22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Debate resumed from 26th March (vide page 222), 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 Stales, 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. 4.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 “.
– This debate relates to the AddressinReply to His Excellency’s Speech in opening this, the Second Session of the Twenty-second Parliament of the Australian Commonwealth. I intend not to traverse the ground that has already been covered by other honorable members, but rather to address myself as far as possible to certain aspects which may, or may, not, have been mentioned incidentally.
If we consider for a moment that this is only the twenty-second Parliament we shall realize how very young is this Australian Commonwealth. If we look back over the 56 years that have passedsinceits founding, we shall find much to hearten us in going forward to the next 56 years. It is a curious perversion of the Australian character that, in speaking of what this country has done, there is a tendency to write down, rather than have anything to say to the credit of, Australia, its parliaments or its people. The Opposition especially exhibits a tendency to lose sight of the magnificent performance of the last 56 years. When we realize that only 56 years ago the first Prime Minister had to conduct his business in a small building; that Ministers then had neither offices nor departments; that within the short space of less than fourteen years the Australian Commonwealth had to undergo the supreme test of war; that the aftermath was an even more acute test of our institutions and faiths in the form of the most devastating economic depression ever known; that we had scarcely begun to emerge from this when we were plunged into another war of even greater magnitude, which called for greater resources and courage; and consider also the progress that we have made since World War II., especially in the last seven years - when this Government has been in office - we find grounds for new faith, a new spirit of adventure, and renewed courage with which to attack new facets of the same old problems that we have overcome in the past.
Yet, in the face of this spectacular growth and change, I find that the GovernorGeneral’s Speech covers a wide range of subjects. It traverses a policy which challenges us to face up to the practical realities of the situation and to apply constructive thinking to these new problems or, perhaps I should say, problems emerging in a new form to confront us as a people.
I notice that His Excellency’s Speech contains reference to international affairs, upon which I do not propose to expand at the present moment for the simple reason that I believe that we shall have ample and better opportunity later to do so. But the Speech did refer to the crisis in Egypt. to the working of Seato and also to our own share in the development of atomic armaments. It also mentions that very important and, perhaps, exceedingly farreaching development that has taken place in Europe, where six countries are virtually agreed upon a customs union. It referred, indirectly, to the part that the United Kingdom may play in association with those countries. These are things that may and can have a tremendous effect on the economy of this country.
Let me pass to another important reference. That is the part that Australia is playing in Antarctica. I suppose that most of us, a few years ago, looked upon that continent as a great, white, sterile waste of bitter cold - a place with a record for the destruction of some of the most adventurous spirits that this country and the Old Country have produced. To-day, we know that it may be the repository of tremendous mineral resources upon which this world may have to draw at a not very distant period. Those resources will be used to redress the disappearance of resources of the same kind in other countries. We know that there is a rush of international competitors to secure control of this particular area. We know that Soviet Russia, significantly enough, has sent a very large team to that continent and that it could be made a base of operations, in rather a sinister way, for submarine warfare which might threaten the existence of our trade and the whole basis of the scheme of defence that the Western nations have built up.
We also learnt from the GovernorGeneral’s Speech of the attack on infantile paralysis; it is very much more easily understood by that name than by poliomyelitis. People understand what infantile paralysis is, and this Government has taken effective steps to see that life in this country is protected by this new discovery of science. We find, also, that the Government is visualizing assistance to universities - a most important matter to which I hope to refer again before I conclude my address. Other matters are also mentioned in the Speech. There is the development of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization particularly with reference to water and wool research. These are some of the highlights of His Excellency’s Speech.
I have not referred to these matters just for the sake of enumerating them. 1 think that people should understand that this Government, as is indicated in His Excellency’s Speech, has made a constructive approach to the problems of Australia. What has the Opposition contributed to this debate on the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply to the Speech? It has proposed an addendum to the motion which constitutes a censure of the Government and an attack upon- its housing policy. So far as I can see, Mr. Speaker, none of the observations made by Opposition members in addressing themselves to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply has made a real contribution to the constructive thinking of this country. The Opposition has voiced no ringing call and no challenge to those who are supposed to support it to continue the magnificent work of development that has been undertaken in the past and must be continued if we are to hold Australia.
In saying this, I do not mean to belittle the importance of housing. It is of firstrate importance, and if the debate on the Opposition’s amendment has done anything, it has highlighted clearly and in no uncertain terms this Government’s remarkable contribution to the ultimate solution of the major social problem of housing. It is true that there is much still to be done, and I suppose it is always the duty of an opposition, whatever its political colour may be, to sound a warning trumpet and point to the things that ought to be done. But surely the present Opposition’s current arguments, which are completely devoid of the kind of appeal that Australians should make to their fellows, and which it has chosen to direct solely to the subject of housing, although this is an Address-in-Reply debate, are completely sterile. The successful solution of our housing problems depends upon the development of Australia. The housing problem cannot be solved by attending to a few odds and ends in the housing field alone. Modern housing enterprise depends upon a great range of industries. I do not think the factors that appear to have caused the temporary recession in housing have been analysed in sufficient detail.
It seems to me that the barrenness of the Opposition’s contribution to this debate is a reflection of the chaotic condition of the Labour movement to which Opposition members belong and in which at the present time various turgid currents of political philosophy may be discerned. Although the time is now ripe for inspiring leadership, apparently all the Opposition can do is to bring forward a sterile programme of socialization, to try to put additional fetters on the spirit of free enterprise, and tq try to halt the immigration programme or so reduce it that it might as well be halted. Surely the Opposition could support a more virile policy and choose more useful and worthy arguments than it has used.
Take the question of socialism. I suppose that at the root of our social structure at the present time there is a great deal of what is really applied socialism. What we have done in this country has been incidental to the working and the more effective working of capitalism. What the Opposition apparently wants is to make private capitalistic enterprise, so far as it is allowed to exist, incidental and to fasten upon this country a system of socialism, which would simply put fetters upon the free spirit of the people.
Even the provision of housing is fettered because of the lack of leadership on the part of the people who are supposed to stand behind the Labour party. There is a restriction upon the amount of work that a man can do. A bricklayer is precluded from laying more than a certain number of bricks in his normal working hours, but, if he has enterprise, his free spirit breaks out and there is not a member of this House who does not know that in two days or less at the week-end a bricklayer will lay more bricks than he laid in the whole week under union inspection. That is going on throughout the community. Restrictions are put here and restrictions are put there, when what is needed is encouragement. People must be given the incentive to press forward with vigorous development of this country. Wherever restrictions are imposed the free spirit of the people will break out and will find some means - fortunately - to neutralize some of the worst effects of what is going on.
When I come to the question of immigra tion I find that this great Australian Labour party - because it has been a great party in the past - has completely departed from the conception of the man who is so often quoted, with approval, in this House - the late Mr. Chifley, who said in 1949 -
Immigration ‘ means security.
Is that not what the Opposition claims it wants for the people of this country?
Even more than that it means the full development of untapped resources. It means great production of goods and services. It means a better, happier, more prosperous life for every Australian.
The great immigration drive launched by the present Labour Government in 1943 and carried out with remarkable success will be continued vigorously until Australia has the population she needs to achieve the development of her resources and guarantee her security.
Compare that with what has emanated from Opposition speakers in this debate and from the Labour conference recently held in Brisbane. Talk about the light growing clearer and brighter! If ever there was a light that was being extinguished more and more rapidly, it is the light of leadership of the Labour party - a leadership which the people of Australia are entitled to expect.
I pass from that to deal briefly with housing. Figures have been quoted at very considerable length during the course of this debate. It is not my intention to take up too much time in recapitulating what has already been stated. I point out, however, that between 1945 and 1956 with a population increase of 2,086,000, dwellings and flats numbered 700,000, giving a ratio of about one to 3.1 persons, which compares favorably with figures for other parts of the world and more than favorably with most. In 1955-56, the total expenditure on housing in Australia was £232,000,000, of which the Commonwealth’s share was £63,000,000 and of which the State governments found £8,500,000. The balance, representing 68 per cent, of the total expenditure, was found from private sources.
Labour’s remedy for the state of affairs which it says exists - a shortage of about 105,000 houses at the present time - is to hand the problem over to the Commonwealth. In the course of this debate I heard an Opposition member refer with some disgust to the action of the Western Australian Government in removing the limitation on rentals in that State. The interesting point is that, while that action had a certain repercussion at the time, Western Australia apparently leads all other States in respect of housing and needs the least number of houses, proportionately, to population. I suggest that Opposition members should have another thought on that matter. Frankly, I very much doubt whether the community would benefit if the Commonwealth had control of housing. All over this vast continent the States are being stood up by their people in the matter of housing and slum clearance. To pour those matters into this Parliament would make the congestion unbearable and the whole thing unworkable.
I note that from 1st January, 1950, to 31st December, 1956, nearly £190,000,000 had been provided by the Commonwealth for war service homes. In the 30 years from 1919 to December, 1949, when the Labour Government left office, the total amount spent was £52,790,000 and the total number of homes built was 54,541. I direct attention to the accelerated rate of home-building while this Government has been in office and to the extraordinary difference between the cost of homes. Prior to the war the cost of home-building was very low when compared with the cost to-day. If we look for the reasons for that low cost, we find them in some rather interesting and extraordinary figures which have been made available by Mr. F. F. Kraegen, who is the manager of the Associated Country Sawmillers of New South Wales. He said that the cost of hardwood had increased since 1949 by 300 per cent. The main reasons for that are that in nine or ten years rail freights have increased by 500 per cent, and government royalties by 620 per cent. That represents a sectional tax on people who must build homes. Mr. Kraegen cited, as an example, freight on hardwood from Grafton to Sydney. The freight had increased from 5s. lid. to 36s. 4d. a 100 super, feet. The Opposition could well address itself to the urgent necessity of learning why this tremendous load has been placed upon home-builders.
To understand what is happening in this country at the present time, one must consider the tremendous increase, relatively, in the production of cement and steel. Part of the cause of the drop in home-building has been the increase in the number of large buildings, such as the Qantas building in Sydney, in which practically no timber is used. These buildings are constructed of concrete and steel, and contain mostly steel furnishings.
My time has almost expired, and before concluding I wish to congratulate the Government upon what it has done. I congratulate it upon its record, and I personally feel that in facing up to the necessity of guaranteeing additional finance to universities, and in appointing an able commission to inquire into the matter, it will render a major service to the development of Australia, because we depend more and more upon trained men. But I would urge the Government to draw up a five-year programme, so that the universities, with a knowledge of the birth-rate and the estimated increase in population, may be able to plan effectively to turn out regularly a supply of trained people. Thus, by lifting the load from the States, they will enable the States to carry the very heavy burden of modern education that is being increasingly thrust upon them.
– 1 support the amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), seeking to censure the Government for its failure to provide adequately for the housing needs of the people of Australia. I have listened with interest to the remarks of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond), who has just resumed his seat, and I have listened to the protestations and excuses offered by speakers on the Government side when the Government’s failure in this matter has been brought to their notice.
Perhaps the goodwill and the ability of the Government in regard to housing can best be judged in this Australian Capital Territory, where the Government can offer no excuse of constitutional limitations. This is a Territory in which the Commonwealth has complete and unfettered constitutional power. It is an area in which it has complete and unfettered financial power. It is a place in which the Commonwealth is not only the employer of the majority of the people but also the landlord of the majority of them. I propose to speak only briefly on this subject, because I have other matters that I wish to bring forward, lt is sufficient to say that after seven years of office of the present Government there are still 3,000 people who have their names registered for housing accommodation on the bousing lists in
Canberra, and the anticipated wait for a home is something like two and a half years. If we were able to provide homes to-day for all the people who are now prepared to occupy them in Canberra, we would need 1,500 homes immediately. Registrations on the housing lists are increasing by 500 to 600 annually, and the number of homes constructed annually barely meets the needs of new registrations. There is a proposal - and I hope it is put into effect shortly, and also that it is put into effect properly - that other Government departments should be transferred from Melbourne to Canberra. This will mean the transfer of 2,000 public servants, and a total population transfer of some 7,000 persons. So far as I know, no provision is being made to house those people when they are brought here, and it seems obvious that if this plan is proceeded with the waiting time for homes in Canberra must increase.
The Government’s record in housing is briefly this: It has failed to provide for the housing needs of its own employees in the Territory in which it has complete and unfettered constitutional and financial power. Speakers on behalf of the Government presume to criticize the State governments, when in fact this Government cannot look after its own affairs in its own Territory. In the year 1951, when the housing programme initiated by the Chifley Government was reaching its peak, 621 homes were completed in the Australian Capital Territory. In 1952 the figure fell to 574, in 1953 to 491, and in 1954 to 323. In 1955 the number increased slightly to 359. I have been speaking of calendar years rather than financial years, and in the last calendar year, 1956, the number of housing units completed, including both houses and flats, increased to only 622. That will barely keep pace with new registrations. Because of the cut-back that took place last year in the building trades, essential men in the building industry have been driven away because they could not find employment here. By deliberate decision of the Government, those men have had to go elsewhere to find work. I mention those figures to show that, in the Australian Capital Territory, where the Government is in control of housing, and therefore has no alibi, it cannot provide housing for the people. Indeed, it cannot provide housing even for all the people it employs and brings here to carry out the work of government.
I wish now, Mr. Speaker, to refer to another matter of serious import in the Territory, and that is the matter of primary and secondary education. There are two aspects of the problem, and that it is a problem is evidenced by the vast amount of correspondence that has been appearing in the local press, by the meetings that have been called to protest against the failures of the Government in this field also, and by the resolutions that have been carried at annual meetings of parents and citizens’ associations and other bodies. As there is a shortage of houses in Canberra, so also is there a shortage of schools. The shortage of schools at present is very grave. The Government has failed to provide adequately in this field for the needs of a growing community. It seems to me that construction always lags behind planning and that planning never keeps pace with the real needs of the community, present or future.
At present we have under construction in Canberra one infants’ school at North Ainslie, and primary schools at Turner, Griffith and Yarralumla. The schools at Griffith and Yarralumla are now approaching completion as is the Turner school, after having been under construction for something over three and a half years. Those schools, when completed, will not provide adequately for the needs of the community. Projected schools include a primary school at North Ainslie, a primary school at Forrest, which will include an infants’ department, and a new high school in the northern suburb of Lyneham. These schools have not yet been started. There are plans for extension of Telopea Park High School, and in that connexion let me say that some of these plans have been in existence for seven years. That illustrates how far construction lags behind planning’. These matters, of course, are the responsibility of a man who holds two portfolios - as Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works - and it is fairly obvious that the right hand of planning does not know what the left hand of construction is doing in these matters.
At a well-attended public meeting held recently to consider the educational needs of the Australian Capital Territory, Mr. W. D. Borrie, who is Reader in Demography at the Australian National University, and so has some knowledge of population trends and expectations, said that it was reasonable to assume that Canberra’s population would increase by 2 per cent, from natural increase and a further 2 per cent, by immigration, and that by 1966 there would be about 51,500 people in the Australian Capital Territory. lt is a fact that Canberra’s population has doubled in the last eight or nine years. That increase of population has been brought about deliberately by the transfer of government activities to this place and the transfer here of personnel to carry out those activities. Mr. Borrie foresaw a need for new infants’ schools in 1959 and 1965, for primary schools in 1958, 1961 and 1965, for secondary schools in 1959, 1961 and 1964, and for another school to be half completed by 1966. We seem to be fairly apt at providing half completed schools!
The physical problem of education here is a serious one. There is a grave shortage of school accommodation. There are school buildings that exist on paper only, and there are schools which exist in fact where classes are held in three or four different locations. There is no cohesion in those establishments.
– And the classes themselves are very big.
– The classes themselves are, indeed, very big - much beyond the limit recognized by educationalists as being desirable. In addition to the very real need for an adequate school construction programme and for enough construction to catch up with planning, there is a need to look ahead to see what the future requirements of the community will be and to plan accordingly. There is a grave need for more construction at present as well as for realistic planning for the future so that construction will keep pace with the requirements of the community.
There are other problems in the field of education here to which attention has been drawn in recent weeks in the correspondence columns of the “ Canberra Times “ and at public meetings held by school bodies and other people. Until recently, we had in
Canberra only one high school - the Canberra High School, situated on the northern side of the river. Admission to that school is by a process of selection. It is what is known as a selective high school. Over the years, the practice has been to select children for admission to the Canberra High School on the basis of intelligence quotients, aptitude for studies and an assessment of capabilities, and to relegate other children approaching secondary school age to the Telopea Park School - an intermediate high school on the southern side of the river, which, in recent years, has been elevated to the level of a high school.
The point I wish to make is that while that system exists, we shall perpetuate here something which, in other fields, has been abolished from the community. One of the criticisms levelled at Canberra in the early days of its life was that public servants transferred to the city were allocated houses in certain suburbs where house rentals were assessed as being in line with their salaries. Tn the early days of the community, there grew up a class consciousness or a snobbishness, if one can put it in that way, which was the subject of criticism. Fortunately, that has largely vanished from the community. By the effluxion of time and the progress of former juniors to the senior ranks of the Public Service, that form of snobbishness has disappeared. But we are perpetuating a class distinction and a snobbishness in our educational system - the very place where they should not exist.
The method of selecting children to attend the Canberra High School has created for that school an aura of social privilege which should not exist. The fact that a child is selected to attend the Canberra High School tends to give that child, and his parents, a feeling of superiority over other children - it extends to their parents - who have been relegated - that is the correct word - to the school on the other side, not of the railway tracks, but of the river.
That system of selection has been criticized over the years, but it has not been varied. I suggest that it is a bad system in a community such as this. Indeed, I suggest that it is a bad system in any community. Children of eleven or twelve years of age who are selected to attend the Canberra High School become known to their friends, relatives, neighbours and others in the community as children who have been chosen to attend that school, whilst children who have been relegated to what is, in fact, an inferior school - it is inferior, not in the quality of its teaching staff, but in other aspects - bear the stigma that they are not regarded as being good enough for admission to the Canberra High School. That method of selection has led to various developments in the community. It has led to the establishment, in some schools, of special coaching classes, so that the children in those classes may be selected for the Canberra High School, the school from which they are chosen thus receiving plaudits for having such a high proportion of children considered suitable to go to Canberra High School. It has led parents in this community to pay for private coaching for their children so that they may be admitted to Canberra High School, and thereafter to go to the wall; but the object is to be admitted to Canberra High School and to be recognized as some one fit to gain admittance, as a pupil, to that school.
– This problem exists in every community.
– This problem does not exist in every community, because remedial measures have been taken in the State adjacent to the Australian Capital Territory. The honorable member may not know that the education system here, while it is administered by the Department of the Interior, largely follows the curriculum of New South Wales, and that the staffs of our schools are provided by the New South Wales Department of Education.
I revert to the method of selection and the difficulties it has created over the years. When Canberra was a comparatively small community this problem had not become quite so acute or quite so prominently evident. It is true that there have been complaints over the years, and there have been suggestions that the system should be changed; but the children assessed as being capable or suitable for selection as pupils of Canberra High School came, in general, from one class of family in the Australian Capital Territory. That is, broadly, a statement which is true. Admittedly, there would be exceptions to that rule. But, with the growth of the population here, the very limit of accommodation in the Canberra High School has meant that all those children who, because they came from a certain class of families, would previously have been selected to go to Canberra High School, cannot be fitted into that institution. What has happened now is that, where previously we could say that children of this family would be admitted to Canberra High School and children of that family would go to Telopea Park High School, we now are finding, because of this selective process, that children of the same family are being assessed differently, one being judged as suitable to attend the Canberra High School and another as being fit only for Telopea Park High School, a school which includes what are known as “ general activities “ classes and which must draw, or take, all those pupils who do not gain the intellectual distinction of being selected for Canberra High School. What I suggest should be done here is what has already been done in New South Wales - that is, that the selective system should be abolished, and that we should immediately establish both our existing high schools, and future high schools constructed here, as what are known as area schools, which are schools providing a secondary education and, of course, with the school leaving age at fifteen years, most children nowadays embark on a secondary education. These schools would be established as area schools responsible to take all the children of secondary school age within the areas allotted to them, so that there would no longer be this distinction between those who are chosen and those who are not chosen to attend a certain school.
This is a very real problem. It is a problem which has been reflected in bitterness, between teams representing the two high schools in Canberra, even on the sporting field. It is a system that has led, as I have said, to a feeling of superiority and a feeling of social advantage on the one hand, and a feeling of resentment and bitterness on the other hand. I am not greatly concerned, in this matter, with anybody other than the children themselves who are attending those schools, but I think that this is a real problem. I suggest to the Minister for the Interior that he consider this matter. I suggest, further, that in this community he has a very wide field from which to draw advice on this matter of selective education. Indeed, I should think that it contains a higher proportion of graduates than any other community in Australia. We have here people who, by the very nature of their training and work, and by their scholastic attainments, are fully capable of advising the Minister on matters affecting education. I believe their opinion should be sought. I know that at a recent public meeting a suggestion was made that a standing committee of citizens should be established to advise the Minister on education. I hope that that will be done. 1 hope further - and this is a particular problem to which the Minister might direct his attention - that immediate action will be taken to see that the facilities provided for children are no different as between one school and another. We have in Canberra what has become our show piece - the Canberra High School. Every visiting educationist is shown over that high school and finds that everything is perfect. The equipment is most up to date and the building is completely adequate. The school provides, in fact, the pattern for the whole of Australia. But a visitor to this community is not shown Telopea Park High School.
– Or the technical school.
– That is so. The Telopea Park High School has been in existence for over two years. It is occupying what was formerly a primary school building. As I said in the opening stages, plans for the extension of that school were made seven years ago. They are still only plans. Nothing has been done. The equipment in the school is shocking. Children of secondary school age are required to use desks that have been thrown out of the Canberra High School as being no longer suitable and completely inadequate to the needs of a high school. These desks are too small, too shabby, and offer no facilities for the storage of books and equipment.
The sporting facilities of this school further illustrate the difference between the two high schools, and the importance that is placed on Canberra High School. They are inadequate, and approximately half what are provided at Canberra High School. The playground is in a shocking and dangerous state. I mention these things to the Minister here because this is the only place where I can mention them. 1 hope that the Minister, who undertook some months ago to visit Telopea Park High School at the earliest opportunity, will in fact have a look at it. I ask him to look at the conditions under which the children of this community are being educated in that school. I repeat that the staffing is adequate and the standard of teaching high in both schools, but that the facilities provided at Telopea Park High School are not adequate.
I suggest the establishment of area schools which would be required to take all the children in their particular areas who reach secondary school age, and so provide a held in which the bright pupil, who is not formally assessed as bright by the selection board, can have an opportunity, should he or she develop, to go on to the senior courses. I point out that this form of education is already common here in the grammar schools and other church schools. There is no selection in those schools, nor are there general activity classes. There is no need for these things in our high schools, either. I believe that every child in this community should be given an equal opportunity, and that the differentiation which exists between this child and that child - and more particularly, let it be said, between this family and that family, because largely in this community it depends who your parents are - should be abolished.
