22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Minister for External Affairs a question following his answer yesterday first in relation to the dispute affecting the Suez Canal and, secondly, the special dispute between Israel and Egypt. He indicated certain general views, but I desire to ask him specifically whether Cabinet has considered, and, if not, whether it will consider, the advisability of the Australian Government taking positive action either in the United Nations, or by the procedure contained in the Charter for previous conciliation, to ensure that before actual war occurs an attempt is made at conciliation, or the United Nations organization is given an opportunity to resume discussion at the point where it was broken off.
– This is, as I am sure the right honorable gentleman realizes, a very large subject, and in a week or so there will be a full opportunity to discuss in this House the whole range of international affairs. I would suggest, with respect, that that would be the proper time for a complete expose of this situation.
– I agree with the right honorable gentleman. T am merely asking whether anything is to be done.
– As the right honorable gentleman will realize, the Australian Government is in constant touch with the governments of Great Britain, the United States and Canada in regard to this most important and ticklish situation. I can assure him that all responsible governments have the matter in the forefront of their minds. There is constant discussion as to what can be done that will be likely to do more good than harm. At the moment I am, for reasons which I think the right honorable gentleman will appreciate, inhibited in discussing the details, but I should not like the Leader of the Opposition, or the House, to believe that the matter has been treated in any light-hearted fashion. Everyone realizes that this complex situation in the Middle East could conceivably lead to a resurgence of fighting. That is putting it in simple terms. One hopes and prays that that will not be so. I assure the right honorable member that the Governments that I have mentioned are in constant touch with a view to arriving, in the first place, at a temporary solution, pending a peace settlement in the Middle East which, one hopes, will be final and will resolve all the existing problems. I do not v think that I need apologize for not being able to say more than that publicly at the moment. I hope that by the time a debate on the general subject of international affairs takes place, I shall be able to say more.
– I ask the Minister for Supply whether the Commissioner, in allotting contracts for the supply of materials to the Government, makes any special concessions in favour of Western Australia, and Western Australian tenderers, having regard to some of the disadvantages from which that State suffers. Will he examine the position to see whether, having regard to the current difficulties in that State, any further concessions can be made?
– I take it that the main disadvantage from which he would suggest his State suffers is distance and the consequent cost of transport from Western Australia to Melbourne, Sydney or other centres that may require goods for which tenders are called. In that connexion, it has for some time been the practice of the Department of Supply, in calling for tenders, to ask for prices f.o.b. or f.o.r. the capital city in question - for example, Perth. This practice means that merchants, traders or manufacturers in Western Australia are not at a disadvantage when competing with tenderers in States nearer at hand. That is a quite considerable matter, and such has been the policy of the department for some time. Within the limits of the general policy on tendering, which has to be fairly consistent, we endeavour to look sympathetically upon Western Australian manufacturers because we realize that Western Australia is a small State in which merchants and manufacturers are seeking to build up their businesses. But, of course, that is not the whole story. A great many aspects of this matter, such as costs and prices, are, I should say, very much matters for the Western Australian Government. If it is desired that tenderers in Western Australia should be in a better position to compete with tenderers in the bigger States, it is surely up to that State government to do what it can in its sphere to enable tenders from Western Australia to be more competitive.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Interior. Did the civil defence advisers of the Government submit to the Minister for his approval, some time ago, a booklet on first aid for distribution throughout the Commonwealth as part of an educational -campaign to cope with possible emergencies, at an estimated cost of £10,000? If so, will the Minister say what is the reason for the hold-up of such approval?
– I am afraid I have not the details of that particular booklet in mind. From time to time, quite a number of proposals have been put to ir>s as part of the civil defence educational campaign. All I can do at this stage is to look into the matter and let the honorable gentleman have the information for which he has asked.
– My question is directed to the Minister for External Affairs as Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. The right honorable gentleman will recall that I made representations concerning the establishment of an experimental station of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization at Kempsey for the purpose of studying soil and plant problems of the central north coast of New South Wales. Has the Minister any information that he can give me on this matter?
– The honorable gentleman has made repeated representations about the creation of a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization station at or in the vicinity of Kempsey. I think those representations were made in the first place at the instigation of the Macleay River
Co-operative Dairy Society Ltd. The situation is that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has established a considerable number of field stations to deal with basic problems of primary industries in various areas. These stations are very costly in terms of money and trained scientific personnel, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has not been able to establish as many of these field stations, both for soil survey work and for plant investigation work, as it would wish: Two of the matters that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has not been able to do is to create money and to create trained scientific personnel. Long though its list of achievements has been, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization cannot do those two things, and they are the two bottle-necks in government-run scientific work. However, the University of Sydney and the Department of Agriculture of New South Wales have done quite a lot of work on the north coast of New South Wales, particularly on soil research. I suggest that the honorable gentleman pursue the matter of soil survey, in particular, with those two bodies. It is hoped that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization will be able to extend its general regional survey work both to the north coast and inland to the west in 1958, but I do not think it can be done before then. I am afraid that I cannot definitely commit the organization in regard to this matter, because much depends on the next budget, but if it is possible to do so soil survey work will be done in the Kempsey area in 1958. I cannot be more specific than that, but I am very hopeful that the work will be done in that year. In the meantime I suggest that the matter be taken up with the University of Sydney and with the New South Wales Department of Agriculture.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister a question that I endeavoured to put to him before the House adjourned at the end of the last sessional period. Great hardship is being suffered in my electorate, where 7,000 mine workers are now unemployed. Not only the workers themselves, but also their wives and children are suffering, because many of these mine workers have been advised that they should go to other districts, but have found it impossible to obtain suitable housing accommodation. In view of this suffering, cannot something be done to relieve the New South Wales Housing Commission of the trouble of finding accommodation for these displaced workers and their families? The New South Wales authorities are trying to do their best, but this is a question-
-Order! The honorable member will ask his question.
– Will you answer it for me?
– Order! The honorable member must ask his question.
– Will you ask it for me?
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– Can the Treasurer say whether there is an amount of more than £8,000,000 in the Commonwealth Trust Account standing to the credit of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund, being, in the main, the accumulated subscriptions of members of the forces for their own superannuation? Are the annual payments from the fund only a small fraction of its assets, so that it would be appropriate to make long-term investments of portion of these assets? Would it be possible to lend an amount of money from this fund to a co-operative building society, whose purpose would be to make advances for the building of homes for members of the forces, or ex-members, who are subscribers to this fund?
– I think it is sufficient to say that the funds to which the honorable member refers are vested in trustees who have the sole authority and responsibility regarding their investment.
– I wish to ask the Postmaster-General a question concerning the recent sale of the Melbourne “ Argus “ newspaper and the interest held by the vendor company in the television licence for channel 9. Has the company’s interest in this licence been disposed of, and, if so, to whom? If it has been disposed of, do any of the purchasing parties already hold a beneficial or substantial interest in any other television licence? If it has not been disposed of, will the churches, the returned servicemen’s league and the trade unions have an opportunity of purchasing the interest in this licence?
– The transaction referred to by the honorable member for Darebin was brought to my notice because there were certain elements in it that could possibly infringe provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act. The honorable member is now asking about the interest of Argus and Australasian Limited in the television station. The position is that the holdings were sold out to the other shareholders in the company in proportion of their original holdings, and that is quite in accord with the provisions of the act. I might say, Mr. Speaker, that in further discussions about this matter I have found that, both as regards television and broadcasting, all parties to this transaction have co-operated completely with the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and myself on all matters and are carrying out the requirements of the act.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether he has any information to give in relation to the sale of the tobacco leaf from the Queensland crop for this year. Has the crop been cleared, and if so what has been the realized price on an average?
- Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be able to advise the honorable member that this year, the producers of tobacco leaf and the manufacturers of cigarettes and tobacco were able to agree for the first time on a schedule of grades and a schedule of relative prices within those grades for the sale of Australian produced tobacco. The first sales have been held within the course of the last few days and I have been advised by the secretary of the tobacco board that it is satisfied with the sales. I think the honorable member will be very glad to hear this because he did play a quite important part last year in bringing the two parties together and in arriving at a successful conclusion. 1 do not know what prices were paid because as yet 1 have not received a telegram about it, but as soon as the board advises me I will let the honorable member know.
– I ask a question without notice of the Minister for Works concerning the collapse of the Qantas hangar at Mascot. I ask him whether the collapse was due to faults in the specifications, in the materials, or in the supervision. Further, was the contract for supplying and erecting the steel let to an overseas company without calling for tenders in Australia or overseas, and was the steel damaged in the course of erection? What steps have been taken to re-erect or replace the hangar? In particular who will carry out, supervise, and pay for this re-erection or replacement?
– I am rather delighted to tell the honorable member that the Department of Works had nothing at all to do with this particular project. A contract was arranged between Qantas and a private contractor, and I have no information at all on the matter.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Territories a question without notice. In view of the recent action of the British Government in granting selfgovernment to Ghana, and similar moves in Singapore, does the Minister not feel that this would be an appropriate time to consider moves towards self-government in the Northern Territory? Is it intended that the elected representatives of the people in the Northern Territory Legislative Council should always be outnumbered by the nominated heads of departments? Has the Minister considered nominating Territory residents of long standing in place of departmental heads?
– If I may, I will answer those questions in the reverse order to that in which they were asked. It has been considered that we might nominate to the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory persons other than officers of the Administration. Up to date, I think we have been limited in our action in that regard by the difficulty in finding in the Northern Territory community at the present stage of its development people who might - without offence to other citizens - be called public spirited citizens without any sectional interest. I think any nominations at the present time would necessarily draw from citizens who do have strongly marked sectional interests. The question whether the proportion of nominated members to elected members should be changed is, of course, a matter for this Parliament. The change could be made only by legislation of this Parliament. As to the first question that the honorable member asked, I would say that I think that, in his enthusiasm for and his constant advocacy of the interests of the Northern Territory, he has been misled into a false analogy. The people of the Northern Territory are Australians, like the rest of us. I do not think that we can envisage the degree of separateness between them and us that will be enjoyed in the British Commonwealth by countries such as Ghana and Singapore. There is in the Australian Constitution a clear path towards the creation of new States. There are procedures by which that can be brought about. I would think that statehood is the future destiny of the Northern Territory. Speaking generally, I would say that that is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Perhaps we can take one lesson from the reference to Ghana - and I speak in this, perhaps, personally rather than ministerially. Self-government for Ghana came about after a certain coalescing and integrating of diverse communities. Perhaps statehood for the Northern Territory might come sooner if we could envisage, across the whole of northern Australia, a community of interest which transcended existing boundaries and bound together a northern community strong enough to stand on its own feet as a State, maintaining its own electorates and financing its own affairs.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Navy. Why were the Sea Venom aircraft grounded last week? Is not this the second occasion on which these aircraft have been grounded? Has any consideration been given by the Minister to the purchase of modern aircraft for our carriers to replace the unsatisfactory and obsolete Sea Venoms?
– The Sea Venom aircraft were grounded some time ago for a minor defect, of which I have not the details with me, because I was not then administering my present portfolio. Last Thursday, the Australian Naval Board received advice from the British Admiralty to the effect that a small defect had been discovered in its Sea Venoms in the gear used in catapulting the aircraft from carriers. Therefore, although our Sea Venoms are of a Mark different from those used by the British Admiralty, it was decided, purely as a precautionary measure, to ground our aircraft and give them a thorough inspection before using them again. That is the reason for the action which was taken. No defect had been noted in our own Venoms, which had been flying from the carrier “ Melbourne “ for a considerable time, but it was considered desirable to take that action as a precaution. I certainly do not subscribe to the view voiced by the honorable member for Kennedy that these aircraft are obsolete. In fact, they are very effective aircraft for the job for which they were designed and for which they are being prepared. I assure the honorable gentleman that that is not only my personal opinion, which might not be considered to be very valuable. It is also the considered opinion of those who are in a position to know - that is, the advisers in the Naval Board.
– My question, which is addressed to the Prime Minister, relates to a report on railway gauge standardization by a committee set up by Government members. Incidentally, the Opposition prepared a similar report. Those reports were presented to the Parliament on 31st October of last year. Did the Prime Minister read those reports, which recommended, as a first step, the construction of a standardgauge railway from Albury to Melbourne at a cost of £10,000,000? Does the Government intend to implement those recommendations? If so, when does it intend to move in the matter?
– This matter which, I see, is referred to again this morning in the newspapers, is under consideration.
– In directing a question to the Minister for Primary Industry I refer to the recent outbreak of fruit-fly infestation at Mildura, in Victoria, and ask the Minister whether he will arrange for officers of the Department of Primary Industry to co-operate fully with the Victorian Government in fighting this menace in the restricted area in which ‘ it is at present located. Will he request the Federal Government to provide additional finance, as required, for this purpose?
– I regret to have to state that, there was an outbreak of fruit-fly infestation in some areas at Mildura but, fortunately, it has affected a very small, local non-commercial area, and the Victorian Department of Agriculture hopes that it can b3 contained in that area, and perhaps completely eliminated. I have the very great hope - and I pass this on to the honorable member - that it is being eliminated now and that there will be no further difficulty. 1 might mention also that the infestation appears to be on such a small scale that I doubt whether the Victorian Department of Agriculture will require the Commonwealth to intervene. I think that the Victorian Department of Agriculture is a very efficient department, and is well capable of - handling this problem without assistance.
– My question to the Minister for Territories is supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Farrer. In view of the reply given to the honorable member for Farrer, will the Minister confer with the Prime Minister with a view to setting up a joint committee of this Parliament to review the status of representation of the Northern Territory in this Parliament and also the desirability of widening the representation in the Northern Territory Legislative Council to enable a majority of elected members to control that body?
– I shall, of course, be glad to confer with the Prime Minister who, as a result of his presence in the House at the moment, will be fully seised of the import of the honorable member’s question. I may mention in passing, however, that matters relating to the structure and functions of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory were examined by a committee of the council itself during its last session, and although, for reasons which were explained to this House at the time, that Legislative Council has lapsed and a new one has been elected, I assume that it would be within the competence of the new council, when it meets very shortly, to set up a similar committee to make its own report. I would suggest that, until we have the advantage of a report by a committee of the Legislative Council itself, it may be premature for any action to be taken in the Parliament to examine the position.
– I rise to make a personal explanation, Mr. Speaker. I very much regret if I inadvertently reflected on you when I was asking a question on coal earlier. I did not mean to do so. I was merely endeavouring to get round to my question. With your permission, may I now ask the question?
– No. The honorable member will resume his seat, and will get the call in due time.
– I address to the Minister for Trade a question on the subject of import restrictions. In view of the grave disquiet among traders and other members of the community, is the Minister prepared, by appropriate action, to direct that the grant, cancellation or amendment of all quotas and special licences shall be publicized in the “ Gazette “ immediately after their occurrence? Is he also prepared to announce in the House, in the near future, and thereafter from time to time, particulars of the importation of goods by the Commonwealth Government, State governments, and government agencies that compete with private traders for resources of foreign exchange? Will he include in such announcements any detailed information that may be necessary for proper criticism of the policy involved?
– I am afraid I could not agree to publication in the “ Gazette “ of all import licences and quotas approved, for two reasons. The sheer magnitude of the operation is, I think, scarcely recognized. I am advised that there are, at any one time, approximately 600,000 licences existent. On the other hand, to publish the details of all licences granted would, of course, be an almost complete disclosure of the private business of the commercial community concerned, and therefore I do not agree that it would be proper or practical. It would probably be an enormous job to set out to publish details of all the things that are imported by all the government departments, State and Federal, and the municipal bodies - to which, I think, the honorable member also referred - that could be construed as competing with private enterprise. The budgets of the parliaments disclose the votes for these purposes, and I believe that information sought by any one in that regard could be obtained in the normal course of parliamentary debate. The honorable member used the term “ grave disquiet “. I am aware that there is dissatisfaction in the business community on two counts - because of delays in receiving decisions concerning applications for licences, and because of the number of refusals that have to be made. I freely admit that there have been substantial delays, but at the same time I can give an assurance that unless there is a complete change in the import licensing system which itself produces an inundation of new applications, the problem of delay in relation to decisions has been very substantially overcome. To illustrate that, I point out that at the beginning of this year, in the first week of January, there were, I think, 3,600 cases undecided. My latest information, received last week, was that there were no more than 700 cases then undecided. Many applications require a good deal of research before a decision can properly be given. In respect of the dissatisfaction that derives from the number of refusals, that of course turns back to sheer arithmetic. The Government has to decide at the Cabinet level just what amount of our overseas currency resources can be committed in one year, and upon the basis of that primary decision by Cabinet, and the subsequent decisions by the Cabinet of the broad allocations between commodities and purposes, the administering department then has to fit into that arithmetic its approvals or refusals of the applications made, lt is well known that we are still operating in a financial year which opened with rather troublesome arithmetic - let me put it that way - with respect to our overseas balances and the demands upon them.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade, and concerns the serious plight of the Australian timber industry. Is the Minister aware that in every State of the Commonwealth timber mills have been compelled to cease production, thus creating considerable unemployment in the industry? Has he considered the action that should be taken to provide protection for the industry against the importation of timber from Malaya and Borneo, and will he state what action has been taken by his department to refer the question generally to the Tariff Board for a full inquiry?
– During the last month or so, I have received a number of representations from the State Ministers for Forests, from the Australian saw-milling industry and from timber merchants, including importers, concerning reported problems in the industry generally. This made sufficient impact on me to cause me to think that it warranted a series of conferences. The week before last, I met all the State Ministers for Forests. Following that, 1 met the representatives of the Australian saw-milling interests from every State and, following that, 1 met representatives of the timber merchants. From those meetings I gleaned pretty substantially the facts of the situation. Broadly, the facts are that there is an accumulating surplus of unsold timber in Australia, but it has been disclosed that this arose very substantially from the fact that the timber-producing industry has geared itself to a dimension of production that very substantially exceeds the market at present in sight. The surplus is not explained by an increase in imports. Indeed, Australian production of timber is now double the pre-war production, whereas Australian imports of timber are almost exactly the same as pre-war imports. Arising out of this situation, I have agreed to refer to the Tariff Board for inquiry and report the question of the adequacy of present protective duties on Australian timber. 1 have made it clear that, not only in accordance with the Government’s policy, but also in accordance with Australia’s international obligations, it is not possible to use import licensing as a protective device to protect the Australian timber industry. That is attended to by the appropriate instrument, the Tariff Board, which has been created by this Parliament, and I have already referred the issue to the Tariff Board.
