22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– With the consent of the House I shall explain to honorable members the view that the Government is taking of the business that is before the House. It has been the practice, when a motion of censure has been moved, that no other business is transacted by the House until that motion has been disposed of. On this occasion we have an amendment to the motion for the adoption of an Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech, which is couched in terms that make it clear that the Opposition is, in effect, proposing a censure on the Government. On thelast occasion on which that occurred, I think during the Prime Ministership of Mr. Lyons in the 1930’s, the view was taken that what had been put to the House was, in effect, a motion of censure, and that normal official business should not be transacted until the question had been dealt with. I do not think that this necessarily should stand as an inflexible rule, because one can envisage a position arising in the future in which the Government of the day might not choose to regard such a move as one of censure, or as being of sufficient consequence to warrant interruption of the normal administration of the country. On this occasion, however, the Government has taken the view that I have outlined, and I wish to advise the House, therefore, that until the amendment has been dealt with by a decision of the House no questions maybe asked or other governmental business proceed within this House.
Debate resumed from 20th March (vide page 76), 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.
Upon which Dr. Evatt had moved, by way of amendment -
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 “.
.- Before resuming the debate on the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), I should like to congratulate the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) on their maiden speeches, which were ably and well presented. The honorable member for Barker gave us a brief but interesting account of developments in his own electorate. He pointed out the tremendous industrial expansion that is occurring in that electorate. Indeed, what is happening in Barker is happening in every other part of this great country of ours. It is the transport system of this country that is providing the connecting links between the various great areas of progress and production, and between our primary and secondary industries and markets both at home and overseas. Recently, I had the opportunity of seeing something of the European system of transportation, whereby rivers, railways and roads are all harnessed for the purpose of moving great quantities of freight from the points of production to the markets of the world. You, Mr. Speaker, and probably many other members of this House, know how very efficient that system is. It is not only efficient but it is also competitive and economical. The European railways provide one of the quickest and cheapest methods of carriage, while the roads that connect the industrial cities with the principal seaports would make most Australians very envious, particularly those engaged in our primary and secondary industries, which depend so much on our highways and are compelled to use them to such a large extent. But, sir, when I came back to this country I was deeply disturbed when I compared our own transport system with those I had seen overseas. How much one regrets the general condition of our roads and highways and the lack of uniformity in our railway gauges! We in Australia are greatly handicapped in this regard. Our overseas competitors are far ahead of us in road standards and transportation generally, and that, I believe, is one of the great obstacles that are preventing us from capturing overseas markets and so helping to build up those very necessary overseas funds, the need for which is so often impressed upon us in statements on economic policy.
In a very short time the Federal Government will be applying itself to the 1957-58 Estimates, as well as discussing financial problems with the Premiers of all six States of the Commonwealth. I believe the time is opportune to raise the question of the financial difficulties facing the States and the local authorities in their attempt to carry out urgent road maintenance, the cost of which, as we all know, is extremely heavy. Let us consider the effects that the formula for allocating the Commonwealth aid roads grant is having on some of our State road construction programmes. The rapid deterioration of our roads, caused, as most people know, by the immense traffic density, is out of all proportion to the available finance under the existing formula. Let me refer to this road traffic density, in order to point out what a serious situation has arisen in our national roads. Probably in no other country in the world have traffic problems increased quite so much. Since 1940, the number of motor vehicles has increased by 100 per cent., due largely to the position in the main Eastern States, New South Wales and Victoria. This has created a very great problem for the local authorities, whose job it is to keep the roads in good order.
I want to remind the Parliament briefly of some of the problems that have automatically been created by this 100 per cent, increase in traffic density since 1940. Road transport eight years ago was not of the size or weight that it is to-day. The standards required then for highways and bridges will not cope with to-day’s loadings. Consequently the roads are quite inadequate for a country whose population has increased since 1939 by 25 per cent., whose factories have increased by 70 per cent., and whose work force for those factories has increased by 48 per cent. A big percentage of this traffic density is caused by increased industrialization. This is to be found in those areas referred to by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and by other members of this House, surrounding our great capital cities. It is here that the greatest injustices are perpetrated under the present Commonwealth aid roads plan. The maintenance cost that has been forced on local councils has been crippling, particularly when one considers that basic materials themselves have increased in price during this period by 130 per cent. The question that one asks is: For how long can local government authorities stand the present heavy drain on their resources for road maintenance? The burden is becoming heavier as a result of the rise of costs during the last eight years. It is very noticeable in some States, particularly Victoria, that good roads laid down eight years ago are beginning to show the effects of inadequate attention. Eventually this deterioration will lead to a serious breakdown of the principal roads of this country.
A point to be borne in mind is that more money could be made available for city roads if local authorities in some States were not compelled to shoulder responsibility for the upkeep of interstate and intra-state roads, as they are at present, particularly in Victoria. lt is not right that a person living in the vicinity of an arterial road should be taxed heavily for its maintenance when it is used by people throughout the country. It is not right that one section of industry should be taxed more heavily because it uses such a road more than other sections of industry, when, in the aggregate, it is io the advantage of the whole country that our roads system should be at its best.
All this points to the fact that we badly need a national roads plan, financed equitably by all road users and by all taxpayers - not the piecemeal arrangement which I believe exists at present. The present Commonwealth aid roads scheme is outmoded and should be scrapped. The scheme was instituted in 1926, 30 years ago. lt has been added to and amended over the years without regard to fastchanging conditions. I am satisfied that unless we start now to prepare a national roads plan, the six States endeavouring to grapple with the problem of providing better roads will allow our roads system, which is so important to the country, to deteriorate. That would affect, not only our cost of living, but also our ability to defend ourselves in time of war. In peace-time, it would lead to the loss of good markets overseas, upon which we are so dependent, because transport charges are an important factor in our cost structure.
Victoria realizes the necessity for good roads. In fact, it has made a determined effort generally to improve its roads system. The result is that rural production there has expanded. That, I believe, is in the best interests of the national economy. When we compare agricultural production in Victoria, where there are good roads, with agricultural production in other States where the roads systems are not quite so good, we see a remarkable difference. Victoria is producing £3 10s. worth of agricultural products an acre, whilst the value of i he production in Tasmania is £1 2s. an acre; in New South Wales, 18s. an acre; in Queensland, 6s. an acre; and in Western Australia, 2s. 3d. an acre. However, the fact that Victoria is doing so well in agricultural production is a source of satisfaction, I think, to all Australians, because the nation generally benefits from that production. But the cost to the ratepayers of Victoria of keeping the roads for the development of rural areas in a reasonable state of maintenance is high. In fact, we are reaching the stage when it will be impossible to continue to maintain those roads in good condition unless assistance is given in the form of a grant or there is a more equitable distribution of moneys from the Commonwealth aid roads fund. I do not think it. likely that that will ever come about while the present act remains in force. That is why I contend that it is necessary that we should have a proper Commonwealth roads plan and should scrap the present system of distributing the moneys for road works under the wretched formula now used.
I should be pleased to show anybody exactly how unjust the distribution under the formula is. I have heard the injustice of the distribution mentioned frequently during debates on the Estimates and I do not need to remind the House that there is one State in particular - Victoria - which receives, in the form of Commonwealth aid roads grants, only 16.4 per cent, of the money it needs for its road system. The balance of 83.6 per cent, is provided out of State government and local government resources. In fact, the proportion met by the State is slightly higher to-day as a result of increased motor registration fees. In other words, Victoria is providing more finance from its own funds for expenditure on country and interstate roads than is any other State, notwithstanding the fact that it is maintaining more high standard paved roads than is any other State.
What I think we have to look at particularly is the actual financial burden on the individual taxpayers in the States, who find that they cannot afford to maintain these roads any longer through the medium of local government taxes. It is not right, for instance, that Victoria - I mention thai State as an example because it is the State I know best - should be taxed for, or expected to pay a very high contribution towards, the maintenance of interstate roads merely because traffic on such roads is heavy in Victoria. One product of the Commonwealth aid roads grant formula is a tremendous disparity between the rates of local taxes. In some States, particularly in Victoria, we have what we call “ private street construction finance “. Owners whose properties abut on private streets or roads in particular areas are expected to pay the full cost of maintaining those streets or roads. In addition, if an extensively used arterial road passes through the municipality, owners of properties there are expected to, and are compelled to, pay a contribution towards the maintenance of that road. Further, they are compelled also to pay a fair proportion of the cost of the maintenance of every other road in the municipality.
Ratepayers in Western Australia and Queensland are more fortunate than those in Victoria because of the funds those States receive for road purposes under the formula. Western Australia and Queensland are much better off for funds for road making and maintenance than Victoria is because they are receiving a very much larger proportion of the total grant made under the formula. I understand that Western Australia receives 53 per cent, of its finance for this purpose from federal grants. No one would begrudge grants to such a large State with a very small population if it was able to spend the money on roads immediately. The point that I think one has to consider is the immediate needs of our transportation system.
The cost of private road construction is not a charge on the abutting owners in Western Australia. It all comes out of municipal funds. The cost of road maintenance is more than provided for by the federal grants. Apparently, the funds available at present are so much in excess of the State’s immediate needs that a new bridge is being built over the Swan River at considerable cost. I mention that as an example. Some States, particularly Western Australia and Queensland, have more money for road maintenance than they require immediately. They may possibly require it in a few years’ time, but at the present they are not utilizing all the money that is made available. Queensland is a particular instance of this.
The plain fact is that the six States are struggling with this problem of the Australian highways in six unrelated ways, and every time there is a get-together of the States they become separate sovereign States demanding the right to say “ What we have we hold “, without any consideration for the national interest. This smash and grab policy has been brought about by the unfortunate allocation and distribution of funds under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act and is detrimental to the national interest. It is obvious that we have in this country no national roads plan. We should have one. I believe that the Government should immediately appoint a commission to consist of representatives of primary and secondary industry, together with representatives of other national bodies, for the purpose of planning road construction and maintenance, as well as investigating methods of financing intra-State and interState highways. When the plan is produced, I believe that the Government should take the necessary constitutional steps to become an active participant and assume financial responsibility for these highways. At the same time, we must take into consideration the need for uniform railway gauges. Railways are a part of our transport system, and unless we attend to all the matters connected with transportation we shall continue to suffer from the defects of the present piecemeal system.
It is true that the Australian Transport Advisory Council, which consists of five Commonwealth Ministers and the Ministers for Transport of the six States, has been considering the problems that are involved. Since its appointment in 1946 it has done very good work in the field of road safety and the standardization of road construction methods. The simple fact, however, is that the council does not possess executive authority to carry out recommendations that it might make concerning the national highways and methods of financing their construction and maintenance. Those matters, as we all know, are the prerogative of the Commonwealth and the six State governments.
If we are to tackle successfully this most urgent domestic problem of our highways, I believe we must appoint a commission to investigate the position and make the necessary recommendations for a national roads plan and methods of financing it. This is an Australian task, and I believe that it should be initiated here in Canberra. If this is done, I believe that it will receive the approbation of all sections of the community.
.- An amendment to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply has been moved as a motion of censure, directed against the Government for its failure to face up to the very important problem of housing. It is most significant that the speaker who preceded me, the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth), failed to make any reference to housing. This Government is deserving of censure because of its cavalier treatment of, and approach to, this very important question. The form of escapism that was indulged in by the previous speaker can in no way detract from the importance of this matter. It is an economic and social question which affects all phases of our community. It is a problem that should be kept in the forefront of all our problems and for that reason, because of its magnitude and influence, I submit that the Government has fallen down lamentably on the job and is deserving of censure.
Any hope that the country might have held while awaiting the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last night was quickly dispelled. It was quite obvious from his approach to the question that this country can expect no relief in the future from this Government regarding housing. Notwithstanding the approach of the spokesmen of the Government, the Prime Minister and the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), people who are feeling the effects of this problem are in no way impressed either by their attitude or their arguments. The Prime Minister, in the course of his statement last night, made a defence of what has become known as the rugged individualism of the United States of America. He pointed out that he was quite proud of what private enterprise had accomplished both here and in America. I do not know how any one can be proud of an accomplishment of any private enterprise that permits the charging of interest rates up to 20 per cent. That is the problem that exists to-day in regard to housing.
Every one knows that, due to the activities of private enterprise and the activities of certain government instrumentalities, people who require houses to-day are compelled to go to financial institutions and pay usurious rates of interest. There was a time in history when usury was a criminal offence. Apparently, with the connivance of this Government, it has become a fashionable offence. This Government, as the statement of the Prime Minister shows, sits idly by and allows this community to be exploited to the extent that it is compelled to pay whatever interest rates private companies or financial institutions demand of it. How can this Government justify the condition of affairs that has crept into the administration of war service homes? There is a lag of approximately eighteen months to two years in the waiting time and the applicants are advised by the Government to try to get private financial accommodation for that period. When they go to private enterprise for the money, they are expected to pay from 12 per cent, to 15 per cent, interest for that period.
The Government is, in effect, telling the applicants for war service homes to go to the black market for the period in which they are waiting for their applications to be finalized. This is a deplorable state of affairs. It is a state of affairs that should not be tolerated, yet a government instrumentality has been advising its clients to act in that manner. The Prime Minister says that he is proud of the achievements of private enterprise. If private interests are forcing the people to pay exorbitant rates of interest for housing loans, then he is entitled to whatever pride he can get from that position.
The Prime Minister tried to make the point that there was no dislocation of building activity and no crisis of any kind in this country, and he went on to dismiss as being of no importance the present level of unemployment in the building trades. One is forced to conclude from the Prime Minister’s attitude towards the unemployment that undoubtedly prevails in the building industry to-day that he has accepted the statement of Professor Hytten that a pool of unemployed is desirable. Hence the Prime Minister’s failure to attempt to minimize the effects of this unemployment which he casually accepts as being normal. He and other Government supporters tried to substantiate the argument that there is no crisis of any kind in the building industry. Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to read just one of the many letters that have appeared in the press recently. The letter that I propose to read, which will perhaps answer the Prime Minister, appeared in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ on 9th March of this year. It was, of course’, addressed to the editor of the newspaper, and it reads -
It is quite evident, from your report on March 8 of Mr. Menzies’s remarks in Canberra on housing, that Mr. Menzies knows little or nothing regarding employment in the building trade.
I am a working proprietor of a joinery works, with fifteen years of business experience on my own. I have never seen business as bad as it is now; and my plant and machinery are working at less than one-third capacity.
Regarding lack of building materials, Mr. Menzies is very wide of the mark.
I can buy any quantity of any material used for home building, with immediate delivery. I dare not advertise for labour as I would be embarrassed by the response.
This is not an isolated case, as business acquaintances in both identical and allied businesses have intimated that the tempo of building activity regarding homes had been slowing down for some months past.
The experience of that employer is the experience of every one associated with the building trade, yet the Prime Minister again last evening tried to disparage the activities of a fact-finding committee of the Austraiian Labour party which investigated the problem in Sydney several weeks ago. The party offers no apologies for the activities of that committee. I am sure that it would do some Government members good if they came down from their ivory towers and acquainted themselves with the facts instead of seeking to be impressed by speeches made by their leaders. Employer and trade union representatives, manufacturers of bricks, suppliers of timber, and men associated with all other aspects of the building industry, including representatives of the co-operative building societies, appeared before the fact-finding committee to give it a picture of the situation. The tenor of their evidence was that the building industry is now passing through the worst period it has experienced in the last seventeen or eighteen years. In the light of that evidence, which was obtained from representatives of all sections of the industry, it is extremely difficult to understand the Government’s attitude to the problem. All the Government does is to try to make the people believe that there is no crisis, and to attack the achievements of Labour governments.
The record of the present Government in fields in which it has exclusive control over housing is anything but impressive. An examination of its record, particularly in war service homes, reveals that the number of homes constructed has been substantially reduced. On the subject of the reduced ‘number of homes being made available through the activities of the War Service Homes Division, I may add that the reduction has occurred almost exclusively in New South Wales. Government supporters are making a point of concentrating their criticism against the Labour Government of New South Wales, and I should like to know why the reduction in the rate of building of war service homes has been confined exclusively to that State. We would be very glad if Government supporters would explain why this reduction has taken place in New South Wales alone. They have tried to make the point that more people are waiting for homes in New South Wales than anywhere else, but there isnothing extraordinary about that. Indeed, it would be unusual if that were not so. New South Wales has the largest population of any of the States and the fact that it has also the largest number of people waiting for homes is no condemnation of its Government.
– During World War II. New South Wales provided more soldiers than any other State.
– That is perfectly true. If the Government’s reasoning is applied to the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory - territories in which it has sole contol of housing - we find that, on a population basis, its record is appalling. On the basis which this Government has used to attack New South Wales, the comparative lag in the Northern Territory would be 65,000 homes, and, in the Australian Capital Territory, 180,000 homes. Government supporters are very fond of saying that New South Wales has the highest number of unsatisfied applicants for housing and is, therefore, deserving of criticism; but if the same argument is applied to the territories controlled by the Federal Government the housing position there is seen to be very serious indeed.
Last night the Prime Minister made a further apology for the private trading banks. He said that, as a result of figures that had been supplied to him, he had no doubt that at the end of twelve months the private trading banks would be making a substantial contribution to the relief of the housing problem. Even if that statement is accepted we must still wait another twelve months before the improvement takes place! Moreover, I question whether any improvement will take place as a result of help from this source. Dr. Coombs, the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, has stated that the entry of the private trading banks into the Savings bank field has resulted in a reduced sum being made available by the Commonwealth Bank for housing purposes.
Members of the Opposition said at the time that this would be the effect of permitting private banks to enter the savings field. Their criticism has been vindicated. There has in fact, been a flow of savings into the private banks. This can only act to the detriment of the Commonwealth Bank and, of course, home-building. Naturally, the Commonwealth Bank can now make less money available for that purpose. The private trading banks are not channelling back into housing anything like the amount of money they are getting by way of savings deposits. The latest figures show that, of £100,000,000 deposited as savings, £70.000,000 went to the private banks and £30,000,000 to the Commonwealth Bank. Formerly, all that money would have been available for homebuilding, but now 70 per cent, is in the hands of the private savings banks and may be used for other purposes.
The Prime Minister spoke in defence of the new housing agreement which was, in effect, forced on the States last year by this Government. 1 am very disturbed by certain features of that agreement, and what may flow from them. First, the principle of economic rental has been disregarded completely. People who get their homes under the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement will no longer have that protection. Secondly, the agreement provides how the States shall spend the money and requires that 20 per cent, of the allocation be spent on homes for rental purposes.
That brings me to a question which J believe looms very large and is one of the most important in connexion with home building. To-day, of the allocations made to the States for home building, only 20 per cent. - and I emphasize that - is to be set aside for rental housing. What will be the position in ten to fifteen years’ time of people who require homes and who are only in a position to pay rent? Only government instrumentalities are building for this purpose. Notwithstanding what one could say on the desirability of home ownership and how it should be encouraged, the fact remains that there will always be a formidable percentage of our population who will never be in a position to purchase a home. Many reasons could be advanced for that fact, but recognizing it and acknowledging that there will always be that formidable percentage, one asks: What is their future? Under the programme of this Government, they have no future. As a consequence, this point should be emphasized time and time again because people will be sleeping in the streets unless something is done to build homes for rental purposes.
When this matter has been dealt with in the past, supporters of the Government have made some ludicrous statements. One that comes readily to the mind is that made last year by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) when he said that 150,000 homes were available for rental in Australia. That statement seems to be on all fours with the unrealistic approach and escapism of the Government on this question. Private enterprise is not doing anything in respect of home building for rental purposes. When rent control applied in the various States, those who defended private enterprise told us that if the controls were lifted the problem would immediately disappear and private capital would flow into the home-building industry. Those persons claimed that while those controls remained, no private capita] could be expected for housing because it would bc ridiculous to put money into a field so restricted by legislation when better returns could be obtained elsewhere. Two years ago that claim sounded very plausible. Lel us look at what has happened.
Two years ago the New South Wales Government amended its landlord and tenant regulations. To-day no rent control restrictions apply to new homes built in New South Wales or to homes that come on to the market for letting purposes for the first time since 1941. Therefore, for the past two years no rent control restrictions have applied on building in New South Wales. But what has happened? Not one penny of private capital has been available to provide homes! Supporters of the Government who maintain that controls keep capital out of this field will have to answer that fact.
The greatest indictment of private enterprise and capital in this country is that they are not doing anything to relieve the housing situation, lt is true that government institutions are doing something in this matter, but many private financial institutions are exploiting the situation. A few weeks ago in New South Wales Mr. Jacoby proposed to make £2,000,000 available for housing at the interest rate of 10 per cent. Such a rate makes it utterly impossible for the average man even to think about borrowing on those terms. Perhaps this offer may provide some benefit for a very few people, but it gives no hope at all for the average person. If that is the approach of private enterprise to this problem, then there is no hope for the average person. 1 submit that the Government can and must face up to this situation. The Prime Minister has said that no further increase will be made in the financial allocation for housing. In the light of that statement it is extraordinary to consider that all those connected with the building industry have said that shortage of finance is the reason for the slowing down in the industry and the minor recession that is occurring. There is no lack of materials or of man-power, but what is lacking is finance; yet the Government says that it does not propose to increase its financial allocation. This means that in the future there will be no improvement in the situation, which will be allowed to deteriorate as it has done during the last six months.
One of the factors contributing to the spiralling cost of building is the continued increase in interest rates. The Government is responsible for this, and it has not yet made out a case to justify the increase that has occurred in interest rates. It is anomalous for the Government to say to a person who receives a loan from the War Service Homes Division, “ You will pay 3 1 per cent, interest “, and to a person who gets his loan from the State Housing Commission, “ You will pay 5 per cent.”. One may acknowledge the fact that people who receive housing loans should pay a reasonable interest rate, but the Government would find it difficult to substantiate the proposition that because some people are paying only 3J per cent., others who receive loans from State instrumentalities, must pay 5 per cent.
I submit also that if the Government is sincere in this matter, and if it is anxious to do something about reducing costs, of which Government supporters have spoken so often, it has a simple means of doing so, by reducing sales tax. For every £100 spent in the furnishing or building of a home £10 goes to the Government in the form of sales tax. For every £500 or £1,000 spent by a person who gets a home, £50 or £100 goes to the Government.
– There is no sales tax on building materials.
– I am talking about furniture.
– The honorable member spoke of building materials, too.
– Even if I am corrected in regard to building materials, the fact remains that a person who spends £500 or £1,000 on furnishing a home still has to pay 10 per cent, sales tax. Removal of that sales tax would represent a considerable saving to persons who are furnishing their homes.
This problem of home building and planning has gone beyond the stage when various authorities should approach it separately. The Government would make some contribution towards ironing out the difficulties if it would, in association with the States, constitute a committee for the purpose of home planning and home building. The Government has said, however, “ We will draw up an agreement. We will lay down the terms of that agreement. The States have to abide by it. We shall be the authority to make the finance available for the programmes of the States”. It is ridiculous to suggest that ‘the States should make available for their home-building programmes more money than they receive for that purpose from the Commonwealth. The States have many commitments and they must trim their budgets accordingly. Their building programmes are conditioned by the financial assistance that they receive from the Commonwealth.
This problem of home building affects every one in the community, and many of our people are suffering very grievously as a consequence of the ill-advised policy that the Government is following. This Government has bungled the housing question. All that its supporters can say in reply to us is, “ What did your Government do?” How long must we tolerate this parrot cry from supporters of the Government? It is about time that members of this Government realized that they have had seven years of uninterrupted occupancy of the government benches, seven years in which they have had control of this country, seven years in which to put into effect any worth-while policy.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.-! wish, first of all, to add my congratulations to those of other honorable members to the mover of the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes), and to the seconder of the motion, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury). Their first speeches in this chamber have given us an indication of the calm approach that they will bring to the problems of the nation. We are very glad to have these intelligent gentlemen with us.
I have been amazed to find that Opposition speakers are continuing along the lines of the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) last night. I suppose they have to do that because they have been ordered to do it. That is the simple explanation. But no man’s arguments were ever so shredded as were those of the Leader of the Opposition last night, when, at the conclusion of his speech, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) calmly and deliberately cut his remarks to pieces and showed just how specious were his arguments. So the Leader of the Opposition was left naked and unashamed, and one felt very sorry for him, because he was here under orders to provide a camouflage. It was demonstrated clearly to the members of the executive of the Australian Labour party, at a recent conference in Brisbane, that in all the States controlled by Labour governments there had been terrific bungling and incompetence in the matter of housing.
– Who said that?
– It was made obvious at the conference. The whole tenor of the conference showed that each Labour government, whether led by Mr. Cahill or Mr. Gair or any other Labour Premier, had bungled the housing problem, had shown grave incompetence in the matter, and had left its housing programme in a horrible mess. The executive of the Australian Labour party, therefore, said that the Opposition in this House should, during the debate on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, attack the Government on the matter of housing, and should raise a smoke-screen to hide the inefficiency and incompetence of the State Labour leaders, particularly in the State of Queensland, where the Government’s- incompetence and bungling has been most pronounced, and where men have been made political footballs because of the Government’s incompetence in regard to housing. Therefore we see the spectacle of this chamber being used as a place in which to raise a smoke-screen to cover the inefficiency of Labour governments in several States.
Then we have heard the Leader of the Opposition, who has chosen to erect this Aunt Sally, crying about the poor people who have no homes. He has not, however, explained why he himself needs three homes, one in Canberra, one at Mosman and another at Leura, or why he will not let any of them to the poor workers who have no homes. He did not mention this fact. I do not begrudge him his three homes.
– That is not true!
– Of course it is true.
– It is not!
– If the Leader of the Opposition believes that it is right for one man to have three houses, then let him stand by that belief, but let him at least be honest in his approach to this problem.
– That is not democratic socialism!
– I do not know that the Leader of the Opposition is bound by any rules, but he has set up this smoke-screen because he has been told to do so.
Now that we have had time to read through the Governor-General’s Speech carefully and to deliberate upon it, we find that it contains a splendid record of governmental achievement during the last seven years. We have laid out in retrospect a record of achievement and, of course, Labour does not want to talk about that. It has nothing to say. We have had set forward by the Governor-General the Government’s plans for the present session - solid, concrete, sensible plans that will help Australia; that will keep Australia in the forefront of the nations; that will provide employment for all; that will provide housing, that will provide economic security, and that will ensure security outside Australia where good friends are. But no, Labour has nothing to say on these things. Labour is devoid of ideas, rent asunder by internal differences, and so is unable to bring any concerted voice into this chamber, except to cover up for the bungling of its own leaders in the States, as I have mentioned earlier. I would like to hear from the Labour party just what it thinks of the final paragraph on the first page of the printed copy of the GovernorGeneral’s Speech. His Excellency said -
Concurrently with the crisis in the Middle East, events in eastern Europe have indicated the strains and stresses to which the satellite States are subject. The people of Australia - and indeed of the whole free world - were deeply shocked al the calculated and ruthless armed intervention by the Soviet Union to suppress the national aspirations of the Hungarian people in OctoberNovember, 1956. This intervention was a flagrant breach of the Peace Treaty of 1947 which had guaranteed democratic freedoms to the Hungarian people, and to which the Soviet Union was a signatory. The Australian people showed their practical sympathy by organizing on a large scale voluntary relief, whilst- my Government made grants amounting to £130,000 and also immediate measures to arrange facilities for 10,000 refugees from Hungary to find permanent sanctuary ‘in Australia.
That is a very pertinent statement and one to which the whole people of Australia give full and wholehearted support - except the Labour party in the House of Parliament in Canberra, which remains silent on it. I would have expected because of the date of the peace treaty - 1947 - that we would have heard from the man who at that time was playing a prominent part in the United Nations organization, the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt). It is the proud boast of honorable members opposite that the right honorable gentleman was the great leader of the free nations at that time, and, no doubt, he played some prominent part in this peace treaty that was established to give the people of Hungary freedom. The Soviet Union was a signatory to that treaty. Why did not the right honorable member for Barton, with his experience and with his record, make some mention of this dreadful state of affairs in Hungary during the course of his remarks last night? Why is it that we have not heard from the Labour party about this very prominent matter in world affairs? Why is it that we will not hear anything from the Labour party on this subject in the course of this debate? Because the Labour party is not game, if I may use a colloquialism, to come out and state where it stands; because it is divided through and through on this very issue. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) adopts one stand, and other members adopt another. Then there are the pleasers who do not know what to do and who are looking for a lead from their leader. But their leader had his opportunity last night - the first opportunity in this forum since the eventstook place in November last year - to state where the Labour party stands in relation to Hungary, and he failed dismally. He brushed it aside without a mention, becausehis party is split on this very issue; because portion of his party has its sympathieslying not with those in Hungary who have been denied freedom, but with those who have denied them freedom. That flat statement cannot be denied.
So I say this to honorable members opposite: If your leader will not speak oni this subject, let us hear you say how you stand on this matter. Do you approve of therefugees coming into Australia - these 1 0,000 people from Hungary who have beenoffered a home, a sanctuary and freedom in Australia? Are you for them or opposed” to them, these people who have flown from Soviet aggression? Do you approve of the donation of £130,000 by this Government for the support and relief of the people of Hungary? Have we heard of any Labour members, since we last met, supporting theappeals for relief that have been made by mayors and citizens in the various parts of Australia? Has the Labour party given alead on this? No, it has not. It does not want us to talk about it. It does not wantit mentioned because Labour is rent asunder on this very issue; because the aggressors in Hungary are the friends of the present leaders and controllers of the Labour party. And so honorable members opposite are silent on this very issue. We have listened toall this loose talk and to loose figures that have been brought forward as a smokescreento conceal the differences, the splits, and the chaos that exist within the Labour party, and the bitterness that is in the hearts of true, decent, old-time Labour people, whowill have nothing to do with democratic socialism, who will have nothing to do with communism, who will have nothing to do with rackets, but instead stand for the decent things in an old-time Labour way.
– Tell us about the rackets.
– The honorable member who interjects knows what I am talking about because he is one of the troubled people in the Labour party to-day; one of those who has no time for democratic socialism; one of those who has no time for communism or rackets; and he sits here in this place, knowing that the executive of the Labour party holds a mightly stick that it can use to beat people into submission if they say something which does not please the executive.
– What do you know about it?
– The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) asks what do 1 know about it. I have in my own electorate proof of the ruthlessness of the executive of the Labour party. After four or five attempts to enter Parliament, Mr. H. R. Gardiner finally managed to gain himself the Rockhampton seat in the State House. He had opposed me on several occasions, with the support of many members opposite, but had been unsuccessful. Finally, as I have said, he was elected to State Parliament as a member of the Australian Labour party.
– How did he go out?
– I am coming to that. 1 regret that I do not think the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) will ever go out the same way. Mr. Gardiner went out because he had the courage to say that he would not let the Queensland central executive of the Australian Labour party bulldoze him. Because he, as a member of Parliament, stood on the dignity of his profession and opposed the junta that lives outside Parliament, the Labour party said. “ You are immediately suspended from membership “. They bulldozed him ail right, and out he went. There he stands outside the pale. The whip was. brought down over his shoulder and he now cannot hope for Labour endorsement for the next election because his continuity of membership has been broken. When the preselection ballot is taken for the next election, he will not be able to stand because his continuity of membership will not have been two years. There he stands as a monument to the ruthlessness with which the Labour party deals with those who dare to oppose it. His crime was that as a member of Parliament in a democratic country he was determined not to be bulldozed by an outside junta. For that he got the sack.