In the few minutes that are available to me I ask the Minister to take urgent action to provide a new technical college here. We have a technical college with something over 1,200 students, who are housed in ramshackle, drab, temporary structures, poked away in the industrial area of this city. That should not be allowed to continue. I hope that the Minister will ensure that it does not. For good measure, let us also give consideration to the need for the conversion of the Canberra University College to the status of a full university, providing graduate courses. I hope that these things will be done. I hope, most earnestly, that the Minister will seek the advice of people in this community who are adequately qualified to discuss with him the education problem that does exist here. I ask him, particularly, to see that there is no longer any differentiation between the treatment of children from this family and that, because I believe that all children are equal.
.- I wish to address myself to the transport system of Australia, but before doing so I should like to compliment the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) upon their very thoughtful speeches. I have chosen transport as my subject because, within twelve months, we will be facing a crisis in transport. Indeed, there is already a crisis in that field and if the transport problem, in all its aspects, is allowed to drift along from bad to worse, we shall soon be in a very serious position in every State of this country. We are desperately short of transport. The airways are crowded. Our railways are run down and inadequate. Our coastal shipping is unable to do the job that it is meant to do. Our roads are crumbling. There is a real need for an efficient transport service in this young country.
The subject of roads was dealt with very ably by my friend and colleague, the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn). I would like to mention one or two points that he did not, perhaps, touch on. We have not in Australia one road that is capable of doing the job for which it was built. The whole road system is crumbling and our rate of expansion has quite outstripped the adequacy of our roads everywhere. Not one section of the main eastern highway from Brisbane to Sydney can stand up to transport demands. Its carrying capacity should be improved by 100 per cent. On all the other highways carrying capacity should be improved by 50 per cent. Honorable members from rural electorates realize how appalling are the rural highways.
– We must get a new government.
– I ask the honorable member not to blame the State governments yet. I intend to show how we can help them do their job. It is not just a matter of filling in pot-holes, or adopting a patchandpatch policy. If we simply fill in potholes we shall never have a real roads programme, and consequently shall not progress. Roads are no more a luxury than is good health or good education. They are all essential to our well-being, and a very good investment. It is extraordinary that though we live on the verge of a great scientific and atomic age and are pushing on with huge developmental programmes, the way ahead being straight and clear, we should have a road system that is characterized by perpetual pot-holes, sharp bends, sharp shoulders and soft edges, and a railway system that is characterized by a multitude of gauges. Bad roads are an enormous burden on the community. No one can expect to escape their cost. It is not the private car owner, or the truck driver, but the person who buys household goods, who pays. As the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) pointed out, in the country every one, whether he buys a packet of salt or a bag of cement, pays for the inefficiency of our transport system.
What is the estimated minimum requirement for a reasonable and practical programme of road construction? The Australian Transport Advisory Council, under the chairmanship of the federal Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) got to work on this problem in co-operation with the States, which fed it the information that it needed. What did it have to say? I commend this report to all members who are interested in transport. It is entitled the Report of Committee of Transport Economic Research Relating to Road and Rail Transport. The States worked in perfect harmony with the Commonwealth on this committee, which put forward two points of view when looking at the financial requirements of Australia’s forward road programme. The first related to a desirable programme of works which should be carried out to provide for estimated traffic in accordance with accepted standards, regardless of whether finance, man-power and other resources would be available. The committee put aside that point of view.
Its second point of view was that this programme should work within the framework of financial possibilities and practicabilities. It was estimated that the minimum requirements for road maintenance from 1956-57 to 1965-66 would be £1,643,000,000. The committee was able to foresee in revenue from various sources a total of £1,325,000,000, which leaves a deficit of £318,000,000. That programme has been put forward by the States, working with the Commonwealth, for what they consider is a reasonable road programme. The funds available in the period of ten years fall short of the target figure by £318.000.000, but this committee anticipated that there would be increased revenue from petrol tax and from the registration of cars and that there would also be increased revenue from local government bodies.
– What about diesel fuel tax?
– That was disregarded, lt has been looked at, but levying the tax does present great practical difficulties. It has been put aside by the State Ministers for Transport. But the amount mentioned still leaves a gap to be filled by loan moneys. Good transport is essential for decentralization. No industrial organization will go into the bush and try to produce there. It must go to a place where there is a highway, good railways, and also, in these days, a good air service. It is idle for us to talk about decentralization unless we can provide good transport facilities.
It has been suggested that we should set up a national planning authority on roads and, indeed, on all transport. This could quite legitimately include the Commonwealth Department of Shipping and Transport, State authorities, local authorities, and representatives of primary and secondary industries.
– Why exclude railways?
– That is a good suggestion. I mean to include all forms of transport. This planning authority would hammer out a plan for roads. It would fix standards of roads and vehicles. It would assist the railways. It would prepare a proper budget and see how much could be accomplished year by year within the financial limits that we can foresee.
I now wish to refer to the Government members’ rail standardization committee. A very useful report was prepared by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and his committee on this matter. The report shows that for only £10,000,000 we could standardize the gauge of the railway line from Wodonga to Melbourne, lt has been estimated that that would result in a saving of £800.000 a year on transport between Brisbane and Melbourne. That would be a very big savins, and I hope that the Government will try to finance this scheme. Two States are concerned in standardizing this gauge. By standardizing railway gauges and by improving the efficiency of the railways by other means, we could relieve the States of some of the burden imposed by the high cost of transport.
I turn now to the Australian coastal shipping. I think that all members will agree that it is totally inadequate. It is not doing the job of moving freight around the coast of Australia. Car bodies move from South Australia to Sydney by road, and other heavy freights move by road also. This freight should be carried by ships. Although the Government has tried to stimulate coastal shipping, there is a great deal yet to be done, and all measures should be taken to see that a proper and adequate shipping service is maintained on the Australian coast. Unfortunately, Australia is not blessed with inland waterways. In the United States of America, 11 per cent, of the total freight is carried by inland waterways, and that does not include the Great Lakes system. In Europe, where there is a more efficient road service and a lot of money is being spent on roads, inland waterways are being extended, deepened and widened.
Airways, the other important arm of the transport service, should not be overlooked. Between capital cities, a reasonable degree of saturation has probably been reached in airways services. But there are two parts of air transport that should be encouraged and to which financial assistance should be given. I refer to country services and to developmental services. Country air services have done a tremendous job in opening up Australia, in shortening distances, in bringing supplies such as essential machinery to the country, and in rushing to give aid when it is urgently needed. They have done a tremendous job in bringing passengers, freight and produce back from the country to the city. Unless a town has an aerodrome it will gradually fall behind other towns which have air services.
I shall refer now to developmental air services. Honorable members know that New Guinea was developed almost entirely from the air. There were no roads. Supplies and machinery were flown in and produce and minerals were flown out. There, the airways filled a great need of development. In Australia, particularly in the Northern Territory and outback areas where minerals are found, instead of roads or railways being constructed in the early stages, airways have always played an important part in development. “ Air Beef “ is a very good example of that. The value of it has been recognized by the Government, which, 1 hope, will continue to do so. lt is a very good way of overcoming the lack of surface transport by flying the carcasses straight out to the meat-works.
In conclusion. 1 would say that this problem will not be solved merely by a speech in this chamber - not even by my speech, lt will not be solved by an act of Parliament, lt requires a national awakening. This has already been partly accomplished. People are becoming more and more aware of the need for a proper transport system in Australia. There is a growing awareness that something must be done, and there is an ever-growing anger against inaction. The purpose of the small contribution that 1 have attempted to make is to add another voice to those which are demanding action to tackle the basic problem of transport. The job cannot be done by the States alone, however willing and capable they may be. Nor can it be done by the Commonwealth alone. It is a national job that depends on the goodwill of every one in Australia, and Australians must be prepared to allow both the Commonwealth and the States to spend more money on transport services if success is to be achieved. Let us start immediately, because the need is urgent. As I said at the outset, if we do not begin now, we shall have very few roads worthy of the name within twelve months, and we shall have on our hands a major crisis in road, rail and other transport services. The Commonwealth and the States should tackle the job together immediately with the goodwill of every one who is conscious of this real need.
Mr. E. JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) f3.36]. - The remarks of the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) about the transport crisis were a timely contribution to this debate. He, like myself, was most disappointed, on examining the GovernorGeneral’s Speech, to find only one brief reference to transport in which it was stated that the Commonwealth and the Queensland Government were jointly to consider the improvement of the railway line between Mount Isa and Townsville.
– A very important project.
– Yes, but my information is that the 3-ft. 6-in. track will remain. If this is permitted, it will stand to the eternal disgrace of this Government and the Queensland Government. I am pleased that the honorable member for Calare dealt with the urgent problem of transport. However, he failed to point out that, at this stage in the building of our nation, 17 per cent, of our available man-power is tied up in transport, which is responsible for 30 per cent, of the costs that our national economy has to bear. No nation of 10,000,000 people can carry such a burden of transport charges.
I am sure the honorable member for Calare knows that the new 4-ft. 8-in. standard-gauge link constructed by the Commonwealth Railways in South Australia has reduced transport charges to a id. a ton mile over the 160 miles of the line. During the last recess, I travelled over that line by goods train to see for myself what had been achieved. I saw fewer than 1 00 men constructing two miles of standardgauge railway weekly with modern equipment. They were not only constructing a track but also building the earth works at a cost of less than £115,000 a mile. It would cost £150,000 a mile to construct a four-lane concrete highway, and I doubt whether, even at that cost, it would carry the heavy transports that hauliers are putting on Australia’s roads to-day. The honorable member for Calare spoke of an expenditure of approximately £160,000,000 a year for the next ten years, but this Government’s programme does not envisage the expenditure of one penny in the current financial year on the expansion of rail services in order to relieve the highways of some of the present volume of traffic. Therefore, surely the honorable member must admit that the Government is not even remotely concerned about the most serious transport situation with which Australia is confronted. I was astounded to find that the programme presented to the Parliament in His Excellency’s Speech completely ignored the transport problem. I repeat that the national economy cannot carry the burden of transport charges which represent 30 per cent, of our costs. In the United States of America, the figure is 10 per cent., and in Canada it is 9 per cent.
We talk about expanding our secondary industries and entering into effective competition with other nations on the world’s markets. If we wish to achieve our aims, we must first consider ways of reducing our transport charges. I agree that the problem is not for the State governments alone, and that the transport services can be improved, with a consequent reduction of costs, only by close co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States, if, indeed, the job can be done even then. We have reached a stage in the development of our national resources at which only the Commonwealth can meet this challenge that confronts the Australian people. I shall give the House an illustration to support that statement. The proposal to construct a 4-ft. 8i-‘m. standard-gauge railway between Albury and Melbourne to complete a standard-gauge link between Sydney and Melbourne, and usher in a new era of rail transport, will immediately cause complications at the barrier - if I may use that term - represented by the border between Victoria and New South Wales. Such a railway must serve the national interest and not the interest only of Victoria or New South Wales. An example of lack of co-operation between States is to be seen in the operation of the line between Melbourne and Adelaide. A modern dieselelectric locomotive hauls the train from Adelaide to the border, where the South Australian engines and crews are replaced by two smaller Victorian diesel-electric locomotives and their crews for the remainder of the journey to Melbourne. This is an unnecessary change-over of locomotives and crews on a line operated jointly by the two States, and it results in a stupid and uneconomic addition to costs. This Government should examine these problems on a national basis, for they must be dealt with nationally if we hope to develop Australia as we can do and must do.
I saw a somewhat disconcerting prospect when I travelled over the Commonwealth Railways routes in South Australia. The new line to Marree will be completed by the end of May or early in June. The equipment now being used on the construction of this line could then be used for the construction of the proposed line between Stirling and Broken Hill. This proposed line is the subject of an agreement between the Commonwealth and South Australia which has been ratified by acts passed by both the Commonwealth and South Australia, but nothing is yet being done about it by the Commonwealth, which is to be responsible for the construction. When the construction of the line to Marree is completed one of two things can happen. The men and equipment at present engaged can either be dispersed and allowed to rust, or the line can be pushed on from Marree towards Alice Springs at the rate of 2 miles a week, although that would not be a developmental line of the kind that the honorable member for Calare had in mind.
The Governor-General’s Speech demonstrates that this Government is incompetent to overcome our transport problems. The Speech must leave every member of the House wondering whether Australia is indeed a developing nation, because it contains not one word of hope or encouragement, and no reference to future national plans for transport, housing, or any of the other major matters that we must tackle. It is right and proper that Opposition members should look first at the human side of the Government’s failure to administer the nation’s affairs properly. When we did so, the first thing that engaged our attention was the Government’s failure to do anything constructive to meet the human needs of our national requirements. It was for that reason the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) proposed his amendment, which reads in part -
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 wilh the States, a National Housing Plan.
I was not a member of this House when the first Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was entered into. I know that it was the result of great creative efforts in 1945. As a member of the general public and of the New South Wales Parliament, I became increasingly aware of the great benefits that it conferred on home-hungry people, especially servicemen being discharged from the forces. Therefore, I think it is appropriate for us to consider the background to the agreement, especially the reasons for it, and the machinery for its administration and the other features which made it a successful innovation. Its introduction represented the trial of something new. Great importance must have been attached to Australia’s progress by those responsible for its introduction. Looking back to the original debate I found the human side, and that attracted me tremendously. The then honorable member for Fawkner, now the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), said -
There will be a general measure of agreement amongst all honorable members as to the stabilizing influence in the life of a community that adequate housing provides. It is something that we all support. If our people can be comfortably and hygienically housed, we shall solve at its root much of the social evil that otherwise can afflict a community. A great deal of crime could be avoided by better housing, and much personal discontent and family disruption could have been avoided if the families concerned had been properly housed. One would need to speak in extreme terms to exaggerate the beneficial effects on the life of the nation of a properly housed people. But if we are to have housing within the means of the workers, particularly those on the lower ranges of income, there are certain fundamental requirements that must be met. In the first place, the finance to be provided for the construction of the home must be provided at a cheap rate.
I emphasize that. The right honorable member continued -
It is true that that can be done most satisfactorily by the provision of Government finance, that is to say, making the actual capital available for building construction purposes.
Then there was an interjection -
Through the Commonwealth Bank?
The right honorable member then went on -
That is one agency, and the likelihood is that the Commonwealth could raise and provide finance at a cheaper rate than could a private institution.
I shall repeat that -
That is one agency, and the likelihood is that the Commonwealth could raise and provide finance at a cheaper rate than could a private institution.
Then the right honorable gentleman proceeded -
There cannot be much argument about that. The second point is that the materials which go into the construction of the home should be provided at the cheapest possible rate, and should be of the best quality that can be obtained for the money paid for them. That is the end of the useful sphere in which the Government can enter.
So, having that in my mind, and listening to the right honorable gentleman speak last night, I could not help but think of the difference in approach. The Minister, who is now No. 2 in the Liberal party, and the prospective Prime Minister of this country if anything untoward happens, said this -
Assuming the maintenance of satisfactory levels and in the building industry in particular, the Central Bank’s policy will continue to aim at ensuring that a reasonable proportion of increased saving in Australia becomes available for investment in housing and is employed in housing loans.
At the commencement of our housing programme the Minister thought that the best way for this Government to handle the problem was to make available cheap money for the workers on the lower wage levels. Yet last night he said, with all the emphasis in the world, that now it is a question of how much one can save and give to the banks so that they can lend it back to build a house. The thing that staggered me was that this was the same voice, these were the same lips, ringing a different tune, because the right honorable gentleman is now a member of the Government. The very things that the Leader of the Opposition is concerned with now are the principles that were enunciated by the Minister in 1945. The first is that housing must be within the means of the lower wage earners.
Although in this Australian Capital Territory the Government has retained its rental rebate policy for those in the lower income bracket, that concession is now denied to other workers throughout Australia because it has been eliminated from the 1956 agreement. One wonders just how much change of front one can expect from people when they become a government and when they start to dance to the tune of the powerful forces of finance which control this Administration.
The second point made by the Minister in 1945 was that cheap money had to be provided for home-building. That was quite an admission on his part. But now he says that money can be provided only if the workers save it and put it into the banks so that the banks can lend it back to them at an interest rate fixed by the banks, without any control at all by the Government. I have never seen, in all my parliamentary experience, such a reverse of front. He would have us believe that a person who wants a home must first save the money himself and then place himself in the hands of the private banks for the rest of his life.
The elimination of the rental rebate system completely destroys the very thing that the Minister admitted was necessary in 1945. All this Government has done by eliminating the rebate system has been to condemn to miserable temporary accommodation in the cities and towns of this country large families who can never hope to pay the full present-day economic rentals. These are the very people of whom the Minister spoke in 1945. They are in the lower wage bracket. How much more important is it to assist them now, having regard to this Government’s policy of denying them basic wage increases? If, as was agreed by members of the then Opposition - now supporters of the Government - that this was an important factor in 1945, how much more important was it in 1956?
The third thing the Minister said in his 1945 speech was that it was necessary to have the workers hygienically housed. In that respect there is another blot on this Government, in Bankstown, which now has a population of approximately 140,000, less than 10 per cent, of the people are hygienically housed. Three years ago the Australian Loan Council, at the instigation of this Government, decided that loan raisings by public authorities such as the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board in Sydney and the Metropolitan Board of Works in Melbourne were to be pegged at a lower figure. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) last night spoke about trie possibility of a drought, and what he said was correct. He referred to the possibility of a lot of things occurring in this country because of the lack of planning. Because of the lack of planning and because of the vast growth of population, mainly as the result of the vast immigration programme, Sydney is now in the position that, if it suffered a drought for eighteen months, no water would be in the taps.
– That is happening in your own State.
– That position has not been caused by the State government. Through the Australian Loan Council, this Government decided three years ago that the permissible loan money of the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board in Sydney was to be pegged at £6,500,000 a year, and that decision has remained ever since. Last year the board raised more than the permissible amount, but the Treasurer took the additional amount from that. In the five years that this Government has had complete control of the Australian Loan Council and of this Parliament, the number of unsewered homes in the metropolitan area of Sydney has increased from 90,000 to 180,000. More than 1,100 children go to schools to which sewerage services cannot be provided for many years. That situation has arisen because this Government has no forward planning for Australia or its cities. What could happen in those unsewered areas is typical of what could happen in any Asiatic town or city. J hope that disease does not strike in those areas, but if it does this Government will be responsible.
Let me take Bankstown as an illustration. Bankstown has a population of 140.000 and has not sufficient vacant blocks of land to permit development beyond another 4,000 people. Unless funds are made available to permit the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board in Sydney to proceed with a forward planning programme, it will not be possible within the next twenty years to provide sewerage in the areas of East Hills, Yagoona and other outlying parts. Two major jobs must be done and each of them will cost £2,000,000. To ensure that Sydney is not caught unprepared by a drought and to ensure thai water is in the taps for use by the residents, including the thousands of immigrants brought here by the Government, the water board must spend not less than £3.500,000 a year on Warragamba Dam. If a drought is suffered before the completion of the work, it will be bad luck for the City of Sydney.
As the permissible loan funds of the water board have been pegged at £6.500,000 a year, no money will be available for the two major works. Because no money is available for the two major works, this Government, and the State government, if it is involved, must look at this problem realistically and must plan, as the honorable member for Gwydir said last night, not only for the rural industries but also for the growth of this country. I hesitate to think of what will happen if we should suffer a drought for eighteen months. The City of Sydney would be without a drop of water in the taps because there is no forward planning by this Government. I cannot believe that this Government is not responsible because, in the last housing agreement, the Government insisted upon the States specifically accepting a condition that not one penny of the funds provided for housing should be spent on sewerage, electricity or any other services. The Government made that condition in its legislation and in the agreement, and imposed that condition upon the States. Therefore, this Government is responsible.
This Government did a very good job from 1949 until 1953, before it moved away from the forward planning of the Chifley Government. From that time, the members of the Government have got up in the morning, read the newspapers before breakfast and decided what to do on that day. The Government has no future programme for anything. It has not planned any major works. Work on the St. Mary’s project will soon be drawing to a close, but nothing has been planned to take its place so as to use the man-power that will then be available. At some stage, the big Snowy Mountains scheme will finish, but nothing has been planned to take its place. The curtain is gradually being drawn on the programme planned by Labour. Because of that, historians will describe the Governor-General’s Speech as the record of a government without effort and without a plan for Australia, and a government that is not likely to develop a plan. The back benchers opposite should realize that Australia is for Australians and, if the present members of the Government cannot plan development, it is time that they were replaced, even without an election.
.- After listening for some time to the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), I am more than ever convinced that I live in the best State in Australia. We have certain difficulties and troubles, and, like most States, we always lay the troubles at the door of the Commonwealth. The only thing for which the Commonwealth has not been blamed in the administration and government of Western Australia during the last few years is the mysterious stones that have been falling somewhere in the electorate of the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth). It is only a matter of time before some one will blame the Commonwealth for that, too.
In this debate on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply and on the amendment moved by the Opposition, I join with others in the congratulations that have been extended to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury), who moved and seconded the motion. At the outset, I wish to make a slight correction to the speeches of two honorable members from my State. The honorable member for- Canning (Mr. Hamilton), in the heat of the debate, made a statement about our hardwoods. That statement is definitely untrue and could be extremely damaging to the timber trade of Western Australia. It is a fact that white ants are attracted to karri, but the attraction of white ants to karri could not be compared with the attraction of white ants to Oregon. In this building, I believe that the second floor is of Oregon, but nothing has happened to it because of the situation of the timber. Jarrah is most white ant resistant. I hope that any impression formed in the minds of members of the public will be dispelled by evidence that can be produced. Such evidence will prove conclusively that the statement was made in error or that the honorable member was misquoted in “ Hansard “.
The other thing I want to correct is a statement by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) who said last week that a very snide trick was being employed in Western Australia. I assume that he means it is being used by officers of the Commonwealth Employment Service. I say categorically that the officers of the Commonwealth Employment Service in Western Australia at all times act in the best interests of the unemployed and cannot on any account be accused of snide tricks. The statement was made under Parliamentary privilege and is one that should be corrected by the honorable member. It does a grave injustice to some very loyal people in Western Australia who are doing their utmost to relieve the hardships that exist because of certain unemployment in the State.
– The honorable member should ask the Minister to show him the letter which bears 51 signatures, as I said.
– I do not have to ask the Minister, because I have seen the letter. I am sure that if I took a petition to people and said, “ Will you sign this petition which says that black is white “ I could get 51 signatures on it. The easiest thing in the world is to get 51 signatures from amongst 400,000 people. The honorable member for Stirling should stand by . his statement - outside this House - that the officers of the Commonwealth Employment Service are using very snide tricks in the performance of their duties.
I pass now to the question of employment in Western Australia. It is true that Western Australia is suffering from a slight recession of employment. The figures given by the Department of Labour and National Service show a fluctuation from time to time and at present show an improvement in the employment situation. I know that the figures given by this department can be used only as a guide, because they never indicate the true position, due to the fact that certain tests are applied before people can qualify for unemployment benefits. However, they can at least be used as a guide. The indications are that the situa tion, which before Christmas was unsatisfactory, has shown some improvement.I should like to read a passage from the “ Industrial News “, although I know that some honorable members opposite will say that this is a biased publication because it is issued by the Western Australian Employers Federation Incorporated. It reads -
The capacity of Perth business concerns to increase employment after the downturn of 1956 is steadily improving and the proportion of employers who are putting on labour again considerably exceeds that which has retrenched personnel since Christmas.
