money. If he had listened to or read the extensive report by the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) last evening, he would have found conclusive evidence that this country to-day is in a better state of preparedness than it was ever before during a time of peace. Surely, if such is the case, that money is not wasted. We must defend this country, and we may have to defend it sooner than most people think.
The Government’s record in relation to war service homes is one of which it can be justly proud. The War Service Homes Division has an enviable record in the provision of homes for ex-servicemen, as the figures that I shall cite will indicate. Since this Government took office, no less than £25,000,000 has been appropriated in any one year for this purpose, and in 1954-55 and 1955-56 a record allocation of £30,000,000 was made to the division. It is expected that the Government will again appropriate £30,000,000 for this purpose. Let us contrast that with Labour’s record. The highest amount appropriated in any of the previous five years during which Labour occupied the treasury bench was £11,965,000, or approximately two and a half times less than the amount provided by this Government in any one year. In the last five years of Labour administration, 22,755 homes were, provided, or an average of 4,551 homes a year. In the five years that this Government has been in office, 68,162 homes, or an average of 13,632 a year, have been provided, almost three times as many as the Labour Government provided in a corresponding period. This is an excellent record of achievement, and we must take steps to ensure that it is maintained and that there is no diminution of the number of homes provided on reasonable terms of repayment and at low rates of interest by the War Service Homes Division.
In the last two years the costs of building and building materials have increased considerably, and they are continuing to rise. This trend, unfortunately, has resulted in fewer homes being provided in 1954-55 and 1955-56, although a record allocation of £30,000,000 was made. It is not unreasonable to assume that, with costs increasing daily, fewer homes will be provided this year for the same expenditure of £30,000.000. It can be readily seen that the inevitable result will be a further lengthening of the waiting period before applicants can commence to build. However, applicants know that at the expiration of that waiting period homes will be provided for them, in which respect they have a definite advantage over many other categories of people. Permission is given to an applicant in certain circumstances to obtain temporary finance from sources outside the division, but this money is usually obtainable only at an exorbitant rate of interest. This fact, and the increase in costs during the waiting period, are adding materially to the cost of providing homes for ex-servicemen, their wives and families. Our lack of population is pressing, and the conditions under which many applicants are now living do not encourage parents to have more children. Also, many applicants are now in the 35 to 45 age group. There is no incentive for such parents to increase our population, and what better stock could be found than the children of ex-servicemen? The provision of war service homes is an urgent necessity, and I believe that the whole community wishes to see our ex-servicemen adequately housed. A solution of the problems of long delays, higher costs of building, and high interest rates, in my opinion can be found only by the appropriation of additional moneys for this purpose. I was disappointed that the Government did not make provision in the budget for this addiitonal finance, which is most necessary to fulfil the requirements of 24,100 unsatisfied applicants and to avoid the extension of the waiting period for applicants, who at present number approximately 21,000 a year.
The building and associated trades are not as strained as formerly. Materials are now more plentiful, and it is suggested that should there by any further easing of demand on these trades the Government should give consideration to making additional moneys available immediately to alleviate the position of the building trade and also to obviate delays, the payment of high rates of interest, and the increase in costs during the waiting period. In that way the Government would help considerably to overcome the present lag in the building industry, particularly in New South Wales, and house our ex-servicemen in the manner to which they are entitled.
While on the subject of war service homes, I believe that the scope of eligibility should be widened to include persons who, although not attested members of the forces, have served in Her Majesty’s ships as seamen or as canteen assistants. I cite the instance of a member of the North Bondi Returned Servicemen’s League in my electorate whose application for assistance was, quite rightly as the act stands, refused by the War Service Homes Division, which ruled that he was not eligible. This gentleman served from the age of eighteen years as a canteen steward between 1942 and 1947 in “H.M.A.S. Hobart”. He was in the ship when it was torpedoed in the Coral Sea. He wore naval uniform and was subject to naval discipline. He was assigned to action stations during attacks in dangerous waters, and he assisted in the manning of a machine gun. In 1947 the Department of the Navy issued to him a “ Returned from Active Service” badge, 1939-45 Star, Pacific Star, War Service Medal, and Australian Service Medal.