So. sitting opposite me here now are members of the Labour party who have learnt a salutary lesson from the experience of the honorable member for Rockhampton in the Queensland Parliament. Because he has been suspended, because he has been thrown out of the party, because his political career has been wrecked by the leaders of the Labour party, there are people sitting opposite me in this Parliament who will stifle their consciences and hearts and will not say the things they know to be true. So I say that this matter of Soviet aggression in Hungary, and the help that this Government has given to the people of Hungary, internally, and by bringing many of them here to security, will bring forth not one word from the Opposition except perhaps from the honorable member for Yarra, who may attempt, to condone the attitude of the Soviet people, and who may attempt, as he has already done, to criticize the action of those Hungarians who tried to revolt against the Soviet regime. That is all that we shall hear of that. No other honorable member opposite is willing to come forward and support the actions of the people of Hungary.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) pretends that he is one of the masters, but we know that his masters dictate the policies which he enunciates here and that all members of his party must fall into line with those policies, under threat of suspension or expulsion from the party and the wrecking of their careers. That is why we hear pitiful statements of the kind that we heard last night from the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I live in Queensland, where, because of the gerrymandering of electorates, the Labour party can continue in office although it receives only about 36 per cent, of the total number of votes cast at elections for the State Parliament. Labour has had a long, unbroken reign in Queensland. So while I listen here to what Labour says, I look to see what Labour does and has done in a State where it has had a long, unbroken reign.
– A wonderful State!
– I agree with the honorable member for Wilmot that it is a wonderful State, but it is very badly governed, lt is a State where royal commissions are appointed to enquire into land rackets, where we hear of questionable tobacco deals and where we see a little pompous man stand up, as one did recently, and say, “ I shall bring Chinese petrol into this State.
I am a great Labour leader, but I shall bring into Queensland petrol refined by Chinese coolies “.
– That is unfair.
– The honorable member does not like it. Nevertheless, the petrol that the Premier of Queensland proposed to bring into that State, to compete with petrol refined in Australia by Australian workers, was petrol refined by Chinese cooties, working for Chinese coolies’ wages. That was the proposal of a so-called leader of a so-called working-class party. He puffed himself up and said, “ I shall bring in Ping Pong petrol “ - or whatever was the name of the Formosan petrol - “ which has been refined by Chinese coolies to compete against petrol refined by Australians working in the refineries of Australia “. That is the sort of thing that goes on in Queensland.
Last night, the right honorable member for Barton complained about the building of service stations. He said, “That is drawing too much on our resources of manpower and building materials “. That was said by the Leader of the Labour party here, but in Queensland, where Labour rules, the Premier has said, in effect, “ I am going to bring down to the State Parliament a bill to compel the thousands of service stations in this State to dig up their footpaths, pull down their existing bowsers, erect new bowsers and put in new tanks “. That would involve the oil industry in Queensland in the expenditure of, perhaps, another £2,000,000 on service stations. So we see the difference between what Labour says when not in office and what Labour does when in office. We witnessed last night the pitiful spectacle of Labour trying to lay a smoke-screen.
Now I want to refer to the development that is taking place in the northern part of Queensland, a subject to which His Excellency referred in the course of his Speech when he drew attention to the large finds of bauxite that have been made in the Cape York Peninsula and the large copper deposits that have been discovered in the north-west part of the State by the Mount Isa organization and other prospectors. The development of those discoveries and consequent major constructional works will revolutionize the economy of the whole of the north of Queensland. I hope that further discoveries will be made and that prospecting throughout Queensland will be encouraged. I am convinced that there are in that State large deposits of minerals, the presence of which can only be guessed at now. There devolves upon the Queensland Government a responsibility to become more active in this sphere, through its Mines Department, and to intensify the search for minerals in world demand. To my mind, there would be no quicker way to balance our trade with other countries than through a rapid expansion of our minerals industry and our mining industry.
– What is the situation in central Queensland?
– The honorable member for Mitchell has referred to central Queensland, where, at the moment, but little prospecting is encouraged. I am glad that the honorable member has reminded me of that part of Queensland. I believe that the failure of the Queensland Government to set up an efficient Mines Department is the reason why no real prospecting for minerals is going on in central Queensland. Although there are very large deposits of minerals there, most of them have yet to be found. There are large deposits of coal of world class. The coal-fields that were discovered recently in the Blackwater area, about 100 miles from the coast, contain an almost unbelievable quantity of coal, of a quality which compares favorably with that found in the Welsh coal-fields in the United Kingdom. As the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. lames) will agree, we have so much coal in Queensland that there is no prospect that we shall be able to use it all as fuel. We should be turning our minds to alternative uses for coal, instead of using it only as a fuel, as we have done in the past.
– Who shot the Mayor of Rockhampton?
– My good friend from Kingsford-Smith should take a lesson from his experience. We should devote a considerable part of our thinking to the proper utilization of our coal deposits, not only in Queensland, but throughout Australia. I consider that there lies in our coal-fields a source of great wealth that could be exploited through the chemical industry. A great deal of work on that problem is being done in other parts of the world, and I believe that the experience gained there will serve as a useful guide to the future utilization of our coal deposits. As we develop our mineral resources in that way, we should use our imaginations and look far ahead to try to see what minerals will be used in the future and whether we can discover them in Australia. If we do that, we shall be doing a great national service.
I urge this Government to bring pressure to bear upon the State governments, through the Bureau of Mineral Resources, to intensify their search for minerals. The finding of deposits of bauxite and copper in the northern part of Queensland has been a godsend to this country, but I believe it is only an indication of the real wealth that we possess. If I had said this time last year that there were great deposits of minerals in the north of Queensland, probably my remarks would have been received by members of the Opposition with the guffaws with which they receive my statement now that there are still deposits of minerals to be discovered in this country that will make the recent finds in northern Queensland look very small.
I urge this Government to bring pressure to bear upon the State governments so that the search for minerals and oil in this country can be intensified, under a co-ordinated plan, and so that we can develop rapidly the gifts bestowed on us by a beneficent Nature. I should like this Government to approach the State governments so that we could have a co-ordinated developmental plan under which developmental projects would conform to some kind of pattern, and development could take place here and there as seasonal demands for workers lessened and labour became available. That could be done only by co-ordination. This Government has already approached the State Premiers to ask for their cooperation in that regard, but the Premiers have refused. I ask the Government not to be daunted by their refusal, but to go to the States again and ask them, in the interests of Australia, to bring about a coordinated developmental scheme that will benefit Australia.
.- I rise to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), particularly as it deals with the important problem of housing, because I know that that problem concerns a large number of my own constituents as well as other people. I think that the amendment should have gone farther and included a reference to the treatment of coal mine workers in this country, many thousands of whom have been thrown out of work because of the lack of markets for the coal that they have produced. There are 7,000 displaced coal mine workers in my electorate alone.
During the terms of the last two Labour governments I was, for about nine years, a coal liaison officer. I believe that I did a good job in that capacity. Certainly the job that I did was so appreciated that when the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) came into office he gave me the opportunity to continue as coal liaison officer. Of course, had I accepted his offer my electors would have sacked me as their parliamentary representative at the first opportunity given to them to do so. I mention my occupancy of that position merely to show that I am not speaking entirely without authority on the subject of coal mines. The first thing 1 want to say on the subject is that the mine-workers dutifully obeyed the calls of governments both past and present, and of myself, as coal liaison officer, to produce more coal. They did so to such a degree that they have produced themselves out of work, because markets cannot be found for the coal that they have won.
Now, this surplus of production of coal over demand brings me to a most important aspect of the coal industry in modern times. For years I have advocated an intense concentration in this country on the production of oil from coal. I advocated it during the periods of office of the Labour governments that I have supported, and when I was coal liaison officer. But, despite the rich oil-bearing quality of some New South Wales coal, the present Government, at a time when we wish to cut our expenditure of overseas funds, especially dollars, and when the oil supplies of the free world from the Middle East are under constant threat of interruption, is importing slush oil in competition with Australian coal as a power-raising agent. I think that that is tragic.
Towards the end of the last war I inspected oil-from-coal plants in Britain, Germany and France. I was particularly impressed with the Fischer-Tropsch process in i;se in Germany. The other countries that I have mentioned were using hydrogenation, low-temperature carbonization and’ other methods of extracting oil from coal, which I found less impressive than the German method. I remind honorable members that during World War I. Germany was practically cut off from supplies of oil from the outer world, and produced oil from coal for war purposes, including fuel oil and petrol, which was to all intents and purposes as good as petrol from oil wells. At Greenwich, in England, I inspected reports on the various types of coal in the world and, I am very proud to say, I found that the coal produced in my own area, the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, is the richest coal in the world in oil content. Other countries are producing oil from coal that has oil content inferior to that of Greta series coal. Yet we, in Australia, will not produce oil from coal. The last Labour Government embarked on the production of oil from shale at Newnes, in New South Wales, but the present Government sold the plant. The Labour Government had embarked on that venture in order to be assured of oil supplies for war purposes. In the event of an outbreak of war now we shall have again to try to make ourselves as independent as possible of sea-borne oil supplies, by having in operation an industry producing oil from shale and coal.
In the report that I made to the Chifley Government in 1945-46 I recommended the use of the Fischer-Tropsch process used by Germany. Of course, as honorable members realize, the Government was at that time under the need to concentrate expenditure of most of the money it could raise on war purposes and on the reabsorption into civil life, and rehabilitation, of many thousands of men being discharged from the armed forces. The importance of having in existence an industry for the production of oil from coal is shown by the fact that even America, which has extensive oil wells, is faced with the necessity of having to use such methods in the future, because it has been authoritatively stated that in 60 years America will have exhausted its supplies of well oil. What are we to do when well oil supplies peter out? Are we to scrap the internal combustion engine altogether? Should we not provide for the obvious alternative of feeding the internal combustion engine with oil produced from minerals, such as coal, readily available in our own country? That is what I believe we should do.
I have often been asked why Labour did not establish a sound oil-from-coal industry when it was in office. I have already given the answer to that question. For half of our period of office we were engaged in fighting a war, and for the other half we were engaged in the mighty task of converting the country’s economy from the needs of war to the needs of peace, rehabilitating and replacing in civilian employment many thousands of ex-servicemen.
The present depression in the coal industry in Australia is due to this country’s failure to use Australian coal to produce oil. The present Government, instead of embarking on such a policy, which would not only save us great sums of money now expended abroad, but would also put our coal industry in a flourishing position, is importing slush oil. Perhaps of even more importance than other considerations, in the short range, is the fact that, as I have said, our oil supplies, along with those of a great part of the free world, are threatened by the present crisis in the Middle East. That crisis has had one salutary effect so far as the future of the Australian coal industry is concerned. Undertakings which were formerly converting from the use of coal to the use of oil are reconverting plant to use coal. South Australian Government undertakings are an example of this. They have read well the warning given us by the present position > the Middle East which is, in effect, that we cannot forever rely on obtaining Middle East oil, and shall have to see what we can do about producing oil for ourselves for use in the event of an international crisis, just as Germany had to do in World War I., using her own coal resources for the extraction of oil.
Not only Britain, France and Germany are preparing themselves for the extraction of oil from coal. America and Japan are also doing so - even America, with its oilwells. During the trip overseas that 1 have mentioned I was shown right through the oil from coal plants in Germany. Much that I saw there was of a highly technical nature, but even as a layman I was able to grasp the principles, and I covered, in my report to the Chifley Government, all that I saw. In Germany, I saw the production of not only oil from coal, but also of very useful chemicals of the kind that Australia is at present importing at huge cost. The production of such chemicals from our own coal, which can be and should be done, would help to balance our economy.
It is tragic that mining towns such as Newnes should now be ghost towns. There arc ghost towns in my own electorate because mines have been closed. There is no hope of their re-opening unless we can have an early general election and get these fellows on the other side of the chamber out of office.
The coal-miners have always been obedient to requests for increased production. They also have responded to requests to go to other mining areas, such as the Illawarra district, where vacancies for coalminers existed. However, some of those who have gone to such places have written to me saying that the result has been that the family has been broken up, because the husbands are separated from their wives and children. That does not make for happy home life. I exhort the Government to help the miners to have their homes removed to the areas in which they now work. I believe that the Government should assist them in this respect because of the way that the miners have responded in the past. Honorable members no doubt remember that during the war the coal-miners increased , the production of coal greatly. At that time, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was a Minister and for a time was responsible for activities on the coal fields. He did a great job. During his period of office record coal production was achieved.
– Then that was the first time he did a good job!
– The honorable member did a good job then, and he has done a good job ever since. f wish to touch now upon a matter that I have advocated frequently in this place. I refer to finance for education. I contend that the Commonwealth should do something to help the States in this regard. Education is a national matter and should come within the immediate purview of the Federal Government. It is well known that the Commonwealth derives most benefit from those in the community who have super intelligence. The States have to finance and administer the whole system of education. When I say that, I do not mean finance from a denominational point of view, as this Government has done, thereby causing a great deal of trouble.
Recently, I read that 150 school sewing mistresses had been dismissed in New South Wales because of lack of finance. Some of those teachers are widows who are endeavouring to educate their children. In this connexion, let me mention the sad case of my own daughter-in-law, who lost her husband - my son - and who has a daughter of seventeen years of age to educate. The daughter has won a bursary, and her mother is endeavouring to send her through college. I can assure honorable members that she is having a struggle, although she has me to help her a little. There are other widows, however, whose fathers cannot help to the degree that I can. These widows could “ blood-suck “ on the social services, but they prefer to work. My daughter-in-law has worked, and she is certainly not the only one who has done so. Many widows have found it necessary to work in order to give their children a secondary school education. I hope that the Government will take at least a little notice of this position, because these mothers are suffering real hardships. The States have been appealing to the Commonwealth for increased financial assistance, and I was pleased to read only yesterday that 80 or 100 of the sewing mistresses to whom I have referred have been reinstated. Nevertheless, they had been out of work for approximately five months, and during that time nothing was coming in for them.
Priority for homes should be given our own people. There is a lot of discontent among Australians, including exservicemen, because of the fact that immigrants are getting priority for homes over men who were willing to lay down their lives in the interests of this country. Indeed, our men fought against some of the immigrants, such as southern Europeans, who are in this country now, and who are getting preference for homes. I think that our own people should get priority. Otherwise, we should suspend the immigration programme until all the people of this country are housed and in employment. I admit that we can provide employment for immigrants, but we cannot provide homes for them. As I have said already, the coalminers are able to get employment if they are prepared to go to other districts and keep two homes going. That is not f«r and does not make for contentment and happy home life. 1 have received, as I have no doubt ether honorable members also have received, a most interesting pamphlet from the cooperative building societies. All my life I have been a great believer in ‘;ooperation. I was a director for nine years cf the Co-operative Wholesalers Society, which is a body that does not trade for profit. It trades for use, not profit, but should a profit be made on sales, v is assessed after the books have been balanced, and a rebate is made. believe that this Government should encourage cooperative societies and endeavour to help them to finance home building for our people.
I agree that it is not right for immigrants to be encouraged to come to this country and then have to live in shacks when they arrive here, but at the same time, our own people are living in shacks and are suffering a similar hardship. Therefore, I say that we should suspend the immigration programme until such time as all the people of this country are properly housed.
.- I, like other honorable members, wish to be associated with the expressions of loyalty that have been so ably stated by the honorable members for Wentworth and Barker. I should like to direct my remarks to a paragraph in the Governor-General’s Speech dealing with the Seato Conference held recently in this chamber. As honorable members are aware, the Seato Conference was attended by the representatives of the eight signatory nations. The South-East Asia Treaty Organization has been in operation for some three years. I believe that during that time it has made some excellent efforts to stem the onslaught of communism - that cancerous growth - in South-East Asia. To me, the statements contained in the paragraph of the Governor-General’s Speech, to which I have referred, indicates a step in the right direction and one with which we can concur. As, apparently, some honorable members have not read the speech, I quote the passage, as follows: -
At the invitation of my Government the Seato Council of Foreign Ministers recently met in
Canberra from the 11th to the 13th March, 1957. This high level meeting approved plans which will further strengthen the organization which provides a shield against aggression in an area of vital interest to Australia. Already the Seato Council has been able lo record rapid progress by member nations in their common problems of defence and of economic and social development. That Council has noted incessant efforts by international communism to subvert the free institutions of the nations of the area. Special attention has, therefore, been given to the threat to the internal security of nations within the region.
I emphasize that the Governor-General said that the council had noted incessant efforts by international communism, and had agreed to make further efforts to counteract this growth in South-East Asia.
– Give us some details.
– No doubt, at the appropriate time, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who had the honour of being the chairman of this conference, will give the House full details. As most honorable members are aware, the Seato Treaty provides for aid to member nations in the event of Communist attack. It does not provide for any aid should the attack come from so-called neutral countries such as Burma, India, Japan or Indonesia. It is with Indonesia that I am so vitally concerned.
We in Australia are in the Asian sphere. On that point I do not think there should be any disagreement. South-East Asia is one of to-day’s spots of world instability. There is great discontent among the people of that area, not only with their governments, as recent events in Indonesia have shown, but with their ways of life and standards of living. Australia, in recent years, has grown to nationhood. Its opinions are respected in the councils of the world. The recent honour bestowed on the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in connexion with the negotiations over the Suez crisis provides a further acknowledgment of the statesmanship for which he is held in such high regard among the free nations. We are playing an increasingly important part. Our nation is respected and our actions, in the free world, are taken to be actions which we believe to be right and in the best interests of the free world.
Our attitude to this problem, which is at our very front door, is important. It is a problem of some magnitude and we cannot afford to say, “ It cannot happen here “. The last war has shown us that distance and time mean very little. The catastrophe that nearly overtook this country on that occasion has taught thinking people a lesson which will be remembered. But the progress that has been made in modern transport and modern weapons in the twelve years since the war has brought home more forcibly the fact that we cannot be content, as we were in days gone by, with our isolation. We were smug enough years ago, in our isolation in the Pacific, to think that nothing could happen to us here. To-day, that condition has been drastically changed.
The situation in South-East Asia is not a military problem. It is a political problem. The subversion and infiltration of Communist agents through South-East Asian countries are increasing. That is no wonder when we find that their own trained agents are put into this area in order to spread the Communist doctrine. They come in contact with uneducated people in indigent circumstances. They spread their doctrines among these people in the manner in which they are so skilled. The people of South-East Asia do not understand democracy. They do not understand communism. But they are willing to- grasp at a straw when somebody offers it. It is our duty to go to them . and tell them about democracy. It is our duty to tell them about the way in which we live and to show them what has happened in the so-called liberation of other areas by the Communists.
– Show them the people’s housing conditions in Australia.
– I know that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) does not like my talking about the Communists. He has been on their platforms before to-day.
– The honorable member for Philip is giving the House an illustration of how to make a speech without saying anything.
– Order! The honorable member for East Sydney has spoken in this debate.
– Recently, we had the spectacle of Dr. Soekarno accepting economic aid from Russia. As a condition of that economic aid, undoubtedly, skilled propagandists went through his country and told the people of the Communist doctrines. Soekarno has recently endeavoured to bring Communists into his government, but, unfortunately for him, the people of Indonesia have revolted against this move in no uncertain manner. Perhaps, for the present, his hand is stayed. It is significant that this move has come after his jaunt to Moscow and Peking. I suggest that part of the price that he is paying for economic aid from Russia is the inclusion of Communists in his cabinet. If this is so, I think there may be a stalemate in the appointment of such persons to the cabinet. But I do not suggest for a moment that the people in Moscow will be content to allow this state of affairs to exist for very long.
Recently a plea was made in the United Nations by Indonesia, with the support of Russia, Peking and the Afro-Asian bloc, for the so-called return of Dutch New Guinea to Indonesia. Rightly, the United Nations rejected this plea. We read of the statements that were made by these people concerning the so-called liberation of the poor Papuans. We heard the anti-colonial talk, and the talk to the effect that the Papuans were ready for self-rule. Coming from Russia, those statements smack of insincerity to me. One would think that these Russian people were champions of democracy. In my opinion, they are champions of hypocrisy. They have used the United Nations time and time again to spread their propaganda among these uneducated and indigent people so as to further their aim to dominate these people who do not understand the doctrine of communism in South-East Asia. We find that India, a new champion of the United Nations, has annexed Kashmir, in spite of the resolution of the United Nations, and has joined in the chorus of “self-rule and liberation for the Papuans “.
In considering the attitude of Russia, let us again refer to the recent events in Hungary. If what happened in Hungary is an example of Russian democracy, of the granting of the self-rule that the people of Hungary want, and of liberation of the Hungarian people, we in Australia want no truck with Russian methods. They are in sharp contrast with our conception of the democratic way of life. Has Russia at any time allowed free elections? Has it ever allowed the people free rule? Has it ever allowed them to choose their own candidates for office or their own governments?
Let us consider what the Russians have Jone in Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia, all of which are nations capable of governing themselves. The Russians have swept away the freedom of the people in those countries. Yet the Russian representative at the United Nations championed the cause of self-rule for the Papuans. That action is laughable.
No one would suggest that the Papuans are now ready for self-government. The raising of uneducated races or people to standards at which they are capable of attaining self-rule is a slow and lengthy process. We can be proud of our progress in New Guinea, but our experience confirms that people such as the Papuans cannot be prepared for the responsibilities of selfgovernment in a short time. The preparation is a slow and lengthy process. They must first be educated and become used to the forums of democracy. They must be trained to respect one another’s rights and privileges and to assist and help one another in promoting their economic welfare. One can talk very glibly about colonialism.
– The honorable member is talking very glibly.
– The honorable member need not listen to me. One can talk very glibly about communism also, but let us be in no doubt that communism is on the march in South-East Asia. It has reached Indonesia, where 6,000,000 people voted in favour of Communist candidates at the last elections. The official attitude of the Indonesian Government towards Dutch New Guinea is very plain. During the discussion of Indonesia’s claim to Dutch New Guinea before the United Nations, Dr. Sudjarwo stated that the matter was no affair of Australia’s, but was entirely a dispute between Holland and Indonesia. I respectfully disagree with the learned doctor, because I consider that this dispute has a great deal to do with Australia. It would not be in the best interests of the Australian people to have a country of Communist tendencies right at our front door. We cannot afford to have New Guinea pass into unfriendly hands. In proximity to our shores there are many countries that regard us with envy, and there is no doubt that, at the first opportunity, they will endeavour to force their will on Dutch New Guinea. which offers such easy access to Australia that, if their will prevailed, we should probably suffer severely from such Communist infiltration. I remind honorable members that we already have in Australia Communists who, under democracy, are white-anting the very structure of our way of life. All Australians should consider very carefully the words of Dr. Soekarno, who said, on 18th August, 1955 -
We must free Irian- 1 point out, for the benefit of those honorable members who do not know, that that is the name given by the Indonesians to West New Guinea - with our own strength, with Indonesia’s own strength, and God permitting, we will free Irian with our own strength. Let us mobilize our power. Let us mobilize our fighting potential.
On 11th February of this year, Dr. Helmi, the Indonesian Ambassador in Australia, said that the people of West New Guinea were impatient for self-rule. I do not believe that that is true. Dr. Helmi said also -
We shall knock on the door of the United Nations for sovereignty over West New Guinea, and we will keep knocking till we get it. Our conscience does not allow us to accept anything other than West New Guinea becoming part of Indonesia, ft is historically part of Indonesia, and we want it back, but we do not want to use force.
That statement indicates a big difference between the methods envisaged by Dr Soekarno and Dr. Helmi for the attainment of Indonesian sovereignty over Dutch New Guinea, but there is no difference between their ultimate aims of obtaining Dutch New Guinea for the Indonesians.
I have previously outlined the propaganda methods that are being adopted to appeal to the many millions of Indonesians. We must counteract that propaganda if we are to succeed in withstanding communism. I hope that the Minister for External Affairs, in outlining later in detail matters touched upon in the Governor-General’s Speech, will indicate that the countries that are signatories to the South-East Asia Collective Defence Treaty will combine more vigorously. They must combine more vigorously if they are to halt the march of communism.
– What does the honorable member mean by “ vigorously “?
– I remind the honorable member that 1 said at the outset that I meant political vigour and not military vigour.
The Dutch people have a very proud record in Dutch New Guinea. They have’ come before the world and said to the United Nations, “ We shall give self-rule to the people of Dutch New Guinea, and shall concentrate all. our efforts to prepare these people for self-rule “. Surely that is fair enough. We in Australia must continue to support the Dutch attitude and the maintenance of Dutch sovereignty over this area. I have no doubt about that. Indonesia cannot control even its own affairs. It is in a chaotic condition at the present time. It has had no experience in the government of colonies in its brief span of only seven years as a nation. The Dutch, on the other hand, have had centuries of experience of colonization, and they have done it in excellent fashion.
The people of Dutch New Guinea are not drawn to Indonesia by any common bond of race, creed, or colour. The two peoples are widely different, and their languages are entirely distinct. Indonesia has no geographical claim to Dutch New Guinea, and the people of the two countries have no anthropological connexion. Indonesia’s claim to Dutch New Guinea is very weak. There can be no doubting that. But, however weak Indonesia’s claim may be, the fact remains that it has the backing of Russia, the Afro-Asian bloc, and red China, which I prefer to call red China and not Continental China. Under the powerful influence of so many millions of people, Indonesia will in the near future be admitted into the Communist bloc. Whether or not an impasse exists at the present time, Russia will not rest content until it gets the Indonesians under its influence. In that event, Dutch New Guinea would become a danger to Australia if it were under Indonesian control.
Australia has at all times endeavoured to maintain friendly relations with Indonesia, as has been stated by spokesmen for both countries, and I think Dutch New Guinea is the only point of difference between the two countries. But what a point of difference it is! It is of extreme importance to us. I think my earlier remarks will have left honorable members in no doubt about the importance to us of Dutch New Guinea. We value the friendship of the Indonesian people, and the Minister for External Affairs deserves praise for bridging the gap between the Indonesians and ourselves and cementing the friendship of our two countries. It is the duty of all governments to preserve friendship between nations and maintain confidence in one another. But at the same time, we must protect our own heritage. We must not allow ourselves to become an easy target for exploitation by any other power, whether by economic, political, or military means.
We must adhere to our immigration policy, which is designed to preserve our cultural and political heritage, our democratic way of life, and our high standard of living. That brings me to the point at which I would suggest that it is frightening to think that a report of proceedings at the biennial conference of the Australian Labour party held recently at Brisbane seems to indicate that some delegates at the conference were playing with words in their approach to the White Australia policy. It is frightening to think that a responsible member of this Parliament is prepared to play with words where our White Australia policy is concerned. We must retain our standard of living and our democratic way of life, yet an honorable member opposite is prepared to threaten them by playing with words.
– Who was it?
– The honorable member knows that as well as 1 do. One has only to look at Dr. Burton’s pamphlet to know how well honorable members opposite can play with words. What is the new “ Democratic Socialism “ but an attempt to cloak socialism in mysticism? Labour supporters hope to fool the people by adding new, glib paragraphs to their party policy. They apparently think that they can do that with the White Australia policy. I assure them that the Australian people will have no truck with interference in that policy, and it is frightening to think that men who may some day be the government of this country are anxious to play with words in relation to this vital principle.
.- His Excellency’s Speech will go down in history, not for what it contains, but for what has been left out. Before speaking to the amendment relating to housing I propose to make a few observations about the dilemma in which the Government apparently finds itself over the future of the aircraft industry. .1 am very glad to see that the Minister for Defence Production (Mr. Beale) is in the chamber. The Defence Production Committee apparently has not yet made up its mind about the future of the industry, though I understand it is to make a statement on the subject shortly. In the columns of this morning’s press there is a report of a meeting yesterday of members of the Government parties. A survey of the defence position is said to have been made and it is suggested, officially or otherwise, that the Government contemplates buying large numbers of fighter and transport aircraft overseas.
– The honorable member will be pleased to hear that no such statement was made.
– I am very glad to hear that, because what I have to say may induce the Government to take action in a certain direction. I hope that I shall not be speaking, as in the past, to a brick wall. I can understand the dilemma which is facing the Government because, from whatever viewpoint the position is seen, there is a diversity of opinion. From the economic aspect, no case of any dimensions can be put for the continuance of the Australian aircraft industry, but this aspect should be of secondary consideration. There are other factors which are of fundamental importance to the supremacy and sovereignty of this country. While an aircraft industry may cost us money, I contend that it is a. form of insurance. The importance of having this insurance is of such magnitude that, despite the cost, the industry should not be sacrificed on the altar of economy.
I hope that, whatever decision is made in regard to the importation of aircraft, there will be no diminution of the activities of the Department of Aircraft Production. Over the last six months there has been considerable curtailment of staff. After an inspection of the factories - made possible by the courtesy of the Minister - I have come to the conclusion that any further reduction would do inestimable damage to the industry and, in turn, to Australia’s security. The question is whether we can afford a local aircraft industry or should import the aircraft that we need. Australia has, in my opinion, and in the opinion of persons who are far more knowledgeable than I am, quite rightly placed the emphasis in defence on air power. That is ihe fundamental assumption for our security. World War II. proved that Australia could make modern aircraft. At present aircraft production is being tapered off. Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Proprietary Limited is making the last batch of Sabre Jet fighters and the Commonwealth aircraft factories are finishing their orders for Canberra bombers and Jindivik pilotless planes.
– We have an order from Sweden.
– Australia has an order for ten Jindiviks from Sweden. 1 understand that they are under construction at the moment. I had hoped that the singular success of the Jindivik would have prompted the Government to launch a sales campaign throughout the world.
– We have done so.
– It has provided a splendid demonstration of Australian ingenuity and technical prowess. The fact that we can sell the Jindivik to Sweden at a fixed price indicates that that country is apparently of the opinion that it is getting value for its money. It is true that cheaper planes can be purchased overseas. It is equally true that many articles which are at present being made in this country could, in the absence of tariff protection, be purchased more cheaply overseas. We should adopt towards the aircraft industry the attitude that we adopt towards a large section of our manufacturing industries - that though the article costs more to make locally it is in the interests of Australia’s economy, and possibly our security, to produce it here. That argument is especially applicable to the aircraft industry. Though it is apparently uneconomic, it has assured the Royal Australian Air Force of supplies of front-rank military aircraft. The Canberra bombers are exactly that.
Really first-class aircraft are seldom available in quantity from overseas because, as one can readily understand, a government which develops an improved plane is anxious to keep it on the secret list and not export it. I cannot imagine the United States of America, Great Britain or any other country exporting a plane in large quantities until it has become second-class. 1 am glad to have the Minister’s assurance that the newspaper report to which J referred is wrong. If we were to import an aircraft we should probably receive only types that have been discarded by the United States of America and Great Britain. I do not know whether representations have been mad,, 10 the Government of the United States of America for the purchase of the latest FI 04 plane, but if they have 1 assume that that Government will have a great deal to say before it supplies this plane to Australia.
The local industry should be retained, if only for the supply of spare parts, and servicing. Original air frames and engines represent only a proportion of the equipment necessary to keep a military aircraft at peak efficiency. Air frames become damaged and worn and engines demand periodical overhaul and repair. - If an aircraft is to be maintained at peak efficiency modifications have to be undertaken, and the local industry alone is capable of doing this essential work. A number of modifications and alterations have been made during the construction of the Canberra bombers. If these aircraft had been imported from Great Britain the modifications would have cost a great deal of money.