– In view of the urgent necessity for improving the level of local sales of butter if producers are to remain solvent in the year ahead, will the Minister for Primary Industry confer with the Treasurer with the object of imposing a sales tax, preferably of 25 per cent., on margarine? If the Treasurer is not willing to accept the additional tax so generously offered, will he earn the gratitude of a large section of consumers by removing, in exchange, the sales tax on ice cream?
– First of all, 1 should like to say to the honorable gentleman who is a representative of a large section of the butter industry in Victoria that the returns to the Victorian section of the industry this year are close to the same level as they were last year. I see no reason to think that they are likely to drop substantially in the near future. Production in Victoria is high. For the first six months of this financial year I think that Victorian producers were responsible for 60,000 tons of a total Australian production of 113,000 tons. I make that comment right at the beginning because I do not want the impression to be created here that we are not looking at the problem. We are looking at the problem of butter production continually. I did give the question of the imposition of sales tax on margarine most careful consideration. I would like the honorable gentleman to realize that the imposition of a substantial sales tax on margarine would cause a lot of Australian housewives to protest vociferously and he would be one of those who would feel the wrath of the ladies if a sales tax as high as 25 per cent, were put on margarine. I have asked the Australian Agricultural Council to consider this matter and I think that at the last meeting each of the governments represented agreed that, within its capacity and taking into consideration the question of the local production of the commodities that went into margarine, it would not increase quotas. I think that production was to be restricted to about 9,000 tons in New South Wales. There were also to be some restrictions in other States. The last part of the honorable member’s question dealt with sales tax on ice cream. Again, that matter has been considered. The Treasurer is always kind when I put these problems to him. I shall put this problem to him again, with a full knowledge of the kind way in which he deals with these matters relating to the primary industries.
– When does the Minister for Defence Production propose to make a statement on the Government’s intention regarding the future activities of the Government aircraft factories at Fishermen’s Bend and Avalon in Victoria? Is the Minister aware that the absence of such a statement has caused a drop in the morale of employees throughout these establishments and that many highly trained personnel have resigned because of the uncertainty of future employment in the Division of Aircraft Production?
– The matter of the future of the aircraft industry, as the honorable gentleman puts it, is under close consideration by the Government, and when we are in a position to make a statement, we shall do so.
– Is the Minister for Immigration aware that the Suez Canal will be open for traffic on Tuesday next? If so, will he arrange with the United Nations authorities now in Egypt for the establishment of a staging camp at Ismailia, and will he invite all British subjects in Egypt who wish to come to Australia to stay at the camp pending their evacuation? Is the honorable gentleman aware of the great concern felt by the relatives in Australia of many British subjects in Egypt who are suffering great indignities, cruelties, and losses at the hands of the Egyptian authorities? Is the Minister prepared to show the same degree of generosity and humanity towards British subjects in Egypt who are suffering the horrors of Nasser tyranny as was shown recently to Hungarian refugees from Russian tyranny?
– Order! The honorable member must confine himself to his question.
– That is the question.
– I was asked a very similar question yesterday, and I refer the honorable member to the “ Hansard “ report of my answer to it.
– I should like to ask the Minister for Immigration a question. How many Indians, other than students, have been allowed to enter Australia? How many Japanese have been given permits for permanent residence in Australia? How many Chinese, apart from those who have been here for a number of years, have been given permits for permanent residence in Australia?
– It would be quite impossible for me to give offhand the statistics for which the honorable member has asked, but if he will put his question on the noticepaper I shall give him a reply promptly.
– I wish to address a question to the Treasurer. In view of the added interest being taken in Australia in the establishment of a decimal coinage system . as a result of the Treasurer’s announcement that the Treasury was investigating the matter, will the right honorable gentleman inform the House of the stage that the investigations have reached?
– I shall look into the matter and see what advice I can give the honorable member.
– Will the Minister for the Army inform the House whether he gave authority for Army personnel to demolish a house, which was occupied by a former prisoner of war and his family, standing on land owned by the Wentworth estate at Port Kembla? If the Minister did not authorize the demolition, will he say who did, and at whose request? Further, is it intended to use Army personnel to demolish other occupied buildings on this land?
– The question should have been directed to the Minister for the Interior.
– If the honorable member for Griffith would like a full explanation of this matter, I should be delighted to give it to him at a suitable time. The eviction undertaken a fortnight ago at Port Kembla was to remove the last of a series of unauthorized occupants from Commonwealth property which they have occupied for the last ten or twelve years. They have prevented us, quite effectively, from handing the property back to the owners, and, of course, they have remained there rent free at considerable cost to the Commonwealth. The Army leased the property, and as it is on charge to the Army, no one had better authority than the Army had for acting as it did.
– In accordance with the undertaking which I gave the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, I lay on the table the following paper: -
The Parliament - Business of the House - Ministerial Statement, 19th March, 1957, by the Minister for Labour and National Service.
I understand that the right honorable gentleman wishes to promote an opportunity for debate, and will seek leave to have the document printed.
– by leave - I move -
That the paper be printed.
I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave- The House will be aware that a Dakota aircraft from No. 86 Wing, Royal Australian Air Force, Canberra, was lost last evening. The accident resulted in the loss of four lives, the captain, Flying Officer McDonald, of Canberra, the second pilot, Flight Sergeant Charlton, of Queanbeyan, Sergeant Mackerill, of Williamstown, Victoria, and Sergeant Coombe, of Taree. The aircraft was engaged on night take-offs and landings and had been carrying out these exercises for approximately an hour.
The actual cause of the accident will be the subject of the usual service inquiry by the Director of Flying Safety. Only one fact is clearly established at present. That is that the aircraft had an engine failure while climbing away from the airport. The propeller of the port engine was found to be feathered on impact, indicating that the correct procedures had been carried out by the crew. This should have enabled the aircraft to fly quite well on the remaining engine. Some other factors, as yet unknown, must have been present, however, and as a result the aircraft and crew were lost.
On behalf of the Government and, I am sure, all honorable members, I extend to the bereaved relatives a sympathy which is deep and sincere. The men themselves gave their lives while training for the defence of their country and have earned the reverent gratitude of this National Parliament and, indeed, of all the people of Australia.
– Pursuant to Standing Order 17, I lay on the table my warrant, nominating Mr. Bowden, Mr. Clark, Mr. Falkinder, Mr. Freeth, Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Lucock, Mr. Makin, Mr. Peters, Mr. Timson and Mr. Webb to act as Temporary Chairman of Committees when requested to do so by the Chairman of Committees.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent -
motions being moved in connexion with the establishment of joint committees on (i) Foreign Affairs, (ii) Constitution Review and (iii) the Australian Capital Territory, the consideration of such motions, and the subsequent appointmentof members to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and
the appointment of the Committee of Ways and Means and the taking of all necessary steps for the introduction and motions for the first and second readings of the following bills: - Loan (Internationa] Bank for Reconstruction and Development), Loan (Qantas Empire Airways Limited), Trading with the Enemy, Removal of Prisoners (Territories), Apple and Pear Export Charges, Cotton Bounty, and Lands Acquisition.
– I move -
I need only say that the motion seeks the re-appointment of this committee, without alteration.
– I second the motion.
– The committee has taken certain evidence but not not published its reports. It is quite a few years since the present Federal Constitution was adopted, and most of the people who took part in its drafting are now dead. It would be a very good thing if the evidence now being gathered could be circulated. It would be a means of educating the people, who will finally have to decide this question of constitutional reform.
– in reply - I had not given any thought to the matter but I will take it up with the chairman of the committee to see how far it is feasible. It may not be, but if it is, I quite see the point. If the matter has not already been considered I will ask the chairman to put it before the committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Fairhall) agreed to -
.- I move -
That, notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders -
subject to paragraph 4 (d), all evidence submitted to the committee, both written and oral, shall be regarded as confidential to the committee;
This motion, except for paragraph (5), is the same as the one that I had the privilege of introducing just over twelve months ago. The purpose of that paragraph is selfevident. I do not think that it is necessary to say very much more about the Foreign Affairs Committee than I have already said on a number of occasions. I think this is the sixth year of its existence. It has been most successful, and has enabled a relatively large number of members to become much more intimately acquainted with particular aspects of international affairs on which they have sought further information. I do not think that it is necessary to give the number of meetings that have been held, but it is considerable. Nor need I give the even greater number of documents that have been circulated to the committee by my department - very largely at the committee’s request. It has had complete freedom to choose the subjects to be discussed. As the relevant Minister, I have placed no restriction at all upon this. I have attended a large proportion of the meetings and the senior officers in my department have always been at the call of the committee.
As honorable members know, the motion provides for the appointment of members from each side, both here and in another place. Unfortunately, and to our distress, the Opposition has not thought fit to be represented. I need not repeat the arguments and appeals that I have voiced in seeking the co-operation of members of the Opposition in this matter - so that they, not we, might benefit. They are denying themselves the opportunity of acquiring knowledge on this highly important aspect of public affairs. However, I have no more to say on that matter. I have said it on so many occasions in the past that I can only hope that the Opposition will now agree to take advantage of the very many valuable opportunities that membership of this committee provides. It is easy enough for me to speak of that, but members of the Opposition could more readily convince themselves of the value of this committee by speaking to members of the committee and not to me. I am sure they would be told that there is no limitation on the scope of the matters into which the committee wishes to inquire. There is no limitation on the degree of frankness with which I, personally, find myself able to speak to members of this committee.
I believe that this has been a successful committee. It is now more than an innovation; it is a well-established committee. In my view, it is equal in its achievements to the Foreign Affairs Committee of any parliament of which I am aware. The limitations on it are fewer than those on the Foreign Affairs Committee of any country of which I know.
I need not say any more than that. Anything that it is necessary to say has been said by me many times in the past. I limit myself to commending this project to honorable members on both sides of the House.
Question put -
That the motion (vide page 39) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Removal of Prisoners (Territories) Act 1923-1950.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill is one of those measures which are introduced simply because the legal advisers of the Government state that it is necessary in order to give effect to the intentions which this Parliament has expressed in existing legislation. The Removal of Prisoners (Territories) Act 1923-1950 provides power by which prisoners other than aboriginal natives can be removed from Commonwealth Territories to serve their sentences in State prisons. The act provides that the Administrator of the Territory may recommend to the Governor-General that a prisoner be removed to a State prison and the Governor-General may, with the concurrence of the Government of the particular State, order a prisoner to be removed to that State. In some territories there is no officer with the title of Administrator, and our legal advisers say that no person other than a person bearing that title may make the recommendation that the act requires the Administrator to make. The purpose of the bill is simply to provide that where there is no officer known as Administrator in a territory, the Governor-General may, by order published in the Commonwealth of Australia “ Gazette “, authorize the occupant of a specific office, or a particular person, to exercise and perform, in relation to that territory, the powers and functions of an administrator under the act. It can be seen, therefore, that the purpose of the bill is simply to enable us to give effect to an existing practice in those territories that have no officer bearing the title of Administrator. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Edmonds) adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message):
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That it is expedient than an appropriation of revenue and moneys be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to authorize the raising of a loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and for purposes connected therewith.
Resolution reported and adopted.
That Sir Arthur Fadden and Mr. McEwen do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir Arthur Fadden, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to authorize the borrowing of a sum of 50,000,000 dollars from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in accordance with the loan agreement concluded with the bank on 3rd December, 1956. The borrowing of 9,230,000 dollars from the bank under the loan agreement of 15th November, 1956, to finance portion of the cost of new aircraft for Qantas Empire Airways Limited, is being covered by separate legislation. Our four previous loans from the bank, amounting to 258,500,000 dollars, which were raised between 1950 and 1955, have been fully used. Drawings under the fourth loan of 54,500,000 dollars were completed in December, 1956. This new loan, together with the loan for aircraft for Qantas, brings the total of our borrowing arrangements with the bank to 317,700,000 dollars.
This loan of 50,000.000 dollars will enable licences to be issued for further imports of a range of essential capital equipment from the dollar area. The issuing of licences has already begun and imports of this equipment under these and other licences still to be issued will commence later this year and continue during 1958.
The full texts of the new loan agreement and the loan regulations are reproduced in the first and second schedules to the bill now before the House.
The Government believes that a measure of external financial assistance is desirable if a satisfactory rate of development of Australia’s economic resources is to be maintained. Although the bulk of the resources, both financial and material, required for our development is found locally, imported equipment of various kinds is essential for expansion and modernization in many fields. The larger part of these imports comes from non-dollar sources. There remains, however, some vital equipment which can be obtained only from the dollar area, and International Bank finance provides additional dollars to pay for part of this equipment.
Honorable members will be interested to hear me state a few figures which highlight the uses to which the earlier International Bank loans have been put, and which indicate the valuable contribution these loans have made and are still making to our economic progress. About 75,000,000 dollars, or almost one-third of the total, have been used for the purchase of tractors, agricultural machinery and earth-moving equipment for the improvement of farming techniques on existing farms and the opening up of new lands. Recent marked improvements in productivity in our primary industries have undoubtedly been due, in no small measure, to the increased supply of modern American farming equipment such as pick-up hay balers, combines, forage and other harvesting machinery and tractors.
Over 20,000,000 dollars have been allocated to the modernization of railways. A large proportion of this has been used to pay for components for diesel-electric locomotives whose operations here have resulted in big economies and improved services in the railways using them.
Import licences valued at almost 45,000,000 dollars have been issued for tractors and road construction equipment, and for trucks and components for the manufacture of trucks in Australia.
Expenditure on long-range aircraft and spares, both for our international and our domestic air service, has accounted for 35,000,000 dollars, and almost 30,000,000 dollars have been provided for plant for electric power production. The forestry and mining industries have been allotted almost 20,000,000, and an amount of about 35,000,000 dollars has been used to pay for a wide variety of equipment for the modernization and expansion of our manufacturing industries.
It should be mentioned that much of the bank-financed equipment is being used to assist export production, not only directly as in agriculture, mining and various secondary industries such as the iron and steel industry, but also indirectly by supplying modern equipment for the transport industries. There can be no doubt, also, that the Australian economy to-day is more efficient as a result of the goods paid for with International Bank finance. This new loan will ensure continued access by public authorities and private industry to that productive equipment and technique which is available, generally speaking, only in the United States of America and Canada.
The loan is for a period of fifteen years, and interest is at the rate of 4J per cent, per annum. Interest is payable half-yearly on the amount of the loan withdrawn and outstanding from time to time, and the interest charge includes the 1 per cent, commission which, under its Articles of Agreement, the bank is required to charge and pay to its reserves. A commitment charge of j- per cent, per annum is payable half-yearly on the amount undrawn from time to time, and accrues from 1st February, 1957. Repayments of principal do not commence until two and a half years after signature, the first principal repayment falling due on 1 5th
July, 1959. Payments of interest and principal will then be made half-yearly in accordance with an amortization schedule on a fixed annuity basis. The final payment will fall due on 15th January, 1972. Under the loan agreement, once the full amount of the loan has been withdrawn, and until amortization payments commence in 1959, interest will amount to 2,375,000 dollars, or £A.1,060,000 per annum from July, 1959, onwards, annual payments of interest and principal combined will amount to 5,200,000 dollars, or £A.2,321,000.
In general, the other clauses of the new loan agreement are similar to those in the previous loan agreements, each of which received the approval of the House; and the terms and conditions of the present loan to Australia are in line with those of International Bank loans to other countries at the time. The rate of interest, however, on similar loans now being made by the bank is 5i per cent.
As with previous International Bank loans, it is intended to pay the Australian currency proceeds of this fifth loan into the National Debt Sinking Fund. This is provided for in clause 6 of the bill, and clause 7 requires the National Debt Commission to meet repayments of principal to the International Bank as they fall due. In effect, therefore, the loan provides its own sinking fund. Payments of interest and other charges are to be met from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. This is provided for in clause 8.
Clause 9 exempts this loan from certain provisions of the National Debt Sinking Fund Act. This is necessary because otherwise the Commonwealth Government would be obliged to make normal Sinking Fund contributions.
Schedule 2 to the Loan Agreement describes the development programmes to which the equipment financed under the loan will contribute. It also gives examples of the types of equipment which will be financed out of the proceeds of the loan.
Although the goods to be procured have not, as yet, been precisely determined, an allocation of the new 50,000,000 dollars loan among the four programmes has been tentatively agreed with the International Bank. This tentative allocation, which may be varied with the agreement of the bank as the needs of importers become clearer, is as follows: -
As in our earlier loans, agriculture will receive a substantial share of the total. Although much of the equipment needed to develop new areas and increase output from existing holdings can be obtained either from Australian manufacturers or from suppliers in countries outside the dollar area, there are certain types of tractors and other farm machinery which have to be obtained from the United States and Canada. The loan will ensure that our producers do not suffer by lack of access to the latest technological developments in the agricultural machinery field. Tractors and logging equipment for the forestry industry are also eligible for International Bank finance.
As was the case in the fourth loan, transport equipment represents an important proportion of the total value of the goods to be financed under the present loan. I am sure that honorable members will readily appreciate the vital need to expand and improve transport facilities in a continent as large as ours, and with widely scattered centres of population and production. The road transport programme, for which an amount of 12,800,000 dollars has been tentatively allocated, includes not only equipment for the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges, but also trucks and components for their manufacture in Australia. The amount set aside for the railway programme will be used mainly to purchase components for the manufacture of diesel-electric locomotives in Australia.
An amount of 16,000,000 dollars has been tentatively allocated to the industrial development programme. This amount will cover the purchase of essential dollar capital equipment for the iron and steel, food processing, mining and engineering industries.
Investment in the manufacturing field is largely undertaken by private enterprise, and the development plans of private firms at any given time are in varying stages of formulation and execution. This has been recognized by the bank and, in order to provide a measure of flexibility, a fixed sum has not been allocated to each sector of this programme.
There will be no difference in operating procedures between the present and earlier International Bank loans. The Department of Trade has notified importers of the types of goods eligible for the licensing under the loan and, as I have already indicated, the issue of licences has begun. In general, equipment will not be licensed for importation against the loan if similar equipment is available from non-dollar sources at reasonably comparable prices and delivery dates. As in previous loans, importers will pay for the goods licensed through normal banking channels.
Once again this further loan shows the International Bank’s appreciation of the need to continue the development of our resources. It also demonstrates the bank’s confidence in the future of the Australian economy. Since the loan will be used for the further improvement of our productive capacity it cannot fail to yield benefits, as the earlier loans have done, of great value to us and I have great pleasure in commending this bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message):
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to-
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue and moneys be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to approve the raising by way of loans of moneys in foreign currency to be lent to Qantas Empire Airways Limited, and for purposes connected therewith.
Resolution reported and adopted.