It can be seen from the foregoing that this man had an undeniable responsibility placed upon him. Surely the man who has served as this man has done, and as those men have done who served in troopships during the troubled stage of the war, although not attested members of the forces, should not be prevented from obtaining war service homes by what I believe to be an anomaly in the act. An amendment, therefore, would be necessary before this man and others can become eligible for a home through the War Service Homes Division. Although it might be argued that the time might be inappropriate for amending the act, owing to the waiting list, I believe that these men have waited sufficiently long in an endeavour to obtain homes through the War Service Homes Division. I ask the
Government to give consideration to the removal of this anomaly from the act, because surely it must be an anomaly.
The Government’s decision to increase to £50,000 the subsidy to the Australian Travel Association is one in which I wholeheartedly concur as its primary object is to increase travel to Australia. I feel that, by so doing, it will stimulate and promote our tourist trade. Not only will it do that, but it will assist us with the development of our trade, which is a problem to-day. It will bring about a better understanding of our country and people and our way of life and improve our international relations. It will help to bring outside money into this country and it will advertise Australia. But if travellers and tourists are to be encouraged to come to this country, surely we have an obligation to preserve the scenic and national beauty spots which abound in this country, to provide adequate facilities for travel and accommodation which compare with world standards, and to protect and maintain our places of historic interest.
It is generally agreed that many of our facilities for tourists are well below world standards, and in the interests of the fostering of this important tourist trade we must make every effort to improve them. In my electorate of Phillip we have pleasure resorts which are well known, not only in our country, but internationally. They include some of the finest beaches in the world such as Bondi, Coogee, Bronte, Tamarama and Clovelly, all of which are outstanding tourist attractions. Bondi beach and parklands which are under the control of and maintained by the Waverley Municipal Council, attract over 5,000,000 people annually from all centres. Waverley Council has endeavoured, in the past, and will endeavour in the future if finance is available, to maintain this beach and the parklands at an extremely high standard.
Local government generally has had several new spheres of responsibility placed upon it in recent years and. like many other councils, the Waverley Council has found that its task in obtaining sufficient money to fulfil its obligation in relation to its additional responsibilities and, at the same time, to maintain the extremely high standard of its beach and parklands, is becoming increasingly difficult. On the Bondi beach undertakings, the Waverley Municipal Council over the past three years has sus tained losses up to £21,163 and it is considered that in view of increasing wage costs these losses will continue. In an effort to obviate the ratepayers bearing the whole of the burden of this financial loss, the council has decided to call for tenders from overseas to lease Bondi beach pavilion, Bondi Park and Bondi baths. The council has done this in an endeavour to obviate its continued losses and to maintain this national tourist attraction in the manner to which the public has become accustomed.
I believe that this is a typical example of the financial stress and burdens which local governing bodies are endeavouring to bear. The ratepayers of any particular municipality should not be asked to provide the finance necessary to establish and maintain undertakings which are national in character and from which this country derives considerable benefit and national prestige.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in a statement on 8th May, said -
The money expended by visitors is an item of value in the national income so it is important that Australia participate to a greater extent than before in the beneficial travel industry.
Surely, then, Bondi beach must be assisting the Commonwealth in the direction outlined by the Prime Minister. I believe it would be desirable to have a committee set up comprising representatives from the States such as tourist ministers and ministers for local government, representatives of local governing bodies, representatives of the Commonwealth Treasury and representatives of such organizations as the airways, shipping lines and other interested bodies to inquire how best, by co-operation with the States, we can further develop the tourist trade and alleviate the financial burden on local governing bodies which are providing and maintaining facilities from which governments, both State and Federal, are obtaining the benefit.
Since this Government assumed office its allocation to the States, by means of tax reimbursements and special grants, has increased considerably - from £78,000,000 in 1948-49 to £190,000,000 this year. It is apparent that this Government has been most lenient towards the States. But the New South Wales Government, which is in receipt of greatly increased allocations from this Government, has reduced by £8,200,000 its provision for local government purposes in that State. Is it any wonder that, with less money and increased costs, local authorities to-day are groaning under their burden?