Unfortunately there is absolute uncertainty as to the future in the minds of everyone from top management down to the humblest factory worker. Nobody knows what the future holds for him. At first there were heavy dismissals, which lowered the morale of the staff. These were followed by resignations of virtually irreplaceable staff in all sections of the industry. Men receive an offer of outside employment. They ask the management or the foreman what is the prospect of staying there and of future employment. They want to know how many years they can expect to be employed. Because of this Government’s indecision, the management cannot tell them anything; it does not know. Consequently, men give notice, leave and go to other industries. That is to be deplored because men cannot be trained for the aircraft industry in a week. In the electrical side of the industry, the most skilled electrician is of no use until he has had six months’ training in the industry. The same applies to metal workers and other tradesmen. Whilst a man may be a skilled tradesman in the industry in which he served his apprenticeship, he has to serve what practically amounts to another apprenticeship when he enters an aircraft factory. When skilled men leave week after week because they do not know what is happening, the effect on the industry is most devastating. If, ?.t the l?.st moment, the Government should decide to increase production in the industry, it will be unable to do so because the skilled staff will not be available. That is a position which, I am sure, every member of this House deplores.
I was very pleased to see the very modem equipment that is in our present factories at Fishermen’s Bend and Avalon and the skilled personnel operating that equipment. Experience over the past fifteen or sixteen years has demonstrated that trained technical and design staffs have been built up and are doing a job of first-class order and importance and equal to world standards. The danger of letting the industry degenerate and having only a few men available for servicing purposes is that the time may come when we shall not be able to get aircraft from overseas. It is quite possible that our overseas friends will want all the aircraft they produce for themselves. If they are attacked, obviously they will not send aircraft to this country.
Whatever the future holds for the industry because of the importation of some fighter and transport planes, I hope that there will be at least a programme which will keep the present staff in operation - keep their hand in order, as it were - and I suggest that the Government should give very serious consideration to the construction of a jet trainer plane. We are in the jet age in aviation. I understand that the Royal Australian Air Force has not a modern jet trainer plane with which to teach our young airmen the latest points of jet piloting and fighting. The Government should give very serious consideration to introducing a programme to make a number of jet trainer planes so that the industry can be kept going, not on the dimensions that were possible two or three years ago but nevertheless at a rate which will at least keep the industry in existence, retain the skilled personnel within the four walls of the aircraft factories and at the same time ensure the confidence of the existing personnel in the industry. If we pull down our defences by practically eliminating this industry, except for a few skilled tradesmen servicing planes that are bought, we will be creating a dangerous void in our defence plans. I suggest that this is an insurance policy that the Government should not fail to acquire.
I hope that the Minister for Defence Production will give very serious consideration to seeing that the industry is not reduced below its present dangerously low level in respect of personnel. I hope that at the first opportunity the Minister will make a statement which will reassure the men in the industry. They are a good type. Many of them have given years to the industry, and they want to remain in it. Even at present, some of them have had offers to go to other employment at higher rates of pay, but, because they like the industry and the work, and have a pride in their achievements, they want to remain in the industry. We should encourage such men. Merely to save £4,000,000 or £5,000,000, we should not throw to the wall an industry which in World War II. proved itself to be of considerable magnitude in the defence plans. In building the Canberra jet bomber, it has proved it can build a plane second to none in the world. I ask the Minister to use his best endeavours to assure the personnel in the industry that the Government intends to institute immediately the tooling up for a programme to build a further line of planes in keeping with the modern jet age.
I know that the Government wants to get the most modern equipment possible from overseas, but it should make certain that plans are under consideration for the over-all defence policy and that the present aircraft construction industry is not reduced below its existing level. Indeed, I should like to see it considerably increased.
I shall devote the rest of my time to speaking on the amendment before the House. In the Governor-General’s Speech and in the speech by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last night, a pathetic and futile attempt has been made to eradicate the bad impression created in the community by the recent faux pas in relation to housing. And a faux pas it was! The statements of the Prime Minister have brought down upon his head criticism from people who for many years have been his political friends in every sense of the word. That criticism has not emanated from Labour circles or from interested trade union circles; it has emanated from sources which could not by the greatest stretch of the imagination be construed as supporters of the Opposition.
Last year, when the Housing Agreement Bill was before the House, a number of honorable members opposite had the quaint and fantastic idea that the housing problem would be solved by the passage of that legislation. As a matter of fact, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) made the statement in another place that the housing problem would be solved in two years. He was particularly optimistic. Other members on the Government side were not so optimistic; they suggested three, four or five years. But Opposition members at that time pointed out that, far from solving the problem, the passage of the Housing Agreement Bill of 1956 would accentuate the housing problem. Events have proved that we were completely right that time.
The first great defect of that bill, which is now reflected in the bad housing position, was the decision of the Government to give only 80 per cent, of the money to housing commissions, and 20 per cent, to cooperative building societies. I agree that cooperative building societies have not enough money and I shall develop that point in a moment. But they should not have been given that money at the expense of the housing commissions. The housing commissions were formed in the first place, and the housing agreement was formulated, to provide homes for the lower income group. Unfortunately, in the main, the lower income group is not in a position to buy houses. People in that group just cannot save the deposit. The fact that the housing commissions are getting only 80 per cent, of their former allocations has meant that they cannot build the number of houses for rental purposes that they did before.
This point, of course, is tied up with the fact that private enterprises are not building any houses of the villa type for rental purposes. As a matter of fact, the report on housing recently issued by the Department of National Development stated that in Victoria alone, over six or seven years to the end of 1954. there were 11,000 houses fewer for rental purposes. It can be seen that the position is getting grimmer. Because private enterprise is not building homes for rental purposes, the housing commissions should build more, but, because of the passage of the Housing Agreement Bill last year, they are building less. We are in the position where houses for rental purposes will ‘ eventually arrive at vanishing point. I hope the Government will realize at this late stage the mistake it made in that matter.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– We were told that the provision in the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of last year, by which cooperative building societies were to receive 20 per cent. of the total money allocated to the States for housing, would mean a new era in the housing movement in every State. At that time speakers on this side of the House pointed out that this would not be so because the building societies would receive less money from other sources. We contended, for instance, that if building societies in Victoria received £2,000,000 of the £10,000,000 to be allocated, the amount of money to be granted to building societies by Victorian financial institutions would be reduced. In other words, it would be given to them on the one hand and taken away from them on the other. Such a claim was ridiculed by Government supporters, but subsequent events have proved our contention to be entirely correct. The cooperative building societies in Victoria have not been beneficially affected in the slightest degree by the allocation of this amount of £2,000,000 from Commonwealth funds. Allthat has happened is that while they have received £2,000,000 from the Commonwealth, they have received £2,000,000 less from other sources. That has been brought about by the policy of the central bank, which requires that the amount of money to be granted to the building industry must be stabilized if inflation is to be avoided. Such has been the result of the much-vaunted housing legislation of last year, which we were told would result in better times for the co-operative housing movement. I understand that other States have suffered in a similar fashion.
The Prime Minister last night denied that there was a slump or a crisis in the building industry. All I can say in that regard is that very many people in this community do not agree with him. I suppose it can be said that the Opposition would naturally disagree with the Prime Minister in any case, but many persons who are not members of the Labour party, but are actually members of the Liberal party, must emphatically disagree with the Prime Minister. In Victoria we have an entirely Liberal party government. It is not even a composite government such as is this Commonwealth Government. The Premier of Victoria, Mr. Bolte, is most dissatisfied with the amount of money received by Victoria for housing, and he has written to the Commonwealth authorities asking for another £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 for housing in Victoria, because he says that the resources of the building industry in that State are not fully occupied with the present housing finance allocation, even when that is added to the amounts of money being made available by the Commonwealth Bank and other financial institutions. Mr. Petty, the Liberal Minister for Housing in Victoria, is even more emphatic and more critical. When he opened a conference of State Housing Ministers in Melbourne only last week, Mr. Petty said -
There are people in every corner of Australia who are looking for national help as a result of this conference. They are sick and tired of speeches and promises. They want practical results. They want houses.
I emphasize the sentence, “They are sick and tired of speeches and promises “. I cannot help thinking that the speeches that Mr. Petty had in mind were the recent speeches of the Prime Minister. According to the Prime Minister, everything in the garden will be lovely shortly, and the problem will automatically solve itself in four or five years’ time. That does not satisfy Mr. Petty. The conference of Housing Ministers duly took place. These Ministers from the various States are of different political parties, but after much discussion they arrived at a conclusion regarding the housing position in Australia. Mark you, the Prime Minister says there is no crisis and there is no slump in the building industry, but these Ministers are men who do not live in an ivory tower, as does the Prime Minister when the problem of housing is brought up, but are occupied every waking moment of their lives in trying to solve the housing problems in their respective States, and after the conference they arrived at a unanimous conclusion. The “ Sydney Morning Herald “, in its report of the conference, said -
In a joint statement after the conference, the Ministers said they agreed unanimously that a recession was developing in the building industry throughout Australia because of the lack of finance for home building . . . The rate of building was declining at a time when material resources and man-power were becoming unused and idle.
That last sentence is distinctly at variance with the statement of the Prime Minister, who said that because of insufficient manpower and materials it has been necessary to reduce the amount of money to be poured into the building industry. The statement to which I have referred, however, was made by practical men, men of all political parties, drawn together for a common purpose, who arrived at a common decision. That decision definitely and flatly contradicts the statements made by the Prime Minister last night and on other recent occasions. I suggest that the Prime Minister should not depend merely on a few departmental handouts about the housing position, but should consult practical men in the industry. He should consult the State Housing Ministers. If he had two or three hours with Mr. Petty, the Liberal party’s Minister for Housing in Victoria, it is quite possible that Mr. Petty would convince him in a very certain and emphatic manner that the information that the Prime Minister has given to this House is based on false premises. The Prime Minister has shown himself to have no reliable knowledge of the general housing position.
I have just a few words to say before I conclude. There are more men employed in the building industry to-day than there were, say, three years ago. As a matter of fact, according to figures issued by the Commonwealth Statistician, in 1953 there were 99,700 men employed in the building industry, and in 1956 that number had increased to 119,000. Although 20.000 more men were being employed, 10,000 fewer houses were built.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I wish to deal with that part of the GovernorGeneral’s Speech that referred to inflation. His Excellency said that the last time he addressed the Parliament the position of the Australian economy was causing considerable concern. He then said thai the economy had shown great signs of improvement, but he later warned that a steady fall in the value of money increases costs of construction, causes expensive delays, and, by reducing the incentive to save, renders more and more difficult and burdensome the tasks of public finance. In those remarks he sounded a very grave note of warning. It would seem to me that a very important part of the GovernorGeneral’s Speech dealt with inflation, and we as a Government know that inflation has been one of the greatest problems that we have had to handle. It is not confined to Australia, but is world wide, and when one seeks the cause of inflation it is not hard to find. We have been constantly dealing with the effects of inflation. Our administrative machinery has been geared to deal with its effects. The causes oi inflation, however, are of an international character, lt seems to me that if we are prepared to bear the burdens of inflation we would be wise to give some attention to its causes.
I think it will be accepted on both sides of the House that one of the principal causes of inflation is world communism. Indeed, the section of the GovernorGeneral’s Speech dealing with inflation appears immediately after his remarks regarding our defence policy, and it is well known that expenditure on defence is highly inflationary. While we are trying to combat the effects of inflation, which is actually caused by world communism, we are really forging the weapons of our own destruction. We may deal with the effects of inflation largely by restrictive measures, such as the imposition of controls, and in this way we gradually train the nation to accept these restrictions as inevitable. And so the free enterprise system will gradually break down and a system of controls be introduced. To appreciate this, one only has to estimate the enormous amount of man-power, resources, and wealth that has been diverted from other purposes directly to combat world communism. We have achieved a great deal in this direction over the last ten years. It should be a source of pride to those western people who practice the capitalist system that it has been so resilient as to be able still to maintain man’s freedom while providing the enormous wealth and treasure which have been necessary to deal with world communism.
What do our plans envisage? So far, we have dealt with the threat by many means. The primary means has been to build up an enormous defence force, using atomic weapons as deterrents. That is a defence means which is more or less a passive way of dealing with the problem.’ We have also devoted a great deal of money and technical skill to alleviating the conditions of backward nations and trying to create conditions in which the evils of communism will not thrive. But I suggest to the House that these are all passive methods and I believe it is a sound military maxim that you should always attack the enemy in his weakness. Our enemy’s weakness is his economy. Russia is the longest lived socialist state, but we have had other socialist states, notably Germany with its national socialism, which is a form of socialism very akin to the Russian system. We have also had fascism in Italy. When the pressure has been taken off these socialisms have died. Because of conditions in Russia, we have not been able to exert any “ influence “ there. But there is weakness in the Russian economy and in the fact that in order to maintain the socialism which they call democratic socialism, the Russians have had to employ methods of force which are extremely hard on their own people. Could the Russian economy survive if the Soviet did not have, say, 10,000,000, 12,000,000 or even 14,000,000 people in slave camps? If we in Australia were to employ our population equivalent of 14,000,000 free labourers in our mines we could also enjoy considerable success in our economy. In addition, of course, the wealth of all the satellite countries is drawn from them and used to bolster the Russian economy. This is not conjecture. This is common knowledge, and people who do not have that knowledge at the present moment are either knaves or fools.
The Soviet system imposes an intolerable burden on the Russian people. It is a rule of force. We know that, because as soon as force is slightly eased there is immediate revolt. This has been experienced in the last year or two. The one thing we do know is that man cannot be enslaved forever. We know there is always the desire in man for freedom. It has never been suppressed in the history of civilization. We know that man will always strive for his freedom, and herein lies the weakness of socialism of all breeds, because socialism is based on force. That is not a new philosophy. The liberal philosophers of the last two centuries have always warned that any imposition of socialism inevitably means the imposition of force and that pressure cannot be relaxed. If it is relaxed mail will strive for his freedom. As soon as Stalinism was relaxed the slightest bit, all the satellites became restive. Was that just by chance? Was it the result of capitalist conspiracy? No. It was due to the natural desire of man to be free, and here is our avenue of attack.
How can we achieve the results we seek? Communism has a considerable hold in Russia, but if we look at the institutions through which the Communists work, we may find a channel through which we can deal with them. I would suggest one channel. The greatest support the Communists find in the world to-day is in the United Nations organization. Do not think for one moment that I am opposed to the United Nations. I am not, but I am very strongly opposed to the present method under which the organization works. The United Nations organization has been, to my mind, one of the great media through which Communist Russia has been influencing the world. Right throughout the history of the United Nations Russia has never, with only one exception, shown a desire not to use that organization. Just before the Korean war broke out the Russian delegate was absent for one short period which proved to be a critical period in the history of man. But ever since, Russia has used the United Nations as a vehicle for propaganda and a vehicle for the machinations of conspiracy. I have not the slightest doubt in my own mind that if Russia were removed from the United Nations organization one of our main problems would be solved, because there would be very important effects in other directions, as I will show later.
To say that Russia has not used the United Nations is to neglect the facts. No other nation has the extraordinary number of vetoes against its name. Why were they used? Surely it was to break down the work of the civilized world, the capitalist world, western democracy. Russia has achieved enormous success in handicapping us in dealing with world problems. Russia has used the United Nations as a very subtle vehicle for propaganda. In addition, it has built up the United Nations to a very considerable strength amongst the Russian people. The proceedings of the United Nations are very widely publicized, of course with the Russian slant. But if Russia were removed from the United Nations its leaders would have to explain to their people the reason for the world’s council’s action. After all. if the United Nations is to function at all surely it should function on high principles. There cannot be a law for the rich and a law for the poor; a law for the strong and a law for the weak. Has Russia fulfilled its obligation to support, in principle, the United Nations? I do not think I have to tell you the whole story, Mr. Speaker, but we all know that Russia has abused completely the principles of the United Nations by refusing to get out of Hungary at the request of the United Nations General Assembly. If we expel Russia - and it can be expelled - we shall create a difficult situation for the Russian leaders who will have to explain the expulsion to their own people. Recently it has come to the knowledge of the world that there is considerable unrest in Russia. We know that .Russian brigades refused to obey their commanders in Hungary. We know that eastern divisions had to be employed to carry out the dastardly work in Hungary. We are informed that intellectual people in Russia are listening to western broadcasts. What would be the position of the rulers of Russia if they had to explain to the Russian people why their country had been expelled from the United Nations? Personally, I believe that the expulsion of Russia would have a powerful effect on world opinion.
We must not believe that Russia is always strong and prepared. On several occasions, it has been caught on the wrong foot. I ask honorable members to consider the recent action of the British Government in Egypt. Every day, we receive more proof that Sir Anthony Eden was absolutely right. Present conditions in the Middle East are such that the Americans are beginning to realize that they have never understood Asiatic thinking there. When Great Britain and France acted against Egypt, Russia was caught - 1 was going to say with its pants down, but I will say on the wrong foot, lt began immediately to bluster and threaten atomic war against Great Britain.
I do not think that we should pursue a policy of fear, as it were. 1 cannot believe that any nation would start a major nuclear war. Some people are acting in accordance with the dictates of fear, which never got a man anywhere. We know that Russia is vulnerable, because, as I have said, when Great Britain acted against Egypt recently, the Russians were caught completely unawares. 1 know that the members of the Opposition say that international disputes should be settled by negotiation and conciliation, but although they preach that doctrine constantly, they do not use negotiation and conciliation themselves. There is, at present, a- great conflict in the Labour party. Can we imagine the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) attending a round-table conference with Mr. Keon, Mr. Manning and others, to settle his differences with them by conciliation? If the members of the Opposition cannot settle differences amongst themselves in that way, how can they suggest reasonably that negotiation and conciliation should be used in the international sphere? We know that those methods cannot be used internationally on many occasions, because unless both parties to a dispute are prepared to act honorably they will get nowhere with them.
Let me give an example to show what I have in mind. We read to-day, in the press, that Marshall Zhukov has issued a long statement in which he has said that in the event of a major war the Russians will be prepared lo use atomic weapons. It is significant to me that that statement was made at this juncture, when there is such great trouble, in the Middle East. We know that only the presence of United Nations troops in the Gaza strip is stopping Israel from going into the strip. If the United Nations troops go out, as has been suggested, why should not the Israelis go in? When the Israelis talk about going in, the Russians immediately issue threats about the use of atomic bombs. But I do not subscribe to the belief that a nuclear war could break out in the world to-day. and I feel that in this case the Russians are only threatening.
We have sought co-operation with the Russians in the United Nations. ‘ For the last ten years, we have tried to come to terms with them, but we have got nowhere. I hope honorable members will not misunderstand me when I say that the Russians do not even speak’ the same language as we do. What I mean is that to the Russians light and night or truth and lies are exactly the same. Socialists believe that the end justifies the means, and the means used by the Russians are untruths, distortions, and lies. We remember the case of Nagy, who was promised safe conduct by the Russians and subsequently left the security of the Yugoslav embassy in Budapest. Where is he now? The facts speak for themselves. We cannot trust the word of the Russians.
How are we going to exist for the next 50 years? Is it practical politics to think that we can go on in the way we are going now, not taking active measures to stop the continual process of attack and infiltration which the Russians are using as a weapon in the cold war? T am trying to think of the prospects for the future. Today, it is one thing. To-morrow, it is another. In order to defend ourselves, we have to expand our economy more and more. That is one point.
The other point I want to make is that although we are living here in peace and security, there are millions of people in slave camps in Russia. Tens of thousands of people in Hungary have been torn from their families. Have we no responsibilities to our fellow beings? Some of us here experienced life under an Asiatic conqueror in a prison camp, but we always had the knowledge that the time would come when we would be free. I ask honorable members to try to look at the world through the eyes of a Russian who opposed communism, or through the eyes of a Hungarian, a Pole or a German who acted against world communism. What is the future that such persons face in camps in Siberia? Think of the tragedy of their lives. Are not they entitled to some support from Western people who enjoy freedom? Should we sit here comfortably and talk of housing and things like that while, not tens of thousands, but millions of people overseas exist under such tragic conditions? We all have consciences. We should try to find ways and means to conduct ourselves as Christians.
We look forward at present to an intolerable future. Each year, a new crisis will be created and, in order to meet it, we shall have to expand our economy further. At one time, the Russians will create a situation such that we shall feel that we require additional forces, and soon afterwards they will create conditions in which we shall feel that we shall have to supply more money to combat the influence of communism. It is always the Russians who take the initiative, it is always they who cause trouble, but we blindly follow the same course. It is time we took more positive action, and I believe that the action I have suggested would have the effect of causing a situation in Russia unfavorable to the rulers of that country. We have allies by the million - people who are suffering under the hated yoke of communism. We could use those people if we created the necessary conditions in their own country. If we did so. communism would crumble. I believe that that is the line of action we should follow, and I ask the House to consider it very carefully.
Is it possible for us to go on year after year with the methods we are using now, when they meet with such lack of success? Surely to goodness we should try a new method, and I suggest that the method I have mentioned would clip the wings of the rulers of Russia considerably. It would not be difficult to put into effect. The United Nations could ask Russia to get out of Hungary. After all, Russia is in breach of the treaty of 1947, under which it agreed to freedom in Hungary. If the United Nations were to say to Russia, “ Get out of Hungary and allow free elections to be held there “, what would happen? The Russians would not get out, but their refusal to do so would be a sound reason for expelling Russia from the United Nations. While it is a member of the United Nations, it will be a continual source of mischief and malevolence. Every little tin-pot dictator will use Russia in order to blackmail the more peaceful members of society. If Russia were expelled from the United Nations, the Russian rulers would have to explain to their own people why their country had been expelled, and I believe that if they had to start to explain their actions they would be in difficulties. Qui s’excuse s’accuse
I turn to the question of housing. Yesterday, my colleague, the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), in a very good speech, pointed out that, of all the States, New South Wales had the worst housing record. Personally, I believe that the attempt by the Opposition to censure the Government on housing is intended only as a cover for the backsliding and failure of the Labour Government of New South Wales. There is no government in Australia which has shown up so badly as the Cahill Government in New South Wales.
As to increases in costs, I feel that a great deal of the trouble with housing to-day is not the question of lack of funds, but the question of buyers’ resistance. I asked bankers in my home town if they had money to lend for housing, and the answer was that they had money to lend on sound propositions. One banker told me that a man had come to him and wanted to borrow £3,000 to build a home. He had saved £200 and wanted to borrow the rest. The banker asked me, “ Would it be a wise proposition to burden that debt around that man’s neck for the rest of his life? It would take him 50 years to pay off £3,000 “.
Let us look at some of the elements in the cost of building. The New South Wales Government increased royalties on timber in its last budget. Increases of rail freights and of royalties on timber in New South Wales have added £200 to the cost of a timber-framed house. Quarterly adjustments of the basic wage, upon which Labour is so insistent, also increase housing costs. I believe that the Labour party is trying to create conditions in which our economy will break down, while at the same time attempting to cover up its machinations in order to put the blame on the Government.
A great proportion of the cost of building lies in wages, not only those paid to the actual builders, but also those paid to the people who produce building materials. Transport costs, and wages paid in the production of bricks and every single article used in building, have been increased in New South Wales as a result of quarterly adjustment of wages, and have added to the burden to be borne by people wanting to buy or build a home. The price of milk in New South Wales is heavier than in any other State. Why is that so? Why is schooling so far behind in New South Wales?
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- It is great good fortune that a temperate, moderate democratic socialist fellow like me should follow in debate such a rip-roaring, hellraising, rabid, United Nations busting fellow like the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), who is so keen on expelling those with whom he does not agree from the United Nations. I should like to point out to the people that it is rather a dangerous thing to advocate in the Parliament of the nation the expulsion from the United Nations of another country. We of the Labour party believe that representatives of all countries should sit in the United Nations, even the sort of people who would vote for the honorable member for Hume. We believe that conciliation and arbitration of this nature, leading to a friendly gettogether and consultation, is the only way to solve the world’s problems. That is the point that I should like to deal with in addressing myself to the remarks of the honorable member for Hume in the last part of his speech.
I was a little struck by the honorable member’s lack of appreciation for Russian society. I have never been in Russia, nor am I anxious to go there, but I think that the honorable member showed a slight touch of naivete when he said that he thought a little change of opinion on the part of the Russians would change their character. I have no illusions about the government of Russia. I think it is rough and tough, and not the sort of government I should like to live under. I do not like governments that shoot people in the streets. Nor do I like governments like Australian Country party and Liberal party governments that hang people, although we have to put up with them in this country.
– What governments does the honorable member like?
– I like socialist governments. I should like also to say that there is only one Labour party, although honorable members opposite may be labouring under delusions on that matter. There is one true Labour party and four anti-Labour parties, and the true Labour party is led by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). The anti-Labour parties are the Australian Country party, the Liberal party, the Anti-Communist Labour party and the Communist party.
We believe that the answers to the problems of this nation can be found only in the democratic socialist concept. We have been a little astounded by the failure of the people opposite to take up the challenge which we have laid down in the matter of housing. One would at least expect that when the party in opposition has chosen to issue a challenge on housing, honorable members on the Government side would rush to the defence of their leader and either explain that his words or actions did not mean quite what they seemed to mean, or point out the weaknesses in our arguments. This, of course, honorable members opposite who have spoken so far have failed to do.
There was one point in the speech of the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston) which ought to be answered. He made some remarks about the federal conference of the Labour party in Brisbane. One pleasing feature about being a member of the Labour party is that its constitutional and democratic practices are open to the public view, and do get into the news. The press is allowed to attend the conferences. These conferences are not like the Liberal party’s secret conferences whose decisions never become known and, consequently, never have to be carried out. The point about the Brisbane conference of the Labour party was that the decision on the White Australia policy was unanimous. If honorable members opposite want to be in a position to make some properly founded observations on Labour procedures and practices, I am sure that, when the next biennial conference comes around, if they make proper application and get a couple of members of the Labour party to sponsor them, we may let them in so that they can see what is going on. That would enable them to tell the truth instead of repeating hearsay and false evidence and prejudice in this place or anywhere else.
I do not think that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was at his best last night. He got away to a rather sneering start. That was quite in character. I assume, after all, that certain courtesies are due even to the Opposition. The right honorable gentleman arrived in the House two or three minutes after the Leader of the Opposition had begun his speech, and departed immediately after the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) had started his speech in reply to the right honorable gentleman. I do not blame him for that because, unfortunately for him, he was unable to answer the arguments advanced. Some of the general points about housing that the Prime Minister apparently neglected to deal with are its importance to the social life of the community and the fact that it is the duty of this Government to deal with the problem and solve it if it can. In fact, as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) said, the Prime Minister is high up in his ivory tower and does not acknowledge that there are any problems under his Government. He is busy creating further problems. Housing is not a business proposition, lt is a social need which is part of our social life of the community. It should be treated as a social service. Part of the housing activities of the Government were indeed transferred to the Department of Social Services until, for some unexplained reason, they were removed from its control.
The first thing that is needed to assist in a solution of the housing problem now is a change of attitude on the part of the Government. The ideal basis of family life in this country is a good home. There is no reason why every Australian should not live in a good home. I think that that is a reasonable objective, and that we should bend all our efforts towards solving the housing problem. Its solution is the key to the further expansion of the community.
The Labour party is not biased against immigration. This party, as the Prime Minister pointed out, is proud of its record in the early post-war years in creating the immigration policy, but the point is that, unless we can supply homes for the immigrants that we bring in, the time has come to do something about restricting the flow and getting to work and doing something about supplying homes for the people already here. The Labour party believes in the expansion and development of Australia. In the whole of our history since federation - and any historically minded person will admit this - it has been Labour governments which have expanded and developed the country’s resources.
The Labour party has a proper appreciation of the fact that housing plays an important part in the development of family life and the encouragement of bigger families. A notable example of this is to be seen at West Heidelberg, a suburb of Melbourne. There, any one can see the result of planned housing, suitable housing and good housing in the development of families, lt is a great place for children. The families which arrived there from the congested inner areas of Melbourne have embarked on a family expansion programme.
Generally speaking, the housing problem is the key to our further development. This Government has failed to appreciate that, and it also has failed to do anything constructive about it. We on this side of the House maintain that it is not a shortage of labour and materials that is holding up solution of the housing problem. We say that the financial side of housing is the main stumbling block in the way of the development of a proper housing plan. We point out that the employment position is becoming grim indeed. We have grown up during the last ten years and in that time we have seen full employment. It has become part and parcel of our way of thinking. The dreaded insecurity of unemployment has been practically banished from our lives during recent years; but in the last six months an increasing number of people have been looking for work. They may not have been unemployed over long periods, but it cannot be denied that in every sector of the economy there are people who are on the verge of being dismissed, others who have been dismissed and are looking for work, and still others who are in casual employment. Instead of people being able to walk from one job to another, if they lose their jobs they are out of work for weeks on end. lt is not just an accident that whereas when this Government took office in 1949 there were 703 people in receipt of the unemployment benefit, after the Government had been in office for seven years there were 15.000 people in receipt of the unemployment benefit. It is not just an accident that trade union representatives in Melbourne, whom I rang this morning, have given me examples of increased unemployment in their industries. The building workers’ union, which covers carpenters, has nine to twelve people a day coming in looking for work at the moment, and the union is finding difficulty in placing them. The painters’ union has five applications for work each day, whilst the Builders Labourers Union has fifteen. These are average figures for the last few weeks. lt is important to note that many of the people seeking work are immigrants who are unable to speak our language and whom the unions find particular difficulty in placing for that reason. It is not a matter of racial prejudice, or of prejudice against immigrants. It is a simple illustration of the incapacity of industry, in moments of crisis, to absorb people who have just been brought to this country. In the case of the bricklayers union, an average of three people report each day looking for work, and the union has been unable to place any of them during the last week or so.
– Has the honorable member worked out the percentages of unemployment?
– I am not interested in that. 1 am thinking of people, noi percentages. The outlook for the winter is grim. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated last night -
It will suffice to show that talk, of crisis and of slump is grossly exaggerated. I deny a crisis. I deny a slump.
So far as the Australian Labour party is concerned, any man out of work is a national problem. It is a crisis when an man is out of work and unable to find work. I happen to be one of those who have been out of work. In this matter, I echo the words of the late Mr. Chifley, who said thai if he could do anything about it nobody in this country should ever have to walk the streets looking for work again. I do not care whether it is only one man who is unepmloyed, or whether it is 100 men or 1.000.000 men. Perhaps honorable members opposite support the words, written bv a columnist some years ago, to the effect that there is no crisis in employment until you are out of work yourself.
The attitude that has been adopted by the Opposition is the one that the people who are running the country - or who are supposed to be running it - will have to adopt. The fact of unemployment is the thing that matters; percentages do not mean a thing when men are out of work. Talk of percentages i$ the kind of thing that can be expected from this Government. It ought to know better and it should do better, lt should know that unemployment is a crisis of the first magnitude. It does not need many people to come to a federal member looking for work to make him appreciate the heartbreak of it all. Unemployment is one of the greatest tragedies that can happen in everyday life, and in many cases is surpassed only by the loss through death of the breadwinner. In the last ten years some people have become complacent about unemployment. The fact that men cannot find work is, in my opinion, the most serious indictment of a government. I believe in the opportunity for employment, just as I believe that other people should have the opportunity to expand their personal interests. Over-full employment is the only condition that enables the worker to increase his opportunities, and that is the only standard that we of the Labour party are prepared to accept. It is important for the whole nation to appreciate that the collapse of the building industry heralds the collapse of the economic structure of the country, and that it must be stopped.
During the last few weeks we have read a good deal, and there has been considerable argument, concerning the housing position generally, the causes of the shortage, its extent, and so on. The figures quoted in the report I have before me indicate that we are approximately 115,000 houses short. My friends in Sydney, imbued with a sense of public duty, recently carried out an inquiry and arrived at a figure of something over 200,000. Unfortunately, we have no consistent standards on which to work. I should like to point out one aspect of this matter which, perhaps, ha« been overlooked. The City of Canberra has a population of approximately 34,000, and there are 7,250 homes here. The minimum acceptable land area is 6,000 square feet, or roughly an allotment 50 feet by 120 feet. That is the minimum, but the average is much higher than that. The population density in the new areas is about fifteen to the acre, whilst in the older areas it is about twelve to the acre. Those figures do not allow for the great spaces occupied by public buildings, parks, and so on. They refer only to the actual housing areas.