That Sir Arthur Fadden and Mr. Fairhall do prepare’ and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir Arthur Fadden, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to authorize the borrowing of 27,000,000 dollars by the Commonwealth from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and from a group of institution leaders in accordance with loan agreements signed in New York on 15th November last.
This borrowing has been made to furnish part of the dollar funds required by Qantas Empire Airways Limited over the next three years for seven Boeing jet aircraft, four propeller-driven Super Constellations, and other ancillary equipment and spare parts. An agreement is being effected between the Commonwealth and Qantas whereby Qantas will assume full responsibility for meeting payments of principal and interest and all other costs of the borrowing. In the long run, there will thus be no net call on Commonwealth cash resources because of this borrowing. All funds received under the borrowing will be immediately transferred to Qantas and all payments due to the lenders will be made in the first place by Qantas to the Commonwealth.
The Qantas decision to buy jet-engined aircraft was due mainly to its need to maintain a competitive position in international air transport. Although various airlines are now operating, as an interim measure, turboprop and improved piston-engined types, the undoubted trend is towards the so-called “ big jets “ which have much more to offer in speed and comfort on long-range international routes. After a most intensive study of all types on offer, Qantas has chosen the Boeing 707/138 as being most suited to its needs, particularly as the scheduled delivery dates in 1959 fit in very well with the inevitable replacement of its present fleet of Super Constellations.
My colleague, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) signed the loan agreements in New York with each of the lenders on behalf of the Commonwealth. As this was a borrowing in the name of the Commonwealth under the authority of the Commonwealth loan programme for 1956-57, it required the approval of the Australian Loan Council. Before the Minister for External
Affairs signed the loan agreements, the proposed terms and conditions of the borrowings were submitted by me, as chairman of the Australian Loan Council, to other Australian Loan Council members and received their full concurrence.
The amount to be borrowed from the International Bank will be 9,230,000 dollars, the remaining 17,770,000 dollars being provided by a small group of institutional lenders. This is the first loan received by Australia from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development for purposes other than general development. Including 50,000,000 dollars to be received from the International Bank under the agreement entered into last December, the International Bank has either lent or agreed to lend 308,500,000 dollars to Australia for general development purposes, and this Qantas loan will increase to nearly 318,000,000 dollars our total borrowings :from the bank.
The agreement signed with the International Bank is reproduced as the first schedule to the bill. Honorable members will note that the principal conditions of the borrowing are that the interest rate will be 4i per cent., including the bank’s usual commission charge of 1 per cent, required under its Articles of Agreement, and that the loan will be repayable over a period between June, 1964, and December, 1966. It is expected that the first instalment of these funds will be received from the International Bank next May, and that the final proceeds will be received about the middle of next year. As is usual with loans from the International Bank, there will be a commitment charge of three-quarters of 1 per cent, per annum on the principal amount of the loan remaining to be withdrawn. Interest payments of 4i per cent, will, of course, be payable only on amounts actually received from the International Bank from time to time.
The Loan Agreement with the International Bank is similar to the agreements for previous general development loans which have each received the approval of the House. We were fortunate in being able to borrow from the International Bank at the rate of 4i per cent, because interest rates have since risen and the bank is now charging 5i per cent, on its loans to member countries.
The remaining 17,770,000 dollars was borrowed from a group of institutional lenders, with the New York underwriting firm of Morgan Stanley and Company acting as agent for the Commonwealth. Separate agreements were signed with each lender and the form of each agreemnt is set out in the second schedule to the bill. The interest rate under each of these agreements will also be 41 per cent, and repayment will commence in December, 1960, continuing until June, 1964, when repayments to the International Bank will begin. Under these arrangements, 7,770,000 dollars have already been received and is at present credited to the Commonwealth Loan Fund. The final 10,000,000 dollars will be received towards the end of 1958. A commitment charge of one-half of 1 per cent, is being made on the principal amount not yet withdrawn, but the interest of 4i per cent, per annum is payable only on such instalments as have been received from the lenders. The timing of these instalments has been arranged to fit in as closely as possible with the schedule of prepayments to which Qantas is committed before the delivery of the jet aircraft commences in 1959.
The immediate purpose of the bill will be to appropriate the amount of 7,770,000 dollars from Loan Fund for the purpose of lending this amount to Qantas. As the remainder of the loan money is received in due course, the bill will also authorize the lending of each instalment to Qantas on the terms and conditions to be agreed with the Commonwealth.
It may assist honorable members if 1 summarize the overall terms and conditions of the borrowing. The total amount to be borrowed is 27,000,000 dollars and the interest rate is 4* per cent. The funds will be received over a period between late 1956 and late 1958 and will be repayable between December, 1960, and December, 1966. The full cost of the borrowing will be met by Qantas, with the Commonwealth, in effect, acting as agent for Qantas for the receipt of funds and for the payment of interest, principal and other charges to the lenders. As repayment of the loans from the Consolidated Revenue Fund will be made from funds to be provided by Qantas, it is not necessary to make other special sinking fund arrangements, and clause 1 1 of the bill accordingly exempts the borrowings from the application of the National Debt Sinking Fund Act.
I may add that, before submitting these terms and conditions to the Loan Council for its consideration, I had arranged a thorough examination of all other possible forms of finance but found no other method which offered more satisfactory terms. So far as I am aware, no other finance of a similar nature has since been arranged overseas for the purchase of aircraft by foreign airlines on terms and conditions more favorable than those negotiated on behalf of Qantas.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Trading with the Enemy Act 1939-1952.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to provide an additional amount of £20,000 for the benefit of Australian civilians who suffered injury as a result of internment by the Japanese during the war, or their dependants.
The Trading with the Enemy Act 1952 provided for the distribution of the proceeds of realization of Japanese assets in Australia between former prisoners of war or their dependants and civilian internees. The value of the assets was then estimated to be £770,000. The realized value was, in fact, higher, and the Government recently announced a further distribution among former prisoners of war and their dependants. At the same time it was decided to provide an additional £20,000 for the relief of civilian internees. The money will be distributed by a trust comprising Brigadier A. S. Blackburn, V.C., Dr. W. E. Fisher, Colonel Alan Spowers, Mr. R. J. Daffy and a Treasury representative.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
– I move -
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported and adopted.
That Mr. McMahon and Mr. Harold Holt do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. McMahon, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The Apple and Pear Export Charges Act 1938-1947 provides for a maximum charge of Id. a case on apples and pears exported from the Commonwealth, subject to a lower rate being prescribed by regulation. The purpose of this bill is to amend the act in. order to raise the maximum charge which may be imposed from Id. a case to 2d. a case of apples and pears exported.
Levies collected under the act are used to finance the operations of the Australian Apple and Pear Board, the statutory authority established under the Apple and Pear Organization Act 1938-1953 for the regulation of exports of apples and pears from Australia. The present maximum rate of Id. a case is being applied to exports of apples and pears this year, and is expected to yield a revenue of about £20,000. After meeting administrative expenses this amount does not provide an adequate margin for trade promotion activities.
The board is participating in the overseas trade publicity drive in co-operation with other statutory commodity boards and the Commonwealth Government, and accordingly faces the need of increased revenue for this purpose. It has therefore requested that the act be amended to provide an increase in the maximum rate of levy which may be applied. As I have stated, the current rate of Id. a case will continue to operate during the 1957 export season. The operative rate for 1958 will be determined after report by the board and, in the light of the board’s report, regulations will be promulgated prescribing such rate.
The amendment sets a new ceiling for the levy, and it is for the board to state in its report the actual rate of levy which it desires the Government to apply to exports in any season to cover the board’s budgetary requirements. It could, for example, suggest a rate of Id. or lid., or any rate not exceeding 2d. a case, for each season, but the limit is set at 2d. a case by the legislation. The Government is guided by the board in setting the rate of levy to be applied. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr, Pollard) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Cotton Bounty Act 1951-1955.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is merely to clear up some doubts that have arisen in the administration of the cotton bounty, and to permit of the interim payment of bounty after the delivery of the seed cotton to the processor, and pending the final ascertainment of the price that can be paid.
Under the present act assistance is afforded to the Australian cotton-growing industry by means of bounty up to the 1958 harvest. The bounty is payable to the grower through the processor of the raw cotton, and is designed to enable the growers of seed cotton to be paid an average guaranteed price of 14d. per lb. for their product. The Cotton Marketing Board in Queensland is the only applicant for this bounty.
I should like to explain briefly that the processor receives deliveries of seed cotton from growers, gins it, and sells the resultant raw cotton to spinners. The processor then pays the sale proceeds less the cost of ginning and administration to growers, and this, together with the bounty, if any, gives an average price for the seed cotton of at least 14d. per lb.
Bounty was paid on the 1953 harvest amounting to £17,651. Payments rose to £25,243 on the 1954 harvest and then to £67,284 on the 1955 harvest. The expected payment on the harvest just completed is in the vicinity of £120,000. The present Cotton Bounty Act presupposes that all processing of the raw cotton and the accounting thereof will have been completed before payment of bounty. This means that there is a considerable time lapse between the delivery of the seed cotton and the final payment of the purchase price. The decline in raw cotton prices early in 1956 seriously reduced the price the board could pay the growers for the seed cotton. In order to assist the industry in the difficult situation the Government made available in January last, as an interim payment, £48,950 - which is approximately 40 per cent, of the anticipated bounty.
The need for the interim payment is expected to recur in respect of the 1957 harvest and, possibly, also of the following year’s harvest. Amendments to the act, as proposed in the bill, will enable the Government to make the desired assistance available to the industry at the appropriate time. Naturally, every care will be taken to ensure that the interim payments never exceed the bounty entitlement. Provision is, however, made for the recovery of any excess and, in addition, an undertaking will be required from the Cotton Marketing Board that instalments of the purchase price to growers will be kept within the guaranteed 14d. whilst an interim payment of bounty remains operative.
The bill also amends the principal act in two other directions. In the first place, it brings into the bounty calculations unsold stocks of raw cotton on hand at the close of each bounty year. Secondly, the Cotton Marketing Board derives income from rents and, in some years, from the extraction of oil from peanuts. This income is considered extraneous to the cotton processing operations and, to the extent that such income is distributed to cotton-growers, this amending bill will enable the price paid on the deliveries of seed cotton to rise slightly above the guaranteed figure of 14d.
In order to achieve the object of the act it has been necessary over recent years to take into account stocks of raw cotton on hand at the end of the year, and to exclude the extraneous receipts from the bounty calculations. I have considered it advisable to introduce an amending bill to remove any doubts that may exist concerning these features and to give legal effect to departmental decisions. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Fairhall) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Lands Acquisition Act 1955.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
There is some doubt as to whether, under the Lands Acquisition Act 1955 as it now stands, the Attorney-General and the Minister for the Interior are able to delegate any of their functions in respect of the disposal of land that was acquired under the provisions of the Lands Acquisition Act 1906-1936, and, in order to save time and to simplify administration, it is proposed to amend section 3 of the act to rectify the position.
It is also proposed to amend section 15 of the present act. Under this section, in its present form, copies of notices of acquisition for lodgment at the State Titles Offices must be certified “ under the hand of the Crown Solicitor “. The function of certifying such copies is merely a mechanical one, and its importance is lessened by the fact that the original notice of acquisition is publicly available in the “ Gazette “. It is, therefore, considered that this function could properly be performed by a Deputy Crown Solicitor, Acting Deputy Crown Solicitor, or other responsible officer in an office of the Crown Solicitor. The proposed amendment will enable copies to be certified by the Crown Solicitor or an officer of the Attorney-General’s Department authorized by the Crown Solicitor to certify such copies.
The amendment to section 60 is intended to clarify the section and to ensure that it applies to land that has become vested in the Commonwealth by a means which may not be aptly described as “ acquisition “ - for example, by a vesting under section 85 of the Constitution. The final clause is for the purpose of validating existing delegations. The bill, which will clear up these points and assist in administration, is commended for the favorable consideration of the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I suggest to the House that I propose to you that at this point we suspend the sitting until 8 o’clock this evening. My reasons for making that suggestion flow from the fact that the Government has been notified by the Opposition that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) will move an amendment to the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply, which is presently before the House, in terms which will make the amendment, in effect, a motion of censure of the Government. I think that honorable members will agree that, having regard to the intent of the Opposition in this matter and the importance of the subject-matter, of which advice already has been conveyed to the Government, it is desirable that the speech of the right honorable gentleman, and also that of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who will reply immediately to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, should be heard by the largest audience in Australia that the time and circumstances will permit.
For those reasons, sir, and because it would be inappropriate in the circumstances, I suggest, to go on with a general discussion on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply until the terms of the right honorable gentleman’s amendment have been made known and his speech has been heard, I propose that we suspend the sitting until 8 p.m.
Sitting suspended from 4.18 to 8 p.m.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) from speaking to the Address-in-Reply for a period not exceeding 45 minutes each.
Debate resumed from 19th March (vide page 28), on motion by Mr. Forbes -
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to -
May it Please Your Excellency -
We, the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
– At the outset I should like to congratulate the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) on the maiden speeches that they delivered in this House last evening. Although congratulations of this kind are customary, on this occasion they are not only inspired by custom but also imbued with sincerity. My speech this evening will not be connected directly with what those honorable members said, but I think it is my duty to make just one remark regarding their speeches. I agree with what the honorable member for Barker said regarding the great development of the south-east portion of South Australia, which is particularly important to the rural industries of wool and dairying. I think, however, that his remarks needed just one supplement which was, indeed, furnished by the honorable member for Wentworth. The development of which the honorable member for Barker spoke was commenced through the planning of the previous Government. That fact was recognized by the honorable member for Wentworth. In the days before the Labour Government came to office, there was no plan for the dairying industry. The wool industry had not been encouraged. The development of the great pastures that now characterize that part and many other parts of Australia was helped tremendously by the Labour Government, particularly through the efforts of my colleague, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard).
I wish also to add one other comment, in no way deprecating but rather as a corollary to what was said by the honorable member for Barker. The honorable member for Wentworth fully recognized - and this might be a lesson to many critics - that the planning of the development of Australia was very largely founded in the most difficult years of the immediate post-war period, by the person who made Australia’s development the chief object of his political life. I refer to the late Mr. Chifley. I am very pleased that the honorable member for Wentworth recognized these facts.
This evening, Mr. Speaker, I shall deal with one small portion of the GovernorGeneral’s Speech, that dealing with the subject of housing, or, as I prefer to call it, home building. Many subjects were touched upon in the Governor-General’s Speech. Some of them were mentioned in a cursory way. Other important subjects were left untouched. There was virtual silence on the question of foreign affairs, at a time when the world is in a state of crisis. However, the immediately important question before the people of Australia, to which attention is being given from one end of the country to the other, is that relating to homes for the people. The people are asking whether this Government has done its job or whether it has fallen down on its job.
At this stage I move -
That the following words be added to the Address: - “ but add-
That the Government is censured for the statement of housing policy made by the Prime Minister on 7th March last and for the acute social ills caused by its continued failure to establish, in conjunction with the States, a national housing plan.
This failure has been largely caused by the provision of inadequate finance for home-building for-
war service homes;
co-operative building societies;
Australians seeking to build their own homes.
The national plan should have regard to -
the immediate reduction of migrant intake;
employment of the maximum work force in the home-building industry;
availability of materials.
It should also provide for -
priority to home-building over less essential private investment;
provision of sufficient finance to promote home ownership at low rates of interest.”
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment, and reserve my right to speak later.
– The amendment commences by mentioning the statement made by the Prime Minister on 7th March. At that time, after a great deal of controversy had occurred about the causes of the housing shortage, the Prime Minister said that the factor limiting home building in Australa was not money but man-power and materials. He went on to say that the moment the money supply was increased the price of man-power and materials began to increase and inflationary pressures began. The Prime Minister was defending, at a press conference, the Commonwealth Government’s approach to housing, which had been under heavy attack by the Government of New South Wales, and he indicated that in due course his Cabinet would consider government policy in relation to housing finance. He went on to indicate - in an odd manner, I submit - that the controversy regarding money for housing puzzled him, because Australia’s housing achievements in the last seven years were as great as those of any other country in the world. He challenged claims that employment was slack in the building industry and said that more money could not create more building works. Many of those statements are quite correct, but they have no application to the present circumstances. It is perfectly true, for instance, that if we provide more money for an enterprise that is already using all available man-power and materials, some degree of inflationary pressure will begin.
But the general feeling in New South Wales, and throughout Australia, was that the Prime Minister did not give a true statement of the position.
We must look back a little, and recall that it was this Government that forced upon the States of Australia the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. There are some features of that agreement that should not be forgotten. I refer, for instance, to the removal of the provision for assistance to those people who probably will never be able to own a home, and who depended upon the rental rebate system. Another and even worse feature of that agreement, which was forced on the States, was the substantial increase in the rate of interest. That merely fitted in with the Government’s general economic policy of forcing increased rates of interest upon the people of Australia. While the Labour Government was in office the general rate of interest on Commonwealth loans was approximately 31/8 per cent. By failing to support the bond market this Government deliberately caused the rate of interest to rise to 4½ per cent., and ultimately to 5 per cent3. and more than 5 per cent. The Government pursued exactly the same policy in connexion with the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, making the task so much more difficult for ordinary people to acquire a home at all and putting the day of the home being their own years ahead of what it was previously. Continuing his statement, to which reference is made in this motion of censure, the Prime Minister said -
The quaint idea that exists in some minds that whatever involves money means that the Commonwealth finds the money and has the responsibility is too childish for words. It ignores the Constitution and I am not prepared to ignore its existence.
I say that the question of constitutional power does not arise at all. The Commonwealth has the supreme power over finance in this country. It has control over all the main sources of power in relation to credit. It has, in effect, the supreme direct taxing power. In the Loan Council, despite what the States may say, in the long run it is the view of the Commonwealth that prevails. So, in this vital field of home building the Commonwealth has not any really difficult constitutional obstacles to overcome. It is perfectly true that the Commonwealth has not complete power over the subject of housing, but it has power - practically complete power - over the subject of finance, and therefore the Prime Minister’s, point that finance could do no good would be an important point if it were true; but I think it can be proved beyond any doubt whatever that it was not a correct statement of the position. Indeed, on the very evening that the Prime Minister made his statement, the Director of the Building Industry Congress of New South Wales, Mr. Fraser, contradicted the allegation that there was a shortage of man-power and materials and said this -
Every section of the building industry is able to deliver materials over the counter.