State governments are always moaning and wailing that the wicked Commonwealth Government has not given them sufficient money. Yet there is only one State government that has shown its willingness to accept its responsibility and account to its people for the money that it expends. That is the State of Victoria. If other State governments are sincere when they complain about their allocations, surely they should join Victoria in its action to challenge the validity of the uniform taxation legislation, or at least ask the Commonwealth to hand back to them their taxing powers. On one occasion, the Prime Minister offered to restore those powers to them, and there was a run for shelter. The Premier of New South Wales, when presenting his budget to the State Parliament recently, complained that the Commonwealth was not giving him sufficient money for this purpose and that purpose. Yet the allocation by the Commonwealth to New South Wales has been increased from £78,000,000 to £109,000,000 and the New South Wales Government has reduced its payments to the local governing bodies by £8,200,000. As I said earlier, if other State governments are dissatisfied, let them come out in the open and say, “ We shall join Victoria in challenging the validity of this uniform taxation legislation “. But no! They want to continue in their spending without having to account for a penny of it. I believe that that is not in the best interests of this country.
In the budget speech, a brief mention was made of the proposal that the Commonwealth consult the States during the year 1956-57 concerning a scheme for subsidizing, on a £l-for-£l basis, voluntary organizations conducting home nursing services. This proposal should receive the approbation of all honorable members, and I believe that it will prove to be of immeasurable benefit to the sick and ailing. Home nursing services, as I understand them, are a public health service provided by trained professional nurses, who, under the instructions of a hospital or a doctor, attend in the patients’ own homes persons suffering from chronic, incurable or other diseases who cannot be accommodated in public hospitals. These nurses also provide “ after care “ treatment for patients discharged from hospitals. In many instances, this permits a more speedy discharge from hospital than otherwise would be possible, and a more rapid recovery by the patient. These home-nursing services are provided in all States. It can readily be perceived that they permit more beds to be made available in hospitals, and consequently help to ease the excessive demand for hospital beds, and permit a greater number of persons to receive hospital care and suitable medical treatment. In New South Wales the average number of patients maintained on the books of the Sydney District Nursing Association is 703. It is not hard to visualize that additional financial aid by way of subsidy, as proposed in the budget speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), would permit the extension of this service. I believe that this proposal would have this effect and that the demand for hospital beds would be further reduced. We know that throughout Australia people find difficulty in obtaining admission to hospitals. In many instances, there is a waiting period of weeks. I do not suggest that the subsidizing of home-nursing services would perform miracles immediately, but it would greatly assist in the treatment of people in thenown homes and would alleviate the present congestion and over-crowding of hospitals.
The suggested subsidy is in line with the Government’s health policy, which is designed to help people to help themselves. An illustration of this policy is the medical benefits scheme introduced by this Government, which has been of great benefit to the people of Australia. Modern medical opinion is that many patients can best be treated in the friendly environment and surroundings of their own homes where they may enjoy the comfort and satisfaction of having their families around them. The visiting home-nursing services provide exactly that kind of treatment. Medical treatment is given only by fully trained nurses to patients who are referred to them by hospitals or doctors, and this service is not to be confused with the provision of domestic assistance in the home. Domestic assistance is provided by an entirely separate service which is under State government control. It is to be hoped that the State governments will collaborate with the Commonwealth in the proposed scheme with a view to encouraging the extension of the present nursing services as early in the next financial year as possible, because any delay would deprive the sick and ailing of the immeasurable benefit that would accrue to them under such a nursing scheme. The Government is to be congratulated on this proposal which, if it is put into effect in the same way that other schemes are conducted at the present time, will bring hope and relief to many sufferers and at the same time ease the pressure on our over-crowded hospitals.
During this debate we have heard much talk about the control of prices, capital issues, interest rates, and profits. Opposition members know full well that the Commonwealth at present has no authority or power to control any of those things. The Leader of the Opposition has offered to co-operate with the Government in the submission to a referendum of proposals designed to give the Commonwealth power to control these four items. I believe that the people would not give the Commonwealth this power. We have heard a great deal of talk about monopolies, big companies, and combines. We can draw an analogy between them and the concentration of government powers. If the Commonwealth were given additional powers ot control, the State governments would become the laughing-stock of the country. We cannot afford to allow power to be concentrated overwhelmingly in the hands of any group of individuals, or in the hands of any government. The Australian Labour party criticizes the size of monopolies and combines at every opportunity. Yet it wishes to promote a monopoly of government in this country! 1 believe that the Australian people do not want socialization. By giving the Commonwealth power to control the four matters that I have mentioned, they would take a step in the direction in which the Australian Labour party is trying to lead them - towards socialization, which Labour now tries to disguise under the new name of “ democratic socialism “. If the examples of the United Kingdom and the United States of America, where socialism has failed so lamentably, were brought home to the Australian people, they would not in any circumstances give to the Commonwealth more power than it has to-day. I believe it has sufficient power, and that the people would not transfer additional power to it at the behest of our socialist friends opposite in order to give the present Government or any other administration overriding authority over the States and make them mere puppets.