The publication gives figures concerninga review undertaken among employers of labour in Perth. A series of questions was asked of 80 employers who were employing work forces of between six and 1,000. The questions and answers were as follows: -
It is obvious, in the kind of economy to which this country must become accustomed, that if we are to rely upon expansion we must expect some sort of indigestion from that expansion. I think, and I hope, that Western Australia has passed the worst of the troubles that beset it over the last few months. I refuse to believe that a depression can be brought upon this nation except when that depression springs from a considerable fall in the prices of our primary products. I believe that the economy of the country will be sound if primary production is kept at a high level and the prices obtained for that produce remain at a reasonably high level. If we study all the depression periods through which we have passed, we will find that the worst periods occurred when the primary products of the country began to become surplus and their prices dropped considerably. We may have our minor recessions in the industrial fields, but since ours is primarily a country that depends upon its exports, and exports that are won from the soil, there is no need for any one to rush into print with statements that Australia is bound for a depression. Unfortunately, newspapers can bring on a semidepression simply by making such statements. In the field of private enterprise businessmen are not inclined to take bold forward steps to assist the development of the country when they read in the newspapers of the likelihood of a depression. We should look forward with confidence and encourage a belief in the future of the nation while the overseas prices of our primary products remain at a reasonable level. The newspapers themselves have a duty to the workers of this country, and should not influence people throughout the community into believing in the inevitability of a depression.
The Opposition’s amendment to the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply concerns the housing question. The early part of the debate resolved itself into an argument as to whether or not there is a crisis in housing. I believe that the dictionary defines a crisis as something concerned with a peak. It has to do with something that happens of an extremely drastic nature. I venture to say that there is no crisis in housing, even though it may be shown that there is a shortage of housing. A crisis in housing in this country was reached about the year 1948. Many honorable members of. this Parliament were themselves badly affected by that housing crisis, and have painful memories of that period. During a debate in this House last year on the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Bill, I pointed out that of all the houses built in Western Australia and offered to members of the public under the rental provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, one-third were rejected because their locality was unsuitable, or because they were not of a satisfactory design, or for some other such reason. It is true that those houses did not go untenanted. Other persons were given the opportunity to occupy them. But when we reach the point where a house is offered to a person and is rejected because of its location, or its distance from a person’s place of work, it can hardly be claimed that there is a housing crisis.
I believe that Western Australia has had a good deal of advantage over other States in the matter of housing. As has been mentioned in this House, the rents and tenancies legislation was completely struck off the statute-book five or six years ago. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) made the point that the immediate result of this was that rents rose from about £1 10s. to about £4 4s. It is true that rents were increased, but surely it must be accepted that persons can agree on an economic rental for a property or for any other possession, and while the rents and tenancies legislation was in existence, and a person could not evict a tenant, and could not charge an economic rental, thousands of tenants would not move from large homes that had become too big for their purposes, their families having grown up. They remained in those homes, to the detriment of families that required larger homes. The position changed, however, as soon as the amending legislation was passed. People then began to move into smaller houses or flats, thus making available to larger families accommodation that was readily accepted. The rents then started to level off.
I think that in 1948, when the present Opposition was in government, rentals in Western Australia, under the rental provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, were based on the economic rentals, which could be taken roughly as £1 a week for each £1,000 of the cost of building a home. In other words, if a house cost £1,500 to build, the rent was £1 10s. a week. The person occupying a home was called upon to pay an economic rental, either an amount based on a fair return for investment or else one-fifth of that person’s total family income, whichever was the less. The system worked quite well. Now that house building costs have increased so greatly, I believe that a different system has been instituted, under which rentals are paid according to a sliding scale. This sliding scale constitutes the reply to those who say that men will not accept a couple of days’ work because that would endanger their rent rebates. I think that if a man has been unemployed for a certain period in Western Australia, and he occupies a rental home under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, his rent is reduced to something like 9s. a week. But under the agreement that he signs when he enters the home, if his income is £4 a week the maximum rent is 8s. a week, regardless of the cost of the home. When his income is £5 the rent is 12s.; when it is £6 the rent is 17s., and with an income of £7 a week the occupier pays £1 2s. a week in rent. The sliding scale is worked out on that basis, and if the family income is £20 a week the rent charged can be as high as £4 18s. a week.
There is only one feature of this system with which I disagree. That is the provision that includes a war pension in the total income. I found out only recently that this was the case, and I shall make some representations to the State Government in regard to this matter. I do not criticize that Government for something that it has not had a chance to correct. The family income, for rental purposes, is based on the whole income of the person receiving the highest income, two-thirds of the second highest income in the house, and one-third of the income of the remaining members of the family, or £1 10s. a week, whichever is the lower. If the income is less than 10s., it is excluded. It will be seen, therefore, that anybody who was receiving unemployment benefits, or who was engaged in casual labour, would qualify for one of these homes, and that would be the only way in which he would be eligible to qualify, regardless of whether he accepted it or not.
I wish to say this in reply to the criticism of the Commonwealth Employment Service and its alleged snide trick, that I believe that 98 per cent, of the working people of Australia would prefer to do two days’ work and be paid for it than not to work at all and accept unemployment benefits, because I am of the opinion that 98 per cent, of the people in the community still feel that there is some dignity about working and receiving payment for work. I believe that they would prefer to do that in most cases, and if that is so, it completely cuts across the argument that has been presented by honorable members opposite.
On the question of housing and the restriction of credit, I have made several inquiries in Western Australia and have found that the restriction that applies is restriction of the amount of money that is available and the amount of money that is invested in savings banks, and not a restriction that has been imposed by this Government. The Commonwealth Bank, which will still advance £2.500 for a brick house, £2,250 for a timber house, or £2,000 for a timber frame house, on terms of repayments over 25 years for a brick house and over 22 years for other types, is letting out a considerable amount each month. In January, it did not use the quota which it had allocated for home-building loans. Of course, there is a reason for that. I do not know whether this also applies in other States, but in Western Australia a considerable period of the month of January is lost because the whole of the building trades workmen take their annual holidays. I think the holidays extend over approximately three weeks, and the idea is to compensate for certain public holidays that the workers do not take. The arrangement gives them their holidays at a time that is convenient .to all.
Such loans by the Commonwealth Bank bear interest at the rate of 5 per cent., but they certainly will not be given to everybody who walks along to the bank. A person who applies for a loan must have certain assets, and I think that the members of this Parliament, even those who are so vociferous concerning the alleged hard treatment of some people, would not lend their own money, or their own car, or their own house unless they had some security in return. Sometimes we criticize a government for doing something that we ourselves are prone to do. The bank, in the interests of its clients, expects a person who applies for a loan in respect of a brick house to have all the money that is required in excess of £2,500, and even when he has met that requirement the bank would like to see some £200 in the bank, because what happens usually is that on the completion of the house the person concerned goes off and ties himself up with hire-purchase arrangements for furniture, a radio, a refrigerator, and so on, and may not be in a position to meet the repayments of the loan.
I found that one of the private banks, about which I made inquiries, imposes almost identical conditions. Only recently, the Commonwealth Bank brought the level of the advance of £2,000 up to £2,500 for a brick home, following the example set by the trading banks. One bank in Western Australia is lending £500,000 a month, money that has been raised through the establishment of a savings bank. However much we may criticize the trading banks for conducting savings banks, it is well to remember that the establishment of such savings banks did not decrease the overall amount of money available for the uses to which money was being put. It merely increased the number of places where money could be kept. Money which normally would be banked with the Commonwealth Bank is now available to the Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited, the Bank of New South Wales, and other trading banks. The opening of savings banks by the private banks must have encouraged a lot of people who were not operating savings accounts to do so by taking money from their trading bank accounts.
During the course of the debate last night, newspaper advertisements were read to illustrate the claim that amazing rentals were being paid for houses. Once again, it seems to me that we are fortunately situated in Western Australia. I know that there is not a house for everybody who wants one. The most chaotic social condition that could arise in this country would come about when everybody who wanted a house had a house, because the immediate result of that would be cessation of the production of building materials, and cessation of operations by all the builders and the people associated with the building industry.
– We could entertain ourselves with slum clearance for a few years!
– Yes, that is true, but somewhere in between the intensive housing shortage and a complete solution of the housing problem there must be the right road to travel, with a need to build houses for a certain number of people and a guarantee of employment for the building tradesmen, plus a guarantee of employment for the people who are making the building materials.
– There are always new marriages.
– That also is true, but the number of new marriages in this country would not alone keep the labour force in the building industry fully employed, nor would it keep in continuous operation those producing building materials, production that expanded rapidly when the housing situation was at its worst.
Mr. Beazley interjecting,
– Order! The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) is not even in his own place.
– Three months ago, men who were producing bricks in Western Australia were told that production had ceased. At the present moment there is a wait of up to three months for first-class bricks because building is picking up. Therefore, at all times it is necessary to regulate supply to demand. if it is desired to guarantee employment to everybody; but as I said previously, if we panic over these issues there will come a time when we shall get ourselves into more trouble than we thought we were in when we took action.
At the present time we can read in newspapers advertisements to the effect that eligible ex-servicemen, on payment of a deposit of £200 or £300, may have a home built. If an ex-serviceman owns a block of land, no deposit may be necessary. He can have a house built immediately. At Mount Lawley, for instance, and in all other suburbs of Perth, there are houses for sale. It is ridiculous, therefore, to. say that there is a housing crisis in the true meaning of the word “ crisis “, even though it is possible to admit that there is a housing shortage in the community.
The International Labour Organization, in Geneva, last June issued a statement that workers’ homes were below par almost everywhere in the world. In the course of a long article, it set out the conditions in certain other countries, conditions that are far worse than those we have experienced during our worst period. The article stated that this was primarily due to the fact that the house-building industry had experienced less reduction in costs, as a result of the industrial revolution, than perhaps any other industry catering to the basic needs of the workers. It went on to say that the blame for the world’s housing shortage rested with wars, large-scale population movements from country to city, natural disasters, and ever-increasing rates of growth of population.
– That sounds to me like a recitation of the evils of capitalism.
– I read it from the journal of the International Labour Organization. I believe that some representatives of the party to which the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) belongs are about to go to Geneya to discuss other matters. He might care to instruct them to ask the organization to write articles which will be more acceptable to him.
I feel that the housing question, as it affects Western Australia, is different from that of New South Wales. We in Western Australia, knowing our position a little better than some honorable members in. this House, will not agree that there is a national crisis in housing. There are many things which can be done by the Commonwealth to assist the advancement of Western Australia, and
I suggest that the first thing is to get rid of the lop-sided development that is taking place in the Commonwealth. Never has there been in Western Australia a scheme which could be compared to, say, the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, which will help the eastern States. If we could get one such scheme started in Western Australia, thereby showing that the attitude of the eastern States was not entirely parochial, I believe that the future of Western Australia would be as bright as that of any State in the Commonwealth.
.- 1 join with the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and all other members of the Opposition in supporting wholeheartedly this move to censure the Government. We are not alone in believing that the Government should be censured, because every State Premier, whether Liberal or Labour, has identified himself with our amendment.
– They have not.
– Yes, they have. The Liberal Premier of Victoria and the Liberal Premier of South Australia have told the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in no uncertain terms what they expect this National Government to do. It is deplorable that such a housing crisis should have come about, but it has been coming for the last five or six years. If I am accused this afternoon of repeating statements and warnings that I have voiced in this House year after year, I shall not apologize for doing so, because ever since this Government came into office it has been apparent that the housing shortage would eventually become as acute as it is to-day. We of the Labour party agree with the Government that there must be immigration to this country, but we do not agree that hundreds of thousands of immigrants should be sent to all States of the Commonwealth without making preparations to house them.
Honorable members opposite blame the New South Wales Government for the housing shortage in that State, but the responsibility for the shortage lies on the shoulders of the National Parliament. I thought that the Prime Minister had been misreported when I read recently a press report to the effect that he had said that in two or three years things would balance themselves out in the field of housing, but apparently the report was accurate. When the Parliament was opened a few days ago, I heard the Governor-General refer in his Speech to arrears of housing; so, evidently, the advisers of His Excellency were well aware that there was a shortage of houses in Australia.
The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) has said that everything is all right in Western Australia, but when I was there a few months ago I heard dozens of people complain of the difficulty of obtaining accommodation. I have a cousin who is employed by the Rural Bank in Geraldton, and I visited him. He is paying £5 5s. a week for a verandah and one small room. Friends of mine who have approached the Hegney brothers, two members of the Western Australian Parliament, have been waiting for two or three years for the chance to get a home. Therefore, it would not appear that there are homes empty to-day in Western Australia. It does no credit to the honorable member for Perth when he says that plenty of homes are available in that State. There is unemployment in the building industry in Western Australia, and men engaged in the industry have been told they should be satisfied with two days’ work a week. Possibly some of those men will go to Sydney to look for jobs there, and the shortage of houses in that city will become worse than it is now.
We have heard spokesmen for the Government make promises in this Parliament to ex-servicemen that they would be helped to obtain homes. I ask the Prime Minister this afternoon: When will the time come when an ex-serviceman can obtain a loan from the Government to enable him to buy a home on a cash basis? Honorable members opposite say that the Government gives ex-servicemen this and that, but many thousands of ex-servicemen are unable to obtain housing loans. I have in my hand a letter written to me by an exserviceman who has just signed a contract for the purchase of a home. He was short of £1,000, which he had to borrow. He was obliged to agree to pay interest on that money at the rate of 10 per cent. His interest payments on the loan will be £1 18s. 3d. a week. That case is typical of many others.
This Government will, of course, bc defeated at the next general election. When Labour is returned to office then, it will have to provide finance for the loans which members of this Government, sticking out their chests, say they are giving to our ex-servicemen. The Government is not giving loans to the ex-servicemen. An ex-serviceman who applies for a loan from the War Service Homes Division is told that, if he wants to build or buy a house within a short time, he must borrow the necessary money from a private bank, an insurance company or anywhere else that he can raise it, because the Government cannot make him a loan for eighteen months. In eighteen months, this Government will not exist. When a Labour government has come into power, it will be forced to make provision for lending the money that honorable members opposite claim that this Government is lending to ex-servicemen now. Ex-servicemen who wish to buy houses are being forced to raise loans for sixteen or eighteen months from private sources at high rates of interest. In the name of justice, how can an ex-serviceman with a wife and family to care for carry on under those circumstances?
There are 30,000 homeless people in New South Wales. Last Monday, at the Glebe magistrate’s court a woman with a child of eight months of age in her arms was given 24 hours’ notice to vacate the premises in which she was living. The magistrate said to the police, “ You had better take this woman to see her member of Parliament. It is his job and the Housing Commission’s job to find her a home “. She was classed as a trespasser in the place in which she had been living. It was owned by the Perpetual Trustee company, which had put in a caretaker. He had let in the woman and her husband and had charged them £3 10s. a week in rent. When that was found out, proceedings were taken and the couple were given 24 hours’ notice to vacate the premises. When my daughter telephoned me at the Commonwealth Bank building in Martin-place. Sydney, and told me of the case, I said. That is a State matter”. A policeman had taken the woman to see her State member at Parliament House in Sydney. Honorable members opposite say that the New South Wales Government should provide homes for homeless people in that State, but I say that it is this Government which should find the homes. It is taking 15s. of every £1 of the taxes collected in New South Wales. Honorable members opposite boast that the Government is giving money to the States at 3 per cent, or 4 per cent, interest, but that money has been raised from the taxpayers.
The Government has boasted of the loan moneys that it gives to the States. Let me tell honorable members of another case which will illustrate the present position in New South Wales. I know of a young couple who have been married for fifteen months. They acquired a very small business in Leichhardt and then they tried to find a house or a room near to their place of business. Having bought the business, they had little money to spare, so they had to look for rented accommodation. Eventually, they had to go to South Hurstville, 15 miles away, to get a room. The landlord was a wool classer, who was going away into the country, and he told the young couple that they could stay for four or five months. That period will be up within two weeks. On each of the last two Saturdays, they have inserted an advertisement in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “, seeking accommodation. The cost of each advertisement in that paper is £5. They have also inserted advertisements in local newspapers. They are prepared to pay at least £6 a week for accommodation within 5 miles of the Leichhardt Town Hall. The wife is working and, as they have no children, they would not cause much inconvenience to any one who gave them the shelter they require. Nevertheless, they cannot find a room within a radius of 10 miles of the centre of Sydney. Yet we have to listen to the cries of the Menzies-Fadden Administration, to the excuses of the men now in office who have starved these people time and time again over the years.
Ex-servicemen in Sydney come to me day after day pleading for a shortening of the time that they have to wait for finance for a war service home. But they cannot be helped. They still have to wait sixteen or eighteen months for finance to build or buy a home through the War Service Homes Division. If they do not want to wait so long they have to borrow the money from private financial institutions and pay on it the tremendous interest rate of 10 per cent., until their money eventually comes to them through the official channels. Not only are they involved in a high interest charge on the capital, but they also have to pay solicitor’s and mortgagee’s fees, which raise the rate of interest, in effect, to 12 per cent, or 15 per cent. This is what the men who fought for this country in war are forced to do because of this Government’s do-nothing policy.
The Government has not done the job that it promised in 1949 it would do. During the 1949 election campaign the parties now in office promised, through the present Prime Minister, to bend all their energies to seeing that young married people got a home to live in. But ever since then the housing position has been going from bad to worse. The Chifley Labour Government entered into an agreement with the States in respect of housing, and honorably carried out that agreement. It said to the States. “We will find the money if you will build the homes “. Today, in this great nation, timber yards, brick-yards and saw-mills are closing down, and hundreds of men are being thrown out of employment because the Government’s policy of drift has put the home-building industry into the doldrums. Yet the Menzies Government and its representatives and supporters have the colossal effrontery to say that there is no crisis, and that everything will level itself out in a couple of years’ time.
Last week the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), the estate agent who lives in a magnificent home of seven or eight rooms, said that there are 40,000 people in New South Wales, spinsters and single men, who are living in homes not fully occupied, which could be used to relieve the housing shortage. I ask the Minister for the Army how many boarders or lodgers he has in his big house. Honorable members opposite talk about socialism and all kinds of “’ isms “, but the Minister for the Army would compel a person who bought his own home, and spent his life savings doing it, to take in star boarders or lodgers. That is the estate agent speaking. He is the man whose land was acquired by the New South Wales Government on behalf of exservicemen who fought for this country in war, and, because he did not like the price offered, refused to accept the cheque, hoping that the New South Wales Labour Government would be beaten at the next election and be replaced by an anti-Labour government which would give him a higher price for the land. That matter was ventilated in this House three or four years ago. The Minister will be sadly disillusioned if he still thinks that the New South Wales Labour Government will be beaten on the next occasion it faces the electors. The next government to be thrown out of office by the electors, irrespective of whether it remains in office for another three months, six months or twelve months, is the Menzies Government. The results of the next general election for this House will be a repetition of the results of the federal by-election for Flinders and the State by-election for Ashfield. Four years ago there was no mistake about the fact that the government of this country was being so badly managed that the people wanted it changed.
– Does not the honorable member know that we hold the Flinders seat to-day?
– You may hold Flinders to-day, but you will not hold it to-morrow, and I can assure the honorable member that when the opportunity arises we will march to our places on the treasury bench, and there will be homes for the people. The immigrants we are bringing to this country to help provide us with a population more appropriate to the area we inhabit are deserving of a home when they arrive here. But it is impossible to find a home in New South Wales.
The Governor-General told us in his Speech - possibly he was told to do so by his advisors - that the aged people in Australia would be looked after. But what chance have aged people and pensioners of competing in the market for homes, when young couples in the prime of their lives are able to offer £6 a week for a room or two? What chance has a pensioner living on the paltry pittance of £4 a week, which this Government gives him, of competing for a home? Yet the Government is boasting that it is providing accommodation for aged people. It introduced a measure to encourage the building of homes for the aged, and that was all very well. On the occasion of the introduction of that measure I gave full marks to the Government for the principle inherent in what it proposed to do. But I said at the time that the total subsidy of £1,500,000 a year, to assist institutions throughout the whole of
Australia to build homes for the aged, was too little, and that the conditions attached to the granting of the subsidy were too restrictive. My contention that they are too restrictive is borne out by the fact that although for two succeeding years the sum of £1,500,000 has been voted by this Parliament for the purpose, scarcely half of it has been used, the reason being that the provisions of the law make it impossible for institutions which care for old people to qualify for a subsidy. The institutions have to find 50 per cent, of the cost of any home that they wish to build before the Government will subsidize them with the other 50 per cent. They have to own the land on which the home is to be built. Many people give their whole adult lives to the charitable work of finding accommodation for the aged and helping them in other ways, yet this Government offers a mere £1,500,000 a year in assistance, and only on condition that the same amount is raised by the charitable workers.
Municipal councils are doing a good job, and I was pleased to see in the press this morning a report of a meeting concerned with housing which was attended by many prominent social workers and officials. This is a cause in which I have interested myself for many years and which, as honorable members know, has been the subject of many of my speeches in this House. The report reads -
The Old People’s Welfare Council of New South Wales was formed at a meeting in Sydney Town Hall yesterday.”
The main object of the council is to investigate and promote better living conditions for old people in New ‘South Wales.
In this work it will co-operate with existing Governmental, municipal and voluntary organizations.
It will help provide facilities for physical and mental recreation, and the relief of ill-health, poverty and distress.
The important persons who took part in that meeting include Sir Hugh Poate, who was elected chairman of the council’s provisional executive committee, Miss M. Halse Rogers, who was elected secretary, Dr. A. Ungar, who was elected Treasurer, Bishop R. C. Keile, Monsignor F. McCosker, Reverend W. D. O’Reilly, Mr. M. C. Alder, Mr. P. J. Baldwin, Mrs. W. H. Cullen, Mr. J. Luscombe, Mr. G. D. Mackay, Dr. O. Mater, Mr. S. Morrell and Miss K, Ogilvie. Dr. Mater is Health Officer of the Sydney City Council. Four years ago he was a Liberal. He went to England for surgery for a throat infection, and since his return he has given all his time to trying to improve facilities in Sydney to bring them into line with those he saw in England.
In Sydney we have great benefactors like Sir Edward Hallstrom, who is famous as the father of Taronga Zoological Park and, for the good of the nation, has brought many animals from overseas. But he has never forgotten the human side of life, and donates a refrigerator worth £130 every year for disposal to assist the pensioners of West Sydney to help whom a dance is held annually in Sydney Town Hall. This year’s dance will be held on 27 th September, and 1 invite all members of the Liberal party who can do so to attend it and help to swell the proceeds, which are to be devoted to the cause of the pensioners.