By way of comparison, let us take the City of Brunswick, a large part of which I represent in this place. The people of Brunswick have the same social and other aspirations as have the people of Canberra. In fact, I suppose they could reasonably claim that they contribute something towards the cost of Canberra. Brunswick has a population, at present, of 55,000. It covers an area of 2,7 1 9 acres, nearly 600 of which are taken up by streets. There are 12,979 homes and 2,500 other buildings in the area. Brunswick is not a slum, but simply a congested area. One hundred houses have been condemned. The frontages are down to as little as 16 feet, and they average between 20 feet and 30 feet. The depth of some of the allotments is only about 100 feet, and the population density over the whole area, taking public buildings, parks, schools and everything else into account is 26 persons to the acre. That is twice the density in Canberra, a city that has been planned with a standard in view. It is a standard, that we ought to demand for the whole of Australia.
The people of Brunswick, like the rest of us, may move away if they wish to do so, and, no doubt, some of them would move if they could obtain financial assisttance. We have not carried out any research to find out how many of ‘them would want to leave the area. Given a proper housing scheme, it is the kind of place where you could probably build one house on three blocks, and make accommodation available elsewhere for the other two families. They are all good people and capable of working and looking after themselves. As I have said, it is not a slum or a depressed area in the strict sense, but a place where the ordinary, reasonable housing aspirations of the people cannot find expression. The only way in which they can find expression is through the availability of additional financial assistance.
Mr. friend. Mr. Campbell Turnbull, the State member of Parliament for the area, has three or four people callins; on him every day - elderly people, youn? couples and others who are being evicted from rooms, all looking for housing accommodadation. Yet the Prime Minister will stand up in this chamber and say that there is no housing crisis and that, in fact, there is no shortage of homes! 1 rang the co-operative housing societies of Victoria this morning and was informed that there are approximately 10,000 people on their waiting lists. We have about 400 co-operative societies in Victoria. The Commonwealth Bank, which has been the basis of their financial accommodation, has lent £17,000,000 to 97 societies. In January of this year it lent £500,000, whereas in January of last year it lent £1,600,000, a fall of over £1,000,000 for one month. To one house building instrumentality from one lending authority alone, there was a drop in advances equivalent to the value of 460 houses. It will only be necessary to keep up that trend for another couple of years and the whole building industry will be at a standstill. The housing position will be chaotic and tragic. These are the things we have to discuss.
It is no use the Prime Minister or anybody else trying to lay the responsibility on the States. The responsibility, the initiative, the power and the authority lie in the Parliament. We on this side of the House accept it. Let us take war service homes, f believe that the whole concept of housing finance has to be changed. I would abolish the interest concept. War service homes were financed last year from taxation to the extent of £30,000,0.00. Turning to the report we find that the lucky players who were supported by the War Service Homes Division paid off £5,863,931 16s. Id. in principal, but that they paid off £6,025,087 15s. 7d. in interest. Interest is the killer. A total of 100,013 homes are being administered by the’ War Service Homes Division at an administrative cost of £947,742 lis. a year, which is equal to £9 a house a year. The profit on war service homes, which represent a social service, was £5,000,000. Honorable members opposite can work that out from the figures and if they are short of arithmetic instruction I can give them some.
The Government raised £30,000,000 and received back about £12,000,000 in repayments of principal and interest. It is in the housing business in a big way as a big business. I believe that that is the wrong attitude. If the Government is to raise money from general taxation, the charge should not be based on an interest concept. This is something that has been inherited over the centuries and it should be replaced by some - administrative charge. The repayment should cover principal plus an administrative charge plus some amount that might be arrived at for a particular purpose or a particular reason. People who are paying back a loan of £2,000 to the War Service Homes Division over a period of 40 years have to pay about £7 a month. That should be reduced to about £4 a month. I put that forward as a proposition.
No one claims that this problem is easy of solution. We have the job of finding new buildings for new people. We have the job of taking up the backlog of years in which we were unable to build because of depression or war. Another factor is the developing attitude of the people towards home ownership. We also have to take into consideration what might be called the internal immigration of people if we are to give them the sort of living standards that I believe Australians ought to have in a community such as this. There is no doubt that the environment in which people are brought up plays a most important part in the moulding of their lives. The Government has plenty of authority to do as I have suggested. Section 96 of the Constitution allows the Government to allot money to the States for particular purposes. Section 10 of the Commonwealth Bank Act gives the Government the power to instruct the bank as to what its policy should be. Section 26 (2.) of the Banking Act reads as follows: -
Without limiting the generality of the last preceding sub-section, the Commonwealth Bank may give directions as to the classes of purposes for which advances may or may not be made by banks and each bank shall comply with any directions so given.
So the power, the authority, the initiative and responsibility lie here. I believe that the administrative arrangements for housing finance should be simplified. The Government could work through the local branches of the Commonwealth Bank, the State banks and even, perhaps, the trading banks. lt should decentralize to the bank managers and local authorities as much as possible the administration of the scheme. There could also be advisory officers who would go out and encourage people to build their homes. There is no solution of this problem unless we mobilize the people who are prepared, able and willing to do the work themselves. Thousands have done it. I suppose that over 50 per cent, of the people who live within a quarter of a mile of my house have built their homes. The administrative system should be simplified to encourage and stimulate that trend. It is only by the mobilization of these people that we will overcome this backlog of 250,000 homes. After all, that is a total of nearly £750,000,000, equivalent to the defence vote for four years, and it should not be treated lightly. The large projects such as those of the Housing Commission should be extended. The Beaufort housing project, in Victoria, which was abandoned when the Liberal Government came to power, and the present home-building project - concrete homes - has never been allowed to go at full pace. I suggest that honorable members on both sides of the House should give very serious consideration to the amendment. The most vital thing in the life of every couple is their home. We on this side of the House will do everything in our power to ensure that there is no unemployment and that people live in decent conditions and in an environment worthy of the nation.
.- I thank honorable members for welcoming me back again after my temporary enforced absence. I want to thank the many honorable members on this side and the other side of the House who wrote to me during my illness and wished me a speedy return here. To-day, I do not want to speak on the housing issue. It has already been covered very fully by people from this side whom I think are more competent than I to speak on it.
This is the first opportunity I have had for nine months to speak in the House and for that reason I intend to devote myself to things which are of particular interest to my own electorate. The motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply is traditionally an occasion on which one can speak about anything. A member can decide beforehand what he will speak about, and when the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply is moved, he can say how pleased he is that what he wanted to speak about was mentioned in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech; or he can say how sorry he is that what he wanted to speak about was not mentioned. I find myself in the second category because I want to speak, first of all, about roads, so I say how sorry I am that there has been no mention in the Governor-General’s Speech about the general problem of roads. I want to refer particularly to that great main highway which connects Melbourne and Sydney and which passes through portion of my electorate. I do so because, at the present moment, that highway is in a very poor state. We have to ask ourselves whether the present set-up of roads and of main trunk highways in particular is satisfactory. I think, without any doubt, that we can say it is not. Had I been here during the last session, I would have raised this matter because, as honorable members know, during last winter portion of the Hume Highway failed completely and as a result, for over a week, transports and motor cars were unable to get through. The trouble is that once the main highway fails, every one who desires to go between the great capital cities of Melbourne and Sydney looks round for another route to use; and because these smaller highways are less solidly constructed than the one that has broken down, they break down more quickly. So we found that last winter there was a breakdown of a great number of roads - the Princes Highway, the Hume Highway, the Sturt Highway - and many of them were completely impassable.
I say that the present set-up is not satisfactory. What has been done since that time is not satisfactory. Any one who has travelled recently in the south of New South Wales will have noticed that an attempt has been made to patch the roads. Unfortunately, most of this patching is of a temporary nature and there are already examples of patching which has broken through and which, if we get the same sort of weather as we had last winter will lead to a further breakdown in this road.
We are informed that the number of road transports operating between Melbourne and Sydney has increased considerably. I understand that in the last four months registrations of trucks operating under interstate number-plates on the highway between Melbourne and Sydney have increased by approximately 20 per cent. Something like 5,000 tons of freight a day is transported over this main arterial highway, and this great volume of traffic makes it more than ever likely that the road will again break down as it did last year.
As all honorable members realize, constitutionally, the problem of roads is one for the States. But we must not blind ourselves to the fact that if more money is to be found - and I am certain that money is the crux of the problem - the bulk of it must be provided by the Commonwealth by one of the many means at its disposal, although the States may be able to make some small contribution. The way that I suggest is the one that I believe to be the fairest, and that is to levy a tax on diesel fuel. Honorable members doubtless realize that an increasing proportion of these heavy transports which, more than any other vehicles, are responsible for breaking up the Hume Highway, run on diesel fuel. These trucks pay a registration fee of only 30s. a year. That is the only contribution they make in the form of fees if they carry interstate number plates. So the only way in which we can require these vehicles to make a fair contribution to the upkeep of the roads which they are using and breaking up is to impose on diesel fuel a levy similar to the petrol tax.
It has been said that this cannot be done because it would amount to a tax on all the users of diesel fuel. A general tax on diesel fuel, as we know, would immediately increase costs for the man on the land in various activities such as the stripping of wheat, for example, and also the costs of secondary industries which use diesel fuel. But there is no reason why this should happen under my proposal, which could be based upon the scheme adopted in the United States of America where a tax imposed on diesel fuel is paid specifically only by road users and not by farmers. The United States method is very simple. It requires only the distinctive colouring of fuel on which the tax has been paid. If this method were adopted, the transport inspectors who now patrol the highways and stop transports, and, by means of portable weighing machinery, check whether loads are overweight, could test the fuel of transport vehicles to ensure that fuel of the appropriate colour which indicated that the tax had been paid was being used. I suggest that heavy penalties should be imposed for the use of fuel on which tax had not been paid. I suggest that we could assist, first, by levying this tax and by making certain that the proceeds from it were paid to the States specifically for works on the roads used by the heavy transports paying the tax. In practice, the proceeds of such a tax would probably be spent chiefly on the main highways between Adelaide and Brisbane. The Australian Automobile Association has estimated that a tax of ls. 6d. a gallon on diesel fuel would return about £4,250,000 a year. Additional expenditure of such an amount on the Hume Highway would improve it tremendously.
Expenditure on the New South Wales section of the highway in the current financial year will total £620,000. It has been demonstrated that this is enough only for a limited amount of patching. In Victoria, where the length of the highway is only about half its length in New South Wales, £500,000 will be spent on it in the current financial year. Although I have not been over the Victorian section of the highway recently, I undersand that its condition is very much better than is the condition of the New South Wales section. I am sure that the additional expenditure on the Hume Highway that I have envisaged, which could be made possible by the means that I suggest, would improve the condition of the highway tremendously. Let me say immediately that J am not one of those who advocate at present the construction of a super colossal four-lane highway between Adelaide and Brisbane. What I suggest is that the existing highway should be put in really first-class order. However, I think we might very well give consideration at the same time to making it a three-lane highway on steeply-graded sections v/here tra lnc is seriously delayed by the enforced changing down to bottom gear of heavy trucks carrying loads of 10 tons or more. 1 have suggested the first means by which the Commonwealth could assist the States to obtain the additional finance that they need for road works. We may be certain that, without additional funds, our main highways will not be improved as they should be. My second proposal is that we should consider amending or temporarily suspending during the current roads crisis the Commonwealth act which stipulates that 40 per cent, of the petrol tax proceeds paid to the States shall be spent on developmental roads. It appears to me that this measure is not working in the way that was originally intended. I recently found an illustration of this in my electorate. Owing to this stipulation in the act, sufficient money was provided to tar a minor outback road on which the total traffic is probably only twenty vehicles a day, but there was not enough money available to tar the Hume Highway over which about 1,500 vehicles pass every day. Therefore, I suggest that we consider altering or temporarily suspending the operation of the formula to permit the States, which are in a position to know how the money could be best used, to use it to the best advantage.
– Surely the honorable member does not suggest that the formula according to which the funds are divided between the States should be altered!
– I do not favour altering that formula, but I suggest that the States should be free to spend the money on the roads where it is most needed, and should not be bound by any requirement that it be spent in certain proportions on particular roads. Although 1 am a resident of New South Wales, I am perhaps closer to Melbourne than to Sydney, and probably at heart more a Victorian than a New South Welshman. But I am first an Australian, and as an Australian, I think we have a responsibility to develop outback roads where the task is beyond the resources of the local citizens.
– What about building bridges in Perth?
– I shall not develop that theme further. I have stated how I feel about the matter.
There is a third way in which the Commonwealth can and, I think, should make additional financial contributions out of the proceeds of the petrol tax. Last financial year collections of petrol tax by the Commonwealth totalled £36,500,000, but only £26,000,000 was returned to the States. I do not think that, in the present circumstances, the States received enough. I am aware of the calls that Consolidated Revenue has to meet, but at the same time I think that, in view of the completely altered circumstances of to-day compared with those of the time when the petrol tax was introduced, we should pay more to the States out of Consolidated Revenue. The States also, individually, can assist in overcoming the roads problem. I heard some one mention section 92 of the Australian Constitution a little while ago, but I am certain that the States could charge higher registration fees than at present on interstate transport vehicles without the fees being regarded as an interference with interstate trade. It is perfectly ludicrous that enormous trucks carrying up to 30 tons at a time over our main highways pay registration fees of only £1 10s a year, whereas a gravel carter near my home has told me that he pays in registration fees on his truck more than £60 a year, although he customarily uses only about 40 miles of the Hume Highway. We know that there are legal difficulties in the way of any proposal to increase the registration fees paid by interstate transport vehicles. I understand that the South Australian Premier has intimated that he has a plan which he claims is infallible. But that has yet to be tested. In any case, the States should get together and make the road transport companies contribute a reasonable sum to offset the damage that they are causing.
While I am on the subject of ro:v’-, ‘ should like to mention something which, if carried out, would help our interstate highways enormously. I refer to the proposal to standardize the rail gauge, which was contained in a recent report submitted by members of a government committee. There is no doubt that the pressure on the Hume Highway would be considerably eased if the rail gauge were standardized between Melbourne and Sydney, and other methods to reduce the cost of transport by rail, and increase efficiency, were adopted. In the United States many of the transport companies have been virtually run off the roads because they have been unable to compete with the railways. One method employed by the railways is the so-called “ piggy-back “ system under which a semitrailer is loaded at a factory in, say Melbourne. It is then run on to a flat-top truck, the prime mover is taken off and the loaded semi-trailer goes on to Sydney. On arrival another prime mover is hitched to the semitrailer and it is taken to the delivery point.
– That is already done on the trans-Australian railway.
– That is so, but we have seen no sign of it in Victoria or New South Wales. Both States have used the container system and the use of this, too, could be extended. A large container, which is provided by the railways, is loaded in the factory, put on a flat-top truck and delivered to its destination. In the past, however, the break of gauge at Albury has been detrimental to maximum efficiency under this system. The report on rail standardization has been tabled and will no doubt be considered by Cabinet. I only want to say something about the suggestion in a leader in to-day’s “ Sydney Morning Herald “ that the States should contribute to the cost because of the increased revenue that they will derive from the standardization of the gauge. I suppose, in theory, that is right. But we all know that financially they are in a very bad way. I hope that the Federal Government’s contribution will be the same, or more than, the contribution which it is making to the cost of altering the gauge of various lines near Mount Gambier in South Australia. There, it is providing 70 per cent, of the cost and loaning the other 30 per cent, to South Australia. That is a very generous contribution, because the lines affected have no defence significance. The line between Melbourne and Sydney is of considerable defence significance and the two State Governments concerned should be offered at least the terms enjoyed by South Australia and, preferably, something far better.
During the short time that is left at my disposal I should like to refer to that portion of His Excellency’s Speech which states -
Research results of extreme importance to Australia are continuing to come forth from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Of particular interest is the research effecting the water supply of this, the world’s driest continent. Already primary producers are beginning to make wide use of the process developed in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization for reducing evaporation from reservoirs and dams. The organization’s wool textile research has also prospered, and recent research results on scouring and carbonizing wool will help wool to maintain its position as the leading textile fibre.
I congratulate the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization on the excellent work that it is doing. I am sorry that His Excellency did not refer to a happening in the last year which is of considerable significance. For the first time, a full-time scientist was appointed to work solely on the subject of bush-fire prevention. Sometimes we lose sight of the great importance of this subject. Bush-fires cost Australia never less than many millions of pounds annually. In the last financial year one fire in my area cost the Government of New South Wales £3,000,000. Every year large and costly bush-fires occur. They begin early up in Queensland and northwestern New South Wales, then come to the south-west of New South Wales and so on, down to the south coast of Victoria. A cutting taken at random from a newspaper recently reads -
A man was burnt to death in his car, four fire fighters received serious burns and a church, six homes and thousands of acres of rich grazing and timber lands were destroyed to-day . . .
That sort of thing goes on every day throughout Australia for months. The appointment of a full-time officer to investigate the bush-fire problem will do much to focus attention on the subject and help to eliminate the causes. Unfortunately, the problem is getting worse every year. Pasture improvement has greatly increased the extent of pasture in various areas. We are now growing four or five blades of grass where one grew before. Thus, more grass is available for firing in the summer. Any one who has seen a bush-fire with a fifteen or twenty mile front, and a really strong wind behind it, in pasture improved country will realize that checking such a fire is absolutely impossible.
Probably the appointment of which I have spoken will result in a comprehensive national plan for the prevention of bush fires. We can prevent a great many of the outbreaks which occur. That is not to say that we can prevent them all. Many are caused by lightning or something of the kind. However, the prime causes of fire outbreaks in the country are the diesel transports which blow out carbonized fuel, and persons who throw matches or lighted cigarettes along our main highways. I read a recent report that a diesel transport was believed to be responsible for eight grass fires which broke out between Baddaginnie and Benalla. That is typical of what is happening along our main highways, where diesel transports are used.
Local bush-fire brigade commanders should have the right to burn off on either side of the road, as is done by the railways.
The absence of a concerted plan is seen in the fact that such burning-off is allowed in Victoria but not in New South Wales. Bushfire brigade commanders are experienced and know when burning-off can be undertaken safely. They would see that the job was done well. Even between Albury and Holbrook, a distance of only 40 miles, eight outbreaks occurred this summer as a result of the sort of thing which I have described.
The number of outbreaks caused by diesel transports could be reduced by altering the direction in which the exhaust blows out. As honorable members know, the exhaust at present points sideways and blows carbonized fuel right onto the tinder-dry grass at the side of the road. It would be a simple matter to turn the exhaust backwards and blow the waste matter straight along the road. This would reduce the chance of fire outbreak. I know how easy it is to cause fires in this way. On one occasion when I was using a tractor to plough up some fallow a piece of carbon blew out of the exhaust. Luckily I was able to get it under control quickly. It is one of the major ways in which fires are lit to-day.
We should have a well-directed campaign to educate the public on the dangers of fire. I say “ well-directed “ because, though there are spasmodic campaigns, no one could call them well directed. I certainly do not regard slogans such as “ Fire is a Good Servant but a Bad Master” as a well-directed campaign. The best-directed campaign is a notice saying, “ You are prohibited from lighting a fire on this highway “ during a stated period.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I am sure all members of the Opposition will agree with me when I say that we are very glad to see the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) back again in this Parliament after suffering a very serious accident. We were all caused a good, deal of anxiety. It does not seem nine months since the honorable member was last in his seat, but he has gone through an awful lot since he was here. I wish to say how glad I am to see him back, fighting fit, in this Parliament, and trust that he has had no permanent ill effects from his accident. Indeed, after recovering from that accident, I imagine he could recover from anything.
I want to refer to two other honorable members, perhaps not in such a friendly way. I wish to say how much all decentminded people would deplore the vicious personal attack on the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) this week. This attack is part of a deliberately fostered press campaign to destroy our leader and any other person who fights vested interests in this country. They tried to destroy the late Ben Chifley in 1949. These honorable members, though they are personal friends of mine, are degrading the Parliament by such persistent attacks as they levelled last night and this morning. They are revealing not their bigness of mind but their smallness of mind and complete lack of stature. They are jeopardizing the respect of their own electorates. The deliberate, cold-blooded tactics of character assassination employed against our leader-
Order! The honorable member will withdraw the remark that it was’ a deliberate attack - a character assassination.
– I withdraw the word “ deliberate “. They have all the hall-marks of the tactics of a regime we knew well in Europe a few years ago when certain people set out to cut down men and destroy people whom they regarded as standing in their way or in the way of the triumph of their programme. Now, in this country, by straightout falsehoods, by misrepresentation of the situation, by inaccurate reporting, by innuendo and by directing all their poisonous weapons on one man, our leader’s opponents seek to destroy him. Many of these attackers, in my opinion, will themselves be destroyed long before they destroy either the Labour party or our leader.
Our re-statement of policy at Brisbane has caused much concern on the other side of the House, but one leading member of the present Cabinet said to some of us a few nights ago, “ I am glad that you chaps have clearly stated what you believe in and where you are going, without fear or favour and without collaboration with any other parly or group “. To me, that is a complete answer to the sniping we have had from i hose who have not even read the decisions of the Brisbane conference and who rely only on the scrappy reports they have read in the newspapers. Because it is the most united conference Labour has ever conducted, the newspapers could not find anything else to do but connect Dr. Burton with the conference. They pounded that item day after day and expected to destroy the effect of the conference by such tactics. 1 shall refer to the speech made last night by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). Despite all the evidence that has piled up in recent months showing that finance is the key to the lack of homes and to the general housing shortage throughout the States, I am amazed that the Prime Minister can persist in saying that finance is not the main item. In fact, the State Ministers for Housing, who are meeting in Melbourne at present - and they include Liberal Ministers - have made a joint statement on the issue. They sent it to the Prime Minister in a telegram but he did not reveal that to us last night. He was supposed to receive i he telegram yesterday. It was signed by all the State Ministers at the meeting in Melbourne and they have given the completely opposite view to that given by the Prime Minister to the House last night. I wonder who the Prime Minister is trying to fool by such an insistence on an argument that has no weight and no evidence to support it! The Prime Minister should bring the telegram to the Parliament and let us all know exactly what the State Ministers said.
I have it from absolute authority that the State Ministers have said in a unanimous message that finance is the thing that has weakened the housing programmes of the States. But the Prime Minister will not believe that the situation is serious. He dealt with it in a cavalier fashion last night. I am quite sure that his advisers have not yet given him the facts of the situation. Victoria alone has 3,000 registered unemployed in the building trades at the present moment. In that State the claim is made that the real figure is about four times that number because men leaving the building industry have gone into other fields of employment and did not register as unemployed builders. It is claimed that about 12.000 men have left the building industry in Victoria in recent months and that thereare 1,200 evictions a month. What a colossal drain that is on building societies, government housing schemes and so on! The Housing Ministers have said that materials are available and that men obviously are available but that lack of finance is preventing the bridging of the gap between demand and supply. The Housing Ministers hope that the Minister foi National Development (Senator Spooner) will be to-morrow in Melbourne to speak to them, but they are not sure whether he will be there.
A copy of the telegram to which 1 referred was sent to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and to the Minister foi National Development. To-morrow, unless some miracle happens, Mr. McCathie, in Queensland, will have to dismiss 400 building workers. These are very serious matters indeed. The Prime Minister said that finance is not the key to the situation, but I shall quote what the State Ministers said in a Melbourne press report. The report reads -
State Housing Ministers to-day called unanimously on the Federal Government to release more money for housing.
They said materials and manpower were plentiful but the building rate was declining.
In fact, it is declining rapidly. How can the Prime Minister persist in the argument that finance is not the key to the situation?
We all realize the great importance ot having every Australian living in his own home, whether he owns it himself or whether he must rent it because he cannot afford to buy it. We are all committed to this principle, no matter what our political affiliations may be. It is silly to make :> political issue of the matter. It is ever more than an issue for the States; it is a national issue. The importance of housing in a nation is appreciated by all. It is too big a question for the States to handle separately. It is a Commonwealth responsibility.
There has been an enormous increase in immigration during recent years. Almost 1,200.000 immigrants have come to thicountry. Some of these immigrants have helped to build homes, it is true, but the”, have come here in such numbers that adequate housing for them has not been made available, and many have been forced to live in shockingly crowded conditions. There has been a great increase in the number of marriages, and this also has caused a big demand for new homes. Homes mean families, and home life is vital to a nation. A nation’s real strength is not in its military armaments; it is in the strength of its home life and the character of its homes. Good -citizenship and good character spring from lessons and examples given in the home. When I visited Japan two years ago 1 quickly saw the secret of the strength of that nation; it is centred in its home life. This is true of every nation. Defeat in the home means disaster in the nation, anc) when, through lack of homes, families have to live like animals in crowded, unhealthy conditions, the nation’s health is sapped. All past civilizations have fallen through the destruction of home life. From homelessness or sub-standard housing stem the shocking evils of to-day, such as divorce, crime, larrikinism, child delinquency, bodgieism and widgieism and social disaster.
The home-building industry employs the largest work force of any industry in our nation. When we think of home building we are inclined to think only of the buildins of houses and the people employed on that work. We must go beyond that, however, and consider all the ancillary activities. Then we must include the vast timber industry, the transport and furniture industries, electrical production, floor covering manufacture, plastering, paint production, curtain making, the manufacture of kitchen amenities, glassware, refrigerators, blankets and sheeting, mattresses and the like. All these activities are dependent on the regular construction of homes. Once home building ceases the effect is felt through all these industries, in the same way as a stone thrown into a pool causes waves which extend right to the shore. Therefore, honor.able members on this side of the House claim that although we may survive the failure of other industries, we cannot survive the failure of the housing industry Such a failure could cause a disastrous ^cession in a very quick time. For this reason we must do something within the next few -months towards the provision of adequate finance. A reduction in the number of homes built means a consequent reduction in the output of all the other items that I have mentioned, and consequently results in a slow strangulation of those industries, and loss of employment for thousands of men.
– It breeds communism.
– Of course it does. If one goes into some of the slums of Melbourne or Sydney or the other capital cities, one sees the breeding grounds of other ideologies than ours, including communism, which breeds in this foetid, poisonous atmosphere, in which children have not a chance from birth, and are condemned to a life of delinquency or malnutrition.
The fact that a crisis exists in the timber industry has been denied by the Prime Minister. He more or less laughed at the suggestion. I wondered last night whether he was at all serious about this matter. Let us consider the position in Tasmania. In that State twenty timber mills have closed down already, 26 are on reduced production, and 450 men have already left the industry. Millions and millions of super, feet of timber are piled up at the mills that are still in operation. The Tasmanian production of timber is about 250,000,000 super, feet a year, but 60,000,000 super, feet of hardwood is imported from Malaya and Borneo annually, and this has competed with our production. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) and I have sent numerous telegrams during the last few months to the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), giving details of the importation of this timber and requesting certain information. The Minister has not had the decency to answer our telegrams. By this kind of neglect, the Government reveals to the people of Australia how contemptuous it is of their difficulties regarding housing. We are responsible members of this Parliament, representing thousands of electors, and when we make represent:itions to a Minister we expect a reply. In fact, we demand a reply. Failure to reply demonstrates complete discourtesy and it is a disgrace to an elected government. We have hundreds of men being thrown out of employment. We put the position before the Minister and we urged a reduction in the importation of this timber from Malaya and Borneo, but he does not even acknowledge a telegram.
– The honorable member for Capricornia referred to coolie labour this morning.
– That is so. The honorable member for Capricornia insulted the people of Formosa this morning by calling them coolies. That is not a very effective way of building up good relations with the countries of South-East Asia. They are human beings, just as we are. Whether or not their standard of living is higher than ours, they are still human beings, and it is wrong for any member of this Parliament to call them coolies, just as it would be wrong to refer to our own Australian aborigines as natives.
There is no doubt that this Government has shown a cavalier attitude towards the question of housing. Consider the situation in New South Wales, to which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) referred last night. Mr. Goodworth, an organizer of the Building Workers Industrial Union, has said that 83 north coast timber mills have closed down in the last three months - not three years but three months - and 800 men have been put out of work in districts where there is no alternative employment. We would not, perhaps, be so concerned if these men could walk out of a timber mill and go straight into a factory, but in this case such is not possible. These districts are isolated, and the mills are the very life-blood of the various towns. Once the mills close down, the storekeepers, the butchers and bakers do not get any money, and the towns commence to die. A survey has shown that between Port Macquarie and the Queensland border there are many places where large stocks of timber are lying unsold, and widespread unemployment throughout the land is approaching. Yet this Government says that finance is not the answer. In respect of the timber that we produce and the competition from overseas I would say this: Since the war our timber industry has had a pretty good run. There has been no outside competition to speak of, but unfortunately the quality of our timber has not been what it could be. I spoke to timber-millers in my State on this point and they said that previously their timber was being bought freely in Melbourne and Adelaide. Quality was not what merchants were after. They were after quantity. They wanted more and more timber to build more and more homes as the great demand warranted. Now, however, the situation is reversed and merchants are saying, “ We want quality “. Largely for that reason the timber is not being sold. One man, who is in charge of a very big mill, said to me - “ If we had to make quality our primary concern, I would have to halve my men in this mill because it means less of the log would go through the saws. More of the log would be thrown overboard as waste and only the very best would go through and I would have to sack half my men “. So there is a situation of great concern in an industry that is trying to swing over from quantity to quality.
– Do you like quality in your house?
– I certainly do, and it is a good thing quality is in demand. With respect to the agencies by which housing is being carried out to-day, in Australia we have the private builder, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement - which was destroyed largely last year when that new legislation was brought down - - the State housing authorities, the building societies - which are doing such a wonderful job in Victoria and New South Wales in particular - bank schemes, and the War Service Homes scheme. That is the way our houses are being built - when those agencies can get the money. The Commonwealth Bank has supplied 72 per cent, of the finance for homes in Victoria through building societies and continues to be the major lending organization, and this Government could, by direction of the Treasurer, have the Commonwealth Bank provide more finance for the homebuilder. The Commonwealth Bank report on page 27 indicates the attitude of the bank to this very important matter and states there that over the whole of Australia 70 per cent, of the total finance approved to the building societies during the past year was made available through the Commonwealth Savings Bank. In Victoria 72 per cent, of the finance made available to the co-operative societies came from the Commonwealth Bank.
In Tasmania we have, in my opinion, an ideal housing set-up which should become a pattern for the Commonwealth. We build approximately 580 to 650 houses a year under the Agricultural Bank scheme. It is financed from Commonwealth funds through the housing loans. We had ?2,000,000 given to Tasmania by the Loan Council for housing this financial year, and that is ?1,000,000 short of what we need to bridge the gap between supply and demand in four years. One-third more finance is needed in each State to bridge the gap and avert a great crisis in the building industry. The Tasmanian scheme is financed from federal sources. We are establishing whole new suburbs throughout the main cities and towns of the island. No deposit is required. A person needing a house in Tasmania does not have to put down one penny deposit. He has 53 years to pay for the home and the qualifications necessary before a man can get a house are, good character, a reasonable wage, present sub-standard accommodation, and a family of more than one child. The requirement used to be more than three children, but we have reduced it. Rentals range from ?3 16s. to ?4 10s. a week. There is a rent purchase system under which the tenant gets an increasing equity in the home every week he pays his rent. After seven years he is able to sell the house if he so wishes.
An American expert, Mr. Samuel B. Gerry, who is in Australia now, had a remedy for our housing troubles. The following report appeared in the “Daily Telegraph “ of 20th March, 1957:-
No deposit finance suggested.