– The honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston) has left himself open to criticism on several points, notably by the way in which he used the terms “ socialism “ and “ socialization “. But 1 know he will not count me discourteous if at this stage I make no further reference to his speech but go back to that delivered earlier this evening by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), which in my view was a pitiable affair. He is a man who has held high office in this country: he has been Treasurer of the Commonwealth and to-day holds the portfolio of Externa! Affairs. Within recent days, or even hours, he has returned from London where matters of the gravest import to this country and other countries of the free world were under discussion. We might have expected from the right honorable gentleman a contribution to this budget debate that would have informed the Parliament and given a lead to it and the Australian people in matters on which the right honorable gentleman should be qualified and able to speak. But instead we heard only what we have heard from him on so many previous occasions - a speech that was nothing more or less than a hackneyed attack on the Australian Labour party. The Minister sought to gain political capital by quoting at some length, but by no means in full - had he quoted it in full, it would have been a better speech than the one he made - the address delivered by Professor Arndt who gave the Chifley memorial lecture for this year, li is true that Professor Arndt’s address has received wide publicity throughout Australia and has provoked discussion within the ranks of the Australian Labour party itself; and that some of that discussion has brought laudatory comments on. the views expressed by Professor Arndt, and other comment of a critical nature. I think that it is something of value that, within the framework of the Labour party, a lecture such as that can be delivered, and can be discussed and criticized. I believe that it is important that some freedom of expression, some freedom of thought, can remain within the bounds of a political party.
I think that the speech of the Minister for External Affairs did him little credit, did the Government little credit, and certainly conferred no benefit on either the Parliament or the people of this country. It is, Mr. Chairman, to my way of thinking a tragedy that so many of the speakers from the Government side of the chamber seek to devote their time only to attacks upon State governments, and to attacks upon the Labour party which forms the Opposition in this chamber. We hear far too often, both in answers given by Ministers to questions, and in the course of debate, the alibi or excuse that the Commonwealth Parliament has no power to act in such and such a field, and that the question concerns a matter that the honorable gentleman asking it might refer to the Parliament of the State concerned, which is usually the State from which the honorable member comes. We call ourselves, and we take some pride in calling ourselves, a National Parliament, but I think we can never achieve the status of a national parliament while we continue to make this chamber a battleground between the policies of State governments and the policy of the Federal Government.
There are great national problems to be faced. I think that that is recognized by honorable members on both sides of the committee. We have a country that is crying out for development. We need all sorts of developmental works. We need, as has been said time and time again, the construction of arterial roadways, the development of hydro-electric schemes, schemes for the conservation of water, schemes for the development of harbours and rivers, schemes for the development of a thousand and one things that are necessary for the progress of this growing country. Yet when these matters are brought forward for discussion in the National Parliament the answer given by a Minister to the honorable members asking questions about them, or to Government supporters raising them in debate, is merely a criticism of State governments and a failure to put forward any positive plan for the achievement of these productive and developmental works, ft seems to me that if we are to earn, and preserve, the title of National Parliament we should be devoting our time to the development of the nation, lt is true that the Commonwealth has no power in certain fields. It is true that the States have complete and sovereign powers within their boundaries beyond the powers ceded to the Commonwealth under the Constitution. But surely the establishment of federation in this country envisaged a partnership between the States and the Commonwealth, and surely we should be devoting our time and our efforts in this Parliament to achieving the stage of development that this country demands.