He was commenting on the statement by the Prime Minister. Mr. Fraser said, in addition, that builders of homes in New South Wales were desperate for work and that the worst danger was that they would lose their teams, because the men would drift into other employment. That is how this particular controversy started - the Prime Minister trying to find an alibi for inadequate finance and alleging that no materials and man-power were available for an expansion of home building. Accordingly, there was commenced by my colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour party in Sydney, a specific inquiry to which witnesses were invited. Of course, it was not a statutory body, but assistance was invited from all persons who might be able to help the committee to ascertain the facts. The committee was presided over by my colleague the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and another member of it was the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen).
Government supporters interjecting.
– Honorable members opposite can laugh. My colleagues found out the facts. The facts were given in evidence before the committee and they cannot be laughed off. I shall refer to them. First of all, with regard to man-power, it was shown that there was unemployment in the building industry unions ranging from 5 per cent, to 12 per cent. It was proved that one in every eight members of the Operative Painters Union was out of work. The Plasterers Union reported that 100 of its members were out of work. The Brick, Tile, and Pottery Makers Union reported 5 per cent, unemployment. The Building Workers Industrial Union’s representatives said there was widespread and growing unemployment in the building industry. Those figures apply, of course, only to Sydney, but that is a situation which is applicable generally throughout Australia. In fact, I know of no real exception.
To-day, in Queensland the situation is becoming most serious indeed. Hundreds of tradesmen in the building industry are threatened with dismissal, so it is not a case of a shortage of man-power. Indeed, in addition to those figures of unemployment, there is a kind of concealed or masked unemployment because many members who are out of work do not report to their union. It was proved beyond any doubt that quite a number of them gradually had sought employment outside the building industry because they felt that there was uncertainty and no secure employment in that industry. In addition, so far as materials were concerned, it was shown that 80,000,000 super, feet of dressed and sawn timber lay at grass in New South Wales and that small timber mills had been put out of production simply because there was no opportunity to sell their timber. In to-day’s newspapers it is reported that on the north coast of New South Wales alone, because of the slump in the building trade, 83 timber mills have closed in the last three months. The mills employed more than 800 men and the representative of the union said that a recent survey of the State’s timber belt between Port Macquarie and the Queensland border had shown that large stocks of timber were stacked high around the mills. That is not peculiar to New South Wales. Indeed, in some respects the situation there is not as critical as, for instance, it is in Tasmania. The position of the timber industry in Tasmania, as has been stated by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), gravely affects the whole economic position of the State.
It was also shown to the committee that 10,000,000 tiles were surplus to order; that Metters Limited, manufacturers of baths and other home equipment, had reduced staff during the fortnight before the committee’s inquiry.
I do not wish, Mr. Speaker, to say more than this: From beginning to end of the inquiry it was clear beyond any question that the statement of the Prime Minister that the difficulty lay in a shortage of man-power and materials was quite wrong, and that the real problem in the home building industry, was the problem of finance. The Commonwealth, having the complete key to the financial problem, refuses to use the key to unlock the credit, so that Australian people in need of homes may obtain the necessary finance. That has been, I submit, a deliberate policy of this Government. I have already referred to the increase of interest rates, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. For some reason the Government will not face up to the position in connexion with home building.
Yesterday when the honorable member for East Sydney summarized a number of points which were proved before the committee, the Prime Minister said that he would very much like to compare what had been done under the present Government with what had been done under the previous government. Let him do so; but if he is accurate he will find - and I refer to the December, 1956, statistics - that the record of the Chifley Government, despite the enormous difficulties which had to be overcome in a period of shortages before the great crisis caused by the war had been entirely removed from the immediate economic scene, will stand comparison with the record of this Government. The rate of completion of homes at present is practically the same as the rate between 1949-50 and 1951-52, under the influence of the policy of the Chifley Government.
But what is the difference between conditions now and conditions then? The difference is that since this Government came to power, 852,000 immigrants, I think, have arrived in this country. Although there is an additional demand for homes, there has been no increase of what is being done to find homes for the people. Therefore, the housing shortage is becoming worse. The rate of construction of homes in 1949-50, the last period of office of the Chifley Government, and in the following year, the first complete year of office of the present Government, was equivalent to the rate of construction during the last several years, taking the figures on an annual basis. So it is clear that a comparison of the rates of home building under the Chifley Government and under this Government, even if it is relevant, cannot affect adversely our criticism of this Government.
The real question is: What is to be done now, in this crisis? The Prime Minister talks about lack of constitutional power. He knows, as does everybody else, that in the Australian Capital Territory there is no constitutional restriction of the powers of the Commonwealth in relation to housing, yet the Government has failed to provide sufficient homes to meet the needs of the people of this district. To-day, there are 3,000 names on the waiting list for homes in the Australian Capital Territory. At present, the waiting time for a home here is from two years and four months to two years and six months. The people who are being allotted homes to-day are those who registered 28 or 30 months ago. The present rate of building is barely keeping pace with new registrations, and the waiting time has been extended. To meet the needs of the people on the waiting list here who are ready to accept homes now, we need another 1,500 homes immediately. The transfer of departments from Melbourne to Canberra will bring an additional 2,000 public servants to Canberra, but no plans are being made to provide houses for them. The Government’s failure to provide homes in Canberra has created a great problem. In relation to Canberra, there can be no alibi in the form of an excuse that the power of the Commonwealth in relation to housing is limited by the Constitution. 1 say that, in reality, there is no such limitation of the power of the Commonwealth in any other part of Australia.
What is happening in Canberra? People are living in all sorts of temporary and shared accommodation - in garages, in shacks and in caravans. Many of those living under such conditions are married men with families. A further problem is that public servants transferred to Canberra from Melbourne must be accommodated here while they maintain their families elsewhere and while they wait for a very long time to secure homes here. That is the position in this Territory, as reported to our party by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser).
It is an indication of the course that the Government should follow to meet this crisis. It should use all available man-power and obtain all the materials required. Why, timber cannot be sold in many States of the
Commonwealth! There is quite a depression in the timber industry. People who are on the edge of the building industry and “who would resume their activities in it if work were available should be brought back to the industry. The argument of the Prime Minister, in which he blamed everything on the absence of man-power and materials, was completely negatived by the evidence given by 50 witnesses, covering a wide field. Union representatives were called, and information was obtained from every possible source.
I say that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is failing because of the increased rate of interest and also because of the absence of any determination on the part of the Commonwealth to act resolutely to overcome the housing shortage. All sections of the community are affected. The State governments are short of funds for housing. We know that they have unanimously made demands for finance upon the Commonwealth. All the State Ministers responsible for housing met yesterday in Melbourne and joined in a demand upon the Commonwealth Parliament to obtain the extra money required for housing. This debate should not finish to-night without a definite statement from the Prime Minister to indicate whether he still says that the -real limitation is a limitation of man-power and materials. If he still says that, I ask him to review the position in the light of the facts. If he refuses to review it, he must be censured by this House for basing the Government’s refusal to assist home builders upon a ground that is quite unsound.
All that is needed in connexion with war service homes is additional finance. If additional finance were provided, the long waiting time for loans from the War Service Homes Division would be shortened. For the ex-serviceman, hope deferred maketh the heart sick. There are many exservicemen who desperately need homes. In this field, the limitation again is a lack of finance, not a lack of man-power or a lack of materials.
Co-operative building societies do a very important job in connexion with housing. They, too, have joined in this demand upon the Commonwealth Parliament. The position in Queensland is slightly different from that in other States, because in Queensland co-operative building societies are few in number, but similar conditions obtain there. Citizens are trying to obtain homes. I have referred to the conditions prevailing in Canberra. The conditions in other parts of Australia are exactly the same. The position in Queensland is no different. There is a housing shortage there, too.
In some States the situation is really serious. Indeed, it is appalling. As was pointed out during the last session by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), housing conditions in suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney are really disgraceful. The overcrowding in some of the suburbs of Melbourne has been referred to in reports published by the Melbourne press and has been emphasized by the honorable member for Batman. In June of last year, at a meeting of the Victorian Public Health Commission, it was revealed that apartments housed 30 inmates, who shared one copper and one trough. It was stated that houses were so crowded that people had to share beds, one after the other. Honorable members from Victoria have referred to the cramped, unhealthy conditions which have to be faced in the immigrant hostels at Williamstown, Brooklyn, Maribyrnong and other places. In addition, there is cruel and heartless exploitation of people, especially immigrants, who take sub-tenancies. They are charged extortionate rentals for the occupancy of accommodation which is quite unsuitable.
The view of the Labour party is that it is absolutely vital to a proper plan for housing that there should be an immediate reduction of the immigrant intake. It is impossible to ignore what is happening now, which is unjust to both Australians and new Australians. Under present conditions, we cannot possibly solve the problem of housing. There should be an immediate and substantial reduction of the intake of immigrants.
The next point is the employment of the maximum work force in the home-building industry. That is the vital point, and it is quite correct to stress the necessity of that. The fact is that people want to be employed in that industry. But they have to have security of tenure in the industry. They have to know that it will not be a casual job. They have to feel assured that they will be able to stay in the industry. When that problem is solved, we shall have solved one very important part of the overall problem.
Now, as to the availability of materials. The position in regard to the basic materials needed for home building, according to the facts placed before the committee to which 1 have referred, is the same in other States as it is in New South Wales. I think the New South Wales position is typical. One cannot go into the details applying in every State, but all the members of the party who assembled in Canberra considered that the situation is substantially the same throughout this nation.
There should be priority for home building over less essential private investment. Here we come, I think, Mr. Speaker, to the crux of the matter in many respects. Figures show that over the period since the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement came into operation there has been an enormous increase in the moneys that have been expended not only in private investment generally, but also in building for commercial purposes - not in home building. We get the same situation as the Treasurer described in the budget speech two years ago, that is, a deliberate preference for investments for profit in the private sector of the economy. That is to say, the expenditure on homes is small compared with the enormous increase in the expenditure on large buildings for the purposes of commerce and industry. The fact is that the luxury expenditure in connexion with hotels, picture theatres and so on, and the expenditure on building materials in connexion with one-brand petrol stations has now become a characteristic of the whole industry in Australia. The building of these one-brand petrol stations is a most extraordinary thing. They all sell substantially the same petrol. If the petrol sold in these various one-brand petrol stations were analysed it would be found that it all comes from the same source, and that the only difference lies in the additions made to the petrol. Yet the call on the building resources of the Commonwealth made for the purposes of the oil combine is enormously heavy. That is something in respect of which the Commonwealth should endeavour, with the co-operation of the States, to insist upon priorities. There is no reason why that should not be done, and I have never heard one argument in favour of the expenditure of huge amounts of capital on the building of one-brand petrol stations. In these buildings the oil companies really put the profits they have made. At the same time, they are elaborate structures in many respects, and the materials used in their building would provide Quite a few homes. We most definitely need priority for home building over private investment, not only in the building industry, but also generally.
But why is it that the immense expenditure on building for private investment goes on? It goes on, as was pointed out by the Labour party in the budget debates of both last year and the year before, because of the profit motive which dominates everything, and is allowed to dominate everything. Investment in the private sector of the economy offers such profits that the tendency is for investment to become more and more restricted to the private sector, so that inadequate money is provided for basic necessities, not only for homes, but also for schools, hospitals and transport, with the result that the purposes and powers of the States are not, in effect, exercised or carried out.
We know now - everybody knows it - that under the tax reimbursement system the States receive a quite inadequate reimbursement. The reason for that is that money follows money. The profits follow bigger profits. That is happening, and is illustrated for us all in connexion with home building. It is not just as though it is a choice between one thing and another. The home is the basis of happy family life in this country. It is not a question of something additional, of some luxury expenditure. The provision of homes is something that is absolutely essential to the progress of Australia. But the position has been rendered impossible by the fact that there is no organization or planning by the Commonwealth. The Government seeks to shelter behind this wretched excuse that the necessary manpower is not available, when the facts show that the ‘ root of the problem does not lie in any lack of either man-power or materials, but simply in the withholding of credit. The credit is there, but those who could release it are refusing to do so. I submit that for this the Government deserves severe censure. The whole of the controversy that has gone on in the press and among members of the public proves that to be true beyond any doubt whatsoever. It proves, for instance, that the so-called clamour to which the Prime Minister referred condescendingly when criticism regarding the housing position was rising, is not clamour but bona fide criticism. All that can be done now - and the House must demand that it be done - is the provision of this finance.
There is reference in the Governor.General’s Speech to the availability of labour and materials. Does the Prime Minister adhere to the view that the housing problem results from the shortage of manpower and materials? Will he study the position that we are putting before him in this debate, and will he act to see to it that the Commonwealth Government really cooperates with the States, and that there is a national plan which is truly worthy of Australia?
The last point made in the amendment concerns the provision of sufficient finance to promote home ownership at low rates of interest. I say that the vital point in that is the provision of finance, and I need not elaborate on that any further. The actual amount required could easily be ascertained. Action should be taken, but low rates of interest are a crucial feature of the need for the development of home building in Australia. The difficulty of meeting obligations under the present system of dear money has become notorious. It has become part of the economic policy of the Government. We thought at first that the Treasurer would be opposed to it, but it is apparently accepted. High rates of interest exist in all features of the economy. Of course, we find that the rates charged in the banking system are going up, and in addition we find that, because the banks want higher rates of interest still, they are engaging in other business, including hire purchase financing, in which the rates of interest are very extreme, ranging from 10 per cent, to perhaps 20 per cent. That is really an indication that the Government is not carrying out its duty to the people, but is allowing these financial masters of the nation to levy toll on the people, which is effective at every possible stage in relation to the expenditure of the home. It has been shown before the committee that interest rates play the greatest part in the ultimate capital cost of a home - that if there is an increase of interest rates, say double, compared with all other elements in the cost of the home, that increase of interest rate has thi greatest effect in adding to the ultimate capital cost involved.
Mr. Speaker, the crisis in home building provides the clearest indication of the effect on the people of Australia of the Government’s inflationary policy. I say “ inflationary policy “, because, although the Government came out with a plan or statement that it would end inflation, exactly the reverse has taken place. Inflation has been a characteristic of all the years of its period of office. First of all the Government lowered the living standards of pensioners and of wage and salary earners whose money incomes were controlled by courts or other authorities like the Parliament itself. Equally, it caused a rise in the incomes of the large manufacturing and trading companies whose power to increase prices is controlled, not by the Government or the people, but by themselves. They complain of the possibility of price fixation, or fixation of interest rates by law. But who fixes the rates of interest? We know that they are fixed, for instance, by the banking combine in connexion with its rates, and that that applies generally to the combines and monopolies of this country.
The second impact of inflation came when those companies sought a higher price, rate of interest or profit for the surplus money they had acquired. Then we find the Government allowing interest rates to increase still further and the companies and the banks charging, through subsidiary companies, even higher rates of interest. The Government failed to support the Commonwealth bond market in 1956. Inflation has become the permanent policy of the Government, and we now find representatives of large businesses in this country actually saying that inflation has its advantages. It has advantages from their point of view, because it enables startling profits to be made by the mere increase of stock during the trading year.
The position is that under the influence of the cheap money policy of the Chifley Labour Government the number of homes under construction - uncompleted homes - rose steadily after the war until, in 1949-50, there were 65,708, in 1950-51 there were 80,786 - that is, after the coming of this Government - and in 1951-52, there were 82,830. But as soon as the financial changes, or really distortions, became operative in this stage of inflation the figures began to fall. From more than 82,000 in 1951-52, the number decreased in 1952-53 to 69,714, in 1953-54 to 69,573, in 1954-55 to 65,359, and in 1955-56 to 60,687. Taking December, 1956, as the final point, the number was 60,062. The net result has been a disastrous fall of approximately 22,000 houses under construction since 1951- 52, or 27 per cent, of the total. That has had a devastating effect upon Australians, because in that period the population has increased by 842,000, of whom 300,000 were immigrants.
That is to say, we have lost the construction of an additional 80,000 houses. The cause of this fall in home construction has not been that labour and materials were not available for housing; it has been the giant diversion of money away from homebuilding to excess profit investment, which it was the real purpose of the Government to achieve. Even within the building industry, this giant diversion has taken place. While the number of houses under construction has fallen, the value of other buildings under construction, including commercial buildings, has increased from £115,000,000 in 1952- 53 to £234,000,000 in December, 1956.
We have to get back to the purposes of the original Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. We must have a national plan to provide the money and give the people a chance to obtain their homes under the conditions to which I referred in the earlier portion of my speech. I ask the Prime Minister flatly: Does he adhere to his statement of 7th March that finance is not the difficulty and that there is a shortage of materials and man-power? The work of the committee to which I have referred negatives that statement. I submit that that claim is not true. The Prime Minister must really state to-night what he proposes to do about this great national question.
– It is very difficult to answer the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). He flits from flower to flower, and therefore one never quite knows what point it is that he has taken, or what argument it is that he has decided to stand upon. Therefore. I must apologize in advance for not hein<* clear on those matters, but I have, in the course of his speech - before I come to matters of substance - made a note or two about the points that he has been, as I understand it, endeavouring to make.
I must say that I congratulate him on having said that the Government has an inflationary policy. This, I think, is something that the people of Australia will reflect about not without interest, because if any man in the whole history of this country has twice unsuccessfully put an inflationarypolicy before the people it is the right honorable gentleman himself. He has made it abundantly clear, if I may use that phrase, which I know he used in common with me recently, that his cure for inflation is more inflation. He made that quite plain in 1954. Now, having had that rejected by the people, he comes along and succeeds in the remarkable dialectical feat of saying that the Government has an inflationary policy. Of course, sir, he knows - if he knows anything about this matter at all - that the Government has been pursuing a counter-inflationary programme and endeavouring, as was said in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech yesterday, to reconcile the fighting of inflation with the production of progress in Australia.
The right honorable gentleman made another point. He said that the profit motive dominated everything in Australia. I do not understand what that means. Neither does he. The truth of the matter is that the United States of America is the one country which has understood, for years past, that one of the reasons for success in developmental industry is the honest earning of profits, and it is because of that that all the other free countries of the world, including ourselves, find it possible to go to the United States and say, “ Can you help us? Can you wretched people, debased by the profit motive; can you people who have encouraged private enterprise; can you people who have produced the greatest productive genius of the century, help us? But. of course, understand that we do not approve of people making profits! “ I admire people who make profits. One of these days I will have a go at it myself.