The Australian Government should finance people in good jobs to build homes without deposit.
America since the war has beaten the problem by encouraging home builders. The United States Government had guaranteed up to 90 per cent. of home-building costs.
Mr. Gerry stated that homebuilding was one of the hugest industries in America to-day. The high deposit required on a home is killing the chances of many workers to-day. Deposits as high as ?500, ?1,000, or even ?2,000 are needed. In Launceston a person who wants to put up a ?3,000 house through a building society needs a deposit of ?1,500. Large deposits and high interest rates are killing the building industry, and this Government has a bounden duty to rectify the situation where it is humanly and politically possible to do so. Actually 10,000 fewer houses were built last year in Australia compared with the previous year and we cannot go on with this situation without causing a great crisis throughout Australia.
.- As one of the very junior members of this Parliament, I should like to start by congratulating the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) on their excellent speeches in moving and seconding the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply. Those two new members, together with those others who joined us at the elections of 1955, are very worthy additions to this team.
The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) challenged us all on the issue of housing, but I am getting tired of hearing the same things repeated over and over again by honorable members opposite and as the Address-in-Reply debate affords an opportunity to deal with other subjects,I propose to confine myself to two aspects of the Governor-General’s Speech.
His Excellency started off with expressions of loyalty. We all know that our loyalty to our sovereign is very great, but at the same time we are sometimes slightly lacking in loyalty to Australia itself, and we. are not apt to think as well as we should for the future of this great country of ours. There are times when sacrifices have to be made. World tension is, strung tighter to-day than it has ever been before. We have seen, in the last few years, evidence of that tension virtually on our own doorstep. I refer to the fighting in Korea and Viet Nam. When that fighting subsided, the theatre moved to the Middle East, and what has happened there can hurt us very badly. There has been trouble in Yemen, near Aden, our oiling station. The French have had trouble in Morocco. There is trouble in Cyprus, which is one of our bases in the Middle East, and finally, as a culminating point, our enemies have used President Nasser as a cat’s paw to give us the biggest hit we have had in this generation by the seizing of the Suez Canal. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) has suggested that one way to get back to the status quo would be to expel Russia from the United Nations, but I do not think that would do any good. The honorable member for Wills has said that we must attend conferences, but we all know what conferences produce. The good boys say, “ Yes, I will do that “, but the naughty boys say, “I am going to carry on asI have been doing, and, what is more, T am going to step it up a bit “. There are two things which I consider will do more than any others to maintain peace in this world. One is good diplomacy and the other is the restraining influence of the United States. Diplomacy can be helped by every one of us thinking before he speaks. Equally well, it can be given a severe setback by thoughtless utterances. Anyhow, I trust that diplomacy will give us a breathing space in this period of the world’s history when a spark might set off a war. 1 want to deal with, so to speak, the alpha and omega of His Excellency’s Speech. First, I shall touch on our defence measures, and secondly, I shall deal with a subject on which I have been expecting to hear from honorable members opposite, but on which they have been strangely silent. I refer to social services. I do not want to be critical, but I want to try to give food for a little thought. All of our policies, so far as I have seen them during the short time I have been here, are policies of an addition here and a deletion there, but T feel that the time has come when we must go in for radical changes. On the subject of defence, the Governor-General said -
My Government has directed special efforts towards the development of the most efficient defence system that our resources can sustain.
He added that adequate facilities for debate would be provided, but I want to say something on that subject at this stage. Defence is a matter of money and man-power. Outnational service training scheme is excellent, but the period of training is too short. Can we say that it is putting what we need into the Australian Regular Army? We have a population of 10,000,000, and the population of the United Kingdom is between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000. Whilst we have about three battalions of regular troops, the United Kingdom has, I think, about fiftyseven. So, to be on the same basis as the United Kingdom, we should have about twelve battalions.
We complain that we cannot get recruits for the Regular Army, and that is so. Much depends on the way in which one goes about getting recruits. We put up posters and insert advertisements in the newpapers but, apart from those, all that we really see of the Army are a few office types in the streets of our capital cities during our lunchtime. Although they are smart, possibly these do not give our young men the idea, that that is what they would like to be if they joined the Army.
The pay of members of the Regular Army is comparable with the pay of men engaged in civilian occupations. In fact, it is good. Therefore, why cannot we get men to join? I suggest the reason is that the other attractions offered are not of a suitable nature. At present, a man enlisting in Victoria can sign on the dotted line and find himself at Puckapunyal for six years’ service. The first thought that I should like to put forward is that, instead of enlisting for six years, men should be offered a choice of enlisting for three years, with nine years on the reserve; for five years, with seven years on the reserve; for seven years, with five years on the reserve; or for nine years, with three years on the reserve. That could be done. Men should be given an opportunity to enlist for three years and at the end of that period, if they so desired, to change to a contract for five years’ service, with seven years on the reserve. Then, a potential recruit would not feel that, if he enlisted and found life in the Army to be uncongenial, he would be tied down to it for a long time. Probably many men would re-engage for longer terms of service, but even if they did not do so, our reserves would be built up.
There is another aspect of short-term service with the Regular Army. On the other side of the world, it is used as a poor man’s university. The men are given opportunities for a good education, under good schoolmasters. At the end of their service, their only liability, apart from the possibility of recall during an emergency, is to serve for a week in camp every two years or something like that. They are issued with discharge books showing, in most cases, that their characters have been assessed either as “ Exemplary “ - the highest grade, “Very Good” or “Good”. Therefore, each has a passport into civilian life and employers know that he is a good man whom it would be well worth while to employ. At the same time, the country has an embryo army and a fully trained cadre, ready for any emergency in which it would be necessary to expand the Army., and possibly, in these days, to expand it in a hurry.
My second thought on this subject is that we know that the naval and air forces do not find it so difficult to attract recruits as does the Army. The chief reason is that both the naval and the air forces, in the main, are stationed near the capital cities. At the moment, we are spending £1,000,000 on a barracks to house one battalion of troops, with a few extras, in Puckapunyal, 60 or 70 miles away from the capital city of Victoria. Puckapunyal is a wonderful training ground, but it should be used only as a training ground. If we built Army barracks nearer to the capital cities, we should have an efficient Army and, in addition, more people would be ready to join it. Field training could be done in camp at Puckapunyal. When I say that, I am speaking for Victoria. The men would expect to live under camp conditions for their company training, and possibly for their annual battalion training, but recruits could easily be trained, and trained well, in barracks located, so to speak, in civilization. In fact, super-efficient training can be given on the barrack square. I do not refer only to forming fours and about-turning, but also to training in musketry and other things that a soldier needs. In a barracks, there would be lecture rooms for further training, sand tables and almost everything else required. By the end of three years the Army would be turning out really first-class soldiers for use when they were really needed in the field and also for use as instructors to train other men.
I should like to say also that there are further attractions in the military life. When a good man knows his job in the service he gets plenty of time off. That is a great attraction. He also gets plenty of sport, something of which we as a nation are very fond. I think that in these conditions we might find that we can get all the recruits we want, and possibly more than we want. I -will not say that, in the initial stages, life in camp here will be the same as it was at home. At Aldershot the hooter used to sound at half-past twelve every day. Its timing was so regular that people set their watches by it. I once heard one of my brother officers say, when synchronising his watch, “ Ah. the military day. is now over “.
I turn now to my second subject, social services. 1 should like to congratulate the Government on the excellent advances that have been made in this field. We have had some really good Ministers in charge of social services, who have done an enormous amount of good. I should also like to congratulate the officers of the Department of Social Services on the thought they give to their work and to solving the problems that come before them, as well as for the extreme courtesy which they extend to all people who submit cases of hardship and apparent injustice to the department.
His Excellency said in the Speech -
My Government has a lively sense of the needs of the social services, and particularly of the difficulties of pensioners of all types who have no other source of income.
When he opened this Parliament at the beginning of last year’s session he said -
The social services structure will be kept under continuing review.
He then spoke about homes for the aged, which have been a great boon and blessing to many hundreds of old people. The number of such homes is increasing rapidly, but, although charitable people are providing the money to build them, and having their contributions matched by this Government, the rate of provision of those homes is not sufficient to cope with the number of people who may desire to become inmates of them. In the Speech last year the Governor-General went on to say -
A programme of research into the special problems of the elderly will be undertaken shortly by my Government.
To:day, this country of ours, Australia, is a great country, a rich country, and we are at the stage at which we have a large number of aged people in our population. The aged people of this particular era probably did not work under the conditions that apply in the workers’ paradise of to-day. During their prime they were probably working for £1 or 30s. a week in what might be termed the bad old days. They did not have the opportunity to save. They did not have the opportunity to own their homes, even at the end of 30 or 40 years of work. They did not retire with cars in their possession.
The policy towards pensioners has been rather like other policies in that it has been a policy of additions. It has not been a policy of deletions. One is apt to calculate how many millions of pounds extra an increase of 2s. 6d. or 5s. a week in pension will cost the revenue. We want some radical changes in the inside workings of social services. I have no sympathy at all with organized demonstrations such as we have nad at the Commonwealth Parliament offices in Melbourne, and even here in Canberra. I feel that there are a great many of us who do have the time to reach the bottom strata of our electorates. I know that in my own electorate there are countless cases of age pensioners, and even of invalid pensioners, who are living on a single unit of pension. The rents they pay are high. Somebody on the other side of the House mentioned that some such people even have to live in chicken houses, and some one else said, “ Oh, no, that is not so “. I have two people in my electorate who are living in a chicken house for which they are paying 30s. a week rent. I was asked to call on them in connexion with an entirely different matter, and the landlady told me that she did not want to have anything to do with me, because she was a supporter of the Labour party. Yet she was charging 30s. a week for a chicken house.
There are charitable organizations to care for elderly people, and there are the homes for the aged built under the government scheme, but the machinery of the provision of accommodation for elderly people is not quick enough to meet urgent cases. I should like to see an inner scheme working under which, when somebody has a very definite case of hardship, the case can be put and dealt with urgently. The machinery could be operated through, perhaps, members of Parliament, or churches, the police or electoral officers. It does not matter how it operates so long as it can be started in motion. But the winter will be nearly over when the budget comes before us, and the urgency may be considered to have vanished. I bring this matter up now so that we can have plenty of time, without organized demonstrations, to look into it. I hope that some members of the Opposition will support me. It appears at the moment that their orders are to back the tottering governments of New South Wales and Queensland in this red herring they are dragging along about the housing situation, which is probably designed to hide their own bungling policies on housing.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Lindsay) that the situation in the Middle East could easily provoke a crisis in which Australia could be involved, but I am immediately concerned with a crisis that exists within this Commonwealth, of a most explosive nature, and which could cause great dissatisfaction, and even disaster, for many Australian people. I rise to support most enthusiastically the amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, and also the ideas that he has advanced in the amendment regarding the formation of a national plan for the housing schemes which are being implemented by the various State governments. We are, I feel, facing a very difficult situation in relation to housing in Australia to-day. This has been borne out by all sections of the community, who agree that the rate of construction of houses is falling, that there is less money available for housing, and that men are being dismissed from the building industry. All sections of the community agree that that is so, with the exception of Liberal members of the Commonwealth Parliament.
The trouble, I should say, commenced with the initiation of a new Commonwealth and State housing agreement which reduced the amount of money available to the various housing commissions and trusts in the States of the Commonwealth by at least 20 per cent, each year; that is, the amount of money available for the construction of homes for letting purposes by the housing commissions was reduced to that degree. I remember the Minister for the Interior in this Parliament, at the time when he was introducing the r;levant legislation in this place, saying that it embodied government policy, that it was the policy of the Liberal party. Consequently, the policy of the Liberal party embodied, in that legislation commenced the fall in the rate of construction of houses in the Commonwealth. It is this Government which must accept the whole of the blame for the crisis.
It would appear from the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last night that he refuses to believe that there is a housing crisis in Australia to-day. He certainly refuses to offer any remedy for it. In the course of his speech he said, “ I deny a crisis; I deny a slump “. I had always regarded the Prime Minister as the leading exponent in Australia of the English language, but it seems to me that he has lost his knowledge of the Queen’s English if he insists on saying that he denies that there is a slump in house construction in Australia. His own Acting Commonwealth Statistician has proved, by figures available to all members of the Parliament, that there has been a falling off of house construction in Australia and that the trading banks have reduced very considerably the amount of money available for house construction. There is a slump, and there is a marked falling off in the rate of construction of houses. When we appreciate that there has been a drop of £18,500,000 in advances by the trading banks during the last eighteen months for the construction of houses, which means that there has been a falling off of approximately 5,000 houses which could have been constructed for that sum of money, we must admit and say with complete truth that there is a slump in the building industry.
I am concerned with this matter from two points of view. First, and this is the more important, I am concerned that people without homes now have a much more slender chance to get a home than they had two years ago. Secondly, I am concerned because, due to the restrictive practices being imposed by the Commonwealth Bank and the trading banks, more and more people associated with the building industry are being thrown out of work. So, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, all honorable members on this side of the House most enthusiastically support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. I say that the vast majority of the Australian people outside this House, together with the Australian press - if it is any guide, and I should say that it is - support the stand taken by the members of the Australian Labour party in this place. Many Liberal members of State Parliaments, and also some State Liberal Ministers, agree that the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was sound in fact, and they are critical of their own leader, the Prime Minister. Mr. Stewart Fraser, a Liberal member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, and an executive member of the Building Industry Congress, has wired the Prime Minister to-day in the following terms: -
Must insist that all sections building industry now facing crisis. Respectfully urge that you discard outdated advice and accept irrefutable evidence of recession. Fear more dreaded word will apply if remedial action not taken promptly. Will proceed Canberra immediately for consultation if desired.
That is an offer by one associated with the building industry and a prominent supporter and member of the Liberal party. What further evidence do we need than a statement of this kind from one associated with the construction and employing side of the building industry?
New South Wales members of the Opposition in this Parliament recently conducted an inquiry into the building industry in that State, and we are indebted to them for the information which they have given us. We learn that there is an overabundance of materials for the building of houses; that timber mills have closed down because of their inability to dispose of their products; that millions of bricks are lying “ at grass “ at the kilns; that tiles are available in numbers undreamed of; that labour is available; and that because of the lack of demand for their services, workers in the building industry are going to other forms of employment. There is only one commodity which is absent, and that is a commodity which can readily be made available by a stroke of the pen by the Government of the Commonwealth. That is money.
The Treasury of this Commonwealth is, figuratively speaking, bursting with millions of pounds that the Government refuses to spend. Because of some perverse view that is shaping the minds of its members, the Government apparently prefers to see Australians, new and old, living in tents, chicken-houses and other sub-standard places which have been condemned by local authorities as unfit for human habitation. It prefers to see Australians living under such conditions rather than make funds available. Funds only are required to ease this situation. The men are there. The material is readily available. It is not necessary even to issue priorities for materials. There is an over-supply of all the materials necessary for the construction of homes, but there is a shortage of money. That is being deliberately withheld under this Government’s policy. For the last twelve months or more restrictions have been placed on credit, if not actually by verbal direction of this Government, at least by example. The trading banks and the Commonwealth Bank have readily acquiesced in the desire of this Government to restrict credit for house construction.
It is true that ample credit is provided by the banks for the construction of insurance offices, industrial factories, luxury hotels and one-brand petrol stations. All over the continent we see these things springing up. lt is shocking to see temples to Bacchus being constructed, with gleaming tiles and chromium-plated doors, while people are living under sub-standard conditions and, in many cases, are even unable to obtain sub-standard homes in which to live. Surely members of the Government must feel, in their hearts, that a moral responsibility devolves on them to play a major part in solving this situation. Last night the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made the following rather shameful statement: -
I constantly admit the existence of a problem of housing which will be perpetual - until some day it is solved.
I urge the Government not to admit defeat or the problem will not be solved. It is better to make an attempt to solve the problem and fail than to say, “We will make no attempt to remedy this situation which affects many hundreds and thousands of Australian citizens”.
The position in Queensland has been causing all federal members of the Australian Labour party from that State considerable concern. While discussion is taking place at ministerial level between the Premier, the Treasurer and the Minister for Housing in Queensland on the one hand and the Prime Minister, Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) on the other hand, I propose not to touch on the merits of the case. But I am concerned with two factors. To-morrow, unless funds are made available by this Government, 400 builders will be dismissed by the Queensland Housing Commission. They represent two-thirds of the work force of the Housing Commission. In a period of twelve months 500 houses could be built by a work force of 400 men. The Queensland members of the Labour party in this Parliament have sent a telegram to the Prime Minister, but it has not produced any result. Honorable members may say that we were optimistic, but at least we have made an effort. We wired the Prime Minister in these terms -
The undersigned members deplore greatly your Government’s action in withholding sufficient funds from the Queensland Government for house construction purposes and thereby causing the unemployment of 450 building workers and clerks. We urge that your Government take action forthwith to provide an additional £300,000 to prevent immediate widespread unemployment.
The telegram asked for that sum of money so that the men could be kept in employment and the tempo of house construction in Queensland maintained. I have an intimate knowledge of housing conditions in the City of Brisbane. It is true that the Housing Commission, operating under the Chifley Government’s Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, has done magnificent work in providing houses for rental by the citizens of Queensland. Since the new agreement came into force, there has been a falling off in the construction of houses for reasons which are obvious to all honorable members who know the provisions of the latest act. But the situation is becoming tragic now, with the threatened dismissal of 400 men to-morrow unless these funds are available. As a Minister who represents a Queensland electorate is sitting at the table, I publicly make the plea again, as we made it to the Prime Minister by telegram, that he use his best endeavours to ensure that this sum of £300,000 will be made available to the Queensland Treasurer by to-morrow. This will ensure that the men will not be dismissed, that Housing Commission efficiency will nol be impaired by those dismissals, and that the tempo of house construction will be maintained at its present level.
The Queensland Treasurer, Mr. Walsh, in a statement yesterday, said that if funds were not available, it could quite easily mean that the Housing Commission’s activities in that State would have to cease entirely. If that takes place, it will take a considerable time, should funds be made available subsequently, to get that work force together again, because when men are dismissed from their jobs, they make every effort to find another job as soon as they can. and they are relucant to go back to the employer who dismissed them.
The housing position, not only in Queensland, but throughout the Commonwealth, is a very serious problem to all governments.
When we realize that the population of the nation increased in the interval from 1945 to June, 1956, by 2,086,000 people, we must agree that the construction of houses must be continually stepped up. lt is idle to say that because 70,000 houses were built during one year we should be content to keep the rate of construction at that number. With natural increase and immigration adding greatly to our population, there is an ever-increasing need for the construction of a greater number of homes each year. The Commonwealth, by its attitude in its dealings with the States, and by its policy of credit restriction, has caused the present bottle-neck.
In the few minutes that I have left, 1 shall cite some statistics concerning the numbers of people in Queensland who are in dire straits in relation to housing. There are 927 urgent cases of people who have applied to the Queensland Housing Commission for accommodation, including families facing ejectment from present dwellings, families living in tents, huts, or similar unsuitable premises, and families living in buildings condemned by local or State authorities. There are 6,720 applications from families separated owing to the lack of accommodation, and from families sharing accommodation with others, lt is shocking to ask the workers and young married people to live under such conditions, and the Queensland Government desires continually to improve the standard of accommodation available to Queensland citizens. That Government has done great work under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, and new towns have sprung up on the outskirts of Brisbane and are providing excellent living conditions. But the construction of new homes will be brought almost to a stop by the Commonwealth’s policy.
I shall conclude by repeating that there is a crisis in the building industry in Queensland, where the Housing Commission is labouring under great difficulties. The situation could easily be resolved by the adoption of means for which there is already a precedent. Some months ago, a similar situation arose in Western Australia. As a result of representations, particularly by my friend the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) and other members from Western Australia, the Prime Minister, after considerable discussion, made a special allocation of £2,000,000 to the Western Australian Government with the approval of the Australian Loan Council. An allocation to the Queensland Government could readily be made in a similar way, although so large a sum would not be needed. The Queensland Government asks for only another £278,000 or £300,000 so that it may continue its grand work of housing the citizens of Queensland.
– At the outset of my remarks, I desire to associate myself with the message of loyalty to our most gracious sovereign which is contained in the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply to the GovernorGeneral’s Speech, and also with the expression of thanks to His Excellency the Governor-General for the Speech that he addressed to the Parliament last Tuesday. If I may say so, with respect, that Speech aptly and clearly outlined to the people of Australia the methods that have been em- ployed by this Government in recent years in fulfilling the various undertakings it has given. The Speech also indicates the Government’s planning for the future. I think it was the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) who stated, in his maiden speech, when proposing the motion, that the planning for the future outlined in Hi;. Excellency’s Speech shows very clearly thai this Government, as a result of its experience, is still capable of constructive and forward planning, and that there is no suggestion in its actions that it is growing old, as other governments have done in the past. The Government’s experience in control of the affairs of the nation during the last seven years is being used to plan for greater things and to work for higher achievements.
I should also like to associate myself with the expressions of appreciation tendered by other honorable members on both sides of the House to the honorable member for Barker who proposed and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) who seconded the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply for the terms in which they did so. I think it is correct to say that they initiated the debate on a very high plane, which we all appreciate, in a manner that augurs well for their future contributions to the debates in thi*. House.
However, having said that, I must say that I fear that the amendment submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has fallen somewhat below that high level. I feel that it has been moved primarily for the specific purpose of distracting public attention from various aspects of the Australian Labour party’s internal affairs. I refer, for instance, to the hopeless disunity within the ranks of that party, which has split into various factions, and, more particularly, to the amazing disclosure of the dangerous policies that apparently are now to be re-adopted, by the party. We all know that the policy of socialism which has been a plank of the Australian Labour party’s platform for very many years had not really been put aside in recent years. It had only been played down because the leaders of the party felt that it was a dangerout plank to have in their platform. But at the biennial conference of the party held in Brisbane recently, the federal president publicly avowed that socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange is again to be brought to the forefront of Labour policy, and that Labour will fight the next election on it. There is no need for me to remind honorable members, and, I think, the people of Australia, that such a policy means simply that all incentive for any one in the community to develop the country and to improve the nation’s standards will be killed, and that eventually we shall sink to the depths desired by the socialists in which the individual will become completely, subservient to the State. That is the meaning of socialism, and it is just as well to state it.
– Labour’s policy is democratic socialism.
– The honorable member should not make me laugh. What a conflict of terms is to be found in the expression “ democratic socialism “! How many people will be misled by this sort of thing? I believe that there are many solid and sober men in the Labour movement - though they are not at present in command of it - who realize the danger inherent in this policy, and I am of the opinion that the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition as a censure on the Government is designed to distract public attention from that fact. For me, and, I hope, for the people of Australia - for the people of Queensland, I am certain - there is a frightening significance in the fact that the amazing statement of policy by the federal president of the Australian Labour party was made at a conference in Queensland, the State that has such a long history of the disastrous failures of State socialist enterprises. It would be an immense help if ever Labour were in a position to put it into effect! Irrespective of what may have been the object of this amendment, a challenge has been thrown out to the Government and it has been accepted. Whether it was intended or not, the amendment amounts to a censure on both the Federal Government and the State governments in this matter of housing. The first paragraph of the amendment reads -
That the Government is censured … for the acute social ills caused by its continued failure to establish, in conjunction with the States, a national housing plan.
That is an acknowledgment from the Leader of the Opposition that the States have an equal responsibility in this matter, and, indeed, have fallen down on that responsibility.
– It may not have been intended, but if that is so the Leader of the Opposition should be careful of the terms that he uses. This debate is proving that the Government has not failed to carry its share of the responsibility. If there has been any failure on the part of some of the States - as I believe there has been - the Leader of the Opposition should direct his criticism at the housing policies of those States.
Let us look now at the overall housing position in Australia. Sufficient figures have been quoted’ to demonstrate the inaccuracy of the suggestion that there is a disastrous housing situation in Australia. I do not propose to re-state all these facts and figures, but I would remind the House of several significant comparisons which were made last night by my colleague, the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton). They indicated just how housing has developed in Australia. The honorable member showed that, in comparison with other leading nations, Australia had a very good record in 1955-56 so far as the completion of dwellings was concerned. Indeed, it was second only to New Zealand.
Surely if the Government’s housing policy had failed that would not have been possible.
Also, the number of persons per occupied dwelling, compared with the number in other countries, showed that in this respect we were just behind New Zealand, in second place. How can it be contended that the Government has failed to deal adequately with the housing problem? These figures show that Australia compares very well with other countries which have tackled this problem just as keenly, and which feel just as much compassion for their people. Indeed, they have been unable to match our record.
That there is a common shortage of housing throughout the world is not denied, but it must be realized that in a country like Australia there must, as a result of the rapidly expanding economy, and the aboveaverage increase in population, be a continuing housing shortage. We have deliberately planned to increase our population. Most thinking people acknowledge that this is needed to build up our productive capacity and our ability to defend ourselves. Our population has been increasing at a rate far in excess of that of other countries. Obviously, this must bring certain problems in its train. One of these is housing. To suggest that, notwithstanding the constant increase in population, there should always be a home immediately available for every one, is tantamount to saying that the Government should have something in the nature of a pool of unoccupied dwellings. That would be a highly inflationary measure. Finance directed to such ends could be much better spent in other ways.
I have stated that Australia is one of the most rapidly expanding nations in the world. I could go further and say that it is the most rapidly expanding nation. If that is conceded, the contention that the Government’s housing policy has been a failure cannot be sustained when it is seen that we are so far ahead of other nations in supplying houses.
The Leader of the Opposition has claimed that this Government has provided inadequate finance for home-building. During 1955-56 the total investment in homebuilding was £232,000,000. Of that the Government, through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement provided £63,000,000. This sum includes the amount provided for war service homes. On the other hand, the contribution to that total figure by the State governments outside the agreement, was only £8,500,000. Thus no charge can be levelled that the Commonwealth has not played its part in providing finance. I repeat, an equal if not greater responsibility rests on the States, and the figures that I have just given clearly show how the Federal Government is fulfilling its obligation.
The Leader of the Opposition also referred to the finance made available for war service homes. Perhaps I might repeat the statement that during the first 30 years of the operation of the scheme 54,541 houses were built at a total cost of £52,750,000. In the seven years in which this Government has been in office, almost 91,000 homes, costing £190,000,000, have been built. Honorable members thus may compare the achievements of the Opposition, when in government, with those of the present Government. Any suggestion that the Federal Government has failed to do its utmost with the finance available to it is not borne out by the figures.
An honorable member has referred, by way of interjection, to the large number of unsatisfied applicants for war service homes. We all know that in the last twelve months the waiting period has increased but I submit, in all sincerity, that that has resulted very largely from this Government’s action in liberalizing the terms of advances. It is well known that we have made more money available, by way of loan, to each applicant so that the ex-serviceman can, in accordance with the development in building, buy a home of better quality. Also, we have extended the availability of loans by approving types of buildings which have not been accepted previously. As a result, we find that, having widened the scope of the scheme, there are a greater number of applications and, though we have increased the amount available each year from £18,000.000 when this Government came into office to £30,000,000 now, there are still outstanding applications. In these circumstances, iit would be quite unfair to attribute the present situation to failure on the part of the Government. That is completely unfair and cannot be sustained. When the treatment that I have just outlined is compared with the niggardly treatment which was available to ex-servicemen under the war services homes plan of the previous Government, I say again that a charge on this basis cannot be sustained.
Let me turn now to other sources of revenue available to a State, because the essence of this charge is that we have not made enough revenue available. One such source is the tax reimbursement grants. There was some criticism in the early stages of this debate of the amounts made available by the Menzies Government through the tax reimbursements. The suggestion was that the formula was not elastic enough, and the grants were not big enough. Let us examine that aspect. I remind the House that these grants are made by the Commonwealth in accordance with a definite formula. The Commonwealth does not decide that it will give away £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 to this State or that State. A formula is there for its guidance. That formula is stated in the States Grants (Tax Reimbursement) Act 1946-1948. I emphasize those dates - 1946-1948. The act was passed during the period that the previous Labour Government was in office. Therefore, any criticism of the operation of the tax reimbursement formula flows directly back to those offering criticism.
The formula provides, first, that the grants for 1946-47 were to be £40,000,000 and in 1947-48, £45,000,000. That really became the basic year. After those years, the act provides for the aggregate grant of £45,000,000 to be varied in accordance with a formula which takes into account variations in the States’ populations since 1st July, 1947, and the percentage increase in the level of average wages per person employed over the level of 1945-46. The formula makes provision for the various factors which, unless that provision had been made, could seriously hamper a State’s capacity to develop. Increases in population and increases in the level of average wages are taken into account. Any criticisms of the formula are ill-founded. But let us look at what has been received by the States and see whether they could have obtained more money for housing projects under the reimbursements than have been made.
Under this formula, the Commonwealth would have been responsible, in this financial year, for distributing £153,600,000 to the States. In actual fact, it will distribute a total of £174,000,000. In other words, the amount distributed will be £20,500,000 more than the Commonwealth is required to grant in this year under the tax formula. That is because the Government has realized that the States require more money to enable them to keep pace with development, and has deprived some of its own departments of money to enable that to be done. I speak with feeling on this matter, because I know full well how the activities of some of our own government departments have had to be curtailed somewhat in order to help the States to the utmost of our capacity. Therefore, it is rather a poor return for some honorable members on the other side to say that the States are not getting enough money for housing.
Let us consider the position of New South Wales and Queensland and dissect the relevant figures. For the financial year 1956-57, New South Wales is entitled under the formula to £58,000,000. It will receive an extra £7,000,000 by way of a supplementary grant, making a total of £65,000,000. I am speaking in round figures. Queensland is entitled to £24,000,000. It will receive a supplementary grant of £3,000,000, bringing the total to £27,000,000. Surely, that indicates beyond any possibility of challenge that the Menzies Government is doing all it can to make the largest possible amounts available lo the States. Let that fact be remembered. It is a fact of which honorable members opposite are either unaware or which they are deliberately hiding in this debate.
These moneys, in addition to moneys obtained by way of loan funds, are to be allocated by the States to various purposes as they see fit. The Federal Government does not say to them, “You shall devote so much of these moneys to housing “. At meetings of the Australian Loan Council, the States stipulate the total amount required, including an amount for housing. The total amount which the States stipulate for housing is treated as the Commonwealth’s share of the loan fund and is paid by the Commonwealth to the States under the housing agreement. The Commonwealth has the right to claim as its share up to 20 per cent, of the loan funds raised in a year, but it does not do so. It could allocate the amount to the States and say, “This money is ear-marked for housing “. It does not do so. lt could retain the amount for its own purposes, but it does not do so. It leaves the allocation of the money to the States themselves. 1 think that is a proper thing.
When the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) makes a plea to me and to the Government, and says, “ We want another £300,000 in order to ensure that there will not be wholesale dismissals in the building industry in Queensland “, I invite him to explain why, at the last allocation of loan funds, the Queensland Government, of its own volition, asked that the amount to be allocated to housing in this financial year be £250,000 less than the amount allocated in the last financial year. It did so at a time when it was receiving from total allocations over £2,000,000 more than in the previous year. That is a question to be answered. Yet we hear the plea, “ We are being bled by the Menzies Government; give us another £300,000 “. But the State government, of its own volition and exercising its own prerogative, determined to cut by £250,000 its loan allocations from an increased vote. Let the people understand these things and let them realize that a lot of Opposition members speak with tongue in cheek in this debate. The Queensland Government should explain why it allocated only 10 per cent, of its total loan funds in 1954-55 for housing compared with, say, 23.8 per cent, by Victoria. It should explain why in 1955-56 it allocated only 15.7 per cent, as against 37.3 per cent, in Western Australia and why in this year it has allocated only 13 per cent, as against a total of 22.7 per cent, by Victoria. I quote those figures to show that the remedy is clearly in the hands of the State governments. The amounts of money have been made available and are still there.