The Menzies-Fadden Administration has ruined this country. Years ago wages in Australia were, only a few pounds a week. How could the people who are now elderly have made provision for their old age? Surely it would not be too much for the Government to give a decent home life to poor aged folk who have sent their sons and daughters overseas to fight for your home and mine. Inflation would not be aggravated by giving them a little more with which to buy nourishment in the coming winter. When tea, sugar and everything else goes up in price, the pensioner must pay, just as does any one else. Any extra money that was given to the pensioner would be back in circulation a week later.
I have previously mentioned a certain organization and, though I do not think the people concerned would thank me for doing so, I intend to mention it again. I refer to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which every month helps 18,000 people. Every day, especially in the last two or three days before pension day, unfortunate people flock to the society for assistance. Honorable members know the price of clothing and boots. How can these people be expected to clothe themselves on the present pension? Honorable members calmly sit here and give money to Asian countries - though I admit that the Labour party has supported this - and allow their own kith and kin in this great country of Australia to starve.
We of the Labour party have the support of every State in censuring this Government. We have the support of at least two Government supporters in this Parliament. Last night the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) made a similar appeal to my own, and condemned the Government for its inactivity. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) similarly denounced the Government. If one were to have a private conversation with any Liberal party member who possessed some degree of humanity one would have further confirmation of the real feeling on the Government benches.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) came here the other night and said, in his coldblooded way, “ In a couple of year’s time this will balance itself out “. The impression he gave was that it was not more money that was needed - if necessary this could be provided - but more materials and labour. He was afraid that giving more money would accentuate inflation. I remind him that in Sydney to-day hundreds of men are looking for jobs, and 18,000,000 bricks are stored at grass, awaiting use. How can any one say that Labour ought not to condemn the Government? I hope and trust that Labour’s opportunity will come. Labour will remember the good work that servicemen did for this country overseas and will treat them as they should be treated. They will no longer have to go to pawn shops or elsewhere and borrow money at 10 per cent., 15 per cent., or 20 per cent. The Government makes ex-servicemen wait eighteen months for the money that they need if they are to get a home. It is the Labour party that will be paying out that money, and it will be more shame to supporters of the present Government.
.- It is unfortunate that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) should, by moving a censure motion on housing, have confined this debate to too narrow a front. There are before the public attention matters of such importance as to deserve the fullest discussion during this debate on the Address-in-Reply. The Leader of the Opposition, in moving his censure motion, seems to have disagreed with his colleagues. . I noticed that a former leader in another place said that housing should be dealt with on the highest national plane, and quite apart from party politics. The present
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna) has said that this matter should be dealt with in a national way, and that a referendum should be conducted to give the Federal Parliament some control over housing. I will show, during my speech, that this Parliament already has great control over housing and can deal with it very effectively, as was done by the Bruce-Page Government.
– A very good government.
– It was, indeed, lt left such monuments as the Financial Agreement, the Federal Aid Roads Agreement, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. These, achievements, though laughed at by the Opposition, are appreciated by every one else in the community. Food and shelter are surely two matters that should be above party politics and the gibes of honorable members opposite. They are the most important needs of every individual in the community. The plight of the starving and homeless appeals to the deepest springs of humanity in all of us. It is most important that there should be enough food for all, and to spare. It is equally important that we should have sufficient housing to accommodate every one who wishes to come to this country. It is better to have too much rather than too little.
The concept of an Australian homeconsumption price, based on the cost of production, which I introduced when I was a member of the Bruce-Page Government, ensures that we shall always have enough food. Subsequent measures by governments of Labour and LiberalAustralian Country party persuasion have perpetuated this safeguard. Housing, because of its influence on all the problems that affect us vitally, and especially the great problem of immigration, should be dealt with in the same way. Most of us feel thats in this matter of population is really bound up the whole question of our ultimate survival. We have a half-empty continent. I have before me a map that was prepared for me by the Bureau of Census and Statistics. It shows that more than half the total area of Australia lies north of the 26th Parallel, yet it contains no more than 400,000 people. In the same region falls three-quarters of the total heavy rainfall of Australia. Also, fourfifths of the artesian water-bearing areas are to be found there. This 400,000 is the ragged army of inhabitants on whom we must depend to face an oncoming foe from the north. We must do what we can to make Australia attractive so that we shall encourage the best types - especially skilled men who can build houses and employ the latest technical skills on our farms and in our industries - to come here from overseas. We can do that by ensuring that we are in a position to offer them homes when they arrive.
Because of my experience in this Parliament, and in this country, I wish to look at this whole problem objectively with a view to seeing how best we may obtain money for housing and, as well, the general development of Australia. If we are to have a successful policy, we must be clear about its aim. Do we wish to build houses for rental, or for ownership? Do we wish to have continual government interference, or automatic action by agencies outside government control but subject to the law of this Parliament? I desire to offer constructive suggestions to help determine what we should do about housing, immigration, development and defence. First, do we wish to cater for tenants or home-owners?
– Both I
– As I shall prove in a moment, the overwhelming majority of Australians want their own homes. When Mr. Dedman, as Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, brought down the original housing agreement bill he said that the Labour party was not concerned with homeownership. He is recorded in “ Hansard “ as having said that the Commonwealth Government was concerned to provide adequate and good houses for the workers; that it was not concerned with making workers into little capitalists. Yet he refused to accept an amendment moved by the Opposition that a tenant should be granted the option of buying his home. As the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) has said; the agreement to which I have referred has many good points, but this is a bad point. It will be found that three out of the ten pages of the agreement deal entirely with tenants. As a result, everything has been done by many State governments to try to prevent the building of more houses for people to own. That has been the policy carried out by many Labour governments under the 1945 housing agreement. What has been the result?
In my hand I hold a graph prepared by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics. It shows that in 1947 about 43 per cent, of dwellings were rented. In 1954 the figure was 34 per cent., a diminution of about 20 per cent. Home ownership has gone up from 44 per cent, to 48 per cent., an increase of 10 per cent. But the number of homes being bought on instalments has increased from 7.9 per cent, to 16 per cent., an increase of about 100 per cent. In other words, 63 per cent, of the people of Australia have declared that they believe in home ownership. Therefore, in this Parliament, we should try to carry out their will. The honorable member for West Sydney mentioned that certain commendations of the 1945 legislation were made by honorable members on our side when the measure was debated. But the important point is that the people of Australia desire home ownership. The agreement of 1945 was made for a period of ten years. That was unfortunate, because agreements on such matters should not be so long. The agreement of 1955, instead of having three pages dealing with tenants, had only two, and one of them dealt entirely with the way in which the occupier could buy his home.
In 1956 another agreement was formulated under which the Menzies Government provided that, in the first two years, 20 per cent, of the money found by the Commonwealth for the States for housing purposes should be diverted to housing agencies to enable people to buy their own homes. It provided that in the succeeding three years, not less than 30 per cent, of the money provided by the Commonwealth should be devoted to that purpose. That provision was made following the definite indication given by the census figures that it was what the overwhelming majority of the people desired. That was satisfactory. But I desire to go further. I desire, for a number of reasons, to see this matter taken entirely from the hands of the governments of Australia and placed in the hands of the savings banks.
What is happening at the present time regarding housing finance? The money has largely come from the savings banks. It is borrowed by the banks at 2i per cent. It is lent to the Government at a rate of about 5 per cent. Then, if it is to be used for housing, it is lent to various agencies at an increased rate to enable them to do their job or, in the case of the loan agreement, it is lent at the rate of 4i per cent., the taxpayer finding the difference between the rate at which it has been borrowed and the rate at which it is lent. Rather than go through that circuitous way, would it not be better if we let the savings bank, which is paying 24- per cent., deal with the housing agencies or the individual home seeker and lend them the money at 3i per cent., instead of 5i per cent.? By paying 1 per cent, above the rate paid by the bank for the money instead of paying 3 per cent, above that rate, the borrower would save 2 per cent.
What would be the effect of that saving on the type of home that a man could get? A man who paid 2 per cent, less on the money that he borrowed could get a house worth £1,000 more than he would otherwise have been able to afford, and pay no more in interest than he would have paid at the higher rate. Therefore, this Parliament should use the power that it has already exercised once. In 1927, I brought down in this Parliament a measure which had, I think, the approbation of all parties at that time. It provided that 50 per cent, of all increases in Commonwealth Savings Bank deposits should be used in this way and that a quarter of the repayments not re-lent to the same borrower should be used for the same purpose in addition to loans by. the Government. Even if sufficient money was not obtained from those two sources and if government loans had to be used to some degree, a very much lower rate of interest was made possible than would otherwise have obtained.
– Would the right honorable member agree that the same principle should apply to private savings banks?
– Yes. It could apply to State savings banks, the Commonwealth Savings Bank and private savings banks. In a second, I will show the House that if we ^applied that rule we would get more money for this purpose at this time and we would cut a great deal of the red tape that is at present being used in this matter. Houses could be built more cheaply and more quickly.
– Would the right honorable member support legislation to that effect now?
– I most certainly would. I brought down the legislation to which I have referred. Unfortunately, in the depression, the amount of deposits was lower than the amount of withdrawals. There was no money, and the government could not raise a loan, so the scheme went by default. But during the period in which the scheme was operating, five State governments and the Commonwealth housing organization were using it. That is the way in which this matter can be dealt with on an entirely non-party basis. We have the necessary power. There was no question ot constitutional difficulties in connexion with the previous legislation, lt was done.
Under the banking law we have power to issue certain prescriptions to the Commonwealth Savings Bank and the new savings banks. I think that State savings banks would adopt the proposition very readily. What is the position with regard to money? The last figures that I was able to get concern the seven years from 30th June, 1949, to 30th June, 1956. In that period Commonwealth Savings Bank deposits increased by £294,000,000, an average of £42,000,000 a year. During the last four or five years, the Commonwealth Government has found, on an average, about £30,000,000 a year for the States for housing, which would no longer be necessary under my proposals. That amount is great, in itself, but in order to implement the scheme that I have proposed, it may be necessary to use the other methods that I have suggested. During the last fourteen months the deposits in the private savings banks have grown by nearly £100,000,000. Of course, a great deal of that amount has probably come from moneys withdrawn from the Commonwealth Savings Bank. At any rate, there has been at least £350,000,000 of savings during the last seven years, or about £50,000,000 a year. During that period the Commonwealth Government has found £212,000,000 for the States under the housing agreement. I cite the figure of £350,000,000, of which £212,000,000 has been found by the Commonwealth. That is practically 60 per cent, of the total savings of the community in the several savings banks.
– How much have the private savings banks made available for housing?
– I think they have made available about £1,000,000 a month. [ think that the Bank of New South Wales stated publicly that it is finding about £550,000 a month. The Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited, I think, is finding over £400,000 a month and the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited is finding a considerable sum. It has not been operating for more than a few months. The private savings banks are providing over £1,000.000 a month, which is £12,000,000 a year, for this particular purpose.
However, it is not a question of what the private savings banks are doing at the present time. The matter that I desire to put to the House is this: Ever since the war. we have found that savings bank money has been used to help government loans. Between 75 per cent, and 90 per cent, of the total savings of the people have gone into these loans. Under their charters, the new savings banks are required to pay 70 per cent, of their deposits into public loans. Instead, they should be required to devote 60 per cent, or 70 per cent, of their deposits to housing finance, which is one of Australia’s primary needs. The balance could then.be devoted to other purposes, including the financing of public loans. If this were done, the £30,000,000 now obtained from the loan market for allocation to the States for housing could be provided without recourse to the loan market, and our loan market borrowings for development would be so much to the good. This sum of £30,000,000 or more would be advanced by the banks direct to homebuilders or co-operative building societies at a lower rate of interest, and it would not have to be paid by the Commonwealth to the States.
Another important consideration is that we could then be sure that the savings banks would be giving priority to housing in using their funds. Under the present system, the Commonwealth cannot determine whether or not money paid to the States for housing is spent entirely for that purpose. Neither does the Commonwealth know whether it is spent quickly, or whether the expenditure is spread over the financial year.
The New South Wales Government has virtually destroyed the efficacy of the present housing agreement by enormous increases of rail freights and timber royalties. The revenue from State royalties on timber cut in New South Wales increased from £580,000 in 1947 to £2,800,000 in 1956, when it represented almost one-quarter of the total Commonwealth grant to that State for housing. The poor unfortunate home-builder in New South Wales suffers, as the Tariff Board pointedly reported in February, 1955, that the New South Wales Government was spending all its forestry revenue on State forests. This revenue is being used not merely for the planting of trees from which timber will be obtained only after another 40 years but also for the maintenance of roads and other services. In effect, the unfortunate home-builder in New South Wales at the present time is paying not merely for timber for his own home, but also for timber that will be used in the construction of homes for his sons and grandsons in many years’ time.
The proposal that 1 have outlined would be sensible, satisfactory, and economic, and would do a great deal to increase the rate of home construction. The only reason why the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement can continue in operation is that the Commonwealth pays the difference between the rate at which money is borrowed on the loan market and the rate at which it is lent for housing. My proposal would automatically reduce the rate of interest on housing loans, and would insure proper priority for housing. It would make it possible for the money deposited in thu savings banks by their 4,700,000 depositors to be used for home-building, and for the purchase of farms, which is of equal importance. This proposal would also allow the Commonwealth to exercise its full constitutional powers, and it is about time it exercised them again.
Let us now consider the New South Wales Government’s attitude towards housing. Rail freights on timber have increased by approximately 500 per cent., from an average of 5s. lid. a 100 super, feet in 1947 to 36s. 4d. a 100 super, feet in 1956. Timber royalties have increased by approximately 620 per cent., from 2s. 6d. a 100 super, feet in 1947 to 18s. a 100 super, feel in 1956. In the same period, the New
South Wales basic wage increased by only 125 per cent., from £5 12s. a week to £12 13s. a week. An examination of timber costs shows that 40 per cent, represents freight and royalty, 35 per cent, wages, and 25 per cent, other charges, including the saw-miller’s profit. The average cost in Sydney is 137s. 2d. a 100 super, feet. By contrast, the average is 80s. a 100 super, feet in Hobart and Perth, and 115s. a 100 super, feet in Melbourne. It is time we did something about reducing these costs in order to increase the rate of home construction.
In the short time that I have left, I should like to mention something else that could be done to increase not only the rate of home construction, but also the rate of provision of water and electricity supplies and other facilities and services such as roads, all of which are essential in any housing programme. I advocate amendment of the Australian Constitution, on the initiative of this Parliament, to ensure that the fundamental requirement upon the Commonwealth to pay just terms for the acquisition of property is applied to all similar transactions undertaken by State and local government authorities. I am satisfied that this would be of great benefit. Already, under the financial agreement, we have given our public loans the full constitutional backing of Australia’s resources. If we showed that our integrity and honesty were above question, as regards private investment, we should be able to carry a referendum. We should then be able to get private enterprise to undertake many of these public works on franchise or under charter, because there would be no question of the acquisition of undertakings or property without just compensation. This would rid us of the terrible worry about the balance of payments, dispel talk of depression, maintain full employment, and enable us particularly to expand our population by attracting desirable immigrants, and so make it more easy for us to defend and hold this country.
During a recent visit to Asia, I saw the amazing changes that have taken place as a result of progress in medical science. The mortality from cholera, typhus, malaria, plague and tuberculosis has been greatly reduced. Indeed, the death-rate has declined from approximately 150 in every 1.000 to about 60 in every 1,000. The population of Asia is increasing very rapidly, and soon the people of Asian countries will be looking with envious eyes at Australia, and saying, “ Are we going to leave Australia empty, or shall we take it and populate it ourselves? “ If we are to prevent the people of Asia from overrunning this country, we must populate it ourselves, and to do that we must first find enough money to house our people, maintain our immigration programme, and proceed with development at a rapid rate.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lawrence). - Order! The right honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) has made a significant admission. He has been frank, whereas other Government supporters who attempted to answer charges made by the Opposition declined to be frank. The right honorable gentleman admitted that the Commonwealth has power to deal with the housing problem. There has never been any doubt about that. The original Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement entered into by the Labour Government in 1945 made it abundantly clear that the States would have power to proceed with the construction of homes for the people of Australia and that the requisite finance would be provided by the Commonwealth. This Government has retreated from that position, and has evaded its responsibilities. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in one of the weakest speeches that he has made in this House, did not attempt to answer Opposition charges or to substantiate a press statement made by him on 7th March, which, I believe, he would have liked to withdraw immediately he made it.
– Where ha3 he been since?
– The Prime Minister has not appeared in this chamber very much since he made the speech to which I have referred.
The Opposition is justly entitled to make the charge that the Government is treating the housing problem contemptuously, and is not showing as much interest as it should in the task of housing the people of Australia. It is true that the Government has done something, but its record will not house the people who require houses today. The responsibility rests upon this
Parliament, and especially upon the Ministry, to carry out the mandate that it sought from the people in 1949 - confirmed in 1951 - and proceed to make money available so that people who require accommodation will be given it. What else could the people ask for? If they ask for that surely they are not asking for too much. The need to be housed is a minimum requirement. Surely every person born in this country is entitled to believe that, in the course of his lifetime, he will be able to obtain accommodation. Likewise it is necessary that every person who is brought into Australia should have some assurance that he will be accommodated.
I know that we could bring to this country for employment in heavy industry, the engineering industry, for example, tens of thousands of good citizens and good settlers, people who would make a contribution to our development, if we could assure them of adequate housing in this land. But, of course, we cannot do that. I say clearly that in housing there should be no grades. We should not consider where a person comes from, his occupation, or his religion. Our only concern should be that a human being is in this country and that that human being is entitled to be housed.
This Government made lavish promises. It told the people of Australia that it could do a much better job than the Labour Government, which had previously occupied the treasury bench of this Parliament. I have in my hand the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945. That agreement, made by a Labour government, between the Commonwealth and the respective States, made it clear that adequate funds would be made available to the States for housing. Despite that, we have evasion by Government supporters who now say that housing is a State responsibility. If there is a good record in some field of activity, if production has been expanded in some direction, or if a greater number of homes has been built, the Commonwealth Government immediately says “ Look at our proud record “. But when houses are not built it says, “ Look at the dismal record of the States”.
I do not think it is necessary to go through the statistics of what is required and the money that should be made available - a weary pattern that has characterized some of this debate. It is not a matter of saying that £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 or £500,000,000 is required. The amount of money that ought to be found for housing in Australia is an amount adequate to house every person who requires a house in Australia at the present time.
– At what cost?
– The honorable member asks at what cost. To a person with a house it is not an important matter, but to a person living in a fowlhouse or a shed, as is indicated in the report by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), it is an important matter. May I offer the suggestion that this report was not presented and compiled for the purpose of damaging the reputation of the Government? If anything, the emphasis is on the other side. For instance, the housing requirements of Canberra are conveniently lumped in with the New South Wales figures, despite the shameful failure of the Government to build houses for the people of Canberra.
The number of Australians living at the present time in sheds are as follows: - Western Australia, 4,480; Tasmania, 1,612; Queensland, 9,117; New South Wales, 24,799; Victoria, 5,742; South Australia, 2,345; and the Northern Territory, 941. This is the record that is proudly presented to the Parliament and to the people of Australia by the “ Minister for NoDevelopment “. This record stands to the everlasting discredit of the Government which rightly deserves the censure of this Parliament, as it has received the censure of the people of this country, for its failure to provide homes. Quite apart from promises, any responsible government would have accepted the challenge to combine the idle hands and the available materials for the purpose of producing homes; yet the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) says that it is not a question of finance; it is a question of man-power and materials! Witness after witness at an inquiry in Sydney instituted by the Australian Labour party and conducted by members of this chamber, testified to the quantity of available materials, and the number of idle hands to which that material could be applied for the purpose of building homes.
– What is the percentage of idle hands?
– There are many idle hands at the present time. I would expect the honorable member, who poses in this place as one who does not neglect the small matters, to realize how undesirable it is that men should be leaving the building industry, leaving country towns, leaving their saw-mills and other decentralized industries to go into luxury industries instead of continuing the work of building up this nation and making it great. Surely we ought to be thinking along those lines.
We heard evidence from Mr. Kraegen, secretary of the Country Sawmillers Association of New South Wales, “who told the inquiry that no less than 80 saw-mills were idle in New South Wales and that some townships had veritably become ghost towns. Surely this responsibility ought to demand of members of this chamber that we should get on with the job of building houses, maintaining our country people in their towns, and doing a much better job. I am not satisfied that the best job has been done at any time. It is clear that with only 60,000 houses being built annually to meet an estimated current annual demand for at least 75,000 much more has to be done. The only way anything can be done in this chamber is for the House itself to censure this Administration. We should tell the Government clearly and bluntly, as the people are saying outside, “ You have failed in your duty, and we are recording that failure here in this chamber “. The press has said it and Mr. Stewart Fraser, director of the Building Industry Congress and a member of the Liberal party, has said it. Responsible people in local government and elsewhere have said it. It is for this Parliament also, if it accepts its responsibility, to say it. Mr. Bolte, the Premier of Victoria, together with every person with any sense of responsibility in this country, has declared that this state of affairs should end forthwith.
I hold in my hand copies of communications addressed to responsible people, including State Ministers, bringing to their attention the need of people who require homes. Here is one which gives an illustration of the great human problem involved. This man wrote to me saying - 1 have a wife and two children and my wife is expecting another child in five weeks’ time. At present we are all living in a closed in verandah which has a cement floor. The verandah is 16 feet by 8 feet, and as you can imagine it is very crowded with a family ana with the luggage and so on.
I have another letter which describes how a husband, wife and two children, one a girl aged three and the other a baby of six months, are obliged to live in one room. Another letter gives an illustration of a family living in one room, one child suffering from whooping cough and the rest suffering in other ways. A further case from my electorate shows how people are living in deplorable conditions. They are suffering conditions that no decent people - or people of any kind - should be called upon to suffer.
I shall not go through all the letters. Those 1 have read indicate the position and measure the pattern of the human problem involved in this matter. I ask honorable members to lift themselves above party strife and turmoil and to try to speak for human beings who need homes. If they do that, they must affirm, as we on this side of the House do, that a vast sum of money is required to build the necessary number of homes for the people. The question is a social question of overcrowding, of mixed sexes and of great numbers of people living in tenements where there is little chance of parental control. All these matters pose great problems. The question of a husband and wife sharing a home with other people also raises a most important matter.
If this Parliament in the course of its life were to do no more than to get to work and overcome this problem of housing, then it would earn the gratitude of all the people. I have not for one moment in the course of my remarks in this chamber or outside it said that some effort has not been made to deal with the question of housing. An effort has been made, but what we have done in the past is certainly not good enough. Much more must be done and I can only hope and trust that this Parliament will stimulate the Government, rouse the Ministry from its slumbers, remove its self-satisfaction in regard to these matters, and dispel its belief that there is no crisis in the building industry, that there is no shortage of money and that the problem is one of man-power and materials. We all know that such a belief is foolish and absurd. Yet it has been stated on many occasions.