Then the right honorable gentleman said that the States got inadequate tax reimbursements. I am sorry to have to refer to this, which is rather an old thing in this House. Yet, it has been said again that the States get an inadequate tax reimbursement. After all, the right honorable gentleman was for a number of years No. 2 in a Labour government, and occasionally sounded as if he might be No. I. But he was there, and it was under his late respected Prime Minister, whose name he invokes so frequently, that the formula was designed which determined what the tax reimbursement should be for the States from the -Commonwealth under a uniform tax system. Let us make no mistake about this. The late distinguished Prime Minister, as Treasurer, proposed to the State Premiers and had accepted by all of them a formula under which the amount of money to be paid by way of tax reimbursement to the States should be determined. It is a very interesting thing that his legal adviser, his prospective successor, his collaborator in these events, should now say that our payments are inadequate, when the fact is that every year since we came into office we have added to the Chifley formula sums of money ranging from £10,000,000 to £30,000,000. At the end of it all, the Leader of the Opposition, having what the French call the wit of the staircase, has discovered, after the event, that it was wrong. He has the nerve to put this up in what I believe is described as a noconfidence motion.
Then, working back over this rather arid field, he permitted himself to attack the policy of migration. The policy of migration is always, among people of intelligence, an object of discussion. There is this view, there is that view. But on the whole I had thought, in common with the distinguished honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), that whatever price one had to pay for migration, it was worth paying so that this country might have, as it has now, 10,000,000 people, not the 7,000,000 gloomily forecast in my own time - in 1938. The honorable member for Melbourne was, if he will allow me to say so, the father of the immigration programme, a father who was backed by his brother-in-law, my distinguished colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt). I wonder how the honorable member feels when he finds his own leader - that is technically the right expression - attacking a policy with which I venture to say the name of the honorable member for Melbourne will be permanently and honorably associated. Yet that is a point that has been made.
Then, of course, having gone all over that, the Leader of the Opposition was pleased to refer to my statement, as he said, of 7th March. Unless he has heard a tape recording of my interview he does not know what I said on 7th March because some very odd variations of it have been published. As I understood him to-night, he said that I talked rubbish about manpower and materials. Therefore, perhaps I might be permitted to say to honorable members and to such of the people of this country as may be listening and such others as may read the record of the proceedings in this House, that what I said was - and I repeat it - that the limitation on a housing programme in Australia is the limitation of man-power and the limitation of materials and that anybody who is so naive as to believe that new man-power and new materials can be created by increasing the supply of money is merely adding to inflation. Having said that, I repeat it, and 1 repeat it with great goodwill because 1 happen to believe that no greater injury can be done to the ordinary people of my native land than to make them-
Opposition members interjecting,
– Well, it is my native land, oddly enough! Is it yours? Of course it is my native land, and 1 happen to believe, contrary to the opinion of some of these genteel characters in the back row, that no greater harm can be done to the ordinary people than to put up the cost of the homes that they want to buy. Let us face up to that.
The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), whom I hear interjecting, has, in reality, a lot of affection for me, as I have for him, and I am sure he does not mean to say that what he wants is houses, irrespective of cost. I am sure that he wants the people who want homes to get them at a price they can afford to pay. There we have something which entirely disposes of this rather cheap remark to the effect that man-power and materials do not matter and that only money matters. I say that all three matter and that, to the limit of man-power and to the limit of materials, money ought to be available to combine in doing a job for the home-loving people of Australia.
Honorable members opposite make a great mistake if they think that, by making noises, they will prevent the people of Australia from listening to a calm exposition of this problem. Before I go any further. 1 must say that the Leader of the Opposition ventured into waters in which he is not entirely at home. He talked about the bond rate. He said that when Labour was in office, the rate was 34 per cent, and he said that this Government did not support the market and that, therefore, the interest rate has risen. I merely want to tell him, for his private consumption and his private thought, that this Government, through its instrumentalities, laid out more money in the market to preserve the interest rate than his Government ever thought of doing. That is completely true, and if he knew anything about this problem, he would know it was true. But he now feels able to stand up and say that this Government did not support the market. That is wickedly untrue.
– It is true, and the Prime Minister knows it.
– The Leader of the Opposition, if he were cross-examined, either would be found to be utterly incompetent on this matter or would be bound to admit that this Government has done more to sustain the market and preserve the interest rate than all the Labour governments in the history of Australia put together.
Having said that, I pass on to one point which he made and which might be regarded as relevant. He said that the committee meeting under the chairmanship of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) - a highly impartial body - had succeeded, much to its surprise, in establishing that there was gross unemployment of building labour, I think that was the effect of it.
– He did not use the word “ unemployment “ at all.
– It is not surprising that, if one sets out to have a judicial inquiry designed entirely to produce a result, one should get that result. That is something that the honorable member from Tasmania might think about. In relation to building labour, I just mention a fact. All I want to say is that a few years ago, as every honorable member knows, the demand for building labour was rather greater than the supply. In other words, there was over-full employment. Any honorable member who is honest with himself will remember that an excessive turn-over of building labour, a bidding up of rates paid for skilled labour,, and very high costs prevailed, and that any one who obtained a firm tender price for a house was fortunate. What has happened is not the development of gross unemployment in the building industry, but rather that the whole matter has come more into balance. I am indebted to the Department of Labour and National Service for the figures that 1 shall now cite. I shall take New South Wales, the State in which the whole of this argument began in its most vigorous form. At this moment, out of the many thousands of people who are normally employed in the building industry, there are 693 applicants for employment and 618 vacancies registered with the department.
– Those are false figures.
– The honorable member, who disbelieves every one except himself, says these are false figures. Of course, Mr. Speaker, as honorable members and the people will realize, the truth is that these figures are produced, not by politicians, but by objectively minded civil servants and statisticians, and that at this moment in the building industry in New South Wales, the State in which most complaint has arisen, the vacancies broadly balance the number of applicants for employment. In other words, we have full employment.
– Absolute rubbish!
-Order! I ask the honorable member for East Sydney to remain silent.
– I did not suppose for one moment that the honorable member for East Sydney would believe statistics unless they happened to agree with him. But these figures are compiled from perfectly official sources. If any more evidence were needed, it would be found in the average earnings of workers engaged in building construction. In December, 1954, the average wage was £18 2s. a week, and to-day the average is £21 2s. a week. Is this proof of unemployment? Is this proof of under-demand for labour? lt is quite the contrary.
– What are union officials in Canberra saying?
– I did not ask the honorable member to agree with me. All I ask is that he listens. If he reads my remarks in “ Hansard “ to-morrow, which would be much better, he will realize that these figures demonstrate that, by and large, we are in a pretty fair position of balance in the building industry. I am not overstating my case. All I am saying is that that is just about right.
– What is the position in Queensland?
– If I were the honorable member, 1 should not say much about Queensland. I have not enough time to tell him about Queensland, but I am sure that one of my colleagues will do so, and I am ready to tell him all about it privately on a suitable occasion. If I were he, I should not build up the situation in Queensland too much.
Now let us go back to where all this began. 1 made a policy speech in 1955, which honorable members opposite may remember.
– The right honorable gentleman made one in 1949, too.
– I know, but I am talking now about the one made in 1955 for the election at which the Government’s majority in this House was increased from seven to 27. Therefore, I think I may speak about it freely. In that policy speech, made only about sixteen months ago, I pointed out that the Opposition was hardly qualified to be critical. I said, as I now remind the Leader of the Opposition, that the Labour government saw 202,000 houses and flats completed in Australia in its five post-war years. I said that that was good; and so it was. But in the first five completed financial years of the present Government’s administration, we saw 388,000 houses and flats completed, and the figures are now much greater.
– Nearly double the Labour figure.
– In effect, twice as many houses and flats were provided foi Australia in our five years as in five years of the Labour government’s term. As for war service homes - the kind of thing that this Government will always have in mind from year to year - 22,000 houses were completed in five years under the Labour government, and 68,000 in five years under the present Government. I said on behalf of the Government in my policy speech in 1955 that the housing arrears were being handsomely reduced, and that was true.
– It is still true.
– And it is still true. That does not mean that there is not a shortage of houses. Of course, it does not. But it does mean that the arrears of housing over and above the normal annual demand by newly-married people is much more manageable and will entirely disappear in the course of only a few years. In the 1955 policy speech, I then went on to talk of home-ownership and to foreshadow a new housing agreement with the States under which home-ownership would be financially encouraged. That housing agreement has since been completely negotiated and executed, and is operating. But I regret to say - and this may be noted by some honorable members - that the last State government to ratify it was the Government of New South Wales, the State in which the housing position is least advantageous. That Government thought so little of this magnificent agreement that it did not ratify it until November, 1956. We put that policy before the people, sir. They approved it, and the majority of the members of this House can testify to that fact. Yet in the last few weeks, there has been a sudden campaign in some sections of the press and’ elsewhere designed to convince the people that there is a housing crisis. Insofar as this is a campaign of exaggeration, it can, of course, be ignored, since intemperate advocacy, I am happy to say, always defeats itself in this country. But, insofar as it represents genuine feelings of apprehension on the part of sensible people, it deserves an answer and a precise expression of our attitude.
First, I want to make it clear that, for some strange reason, it is said by some people that this Government is unsympathetic with the very proper, strong, and inevitable desires of our people to have adequate housing. There is no foundation whatever for any such charge. My Government has, by encouragement, by example and by action, done more about housing the Australian people than any previous government in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia. The figures establish that claim. No denunciation can dislodge it. We are perfectly content to be judged, not by our words, but by our performance.
But this does not mean that we regard the problem as solved. The housing issue is at once a human and an economic problem. As a human problem it transcends almost all others since a home is the foundation of civilized society, and the home demands a house. This is completely true. We shall not rest until we find that this greatest human need has been satisfied. But there is also an economic problem. One of the great obstacles to home ownership, though home ownership has improved out of all sight since we come into office - 54 per cent, then, and 65 per cent, to-day - is the exorbitant price of building. No industry is more vital than that of building. No industry is more hag-ridden by restrictive practices and by soaring costs. The wholesale price of building materials has been rising for years past and, as I have said, average wages paid have been and are still rising.
Under these circumstances any government, even one possessing a degree of authority, which we cannot, under the Constitution, possess, would be at pains to see that the cost of a home did not keep rising out of proportion to the income of the prospective home owner. That brings us to the central economic truth, which is that the problem is not simply one of money but is essentially one of materials and of labour, particularly labour, and especially skilled labour. The great task is to preserve some balance between all these elements. That is why we refused to be stampeded into any crisis treatment of a problem which, more than any other, requires sober judgment and a clear understanding of the importance of not building too much false debt into the new home.
The Commonwealth Government, which lacks general responsibility for housing and has, indeed, no general authority over it, has a clear responsibility for war service homes, for housing in the Territories and services, and an accepted obligation under its housing agreements with the States. Under all three headings it has been finding between £60,000,000 and £70,000,000 a year, out of a total expenditure of something over £200,000,000 - about one-third of the total housing finance. All that can be said is that the Commonwealth contribution, so far from falling, has tended torise. Any decline in housing finance has occurred in the private sector of the economy.
The trading banks have reduced their lending, not under directive by the Commonwealth Bank or the Commonwealth Government, but because housing loans are not attractive to a trading bank, and I think most of us understand that. There is some reason to believe that other sources, such as the assurance companies, have been diminishing their support for home building. The savings bank gives rise to a problem about which I shall say something in a moment.
The Commonwealth Government cannot very easily seek to exercise compulsory authority over private lenders. But we are constantly watching this position through the relevant Ministers and our most skilled officers, because we regard it as important - we would like all lending authorities to understand this also - that there should be no violent fluctuations in the housing programme and that constantly, while avoiding an inflation of costs, we should be able to look forward, as we do, to the relatively early elimination of arrears and the concentration of house construction upon normal, current, annual demand.
It is my belief that the position now existing in New South Wales and Victoria, where it is perhaps more observable than in other States, is not permanent. There has been, for reasons that I will describe, some interruption of the normal housing activity in those places but - again for reasons that I shall give - it will tend to rectify itself. It certainly provides no foundation for exaggeration or pessimism.
As the activities of the Commonwealth are similar in every State, and our policy is constant throughout, marked variations between the States are perhaps to be explained by circumstances peculiar to some States, and not to others. For example, apart from the ordinary annual demand, the estimated housing deficiency - that is, the backlog or arrears of demand for housing - at the end of June, 1947, was 250,000. That deficiency was, of course, quite intelligible because of the practical suspension of housing construction during the war. I am not complaining about that. There it was. It was one of the facts of
Australian life. In the nine years which ended at 30th June, 1956, not only had the whole of the new current demand for houses been met but the deficiency, or backlog, had been reduced from 250,000 to 115,000. That was a very remarkable achievement in nine years.
But the interesting thing is - and I shall take a couple of examples which show that I am not playing the party game on this matter - that in Western Australia the deficiency over that period was reduced from 15,000 to 4,000, and in South Australia from 24,000 to 7,500. I have taken just those two cases because those States are controlled by governments of a different political complexion, although, of course, this was not so right through the nine-year period. The figures indicate that the arrears of housing in those two States are well on the way to elimination.
In Victoria, which has had a considerable population growth - greater in percentage than has New South Wales - as well as a great industrial expansion, the deficiency has been reduced from 68,000 to 32,000. But in New South Wales, which has had a smaller population growth over this period than any other State in Australia’, the deficiency, which was 107,000, is still 60,000. That is very remarkable, particularly when one considers that over that period the increase of population in Western Australia has been the highest in Australia. The population in Western Australia has increased since 1949 by 33 per cent, and the population in New South Wales, from which this complaint comes, has increased by 19 per cent, over that period of years - the lowest population increase in Australia.
There may be many reasons for that. The policies of the New South Wales Government, as we know, have not encouraged either the building of houses for rental or the sub-dividing of existing houses and the letting-in of tenants. That is another matter; that is a matter for New South Wales. In addition to this, the co-operative building society movement is probably much more advanced in New South Wales than in any other State, and any delays in the reticulation of funds through building societies may, therefore, be more significant. Those delays, may I say, are not to our account but to the account of the New South Wales Government.
But there is another matter which seems to me to be of great and perhaps unrealized importance. In the last few years, we have seen an enormous expansion in nonresidential building; that is, in the construction of factories, schools, office buildings, shops, hospitals, and so on. Such construction is vastly important because a community that is growing demands and needs a balanced ration of these things. The resources of the building industry are not infinitely elastic and, therefore, increases in non-residential buildings have a tendency to affect residential buildings. 1 shall give a simple illustration in the case of New South Wales. It will suffice to show that talk of crisis and of slump is grossly exaggerated. I deny a crisis; I deny a slump. As I told my press conference on 7th March, I constantly admit the existence of a problem of housing which will be perpetual - until some day it is solved. The fact is that New South Wales has had a pretty fair share of non-residential building. The value of non-residential building for Australia in the year before last was £149,000,000, and in the current year it will be £167,000,000. That is a tremendous programme. Of course, it attracts the attention of the building industry. People cannot construct city buildings, factories, hospitals and schools and at the same time build houses unless the supply of people who do this kind of work is inexhaustible. That is one matter which has been, I think, gravely overlooked in the assessment of the present position.
I am told - and quite rightly - that 5,000 houses fewer will be built in the current financial year in Australia than were built in the previous financial year. That, I believe, is true. I believe that, having regard to all the circumstances that exist, there will be a better figure in future. But instead of 78,000 - a high figure in itself - there will be 73,000 dwellings completed. That is quite true, but in the case of nonresidential building the advance has been of the order that I have described. Indeed, I think I should say that, taking New South Wales as the example, the number of tradesmen engaged on new building of all kinds in mid-December, 1 955 - fifteen months ago - was 39,243, but in mid-December just concluded, despite what has been said, it was not 39,243 but 41,964, or call it in round figures 42,000.
– Does that include the St. Mary’s project?
– St. Mary’s does not explain that, of course, as the honorable member knows. That is the number of people engaged on new building. These are figures not without importance. Perhaps I should add one or two more. I do not want to be tedious and I am afraid my time is running out. However, statements have been made about the position of the savings banks, and a suggestion has been made that by some strange mechanism the Commonwealth Government is anxious not to have houses built. It is a strange idea, having regard to this superb record, that we should not want to have houses built, and that we should suddenly become inhuman. But the suggestions have been made that the Commonwealth Savings Bank has not done its share. One year ago there began in operation in Australia what I shall call private savings banks - savings banks attached to the ordinary trading banks. The fact is that within one year of the constitution of the first of them, they have taken deposits amounting to £90,000,000. The Commonwealth Savings Bank’s own deposits increased by £5,000,000. Therefore, the capacity for the Commonwealth Savings Bank to make advances out of new deposits has fallen and for a while the new savings banks appear to be lending rather less than their fair share. But these things are inevitable in a period of transition and I am happy to say that on the figures that have been put to me, I should think it quite clear that the amount of money for housing from the total savings bank structure in Australia at the end of this financial year will be as great as it was in the previous financial year.
I just want to bring the matter to a point by saying this: There has been a good dea of talk about alleged instructions given by the central bank and alleged instructions given by the Commonwealth Government. The plain truth is that the Commonwealth Government is very proud of the rate oi home construction in Australia. The plain fact is that the Commonwealth Government will not willingly see it fall away. The fact is that the central bank has pursued quite civilized directives on this matter. If there has been a fall in trading bank advances for homes, it has not been the result of a direction on the part of-
– Order! The right honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- We have heard many speeches from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in the years during which he has occupied his position in this House, but I believe that we have never heard one containing so much specious argument, if it can be termed argument at all, as the one that we have heard from the right honorable gentleman this evening. It would appear from what the Prime Minister said that he has now joined me on at least one point. He now claims that he has been misrepresented by the daily newspapers - not just one newspaper, but all of them in New South Wales, and probably those of other States - because he said, “ There have been many odd versions published of what I said at my conference on 7th March”. He then went on to admit that he had stated to that gathering that there was no crisis in housing in Australia. But there was one other charge that was made against the right honorable gentleman by the press, to which he has made no reference. It was stated in the newspapers that the Prime Minister is contemptuous of the whole requirements of the Australian people with regard to housing. The right honorable gentleman shows his contempt this evening to the Australian community, because, after having taken up 45 minutes of the time of this Parliament, he now departs from the chamber and will probably dismiss this problem entirely from his mind.
The Prime Minister did, however, make some rather remarkable admissions, when trying to belittle the committee of which I acted as chairman for over a week in Sydney. It was a fact-finding committee, which invited not only members of the Australian Labour party but any one who had any information at all on this problem to come before it, so that it would have the full facts. The Prime Minister said that if a committee is appointed to come to a certain finding, for instance that there is gross unemployment, there is nothing strange in the fact that it discovers that such is the case. It was not the committee that discovered and stated that there was unemployment in the building trades; that was stated by the responsible officials of the trade unions and the employers in the build- ing industry, by the timber merchants, and by the representatives of the Associated Country Sawmillers of New South Wales. These gentlemen came forward and told us of the conditions in the industry, as did secretaries of co-operative building societies. They advised the committee, and the people of this country, that a crisis does exist, first in respect of the lack of homes for the people, and secondly because of the effect that the failure of the Government to deal with the housing shortage is having upon industry.