My time has nearly expired, so I make one final point. I shall give a brief example of the perfidy implicit in some of the representations from the other side. Only a few weeks ago there was a great splurge in the Queensland papers about the fact that the State Government was being denied the money it needed for its housing programme and that there must be wholesale dismissals. At that time the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) drew attention to the fact that, in the federal Treasury, Queensland had an undrawn entitlement under the housing agreement of £500,000. That was denied, but within four days the Government had drawn that £500,000.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
.- The most devastating reply that can be made to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) is that State Ministers for Housing have been required to assemble this week in Melbourne to discuss the urgency of the housing problem and the inadequacy of the assistance that has been given by the Menzies Government. Labour housing Ministers are not alone concerned; Liberal Ministers have also attended the meeting so that all housing Ministers can use all the influence they can possibly exert to move this Government to action. It is quite evident that the Government is satisfied to amble along leisurely and complacently, serving but one purpose, the furtherance of individual private profitmaking, and disregarding the urgency of the social and economic problems that require adequate and immediate treatment by the Government.
The Governor-General’s Speech and the speech made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last evening did not show any appreciation of these urgent problems. Two very important matters, those of housing and increased living costs, were dismissed with the briefest of reference in His Excellency’s Speech. It is a demonstration of Labour’s watchfulness on questions affecting the wellbeing of the great majority of the people of Australia that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has brought before the Parliament and the public the gravity of the housing situation and the hardships that are being suffered by the Australian people because of inadequate housing and eversoaring price levels, and which are burning into the very flesh of our people. The Prime Minister airily dismissed this subject with a gesture of his arms as though he were measuring the matter, and then he brought his hands together and said, with apparent smugness, “ The situation is balanced “. Of all the fantastic conjectures by men in high places, surely this is the most incredible, in the light of the facts that are so immediately apparent.
Only this week further emphasis has been laid on the urgency of this problem by the conference of State Ministers for Housing, lt may be of assistance to honorable members if I read to them the. unanimous declarations that these Ministers for Housing have made in regard to this most important matter. The statement that emanated from that conference was in the following terms: -
A conference of Housing Ministers was held in Melbourne during this week, and resolved to make representations to the Federal Treasurer and the Commonwealth Minister for Housing to make more money immediately available for all phases of house building. In a joint statement after .the conference, Ministers said that they agreed unanimously that a recession was developing in the building industry throughout the Commonwealth because of the lack of finance. The rate of building was declining at a time when material resources and man-power were becoming unused and idle.
A representative of Australian manufacturers, who is here to-day and who represents the great body of people engaged in manufacturing industries, has assured me that from 10 per cent, to 15 per cent, of available capacity in certain building trades, particularly that of brickmaking, is not being used to-day. That extra capacity should bc employed in an endeavour to increase the rate of home building. The fact that it is not employed indicates that a recession is approaching in these industries. I. submit that lack of finance is the vital factor retarding the progress of home construction in Australia, and thus denying to our people the standard of home life that they are entitled to enjoy.
Government supporters seek to justify their inactivity, or their lack of appreciation of this problem, by making comparisons with home-building achievements of previous years, but, no matter how these figures may compare, this Government is not absolved from the responsibility to ensure that the Australian people are adequately housed at the present time, and that provision is made to house the many immigrants who are coming to this country. Every member of this House is aware of the fact that many of our people are living in sub-standard conditions. Even in South Australia, which probably has as good a record of house construction as any State, people are living in garages and caravans, and in circumstances far different from those that they have a right to expect. That being so, it is obvious that condemnation is certainly due to someone who has been guilty of neglect in this matter and has failed to accept responsibility in the matter of housing, whether in regard to the provision of finance or in some other way. Governments cannot dismiss their responsibilities with airy eloquence and a comparison with what has been done by previous governments. What we want to know is what this Government is doing about it. and we feel that it has not given this question sufficient consideration. Throughout the country the opinion is held, almost unanimously, that the problem has not been properly dealt with. In this regard I shall read to the House a letter that I received from the Federation of Co-operative Housing Societies of Victoria. It is dated 18th March, 1957, and reads -
In view of the public, press and political interest which is being demonstrated at the present time, may I bring to your attention the 1956 Annual Report of this Federation for your information.
It is the hope of the Federation that the need for home finance will receive more sympathetic consideration from all quarters in the next months.
Further finance released for this purpose by lending authorities and other agencies is vital to offset the slowing down of the building industry, in the villa building field, which manifests itself more and more with the passing of time and which can be attributed only to a dearth of finance. .
Mcn and materials are available, the demand is ever present but finance falls far short of demand.
That is signed by the secretary of the organization. I have received its annual report and in it the president states -
In a country which is proud of its freedom, it seems to us that much of this freedom is slipping away under the guise of credit restriction and economic stringency. The freedom to own a home should not be abrogated by policy nor diminished by theory. To withhold funds from a Movement such as ours, at the present time, undoubtedly is removing the freedom of home-ownership from hundreds, even thousands of citizens, who by their own thrift and diligence have saved what should be an adequate amount of money for the purchase of land and/or the provision of a reasonable deposit for a home. The fact is that these people are being completely frustrated by their inability to obtain an adequate housing loan.
The Federation of Co-operative Housing Societies of Victoria is a very responsible body and the report is signed by the president, Mr. H. C. Holmes. I understand that all members of this House have received a copy of this document and we might well study closely what is referred to herein, because these people are experts in this particular field. I say that the attitude adopted by the Prime Minister is inexcusable and incredible. Even though he is challenged with the facts he is unwilling to face up to the responsibility of this hour in regard to this most pressing problem.
I have here a statement from the “News” of 13th March, 1957, that rebuts certain of the Prime Minister’s declarations of the 7th March -
The Associated Chambers of Manufactures are challenging the Commonwealth Government’s claim that man-power and materials in the building industry are fully employed and that housebuilding cannot safely be expanded.
The Federal Director of the Associated Chambers, Mr. Latham Withall, quoted figures to-day to illustrate his claim that the demand for building materials had fallen.
He said the output of bricks in the JulyDecember period of 1955 was 441,000,000 but that in the corresponding period of 1956 it was only 405,000,000.
The output of cement building sheets, fibrous plaster sheets, tiles, timber, bath-heaters, sinkheaters, wash basins, baths, coppers, and stoves had also decreased.
This is. all the reverse of what should be happening at this hour in the economy of this country. If we invite people to come and share in the freedom of this country we owe it to them to prepare the way so that they will have an opportunity to become assimilated into our community life to enjoy standards of living that will improve the national morale, and so to help to develop our national life and character in such a way that Australia will continue to give the best of impressions, both at home and abroad. But if we fail in this responsibility we are likely to be subjected to the most unfortunate references which could easily deny to us some of the best and most deserving people that could wish to make Australia their new home. The Government has the vast responsibility of helping to prepare the way in the direction I have indicated.
Here in this very capital city there is a lack of housing to a degree that has become most alarming, particularly at a time when the Government is suggesting the transfer of departments from Melbourne. That can only accentuate the problem in Canberra. No matter how many houses the Government has built, it is not sufficient to meet the great and important needs of a growing community such as Canberra.
Another very important phase of this subject which I earnestly ask the Government to review in the light of its urgency is the way in which this Government is denying to a most deserving section of our Australian community, namely, the exservicemen, the help that is essential to provide them with war service homes. I have always challenged this remarkable attitude of the Government in being prepared to deny to ex-servicemen the finance that they require. Whereas at one time there was a nine-month wait for finance, that waiting period has now doubled. Exservicemen are told that they can get private financial accommodation in the meantime. Thus they are driven into the hands of private money lenders, who are charging exorbitant rates of interest for the short-term financial accommodation. This has to be borne by the ex-serviceman who wants a home and who has received from the Government an intimation that it will ultimately be prepared to lend the money. Why cannot surpluses in various Commonwealth funds be made available immediately? In other circumstances, money would be found readily enough. I want to know why men who risked their lives in the defence of this country do not receive greater consideration than they are receiving now. It is scandalous that such men are being driven to accept financial accommodation at exorbitant rates of interest from grasping and rapacious money-lending institutions because this Government has fallen down on its job and is evading definite responsibilities that no government should try to evade. The time has come for this House to give a definite expression of its view on this matter, and I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition has proposed an amendment which indicates the feelings of the people generally.
I should not like to finish my remarks without indicating to the mover and seconder of the motion my appreciation of the speeches that they delivered. I am sure that they made a good impression on the House. Having said that, I express the hope that honorable members will be prepared to register a vote that will bring to the notice of the Government the urgency and the serious nature of the problem that presents itself to the nation.
.- I am . pleased, indeed honoured, to have the privilege of rising to support the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, which was so ably moved by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and so ably seconded by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury). I extend to those honorable gentlemen my congratulations on, and my appreciation of the thought and work that went into the speeches that they delivered. I assure them that their contributions tn this debate were of a standard that was appreciated by every member of the House. A pleasing feature of the debate is that, however vicious or acrimonious it may be, it will show that we are united in intense loyalty to our Sovereign, which is expressed in the Address-in-Reply. On that matter, we are as one.
I suggest that the importance to be attached to the remarks just made by the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) can be gauged fairly accurately when we recall that the honorable gentleman was a Minister in the government that introduced the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945. Therefore, he must have been a supporter of the policy enunciated by the Minister who introduced the bill for the ratification of that agreement. I remind honorable members that that Minister told the House that he had no thought for persons who wanted to own their homes, that he was interested only in providing rental homes and that anybody who owned his home became a little capitalist. Yet we heard the honorable member for Bonython say this afternoon that it was important and necessary that everybody should have an opportunity to own his home. Then we heard the honorable member draw attention to the situation in relation to war service homes and suggest that this Government had failed to discharge its responsibilities in that field. If this Government has failed in that way, can anybody suggest a word to describe the record of the Labour party? I remind the House that in five years we were able to build more houses under the war service homes scheme than all other governments in Australia had been able to build since the inception of the scheme. Australia can be proud indeed of the services that this Government has rendered to the ex-servicemen of the nation in that way.
Let us examine the terms of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). He has suggested that there should be a national plan for housing, which should be implemented by the Commonwealth Government.
– Hear, hear!
-“ Hear, hear! “, says the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith. Let us see whether the Commonwealth has constitutional power to do such a thing. The powers vested in the Commonwealth by the Constitution are specified deliberately and in legal terms. Any power that is not specified definitely in the Constitution is a power vested, not in the Commonwealth, but in the States. It is constitutionally impossible for the Commonwealth, of its own initiative, to implement a national housing plan.
Let me remind honorable members opposite that honorable members on this side were so alarmed at the manner in which the State governments were handling the finance available for housing that they banded together and formed a housing committee. The whole object of the formation of that committee was to find a solution to the housing problem. We found that the only solution would be for the States to co-operate, because, under the term3 of the Constitution, the Commonwealth had no power to introduce legislation to deal with housing. Indeed, as far back as 1928 the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) investigated the possibility of introducing such a bill, but found that it would be impossible to do so. Honorable members will recall that in that year he introduced a bill to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act, in an attempt to deal with the problem of housing. I repeat that the Commonwealth has no constitutional power to do anything in this matter, responsibility for which is vested entirely in the States.
If housing plans in Australia have been a failure, let us find the root cause of that failure. The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945 was brought into operation by another government, and we inherited it. Let me say that I have always taken the view that it was the worst possible housing agreement that any political party could be saddled with and expected to make operative. It was impossible to make it work. Even the States failed to co-operate in the working of an agreement which they had signed and in the operation of a scheme to the drawing up of which they had been parties.
Recently this Government introduced r. new housing agreement, under which the States would be provided with finance to build rental homes and funds would be available to people who wanted to build or buy homes. Under the terms of that agreement, a man could borrow up to 90 per cent, of the capital cost of a home and so ensure that he and his family had an opportunity to live in a home of their own. It has been suggested that the Commonwealth has starved the States of funds and that that is the reason for the situation which exists now.
– Hear, hear!
– Somebody says, “Hear, hear! “ Either that person knows that he is not telling the truth, or he is ignorant of the operations of the Australian Loan Council. Every member of this Parliament who knows anything about the matter realizes that the allocation of finance to the States for housing is determined by the States. It is well known that the funds available from loan raisings are not sufficient to meet the States’ works programmes. This Government is the first government in the history of Australia that recognized that fact. Of course, when the Government found that loan raisings would not meet the demands of the States, it acted quickly to overcome the deficiency by advancing money to the States for capital works. That is to say, it supplemented loan funds with money that it raised by socking the taxpayers. As a result of this action to help the States, the Government has had to take abuse in this Parliament from members of the Labour party, acting on behalf of the State governments. The Government has been exposed to this assault simply because it had the courage to exercise its power to take more money from the people in taxes in order to provide capital funds needed by the States so that they could carry out their works programmes.
Where does the money for housing come from? Does the Commonwealth tell the States how much money they may have for housing? No, it does not! After the total volume of money for State works programmes is determined, the States themselves fix the amount that they will allocate to housing and, having determined that, they advise the Commonwealth of the amount and the Commonwealth then makes that money available by direct appropriation.
– Do not talk rot.
– The honorable member for Herbert advises me not to talk rot. Let me tell him that if he were to examine the situation honestly he would find that what I have said is correct. I will give details of the proportion of loan allocations that has been made available for housing by the States themselves. 1 remind the honorable member for Herbert that Queensland has the worst record among the States in respect of expenditure on housing, and that State has had Labour governments in office for 40 years.
– I thought it would have the worst record, because that is the State the honorable member comes from.
– Order! The honorable member for Herbert will remain silent.
– The honorable member for Herbert cannot conceal the fact that Queensland has the worst record of any State. All the interjections in the world will not conceal that fact. Let me cite, in proof of my statement, the housing appropriations made by the Queensland Government over the last few years. In 1944-45, the Queensland Government laid aside 10 per cent, of its total loan allocation for housing.
– There was a war on then.
– I thank the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) for the correction. I meant to say J954-55. In 1955-56, the Queensland Government allocated, out of its loan moneys, 15.7 per cent, for housing - an increase of 5.7 per cent. - as against an allocation of 37 per cent, by Western Australia. This year, I remind the honorable gentleman, instead of an allocation of 15.7 per cent, for housing, the figure has dropped to 13 per cent., notwithstanding the fact that the Queensland Government had obtained an increase of more than £2,000,000 in the total loan allocations for the year. Thus, although Queensland got more loan money to spend this year than last, it allocated less for housing. I believe that it deliberately conspired to create a housing situation in Queensland which has resulted in the dismissal of 400 men in what I claim to be a treacherous, political plot. The honorable member for Herbert smiles at that statement. Let me remind him that when the Queensland Government determined that its housing allocation would be reduced this year from £3,000,000 to £2,750,000, it knew that £550,000 had to be made available to building societies. The Queensland Government, like the Labour party, does not really believe in home ownership. The only home ownership it believes in is ownership of housing commission homes. It believes in construction by the State of houses that are so disgraceful that people refuse to buy them. It asked the Commonwealth to amend the housing agreement in order to give Queensland permission to sell the housing commission houses so that the Queensland Government could get them off its hands.
With an allocation of £3,000,000 last year, the Queensland Government, knowing it intended £2,750,000 for housing this year, also that it would have to allocate £550,000 of that amount to building societies, which would leave it with £2,200,000 plus its carry-over of £461,350, deliberately reduced the allocation. Now we are faced with the situation that 400 families in Queensland are to lose their livelihood. Four hundred people are to be dismissed from the Queensland Housing Commission to-morrow. Why are they to be dismissed? Let us examine the facts. The Queensland Government started off this year with a loan allocation of £2,750,000 for housing. Under the agreement with the Commonwealth, £550,000 of that amount was to go to building societies. For six months, the Queensland Government held up the passage of the legislation to ratify the agreement, and so, for six months, the building societies were unable to borrow. Therefore, under the terms of Queensland’s Friendly Societies Act, the societies were prevented from taking advantage of the housing agreement. It was not until December of last year that this agreement received the royal assent. Because of that, £150,000 which would normally have gone to building societies went to the housing commission. The building societies therefore commenced operations and were able to borrow only as from January of this year, arid so were able to absorb only £61,000 out of a total of £75,000. This means that £14,000 extra went to the Queensland Housing Commission, making a total of £164,000, which would have normally gone into the field of private home ownership.
In addition, the Queensland Housing Commission is entitled to receive from the Commonwealth £110.000 to provide houses for serving members of the forces. That would make a total of £2.464,000 up to date. To that, we have to add the carryover held by the housing commission from last year which, on the figures provided by the Queensland Minister for Housing, and which are confirmed in the Queensland Treasurer’s financial statement, total £461,350. So that portion left to the Queensland Government, for rental homes only, was a sum of £2,935,350. On 9th March it was publicly announced that 400 men were to be dismissed by the Queensland Housing Commission because the Queensland Government alleged that it did not have sufficient money to carry on. Yet, out of a total of £2,935,350 the Queensland Government had drawn from the Commonwealth fund only £1,575,000 up to 13 th March last. If Queensland was short of money for housing why did it not draw the money it required from the Commonwealth fund?
– lt does not withdraw until the 15th of the month.
– 1 am glad to be reminded of the fact that the Queensland Government makes its drawings from the Commonwealth Treasury, as the honorable member states, in the middle of every month. Up to the 9th March the Queensland Government withdrawals were behind schedule to the extent of £500,000. In other words it was £500,000 behind in its expenditure for the first nine months of the financial year. Queensland had only three months of the year left to go, and it knew that it had £500,000 still in reserve. It also had a further reserve of about £1,100,000 in hand. On 9th March, when the Queensland Minister for Housing announced the dismissal of 400 men, who were thereby to be deprived of their livelihood, allegedly because of a shortage of funds, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) publicly announced through the press that Queensland was still £500,000 behind in its withdrawals from the Treasury. On 9th March, the Queensland Treasurer, Mr. Walsh, publicly denied the truth of that statement. I remind the House that again, on 13th March, after the Queensland Treasurer had denied that the money was there, the Federal Minister in charge of housing (Senator Spooner) repeated in the press, publicly for the people to read, that there was a sum of £500.000 in the Commonwealth Treasury which should have been drawn at some time during the previous nine months. On 1 4th March, a letter was received in Canberra from the Queensland Housing Commission asking the Commonwealth if it would let them have the money. That letter was dated 13 th March, four days after the Queensland Treasurer had denied that the money was there.
How honest is the Queensland Government in the dismissal of these men? The money to which I have referred was made available to it. Then, in the Queensland Parliament yesterday, the Acting Minister for Housing stated that expenditure on housing so far this year had exceeded £2,800,000. How can he justify such a statement when, at the present time in the Treasury here in Canberra there is available for Queensland a sum of £675,000. The £500,000 drawn on 13th March together with this £675,000 totals £1,175,000, which cannot yet have been expended. That sum is available to it to carry on the operations of the Queensland Housing Commission from now until the end of June. That, I remind the House, is a greater sum of money than that government has expended on housing during the whole of these last nine months.
How true can it be, then, that these 400 men must be dismissed? It is, as I said at the beginning, the most treacherous political plot that this country has ever witnessed on the part of any political party. I say deliberately that it is a treacherous political plot. Four hundred men are being sacked. Four hundred families are being deprived of their livelihood - for what purpose? So that the Queensland Government can carry on its infamous political plot.
– I rise to order. I object to the statement of the honorable member concerning the Queensland Government and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– Order! The references of the honorable member to the Queensland Government are in order.
– The Treasurer of Queensland denied that the money was there, but four days later he asked for it and got it, so that it is obvious the Queensland Government is not short of money for housing. It must have sufficient money to maintain these men in employment. Therefore, there must be some other motive. I believe that it is a part of an organized attempt by the Australian Labour party to scrape the bottom of the garbage bin to find a stick to wield at the Commonwealth Government. I remind honorable members opposite that, at the present time, the Queensland Government is engaged in a very bitter struggle with the trade union movement. The Government is fighting the trade union movement on the issue of three weeks annual leave. Its argument is that there are not sufficient funds to enable it to pay for three weeks annual leave, and because it is trying to prove to the trade union movement that it has not enough money, it is sacking people wholesale.
If the situation in Queensland is as desperate as honorable members opposite would have us believe, I ask them why the Queensland Government does not call on its reserves to which it referred in a statement issued by the Treasurer, Mr. E. J. Walsh, indicating that there was no less a sum than £20,136,748 2s. 2d. in reserve, trust and special funds. If it is true that the Queensland Government cannot continue to keep 400 men in employment, why does it not draw on those funds and also use the money that is in the Federal Treasury, allocated to Queensland and ready to be used? I suggest that the answer is clear. As I said in the first place, it is a treacherous political plot. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) reminds me that there is a sum of more than £2,000,000 in the Queensland Treasury which has been voted to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and I suggest that that sum also could be drawn on to keep these men in employment. 1 conclude by saying that, so far as the situation in Queensland is concerned, there is money available for housing, and there is money available to keep these men in employment. There are people in Queensland who need homes. Four hundred workers are being dismissed, although there is no need for them to be dismissed. The
Labour party persists in refusing to withdraw money which could be used to keep them in employment. It is doing so for its own political ends, and if that is not political dishonesty, then I do not know what is.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
.- I join with those who have preceded me in their expressions of loyalty to Her Majesty. Likewise, I join with them in congratulating the mover and seconder of the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply. If their speeches on this occasion are an example of those to follow, they need not fear that they will not bear comparison with the debaters in this House - that is to say, those on the other side of the House.
Immediately prior to the suspension of the sitting we had a speech from the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight). Whether it was a good one or a bad one. is a matter of opinion, but I hope that the honorable member will not: go away from, the chamber because, like Macarthur, I am going to return.
I prefer to begin my remarks by referring to the statement of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson); who spoke earlier in the afternoon. The Postmaster-General cast an aspersion on the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) for having moved an amendment to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-RepIy. He produced the argument that the proposed amendment was only moved in order to cover up the disunity in the ranks of the Labour party. He said the Leader of the Opposition hoped that, if he adopted this procedure, the people would be induced to forget, at least for the time being, the squabbles and disunity that were disrupting the ranks of the Labour movement. I think it is strange for a Minister of the present Government, especially an Australian Country party Minister, to talk about disunity. The Australian people will not forget that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party were so disunited on one occasion that when we were at war they abdicated from office. They left the treasury bench at a time when the British and Australian Forces were facing the enemy. Tt was this Labour party, on which an aspersion has been cast, that took the reins of government and held them until 1949 when the electors decided that they needed a change.
The Minister can be assured that the amendment is designed as a demand on this Government to face up to its responsibility to provide homes for the Australian people and maintain full employment in the building industry. That is the purpose of the amendment, and that is the objective of every speaker on this side of the House. Last evening, the Leader of the Opposition must surely have convinced everybody of his honesty and sincerity when he proposed the amendment. Consequently, it was not very pleasing to see the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) try to turn such an important and serious matter into a circus. Even the members of his own Government must admit that that is, to a large degree, what occurred last night. When the Prime Minister was not cracking jokes or making fun of this very serious situation, he was sneering across, the table at the Leader of the Opposition. I think that the members of this Parliament and the people of this nation are entitled to expect something a little better from the Prime Minister of Australia on such an important matter as this.
The Prime Minister, at the outset, denied emphatically that there was a housing crisis. He also said that there was no unemployment in the building industry. Of course, we must remember that the Prime Minister did not have time to deal with all the aspects of this very important subject and, to quote his own words, he dealt with the “ wider issues “. He dealt with, the wider issues so widely that he did not touch them.. That is the great weakness in the Prime Minister’s effort. He said that if there is some unemployment in the building industry, it only means that normality is being restored in the labour position. The- figures that were given by the Leader of the Opposition and, later, by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) were completely ignored. Actually, the position is far worse than those figures indicated, but the time allotted to members in this debate does not enable them to discuss all the ramifications of the subject and supply detailed figures. The point is that it is a matter of complete indifference to the Prime Minister that there is any unemployment at all.
Perhaps the Prime Minister is of the opinion that there is no such thing as a crisis’ until such time as there is chaos and misery and starvation such as occurred during the last depression which, after all, is not so many years back. Perhaps that is the opinion of the Prime Minister and perhaps it is the opinion of the honorable member for Lilley. 1 would say, after having heard his effort this afternoon, that it undoubtedly is his opinion. I shall give him some reasons a little later for the position with which he dealt. The Prime Minister was repeatedly challenged by the Leader of the Opposition to declare in this Parliament whether he was prepared to adhere to his statement of 7th March. In his reply to the Leader of the Opposition, the right honorable gentleman carefully omitted to touch on that subject except to say that he had been misreported.
– He did not use that phrase.
– If he did not use that phrase, he used words to that effect. I am not so immaculate as the dapper little Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon). In effect, the Prime Minister said that the press had told lies about the things that he had said on that occasion. The remarkable feature is that it was not only one section of the press that reported what he said. Every newspaper in Australia reported that the Prime Minister had made that statement. I would not dare to try to use the actual words of the Prime Minister, but he said last night that what he had stated previously was that if material and labour were not available, money would not solve the problem. I put it to the House that there is an irresistible inference to be drawn, and that his meaning was that it is not a question of money when one comes to solve the housing problem, but it is a question of materials and labour.
The Leader of the Opposition said last evening that if that were the fact he would have no hesitation in agreeing with the Prime Minister. But that is not the fact. The undeniable and unchallengeable fact - I shall leave it to the honorable member for Lilley to make up his mind whether to interject in reply to this - is that, in Brisbane to-morrow afternoon, 453 men will be dismissed from the Queensland Public Works Department.
– But who is going to sack them?
– Who does the honorable member think - Joe Palooka? The
Public Works Department is going to dismiss them, of course, since they are employed by it. I ask the honorable member just to hold his horses for a few minutes. If he does so he will find ample reason to interject, because I intend now to refer to some of the statements made by him this afternoon. The 453 men I have mentioned are not the first men to be dismissed by the Queensland Public Works Department during the current financial year. Only a few weeks ago, many men were dismissed. Indeed, when the 453 men are put off, approximately 2,000 workmen will have been dismissed by the department during the present financial year. Liberal members from Queensland seem to think that the Queensland Government is getting some pleasure from the dismissal of 2,000 men.
It is clear that the problem is not a question of materials or of labour, and no one knows that better than the Prime Minister does. In putting the proposition to the Australian people that it is of no avail to provide more funds, because sufficient labour and materials are not available, the right honorable gentleman has been completely and utterly dishonest. Throughout Australia, sawmills and brickworks are closing every day. It is a natural corollary that, when workers are dismissed from the building industry, workers in sawmills and brickyards also must be dismissed, and as a further consequence it becomes necessary to dismiss transport workers as well. All those workers are affected. If this is allowed to continue, we shall eventually have what the Prime Minister apparently chooses to regard as a crisis. The Opposition demands that something be done before a crisis has been reached, because it will be too late then to think about acting.
I return now to the remarks made by the honorable member for Lilley, who seems to have been wanting me to get back to them. He mentioned moneys that were made available to the States, and to Queensland in particular. Before 1 deal fully with his remarks on that matter, I want to ask: What is wrong with the Government supporters who hail from Queensland? I never dreamed that so many people could hate their State so much as the Queensland Liberal members of this House seem to hate Queensland. I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that, if Labour were in office in the Commonwealth sphere, those same members would hate the whole of Australia also. The only thing that those Liberal members have against Queensland is that it has a Labour government. In season and out of season, they knock their own State. How do they expect any one to show interest in a State when members elected to this Parliament to represent it are prepared to knock it so severely every day of the week?
-I rise to order. No Government supporter from Queensland attempted to knock that State.
– Order! No point of order is involved.
– The honorable member for Herbert is misrepresenting the facts.
– Whether or not Liberal members from Queensland intended to knock that State, there is not the slightest doubt that they did so, and continue to do so. Doubtless, that sort of thing will continue to happen while Liberal members of that type remain in this Parliament.
I do not propose to take up the whole of 25 minutes in citing figures, as the honorable member for Lilley did. However,I should like to cite for him just a few figures which will prove that he either is dishonest or does not know what he is talking about, to adopt an expression used by the honorable member this afternoon. He said that the Queensland Government asked for only £2,750,000 for housing.
– That is right.
– That is what the Queensland Government received.
– That is right.
– The honorable member for Petrie, who can never resist temptation says, “That is right”.
– That is right.
– Then there is something wrong somewhere.
– Yes, there is.
– Order! I ask the honorable member for Petrie to cease interjecting.
– In “Hansard” of 11th October, 1956, at page 1462, a question about the Commonwealth and State
Housing Agreement, and the answer to it, are recorded. So that Government supporters cannot say that I am adding something or leaving something out,I shall read the question direct from “ Hansard “, as follows: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
I ask the House to bear in mind that it is claimed in this Parliament and in the press that Queensland asked for only £2,750,000 for housing. The answer reads -
– The Minister for National Development has furnished the following replies: - 1, 2 and 3. At a meeting in June, 1956, the Australian Loan Council approved–
I emphasize that it was the Australian Loan Council that approved -
A governmental borrowing programme for 1956-57 of £210,000,000 of which £35,532,000 was nominated by the States for advances under clause 5 of the Housing Agreement. The amounts nominated by each State were -
Now we come to the crux of the matter. The honorable member for Lilley continually repeated this afternoon that the allocation was a question for the Australian Loan Council, and that if it made a decision, that was the end of it. We on this side of the House, and Government supporters also know full well that what the Australian Loan Council approves is of no moment if it does not suit this Government. That is exactly what the answer to the question indicates, because the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) went on to say -
The Commonwealth did not support the resolution providing for a governmental borrowing programme of £210,000,000.
He proceeded to say this, that, and the other thing until he came to the point of stating the amounts advanced under the agreement.
New South Wales, which had asked for £11,937,000, received £10,800,000. Victoria, which had asked for £11.050,000, received £10,000,000. Queensland, which had asked for £3,040,000, received £2,750,000. Does the honorable member for Lilley or any other honorable member want any further proof of the matter than that? Those are the facts. If the honorable member for Lilley still thinks they are not, he had better get into a huddle with the two Ministers who were responsible for the answer that I have just quoted.
The honorable member, who hates his State so much, could not resist the temptation to say that the Queensland Government has always discouraged and disapproves of home-ownership.
– That is right.
– So another one has come in! Government supporters are easy to catch. I have before me a document, produced by the Department of National Development, which contains some very interesting figures. I know that figures do not always tell the true story, but these are not in that category and will effectively answer the honorable member for Lilley. As at 30th June, 1947, the percentage of private dwellings owned by the occupier was, in New South Wales, 49.9 per cent.; in Victoria, 54.4 per cent.; and in Queensland - that “ dreadful “ State, 65.3 per cent. Honorable members will see that Queensland had more owner-occupied homes than any other State.
Labour continued to govern in Queensland, so housing continued to improve. At the 30th June, 1954, the percentage of dwellings which were owned by the occupier was, in New South Wales, 61 per cent.; in Victoria, 65 per cent.; and in Queensland, 72 per cent. The honorable member for Lilley, despite his hatred of Queensland, cannot get away from those figures.