As the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) said, home ownership is a right that belongs to every person in this country. I believe that every person should be given an opportunity to own a home. It is a right that every person should have. But one must remember that 90 per cent, of the breadwinners earn less than £20 a week. The interest alone on a £3,000 house, with amortization, would cost about £4 a week, and to that must be added rates and taxes and the cost of a suitable block of land. All those considerations add to the great problem and make it abundantly clear that, in the inflationary condition which exists at present, it is almost impossible for the average person to buy a home. Some brave souls have said that it is grand to see people receiving 90 per cent, advances. But it would not be too much if the Government were to introduce a scheme so that 100 per cent, advances could be given to every person who wishes to build a home. I believe that through home ownership we will have better citizens and better communities, and a feeling of belonging and forming part of the pattern of the community will be formed. When that state of affairs exists, we will be helping to build a much better nation. Consequently, I hope that the feeling towards home ownership will be spurred on.
If we are to do that, we must look at other things, too. We must consider the question of profits earned by the financial institutions which are continually trying to exert pressure. I mention Custom Credit Corporation Limited. That organization suggests that there is nothing wrong with 10 per cent, interest on finance for homes. That is absurd! That organization, which would charge immigrants 10 per cent, interest on the money that it advanced for them to come to this country, thinks it is a reasonable and proper proposal that they should be charged 10 per cent, interest on the money necessary for them to purchase a home here. That sort of thing must be cast to one side. A cheaper interest rate is necessary and is fundamental. It is also necessary for the rent of State Housing Commission homes to be fixed at a rate that will make it possible for people to enter those homes with some reasonable chance of owning them at some time. 1 come now to the question of the components in home-building - timber, bricks, steel and so on. We have the glorious example of Australian Iron and Steel Limited making a profit for this year which was 40 per cent, more than its profit for last year. The profit last year was 40 per cent, greater than that for the previous year. Yet not one home is built without a considerable amount of steel! That sort of thing has the blessing of this Government. If we want to get to grips with this problem, if we want to see people owning their homes and if we want to see some real action and” not platitudes about home ownership, all these things must be tackled. The right honorable member for Cowper referred to the necessity for savings banks to make money available for home-building. That would be a most desirable state of affairs, but I remind the right honorable gentleman that the Government gave a franchise which permitted three private savings banks to commence operations. In a brief period, those savings banks have collected not less than £100,000,000 in deposits. According to the arrangement made when they were permitted to operate, they should have made available for housing about £33,000,000. Instead, only £13,000,000 of the £100,000,000 has been made available for house-building. That, I feel, answers to some extent the comment of the right honorable gentleman.
If we express those sentiments, they are quite good, but we must see that effect is given to them. The right honorable gentleman said that this Parliament has the responsibility and the power to do this job. We should see that we use those powers in the interests of the country. It is shameful for the Prime Minister and Government supporters to delude and hoodwink the electors with advertisements saying what they are prepared to do and promising to give every newly-married couple a house, if they are not prepared to face up to their responsibilities.
Before I leave the subject of housing to mention another matter, I want to say that I believe that a comprehensive housebuilding programme is necessary. We must return to the rent rebate system. On that point I want to say for the benefit of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) who is not in the chamber now, that it is not very long since he took a course of action that the previous Minister for the Interior refused to take and increased the rents of Commonwealth tenants at Lithgow by 90 per cent. Those rent increases fell on people who had paid more than the cost of the houses. Most of the tenants were factory wor’, .rs employed at the Commonwealth Small Arms Factory at Lithgow. Immediately after the rents were increased by 90 per cent., those people were dismissed from their employment at the Small Arms Factory. When they sought a rental rebate from the Commonwealth, they were refused.
In the last few moments before my time expires, I shall refer to a grave crisis in the mining industry. The Minister for National Development, whom I describe more aptly as the “ Minister for No Development “, has also stated that there is no crisis in the mining industry. In the view of the Minister, of course, there is no crisis, but in the mine fields over the last year or two about 1,900 fewer employees have been engaged. There are now 1,000 fewer than there were in 1956, and there were 900 fewer last year than in 1955. In the western district, in which I am especially interested, 1,350 men have been dismissed from the industry during the last five years. These were men who had given a lifetime of service to the coal-mining industry. Old-established collieries have closed. Only recently, Australian Iron and Steel Limited, a company that has made record profits, gave notice of dismissal to its entire staff at Lithgow, totalling some 216 employees. I regard that as shameful, in view of the tremendous profits earned by the company.
I submit to this Parliament that constructive thinking is required on the question of producing power in this country. The Parliament should consider whether we shall set about trying to re-establish the coal-mining industry, for I am much more concerned about the people engaged in that industry than about those in whose hands the oil industry rests at present. It appears to me that this nation may experience a crisis in the future. We have just emerged from the troubles concerning the Suez Canal, which resulted in an interruption of oil supplies to the United Kingdom, and some diminution in supplies of oil and petrol to Australia. All these things suggest to me that we should get on with th* job, and that we should think constructively with regard to the coal industry. We should know just what is taking place in that industry. The average weekly increase in coal production in New South Wales has been of the order of 39,000 tons. It is not a question of a lack of production. The miners are working harder, but many of them are losing their jobs. That is the problem at present. Nor is there any reduction in demand. The demand is continuous, but the miners are producing more coal and still losing their jobs. I ask this Parliament to get on with the task of establishing by-product industries in the northern, southern and western fields, so that the mines may be kept in operation. In a time of crisis it is extremely difficult to train miners and open up mines.
These are the pressing problems facing the mining industry at present, and I can only hope that the social problem, the matter of the dismissal of these employees who know no other industry, and who are being taken from their townships and villages in the closing stages of their lives, will be satisfactorily solved. These people have not been fairly treated, and this Parliament should accept its responsibilities and try to ensure that the industry is preserved. If the Government is not concerned with its preservation at present, it should at least take into account the fact that it would be extremely valuable in a crisis.
.- On quite a number of occasions during the years in which I have been a member of this Parliament, I have made a plea to the Government to send a group of members of the Parliament to visit various countries near to Australia. I am glad to say that a delegation was sent by this Parliament to certain countries in South-East Asia during the recent parliamentary recess. I take this opportunity to thank my colleagues for electing me as a member of the delegation, and to make a report to the Parliament.
As is well known, the main reason for sending a delegation on this occasion was to enable it to attend the forty-fifth annual general conference of the InterParliamentary Union. This was the first occasion on which that union had held its annual conference in an Asian country, and it was held at Bangkok. I think it would be wise, therefore, if I were to make some brief remarks concerning the Inter-Parliamentary Union itself. As an international body, it is much older than the United Nations and, indeed, the League of Nations, having been formed in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was the brain-child of a member of the British House of Commons and a member of the French Chamber of Deputies. It differs from the United Nations and the League of Nations in two very important ways. The first is that it is composed of members of both sides of the various parliaments. Of the six members who comprised the Australian delegation, three were from the Government side and three from the Opposition side. The second important way in which the union differs from the United Nations is that the decisions made at its conferences are not binding upon the governments of the member countries. Quite obviously this would be so, having regard to the composition of the delegations. However, there is an obligation upon each delegate who attends a conference to report to his parliament and, where necessary, to urge the parliament to take the necessary action to put into operation those matters that were decided upon by a majority of the members present at the conference.
The main objectives of the InterParliamentary Union can be summarized as follows: -
The agenda for the Bangkok conference was divided into four main headings. These were -
The Inter-Parliamentary Union consists of an executive, the council, which is its governing body, and the full conference. It was the full conference which we attended at Bangkok. The council meeting was held for two days prior to the plenary session of the conference. The council also meets in the European spring. On the next occasion it is due to meet at Nice in the latter part of April.
The conference also divides itself into a number of study committees, and these committees also meet twice a year, first at the time of the full conference, and again at the time of the spring council meeting to which I have just referred. The resolutions submitted to the annual conferences are first of all drawn up by these standing study committees on which every member country is represented. As a rule, a subcommittee is first appointed to study any of the particular problems or questions to be brought before the full conference. Those study committees prepare a preliminary draft resolution which is then examined in detail by the full committee which the question more particularly concerns, at a special study session, to which I have referred previously. Once agreement has been reached on the wording of proposed resolutions they are presented to the InterParliamentary Council, the governing body, for its approval. Rapporteurs are then appointed, and it is the responsibility of the rapporteurs to introduce and present resolutions to the plenary session of the conference. The matter is then discussed.
At the conference at Bangkok, I understand for the first time, a new practice was inaugurated, in that the study committees were given the opportunity to examine draft proposals to which amendments had been proposed. It may be of interest to the House if I enumerate the present study committees. They are the Political and Organization Questions Committee, the Juridical Questions Committee, the Economic and Financial Questions Committee, the committee on non-self-governing territories and ethnical questions, that on the reduction of armaments, that on social and humanitarian questions, and that on intellectual relations. We nominated a representative from Australia to sit on each of those committees.
It is obvious that there is insufficient time for me to deal in any detail with the debates that took place at the Bangkok conference, but perhaps I can summarize them by giving the headings that were discussed. First, in the foreign affairs debate, discussion took place on the evolution of international relations; the detente between East and West, its progress and limits; the new trend in Soviet policy and its repercussions on the east European peoples’ democracies; the Western powers’ problems of peaceful competition outside the existing alliances; the position of Great Britain as a world power; together with the future of the British Commonwealth, and finally, the upsurge of nationalism in Asia and in Africa.
I had the opportunity to represent outdelegation on the committee on social and humanitarian questions, and also on the committee on intellectual relations. Once again, sir, there is no time for me to give the House a full report of the discussions we had in those two committees, so I shall again summarize them. In respect of the social questions, the delegation from Russia brought forward an amendment to the effect that they wished to have included in the committee’s report to the full conference for its adoption the following words: -
The raising of the living standard of the working people, enabling everybody to live under normal conditions and to develop his own faculties.
There was quite a discussion on that matter, and we from Australia, having the support of the delegates from Great Britain and the United States in particular, thought that the suggested wording by the Russian delegation was not adequate, because while we were agreed that there was a necessity to raise the minimum living standard of all peoples, we also thought that it was necessary to include in the resolution reference to the nature of their employment, and that the people so concerned should have a guarantee of freedom to join trade unions and freedom in the choice of their employment. I had the honour to bring forward that suggestion, and as will be seen from the minutes, I had the support of the delegates from the United States. Great Britain, the Philippines and quite a number of other countries.
To summarize the resolution that was drafted by that committee, and which was finally adopted unanimously by the full conference, reference was made in the preliminary paragraphs of the draft to the fact that the conference declared that the role of the state is to achieve, on the national and international level, the welfare of the people, and it therefore considered that there should be established, to the fullest possible extent and in the spirit of the mutual responsibility of the individual and society, a systematic programme of mutual aid which would benefit the people of Asia and Africa, without thereby impinging upon the feeling of independence of which they are justly proud.
Special attention was directed to protection against social abuses; abolition of traffic in human beings; the fight against famine; the prevention of and fight against disease, particularly through the establishment of health centres on the lines suggested by the World Health Organization; the raising of the minimum living standard of all peoples, thus enabling everybody to live under normal conditions and to develop their faculties; the attainment of full employment, the protection of wage-earners, the guarantee of freedom to join trade unions and freedom of choice in employment; the rehabilitation of the handicapped; the conclusion of agreements providing for reciprocity of social benefit payments and the equalization of social security charges; and the development of education and schooling, and of vocational and technical training, for the populations of Asia and Africa.
As I said a moment ago, I also had the opportunity to be Australia’s delegate on the committee which considered intellectual relations, and at that meeting, once again, quite a long discussion took place. I may add that the chairman of this committee was one of the Russian delegates, whilst the chairman of the former committee to which I have referred was a delegate from Pakistan.
The matters to which I wish to refer in connexion with the work of the committee on intellectual relations are, first, the importance of removing the barriers to the unimpeded exchange of information between all countries. This subject had various sub-headings, including revision of school text-books. The question of a universal language was brought forward again. One delegate went so far as to say that he thought that perhaps Latin would be a good universal language, whereupon the great majority of the delegates pointed out that Latin was a dead language and therefore entirely unsuitable for a progressing and living world. No decision was reached upon the matter. I may say, in passing, that there was very little support for Esperanto. The whole matter of an international language was postponed to another meeting for further discussion.
Let me give the House a brief summary of the draft resolution that was finally presented to the conference and unanimously adopted. In the preliminary paragraphs, reference was made to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with reference to the right to education. The opinion was expressed that it was absolutely necessary for education directed to the full development of human personality to go hand in hand with technical and professional education. The draft resolution emphasized that international organizations such as Unesco and the International Labour Office, working in close contact with the countries concerned, were handicapped by the inadequacy of the funds placed at their disposal, and a special appeal was made to all members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to secure an increase of the funds available for those purposes, particularly in the countries of Asia and Africa, and to ensure a continuity of contributions. The draft resolution, which was adopted by full conference, asked that everything be done, through more effective assistance, to exploit national spiritual resources to the maximum, so that those countries might, in the near future, make their own contributions to the enrichment of the universal cultural heritage.
In concluding my remarks on the InterParliamentary Union’s conference at Bangkok, let me say that we heard from many quarters expressions of regard for the manner in which the Australian delegation had conducted itself, for the manner in which it had put forward its various proposals and for the co-operative way in which it had worked with other delegations. I believe that the Australian delegation made a very good contribution to the general work for world peace and for getting more closely into contact with our colleagues of the free world. Having referred to this very brief report, I express the hope that a greater interest will be taken in the doings of the InterParliamentary Union by the Australian national group.
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
– As I indicated before the suspension of the sitting, Mr. Speaker, I shall alter my approach to the subject of the experiences of the Australian parliamentary delegation. I should like to conclude my speech, therefore, by making some remarks concerning the value of such delegations to countries of the kind that we visited. After the visit to Bangkok the Australian delegation was invited to visit the Republic of Viet Nam, and from there it went to Singapore, thence to the Federation of Malaya and later to Indonesia. It was obvious to members of the delegation, throughout their journey, that there was a great interest in Australia, and a great friendliness felt for Australians, in those various countries. In fact, it became so evident to me that I took the opportunity, when I was in one of those countries, and was engaged in a private conversation with a parliamentary delegate from that country, to ask why this interest in Australia, and friendliness towards Australia, existed in that part of the world. I should like to tell the House the answer that was given to me. I wish to state first, however, that the person of whom I asked this question said that he was giving me only his personal opinion in answer to it, but he believed that he was giving the facts.
He gave me a number of reasons for the friendly feeling towards Australia that exists in that part of the world. The first was that the people in a number of those countries realized and appreciated the bearing and conduct of a number of people from Australia during what he terms, “ the very difficult phases of the last war “. I interpose here to say that that might be slightly underwriting some of the experiences which Australians had to undergo, but that was the phrase that he used. The second reason was that Australia was very fortunate in its representatives in these countries. These representatives, he said, have established a feeling of confidence and a feeling of interest in Australia among the people with whom they live for the time being. The third reason he gave was that the people of those countries realized that Australia has no territorial ambitions whatsoever, and that therefore any assistance we give under the Colombo plan, or independently, is in no way a gain to ourselves but is completely on the level of mutual co-operation. The fourth reason was that students and technicians from those countries who come to Australia to study and train under the Colombo plan become ambassadors of goodwill for Australia on their return. The fifth and last reason was that the people of the countries to our north consider that visits by delegations to their countries, such as we were making at that time, are of great advantage and help in enlarging personal contacts between our various nations, and also assist each country to understand the problems of the other.
I believe it to be necessary for us in Australia to establish close contacts with the people of South-East Asia. When one considers that Djakarta is closer to Darwin than Canberra is, and that Singapore, in air miles, is not very far distant from us, one realizes how close we are to South-East Asia. So I say to the House that I believe that the future of Australia is becoming more closely linked with the future of the countries of South-East Asia and that therefore it is to their advantage, and to ours, to understand one another’s problems, to come closer together and, by all means in our power, to enlarge the personal contacts we have with each other.
.- The House is debating the Address-in-Reply, to which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has moved an amendment which is tantamount to a motion of censure of the Government. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) has given the House an account of what transpired as a result of the visit of a Parliamentary delegation to Bangkok. I offer no comment. I return to the virtual motion of censure of the Government, which I support.
The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) who preceded, on the Government side, the honorable member for Robertson, came into the chamber earlier this evening, and into the field of controversy he walked with a demeanour that indicated very forcibly that we were getting a demonstration of a doctor’s bedside manner at its best. The right honorable gentleman said that he wanted to keep the discussion on a non-party basis. Later, he told the House of a wonderful housing bill that the BrucePage Government introduced in 1927. The right honorable member told us what a wonderful bill it was, but I challenge him to prove that even one house was built as a result of that measure. At the general election of 1925 the Bruce-Page Government promised the people of Australia a housing bill, and in 1927 the people got that housing bill. In 1928 the right honorable gentleman and his fellow members of the BrucePage Government got their marching orders, although they had gone on to the hustings and told the people that they had honoured their promise by introducing the bill. But the bill was all that the people had got in the way of a fulfilment of the government’s promise.
To-day, the right honorable gentleman propounds a scheme - a very complicated scheme, to say the least. I will read all about it in “ Hansard “ to-morrow. “ All I want to ask at this stage is whether he propounded this scheme to the government he supports. Or did he only think it up because he realizes that as this debate has proceeded the Government has been losing ground fast? Now history is repeating itself. The right honorable gentleman wants to go to the hustings and say to the people of Cowper, and perhaps the people of the Commonwealth, “ I have this great scheme which I have propounded, a scheme which will build houses “. If his scheme is anything like his act of 1927 the people of Australia will know how many houses they will get out of it. I say that the scheme that he has propounded here to-day would never have seen the light of day had not the Leader of the Opposition moved an amendment censuring the Government because of the housing crisis confronting this country. This is the first opportunity that the Labour party has had, after an almost record recess of four months, to draw the attention of the Government to the housing crisis, which it has apparently overlooked. The Prime Minister, in the worst speech that I have ever heard him make - and he has made a few bad ones - denied the existence of a housing crisis. The next day the press of the Commonwealth were very caustic on the subject of his denial. Indeed, Government back-benchers alone have supported him.
The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) admitted that there was a crisis, but blamed it on the State Governments. The provision of housing is a matter of major importance, especially in time of peace. If we can find the money that we need to prosecute a war surely, when conditions once more approach normality, we can find the money required for housing which is, in turn, bound up with the matter of health and should be of paramount importance to any government. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) admitted this afternoon that there was no constitutional difficulty in regard to this question. Of course there is not. He explained that he had introduced a bill on the subject in 1927, and had had it passed. In 1949, when we were on the hustings, the present Prime Minister promised the people of Australia that young couples would get houses - in fact, pie in the sky - if his Government were returned to office. All that the people have now are fowl houses, sheds and barns. The Prime Minister told us how many houses had been built, and assured us that there was no unemployment in the building industry. At the very moment that he was speaking 452 housing workers - two-thirds of the Queensland Housing Commission’s building team - were under threat of the sack. On Friday night they were sacked. At least 25 clerks will follow them in the next few days. At the time of these dismissals 300 houses had been partly constructed and others were to have been built. Nearly 11,000 applications for houses have been lodged with the Queensland Housing Commission.
The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said, in one of his numerous statements, that the housing scheme had been so successful that the housing difficulty had almost been eliminated. Let him tell that to the people who are living in these fowl houses, sheds and barns, or to the young couples who are living with their parents. Apparently the Prime Minister and the Minister for National Development are simply unconscious of the fact that numbers of sawmills, brickyards and timber yards have closed down. They do not seem to be aware that the people who have been supplying hardware for homes have reported that business is falling off. What is coming over this country? The Minister for National Development and the Prime Minister do not know what is happening in this most vital building industry. No wonder the country is in such a mess.
On 22nd March the Sydney “Daily Telegraph “ published a statement by Mr. Stewart Fraser, the executive director of the Australian Master Builders Association. I understand that he is not a member of the Labour party. He said that his association had evidence that wall-board manufacturers were operating at 60 per cent, capacity; that tiles, scarce for years, were now available for immediate delivery; that a plaster mill in Sydney was working at 50 per cent, capacity and had had to dismiss staff; that stocks’ were mounting in the timber yards and timber mills were closing down; that the fibrous plaster industry had cut production by 20 per cent, and put men off; that sanitary ware manufacturers were reducing production by half and cutting staff; and that brickworks were stacking bricks.
All this is evidence that there is in the building industry a depression of widespread dimensions. In Queensland saw mills are closing down. In the Brisbane “ Courier-Mail “ there is an advertisement about 5 inches square offering a brickyard for sale. If there were no depression in the building industry, would the owner of a brickyard think of selling it? Of course he would not. Men are being dismissed in every section of the building industry, yet the Prime Minister says that there is no crisis. As has been pointed out, there is a shortage, not of men, materials or land, but of finance.
Let me refer now to the financial question. Only a fortnight ago the figures of bank advances were released. They showed that private bank advances for home building had declined by £7,400,000 in the six months ended December, 1956, and by £18,500,000 in the eighteen months ended December, 1956. No doubt that decline has been brought about by the credit restriction policy of this Government. We were told that it was necessary in order to fight inflation. Instead, it has taken us well along the road to an economic depression. Apparently the Government does not care a rap about those who are being sacked, about those whose businesses are being ruined, or about the young people who are being denied homes. If the Government’s financial policy was designed to fight inflation, why was there such a weak protest when the overseas shipping combine pushed up freight rates between this country and Europe? The “ Sydney Morning Herald “ said that it would cost this country £28,000,000 and give a further fillip to inflation. Was there a loud protest from this Government? All that was done was to call a conference and work out a formula. We can rest assured that any such formula would be based not upon what the people of Australia wanted, but upon what the overseas shipping combine wanted.
This Government had no objection to the oil cartel pushing up prices everywhere. In Queensland Mr. Gair took a stand, arid in the United States a supreme court jury indicted members of the cartel for taking advantage of a situation in that country in order to push up prices. We have had from this Government no protest at all about the actions of the oil cartel, a weak protest about shipping freight rates, and credit restrictions for the people of Australia. All *f this fits into the grand picture of a government policy, which is sympathetically disposed to monopolies and cartels, and inimical to the best interests of the community. Apparently the Government is of the opinion that, in restricting credit for home-building, it is limiting inflation. The latest banking figures show a reduction in advances in eighteen months of £18,500,000. The Prime Minister said that he did not know anything about it. Apparently every one but the Prime Minister knew - especially those of his supporters who were trying to get bank advances or financial accommodation in order to purchase a home. An easing of restrictions upon home-building finance would give real hope to those who are to-day waiting to build or buy homes. It would certainly give a financial blood transfusion to a languishing building industry.
I am glad that the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) is in the chamber. He is a self-appointed housing expert who hears all, reads all, sees all and knows nothing. He made much of the fact that about £500,000 had not been collected from the Federal Treasurer by the Queensland Government.
– The honorable member should speak up.
– I can promise that the honorable member for Lilley will hear everything that I have to say. From his interjection it is plain that he believes that the only good thing that comes out of Queensland is himself. He knows more about the financing of housing schemes than the Queensland Treasurer!