The Prime Minister does not admit that there is any unemployment of any consequence in the community, because every one knows that Liberal party politicians regard 10 per cent, of unemployed workers as a normal condition in any industry. Therefore, when the Prime Minister talks about a position of over-full employment, he means that no less than 10 per cent, of the total work force is unemployed. Then the Prime Minister said that the position has come into balance. Does he regard from 5 per cent, to 12 per cent, of unemployment, as was stated by the responsible persons, employers and employees, in the building trades, as indicating that the economy is coming into balance? I believe that the Australian community will be shocked to hear the Prime Minister make such a statement. He cited figures provided by the Department of Labour and National Service. Let me inform him that when I interjected and said that they were false figures I was not implying that the officials of the department had falsified them, but the Prime Minister knows, as does the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), that these figures are compiled in such a way as not to show the realistic position with regard to employment in any industry in Australia. I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service to ascertain whether it is a fact that my committee tried to get some authoritative figures from officers of the Department of Labour and National Service, but that those officers were unable to give any information to the committee, because they had received an instruction from their Minister not to appear before the committee. The Minister was afraid to have these officers questioned, because they would have confirmed the story that was told to us by other persons who appeared before the committee.
The Prime Minister is contemptuous, and he is smug in his approach to this great problem. When he was first asked about it he said, “ All this business about housing puzzles me “. One would have imagined that the problem had been solved, and that there was not a person in Australia looking for a home. He referred to his critics. He said that their arguments and ideas were quaint, ignorant and stupid. Who are the people who criticize the Prime Minister and the Government? They are not only members of the Australian Labour party, and it does not matter if Government supporters claim that their critics come only from the ranks of the Australian Labour party. The gentlemen who have criticized the Government and asked it to do something about the housing problem include Mr. E. H. Tytherleigh, president of the Associated Co-operative Building Societies, and Mr. C. R. McKerihan, president of the Rural Bank of New South Wales. Both of these gentlemen have asked the Prime Minister to call a conference of all building authorities in the country, both private and public, so that they may deal with the problem. The Prime Minister, however, in his customary manner, dismisses the request as being worthy of no consideration whatsoever.
Is it not rather strange that in his speech to-night the Prime Minister made no reference to Mr. Stewart Fraser? That gentleman is not a member of the Australian Labour party. He happens to be a member of the Liberal party, and is the member for Gordon in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. How did Government supporters deal with that gentleman when he supported the case of the Australian Labour party? The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said, “ You cannot accept Mr. Stewart Fraser as an unbiased witness “. Professor Towndrow, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Technology in Sydney, also joined the critics of the Government. There is not a newspaper in Australia that does not condemn the Government to-day, including newspapers which, sixteen months ago, were asking the people to return this Government to office.
If honorable members opposite require any further evidence, let me say that the State of Queensland was mentioned, and the Prime Minister tried to brush the matter lightly aside by implying that there was something sinister in relation to Queensland. The facts are that within a day or two 452 men in the building industry in Queensland, engaged on home construction, are to be dismissed, because the Commonwealth has refused to provide the money to keep them employed, and in the building industry itself there are just over 2,000 unemployed. Of course, the Prime Minister would regard this as the normal state of affairs. It is a normal state of affairs under an anti-Labour government, but it is not a state of affairs that the Australian Labour party regards as normal.
The Sydney “Daily Telegraph”, which is violently anti-Labour and very much proGovernment on most issues, in a recent leader said, “ Senator Spooner and the Prime Minister are against the rest of Australia “. To hear the Prime Minister speaking to-night, one would have imagined that he was speaking for the great bulk of opinion in Australia, but it appears to me that what that newspaper said is correct, and that, on the housing situation at least, he and Senator Spooner stand alone. The Prime Minister said that anyone who claimed that the housing programme was going very well was accused of being smug. He said that you must never express pleasure about anything in your country or you will be accused of complacency. He said, “You must go on grizzling about something “. He always becomes irritable when he receives a little criticism. That is why he has left the chamber now. He is not prepared to remain and hear criticism of what he had to say. But what is this normal situation that gives the Prime Minister great pleasure? He has said that it gives him pleasure, although in the 1954 census, which was taken not so very long ago, it was disclosed that in the City of Sydney and its suburbs alone there were 9,275 families living in sheds, huts, &c, and 920 families living in wagons and camps. Recently Mr. Justice Mcclemens, a member of the same profession as the Prime Minister, said, when sitting in judgment on a matter in a Sydney court -
Frequent ejectment proceedings against families were terribly disturbing and distressing.
Does that indicate a normal state of affairs? A member of the bench, a renowned member in his profession, had to make that reference and everybody knows as well as
I do or any other member of this community does, that a great number of the people who are evicted from homes to-day are evicted not because they are bad tenants, or because they are unable to pay their weekly rents, but because somebody - in many cases I regret to say some one who is a comparatively recent arrival in this country - has purchased the home. In this way, the courts are evicting people who have resided in this country for many years.
Immigration, in my opinion, is a factor in creating this problem. Nobody denies that many people who come from overseas enter industries and help to step up production, but no reasonable person will not admit that bringing immigrants in at the present rate is adding to inflation, and is accentuating our housing difficulty. Alderman M. T. Hagen, of Ryde, said -
Scores of immigrants are living in sub-human conditions in packing sheds rented for as much as £4 a week.
I am not suggesting for one moment that all the difficulty stems from immigration; not at all. Many unfortunates who have been encouraged to come to this country find themselves facing the identical difficulties and problems that face ordinary Australian citizens, and they too are frequently exploited, as is indicated by the aldermen of the Ryde Council. But is it not ridiculous that although a housing crisis exists and thousands of our own people and new arrivals are living under intolerable conditions, this Government continues to bring to Australia approximately 2,500 additional settlers every week? I say that until the economy is able to absorb immigrants without further depressing our own living standards, there ought to be a substantial reduction in the intake. Everybody knows the difficulties in regard to emergency housing settlements. In the Australian Capital Territory, where the Commonwealth has complete power, there is a waiting period of two years and four months for government homes. In emergency housing settlements a similar position exists.
Let me briefly, because time will not permit me to go into the matter as fully as I would like, reveal to the House some of the housing conditions which, according to the Prime Minister, give him great pleasure. I wonder whether they give the same amount of pleasure to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) who now sits at the table. I have here a number of cuttings taken from Sydney newspapers at random over past weeks. One is headed “21 live in fowl-houses - people at one end of the shed . . . fowls at the other “. Photographs accompany the article. Another heading is “ Fowl-house for a home. Huge rats on the beds “. A photograph shows a housewife in tears. In another newspaper, a picture shows children of an Australian family having a bath under the most primitive conditions - housing conditions that the Prime Minister says give him great pleasure. Even Alan Reid, the Canberra correspondent of the “ Daily Telegraph “, who usually is out to make excuses for the Government, wrote an article which is headed, “ Canberra wastes no tears on the homeless “. That is the exact situation to-day. The Government is not wasting any tears over the homeless. And so I could go on with the story; but let me for a moment say something about the resources that are available in this country.
We had before our fact-finding committee representatives of all the building industry unions. We also had Mr. Kraegen, the secretary of the Country Sawmillers Association, who told us that 64 mills had closed on the North Coast. Timber merchants told us that their sales were down 25 per cent. Other witnesses said that brick-yards were closing and that manufacturers of building accessories were shortening production. Yet the Prime Minister talks about a shortage of manpower and materials! The Minister for Housing in New South Wales, a responsible Minister of the State Government, recently advised our committee that an additional 3,000 homes could be built in the next twelve months by using the available idle resources, without taking materials or manpower from any other avenue of production.
Now let us turn to this question of cheap homes. I admit that what a worker has to pay for a home is of the utmost importance. Did honorable members hear the Prime Minister crying to-night because the workers now had to pay more for their homes? Why did he not tell us of the important part played by the interest rate on housing loans in determining the cost of a home? Is it not a fact that under the
Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement the Commonwealth Government itself raised the interest rate by 1 per cent.? If the Prime Minister were really concerned about keeping down the cost of home construction, instead of increasing the interest rate he would be reducing it. Is it not a fact also that the Commonwealth Government demanded of the States that they must abandon the rental rebate system? Senator Spooner said that the States were free to pay the rebate if they wish to do so; but, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, the Commonwealth Government contributed a considerable sum to the maintenance of these rental rebates.
– The Commonwealth’s contribution was three-fifths, as my deputy leader reminds me. When the Chifley Government introduced the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, the rental rebate system was instituted purposely to assist the lower income group in the community to obtain homes. What happens to-day? With the inflated costs for which this Government is responsible, the worker, without the assistance of a rental rebate, cannot afford to take a new home built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Those homes are within the reach only of those who can be regarded as being in the middle income group. How unrealistic was the Minister for Development, in regard to the difficulties of the New South Wales Government? He said that the New South Wales Government should try to attract funds from private sources to finance housing. Where are those funds to come from? The Prime Minister has told us this evening that the banks will not lend money for housing because they have more profitable avenues of investment. Where else does Senator Spooner suggest homebuilders can go for funds? According to the “ Sun “ newspaper of the 6th January this year, the principal blame for the woeful housing situation lies at the door of the banks which, following Commonwealth Bank policy, prefer a 12 per cent, return on loans to hire-purchase companies to 6 per cent, on loans to building societies. So how can Senator Spooner regard his suggestion as worthwhile? Everybody knows what Custom Credit did recently. It offered to advance up to £2,000,000 in housing loans over a period of twelve years at an interest rate of 10 per cent., which would have meant to any person foolish enough to accept the offer, repayments of £7 16s. per week. Forty per cent, of this company’s share capital, and probably a greater percentage if the truth were known, is owned by the National Bank of Australasia Limited and obviously the bank will not make its money available to the home purchaser at a reasonable rate of interest if it can obtain 10 per cent, interest through Custom Credit. Some of the honorable gentlemen who were so vociferous in their protests when Labour wanted to do something in relation to private banking might tell us whether this is the sort of protection they were seeking in those days through a continuation of private banking. I will make a suggestion to the Government as to how it can have finance provided for home-building. In the special accounts of the private banks held by the Commonwealth Bank in the week ending 6th March last, there was £320,000,000. The Government is prone to have conferences with the banks when it so desires. Why does not it have a further conference with the banks and ask them to accept the release of a certain proportion of the money now held in the special accounts on the undertaking that it will be earmarked specifically for advances for home-ownership and home-construction? The Government could easily do that.
Let me turn again to Mr. Stewart Fraser, the Liberal party member of the New South Wales Parliament for Gordon. He was reported in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 7th March as having said that the Prime Minister had given him an assurance that enough money would be made available to keep the building industry busy. The report also stated -
Mr. Menzies’ assurance was given notwithstanding the Government’s credit restrictions.
If the Prime Minister gave that solemn undertaking, why does not he honour it? Why does not he provide adequate money for the States? It is idle for honorable members opposite to talk about inefficiency in New South Wales. We challenge them to produce evidence of any inefficiency in connexion with housing construction by the New South Wales Government. That Government has produced homes under the agreement for £2,300. 1 venture the opinion that there is, most likely, not another State in the Commonwealth that could match that performance. But the New South Wales Government can build only the number of homes for which this Government will provide the finance. If the New South Wales Government is given a certain sum by way of a tax reimbursement or a special housing grant, it can build only as many homes as that sum will provide. lt is perfectly true that a Labour government was in office when the tax reimbursement proposal was adopted, but it was something of which neither that government nor any other government in this country had had any previous experience. It was a new venture. We recognize to-day that the formula, as it is termed, for tax reimbursements must be reviewed and that the Commonwealth must adopt a more generous attitude to the States in helping them to deal with the problems which they are facing.
This is a dishonest government. The Prime Minister has talked about the Constitution. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) will confirm that, under the Constitution, the Commonwealth is entitled to raise by taxation only sufficient revenue to meet ils own requirements and purposes. But it has been taxing the people of this country more heavily than necessary. What has it done with the money that it has raised in addition to the money needed to meet its requirements? It has not handed that money back to the States, as it is required to do under the Constitution. To avoid compliance with the provisions of the Constitution, it has placed surplus moneys in trust funds. Then it has raised special loans, into which it has deposited the trust fund moneys, which were collected from the community by taxes, and subsequently it has lent those moneys to the States at an interest rate of 4 per cent. That is the type of action for which this Government has been responsible.
Let me turn to one or two of the election promises of the Prime Minister. He said in his speech to-night that he would refer to what he said in 1955, but, conveniently for him. he forgot to do so. In his policy speech he referred to -
A new housing agreement, with more money for the States at a favorable interest rate.
He knows that this Government has put up the interest rate. When the Government’s credit restrictions were first imposed, there were 85,417 homes under construction, but to-day there are fewer than 60,000 under construction. Our population is growing and our need for homes is becoming greater, but the Government is not providing additional finance to enable homebuilding to keep abreast of the demand.
Let me show honorable members the difference between the policy of the Labour party and that of the anti-Labour parties. Tn 1949, under a Labour government, the expenditure on homes represented 80 per cent, of the total expenditure on all types of building, but to-day the expenditure on home-building represents only 53 per cent, of the total expenditure. Some of the balance is being expended on essential building, but a great deal is being used for luxury and unnecessary building.
In the few minutes that remain to me, let me make one other reference to the promises of the Prime Minister. I have here an advertisement which the Liberal party inserted in the press during the general election campaign of 1949. Tt is fortunate that I kept this advertisement, tt contains an excellent photograph of the right honorable gentleman. It shows him minus one or two chins, but otherwise it is quite a good likeness of him. The advertisement stated -
We give this firm promise to young couples. The Liberal parly, when returned to office, will regard as its paramount and most vital responsibility the speeding-up of the housing programme. We will not allow any other public works, other than those of the most extreme urgency, to be given priority over home-building. . . . You are penalised to-day by the Chifley Government . . the very government which claims to be the champion of the average man and woman is the government that is depriving you of a home and. by starving State governments of funds, preventing even your State government from helping you.
That was in 1949. There was no mention of constitutional difficulties then. The Prime Minister did not say in 1949 that homes could not be built because there were constitutional difficulties. He said that, so long as there was an anti-Labour govern.ment, the way would be clear. The fact is that if this Government adopted a realistic approach to the housing problem, the problem could be solved.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. At the outset of his speech, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made a statement that, on instructions from me, the Department of Labour and National Service had withheld information relating to employment in the building industry in New South Wales, or in some other part of the country. No one will be surprised to learn that that statement was entirely untrue. No such instruction was given.
– J rise to order.
– Order! The Minister has a perfect right to make a personal explanation.
– Did the Minister claim that he had been misrepresented?
– It is quite clear that, if a completely false allegation has been made about me, I have been misrepresented. 1 claim that I have been misrepresented. I have said that the statement made by the honorable member for East Sydney was completely untrue. No such instruction was given by me, or was intended to be given by me at any time. 1 suggest that a test of the sincerity of the honorable gentleman is that neither he nor any other member of that committee approached me at any time for any official information relating to building industry statistics.
– I support the mover and the seconder of the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply in conveying a message of loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen. I take this opportunity to congratulate the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) on the valuable contributions to the debate that they made yesterday. As the debate has been used as a vehicle for discussion of the housing problem, I feel disposed to jump onto the vehicle, enter the fray and answer some of the statements that have been made.
Let me get even with the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who criticized the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) for leaving the chamber. I draw your attention sir, and that of honorable members, to the fact that the honorable member for East Sydney himself has now left the chamber. I am not surprised at that, because during his speech to-night the honorable member presented one of the most damning indictments of the New South Wales Government to which I have listened during the eleven years that I have been a member of this Parliament. From start to finish, his speech was an attack on the New South Wales Government for its mishandling of housing in that State.
However, I am not concerned with that very much. I am concerned that the honorable gentleman put words into the mouth of the Prime Minister. He claimed that he had demonstrated that the Prime Minister was unsympathetic to the people of this country who are seeking houses, but the right honorable gentleman himself, a few minutes before concluding his speech, stated emphatically that he and the Government - 1 believe he said “ my Government “ - were sympathetic towards them.
The honorable member for East Sydney concluded his speech by saying that this Government was starving the States in respect of finance. Earlier in the debate, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) said something about the inadequacy of the tax reimbursement payments. The Prime Minister pointed out that the tax reimbursement formula was introduced in the days when the late Mr. J. B. Chifley was Treasurer. He did not go further and say, as he could have done, that when this Government took office, the reimbursement payments to the States under the formula were £40,000,000 a year and that now, under the self-same formula, tax reimbursement payments and supplementary grants made to the States total £174,000,000 a year. To meet those commitments and other commitments the Government has, during that period, further taxed the people to supplement the loan programmes of the States.
There has been no starving of the States. If anybody wants proof of that, let him go to New South Wales where he will find more foundation stones than homes - foundation stones laid by succeeding Labour governments of New South Wales with a view to kidding the people that the government was going ahead with this or that project. Heaven only knows how much the New South Wales Government has wasted on the Eastern Suburbs Railway. What revenue will that work bring into the coffers of the New South Wales Government? How will it alleviate the difficult position in which the New South Wales Government has got itself?
The honorable member for East Sydney attacks the immigrants coming into this country on the score that many of them, after being only a short time in Australia, have been able to purchase homes to the exclusion, and possibly the eviction, of Australians. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who was properly and rightly credited to-night with the paternity of the immigration programme, will readily recall, and as every honorable member who was in this chamber when the honorable member for Melbourne introduced the immigration programme will very well recall, right from the date of the inception of that programme the honorable member for East Sydney has been opposed to it, tooth and nail. There is nothing too bad that he can say in order to damn the programme or anybody associated with it. I am surprised - and very disappointed - that the honorable member for Melbourne to-night should have seen fit to put his signature to the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition calling for a review of the immigration programme.
By interjection to-night the honorable member for East Sydney said that the position in the building industry in Queensland was tragic. He said that in a very short time something like 460 building trades operatives would be put off from work. Whose fault is that? To the best of my knowledge - and I have the facts here in print in front of me - when the State Ministers meet here with representatives of the Commonwealth in the Australian Loan Council, after gnawing at the bone or whatever may be thrown into the ring to be cut up between the Commonwealth and the States, it is the States themselves that decide on the amount of money they shall use for their housing programmes. The Commonwealth does not say, “ You shall have so much for housing “. The States themselves, after they have come to an agreement on the approved borrowing programme for the year, make that decision. But what do we find? Queensland now is reaping the benefit of this arrangement. In 1953-54 Queensland took £4,500,000 out of its loan raisings for its housing programme. The following year the amount dropped to £1,800,000. In 1955-56 it moved up again to £3,000,000. This year it has dropped to £2,750,000. It is not the fault of the Commonwealth that the Queensland Government is not expending sufficient money on its housing programme, because, had the Queensland Government seen fit at the time when it was helping to cut up the turkey at the Loan Council meeting in Canberra, it could have had a greater proportion for- housing. So it is wrong for the honorable member for East Sydney to say that this Government will not give Queensland the funds to carry on with its housing programme. Later on I propose to give some figures to prove that the Queensland Government is spending much less a head of population on housing than the other States are spending.