My time is running out, and I will merely refer to one more bogy that has been conjured up by the honorable member for Lilley. He said that £500,000, which was available for housing, had not been drawn from the Treasury by the Queensland Housing Commission. That is true, but the same sort of thing happens in any business. I will guarantee that the wife of the honorable member for Lilley does not budget this month for what she got last month, but rather for what she will get at the end of next month. That is precisely what Queensland did. The money was set aside for houses contracted for, and either commenced or about to be commenced. No one knows that better than Senator Spooner, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the honorable member for Lilley. They all know that the £500,000 to which reference has been made was in the process of being absorbed.
However, regardless of who is right in that matter, 1 ask the Government in conclusion whether it is not possible to reach agreement upon the money that is needed to avoid the dismissal of 400 men in Brisbane to-morrow afternoon. I understand that 300 of them are married, and that 900 children are involved. Together, they make up about 1,500 souls. These men will go on to the labour market, but there is no work offering. ask the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), or whoever else might be listening to my appeal, whether something cannot be done at even this, the eleventh hour, to provide the £278,000 that has been sought by the Queensland Government. We can find out afterwards who is right and who is wrong. If the worst comes to the worst the money can still be deducted from next year’s allocation. At least it will avoid the necessity to dismiss these men. I make my appeal with complete and utter sincerity.
– First, I am very pleased to take part in this debate, which presents us with an opportunity to express once more our loyalty to Her Majesty.
Opposition members interjecting,
– It is a little incongruous that this type of interruption should occur during my opening remarks. I do not think that it is necessary to devote very much time to answering the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds). I listened very carefully to what he said, and it was plain that he was endeavouring to patch up the holes that had been shot in his leader’s argument by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight). If Queensland is doing so well it is a shame that Labour wants so badly to get rid of the Premier. Mr. Gair.
– Who wants to get rid of him? Do you think we are going to do the “Artie” Fadden act?
– Labour is said to be frying to get rid of Mr. Gair. I want now to speak on certain aspects of the censure motion of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). He has suggested that acute social ills have been caused by what he calls this Government’s failure to establish, in conjunction with the States, a national housing plan, and to provide adequate finance. It is interesting to note that the Commonwealth is linked with the States in this alleged failure. This is, in some respects, an acknowledgement that housing is, constitutionally, a matter for the States and not the Commonwealth.
I want to deal particularly with two points in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. I think that it would be a kindness to say no more than that the speech displayed a complete ignorance of housing and its ramifications, as well as an utter bewilderment on questions of finance and economics. One could refer at length to certain misstatements that he made. For instance, he charged the Government with raising in the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement the interest rate, as fixed by Labour. That is just not true. The terms of the old agreement, which was drafted by Labour, fixed the interest rate as the rate applicable to long-term Commonwealth borrowing. It was not fixed at 3 per cent., but in exactly the same way as the rate is fixed under the new agreement. The rate for long-term loans has increased; but the rate prescribed by the agreement has not.
The Leader of the Opposition wants more money for war service homes, building societies, and so on, but nowhere in his speech did he tell us where the money was to come from. He did not say whether it was to come from increased taxation, or increased credit. All he said - and it was in the broadest terms - was that the Commonwealth should provide more money for housing. He relied very largely on the results of an alleged inquiry under the chairmanship of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). Ordinary common sense and intelligence prevents one from supposing that that honorable member would provide any information that would show the Commonwealth Government in a good light, so one can discard the suggestion that the inquiry produced facts.
I turn now to the recent press campaign. I can quite understand the pressure for more finance that may come from the public. There has never been enough money for housing, but I have never read more ill-informed or stupid statements than have appeared in the press in recent weeks. The needs of genuine people have been portrayed in such a way as to whip public feeling into a fury. This has been done by politically interested parties, not with the idea of relieving the needs of certain people, which are very great, but purely for the purposes of political propaganda. That, to my way of thinking, is tragic. This problem is not new; it is not something that has arisen recently. It is a problem that has been with us for some time, and is being dealt with. But it is being accentuated by the States, particularly New South Wales.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order! There are too many interjections. I warn honorable members on the front bench that if they continue to interject I shall have to take action against them. I ask for their co-operation.
– As has been said, and as was particularly well said last night by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), this is a very human problem. Nothing is more important to our nationhood than the housing of families. I have said so a hundred times in this House since I have been here. We must realize that a home is much more than a shelter; it is where the ideals of a nation are nurtured and where the character of the people is formed. Therefore, it is of national importance. No government, State or Federal, can ignore the fundamental right of people to a home. The real truth of the problem should be faced, and faced without the intrusion of party politics. If we can reach that basis, we can get somewhere. But it should not be made on the basis of political propaganda or of sectional vote catching, as has been done in the recent publicity. I deplore that.
What is the problem? I shall put it in a simple way. Thousands of people cannot get homes to rent, and finance to buy a home is very short. It is strange that, in such circumstances, we should be able to point to anomalies that have arisen in recent years. For instance, it is strange that we are suffering from what can be called a tragic housing shortage, yet Australia as a whole has more homes per head of the population than any other country except New Zealand. New Zealand is almost on a par with this country. Since this Government came into office, one house has been built for every 2.66 people. That is far beyond the needs of the increased population. Yet in some States the apparent shortage becomes greater. That is quite an anomaly. It is strange, because I know - and many members of this Parliament know - that in 1946, immediately after the end of the war, there was not one suburb in the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne where “ to let “ notices could not be seen. Since then, more houses have been built than the needs of the increased population would warrant. Yet a great shortage, or apparent shortage, of houses exists to-day. lt is also strange that, while this is happening, no great housing problem exists in Western Australia and South Australia. Western Australia had a Liberal government until a couple of years ago and South Australia has had a Liberal government all the time. Neither of those States has as many houses per head of the population as the other States. To the average man in the street, these things are puzzling and he does not understand just how they occur. lt is strange that the greatest shortage is in New South Wales, and in the City of Sydney. It is also strange that New South Wales is the State where the greatest degree of controls has been imposed upon the people in relation to all forms of housing. One must be forgiven for relating this alleged shortage of houses to the control system which has operated.
The press has given in great detail accounts of the sufferings of some people. I am very sympathetic - as I am sure everyone is - with them in their troubles. I shall’ read a passage from a newspaper. T admit it is not a very authoritative journal but I think these figures are fairly accurate. The article in the newspaper reads -
In New South Wales, 24,799 families are living rh sheds’, humpies and shacks.
That is a disgrace; it is a terrible thing -
Forty thousand are sharing private dwellings with other families.
Thirty thousand are living in sub-standard dwellings.
In the Sydney area alone, 21,000 families are down for ballot for Housing Commission homes.
Those are tragic figures. But no one has pointed out another side of the problem, lt is true that a percentage of houses in Australia are over-occupied. That is to say, they are crowded to the point of indecency, and people are living in the circumstances that I have just mentioned. That is quite true, but no one has pointed out that in New South Wales alone 200,000 houses are under-occupied. That is shown by the census figures. There are tens of thousands of vacant houses in the City of Sydney itself, lt is very poor comfort to the men who are living in sheds, as many unfortunate people are, with their families - three or four kiddies, in many instances - to know that in the City of Sydney alone, 40,000 single women and men are living in dwellings capable of housing three or four people. That position is repeated in the City of Melbourne. If this is not a tragedy, I should like to know what is!
There is a reason for the situation that I have outlined. I can cite a specific instance. Near where I live, there is a block of 24 flats, each of two bedrooms. My firm put three or four people into each flat in 1938. To-day, twelve of the 24 flats are occupied by single girls and, in one or two instances, by single men. This is a very serious- matter. We speak of the housing crisis. I admit that we have a housing problem, but the guilty men are the Labour party socialists who brought this on the people. I charge the New South Wales Labour Government and the Labour government that existed in Victoria - because they are the principal States concerned - with having brought about this bad distribution of houses which is causing families to live in hovels. That is the reason - the sole reason - for it. Not only has Labour been responsible for this inequitable distribution brought about by the system of controls, but it is also responsible for the complete destruction of the confidence of investors in housing as a means of investing funds.
– The confidence of investors commenced to diminish after the depression.
– What does the honorable member for Batman know about it? He does not know very much.
– The Minister knows a bit about it!
Mi. CRAMER. - 1 say this without fear of contradiction, because 1 do know. 1 have lived with this problem for 35 years, and 1 know it well. 1 say that the socialist principles of Labour have been responsible not only for the failure of investors to invest in the building of rental homes and in me converting for letting of existing older homes, but also for the lack of provision of finance from the source from which finance should come in a properly run democracy. Where, to-day, do we find a flow of money from the trustee estates, which previously was customarily invested in real estate? Where do we find a flow of money from the trustee companies? We uo not find it to-day in the field of real estate because Labour has destroyed the confidence of those investors in that kind of investment. That is why the people cannot gel money ‘for housing. Why is it that insurance companies, which traditionally invested money in real estate, now do not invest in that way to any great extent? It is simply because they do not trust socialist governments which may come to power. You cannot restore this confidence overnight. You must show that you really mean to allow these people proper security for the money that they advance. The same remarks apply to private finance, and also, to some extent, to the trading hanks. The Leader of the Opposition has said, as have other persons, that finance is the key and the only cure.
– At this moment, yes.
– To say that is utter and absolute nonsense. The State governments, which are crying the loudest, are not exploring the avenue that is immediately available to them to obtain thousands of houses for the people who need them. They are not game to face the political consequences of doing the right thing. Of course, finance is needed. T do not deny the fact that finance is needed, and particularly for those people who have deposits and wish to buy. But no amount of finance that we can provide to-day will solve the problems that I have just spoken about, because we have not a free-running economy, in which the people can sort themselves out according to their needs and ,heir ability to nay. We have not this freerunning economy because the Labour government tried to segregate and freeze off a bie section of the economy and keep it from running freely with the remainder of the economy as a whole. We cannot do that and get away with it. This distortion of occupation of housing accommodation is the very matter that is causing the tragic circumstances of to-day, and this has all come about since World War II.
I say quite frankly that the Prime Minister is perfectly correct when he says that the building trade, if supplied with too much money, would become a source of inflation and of higher home-construction costs. There is no doubt that that is true. I know, because I myself am connected with the building trade and I know what is happening in it. For years there has been over-full employment in the building trade. That condition persisted until two or three months ago. The cost of building construction has been excessive. Sub-contractors in every job have been receiving excessive amounts of money for their work, and the people have not been paying the proper prices for homes. It is only within the last month that we have seen a fall in the tenders of sub-contractors and in the cost of construction of new homes, lt is only now thai we are achieving real stability in the cost of construction of new homes. This is a matter about which 1 have intimate knowledge. These costs are at present coming down, and it is very pleasing to know that they are coming down.
I agree that there is at present a small falling off in activity in the building trade, but it is nothing to create a panic. There is no need to worry about it. One would imagine, to read the press and to hear partisan statements in this chamber, that there was something to get panicky about. Well, there is nothing. There is a slight falling off. but it is having its good effects as well as, as claimed by some, its ill effects. lt is doing a lot of good, not so much for the building trade as for the people who wish to buy existing properties. This brings me to an error that the people who dispense finance have fallen into. They believe that you can solve the problem simply by applying new money to the building of new houses. That is not the solution at all; the solution is to see that finance is running freely, whether for old or existing houses or for new houses, so that the economy may be allowed to find its own level. That is the only way in which this matter can be dealt with. We cannot deal with it merely by applying money for the purpose of constructing new homes.
Do not let me be misunderstood. I agree that we need to go on building new homes, to the fullest capacity of our tradesmen and our materials. But do not imagine that that is the way in which’ this problem will be solved. I agree that we do need some further finance, but we must be very careful of the delicate balance. The Prime Minister put his finger on the problem last night when he said that we needed to keep that very neat balance. I believe that finance will become more readily available from a number of sources in the very near future, and not because of any direction from this Government. I have no doubt, for instance, that the central bank, whose function it is to watch these matters, will not fail in its duty if, having looked into the matter, it finds that there is a need for any further extension of credit to maintain a proper balance in the building industry. I have every confidence that the central bank will take appropriate action. I am not making any pronouncement that the Government will give any direction, because that is not necessary, but I believe that that is what will happen. lt amazes me, as it amazed the Prime Minister, that every time money is required in Australia for some purpose, the people are taught to believe that there is only one source from which that money can be obtained. They are told that they must go to their Commonwealth Government, and that that Government must provide the money for every purpose under the sun. Well, that is just sheer poppycock and nonsense. You cannot run a country in that way. In all this campaign that has been indulged in neither the Leader of the Opposition nor any other honorable member on the opposite side of the House has asked, “ Where is the extra money to come from? “. Do they suggest that we should increase taxes in order to get the money? Do they suggest that the Commonwealth Bank should provide it? The Commonwealth Bank has done a magnificent job, and I do not want to repeat what has been said by other speakers and also by Senator Spooner in the Senate to-day. Over and over again these things have been said. The Commonwealth Bank has been the most reliable source from which to obtain money for building societies, at least until the implementation last year of the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, ls it expected that the trading banks should provide all of this extra money? We know the position of the trading banks, and we know that they have set up savings banks.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
.- I rise to support the amendment to the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply which has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and which, as we have been informed to-day, is being treated as a censure on the Government. Although the amendment involves more than one question it deals specifically with the subject known as the housing problem. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), has admitted that there is a housing problem confronting a great number of people in the community. Of course, it is also true that, looked at from a purely individual and selfish viewpoint, there is no housing problem for large sections of the community. Those who are themselves adequately housed do not feel the housing problem individually although they may be sympathetic about it as a social problem. Members of this House no doubt are al) comfortably and adequately housed, but we must realize as responsible legislators that large sections of the community do, in a very real sense, face a housing problem. I would like to indicate broadly what these categories are so that at least we can get this matter a little bit into its proper perspective.
There are, for instance, newly-married and those contemplating marriage who are interested in setting up homes for themselves. There are slum-dwellers whose present accommodation is not satisfactory for human habitation. Married immigrant families are coming to these shores under our immigration policy and whilst we may call them new Australians, they have the same aspirations as we have to be decently housed. Also, there is a neglected section of the community to-day. I refer to the aged people, who number nearly 10 per cent, of our population. Many thousands .of them are very poorly housed at the moment, some in .single rooms for.. which they pay exorbitant rentals out of their most inadequate pension. To these groups this housing problem is very real.
I propose this evening to pay particular attention to a document that has been officially published by the Government and which, in the interests of brevity, I will refer to as the Spooner report. It is a report on the housing situation in Australia, published by the Department of National Development and bearing the signature of the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) who deals with housing at the Commonwealth level. In the report, which apparently is accepted as official Government policy, the honorable senator points to two ways of looking at this problem of housing. We can look at it purely as an economic concept or we can look at it as a social concept from the point of view of housing need, and it is on the housing need basis that the Labour party at any rate prefers to treat this very important problem.
It is surprising how keen this Government is to credit itself with the aggregate results Of housing in Australia to-day but to blame all the shortcomings that are being experienced at the moment upon the individual States. The report, for instance, proudly implies that it was due to the Commonwealth Government that between August, 1945, and the 30th June, 1956, 669,000 houses and flats were built in Australia. It claims that this total represents one in four of the number of houses and flats in existence in Australia at the moment. I think at this point there is one question that the Government might ask itself. It is this: Are the remaining three out of four houses and flats that were built in Australia before August, 1945 comparable in quality and standard with the one in four that have been built in the period from 1945 to 1956? 1 pose that question because there are undertones in this Spooner report that camouflage the position as it exists in Australia to-day. The assumption is that every Australian family, ranging from the single widow whom the Minister for the Army thinks ought to move up and make room for somebody else in her house, and the married couple whose children have married and set up homes for themselves, to the average family in Australia to-day, feels - and we say rightly feels - that it is entitled to a home of its own.
On that basis the report comes to the conclusion that there is a shortage of only 115,000 dwellings in Australia at the moment. To begin with that is a very questionable assumption. No information whatever is given about the quality of the three out of four dwellings that were in existence prior to August, 1945, and the report itself says that we have not had the facilities to go into such important questions as slum abolition. If the Australian community, through its Government, is serious about these problems, then the task should be to mobilize the economic resources of this country - the man-power and materials, and, of course, the finance that is necessary to bring the two together. But as has been submitted, and I would suggest substantiated from this side of the House, there are in Australia at the moment considerable surpluses of building labour and considerable surpluses of building materials. To suggest that by bringing together the materials and the man-power by means of a flow of money, we shall cause inflation, and that therefore it is better to have unemployment and an unsolved housing problem, is stupidity in itself. The term “ fowlhouse “ or “ chicken house “ has been used frequently in this debate to describe housing accommodation. The reality is that due to the financial and economic policy pursued by this Government, the chickens are coming home to roost and are likely to cause very serious problems in the next few years.
In a press statement issued on 16th February, 1957, the Minister for National Development said that the results of the housing survey suggested that if a rate of completion of approximately 77,000 houses a year could be maintained, in four or five years the back of the problem would be broken. I point to the fact that in March. 1957, there are nothing like 77,000 homes in the course of construction in Australia. We can take either one of two sets of figures. I do not think that, in the long run, it makes a great deal of difference whether we use as our basis for comparison the figures showing the number of houses commenced or those showing the number of houses completed, so long as there is a reasonable flow over the period. Taking the figures showing the number of houses commenced, we see that in the last four quarters for which figures are available the total is only 66,550. If we take the figures showing completions, we see that the total for the same period is only 69,909. So already we are at least 8,000 houses below the target which, in the opinion of the Minister for National Development, is necessary to enable us to make up the leeway in four or five years and also to cater for, so to speak, the annual increment of houses needed because of new marriages, immigration, demolitions and so on.
The Government must face up to this problem. We cannot afford to allow the buck to be passed backwards and forwards between the States and the Commonwealth. This is a national responsibility. If there is only some creaking of the machinery, the Commonwealth, as the accepted senior partner to-day in government affairs, ought to call together the various housing Ministers and the various representatives of the building industry just as freely as it seems to call bankers and economists together when it suits it to do so. It will take more than bankers and economists to deal with these problems if this deterioration of the state of affairs is allowed to continue.
I suggest that the Government should have given much more serious consideration to the findings published in “ The Housing Situation “ or, as I have preferred to call it, “ the Spooner report “. If it had done so, it would have seen that two important factors emerge from the report. One of them has to do with the economic side of housing, the level of demand. In paragraph 50 of the report, the position is stated adequately and rationally for any one who cares to read it. The paragraph reads -
The level of demand for housing is thus related to the level of rents, of house-building costs and of terms and conditions (rate of interest, deposit, maximum loan and repayment period) upon which loans for the purchase or erection of dwellings may be obtained.
I suggest that the economic policy pursued by this Government has affected adversely every one of the conditions supposed to facilitate the demand for housing in this community. The Government’s failure to control prices has led to a rise of building costs. Its failure to control adequately the financial machinery of the country has led to a rise of interest rates.
I pause here to point out to the House the significance of a rise of interest rates, particularly in view of the fact that the Prime Minister and the Minister for
National Development have suggested that one of the primary difficulties is that costs in the building industry have got out of hand. I submit that the majority of the ordinary wage-earners in the community are unable to pay cash for a home. The actual physical cost of construction, or the money that goes to the building contractor, is only one part of their obligation. They have to pay, in addition, interest on a loan extending over something like 30 years. If a man wants to buy a home at a cost of £3,000 and he can find only £500 as a deposit, he has to secure a mortgage. He has to find somebody to finance him to the extent of £2,500, and the person who lends him the money expects to receive interest on it at the ruling rate for the period of the loan and, at the end of that period, to be repaid his capital sum in full. It is said that the interest rate has risen during the last seven or eight years only from 3 per cent, to 5 per cent. That does not sound very much, but when we calculate that it means that the interest on 25 £100 units of a loan has risen from £75 a year to £125 a year, or by £1 a week over 30’ years, we see that the rise is a significant factor. Let me quote from a book that is obtainable in the library, “ A Course in Applied Economics “ by Mr. Phelps Brown. The author makes this statement -
A rise in the rate of interest from 3 per cent, to 5 per cent., with the costs of building constant, has the same effect on the rent that must be paid as a rise of about 40 per cent, in the cost of building, the rate of interest being constant. We should all expect a rise of 40 per cent, in the cost of building a house … to check building.
I submit that one of the reasons for the check to building at the moment is that the majority of the people who want to build or buy a home have to obtain finance through the mortgage market. They depend on government agencies of one kind or another - the War Service Homes Division and the various State agencies which now have authority to sell - and the co-operative machinery that has been set to up work primarily in conjunction with the Commonwealth Savings Bank and other savings banks. That section of the community is largely dependent on a flow of finance which could be regulated by government direction, but which this Government refuses to regulate because it feels that to do so would be to violate the sacred law of supply and demand. So the Government has allowed market forces to take control and, as the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) pointed out in his maiden speech, more resources have gone to the less socially important sections of the community. That is pointed to also in the housing report to which I have referred, and which, apparently, has the authority of the Government. I direct the attention of honorable members, particularly those on the Government side, to paragraph 32 of that report, which, under the heading “ Other Sources of Finance “, states -
Governments (including War Service Homes Division), major private lending institutions, and Building Societies and Housing Societies in 19SS-S6 provided a little less than SO per cent, of the finance used for the building or purchase of new houses. These monies together with the equity of individual borrowers from these institutions in the properties acquired, were responsible for the building or purchase of about 65 per cent, of the houses and flats erected in the year. [ ask honorable members to note that distinction. Disraeli talked about the two nations in England in his day, the rich and the poor. So far as housing is concerned, there are virtually two sets of people in this country to-day, who may be called, broadly, the rich and the poor. The paragraph states further -
The source of the remainder of the monies responsible for about 35 per cent, of the houses and flats erected was the cash resources of the building owners themselves and finance provided by individuals or institutions other than those referred to above as “ major lending institutions “.
Apparently two classes of houses are being built in Australia to-day. Those in one class are approximately twice the cost, and, therefore, twice the size and luxury, of those in the other class. The pressure at the moment is not upon the luxury section of building activity. It is upon the other section, which accounts for 65 per cent, of the houses and flats erected. The pressure is upon sources of finance for that kind of building, which is probably the most socially desirable. That kind of finance could be regulated by government activity, and it is suggested in the amendment that that is what should be done by any responsible government working in a democratic community. There has been a lot of talk recently about the use of the word “ democratic “ by the Labour party. What kind of democracy is it that allows the nation to be divided into two sorts of people so far as this social problem is concerned? A person who has the money to finance his requirements does not need to worry about rates of interest. But a person who has not the money has to worry about rates of interest. When the Government came into office the gilt edge rate was 3i per cent. It has since risen to 5 per cent. That is the rate that ultimately sets the standard for all other rates. That rise of almost 2 per cent, occurred because of the policy of this Government. It means, in effect, that the average person seeking mortgage accommodation has to face an increase of nearly 2 per cent, in interest charges which, as that passage from Phelps Brown’s book shows, means that in the aggregate an increase of the order of 40 per cent, is imposed on the cost of his home. And remember, we in Australia, in theory, regard a home as the right of every Australian citizen.
I suggest, therefore, that more serious attention ought to be given to the terms of this amendment than has apparently been given by Government speakers in the debate so far. If the amendment is read closely, it will be seen that it involves a number of inter-related factors, and ultimately it reaches, as it must reach, to the true root of the economic and financial policy that has been followed by the Menzies-Fadden administration. The amendment suggests that it is the failure to supply finance lo State governments that is the root of the problem. That suggestion was made here, and there was a great haggle about the way Queensland had applied for another £250,000. Do the people who are making that sort of quibble realize that £250,000 to-day, in any event, means only another 1 00 houses? The aggregate of this problem is much greater than a mere 100 houses or so in a particular State. There is a deficiency already of at least 8,000 dwellings on the assumptions that the Minister himself lays down as being the programme for housing in Australia. Eight thousand dwellings, multiplied by approximately £3,000 a dwelling, gives some idea of the kind of finance that is required to get near the bridging of this problem.
It is no good falling futilely back on the defence of inflation, because if the Government is going to fall back always on inflation as an excuse, it need do nothing at all, because inflation has been the very method by which it has been implementing its policy to destroy the living standards of the average Australian worker. Inflation has been used as a method for diverting investment. We got a lesson the other night - and a splendid lesson I submit - in the maiden speech of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury). The policy of inflation has diverted investment from socially desirable channels into that which is regulated by a theory of private enterprise, or whatever one cares to call it. That word “ diverted “ is a term that some of the newspapers have sought to quibble over in the last few days. We contend that there should be a re-assertion of social control, a diversion back the other way, in order that the average Australian person can at least have the hope, in the next ten years, as he had in the days of economic controls under the Chifley Government, of getting an adequate home for himself.
– 1 am rather glad to have an opportunity, at this time, to join in the House’s welcome to the new honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury), and, to a lesser extent, to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) who, of course, has been here before. I congratulate these honorable gentlemen as they enter upon the important work of representing in this Parliament their equally important electorates.
I think that the House has been impressed by the reasoned and temperate approach these two honorable gentlemen have made to the subjects on which they have addressed themselves. In a chamber where sometimes noise is put forward in lieu of sincerity and conviction, we shall look forward to more of this sort of offering from these two honorable members. I join with them in a renewed expression of our loyalty to the Throne at this time, and I suggest that it is timely, because the Commonwealth of which we are an increasingly important part is under some considerable strain. We might well direct our attention to the Empire’s problems and, increasingly, :i!so direct our attention to the question of how we can more actively support the Empire. I submit we can do this by strengthening our own home economy.
We appear, at this time, to be going through a series of crises, most of which are created by political propagandists and by newspaper interests which are rather anxious, for one reason or another, to blackball the present Government. Nobody will deny that, among all the affairs of this nation, individual crises which affect individual citizens are multiplied considerably by the press and by propagandists. 1 want to refer to two of these crises which have been blown up and one of which is almost past, because the press, like the political propagandists, stay with a crisis for a little while, then put it aside and it is forgotten. I suggest to the House that the housing crisis as a national issue will also be put aside in very much the same way as the coal crisis has virtually been put aside. Neither of those problems is to be solved by the very simple formula, which has been propounded, of the Commonwealth’s providing more of the taxpayer’s money to prop up those particular activities.
I refer, in passing, to the crisis in the coal industry. Nobody will have anything else but sympathy for those who are being displaced from the coal industry and those business people who are being affected economically in consequence of what is undoubtedly a change that is going on within the coal industry - an industry that is in a stage of transition. To-day, we are going in for increased mechanization, including the mechanical extraction of pillar coal, and other changes in the industry which are having the effect of producing more coal with less labour. That may produce a situation in which the individual workers in the industry, disturbed and displaced as they are, find themselves in a state of personal and individual crisis. But the fact of the matter is - and this is something in which the people of this country ought to take some pride - that we are increasing the efficiency of many of our basic industries. I say that if there is anything that this country has to look to in the next few years, it is to an increase of the efficiency of its basic industries, because already - and 1 will make further mention of this later - the cost structure in Australia has reduced this country to dependence on almost a one-crop economy. Our economic fortunes in Australia rise or fall dependent on the world market for our wool and, to a very much lesser extent, for our wheat. If we were forced to depend on the sale in international markets of the products of our secondary industries we would be having an extremely thin time, and the debate we are having to-night would be in much more bitter terms, because there would indeed be a real national crisis in this country. The fact is that, for a variety of reasons - and I hope I shall have time to refer to them - we are not able to sustain ourselves to any degree by the sale of our secondary industrial products. We are not able to compete in the markets of the world with those countries which are showing tremendous resurgence in Europe, or with the growing nations of Asia. In all those world markets we are being pushed out by a more efficient and. hard-working series of competitors.
Some of these things, sir, fall within the classification of self-inflicted wounds. I have had occasion, because I have been at. one or two stormy meetings with members of the coal industry concerning this so-called crisis, to look at the figures. The evidence is clear that in the last ten years the coal industry in New South Wales particularly - and, of course, the industry revolves round the New South Wales fields - has lost up to 20 per cent, of its productive capacity because of one reason or another, the main reason being stoppages within the coal industry itself.
I am not, at this stage of the proceedings, prepared to question the grounds, good or otherwise, upon which these stoppages were held. We all know very well that there are occasions upon which workers in the coal industry feel that they have a legitimate claim which can be brought to public attention only by means of the strike weapon; but there has been a continuous series of industrial stoppages, each quite petty in itself, but having the most serious of consequences in the aggregate. As I say, I do not question the reasons for this. I presume that the workers in the coal industry have been satisfied that they were justified. I merely point to the inescapable conclusion that the cost of this series of sporadic strikes has been a tremendous loss of coal markets, and we are to-day seeing the chickens come home to roost in the coal industry.
Something has been said about a second Elizabethan era. Only a year or two ago, as the House will well recall, we were almost back in the first Elizabethan age, lighting beacon fires on the hills of Victoria to herald the coming of a coal ship, so that when the ship came in sight we could turn up the gas. The result of this has been that the States which were completely dependent for their entire economy on New South Wales coal - I refer, of course, to Victoria and South Australia - have made herculean efforts to remove themselves from such dependence. There has been great development of the brown coal industry in Victoria, whilst coal deposits of less value and worked perhaps at an uneconomic level compared with the cost of New South Wales coal, have been developed by the South Australian Government. All of that has been due to the fact that the financial health of those States depended entirely upon their being able to free themselves from their dependence on the uncertain supply of New South Wales coal.
So, orders for 8,000 tons of coal a week have been lost to the New South Wales coal fields. We have seen, even in New South Wales, the State Labour Government castigating the Commonwealth Government for not propping up the industry, and the New South Wales authorities themselves turning, under economic compulsion, to oil-firing and diesel motors, particularly in connexion with their railways and the production of electricity. The evidence is clear that we are reaching efficiency within the coal industry, and that once again coal will be able to compete with residual oil. To-day, governments in general are talking about reconversion of locomotives and other prime movers back to coal fuel.
Surely the coal industry will have learned its lesson and will see the unavoidable result of work stoppages. I believe that we can see ahead the re-establishment of stability within the coal industry, certainly at a lower level of employment, but at a higher level of efficiency, and therefore on a lower cost structure. The industries which formerly were dependent upon coal will come back to coal, and if the mining industry carries along with steady production there is no reason why stability should not be well within its reach.
Much the same kind of events are happening, I am afraid, in the field of housing, I am sure that the House, and certainly the people of Australia, must have been astonished at the recital this afternoon of the history of the housing situation in Queensland and the manoeuvres of the Queensland Government which does not spare its people at all. The welfare of the workers in that State is of secondary consideration to the immediate political results of the manoeuvrings that have gone on in connexion with housing finance.
– The honorable gentleman could not have been in the House when the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) spoke
– I certainly was in the House and I heard the honorable member for Herbert quote from “ Hansard “ figures which I myself gave on behalf of the Minister in charge of housing on this question of Australian Loan Council allocations. The honorable member for Herbert sought to show that this problem comes back to the Commonwealth Government because, after all, the State of Queensland asked for £3,040,000 and in actual fact received only £2,750,000. So, naturally, responsibility for the housing difficulties in Queensland rests entirely on the Commonwealth Government.. Or does it? It is of no use the honorable member for Herbert coming here and saying that.. The real trouble is, of course, that the Queensland Government has budgeted on its month-to-month quotas, from loan funds and in actual fact has overspent and therefore has. run out of money.. The money that it has had up till now is. committed, and therefore, it must dispense with the services of some hundreds of workers.. It is futile for the honorable, member to seek, to put responsibility for that on the plate of the Commonwealth. If that is really the situation, all, I have: to say isthat the State of Queensland has been thoroughly inefficient in the laying out and budgeting of its home-building programme.