Two days before the honorable member rose in his place a question was asked of the Queensland Treasurer regarding the Commonwealth’s advances for housing and for loan works. The Treasurer told the questioner that the whole of the loan money due to Queensland for the current financial year had been collected. Much has been said about what is happening in Queensland, and I want to touch on one or two matters which the State Treasurer discussed in reply to that question. At a meeting held in July, 1956, the Loan Council resolved - that is, all the States with the Commonwealth dissenting - that loan raisings would be £210,000,000. Of that sum, Queensland was to get £3,040,000 under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The Commonwealth undertook to make advances to the States based on a total borrowing of £190,000,000. The States had been unanimous in deciding that £210,000,000 would be borrowed but the Commonwealth said, “We will cut it to £190,000,000”. In wiping off that £20,000,000, the Government gave a further fillip to a depression in the building industry. It restricted home-building funds, not only in Quensland, but in the other States.
If the Commonwealth intends to decide the amount of borrowing, why have the Loan Council meet at all? Why not have the Commonwealth advise the State Treasurers how much loan money will be available? The States might as well then tell the Commonwealth to cut it up as it likes. In July, 1956, the Commonwealth offered a monthly advance of £1,833,000 to Queensland, based on a total loan programme of £190,000,000. The Queensland Treasurer has stated that these advances have been paid on the fifteenth day of each month. The honorable member for Lilley - this colossus, who knows all about everything - has played on the fact that this sum of £500,000 was uncollected on the thirteenth. Either he did not take the trouble to check it or his own personal calendar is eight days behind, because he was talking on the 21st day. The amount would have been paid, as usual, on the fifteenth. If the right honorable member did check the calendar, then the leader of the Liberal party in the Queensland Parliament who briefs him did not tell him about the situation. So, in boxing parlance, he walked in, with his guard down. At the end of March, £2,562,500 will have been collected for housing from the Commonwealth by this State. I say to the honorable member for Lilley that, instead of being underdrawn, the Queensland Government’s housing account will be over-drawn by £12,500 on the basis of the proportionate monthly drawings. That is the answer to his story. That is the answer to his concoction about £500,000 not being drawn.
The honorable member for Lilley is a very versatile man, He is also a legal luminary. During the course of his speech, he talked about the constitutional difficulties which confront this Government in the field of housing. He got his reply this afternoon from the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). So much knowledge has the honorable member for Lilley of the legislation of this Parliament that he apparently did not know anything of the act of 1927. The Queensland Government wanted a special grant to enable the 452 men to whom reference has been made to be kept in employment. There was no constitutional difficulty, because section 96 of the Constitution provides for the making of special grants, and special grants are made under that section. But no special grant was available for work, and no special grant was available for the construction of houses. Of the defence vote, £86,000,000 is unexpended, but the Queensland Government cannot get £278,000 to enable it to continue its programme of home-building and keep the 452 men employed.
There are 10,362 families who have made urgent application to the Queensland Housing Commission for homes. These people urgently require this accommodation for the reason that some of them are facing eviction, some are living in fowl-houses, and some are sharing accommodation with their relations. Thousands are living in similar conditions in other States. Even the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) has admitted that the position is worse in New South Wales and Victoria. In Queensland, master builders and hardware merchants are very worried. How do employees feel as a result of the credit restrictions and the unavailability of finance which is necessary to enable this industry to function in the way that it should if people are to get the homes that are so desirable and so necessary? Never have profits been so high in big business. Never has so much wealth flowed from rutile and uranium. The wool industry is holding its financial position. Yet there is no money for Queensland to keep 452 building tradesmen in employment and to save the jobs of at least 25 clerks!
The sum of £2,000,000 was made available to the Western Australian Government because of the employment position in that State, but the Commonwealth is not prepared to advance £278,000 to keep those men in work. Queensland receives a lower per capita allocation of loan moneys than any other State although it is crying out for the development of its unsurpassed resources. Yet the Federal Government will not make available the £278,000 that is required. All that I can say to the honorable member for Lilley, who has been persistent in his interjections, is that apparently his influence and the influence of those Ministers who come from Queensland is at such a low ebb that they cannot do anything about the matter; or the influence of southern Ministers and members is so strong that the Queenslanders have to take what they like to offer them, in other words, the crumbs from the rich man’s table.
Criticism has been levelled at the Queensland Labour party and its housing policy, particularly by the housing expert from Lilley. If he had taken the trouble to refer to the records of the 1954 census, he would have found that 74.4 per cent, of the total number of private dwellings in Queensland are either owned by the occupiers or are being purchased by them. This is an improvement of 8 per cent, on the proportion at the 1947 census. That answers the smears that the honorable member has directed against the Labour Government of Queensland.
Interest rates have been dealt with at some length. The Government was not slow to follow the lead given by the bankers in Great Britain who wanted to alter the policy of cheap money, and who persuaded the United Kingdom Government to adopt a dear money policy. This Government danced to the tune called by the British bankers, and up went interest rates in Australia. Dear money became the Australian Government’s policy. Why did the Government turn to the United Kingdom? In the United States of America, there is a body known as the Federal Housing Administration. This mighty organization, which has been in existence for 22 years, was established under the provisions of a constitution similar to our own. It does not build houses or lend money, but guarantees mortgages and’ ensures that those who lend money for housing will be repaid. Why did the Government not follow the United States example? Time does not permit me to discuss the matter further.
If the Government is anxious to house the people properly, why does it not do what is being done in other countries?
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I was told lon- ago that any one taking part in a debate would be wise to endeavour to find the points on which he could agree with those with whom he was debating a subject. I find myself in complete agreement with the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) on the fact that the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) amounts to a motion of censure. There may be other points on which we are in accord, but I regret to say that I cannot be sure, because I did not hear a great deal of the honorable member’s remarks. His restrained manner of speaking sometimes puts his listeners at considerable disadvantage. His principal point was that the amendment constitutes a motion of censure. As the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), who is deputy leader of the Liberal party, pointed out last evening, a motion of censure implies two things. It implies, first, that the Opposition invites the House to censure the Government for its action-
– For its action or lack of action. It implies, secondly, that the Opposition is an acceptable alternative to the existing government. I think that is a fair and reasonable statement of the essence of this debate, so far as it goes. That being so, we are required to examine not only the record and history of this Government’s approach to the housing problem but also the Opposition’s record, history, and policy in relation to housing, because, in political terms, the Opposition represents the alternative to the present administration. There is too often a tendency to adopt an illogical form of reasoning and say that because one thing is wrong or imperfect the alternative is perfect. Of course, any one who has been a member of this House for some time would regard as ludicrous the suggestion that the Opposition, as at present constituted, is an alternative preferable to the present government, which may have some imperfections.
That is to-day’s funny story. It has amused and appalled the Australian electors at various times in recent years.
The honorable member for Kennedy and his colleagues have referred to the housing problem as a housing crisis. I suggest that, if a crisis exists to-day, it existed throughout the Labour government’s term ot office because the housing position is incomparably better at present than at any time under the Labour government. Here are some facts on which I think few honorable members, irrespective of their political views, will disagree. The record of this Government - which we must consider, and are considering, in this debate - may be stated in essence by saying that it has built nearly twice as many dwellings as were built during a comparable period by the Labour government. That is undisputed. The average number of people to a dwelling at the 1954 census was fewer than at the previous census in 1947.
– Who worked that out?
– The Commonwealth Statistician. I have no desire to reflect on the honorable member’s ability, but I suggest that if he has any doubts he take the matter up with the statistician. A further fact that has been directly mentioned during this debate is that this Government negotiated a new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement to replace the 1945 agreement. In the new agreement, this Government made provision for 20 per cent, of the funds allocated by it to the States to be made available to co-operative building societies or similar organizations in the first two years, and 30 per cent, thereafter. I think those are basic facts over which there is little dispute.
I suggest that an example of the fallacious reasoning of which we see evidence in debates such as this, both here and in other places, is the tendency to over-simplify large problems and confine discussion to isolated aspects of such problems. As serious and responsible men, we cannot afford to overlook the basic problem that confronts the present Government, and would confront the present Opposition if, by some strange mischance, it were elected to office. This is the problem presented by a 56-year-old Constitution which, in a great many ways indeed, hampers governments and limits their scope in discharging the responsibilities that the people expect them to discharge in these times. The position is complicated further by the uniform taxation system, which was introduced in 1942 as a war-time measure, and has been continued since the war. It has, in fact, established a unified form of government in a nominally federal system. I think the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), who addressed the House so eloquently last evening, said frankly that he was a unificationist, and I think most of his colleagues are, too. But whatever view one holds about this matter, one cannot afford to overlook those two problems that seem to me to be the fundamental problems confronting any administration.
Then we come to the lines of party division. We on this side of the House look at the problem in one way, and Opposition members look at it another way, in considering how the Government can solve the problem of housing the people. We on this side of the House believe that, in the main, we should encourage private enterprise, and work through individuals by means of private enterprise, rather than insist, as the 1945 Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement did, on government control of the construction of homes for rental. I was very pleased to hear my friend, the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), emphasize the importance of home-ownership this afternoon. It is not very frequently emphasized by Opposition members, and it is not improbable that some confusion about these questions of theory occurs in the minds of Labour members during the present process of the Australian Labour party’s transformation from a Labour-socialist party to a democraticsocialist organization, and then to a democraticsocialistLabour party. Be that as it may, those seem to me to be, broadly speaking, the important lines of demarcation in this debate.
– Home-ownership was provided for in the 1945 agreement.
– What did Mr. Dedman have to say when he was Minister for Post-war Reconstruction?
– We hear the same old hoary story presenting the same old lie.
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) is apparently endeavouring to drag out a quotation from the words of his friend and former minis terial colleague in the Labour government. I have no wish to concern myself with the stories of the past. There is evidence in the 1 945 act that it was framed for the erection of buildings for renting purposes. It is also true that, while provision was made in the act for the sale of homes, in Victoria, the State of which I have some knowledge, over the period of years until the act was amended there were 92 houses sold out of something like 15,000 or 20,000 houses erected. It was almost impossible to buy a house from the Housing Commission during those years because of the form in which the legislation was framed. I have no desire to discuss what Mr. Dedman said. The facts stand for themselves, without the quotations from one who has long since ceased to grace this House by his presence.
– More’s the pity.
– Well, the majority of the honorable members of this House do not agree with that. However, the honorable member is entitled to his own opinion.
If we take, as we must, a broad survey of this situation in an endeavour to arrive at a solution of it, we have to look at the matters which affect housing in this country. In my opinion the first is immigration. My friend, the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) yesterday dealt with this matter and quoted figures which illustrated, in his opinion, that the contribution made by immigrants towards the solution of the housing problem, was greater than their demand for houses. There is some difference of opinion on that. As I see it the answer is not yet finalized.
There is a particular matter which, largely, has not been dealt with, and that is the industrial development that has taken place in this country in post-war years. I would think all members of the Opposition would subscribe to the opinion that this development has set up a demand for finance for industrial and commercial building, which has removed a great amount of money from the home-building field. In other words, it has intensified the demand for finance for building in Australia. However - and my friend from Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) overlooked this point - it has caused a further demand for men and materials, which, in a different sort of economy, would have been freely available for home building.
The problem is not, as the optimistic gentleman from Kennedy seems to believe, purely a matter of finance. It is, of course, a matter of relating finance to the men and materials available. So the answer does not lie entirely in the provision of finance. I want to mention one or two things about that later. There is the complication of existing legislation both in the States and the Commonwealth. About that, also, I will say something later. Then there is the further complication of the rising standards of living over the last few years, which have affected the demand for houses and the demand for certain types of houses. All those factors and possibly more that I have overlooked, come into it and they cannot in themselves be ignored.
I want now to make one or two comments about what possibly could be done. It seems to me that the situation at the present time is not the crisis that some of the more vocal gentlemen of the Opposition would have us believe.
– The Minister for the Army said there was a crisis.
– Honorable members opposite who are so anxious to put words into the mouth of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) can themselves, in due course, take part in this debate. There is not a crisis in housing in Australia to-day; there is a problem. There is a very marked distinction between those two things. Finance alone cannot produce housing. Materials and men also are required, and a serious factor in the housing problem today is the continued rise in building costs. Houses, whether erected by governments or individual builders, are beyond the purse of the younger people of this community.
Mr. Curtin interjecting,
– The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin), who reads so eloquently from the speeches prepared for him would do well to leave alone those who do not follow his thoughts. I want to turn to a feasible method of dealing with the housing problem and I make this assertion with confidence because it cannot be effectively disputed on the basis of fact. I believe the solution to the housing problem as we know it in Victoria and New South Wales at least, lies in the encouragement of the co-operative housing society movement. The facts show - and there are many facts available to prove this - that the co-operative housing society movement can build more and better houses, and can build them more efficiently, than any government instrumentalities yet set up in those States.
– I cannot understand the interjections of honorable members opposite who apparently object to the proposition that more and cheaper houses should be built. In Victoria, the co-operative housing organization is a very substantial movement. It has an aggregate membership of over 25,000. It has a waiting list - for the information of the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) - of about 10,000 people. It has a total loan accommodation of over £47,000,000. The movement has, since its inception, acquired 21,420 buildings and it has in the course of erection at the present time, 4,797 buildings. It is a very substantial movement indeed and here I should like to quote the sources of the finance that has been made available to it because this lends some interest to the discussions on finance. In round figures, the State Savings Bank of Victoria has provided £16,000,000; the Commonwealth Bank has provided £17,000,000; the friendly societies have provided £750,000; the insurance companies, £1,500,000; the private banks, £9,500,000; and other government instrumentalities, £1,500,000. So, the funds invested in the co-operative housing societies are not exclusively funds from the Commonwealth Savings Bank or from government sources. In other words, this movement, if encouraged, has the power to draw funds to itself in competition.I have mentioned before the industrial building to which a large amount of finance goes. That is an important point. I believe that in Victoria in the present year funds available to the co-operative housing societies movement from the Commonwealth Bank have been about £1,000,000 less than last year. I shall read from a source which I feel sure my friends of the Opposition will not challenge, the Commonwealth Bank report. That report contains the following statement: -
A sudden contraction in its lending before the new savings banks were ready to take up their share of responsibility could have produced some economic disturbance. The Commonwealth Savings Bank, therefore, continued for a time its broad pattern of new investment but some reductions have since had to be made in its rate of lending.
That, I believe is the crux of the Victorian problem. If the Commonwealth Bank had continued to make advances at the rate that it had made them last year or, alternatively, if it had used its power as the central bank to see that the total funds available for housing in Victoria remained comparable with those of the previous year, then Victoria to-day would have a lesser problem than exists. That is something we must expect.
There is one further point. The House, as far as I know, has up to the present addressed itself to the question of building new houses. It is true that the Minister for the Army raised this point. It is an important point and I want to refer to it. The census for 1947 contains a reference to the dwellings occupied by only one person. Those figures are of some significance. They show that 152,000 people were occupying 152,000 dwellings in 1947. In 1954, 213,000 people were occupying 213,000 dwellings. It is true, of course, that many of those dwellings are single rooms. They may be the huts to which my friend the honorable member for Kennedy referred, but it is also true that a great number of the 213,000 dwellings are houses occupied by one age pensioner. Because of the Landlord and Tenant Act or equivalent legislation in the States, that pensioner will not let a portion of those premises, or -
– If he lets portion of the premises, his pension would be taken away from him.
– The honorable member who makes speeches so badly desires to help me in making mine, but he anticipated the point 1 was about to mention. The point is that Commonwealth legislation, for which we all have some responsibility, makes a person who receives more than the permissible income ineligible for a pension. He is allowed to own the house that he is occupying. Two things must be done to meet this sort of problem. First, the States have a responsibility. It is stupid to throw backwards and forwards allegations of State or Commonwealth responsibility; we all have responsibility. The States, at the Housing Minister level, should consider the effect of their landlord and tenant legislation in relation to the individuals I have mentioned. I believe that the Commonwealth should consider in its social services legislation what can be done to safeguard the rights of a person occupying a whole dwelling in these days. A provision could well be included in the relevant act to exclude rent received from the letting of portion of these places from income computed to determine eligibility for a pension. If that were done, a substantial reduction would be effected in the admitted demand for housing. That, in itself, would have the effect of reducing the pressure from the States on the Commonwealth for finance and might lead to a realistic appreciation of the problems that face us.
I submit those matters to the House, in the main, not as the party political line, though, under the conditions of this debate determined by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), we cannot avoid looking at the dreadful alternative government represented by the honorable member for Herbert. Other than that, we should look at these base problems, as far as possible, as responsible people irrespective of political parties. After all - and in this I agree with my friends, the honorable member for Kennedy and the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) - however great the problem, it is a vital problem that all of us face to-day.
.- I support the amendment to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply so ably moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). He pointed out the great damage that is being done to family life in the community by the housing shortage. Thousands of families are unable to obtain homes, and many are being broken up, unfortunately on a permanent basis, because of that. It is a tragedy and a national disgrace for which this Government is responsible. It is a horrible thought for any intelligent person to have, because we believe that such a condition could be avoided.
To-day, we have plenty of building materials and a surplus of skilled and unskilled labour for home-building. All that is necessary is finance. We know that the reservoir of finance is greater than the reservoir of other necessaries. The Labour party has produced evidence to prove that that is so. The only obstacle is bad government. If we could remove this bad Government, we feel that the credit restrictions, which are preventing the erection of adequate homes, would be removed.
I do not wish to say anything further about housing, but wish to refer to other matters. I believe that the Opposition has presented a case that the Government has failed to answer and any additional evidence that I could give would not serve any purpose.
It is not customary to have more than one opening of Parliament during the life of a Parliament. Following the 1955 general election, the Governor-General opened the Parliament on 15th February, 1956. Last week, we witnessed the second opening of the same Parliament, and we have had a second Speech from the Governor-General. I appears to me that the Government adopts any procedures and techniques that suit it. Possibly, the proroguing of Parliament was an easy way for the Government to avoid dealing with some of the questions and matters that had accumulated on the business-paper. It is a well-known technique employed by governments that look for a way to avoid embarrassing questions and awkward notices of motion that appear on the business-paper. The Government is dodging the issue. Quite a number of unanswered questions were on the business-paper when this Parliament went into recess last November. To prorogue Parliament, in our opinion, is the Government’s way of avoiding the issue. We do not complain, of course, about the additional opening. Indeed, the Opposition welcomes the restatement of Government policy. In addition, we all have an opportunity to make a speech.
I recall that the Governor-General’s Speech last year was made on 15th Feb-, mary. That Speech made no mention of the “ little budget “ that is so well known to us all. It is amazing that legislation which imposed an additional £115,000,000 taxation on the people on 15th March, 1956, was not mentioned in a statement of policy made exactly one month earlier. The taxation in the “ little budget “ was additional to the taxation imposed by the Government in its 1955-56 budget. That budget had itself exceeded all previous taxation and revenue records. This action was taken by a government that had promised to reduce taxation. Instead, it broke an alltime record, and brought its £1,130,000,000 budget up to a total amount of £1,245,000,000. It is well to remember that the pensioners did not receive any increases of pensions, notwithstanding this colossal budget.
Apart from appealing to organized monopolists to refrain from excessive profiteering in order not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, the Government took no action to curb inflation and profiteering. If the Prime Minister, or any one else, believes that profiteers will be induced to change their habits, habits that are as old as capitalism itself, by a sentimental appeal, he is sadly mistaken. In the years up to 1948 the Chifley Government proved that national prices control was the only effective deterrent to profiteering, and it sought, by way of a referendum, to have powers to control prices and profits permanently inserted in the Constitution. The Labour Government’s efforts at that time were ridiculed by the present Prime Minister, who claimed that competition between traders was the best safeguard. Every housewife, every pensioner and every consumer knows how utterly absurd this contention was. Price competition, as we all know, just does not exist. It went out of fashion many years ago. The Prime Minister knows this. He does not want to prevent his big business friends from making excess profits. He is the head of a government that represents big business interests.
If we examine the changes in prices of commodities since the Parliament went into recess last November, we will find that in many instances costs have increased. The price of tea, for instance, increased by 7d. per lb. Honorable members will remember that when the Labour party had control in 1948 tea cost 2s. 9d. per lb. To-day it costs 7s. 4d. per lb. The prices of other commodities, such as beer, butter and several grocery lines, have increased by Id. or 2d. each.
– Do not forget shipping freights!
– As I am reminded by the honorable member for Kennedy, shipping freights have increased by 14 per cent. The price of petrol increased by lid. n gallon. Strange to say, while these prices were being increased, the C series index showed a decrease, and the basic wage was reduced in all States by 3s. or 4s. a week. This Government, of course, is not innocent in this matter; it aids and abets the people who increase prices. It handed over to the petrol monopolists in Australia the only counter that we had to high petrol costs when it sold, at bargain prices, our shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. The Government also closed down the Glen Davis shale oil project. The Commonwealth Government owned or controlled 51 per cent, of the shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, which gave us some protection against the activities of the world oil cartels. With these shares gone and the Glen Davis project closed down, Australia was left without any competition in this important field. Competitive petrol prices just do not exist. Wherever one travels, from suburb to suburb and from district to district, one finds that petrol prices are the same. As an indication of the strength of these petrol monopolists, consider how they stood over the Queensland Government. A lawfully constituted authority, the Queensland Prices Commissioner, after examining all the facts from an economic point of view, agreed to increase the price of petrol by id. a gallon, but the petrol monopolists said, “We want Id. a gallon extra “. They threatened to withhold supplies of this important commodity from Queensland if their demands were not acceded to. The petrol monopolists held this threat over the people’s representatives. They said, “ If you do not give us the price we want, you just will not get the petrol “. In Queensland, no petrol means no transportation of essential commodities. This action was tantamount to holding the people to ransom.
Transportation is the highest single element in the cost of goods and services in Australia. The cost of transport represents 30 per cent, of total retail prices of everything we use, eat or manufacture. Of the total tonnage of freight carried throughout Australia, 76 per cent, is moved by motor transport. The price of petrol and oil is, therefore, very important to all of us, whether we own a motor car or not. It affects us all, because we all use goods and services, and we all contribute to the big profits that are made by these oil monopolists. Yet this Government sold our shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to the big oil interests, and it sold them at bargain prices. At the time of the sale the shares were quoted at 8s. 6d. each on the Stock Exchange, but the Government sold them for 5s. each. By so doing, it left Australia without any competition in this field, and without any means of combating these high petrol prices.
It is noticeable that the Prime Minister often becomes alarmed about the economic state of Australia, because he makes statements on the matter, and arranges conferences to discuss it. But in his considerations of the national economy he seems to forget social justice; he forgets that all of our people should receive a just and equitable share of the good things that are available in this country. When the Prime Minister holds his conferences he never invites to them representatives of the workers, of the trade union movement, to ascertain whether workers are receiving a fair share from the national economy. He never inquires whether those working under federal awards are happy about having their basic wage frozen, while those working alongside them under State awards receive quarterly adjustments in accordance with the movements in the C series index, and, as a result, in all States except Victoria and. South Australia are receiving more than £1 a week more than those working under federal awards. We all know why this does not apply in Victoria and South Australia. It is because those two States have the same kind of government as we have to suffer in the Commonwealth sphere. They are Liberal-Country party governments. Does the Prime Minister and his Government believe that this differential treatment is likely to produce the good human relationships, contentment and co-operation among workers in industry which are so essential to the maintenance of a high level of production?