The same gentleman from East Sydney then had a go at the banks. He said that the banks could find more profitable investments than investment in home-building, and he mentioned the Custom Credit Corporation Limited and the interest of the National Bank of Australasia Limited in that concern. Every schoolboy knows that that is going on. The youngest schoolboy knows also that this Government can do very little about it. Nobody knows that better than the honorable member for East Sydney. What has the honorable gentleman done in his dealings with Mr. Cahill, the Premier of New South Wales, to get him to do something about this? If any one has the power to tell the banks not to engage in financing hire-purchase transactions to the extent that they are doing it is the State governments. But not one State government has done anything about it. We have Labour governments in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and in my own State of Western Australia squealing that somebody ought to do something about hire purchase, so that more money will be available for home building, but not one of them has raised a finger to do anything about it. although they claim to be the true representatives of the working man. As I have said very often before, they no more truly represent the working man than any man walking along the street.
– There are only three of them in the chamber now.
– I am not worrying about them.
– They are a very cross section of the Labour party.
– I agree with the Minister. The Leader of the Opposition said that priority for home-building had disappeared, and is given now to nonresidential building. I believe that that can be stopped by the States if they care to do anything about it, because I well recall that when controls were operating in Western Australia the Commonwealth Government could not get bricks to build post offices, and drill halls and so forth. The PostmasterGeneral of the day could not install telephone trunk lines because, in order to get the timber for the cross arms on the poles, he had to obtain a permit from the State Housing Commission. If all this money is going from the insurance companies, the banks and all the other lending institutions into non-residential buildings, the people who can do something about it quicker than anybody else are the members of the State governments. And what are they doing about it?
– They are the only people who can do anything about it.
– As I am reminded by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) the members of the State governments are the only people who can do anything about it. But have they really tried to do anything about it? No! Their party colleagues in this Parliament waste the time of the House by submitting this amendment. The Leader of the Opposition, supported by the honorable member for East Sydney and, I understand, to be supported by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb), are engaging in a lot of kite-flying in this matter, because the Opposition is so devoid of ideas that its members have taken hold of this thing and are using it for their own purposes. To my mind, it is one of the worst weapons, for them, that they could have tried to use, because their record in office cannot hold a candle to the record of this Government during its term.
I think I have covered all the points raised by the two’ members of the Opposition who have spoken so far in the debate on the amendment, but I want to repeat that the argument advanced to-night by the honorable member for East Sydney is one of the most damning indictments of the New South Wales Government that I have ever heard in this Parliament. Not only the two Labour party members who have spoken to-night, but also many people outside, have alleged that the Government is responsible for the policy of credit restriction being followed by the banks. Anybody who has taken the care to make a study of what has been going on in this Parliament, and who has read the Government’s press statements, knows very well that the directive issued by the central bank to the trading banks said nothing about limiting money for housing. It said nothing about limiting small overdrafts, and so on. The main point of the directive was that requests for loans for any new building that would involve the expenditure of more than £50,000 in one year should be seriously considered before approval was given. Another point of the directive was a request that people with overdrafts of £100,000 or more should be asked to reduce them gradually. But the directive said nothing about the lending of money for home building or for the needs of small farms or small businesses. 1 well recall that some four or five years ago, when these credit restrictions were being blamed on the government of the day, the Prime Minister rose in his place in this House and read the whole of the directive issued by the Central Bank, in an endeavour to prove to the people that it was not a directive from the Government. For the Leader of the Opposition, or any of those who support him, to come in here and say - or even to say outside this Parliament - that credit restriction is the policy of this Government, is just a little too much, because they know only too well that they are speaking untruths from start to finish.
The Prime Minister dealt most adequately, I think, with the arguments of the Opposition, by giving comparisons between the job that this Government has done and the job clone by the Labour government when it was in office. That comparison applies in various fields of activity in this country. For instance, a comparison of the rate of building construction in Australia with that of other countries, on the basis of the number of dwellings built a 1,000 of population, shows that in 1955-56 the relative figures were: New Zealand, 9.6; Australia, 8.4; Canada, 8.2; the United States of America, 8; The Netherlands, 6.5; the United Kingdom, 6.4; South Africa, 6.3; and Sweden, 6.2. On that basis, this country comes out very creditably indeed.
Another interesting statistical comparison can be made on the basis of the number of persons per occupied private dwelling. In that respect, we find that in Australia we have 3.52 persons per occupied house. My information discloses that the only country which has a better figure is New Zealand, with 3.5. The United States, a country which has all the resources, with a population of 160,000,000, and with almost everything it requires at its finger-tips, has a figure of 3.54, whilst that of the United Kingdom is 3.65. On that basis, our job in respect of home building compares very favorably.
Earlier to-night, the Prime Minister dealt with the housing shortage and pointed out that when this Government took office there was a shortage of 250,200 homes, and that by 30th June of last year that number had been reduced to 115,350, or an improvement of 134,850 since this Government has been in office. That rate of improvement almost equals the number of homes built in any two years. Over the whole of that period we have kept up with the normal demand for houses.
The right honorable gentleman went on to point out that the percentage improvement in Western Australia was far greater than that in any other State, and he mentioned South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. On looking at the figures, we find that the percentage improvement in Western Australia, the “ Cinderella “ State, was 73.3, as against 43.9 in New South Wales and 52.9 in Victoria. There must be a reason for that, and I think it can be found in the fact that in Western Australia the amount that is being expended on home building - that is, investment per head of the population by the State Government, plus expenditure under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, together with expenditure under State schemes - is £8.3 a head, whilst in South Australia it is £7.8, in Tasmania £7.6, in Victoria £4.2, and in Queensland £3.4. In the mother State, as New South Wales is called, although the Government has the opportunity to obtain money at the meetings of the Australian Loan Council, if it wished to do a worthwhile job in the housing field, only £3.2 a head is being spent on housing. That is the lowest figure for the whole of the Commonwealth. Those who administer the State have the opportunity to control the higher interest rates that are being charged by outside bodies. They have the opportunity to control the building of nonresidentials, and they have the opportunity to obtain more money from their own loan programmes for use in home building. But on every score and however this matter is looked at, we find that the State of New South Wales comes out worst.
– They have tenancy legislation, too.
– Yes. The people over here are miles behind. I am reminded of the position regarding war service homes and land settlement of ex-servicemen. What has this wonderful government in New South Wales done about war service land settlement? What did the wonderful government of Queensland do about it? When that government obtained money from the loan programme, ostensibly for war service land settlement, it spent the money on developing land and then threw the land open for settlement. The same kind of thing is found to be true of all the principal States; yet they are the first to complain. They have the remedy in their own hands. They can prevent these high interest rates being charged on hire purchase transactions; they can stop the erection of non-residential buildings; they can control many matters of that kind if they are of a mind to help the people whom they claim to represent so adequately and whom I claim they represent most inadequately.
There have been complaints about the cost of building. What do we find? The New South Wales Government had an opportunity, not so long ago, when a conference was called by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in the absence of the Prime Minister, to do something about the wage structure in that State. However, it would not have a bar of anything that might help to level out or regulate this mad wage system that we have in Australia. 7 make that statement, although I am not one who is inclined to reduction of wages, as some members of the Australian Labour party probably are already aware.
The same thing happened in respect of Victoria. The Premier of that State was opposed to doing anything, but when he went back to his State and gave the matter some thought, he took action. The result of the inaction of the New South Wales Government was that every industry in the State was loaded with a basic wage increase of Us. a week. What royalty is being paid on timber in New South Wales? By how much have freights and other services been increased there? All those increases have been necessary to bring in more money to meet the costs of maladministration over the years. The position is being made worse and worse.
My time is running out and I know that 1 am to be followed by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) who, no doubt, will endeavour to tell the Parliament of the unemployment situation in Western Australia and claim that it is due .to lack of funds for the housing programme. The Western Australian Minister for Housing was in Melbourne yesterday and is reported to have said, “ We want more money from the Commonwealth “. The Western Australian Government has had its share of money. Just before the last election in Western Australia, both the Premier and the Minister for Housing claimed that the housing problem had been solved. I have figures in front of me, and it is true that Western Australia has the best housing record on the figures that are available to-day. It is admitted that the Government did solve the housing problem to a great degree, and that very few people were looking for homes at the time. How did it do that?
– By time payments!
– Yes, that was one of the methods. But while the Government was doing that job, it refused to allow timber mills and saw mills to export any of their timber. They had to cease exporting sleepers to South Africa and timber to South Australia. They were not allowed to export bricks or other building materials. When the housing situation improved, the timber-millers and saw-millers had no markets, and could not sell their products. Strangely enough, although they could not sell their products, there were three increases of the price of timber, and the State saw-mills were among the first to increase prices.
At Armadale, we have brick works that are supposed to be the biggest in the southern hemisphere. They had a few bad burns there, as happens with all brick works, and it was discovered, three days before Christmas last year, that there were 1,500,000 bricks which could not be sold. The private brick works cut their prices for bricks, but the Stale brick works were not allowed to do so, with the result that, on Christmas eve, 40 men were told to take their time. They had to go home and tell their wives that they had been sacked. That happened under a Labour government. The honorable member for Stirling, who was a very prominent member of the Labour party in Western Australia, should know all about it.
What was the position of those 40 men and their families, and of all the other men who were put off because of the stupid administration of the State government and its mad desire to overcome the housing shortage by stopping exports of building materials? Nobody blames it for attempting to solve the housing problem, but it should have allowed the various timber-mills and everybody associated with the timber industry to maintain their markets outside the State, even though they sent only token shipments to them.
Because of the price increases and the other factors that I have mentioned, the Premier of South Australia will not buy our timber. Honorable members opposite can say what they like about building houses of karri. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization will say that it will not use karri even for a fowl house because of its susceptibility to white ants, and neither would any builder in Australia. Consider the position in relation to jarrah. The people of South Australia rightly will not buy our jarrah because of the price increases and the price ring that they think might be operating. They are able to import timber from overseas at a much lower price than that at which they can get it from the State next door to them. That is the tragedy in connexion with solving the housing problem in Western Australia. That is why we have a measure of unemployment in that State. There is plenty to be done, but the people cannot afford it. That is what has gone wrong in Western Australia.
I must commend the Western Australian Government for getting on with housing, but I contend that there is a sane way to tackle the problem. The Labour Government can only see as wide as its vision will allow it. It will not think of what lies ahead - of the tragedy that can happen. But the preceding Commonwealth Government, and the present one, although they have been going through difficulties since the war, at least have allowed the export of commodities in order to retain our markets or keep them interested in our produce so that once we got over our difficulties we would still have buyers for our goods. If the honorable member for Stirling can induce the Premier of Western Australia or the Minister for Housing to use business acumen, the problem in that State will be solved to the satisfaction of the home seeker and the business community.
.- I suggest to the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) that he should have a friendly word with the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to see whether he can get more money for Western Australia instead of doing what he can in his talks to this chamber to cripple the interests of that State. The honorable member said that the housing problem in Western Australia had been settled, according to the Minister for Housing in that State. The problem was well on the way to being settled at that time, but due to the credit restrictions that were applied by the Menzies Government and due to the failure of that Government to provide adequate funds for housing the position got out of hand. Consequently, there is another lag in house building in Western Australia. Then men were put off from some public works, timber mills and brick works. That was not the fault of the Labour Government which wanted to retain them in employment. It was the fault of the Menzies Government, which did not supply the necessary funds to keep those works going.
I sincerely hope that all those people who are without homes listened to the broadcast of the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to-night, and recognized the unsympathetic attitude that he adopted towards their claims. They got cold comfort from him. According to figures issued recently by the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, housing loans granted by the Australian trading banks have fallen by £7,400,000 in the six months ended 31st December, 1956. That means that for the eighteen months up to 31st December, 1956, housing loans had fallen by £18,500,000. lt means, in terms of houses, that in that period approximately 6,000 houses were not built which would have been built if the money had been available. The rate of national homebuilding has fallen from 77,000 houses to 69,900 houses per annum up to last year. As the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) mentioned this afternoon, the rate of construction at the present period is even less than that. It is at about the 60,000 mark, and that indicates a further fall during this financial year. On top of that, the migrant intake of this country is still at a very high level. During the twelve months ended 31st December last, the number of immigrants who came into this country was 86,728 - that is after departures were subtracted from arrivals. That meant, in effect, that at least 20,000 houses would be needed to accommodate those people.
So, instead of restricting finance, or providing the same amount for housing, the Government should advance more money to the States for home-building so that they can meet the housing requirements of the people. The Prime Minister has claimed - and he repeated the statement to-night - that the limitations on housing are supplies of man-power and materials and that more money would not increase those supplies but would add to inflation by raising costs. That is very cold comfort indeed to thousands who are living in rooms and substandard flats, and sharing houses with relatives or friends. Those people are eager to have decent homes and they would have them if they could get the finance.
It is true that the Commonwealth Bank has increased the advance for the purchase of houses from £1,750 to £2,500, but that does not help a great deal, because many people who desire homes cannot afford the other substantial amount which they have to find in the first place. They have to be able to purchase a block of land and all those other things that are needed in a home. It would take a lifetime for a young married couple, who may be looking to the future and hoping to have a home, to save £1,500 or £2,000. What chance have they in view of the way in which this Government is restricting finance for this very important matter? Thousands of people in the community, many of them young married couples, cannot get homes at tha present time and many of them have given up trying. That is the unfortunate position. They have been frustrated to such a degree in trying to get the initial amount that they say, “ We have not enough money to put down as the initial cost of a home, but we have enough to put down on a car “, and some of them are getting cars instead of homes. Consequently, many young people disappear permanently from the group which is saving to buy a home. They are not getting a home because of the weekly payments on the car and the cost of running it to which they are tied.
I think that everybody will agree that the best Australian citizen is the man who works to pay off a home and who works to improve it after he has bought it. The man who buys a car helps to boost the volume of money that is poured into hire-purchase transactions and which is accounting, to a large extent, for the enormous growth in those’ transactions at present. The value of such transactions has leapt from £5,500.000 in 1945 to £224,51.4,000 in November, 1956. The bulk of that amount represented loans to car buyers. Of course, the finance companies prefer the higher returns that they are getting, as the Prime Minister mentioned. They prefer to have investments in hire-purchase transactions from which they can get a return of 10 per cent, or 12 per cent, compared with a possible 5i per cent, from housing loans. The private banks, as the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) reminds me, and as the Prime Minister has mentioned, have tremendous holdings in hire-purchase finance companies. Esanda Limited is owned by the English Scottish & Australian Bank Limited and is a finance company. The Custom Credit Corporation Limited is owned mainly by the National Bank of Australasia Limited. I understand that 40 per cent, of the shares in the Finance Corporation of Australia Limited are held by the Bank of Adelaide. That money, instead of being made available for housing, is going into these finance companies from which much higher interest rates can be procured.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) read an advertisement that was inserted in the press during the general election in 1949 and in which the Prime Minister, in order to get votes, mentioned how much a Liberal party-Australian Country party coalition government would do for the people. In 1939, the present Prime Minister, who was Prime Minister at that time also, took an entirely different view. He then refused to make money available for a housing plan, and said that the construction of homes was the responsibility of the States. That is the real attitude of the Prime Minister to this problem, if the truth be known, and it has been the attitude of successive anti-Labour governments. Their apparent change of heart in relation to this problem is in reality a sham. The plain fact is that they have no real policy on housing except to hand it over to private enterprise in the long run. They believe in free enterprise. But, as applied to housing, that simply means a return to the allegedly good old days of the land shark and the spec, builder, with no thought of protection for the home-seeker.
This Government is gradually strangling the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, and in my opinion is doing it deliberately. When the Labour government negotiated the first agreement with the States in 1949, a three-bredroom house of 12) squares cost aproximately £1,800. To-day, the cost of a comparable home is about £4,000. Under the new agreement that has just been signed, the rent of a £2,900 house will be increased from £3 1 ls. 6d. a week to £4 4s. fid. a week. As has been so ably demonstrated by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and the honorable member for East Sydney, this Government has destroyed the rental rebate system, so that families suffering from unemployment will not be able to obtain rental rebates. It is indicative of the attitude of this Government that it has done this at a time when unemployment is rearing its ugly head throughout Australia.
If the Government really intended to do anything, it should give the building industry not a limited guarantee, but a guarantee of a continual flow of funds for home construction until the people of Australia are adequately housed. Loans should be made at low interest rates, and homes should be sold on low deposits. The Commonwealth Trading Bank should be directed to establish a special department foi- the provision of finance to assist people to build and buy their own homes, and for the provision of more funds for the co-operative building societies. The expenses of such a department should be underwritten by the Treasurer to at least £100,000,000. That is the way to solve the housing problem and make up for the refusal of the private banks to advance for home building the funds that they are putting into hirepurchase finance companies.
I want to show how this problem is related to the unemployment that has occurred in Western Australia. There is no doubt that the credit restriction policy of this Government in relation to housing and other matters has adversely affected employment in Western Australia. The value of new buildings commenced, completed, or under construction in the September quarter of 1956 fell in each case by more than £1,000,000 compared with the figures for the June quarters. As a result, the building and allied trades continue to feel the effect of curtailed operations, and the number of men employed in the building trade has been heavily reduced. Cement works have had to shut down sections of their plants, and brickworks and the manufacturers of clay tiles and piping, sinks, stoves, baths, hand basins, and enamel ware have reduced output. This has caused a consequent reduction of staffs. Joinery works have experienced reduced demand for joinery, and have been forced to close down, or reduce staff. Timber mills are closing down, reducing staff, and introducing part-time working. Yet. while this is happening, timber is being imported into Australia from overseas, as has already been mentioned.
On 3 1st October. 1956. I asked the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon). who was then acting for the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), a question, which read, in part -
Are licences being granted to import timber from dollar and sterling areas for purposes for which Western Australian timber is suitable?
The relevant part of the answer reads -
The productive capacity of the Australian timber industry falls short of the level of requirements for this very essential commodity, and the honorable member will appreciate that it is necessary to supplement local supplies with imported timber.