Whilst it is true that the Commonwealth has no power to act in certain spheres, .it is equally true that the Commonwealth, in the spheres in which it has power to act, can affect the ability of the States, either singly or in union, to proceed with works of a developmental nature. The Commonwealth has the power to decide what the immigration policy of the country will be. It has the power to decide how many immigrants shall be brought into the country in any given period. It has the power to decide what money shall be expended on this nation’s defence, and where that money shall be expended, and in what manner. The Commonwealth has, at present, the sole taxing power in Australia. It has been suggested from time to time by honorable members opposite that the taxing powers formerly held by the States should be rc turned to them. We have heard to-night that the offer has been made to the States that they should accept a return of their taxing power, and we have heard, time and time again - and I for one am sick of it - about how generous this Government is in giving money back to the States - “ giving “ was the term actually used by the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston) to-night, and used by the Treasurer a day or two ago. We have heard that money has been made available to Western Australia by the Commonwealth from its own resources. I think we are entitled to ask ourselves what are the resources of the Commonwealth? This is one country, and surely the resources of the Commonwealth are the resources of the six States and the two Territories that comprise the Commonwealth. I believe that the time is more than ripe for this Government - the government of the
Jay, the government that may be on the benches to the right of the Chair for the remaining life of this Parliament - to seek to develop this country, to seek to make Australia great, to seek, in the words of our song, to advance Australia fair and to seek the co-operation of the States towards that great end. I believe that that co-operation would be forthcoming if it were sought, and this is the Parliament that can give the lead to the States in that matter.
We have heard, in debates in this chamber from time to time, great criticism of the Labour party in opposition for not taking part in a committee on foreign affairs which has been set’ up by the Government; and we hear from time to time reports of that committee and its activities. Indeed, a great deal of the time of members on the other side of the chamber is devoted to the problems of external affairs, or the aid we can give to the Asian countries, or the assistance that can be rendered under the Colombo plan, but we hear far too little from the Government of attempts to develop our own country towards the destiny it should fill, and which, I believe, it will fill, if the lead is given by this Parliament to the States in relation to that element of co-operation which is so essential to make this federation work. Our federation cannot be made to work while the National Parliament is made simply a battleground between the Commonwealth and the States. Remember that every bit of the wealth of this country comes from the States. AH the money that the Commonwealth provides to the States is money that it is handing back to the States - not money given as a result of its generosity, and out of its own resources, but money that belongs to Australia and can be shared out by the Commonwealth, under the present system, to the Australian States for the development and progress of our country.
– That is an important point. The Commonwealth is not giving anything away.
– No, it is not giving anything away at all, but, unfortunately, the present Government is wasting a very considerable proportion of the money that is collected in taxes from the people of this country, who are residents of the States. One has only to travel anywhere in this
Commonwealth, as I did recently by road to Brisbane by one route, returning b> another route, and one would think, from the state of the highways, that one was travelling through a country that was bankrupt. The country is crying out for that work. This is the Government that has power to tax, and has within its power and its ability to pay back to the States, oi parcel out to the States, the money needed for those works. It is useless for members of the Government to say in this place that the State governments are wasting their money. Is money expended by the Stateon education wasted? Is money expender on health services wasted? Are State governments wasting money expended on developmental works which are proceeding in the States, but not at the speed they should be proceeding, because this Menzies-Fadden Administration, in this place, does not take a realistic and national view of its responsibilities*’
One of the fields in which the Commonwealth Government has complete and full power is that of social services. That power was conferred on the Commonwealth by the people at a referendum held in 1946. The referendum confirmed what the Commonwealth had already been doing in the field of social services and gave it power to extend its work. In this debate and in previous debates, we have heard a great deal of criticism of the Labour party for what Government members have described as its failure, when in power up to 1949, to provide social services benefits for the people at a proper level. In 1949, there was a change of government. The new Government was elected on very specific promises, some of which have been referred to to-night by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) and one of which I shall refer to now.
In 1949 the present Prime Minister of the country promised the people in very specific terms that the parties for which he spoke, if elected to office, would, of course - those were the words used by the right honorable gentleman - maintain at least the existing level of social services payments, but, more importantly, would increase the true value of pensions and of all other social services payments. Last Thursday, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) showed quite clearly that. whatever measuring stick be used, this Government has failed to honour that promise. The figures that he gave cannot be disputed. He proved conclusively that if the unpegged basic wage is used as a measuring stick - I do not suggest that pensions be tied to the basic wage - the pension to-day is not worth as much as it was in 1948, when the Chifley Government made its last adjustment of the pension rate. It has been contended by Government members that the unpegged basic wage is not the proper yardstick, and that what should be used is the C series index of prices. But the honorable member for Eden-Monaro showed that even if that yardstick be used, it is quite clear that the Government has not honoured its promises to the pensioners.