Has the Prime Minister ever invited to Canberra representatives of Australian housewives, to find out how women are faring in the present state of the national economy? I can remember the crocodile tears that he shed in 1949. He said then that every housewife knew how grievous the economic problem was, but that there was no need to worry. He said, “When I become Prime Minister I will fix everything and will put value back in the pound “. Every housewife knows what a fallacy that has turned out to be. The pound that he spoke of then is now worth about 2s. 6d.
In 1949, butter cost ls. 8d. per lb. and bread 7d. a loaf. To-day, butter costs 4s. 5 id. per lb. and bread ls. 3d. a loaf, a considerable increase. I mention those two commodities because the economic struggle in the homes of most workers revolves round bread and butter. Unfortunately, very often it is not a question of butter but of dry bread, or bread with margarine or fat. lt makes one wonder, with prices rising so rapidly and to such heights, how people who depend on the meagre pension of £4 a week manage to survive. Apparently, it never dawns on the Prime Minister or the people who sit behind him how the pensioners get by. Pensioners are never invited to Canberra to discuss the national economy and how economic conditions are affecting them. Not only are they not invited, but if they come here under their own arrangements they are not wanted. We all remember when the representatives of the pensioners came here last year to seek alleviation of their distress, and how the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden) refused to see them, lt was only after strong pressure from honorable members on this side of the House that the right honorable gentleman yielded and condescended to hear their claims. Of course, their appeal was of no avail. They did not get a penny, not even from the record budget to which I have referred.
It is evident that the Prime Minister never concerns himself with how the other half lives. I pose again the question that I asked earlier in my speech: Who does the Prime Minister invite to Canberra? Not the worker, the union leader, the pensioner, the war widow, the civilian widow, the superannuated person, or the unemployed miner. He does not invite those people to Canberra and he never seeks their views on this important matter. Big business magnates, investment brokers, private bankers and the like are invited here when discussions are to take place concerning the national economy. As I have pointed out previously, the national economy affects all the people, including the pensioner who receives the smallest amount of pension.
The Government has shown clearly how one-sided it is in this important matter. We witnessed the spectacle only recently, on the eve of the current Parliamentary sessional period, of the Prime Minister inviting to Canberra representatives of the Chamber of Manufactures, the Associated
Chamber of Commerce, the National Farmers and Graziers Association, the Austraiian Council of Retailers, the Australian Private Bankers Association, and of the investment brokers and the stock exchange.
– A good mob of battlers!
Ms-. COS i’A - We could hardly say that. 1 look with suspicion on this pre-sessional conference. The motive for it is obvious. I suppose that when the Prime Minister opened the conference with these gentlemen, he said, “ Well, friends, what do you want me to do for you next?
The avowed policy of the private bankers is wei j known to all of us. They wish to divide and conquer the Commonwealth Bank because they are jealous of its efficiency and of the handsome profit that it makes for all the people. The Commonwealth Bank is our strongest national bulwark, and it should be allowed to remain so. History shows that private banks have crashed in the past, and, no doubt, they will do so again. It would be dangerous to allow monetary and banking control to be taken away from our national bank, the Commonwealth Bank. The changes that the private bankers are seeking are, first, that the Banking Act should be amended with a view to separating completely the trading bank functions of the Commonwealth Bank from the central bank functions; and secondly, to ease the existing system of special accounts, under which the central bank can call in and hold, up to 75 per cent, of the deposits of the trading banks as a counter, of course, against inflation and as an insurance for depositors that their asset will remain liquid. The third change sought by the private bankers is that the Commonwealth Bank should be subject to the same rules as are private banks in respect of the payment of taxes and municipal rates.
Regarding the functions of the central bank, it is a common practice all over the world to have such a bank. The central bank must be presided over by some one. and who is better fitted for that position than is the governor of the people’s bank, the Commonwealth Bank, whether he be Dr. Coombs or any one else? The person who holds that appointment should be responsible to the Commonwealth Government. It would be a complete violation of common decency to hand control of the principal instrument of our national banking system and of our economy to private banking interests, some of whom are foreigners. Many of the shareholders of the private banks do not even reside in Australia. Much of the profit that is made by these institutions goes out of Australia.
In relation to the claim made by the private banks that the Commonwealth Bank should be subject to the same laws in respect of’ taxes and rates as are the private banks, if the profits of the private banks were distributed in the way that the profits of the Commonwealth Bank are distributed there would not be much room for complaint. We all know where the profits of the Commonwealth Bank go, but, no doubt, many of us would be shocked if we knew where and to whom the profits of the private banks go. In this connexion, I wish to refer to the last annual report of the Commonwealth Bank, which clearly indicates where the profits of that bank go. For the last financial year, to 30th June, 1956, the profit of the Commonwealth Bank was £15,637,000. Of that sum, £7,800,000 was paid into Consolidated Revenue, and we all know how that is used, lt goes to pay pensions of every kind, amongst other things. The sum of £3,200,000 went to the National Debt Sinking Fund. In other words, £11,000,000 of the £15,637,000 went directly back to the people. Of the balance, £4,000,000 was retained by the bank as a capital reserve, and £110,000 was paid out for rural developmental purposes. So here we have the whole of the profit of the Commonwealth Bank going to the people. It belongs to us. Yet, the private bankers come to Canberra to try to influence the Government to shackle the Commonwealth Bank and deprive the people of this great asset. 1 wish now to refer briefly to the recent 14 per cent, increase of shipping freights. We believe that this Government is responsible for the present unsatisfactory shipping position. In the past, the Australian Labour party developed our own Commonwealth line of ships. We had the “Bay” liners, the last one of which will be leaving Australia soon to return to England to be scrapped; after many years of excellent service. The ships that we had in those days were used to convey Australia’s products to the markets of the world. We controlled them and had some say in the shipping freight charges. This Government disposed of those ships, lt was supposed to have sold them, but I understand that the fee, or whatever it was that was to be given in exchange for them, was never actually paid. What a great asset those ships would be if we had them to-day! If we had that socialized shipping service - and the Labour party is proud of its democratic socialist policy - it could compete with the overseas shipping monopolies which increase freight rates simply because we cannot do anything about it. Every time that the prices of wool and wheat are increased the overseas shipping monopolists who control the shipping lines say, “ We will take a share of the increased profits which Australia will get from wool and wheat “. Would it not be a grand thing for us to-day if we had not only retained those ships but also had added to their numbers from time to time?
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Freeth). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) was so much at a loss for a subject to cover in his speech that, apparently, he decided to advance once again the completely exploded arguments that have been advanced by Labour for the last five or six years. He went over the old ground again. However, he did sound a new note when he criticized the proposal of the Government that there shall be a new session of the Parliament each year. The honorable member can be forgiven for his lack of knowledge of the fact that, in British Parliaments, the custom is for a new parliamentary session to be commenced each year. That is a rational procedure, because the opening of a new session gives members of the parliament an opportunity to hear the Government’s proposals for the coming session.
– This Government has not got any proposals.
– Apparently the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith cannot read, because the Speech of the GovernorGeneral, which is in print, contains many proposals by the Government. The debate on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech delivered at the opening of a new parliamentary session gives honorable members an opportunity to criticize or support the Government’s proposals and, in their speeches, to range over a wide field of subjects. On this occasion, unfortunately, the members of the Opposition, although presented with an opportunity to deal with a variety of subjects, have confined their remarks almost entirely to one subject, and they have done so purely for party political reasons. There is no doubt that honorable members opposite have spoken with their tongues in their cheeks in dealing with housing. They know very well where the responsibility for housing lies, and I shall deal with that topic in a moment.
The honorable member for Banks disapproved of the recent proroguing of the Parliament, apparently on the ground that, by that action, questions on notice standing on the notice-paper were wiped off. It seems that he is unaware - and I ask the Clerks to inform him accordingly - that he is at liberty to have placed on the noticepaper now any questions that were standing in his name on the notice-paper previously.
The honorable member talked about the policy of the Labour party in the days of the Chifley Government. Basically, that policy can be described in a very few words. It was a policy of control, a policy of rationing scarcity. That was the policy upon which the Chifley Government operated. In contrast, the policy of this Government is to ensure an equitable distribution of plenty to everybody. That is the fundamental difference between the policies of the two governments. I leave that matter there and I dismiss the honorable member’s speech by referring him to the many other speeches that have been made on that subject in this and other places.
I turn now to the Governor-General’s Speech. I was interested to find that the Government obviously intends to continue with the policy of not pinning its faith to the United Nations organization to preserve the security of Australia. That is extremely wise. I understand that later there will be a debate on foreign affairs, so I shall say no more on that subject now, except that if the Government were to pin its faith to the United Nations, it would undoubtedly be depending upon a weak or broken reed. Substantially, we must rely on our own strength, because there is only a dim and distant hope that the United Nations organization would be able to help us if our security were threatened.
The Governor-General said that the Government continued to keep the economy on a stable and progressive course, which required constant watch and appropriate action. The country might well ring with praise of an honest government which has fearlessly taken unpopular action to maintain the stability of our economy, but undoubtedly the members of the Opposition, who show such a complete lack of appreciation of their national obligations, will try to turn the Government’s unpopular actions to their advantage.
The decision of the Government to continue its drive for increased exports will be commended by every sensible person in the country, as also will its decision to assist and encourage primary producers to increase their output and improve their efficiency. If I have any criticism of the Government on that subject, it is that I do not like these constant references to assisting primary producers to improve their efficiency, which seem to imply that the primary producers are inefficient. If we go through the records, we shall find that if any people engaged in industry in Australia are efficient, it is the primary producers. In the last few years they have made, not two, but scores of blades of grass grow where only one grew previously. These constant suggestions of lack of efficiency by farmers, like the shibboleths of the Labour party, are becoming somewhat threadbare. Another thing that I want the people of this country to bear in mind is that suggestions that the farmers shall be encouraged or assisted to increase their output are accompanied usually by suggestions that the farmers shall bear a fair proportion of the cost of any assistance given.
The Opposition has moved an amendment to the motion for the adoption of the Adrress-in-Reply to His Excellency’s Speech in which reference is made to a housingcrisis. I do not know what the position is in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, although, from what I have heard about those States, I doubt very much whether there is in each of them the housing crisis that honorable gentlemen opposite would have us believe exists, but I do know that there is no such crisis in Western Australia. There is a crisis throughout the
Commonwealth in that people who should know better are constantly attempting to saddle the Commonwealth with responsibility for activities which should, and do, come within the jurisdiction of the States.
The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) - whom I pardon, because he is not aware of what actually happens - repeated the false propaganda which has been uttered by people holding positions far more responsible than his. He said that Queensland received the lowest per capita allocation of loan funds, and he condemned this Government for that. The honorable member appears to be unaware that the allocation of loan funds is made by the Australian Loan Council, which is comprised of the State Treasurers and the Commonwealth Treasurer. On the council, the Commonwealth has only two paltry votes. I suggest to the honorable member for Kennedy that if he believes that Queensland receives the lowest per capita allocation of loan funds, he should tell the people of that State what a rotten Premier they have - one who is incapable of holding his own with the other Premiers. That is the position. That is where the blame and the responsibility lie. If the Premier of my own State, Western Australia, came back from Canberra and said, “ I have received the lowest allocation of money per head of population in the Commonwealth,” I would say to him, “ If you can’t do better than that for your own State with the Premiers of the other States you should try harder”. Do not forget, the majority of the State Premiers are Labour Premiers, and if the Labour Premier of Queensland cannot hold his own with the Labour Premiers of other States, then it is time that people like the honorable member for Kennedy used their influence.
A reference has been made to the interest rate and to the relationship of this Government and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to it. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Treasurer on a record period of office as Treasurer, and also on a period of wonderful achievement in the interests of his country. Instead of saddling him and .the Government with the responsibility for interest rates let me remind the honorable member for Kennedy and all members of this House, and remind people outside, and the press, which is constantly putting out false propaganda, that it is the Australian Loan Council which fixes the interest rate, and not the Commonwealth Treasurer.
I shall state the position in Western Australia as an example of how this false propaganda goes on. I have said that we have no housing crisis in Western Australia, but we have a couple of other crises. We have a railway crisis, and I hope that time will permit me to make some further reference to it. But we have also another crisis - the crisis of a government which falsely blames the Commonwealth for its own incapacity to do in Western Australia the job that the State electors put it into office to do. We have at present a State Minister touring the country telling the country people that the State Labour Government is unable to undertake a big, comprehensive water reticulation scheme in rural areas because the Commonwealth Government will not make available any more finance than was agreed to in legislation which passed through this Parliament in 1955. The facts are simple. This scheme was originally approved by the Commonwealth, which agreed to subsidize it up to £5,000,000 or so, on a £l-for.-£l basis. Successive State governments were so slow in getting moving on the scheme that costs rose substantially before the State was anywhere near starting on it. For years the Commonwealth’s proportion pf the money, which was available to the Western Australian Government for the. construction of the scheme, was not touched by that State, although a substantial balance lay in the Commonwealth Treasury . ready to be drawn on. Ultimately a LiberalCountry party government, which was elected to power in Western Australia, stepped in and started the job, and it used the money available to it from the Commonwealth. Now we have again a Labour government in Western Australia, which is crying poor mouth. We have the Western Australian Minister for Works telling the people in the country districts to appeal to their federal members to induce the Commonwealth Government to provide a greater moiety of money each year in order to allow the scheme to be completed earlier than the plans provide.
Last year the Premiers were in Canberra discussing finance, and at. that time _ the Western Australian Premier .and the, Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), I think it was, had a broad discussion on the possibility of getting more money each year to enable completion of the scheme by an earlier date than originally planned. But nothing has happened beyond that discussion so far as Western Australia is concerned. Since that time no formal and official request has been, submitted by the Western Australian Government to the Commonwealth Government, with plans and proposals to implement the expenditure of a greater amount of money than was originally provided for, and asking the Commonwealth to amend the legislation to make more money available to Western Australia. Why? Because the Western Australian Government knows very well that the- Commonwealth would give an answer to such a request, and the answer would be that in the present year, 1956-57, there is an “amount of £462,500 available to the Western Australian Government as the Commonwealth’s subsidy for that scheme. Nine months of this financial year have’ elapsed, and anybody would expect to .find, in view of the shout from the Western Australian Government about the necessity for more money to speed up the scheme, and with the unemployment situation as it. is claimed to be in that State, that the Western Australian Government had used all its own money available for the scheme, and also the Commonwealth money available for it. That is the impression that the Western Australian Government seeks to give, but the fact is that the Western Australian Government has drawn from the Commonwealth, from the amount of £462,500 available and waiting for it in the Commonwealth Treasury, only about ?270,000 for this current financial year. At me end of nine months, .the Western Australian Government has not spent that money, when one could reasonably expect, because of the circumstances which it says prevail in Western Australia, that Government would have spent all of it and possibly more if it could get the money. If there is unemployment in Western Australia, what is the State Labour Government doing in leaving this money lying idle in the Commonwealth Treasury? Now the State Government has to rush in to spend the remaining £190,000 or £200,000 in a period of three months, and it is almost impossible to do that.
So I throw.- back in the teeth of the Western Australian Government the lie that the Commonwealth Government is not being sympathetic to it in this regard. That lie is a perpetuation of this constant propaganda to which the people on the Labour side of this House, who are supposed to be responsible people, add their voices, and the tragedy of it is that while this unsatisfactory relationship between the Commonwealth and the States exists it encourages the States to do nothing at all effective. What they do, if they do anything, is to show their lack of a sense of responsibility and their lack of regard for the real importance of the things that should take priority.
I have said that we had a crisis in Western Australia, and so we have.
– It is represented by the presence here of the honorable member.
– I am very glad to hear the honorable member say that, because I know that my presence here causes a crisis in the Opposition, and that the Opposition would, like to remove that crisis. But members.:.of. the Opposition have another think coming to them in that respect. The crisis in Western Australia is caused by our railways situation. I know that the Commonwealth has no direct constitutional responsibility for the administration and the finances of State railways, but I think, that because of the circumstances in Western Australia, there lies a moral obligation on the Commonwealth to take an interest in what is happening to-day in the Western Australian railways, and its possible effect on the national economy. The Western Australian Government’s proposal is that, within a comparatively short period, it will close down nearly half of the railways in Western Australia.
– At least one-fifth of them.
– At least one-fifth. The shutting down of those lines will deprive the wheat-growers of railway cartage for 13,000,000 bushels of wheat grown in the area now served by those railways. I realize that Western Australia, in common with other States, is running its railways at a substantial loss. The loss on the Western Australian railways in the fiveyear perjod 1950 to 1955 was £22,000,000.
– What about the loss in New South Wales?
– The loss in New South Wales in that same period was more than £22,000,000. In Victoria, the loss was £22,000,000 and, in Queensland, £14,000,000. I do not propose to give more figures; it is well known that all States show substantial losses on their railway services. I believe that the reason for that is that the States have come to rely on the Commonwealth as a fairy godfather and godmother combined. They think that they have only to say to the Commonwealth that they need more money and that the Commonwealth will provide it. They refuse, therefore, to adjust their own internal affairs as they would have to do if they were responsible for raising the finance they require. We cannot afford to allow the proposal of the Western Australian Government to discontinue so much of its present railway services to pass unnoticed either by the Commonwealth Government or by this Parliament. As I understand that some approach will be made to the Commonwealth, asking it to take an interest in this aspect of State affairs, I suggest that the least that the States should be asked to agree to is that the Commonwealth should undertake a businesslike inquiry into the operations of the State railways. I have in mind a line in Western Australia 300 miles long, the operations of which offer a shining example to the State-owned railways. It has satisfied customers and, as it runs through my electorate, I know something about it. The number of persons employed per mile is one-third of the number employed on the go-slow Government railways of Western Australia. That would be a starting point from which a business inquiry could ascertain just what was wrong with the Western Australian railways. It is highly important to the State that that should be done. I go further and say that Western Australia offers greater opportunity for quick development than does any other part of this wide land of ours. Indeed, very big developmental schemes are being undertaken to-day. When the closure of State railways is proposed, and the State government is incapable of providing water reticulation - the State’s greatest need - there is a moral obligation on the National Government - constitutional limitations notwithstanding - to take an interest in Western Australian affairs. If it does not, the consequences for our national economy may be far-reaching.
The Federal Government should set up something in the nature of a developmental commission, perhaps within the framework of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, to examine the potentialities for development in the States, and ascertain where they, through their own misguided actions, may be throwing away their opportunities. Such a commission could recommend the action, if any, that should be taken to assist the State governments. North-western Australia presents problems that no State .government alone could solve. The necessity to lend assistance, after due inquiry into what has already been done, can be fairly laid on the plate of this Government. That has been requested by all parties. There is need in Western Australia for the encouragement of the fishing industry, the gold-mining industry and other mining industries.
– Why does the honorable member not secede?
– Western Australia was so important to the national economy that when it wanted to secede, the Federal Government was at extreme pains to retain it in the Commonwealth. Honorable members must realize that Western Australia is far more important economically to the Commonwealth than is the Commonwealth to Western Australia. The proof of that is the battle that the Commonwealth put up to retain us in the federation. It has been to our constant loss.
Reference was made by my esteemed friend the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) to the lop-sided development that is taking place in this country. All the money is being spent in the eastern States. Even a portion of the huge amount spent on the development of the Snowy area would, if spent in Western Australia, return more wealth per £1 invested than would be possible anywhere else.
.- The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) is known in this House as a member who would talk under water. Quite often his gurgling, disjointed and incoherent remarks would make one believe that he was; practicing this accomplishment. His Excellency’s Speech, which we are now debating, was most disappointing. It gave no indication of the Government’s intention to come to grips with any of the major problems with which this nation is confronted. It was dull and uninteresting. I could not help but feel that His Excellency shared the disappointment of the general public with the context of his Speech. His Excellency has, since he has been appointed Governor-General, demonstrated his faith in the future of this great south land of ours. In a number of his public speeches he has given illustrations of the future that he sees for Australia. Therefore, it must have been most disappointing, to have to deliver, on behalf of his Government, a speech which lacked enterprise, which lacked foresight, which lacked initiative and which lacked confidence and faith in Australia. I sympathize with him.
I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition, the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt). It points to the need for a national housing plan in Australia. Many Government supporters, from Ministers down to back-benchers, have devoted portion of their time during this debate to discussing. housing. Many Ministers have indicated that they do nol believe that there is a housing crisis in Australia. 1 challenge the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), and members of the Government to come to the housing settlements at Herne Bay and Bradfield, in the metropolitan area of Sydney, and see what is going on there. I urge them to leave their ivory tower in Canberra, where the autumn leaves are falling and the air is clear and exhilarating; to come out of their offices, where they are busily engaged signing documents and policy statements prepared by members of the Public Service, and get to grips with the problems of the ordinary men and women who were willing to sacrifice their lives in World War II., and who have done so much in the post-war era to develop our great land. I ask these gentlemen to examine some of the housing conditions that the ordinary man and woman have to tolerate. T feel that, no matter how far removed the Prime Minister and his Cabinet may be from the real sufferings of the people of Australia, they cannot but be impressed with the disastrous effects of the naring down of finance for housing.
The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army indicated in their speeches that they were quite satisfied with the efforts of this Government in the field of housing.
Members of the Ministry have indicated that in England, in the United States of America, in Canada and in other nations, the housing situation is worse than it is in Australia. I remind these honorable gentlemen that this is Australia, and that this is the Australian Parliament. I do not care whether people in England, America or Canada, have not as good housing as the majority of citizens in Australia. We, as representatives of the Australian people, have a duty to our own Australian citizens, and while there is one person in Australia who is not adequately housed we, as a Christian nation and as Christians in the Australian Parliament, should see that that person has every opportunity to obtain adequate housing.
The members of the Government have gone to some trouble to quote statistics to prove that this government or that government, this bank or that bank, is to blame for the housing situation in Australia. Statistics do not count one iota with the men, women and children who have not adequate housing. There is an editorial in to-day’s “ Daily Mirror “ which I feel sums up the situation adequately. It reads as follows: -
END ALL THIS BUCK-PASSING!
The debate on housing in the House of Representatives yesterday revealed one thing. Every one is prepared te blame some one else for the shortage. Mr. Wheeler attacked Dr. Coombs, governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Mr. Calwell blamed the private banks. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) blamed the Cahill Government for the shortage in New South Wales.
For a long time the State Governments have been blaming the Commonwealth for not making more money available under the Housing Agreement. The Commonwealth Government, on the other hand, has been blaming the State Governments - especially that in New South Wales - for misusing their loan funds.
All this buck-passing is not resulting in the building of one more home. The people, particularly the homeless, are sick and tired of it. They look for statesmanlike action, not childlike bickering.