But this excursion into the history of the Australian Loan Council on this matter opens, up a rather interesting piece of territory which ought not to be allowed to be forgotten in this country. On the statement of the honorable member for Herbert, the Australian Loan Council declared for a programme of £210,000,000. As everybody in Australia knows who follows these matters with any care at. all,, there: is, an annual pilgrimage to Canberra. The Premiers gather here for the meeting of the Australian Loan Council and the Premiers conference. They invariably vote themselves more money than they believe they have a hope of getting, and of course when they do not get the amount which has been over-budgeted and over-promised to themselves they have a complete umbrella for every deficiency in the administration of their States. They come along and ask for £210,000,000, knowing that it has to come from the loan market of this country, and knowing very well that the loan market will produce nothing like that amount of money. Consequently, they know equally well that they are not going to get what they ask for. So of course they have a readymade alibi - there is not enough money because the wicked Commonwealth Government has failed to provide, and if there are not enough schools, hospitals, houses, roads; bridges and flood mitigation schemes, the responsibility can be laid at the door of the Commonwealth.
– They know whom to blame.
– The honorable member knows much better than that. He is merely indulging in propaganda. I wonder that the members of the Opposition can read’ the history of the Australian Loan Council, meeting and still come up with that kind of answer in this House.
As everybody knows, the present Commonwealth Government was the first to make incremental additions to the Australian Loan Council allocations, and in every year that we have been in office we have voted a supplementary amount, without any kind of legal obligation at all. Those amounts have varied between £10,000,000 and £19,000,000, and their purpose has been to support the State governments in their works programmes.
The Commonwealth is. entitled under the Financial Agreement to a 20 per cent, share of loan raising in this country, but it has put aside that entitlement and has surrendered! the entire loan market for the benefit of the States. That has meant, inevitably, that the Commonwealth, has had to finance its own public works from revenue, and, therefore, the Government has had to raise the level of taxation by quite a considerable amount, perhaps, to the. tune of £60,000,000’ a year,, so that it can make this, additional provision for the works programmes of the States. Having done all this, the Government has channelled off into support for the States moneys which, in my opinion, could best be left, to private enterprise to sustain what we might reasonably call the private works programme.
We on this side of the House believe in private enterprise. We believe that it is of the greatest benefit to the economy of this country when individual businesses with a very great degree of responsibility are able to plough amounts back into the expansion of their own organizations. From that source comes stability in the economy, advancing degrees of efficiency, and increases in employment opportunities available to Australian workers.
Unhappily, this Government, believing as it does in private enterprise, has found itself under intolerable pressure from the States to provide more money. I wish it had not surrendered quite to the extent that it has. But the fact is that we have supplied all these props to the public works programmes of the States. We have had no thanks, and I believe that we have contributed in a measure to what can only be described as financial delinquency on the part of the States. This complaint against the Commonwealth becomes a chorus to be sung by them every year at the time of the Australian Loan Council meeting and the Premiers Conference. I am afraid that this situation will go on while we have uniform taxation to distort the federal system of government and to poison the people’s confidence in government of any sort.
This afternoon, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) had occasion to quote, I believe, from the report of the Auditor-General in Queensland to show that whilst this complaint about lack of funds was being voiced publicly, the State Government had available millions of pounds in certain trust funds. I have had occasion in past years to look at the AuditorGenerals report for New South Wales. Precisely the same position exists there. I do not remember the figure at the moment, but I believe that something in excess of £40,000,000 has been shown in the Auditor-General’s report in recent years as available in trust funds and moneys at short call to the New South Wales Government. I am prepared to admit that there are great commitments inherent in any trust fund and that the whole of these moneys would not be available to carry on the works programme of that State. But nothing alters the fact that the State Government has not by any means squeezed its own financial resources dry before it has come to cry at the feet of the Commonwealth, and, like Oliver Twist, complain that funds provided are not enough. Until taxing powers are restored to the States, this sort of distortion will go on.
Of interest is a case which is heading in the direction of the Privy Council, if it has not already got there, in which one State is claiming that the constitutional power of the Commonwealth does not cover uniform taxation. That State has been joined by New South Wales. Yet, unhappily, in the last week or two, the federal conference of the Australian Labour party which met in Queensland declared in favour of uniform taxation and thereby left the Premier of New South Wales out entirely on his own. As I understand that he is slightly unpopular within his party for some views that he holds, perhaps that is not a surprising matter.
I come back to the subject of housing. I listened keenly this afternoon when some honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) were making the plea that people should have the right to own their homes. Nobody denies that the people ought to have the right to own their homes if they want to. But honorable members on the other side of the House have gone for democratic socialism just recently and, democratic socialism having declared that people ought to have pie, the people had better like pie. What is happening is that the Opposition does not merely demand that people shall have the right to own their homes; it is becoming a question of compulsion.
The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) produced some most illuminating figures on this subject. There is a trend away from rental housing throughout Australia. In 1954 there were 30,520 fewer houses being rented than in 1947. The number of dwellings in New South Wales owned or being purchased by the people residing in them rose from 49.9 per cent, of the total in 1947 to 61 per cent, in 1954. The Labour party may choose to accept that fact as a demonstration that its demand that people -should have the right to own their homes is being met. But the fact is that, included in this 61 per cent, of people who now own their homes are tens of thousands of people who never wanted to have hung around their necks the responsibility of life-time repayments and the cost of owning a home. These people will tell anybody in plain terms that they would much prefer to rent a home. They have been forced into home ownership because socialist governments in New South Wales and other States have introduced and maintained policies which have killed investment building.
The Minister for the Army also gave illuminating figures to show that, on the Australian scene. 200.000 homes are underoccupied. They are under-occupied simply because landlord and tenant regulations and other regulations have made it impossible for housing to find its own level in this community. We all know very well that the requirements of individual families are constantly undergoing change. Families grow up and the size of the household decreases as the children leave and set up their own homes. Shorn of regulations, left to its own devices, the housing situation would find equilibrium. Large families would move from small homes into larger ones as small families would move out into smaller homes. In that way we would get rid of most of the difficulties in the housing situation.
The Minister for the Army has also indicated that since the war we have built one home for every 2.6 people in this country. That is a greater number of homes per capita than has been constructed in any other country. If it were not for the distortion to which I have referred, that accomplishment alone would have gone far towards solving our housing problems. The plain fact is that the prosperity which has all but engulfed this country in the last few years under this Government has generated the demand for housing faster than the people of this country are prepared to provide it.
I am sorry that I have not much time to develop the theme, but one of the factors which means so much to the housing situation is the amount of energy that we are prepared to put into it. To-day, we live in a community which is prepared to cash up all its advantages by way of mechanization of industry and advanced efficiency in shorter hours and higher pay. I believe that we have to get back to the situation which prevails in the United States of America. I quote a statement by the president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations of America, Walter Ruether, who said -
The more productive our economy is the more we need to think in terms ot” maintaining it al continuous high levels of operation.
He went on to say -
It takes practical, tangible co-operation on the part of labour and management, and agriculture and the Government, your profession and all other groups. These are the investors. No one challenges their right to reward for risk they take in their investment. They are entitled lo their just share as pari of effort to balance the economic equation. 1 believe that, coming from a leading American industrialist, there is a lesson in that for labour in Australia.
.- The speech of the Governor-General reviewed the record of the Government in a most favorable manner and the Address-in-Reply approves of this review. The Opposition has decided, however, that the Government has thoroughly earned censure in relation to its housing record. Why does the Opposition take that view? It is because it believes there is a most serious crisis in housing which strikes at the very foundations of our community. No one disputes the fundamental importance of housing lo the community. The Opposition believes that the serious crisis in housing has occurred because insufficient homes have been built in Australia. As a result of this insufficiency of housing we have over-crowding, to begin with. We have rack-renting which has forced up rents to as much as half the basic wage. We have impossible contracts of sale under which many people, through sheer force of necessity, have undertaken to meet repayments of as much as £10 a week out of relatively low average family earnings. The housing problem has delayed many marriages and contributed substantially to child delinquency. It has created a situation in which severe losses will be inevitable unless over-full employment is maintained in order to allow tenants and buyers to keep up these excessive weekly payments. This is implicit in the situation.
The crisis has resulted, among other things, in a wrecking of the immigration programme and a breaking-up of the support for immigration throughout Australia. I want to remind the House that it is not the Australian Labour party that has caused a reduction of the immigration programme. Reference to immigration statistics will show that, and I propose to cite the relevant figures, because this is a consequence of the housing crisis and associated causes. In 1949, when the Labour Government was in office, an intake of 150,000 immigrants a year was attained. In 1950, the intake was 152,000. In 1951, immediately after the present Government came into office, the figure fell to 111,000. In 1952, we received 94,000 immigrants. In 1953, the intake was only 43,000. In 1954, it totalled 68,000. In 1955, it was 94,000. In 1956, the total intake was 88,000 immigrants, which is a trifle more than half the intake in 1949, when Labour was in office. This reduction of the intake has wrecked the immigration programme. It is a consequence of the causes that have created the housing crisis. That crisis is not new or recent. It goes back as far as World War I., and probably earlier. In the 1920’s, construction was never adequate, for reasons that have applied also during the 1950’s. The building industry collapsed between 1929 and 1937. By 1937, what was widely called a national housing scandal existed. What has been called a new age of housing began in 1937. Mr. J. A. Gray, a member of the Victorian Parliament, said in that year -
There has been a remarkable change in public opinion in the last five or six years. Our view used to be that people should find their own housing level.
Those words were used only a few minutes ago by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), who kept on saying that we must go back to a situation and that is the situation of 1937. Of course we must go back, according to his view, to a policy which Mr. Gray said in 1937 was outdated. Mr. Gray continued -
We now recognize that the housing of the people is a matter for the community as a whole - a matter for an enlightened society possessed of a social conscience.
Where is there any evidence that honorable members opposite have a social conscience?
The result of this development of a social conscience in 1937 was the establishment of State housing authorities throughout Australia. In 1939 Australia was plunged into a total war before the State housing authorities and the new social conscience were able to have much effect upon the situation. It was impossible to build or even to repair houses between 1940 and 1945, and we emerged from the war with a more desperate need for housing than ever before. In 1 944, the Commonwealth Housing Commission made a report in which it announced a conservative estimate of the deficiency of houses, which it placed at 300,000. What has happened since? Approximately 620,000 houses have been built during a period in which Australia’s population has increased by 2,048,994. There was a deficiency of at least 300,000 houses in 1945. How do we stand now? To house the population increase of 2,048,994, at an average of 3.75 persons to a house, which was the rate prevailing in 1947, we should have needed about 550,000 houses. At an average of 3.55 persons to a house - the rate prevailing in 1954 - we should have needed about 630,000 houses. Therefore, it cannot be said that since 1945 we have built more homes than we needed to meet the needs of the additional population. There is still a real deficiency of at least 300,000 houses.
Let me contrast this conclusion with the report made by the Department of National Development - referred to as the Spooner report - on which the Government’s case is specifically based. The Government’s view that there is no housing crisis is founded on that report, and if there is anything wrong with the report, there is something wrong with the Government’s attitude. The report concludes that the deficiency was 115,350 houses in 1956. But I remind the House that in the foreword at the first page of the report it is admitted that the quality of existing housing has been largely ignored, and slum clearance has not been considered. When these two factors are taken into account, there is no real conflict between the actual deficiency of at least 300,000 homes and the figure of 1 15,360 reached in the report, because the difference of approximately 185,000 houses is certainly no more than must be allowed for if the two vital considerations of the quality of existing housing and slum clearance are taken into account. There are 2,449,500 houses in
Australia. At the 1954 census, it was estimated that’ more than 10 per cent, of them were sub-standard. We need, therefore, about 244,000 houses to replace those substandard dwellings, and that figure is considerably in excess of the 185,000 that I have mentioned. Therefore, there is no possible doubt that the current deficiency is at least 300,000 homes.
The Spooner report admits that the current yearly need is about 60,000 houses. The question to be answered is: How many more years will the million and more people who are waiting for these 300,000 houses be forced to continue waiting? The Government says that, at its present rate of building, they will have to wait about ten years. I submit that nothing less than a real determination to overcome the deficiency within, say,, five years, and at the same timet to meet current needs, can possibly be acceptable. We; should need to construct. 120,000 houses, a year - 60,000 to meet current, needs, and- 60,000 to go towards making, good the deficiency - to overcome the. deficiency within five years.. A national plan: for the attainment of this, objective, asoutlined, in, the amendment, should be. adopted by the Government if it wishes to retain its right to occupy the treasury bench.
Men: and- materials are available to build many houses, despite the denial of the Prime Minister (Mr.. Menzies) in his infamousstatement of 7th March, to which he still adheres, but the number would not be nearly enough to> attain the target of 120,000 houses, a year. Men and materials can be made available if the appropriate taxation and monetary policy is applied. The present Government’s policy of accepting the capitalist market as the supreme allocator of resources has distorted the Australian economy in the very opposite direction - the highest bidder shall be the purchaser and the highest profit shall rule. Labour says, that national aims must be set, and that the necessary steps to achieve them must be taken. In this instance the matter at issue is housing.
It is not necessary to go in for any new or reconsidered definition of Labour’s position. I need only quote the statement of William Guthrie Spence in 1909 to demonstrate that. His face appears in a picture on the wall of the Opposition1 party room, and he is wearing a beard. He wrote that the purpose of Labour is - gradually and disconnectedly that of extending the interference of the State (the democratically elected State), into private industry in order to achieve national aims.
The national aims that are relevant in the present case are housing, the construction of a national system of railways and roads, far more schools and hospitals and new capital equipment to raise productivity. These cannot be achieved if things are to be left to the market alone - if resources are to be allocated by the demand of high and excessive profits. -Houses, railways, schools, hospitals, roads in particular, and the coal industry, which was mentioned a few moments ago by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), are all in exactly the same position. They cannot pay the rates of profit which would allow them to become the highest bidder, or nearly so, in the capitalist market. As the Prime Minister admitted last night- -
The great task is to preserve some balance between all” these elements-
That is, between the more essential things like housing, railways, roads, schools and’ hospitals on the one hand and luxury hotels, shops, flats and petrol’ service stations on the other.
The Government: has- recognized each year its responsibility in regard to this, but it has done little about it. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury), who has not yet been here long enough to pick up the political jargon of his colleagues, spoke very clearly when he referred to the “ long list of rotten fruits of inflation in the Governor-General’s Speech “ and concluded, “The only final solution, sir, is to tackle inflation”.
The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said in his 1956 budget speech - rr may well be indeed that we are only now reaching the most difficult stage, of the long struggle to control inflation.
The struggle has been seven years long, and now the honorable member for Wentworth, says, “ It is time to tackle inflation “. This Government has not shown, and never will! show, any real signs of tackling inflations It is a two-sided problem. It involves con>trol of vast increases in purchasing power. If they are not controlled there are consequent distortions of the economy.. This, was well recognized by the Treasurer in 1950 when he said in his budget speech -
This rise in wool prices- which added £383,000,000 to export proceeds - could be very disruptive unless firmly controlled. To make a further great addition to the volume of purchasing power, not matched by an equivalent quantity of additional goods, would increase competition for available supplies and divert resources still further from developmental into less essential uses. This would tend to disperse and weaken the national effort at a time when it should be more and more concentrated.
These people who are so worried about dispersing the national effort in times of emergency should surely see that it is time to start worrying about what is happening now.
The rise in wool prices to which the Treasurer referred was not controlled. In the following year the national income jumped by £400,000,000. The banks were allowed to increase their advances by £160,000,000 and, in one year, prices rose by 22.6 per cent. Exactly what the Treasurer anticipated has happened. There has been a disruptive effect upon the economy, a diversion of resources from developmental to less essential uses, and a dispersal and weakening of the economy. Under this Government money demand determines everything.
This distortion of the economy could not have taken place without a change in the sources of money demand. This is shown clearly in the relevant shares of the gross national product. In 1951-52 farm income was 11.6 per cent., in the following year 13.9 per cent., then 11.8 per cent., 9.7 per cent., and now 8 per cent, in the current year. That represents a fall from 13.9 per ment, to 8 per cent. In 1951-52 wages and salaries represented 49.2 per cent., in the following year 48.5 per cent., then 47.8 per cent., 48 per cent., and 47.4 per cent, in the current year. Business income - and this is the rub - was 28 per cent, in 1951-52. 27.4 per cent, in the following year, 29.4 per cent, in 1953-54. 30.9 per cent, in 1954-55 and 31.8 per cent, this year. This represents a significant increase of 4.4 per cent, between 1952 and 1956 in the business income share. This fundamental diversion of income distribution is behind all our housing troubles.
There has also been a change in savingsand in the holding of funds for investment. In 1952-53 personal savings represented 12.1 per cent, of the gross national product. They were down to 8.1 per cent, in the following year, 5.5 per cent, in 1954-55 and 5.3 per cent, in 1955-56. On the other hand, business savings rose from 8.7 per cent. in. 1952-53 to 11.1 per cent, in the following year, 11.6 per cent, in 1954-55 and 14.3 per cent, this financial year. This diversion of income, followed by a change in the distribution of saving, put the control of investable funds in the hands of large business concerns and the trading banks.
– There has been a complete redistribution of income.
– That is so. As we see it, that is the crux of the housing problem. Last night the Prime Minister said, in justification of the trading banks, that they had reduced their lending, not under direction of the Commonwealth Bank or the Commonwealth Government, but because housing loans were not attractive to a trading bank. Neither are railways, roads, schools, hospitals, power loans or the coal” industry.
In addition to permitting this maldistribution of income, the Government has allowed the trading banks to increase interest rates. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has pointed” out that an increase of 2 per cent, in theinterest rate had exactly the same effect upon discouraging housing as would an increase of 40 per cent, in costs. The tradingbanks and the insurance companies have in the last two or three years, with the encouragement of the Government, changed the whole pattern of their lending. Instead of lending at normal overdraft rates through trading banks they have set up other departments around the corner called Esanda. Limited and Custom Credit through which they loan money at anything from 10 per cent, to 20 per cent. They are loaning in that way money that should be available at ordinary rates.
What has happened to housing construction as a result of all this? I would like todirect the careful attention of honorable members to these figures: After the war home-building, under a sound financial policy, grew gradually until the number of houses under construction in 1949-50 was 65,000. In the following year it was 80,000, and, in 1951-52, 82,000. That happened under the influence of an income distribution and financial policy that was laid down substantially by the Chifley Government. As soon as the post-inflationary redistribution of income, which was facilitated by this Government, came into operation there was a fall in the number of homes under construction. In 1952-53 it was 69,714. In the next year it was 69,573, in the following year 65,359 and in 1955-56, 60,687. At December, 1956 it was 60,062. There are 22,000 fewer houses under construction than in 1951-52, yet this Government says that there is no housing crisis! This remarkable fall in the number of houses under construction is associated, as one would expect, with a remarkable increase in the volume of other building. A maldistribution of income is followed by a redistribution of resources to match that redistribution of income. As money goes to the well-to-do, so the building resources go to the welltodo. Let us look at the building figures and compare the value of houses with the value of other types of construction. We find that in 1949-50 the value of houses under construction was £116,000,000. The value of other buildings such as hotels, flats and service stations, was £61,000,000. The proportion of houses to the total was 66 per cent. In 1951-52, the figures were £187,000,000 worth of houses and £125,000,000 of other buildings. The proportion of houses to the total was 60 per cent. Now the redistribution becomes effective. In 1955-56 we find only £174,000,000 worth of houses under construction, or £13,000,000 less than in 1951-52, but the value of other building has risen to £220,000,000, or almost double what it was in 1951-52. The proportion of the value of houses to the total value of buildings has fallen to 44 per cent.
When the Prime Minister calls for a balance in the use of our resources, is this the kind of balance he wants? Does he want home-building to fall from 66 per cent, of total building to 44 per cent, of total building? Is that the kind of situation he says does not represent a housing crisis? We say that this is an unsound balance and is found not only in the housing industry but in transport and in social services such as schools and hospitals. We say it is found in an industry like the coal industry, which was lamented at great length a few minutes ago by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall). We say that this kind of maldistribution cannot be corrected unless we return to a fair and reasonable distribution of income. We cannot restore a balance to the economy unless we are willing to tax excess profits and excess income.
– How will the honorable member do that? Would he outline a scheme?
– -How do we do that? As soon as we attempt to touch excess profits or the large concerns that the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) represents, he raises constitutional or other difficulties. I shall point out some of the income distributions that exist now. We have heard much about excess taxation and about this being a country which has no room for higher taxation. I shall cite a few figures taken from the 1953-54 report of the Commissioner of Taxation. The upper 1 per cent, of people, of whom there were 34,000 in this country, had an income in 1953-54 of £204,000,000.
– How much tax did they pay?
– That represented 8.7 per cent, of income before taxation. One per cent, of the people had 8.7 per cent, of the income before taxation. What difference did taxation make? It reduced their income to 5.2 per cent, of the total. The upper 5 per cent., of whom there were 173,000 - -every one of them voting for the Liberal party, no doubt - had an income of £515,000,000. That represented 21.9 per cent, of income before taxation and 16.8 per cent, of income after taxation. Immediately attention is paid to figures such as those I have cited it will be seen that ample room exists for increased taxation and the kind of mal-distribution of income that is behind the housing crisis and every other crisis becomes apparent.
– That sounds like Dr. Burton’s “ Capital Levies “.
– I do not suppose the honorable member has ever read that book. The particular problem of housing requires taxation of land values because if more money is to be made available for homebuilding the price of land will be increased considerably and most of the benefits will go to those few people who own the land. They will get the money back, anyway. It is necessary to make more funds available when these things have been checked and when the proper balance has been achieved. The Government needs to make more money available and the trading banks should also make more money available. Under section 27 of the banking legislation, power is given to control advances. I suppose that the honorable member for Petrie is thinking up a constitutional problem that might be involved in it. But let us try it out; let us give the trading banks instructions to supply funds to meet the needs of the people.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lawrence). - Order! The honorable members time has expired.
.- Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, along with certain other members of this House, I welcome this opportunity .of expressing my loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen and also my appreciation of the gracious Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General. I am sure that the House is appreciative, too, of the way in which the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply has been moved by our young friend, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and by our more experienced friend, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury). Whatever our party divisions, I am sure all members will agree that seldom in the experience of those who have been here for some years have we heard two maiden speeches delivered with such aplomb and which have, at the same time, contributed so promisingly to the thought and to the future debates in this chamber.
Both of these gentlemen in their respective ways are men of considerable experience. The honorable member for Barker follows our late lamented and distinguished Speaker, a man whom so many of us admired but, of course, a man in some degree of unconventional habits. I have had the pleasure of knowing the new member for Barker for a number of years and I think that in some respects - in very welcome respects - the House will find that if he will not prove exactly a reproduction of his predecessor, at least he will exhibit, as his career unfolds, some of the late Mr. Speaker Cameron’s individuality and, if I may say without offence, unpredictability. But I am sure we all are glad to see him here and, as a fellow South Australian particularly, I wish him well.
There has been a lot of discussion tonight on the amendment moved by the Opposition to this Address. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns), not unexpectedly, devoted his speech to a consideration of housing and to the exposition, in part, of some of his well-known socialist theories. There will be other opportunities later in the session, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has promised, for a debate on the economic situation, and I do not propose to discuss this part of His Excellency’s Speech or the amendment to-night.
I should like to direct the attention of the House to that part of the Governor.General’s Speech in which his Excellency mentioned the wish of Mr. Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, for another meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers consequent upon his conference with President Eisenhower at Bermuda. The whole subject of Commonwealth relations should give profound thought and anxiety to all members of this Parliament. Everyone welcomes the advent of constituents of the colonial empire to nationhood. After all, that has been England’s goal for the last 100 years, despite all the propaganda and all the misrepresentations about the alleged evils of colonialism. We rejoice in the accession of Ghana only so recently. ‘We know that Malaya will be next. We hope, too, that in the years to come others will follow. But let us hope that these evolving countries, having obtained independence, will remain in the association, and that they will continue to acknowledge the Queen as sovereign.
I am all in favour of a broad-based Commonwealth, but I feel we should insist on a Commonwealth that means something, not merely an aspiration for community of thought and interest, which in fact does not exist. The Queen, as we know, is the focal point, but what is the future of a position where some acknowledge her merely as head of the Commonwealth, while others, such as ourselves, owe her allegiance as sovereign? Can there be a lasting Commonwealth without community oi interests, without economic ties, without agreement on the main lines of foreign policy? I doubt it. In the last eleven years we have all been too painfully aware of startling instances of divergent policy. One member has attacked every major move of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to circumvent communism. We have listened like meek oxen to strictures on Nato, on the Baghdad Pact, on Seato, and, only recently, on the joint United KingdomAustraliaNew Zealand view on Suez. And, sir, this process has progressed to the stage when the question must now be faced: First, what does this Commonwealth mean, and, secondly and following from that, whether any meaning remains for some member nations unless it be only temporary convenience or .self-interest?
I believe that the Commonwealth should signify more than a grouping together of friendly nations. Should it not have more importance than a relationship with foreign, albeit friendly, allies? Yet since the war, as we know, in the broad we have had the spectacle, until the recent regrettable AngloAmerican divergence^ of countries such as Britain, Australia and the United States and those in western Europe exhibiting a much greater unity, a much more common approach to the basic problem of the postwar world, than we have seen exhibited by Britain and at least one influential nation which, surprisingly, still retains Commonwealth membership. If the touchstone of membership cannot be allegiance to the sovereign - and I think it is wise, however reluctant one may feel, to concede this in the interests of as wide a diversity as possible - then at least it ought to be a community of interest and an adherence to the grand design of a common foreign policy. Otherwise, the concept of a Commonwealth will become so rarified as to be meaningless.
This, as I see it, is the danger to-day.’ There is so much dilution, so many compromises, so many empty phrases, that the association may cease to possess any true meaning, any real value, for those who are its most fervent upholders. May I remind honorable members of Hans Andersen’s charming and rather subtle story of “ The Emperor’s New Clothes “. No doubt many honorable members have read it, and perhaps some may care to spend a few minutes reading it again. The flattery of the courtiers was so persistent that it became persuasive. The texture of the suit, woven by two dishonest weavers, was so refined that when ultimately the great day dawned, with the magnificent and much-trumpeted ceremonial procession, and His Majesty appeared in the streets, he was seen to be wearing nothing at ail! Unless the member governments are very careful, this will bc the sad destiny of what we call the Commonwealth to-day. In striving to accommodate many diverse policies, conflicting ambitions, irreconcilable philosophies, in pretending that opponents are our friends, there is a danger that the whole thing will dissolve into thin air.
We must try to face these problems honestly and courageously in a harsh, selfish, ungrateful, materialistic world, in which people’s minds are still distorted by the impact of the two world wars in our lifetime. For myself, more than anything else in politics, I believe in the Commonwealth, but it must be a cooperative Commonwealth of fact, not just a historical fiction. However much we hope that the emergent colonial states will take their place by our side, and that the large and populous Asian nations now with us shall remain, yet this also must be said: If their ways are not our ways, if their aims are not our aims, if they feel that we are so wrong as one of them continually proclaims, then I say that for the sake of an effective Commonwealth of the future it would be better if a dissident member gracefully retired and continued on its own course, in the full exercise of its own judgment, but without corroding our own joint councils.
There are real perils in continuing along the present path. Only the participants can say whether the 1956 Prime Ministers’ conference in London achieved anything of value. I think many honorable members will agree that the communique issued at the end of the talks read like a desperate effort to conceal substantial differences of opinion and policy. The Prime Ministers’ conference this year will be more crucial. Since last June there has been the crisis over Suez, we have seen the open hostility of India to the Anglo-French action, and there has been a change of leadership in England. Nor, as we know, is there any settlement of the canal issue, or of the great unrest and the multitude of problems in the Middle East. At this forthcoming conference, adumbrated in His Excellency’s Speech, a mere exchange of views, an agreement to differ, another empty communique will no longer suffice. The people of the British world will be looking this time for an inter-woven common policy towards questions such as a speedy settlement of the operation and control of the Suez Canal, of measures to stop the march of communism and other matters vital to our well-being and survival.
– Does the honorable member intend to get his uniform out?
– I can well understand how unpleasant the prospect would be to the honorable member. Sir, we should apply our minds urgently to the underlying problem of Commonwealth integration. Is it wise to leave things as they are? Is it safe in the tempo of contemporary life to allow Commonwealth consultation to evolve in an incoherent and haphazard fashion without any real plan? Honorable members will recall that in the 1920’s Lord Bruce, echoing the ideas of Alfred Deakin some years earlier, talked of the creation of an empire secretariat, a concept later revived by Mr. Curtin and, since the war, by a number of members of this House. However attractive these ideas may be, I do not think we can usefully develop them further. South Africa and Canada, to take only two instances, have never supported them, and obviously, a large measure of agreement is essential amongst the partners for the creation of any future scheme.
Sir, I would like to suggest to the House and to the Government for its consideration the establishment by each Commonwealth country of a Resident Minister in London. He would, by definition, be a member of the ministry of his own land. He would, hy the nature of his office, be in constant consultation with his cabinet, with the British Government and with other Resident Ministers. It may be objected that this would duplicate the work of the existing high commissioners. I think not. The high commissioners have already acquired multifarious duties, and they are increasing. Honorable members may recall that the retiring Australian High Commissioner in London more than once complained that his title should bc changed to “ High Commissionaire “. This division of administration from political and diplomatic functions could well work out to the advantage of both. Moreover, the speed of air transport to-day, with its acceleration in the future, will permit of a Resident Minister returning for a consultation to his own country at least twice a year, and probably oftener. Nothing but a growing mutual enlightenment and benefit could flow from that.
Furthermore, as a Minister, he would be subject, as all Ministers are, to the ebb and flow of political fortunes, and thus in the nature of practical politics, there would be a quicker interchange of representatives than at present with high commissioners occupying a customary term of five years in London.
Again, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, I think the House might agree that a Resident Minister could speak more authoritatively in the United Kingdom than a High Commissioner. His voice would certainly be more persuasive on public opinion in the country to which he was accredited. He could possibly, when the occasion arose, attend meetings of the British Cabinet, and a moment’s reflection will convince even the most sarcastic of honorable members of the immense value of this in events such as we have just come through. 1 see great merit in the doubling of official representation. After all, you would have two top men instead of one. All these considerations would make for a closer understanding between Commonwealth countries and would avoid the sharp and dangerous divisions, the wrongful lack of consultation between Commonwealth countries which occurred last November over Suez.
I put forward these suggestions tentatively, in no sense dogmatically, in the hope that the Government will consider them in the light of the necessity for improved Commonwealth relationships. Circumstances to-day are forcing us to re-define our attitude on this whole subject. Time is running against us. People are looking to the next Prime Ministers’ conference as a step towards a new reality instead of being merely another unconvincing essay in make-believe.
Debate (on motion by Mr. McMahon) adjourned.
Message received from the Senate intimating that it concurred in the resolution transmitted to the Senate by the House of Representatives for the appointment of a joint committee to examine problems of constitutional change, subject to the following modification: -
That the words “ recess or “ be inserted before the word “ adjournment “ in clause 8.
And that the resolution, so far as it is inconsistent with the Standing Orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders. The Senate requests the concurrence of the House of Representatives in such modification of the resolution transmitted to the Senate by the House.
Message received from the Senate intimating that it concurred in the resolution transmitted to the Senate by the House of Representatives with reference to the appointment of a joint committee to examine and report on certain matters relating to the Australian Capital Territory and that the provisions of that resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the Standing Orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders.
Message received from the Senate intimating that it concurred in the resolutions transmitted to the Senate by the House of Representatives relating to the appointment of a Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and that Senators Cole, Gorton, Maher, Pearson, Robertson, Vincent, and Wordsworth be members of such joint committee.
House adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 March 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19570321_reps_22_hor14/>.