Labour governments, I believe, made the best attempts to provide social services benefits at levels that could be considered to be satisfactory. I do not think that even honorable members on this side would suggest that the social services benefits paid by those governments were as high as they would have liked, but it was the Labour governments of 1941 to 1949, under Mr. Curtin and Mr. Chifley, which introduced so many of the social services ‘that are available to the people to-day, including the unemployment and sickness benefit, widows’ pensions, allowances for the wives of invalid pensioners and the funeral benefit. In addition, Labour trebled the amount of the maternity allowance payable when it came into power and doubled the amount of the child endowment.
The pensioners of to-day face their problems day by day. They do not face them only once a year, when there is a budget debate. In a radio broadcast from Canberra less than a fortnight ago, a member of the delegation of pensioners which came here to see the Treasurer in the hope of persuading him to change his mind about the level of pensions said that the pensioners of Australia were facing a year of fear. Those are words which should be remembered by every member of this Parliament and by every member of the community. That is exactly the position.
In order to dispose once and for all of this criticism of the Labour party in relation to social services benefits, and in order to show that this Government has completely dishonoured its promise to the pensioners, I propose to examine the pension in the way that the pensioner must see it - that is, in terms of what it will buy. The pensioner is not particularly interested in a percentage or in any other figure. He is interested mainly in what his pension will buy in the way of food, clothing, shelter and other necessaries of life. 1 have with me some figures provided by the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, under dates 4th September and 10th September, 1956, showing the prices of various basic foodstuffs in the so. capital cities in the September quarter of 1948 - the date nearest to that at which the Chifley Government last adjusted the pension rate - and in the June quarter of 1956, as well as for the purposes of additional comparison, in the June quarter of 1955. Using those figures, I have made calculations - they have been checked and I can assure the committee that they are accurate - to show, in terms of basic foodstuffs, what the pension payable in September, 1948, would buy and what the pension payable now will buy.
In September, 1948, the age pension waa £2 2s. 6d. a week. We heard the Minister for Immigration, in a disparaging tone, ask the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) what the Labour Government had paid in pensions. The pension in September, 1948, was £2 2s. 6d. a week, and the pension to-day is £4 a week. I have converted those amounts into terms of foodstuffs. The pension of £2 2s. 6d. paid in 1948, if expended entirely on loaves of bread, would have bought 73.17 loaves. The present pension of £4 - I am taking the prices for June, 1956, because the figures for the September quarter are not available - will buy 67.41 loaves of bread. If we convert the pensions into terms of butter, we see that in 1948 the pension of £2 2s. 6d. would have bought 19.54 lb. of butter and that the present pension of £4 will buy 18.09 lb.
– What about the 1949 figures?
– The honorable member should save his breath. When 1 have done, I think he will be so ashamed of this Government that he will not wish to interject any more. Converting the pensions into terms of milk, we see that the pension of £2 2s. 6d. in 1948 would have bought 56.35 quarts, and that the pension of £4 paid to-day will buy 51.03 quarts. The 1948 pension would buy 15.44 lb. of tea, but the present pension will buy only 11.61 lb. In 1948 an age pensioner could buy 113.58 lb. of sugar with his pension, but in 1956 the pension of £4 will buy only 100.52 lb. In 1948, 339.35 lb. of potatoes could be bought with the pension of £2 2s. 6d. Taking the prices for June, 1956 - not the present prices - a pension of £4 would buy 84.92 lb. of potatoes. In 1948, the pension would buy 21.26 lb. of rump steak, but the pension of £4 paid to-day will buy only 16.89 lb. As for chuck steak - the steak that the pensioner would be more likely to use for making a bit of stew - in 1948 one could buy, with the pension of 42s. 6d., 46.44 lb. as compared with 30.48 lb. in 1956, with £4 of the Menzies-
Fadden money. If we make a comparison in regard to eggs, a very useful article of diet for the aged, we find that in 1948 the full pension would buy 15.64 dozen as compared with 13.18 dozen to-day. The plain fact is that these figures show that the present pension of £4 will, in every case, buy less of the basic foods than could be bought with the pension of 42s. 6d. in 1948. The figures that I have quoted are contained in a table, the top portion of which has been compiled by the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, and the lower portion of which shows the calculations that I have made. With the concurrence of honorable members, I shall have the following table incorporated in “ Hansard “:-
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 September 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1956/19560912_reps_22_hor12/>.