That is not the position at the present time, because timber mills are closing down, and it is about time the Government took action to prevent the importing of timber from overseas when it can be supplied locally. The sooner it does so, the better it will be for the Australian timber industry.
I am very pleased that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) is in the chamber, because 1 want to direct his attention to a very snide trick that is being employed, in Western Australia at least, to deprive unemployed workers of social services benefits and at the same time reduce the number in receipt of such benefits. The Commonwealth does not worry about those who have just registered for employment, until the seven-day waiting period is almost up, and it then gives them one or two days’ work. This means that they have to wait another seven days in order to qualify for social services benefits. This happens repeatedly, and as a result, some unemployed workers and their families never receive unemployment benefits, but arc forced to exist on the meagre amount that they are able to earn for one or two days’ work in every six or seven days. The same snide trick is used against some of those who have been in receipt of unemployment benefit. This thimble-and-pea trick has the advantage for the Commonwealth that it reduces the number in receipt of unemployment benefit and makes the figures look better for the Minister, who is always trying to make them look better by saying in this chamber, as though something remarkable has been achieved, that there are fewer persons receiving unemployment benefit this week or this month than received it last week or last month, as he is enabled to do by the manipulation of the figures in the way I have described.
The unemployed who are given one or two days’ work a week are in a much worse position financially than are those who receive unemployment benefit. Those who receive social services benefits and assistance from the Western Australian Child Welfare Department can obtain assistance also from the Australian Labour party in Western Australia in the form of an order for goods to the value of £2 a week. These orders may be used to buy goods at certain stores at reduced prices, and the ability of unemployed workers and their families to obtain the necessaries of life is greatly enhanced by this means. The Western Australian Government also pays to single unemployed workers 17s. 6d. a week to supplement the miserable £2 10s. a week upon which, as honorable members know, they are supposed to exist. But those unemployed persons who receive one or two days’ work now and again are in a much worse position, because they are denied the assistance that 1 have mentioned. The Minister should not be a party to this sort of thing. If he knows that it occurs, he should do something to prevent it.
I now want to refer to a news release made by the Minister yesterday, in which he stated that the number of women registered for employment with the Commonwealth Employment Service had increased by 1,778 in February. Why do more women want to work? It is either because their husbands are unemployed or because they have to go to work to supplement their income so that the family may enjoy at least a reasonable standard of living. That is a most unfortunate situation for those families. I wish to refer also to a statement made by the financial editor of this morning’s issue of the “Sydney Morning Herald”. After mentioning the Minister’s view of the employment figures given in the news release, he stated -
But some reservations must still be made . . .
Again, the number of persons reporting themselves as unemployed at the bureaux fell by 3,180 to 49,449.
The latter figure, however, remains clearly higher than the pre-January one of 37,911.
The writer stated later in the same comment -
The number of unfilled vacancies fell from 28,791 to 24,264. From personal observation, one would not be surprised if this falling tendency has since continued.
Mr. Holt acknowledges that the trend in vacancies is, for a February, the weakest in three years.
Of all the February employment statistics, this trend in demand could be the most significant for the coming early-winter months, when money will naturally tend to become tighter unless counter measures are taken.
What counter measures does the Government intend to take? Was there any indication in the speech made by the Prime
Minister to-night that the Government intended to do anything about unemployment? There was not one reference to it. Statistics for Western Australia show that the total number of vacancies registered is 1,238, but the number registered for work is 5,216. That is not a healthy position when there are only 1,238 jobs to be divided among 5,216. Of course, all the unemployed are not registered. Some are engaged in part-time work and are doing odd jobs here and there. It is useless for them to register because they cannot get the work they require. Many jobs are advertised as vacant, but it is useless to tell a labourer that a job is offering for a fitter. These statistics do not indicate that anything helpful is being done to relieve unemployment in Western Australia.
Near the end of the last session of the Parliament, I asked the Minister for Labour and National Service how much money had been expended in Western Australia on unemployment benefit from the end of May to 15th September, 1956. The Minister said the amount was £92,500. Since the number of unemployed has not varied much since then, the approximate amount expended on unemployment benefit in Western Australia would be £277,000. Would it not have been better to expend that money on useful developmental work? Would it not have been better to make an advance to the State to build up the money available to the equivalent of the basic wage so that men could be kept in employment?
We want more of almost everything in Western Australia. We need houses, schools and hospitals. The standardization of the railway gauge from Kalgoorlie to Fremantle should be undertaken. Committees from both sides of the House have recommended it. So far we have not heard any more of that project. A government committee suggested that it should be undertaken immediately to relieve unemployment. Just imagine how that would help the situation because 85 per cent, of those who are unemployed in Western Australia are unskilled labourers. They could be absorbed in work of that sort. Many others would get work as a result. Once they were put back to work, the timber mills would start to operate again.
Debate (on motion by Mm Haworth) adjourned.
Pensions- Army Eviction at Port Kembla - Land Acquisition - Dr. Burton’s Booklet.
Motion (by Sir Philip McBride) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Earlier to-night, on another subject, I had to direct attention to the contemptuous attitude of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to problems that confront Australia. I take this opportunity to direct attention again to the manner in which the Prime Minister has disregarded an appeal from deserving sections of the community. ] have a letter from the Paddington Branch of the Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association of Australia, directing attention to the serious plight of many pensioners. The following resolution was passed by the Paddington branch -
That all our branches contact their respective members of Parliament and request them to advocate at all times and at every opportunity a rise in our pensions.
Many honorable members, including those on the Government side of the House, have been approached by representatives of pensioners’ organizations. I sent the following telegram in reply to the letter from the pensioners -
Your letter 11th instant received and terms of recent resolution your branch noted. In complete agreement your members’ viewpoint on need for substantial increase present rate pensions. Propose raise matter Commonwealth Parliament as matter of urgency soon as practicable after Parliamentary sittings resume next month. Meantime propose renew efforts other directions endeavour force Menzies-Fadden Government act afford relief.
The Prime Miniser sent me a telegram after I had made a further request to him on this matter. I consider that his reply was couched in the most contemptuous terms, and was completely outside the facts of the situation. He stated -
Your telegram 18th February about inadequacy of pensions and benefits.
There was nothing further in that sentence. The telegram continues -
I do not agree that effects of living costs are as you claim nor does our correspondence suggest any widespread distress among pensioners and others, but I assure you we shall examine all pension and benefit rates before presenting our next budget.
– Hear, hear!
– The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) has interjected “ Hear, hear! “ because he does not have to worry. He has not cashed last season’s wool cheque yet, but the pensioners who were the real toilers of Australia, and who helped to make it what it is, have had a struggle to exist. Unfortunately, this Government has not been prepared even to consider their requests. According to the Prime Minister, their request will be considered some months hence. The Minister for Defence seems to take a great deal of pleasure in the misery of these people. He might be able to suggest how it is possible to exist on £4 a week, because that is all the pensioners get if they have no other income.
The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) addressed a meeting of pensioners in Newcastle not long ago. According to the press report he was heckled and hooted. That is the usual reaction of those concerned because of the way they are treated by this Government. According to the newspaper report, one of the hecklers asked the Minister how he would manage to live on £4 a week. Unfortunately the newspaper did not print his reply - if he gave any answer at all. I would be interested to hear from him now what reply he gave to that question. I would like him to explain to the House how he could struggle along on £4 a week.
There is no doubt that the position of many of these people is desperate. Earlier to-day, the House discussed the housing problem. The pensioners have a housing problem, too. No doubt we shall hear the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) relating once again how much money the Commonwealth Government has provided since it introduced a scheme to assist the construction of homes for the aged. I would like the Minister to say how many of these old people have actually been provided with homes. He will find that the number is minute in comparison with the number of persons who require such assistance. The Government stands condemned for having done nothing to relieve the plight of these people. I am amazed that the Prime Minister should send me a telegram saying that there is no evidence to suggest widespread distress amongst pensioners. If the Minister for Social Services will let me know the first day on which he will be available at his office in Sydney, I will bring along enough age and invalid pensioners to tell him at first hand exactly what a terrific struggle it is for them to exist.
I ask the Government not to wait until the budget session, or brush these people contemptuously aside. Theirs is a real, immediate and urgent need, and I want the Government to do something to help them now. Doing something for the age and invalid pensioners involves no constitutional difficulty. The Government has the means. This year it is budgeting for a surplus. It has millions in trust funds and if it wants to use them in a worthwhile fashion it can do something to relieve the desperate situation of this deserving section of the community.
I ask the Minister, instead of waiting for some months to consider it, to take up with the Cabinet, and with his leader, the matter of immediate relief. We want a substantial increase in the pension rate.
– How much do you want?
– Half a crown or five shillings - the most that the honorable member could imagine - would not be enough. We want the pensioner to receive considerably more than he does now. I ask the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), as I did the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), to explain how he could manage on the paltry allowance of £4 a week which these pioneers receive. If we were to assess their worth to this country we should probably find that they were morally entitled to claim more assistance from the community than is being received by many other sections at the moment.
I ask the Government to treat this as an urgent problem. I hope that the fullest publicity will be given to the Prime Minister’s contemptuous wire stating that he does not know of any widespread distress among pensioners. I hope to correct that impression and produce to the Minister for Social Services sufficient evidence to show that it is false. 1 hope that, before 1 leave Canberra, the Minister will tell me when he will be available in Sydney for the purpose that I have mentioned.
– I apologize to the House for bringing before it something which is, in a sense, a personal matter because it refers to false allegations about something that I am alleged to have done. It has been suggested in the press, unfortunately with the support of one honorable member of this House, that I have been responsible for the eviction by the Army of certain people from a dwelling at Port Kembla. These allegations are the direct opposite to the truth and therefore I thought it encumbent upon me to place the true facts on record.
The land in question was in the possession of the Commonwealth Government, but it formed part of my father’s estate. I was responsible for the administration of the estate for some years before my father died. His death occurred in August, 1949, some months before I first entered this House. Since his death I have not been directly responsible for this land although, as my mother was the executrix, 1 have usually known what has been happening about it.
In the first week of World War II. the land in question was loaned by my father to the Army, which needed it for billetting purposes. Subsequently, an arrangement for a peppercorn rental - I think it was the rates plus a shilling or a pound a year - was arrived at for the use of the land by the forces for the duration of the war. The understanding was that it would be returned after the war. When that time came and I was administering this land I asked the Commonwealth whether it could be returned. I was told that the Commonwealth needed the land because it wanted to tie up the loose ends. On behalf of my father I readily agreed to this and, only a few weeks before my father’s death I made an arrangement with the department which gave them a lease of it for another twelve months at the same peppercorn rental on i he understanding it would be returned at the end of that period.
I know that the department subsequently said that it did not want to give the land back immediately because it was faced with some embarrassment. This has been readily met and the department has been assured that legal action will not be taken to reclaim the land, although, of course, we have been in every way competent to take such action. The matter has now dragged on for the six or seven years that I have been in this House.
The action recently taken by the department was not known to me. nor did I know that the Army was to be used. I did know that an eviction order had been obtained, but I did not know this until after it had been obtained, nor did I know in advance what action was contemplated under it. In the eleven years that have passed since the end of the war we have told the department that it could fix this up and it has had plenty of time to do so. We sympathize with the people concerned and have been willing to bear our share. We have, on several occasions, suggested to the department that some alternative arrangements should be made in respect of them. I do not expect political considerations to be entirely lacking in this House. 1 do not expect that honorable members opposite will refrain from saying anything which they think will gain them a political advantage, but in this particular case what has been said is not only untrue but is the exact opposite to the truth. I have had nothing to do with this incident. My influence has been used to allow these people to slay there until some reasonably alternative arrangement could be made.
I know that I and many other honorable members have found that service in this Parliament results in financial loss. 1 do not complain about that, but it is a little unfair to represent this incident in the pres. in a way that is so directly the opposite of the truth. Worst of all, it seems to have been sponsored by an honorable member of this House.
.- The matter which I wish to raise concerns the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall). Some months ago it was announced that a runway extension was to be laid down at the Royal Australian Air Force station at Laverton, Victoria. At Werribee on Foundation Day, the councillors told me that they considered such an extension would act very detrimentally, industrially and otherwise, to the Werribee council, area.
The Minister, no doubt, appreciates that the runway, which it is suggested should be considerably extended, would be within 10 or 12 miles of the General Post Office, Melbourne. lt is an area where, undoubtedly, there will be very substantial industrial expansion. Indeed, in one area adjacent to the proposed extension, it is proposed that the runway should intrude on an area which, it is believed, eventually will accommodate the Newmarket saleyards. In an informal talk, I told the councillors of the shire of Werribee that their best move would be to suggest that the responsible Minister should meet them on the spot to examine the possibility of putting forward an alternative proposal. Sometimes it is possible so to do. In this case I do not know whether it is or not. That is the ultimate responsibility of the responsible Ministers concerned, and in this case there are, indeed, two of them. In the first instance, no doubt, a requisition from the Royal Australian Air Force to the Minister for the Interior would be necessary to put in train the essential and necessary acquisition requirements; but, finally, it is. I understand, within the capacity of the Minister for the Interior, if any queries are raised, to examine the position himself, to obtain from the Minister administering the Royal Australian Air Force any information that he may desire, and then to decide whether acquisition proceedings should be continued.
It is true that the Werribee Shire Council accepted my suggestion. It was somewhat dilatory in communicating with me. but on 5th March, or thereabouts, it forwarded me a letter accompanied by all the plans of the area proposed to be acquired, and asked me to make representations to this Government regarding the particular matter. I forwarded the Werribee Shire Council’s correspondence, together with a covering letter dated 6th March, to the Minister for the Interior addressed to Parliament House, Canberra. To date, I have heard nothing further about the matter. I do not know why, but it appears to be characteristic, unfortunately - I am not going to use this occasion to condemn or criticize the Government - of this Government that it is all too lacking in ministerial capacity when representative citizens and others raise complaints such as I have mentioned. There is a lack of willingness on the part of the Minister himself to make a personal investigation on the spot. Let me give an example of what I mean. 1 have been through this sort of thing myself. 1 recall an incident that occurred during what might have been regarded as a very critical stage in the war when complaints were made to me from New South Wales in regard to a proposal from the Royal Australian Air Force, through the Department of the Interior, to lay down an immense runway strip on the most fertile pan of the Camden Park Estate.
Representations were made to me that the department should not utilize for that purpose the most fertile area of the Camden Park Estate which, as everybody from New South Wales knows, accommodates the most efficient, and probably the cleanest dairying land, as well as equipment, for the production of milk for the Sydney area. I went personally to Camden to inspect the site on behalf of the then Minister for Air whom I had been appointed to assist. I met the manager of the Camden Vale Estate, inspected the valley, of which I knew the value as a practical farmer, and then came back to the Royal Australian Air Force head-quarters. I interviewed most of the members of the air force staff, and after some discussion with the Department of the Interior and as a result of my crossexamination of people on the spot at Camden Vale, I ascertained that there were alternative suitable sites in that area which would save that very fertile valley and ultimately make possible the setting down of a runway on a comparatively poor area of land. It transpired that the Royal Australian Air Force agreed that it was unnecessary to put down a runway in this particular valley, and the result was that the runway was put down on an alternative site which was less detrimental to the Camden Vale Estate and did not interfere with the efficiency of Sydney’s milk supply.
That is an illustration of the kind of thing which I shall probably cite during the debate on the Address-in-Reply. T suggest that it is not unreasonable to expect in cases such as this that the Royal Australian Air Force administration, in its enthusiasm to provide an enormous runway which will take the largest planes likely to come to Australia, should take into consideration sufficiently the necessity to have some regard to the interference these extensions may cause to industrial expansion and their effect on the convenience and comfort of local residents. It may be that a personal inspection by the Minister for the Interior, with the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley) or the administrative officers of the Air Force, could result in an alternative strip being put down which would not involve expensive acquisitions and would not retard the development of this area. I do not know, but I believe that there are occasions when the Minister himself, if at all possible, should make these inspections, and should try to understand the outlook of local residents and, incidentally, act as a brake on carelessness which could take place within administrations such as the Royal Australian Air Force and other governmental instrumentalities. I leave the matter at that. I ask the Minister to make haste in making the essential inspections and to see if anything can be done to avoid intrusion on this area.
.- During the last sessional period, I directed the attention of the House to a booklet written by a gentleman by the name of Dr. Burton. On that occasion the booklet, which was entitled “The Light Glows Brighter “, carried the imprimatur of the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) and the federal president of the Australian Labour party. When I directed the attention of the House to some of the contents of that booklet, a number of honorable gentlemen on the opposite side of the House rose to their feet and declared quite vigorously that it represented sound Labour policy. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) comes immediately to my mind as one who made a statement approximating that sentiment. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) also joined him on that occasion.
It now appears that another booklet has been written by Dr. Burton. On this occasion it is entitled “ Labour in Transition “. I think that is a misnomer, and that a far more appropriate title would be “ The Light Grows Redder “. On this occasion the booklet of Dr. Burton does not carry in printed form the imprimatur of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition, nor does it carry the declared approval of the federal president of the Australian
Labour party. However, what I desire to direct the attention of the House to this evening is that the theme of this booklet is democratic socialism, a rather curious combination of terms. The theme of the rather tragic federal conference of the Australian Labour party in Brisbane was also democratic socialism. The federal president of the Australian Labour party admitted that he understood New South Wales delegates had taken copies of the pamphlet to the conference. That would immediately indicate that Dr. Burton, in preparing this booklet, had some prior knowledge of the theme that the conference was going to take. To prepare a pamphlet of this description, to have it printed, have it proofed, and have it distributed in a little under a week and then to suggest otherwise would be completely unreal and plainly absurd. I suggest and submit this evening that there has been collusion in the preparation of this booklet between some leading member of the Opposition and Dr. John Burton who, incidentally, in my opinion, commands one of the most shameful records of service in this country. One remembers the occasion when he deserted his post in Ceylon and. came back to this country. There was collusion in the preparation of this document. I further suggest that there is every indication that none other than the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition worked with Dr. Burton in the preparation of this pamphlet. 1 do not propose to read to the House at any length - or indeed to read at all - from this document. I only suggest that if every person in this country could read this document he would see precisely where the Australian Labour party is going. Here, in unashamed form, is calculated Marxism. The Leader of the Opposition has, tacitly at any rate, approved of this document and the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), if he has been correctly reported, has also approved of this document.I repeat that there has been collusion in the preparation of this document. It is high time the Australian Labour partyrealized the evil influence that the right honorable member for Barton exerts over it and relieved him of his office.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 March 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19570320_reps_22_hor14/>.