What about all concerned - Commonwealth, States, financial institutions, building societies, builders, and unions - getting together and trying to devise a long-range plan? That would be better than the present hurdy-gurdy of noisy words thai is going in a perpetual circle and getting nowhere.
I feel that a great deal of the time in this debate has been devoted to blaming this man or that man, this government or that government, but, as I have said, it does not get one more home for the people who need homes.
I notice that the Minister for the Army is sitting at the table. He is the man who has said that there are ample houses in Australia to accommodate the citizens of Australia who desire homes. I can tell him that in my electorate there are very few homes which are not occupied or which are occupied by only one or two persons. 1 feel certain that if we were to travel through the electorate of the Minister or through the electorates of other Ministers, we would find that there are many homes which are not filled with people or in which the fullest use is not being made of the accommodation available. The Minister for the Army is a member of a government that believes in free enterprise and in the rights of the individual to own property and do with that property what he will. , For him to suggest that persons owning homes should make room available in order that other people may live in them, seems to rae ridiculous.
– 1 did not say that.
– The Minister denies he said that, but that was the only conclusion that could be drawn from his remarks.
I say that every individual who owns a home should have the right to live in it alone or with any number of people that he desires. I would not suggest that any person should be compelled to take into his home any other person who desired better housing.
– I agree with that. I did not say anything to the contrary.
– Then it is a pity that the Minister, when he was making his speech, did not make that quite clear. There is no doubt that the interpretation that could be placed on his remarks is the interpretation that I have placed upon them.
The Prime Minister has indicated that he does not believe that there is a housing crisis. He believes that not the lack of finance but shortages of materials and manpower are the cause of the lack of housing in Australia. For the information of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), who is twittering away like a tomtit on a stump, I shall quote statistics showing the fall in demand for building materials and building fittings. The following table sets out the position: -
– Thai proves what the Prime Minister said.
– The Prime Minister said that the shortage of housing was due not to lack of finance but to the shortage of labour and materials. From July to December, 1955, the manufacturers of building materials and building fittings were able to manufacture much more than they are manufacturing at the present time. The honorable member cannot tell me that those manufacturers would have reduced their output if the demand was present The demand was not there, and that can prove only one thing - that fewer houses are being built now than in the period JulyDecember, 1955. The reason houses are not being built is the lack of finance, not the lack of suplies. The supply has existed and production could be stepped up at any time that the demand calls for it.
The same applies to the drop in homecompletion. The statistician’s figures show that the number of new houses completed in New South Wales last year was 23,754, a drop of about 12 per cent, on the 27,413 homes completed in 1955. The latest official estimate of the housing shortage among the States is as follows: -
This means that 115,350 families in Australia are not adequately housed. Even if the total were only one-quarter of that figure, the National Parliament should be doing everything possible to house those people adequately.
No fewer than 12,000 of the 30,000 outstanding applications for housing commission homes in New South Wales have been made by ex-servicemen. Why are there so many ex-servicemen applicants for assistance from the New South Wales Housing Commission? Is it because most of them are not in a position to pay the large deposit needed for the construction of a home by the War Service Homes Division.
– Or they cannot afford to wait for two years.
– Even if they were inclined to wait for the two years they would have to wait for an advance to become available from the division, they could not provide the deposit required. Unless this Government allocates to the States for housing more than it is providing at the present time, thousands of people throughout Australia will still be looking for homes for many years. It is of no use for the Government to give all the available money solely to the banks and the building societies for them to lend to people to build their own homes. Many decent and upright families in which there are two or more children will never be able to save the money needed to buy a block of land and pay a deposit on a home out of the bread-winner’s wage of not more than £16 or £20 a week.
The War Service Homes Division will make a maximum loan of £2,750. If the Minister for the Army were able, through his estate agency business, to show me any home offered for £2,750, or even £3,000, that was worth buying, I would buy it to-morrow. We in this Parliament must remember that many decent and upright families, through no fault of their own, cannot buy a home. It is the responsibility of both Commonwealth and State Governments to ensure that homes will always be provided for people in such a position. The Australian Labour party would like to see every citizen of Australia with a home of his own to take an interest in, and with a valuable stake in our great land.
– Mr. Dedman did not say that.
- Mr. Dedman may not have said that. But what he said is not in issue now; it is what 1 am saying that counts, and I have as much right to express my opinion of Labour’s policy as Mr. Dedman had. In any event, he is no longer a member of this House; so the policy that he enunciated apparently was not acceptable to the people he represented. The majority of Opposition members are firmly convinced that every Australian who wants to buy a home should be able to get the money to do so, and that those who find it impossible to buy homes should be able to live in houses provided by the State Government.
– That was not Labour’s policy when it was in office.
– Government supporters continually hark back to the policy of the Australian Labour party when it was in office. I remind the Minister that Labour held office during World War II. and the immediate post-war years. It is utterly ridiculous, totally insincere, and completely laughable for Ministers and other Government supporters to say that the present Government built more homes in five years than the Labour government built in five years, because no one in his right senses who had any sincerity or desire to develop Australia, would expect any government to do in the post-war years the things that have been done in the years of plenty since 1949. A further point that I might mention is that the planning of the Chifley Government was responsible for the high rate of home-construction in 1951 and 1952. In this respect, housing is akin to the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, which was initiated by the Labour government.
– It was boycotted by the Liberal party.
– It was boycotted by members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party who sat in the Parliament at the time. But to hear Ministers and Government supporters talk of the Snowy Mountains scheme to-day, one would think the Liberal party and the Australian Country party fathered it. In the same manner, Government supporters take credit for the rate of home construction in 1951 and 1952, which was achieved only as a result of the planning of the Chifley Government, which was given effect in the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945.
– That agreement gave effect to a socialist scheme. It did not provide for home-ownership.
– The sooner the Minister forgets his partisan attitude as a Minister of the Government, looks at things from an Australian stand-point, and gives credit where it is due, the sooner he will be able to administer his portfolio more justly and efficiently than he has done up to the present time.
I want to make the further point that many of our citizens are expected to live in rented rooms in large homes, and in sheds and garages, in back-yards. The housing situation is responsible for many evils. Many marriages have been broken by the intolerable conditions endured by husband, wife, and children living in cramped quarters and all sleeping in the same room. Under such conditions, people naturally become impatient and quick-tempered, and often have domestic squabbles. A great deal of unhappiness occurs as a result of wives having to cook, eat, sleep, and care for children in the one room, with wedding presents and clothing stored under the beds, a crib for a baby in one corner, and a cot in another corner for a child two or three years of age. Under these conditions, it is utterly impossible to preserve reasonable living standards and maintain one’s temper. Again, many homes accommodate ten or fifteen children and adults. In many instances, teenage boys and girls are expected to dress and undress in the same room, and they would have to be super-human to resist all the temptations placed in their way in the inadequate and sub-standard dwellings in which they are forced to live. If we regard ourselves as a Christian nation, we should do our best to provide more adequate housing so long as there is one person who requires better accommodation than he already has. We should not blame this government or that government, or this bank or that bank. We should endeavour to achieve co-operation between the Commonwealth and States, housing institutions, and the banks, come to grips with the housing problem, and provide homes for people who desire them.
The subject of housing is close to the hearts of all Opposition members, because they are representatives of the ordinary men and women. They know the conditions, under which the ordinary people live, and the kind of accommodation they have to endure. Because Opposition members are well versed in those things, they are much better fitted to speak for the people about housing than are the representatives of Liberal constituencies in which there are large homes that are almost castles, set in spacious grounds, and accommodating only one or two people whose wants are attended to by several servants.
In conclusion, I issue a challenge once more to the Prime Minister, to the Minister for the Army, who regards himself as the Government’s expert on housing, and to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) to come to some of the industrial suburbs of Sydney and get hold of some of the files of the Housing Commission of New South Wales so that they may learn for themselves the living conditions of many of the people of Australia. Realistic and hard-hearted as they would have us believe they are, they could not but be moved by the housing conditions of many Australians. I make an earnest appeal to them to do everything possible to see that this housing situation is tackled immediately and that the 115,000 people are given homes.
.- A few days ago, the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) mentioned that this debate on the Address-in-Reply to His Excellency the Governor-General’s Speech gave honorable members an opportunity to speak on almost any subject. I want to avail myself of that latitude to-night and state that I regret the absence of any reference in that Speech to civil defence.
I was one of the fortunate 25 members of this House who attended the Civil Defence School at Macedon some weeks ago and at this juncture I should like to compliment the Government on having set up that school. There is probably some doubt in the minds of a lot of people as to what we mean exactly by civil defence, and I think it a good idea to try to get some firm idea of the definition of this subject. I believe that it can be defined as the protection of the home front by civilians acting under civil authority to minimize casualties and war damage and to preserve the maximum civil support for the war effort. It rests upon the principle of self-protection by the individual, extended to include self-protection on the part of groups and communities, manned largely by volunteers.
I returned full of enthusiasm for the school, for the instructors, and for the indoctrination course that we undertook. When I spoke of the school in my electorate, one of the first questions I was asked was “ Would it not be better for the Commonwealth Government to allocate the money spent on civil defence to educating people against war? I could not agree more with that sentiment but I believe in being a realist and looking facts in the face. To me any war which may occur in the near future is not likely to be commenced by Australia, but this country may well be subjected to nuclear or guided missile attack. The civil defence course included films of the damage done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the atom bomb, and when one realizes that hydrogen bombs to-day have 500 times the power of that nominal bomb, and that bombs 2,000 times the size of that nominal bomb have been made, the concept is frightening. There are three schools of thought as to what we should do about civil defence. The first school says, “ It cannot happen here. Australia is not important enough; therefore we will not do anything about civil defence “. The second school states, “ If it does happen here and we suffer a guided missile or hydrogen bomb attack, there will be few people and supplies left, so why spend time and money on civil defence “. The third school realizes the possibility of this attack and believes in educating the people to take the necessary steps to minimize the damage to both lives and property. I am a member of that third school. I believe that any criticism which may be levelled at this Government for having spent money on civil defence would be very small compared with the criticism which could be levelled at it if, in the event of a nuclear attack, the people of Australia had no training whatsoever in the precautions necessary to minimize damage and loss of life. Then we would be really deserving of the harshest criticism.
If a man takes out a fire insurance policy on his home, surely he cannot be accused of being an arsonist or an incendiarist. If he insures the contents of his home against burglary, surely that cannot be construed as an inducement to crime. If a sporting body or charitable institution takes out a cover against rain during some function it is holding, surely nobody is silly enough to say that it is praying for rain and wants the function washed out. It is merely guarding itself against that eventuality. There are people who have accused this Government of warmongering simply because it has set up a civil defence institution. The suggestion is laughable and fantastic.
I said initially that I praised the Government for having set up this school; but I do not want it to feel that it can rest upon that. Many more schools should be set up in Australia as quickly as possible. This year this Government allocated £133,000 to civil defence. In case anybody thinks that is a good effort, let us compare it with what is being done overseas. The United States of America in 1955 allocated over £20,000,000 for civil defence. The United Kingdom allocated £10,000,000. The Government of the United States of America regards civil defence so seriously that it has given the administrator of civil defence cabinet rank. It first instituted civil defence precautions in 1951 and in that year every State and territory of the United States hai’ civil defence legislation. In the first year, there were 2,000,000 volunteer workers and exercises involving 42,000,000 people were conducted. One year later, in 1952, the volunteer force had doubled to more than 4.000.000 workers.
A press statement issued by this Government on 12th March this year drew attention to the fact that membership of rifle clubs in Australia had now reached 43,822 and that there were 1,026 rifle clubs operating. The report mentioned that the Commonwealth had allocated more than £45,000 for prize money and work on ranges. In addition it had given nearly £27,000 for administrative costs and travelling expenses. This is a very commendable effort. I do not criticize that in any way. 1 know what a fine job the rifle clubs arc doing. I know that in times of war they form the basis of our volunteer defence corps. During the war years I was a member of a rifle club attached to a Royal Australian Air Force unit. Let us consider again the £72,000 that has been allocated to less than 44,000 members of rifle clubs. The rest of our population of 9,500,000 received £133,000 for their training in civil defence. In that light the Government’s allocation for civil defence is just a little silly.
One of the lecturers at the civil defence school was Major-General Kingsley Norris, who made a statement that caused me to think deeply. He said that, given the money and the power, he could eradicate tuberculosis from Australia in the course of ten years. I thought that surely no government would withhold money or power if tuberculosis could be eradicated in ten years. There is no need for me to extol the abilities of Major-General Kingsley Norris. He needs no introduction. He has a magnificent war record and his record in peacetime is no less impressive. For years he was Director-General of Medical Services, so I feel he speaks with authority on these matters. I made it my business to find out just what was the set-up in relation to tuberculosis, and I found that the Commonwealth Government was doing a particularly good job. It is doing all it can do, and ali it is being asked to do by the. medical profession.
If there is any criticism to be levelled at any government over the matter of power, it should be levelled at one or two of the State governments. I am not criticizing Major-General Kingsley Norris, because undoubtedly power is required somewhere. I found that the Commonwealth Government in respect of its territories, and the State governments have the power, among other things, to institute compulsory X-rays, and that all the States except Victoria and Queensland, have availed themselves of that power. To do full credit to Victoria i should say that it has done a magnificent job, through voluntary X-rays, but when one examines the statistics of tuberculosis in Australia, one sees that there is no excuse whatsoever for the failure of these two State governments to come into line and exercise their power. For instance, in New South Wales, which has a compulsory X- ray examination scheme, 753,000 X-rays were taken in 1956. This represents 9u per cent, of those eligible to be X-rayed within the area covered by the mobile units, and all persons over the age of fourteen years are eligible. In Victoria, which is on a voluntary basis. 377,000 X-rays were taken in 1956. This represents, in the metropolitan area, only 17.8 per cent, of those eligible to be X-rayed in that area, and, in the country, 43 per cent. In Tasmania, 119,000 persons were X-rayed. That represented 85 per cent, of the coverage in that area.
In addition to the number of persons X-rayed in the other three States, I have the figures for the unsuspected cases of tuberculosis which were located. Queensland has by far the worst record in the fight against tuberculosis. In 1956, only 23,000 people were X-rayed in that State. No mass X-rays were conducted in the metropolitan area of Brisbane, and the areas covered in the country represented only 50 per cent, of the people eligible. Only one mobile unit is in use in Queensland at the present time, but that is more than sufficient for the number of X-rays that are being taken. I have been assured by the Department of Health that, as soon as the Queensland Government is prepared to put itself on the same basis as other State governments, mobile units are available for it. Of the 23,000 persons X-rayed in Queensland, 32 active cases were located. In South Australia, where it is compulsory, 72,000 persons were X-rayed. That represented 95 per cent, of the coverage in those areas, and 74 active cases were discovered’. In Western Australia, where it is also compulsory, 113,000 X-rays were taken, which covered 80 per cent, of the area, and 101 active cases were discovered.
If those figures are analysed, it will be found that in Queensland, South Australia and’ Western Australia 208,000 persons were X-rayed in 1956, and 207 previously unsuspected cases of tuberculosis were located. That is about one person in each 1.000 of population. The population of Australia is between 9,500,000 and 10.000,000 and approximately 7,000,000 persons are eligible to be X-rayed. Last year, fewer than 1.500,000 were X-rayed. That docs not mean that the remaining 5,500,000 persons have not been X-rayed. Some of them may have been X-rayed in previous years. But it does leave the horrible possibility that there may be 5,000 cases of unsuspected tuberculosis in this country at the present time. The position could well be worse, because statistics show that in the areas in which persons offer themselves voluntarily for X-ray, the incidence of unsuspected cases is 1.08 for each 1,000, but in the areas in which it is compulsory the incidence more than doubles and becomes 2.17 persons with previously undiscovered tuberculosis for each 1,000. That result rather shows that, if a person suspects he may be suffering from tuberculosis, he deliberately avoids an X-ray. In my opinion, that more than justifies both Victoria and Queensland exercising the power that they have. It is rather strange that they do not, because they already exercise other powers in regard to compulsory notification of tuberculosis and suspected cases have to undergo appropriate treatment. But that is not good enough. If there are 5,000 unsuspected cases which could be infecting previously healthy persons, those States should get on with the job without any delay.
The Commonwealth is doing its best to eradicate tuberculosis at the point of entry of immigrants. In addition to undergoing a medical screening before they leave their own country, the immigrants are compelled to have another X-ray within four weeks of arrival in this country. That helps to locate any cases that previously slipped through the screening procedure. If we control tuberculosis amongst immigrants and if the States exercise the powers that they have, I feel that Major-General Kingsley Norris’s boast that tuberculosis could be eliminated from Australia within ten years could be realized. There is no doubt that the campaign which has been conducted for a number of years has been successful. The figures show that before 1949 there were 24.83 deaths from tuberculosis for each 100,000 thousand of population. In 1950, the figure had dropped to 20.48; in 1951 to 18.27; in 1952 to 14.94 and in 1953 to 11.05. The last year for which we have complete figures is 1954. In that year there were only 9.98 deaths for each 100,000 of population. No complete figures are available for 1955-56, but for Western Australia in 1956 the death rate was down to 6.2 for each 100,000. That is a very effective start.
Honorable members opposite may be under the misapprehension that this Government is not doing all that it could to fight tuberculosis; if so, they will find these figures interesting. In the last years of the Chifley Government’s term of office, that is from 1946-47 to 1949-50, the amount which that government allocated for combating tuberculosis was £465,195 or an average of £116,000 a year. In the first six years of the Menzies Government’s term of office, it allocated not less than £28,000,000, or almost £5,000,000 a year. To be exact, the figure is £4,700,000 a year. I do not need to say any more; those figures speak for themselves.
Another matter raised by MajorGeneral Kingsley Norris when dealing with the subject of first aid gave me considerable thought. It was that the voluntary workers of the St. John Ambulance Brigade purchased their own uniforms and bought quite a number of medical supplies out of their own pockets. I made it my business to call on the St. John ambulance organization in Melbourne. I feel that the majority of people are not aware of the work done by this body. I shall refer to its work in my own city, Melbourne; I can speak only of that.
For every Anzac Day March, the brigade provides 400 voluntary helpers. Every Saturday, for football matches throughout the metropolitan area, there are 500 St. John Ambulance men. For the grand final which attracted 116,000 spectators, there were between 80 and 100 St. John Ambulance men. During the recent Moomba Carnival, 500 to 600 men were provided and they attended to between 400 and 500 cases. During the Olympic Games, 2,500 cases passed through the casualty station at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. They were suffering mainly from collapse and fainting. The St. John Ambulance Brigade provided 17,000 man-hours, and that is a magnificent record for any organization.
For those honorable members who do not know, and that includes the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin), I mention that the St. John organization consists of two distinct parts. There is the St. John Ambulance Association which teaches first-aid and kindred subjects, and then there is the St. John Ambulance Brigade which provides first-aid service to the public. The classes held by the St. John Ambulance Association are conducted mainly in the evenings because both the lecturers and persons attending the lectures are employed in their private occupations during the day. This association does not receive any financial support from any government. If desired, its activities could be expanded to train personnel of a civil defence organization, and also for national disasters such as floods, bushfires, earthquakes, and so on. The St. John Ambulance Brigade is comprised of men and women who have been trained by members of the St. John Ambulance Association. There are units in every State, and their work is done in an entirely honorary capacity. The brigade possesses no regular source of income for its maintenance, but, as with the association in each State, units of the brigade are available for service in an emergency and could provide an essential part of a civil defence organization.
This very fine voluntary group of helpers covers every venue where crowds are gathered. They are available for every hour of the day. They estimate that 1.5 persons in every 1,000 require attention. The St. John Ambulance Brigade receives no financial assistance from any government, although I believe that in Victoria, at present, members are reimbursed for their fares when travelling to and from duty, provided they travel on public transport. Apart from the St. John Ambulance Brigade, there is no organized body to deal with fainting or collapse. I do not want to do or say anything that will detract from the voluntary or philanthropise work done by this body, but I suggest that the Government, when preparing its budget in August, give sympathetic and favorable consideration to my appeal for funds for this fine organization which is doing such wonderful work and which can play such a very big part in civil defence. At the present time, the organization does not even own its own buildings; it has to hire them. They have started a fund for the purchase of buildings, and if they do receive some assistance they can make very good use of it. They can also publicize the work and so obtain more volunteers.
In the few minutes that I have left at my disposal I should like to mention one matter that may be of interest to the Constitution Review Committee that is sitting at the present time. I wonder how many people in Australia, indeed how many members of this House, realize that there is no such thing as an Australian doctor. We have Victorian doctors, South Australian doctors and New South Wales doctors, but there is no such thing as an Australian doctor. The registrations are made in each State. The position could arise, in a border town like Coolangatta or Tweed Heads, in which a doctor might be treating a patient living across the border, and if that patient died the doctor would not be able to sign a death certificate unless he happened to be registered in both States. The Commonwealth Government should be interested in this matter. It provides a lot of money for services, such as the pensioner medical service and those provided under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act, but it has no say in stipulating the qualifications of the men who administer those services. Surely every doctor born and qualified in this country should have the right to practise anywhere in the country. His registration should entitle him to practise anywhere in Australia.
I have read and heard quite a lot of criticism of State authorities who deny registration to alien doctors, but I wonder if the critics realize that this works both ways, and that if any of our doctors go overseas they might not be allowed to practise. They could not practise, for instance, in France, Italy or Germany, because we have no reciprocal agreement with those countries. Our doctors would be able to practise in the United Kingdom, because there is a reciprocal agreement between the various Australian States and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any world standard of medical qualifications. Each country makes its own standard, and the standards appear to vary from place to place, and even between different universities in the same country. I read in one publication that it was possible some years ago for a man who had sat for an examination at Sydney University, which had particularly high standards, and failed, to go to Edinburgh, obtain his degree and come back here and practise, because there was a reciprocal agreement in operation. I suggest that the Constitution Review Committee might consider this problem before it completes its deliberations.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Clarey) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Fairhall) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- A fairly reliable way of judging the quality of a government is to consider the way in which it treats the individual Australian citizen. The present Government has been guilty of many contemptible acts against the ordinary members of the Australian community, but probably it is shown at its worst in the treatment that it metes out to the parents of a serviceman who has the misfortune to be killed, not during war-time, but while he is performing his duties in peace-time. I wish to put before the Parliament a case that I have raised in this House on a number of occasions. In my opinion it will merit repetition. It concerns an aircraftsman who met his death in 1953. He was engaged, in the course of his duties, in destroying unserviceable equipment by fire. After the fire had died down, and an inspection was being made to ensure that the unserviceable equipment had been destroyed, a live shell, which had become mixed with the equipment, exploded. This aircraftsman was injured and was taken to Lithgow hospital, where he died. The court of inquiry said that he was killed by a million to one chance.
This young man was 32 years of age, and he was single. He was an only child, and his father, who suffered greatly from shock as a result of his death, lost a good deal of time from his work. I took the matter up with the then Minister for Air, who now is the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon). He advised me that this young man had been buried with full Air Force honours. The payment of compensation to the aged parents, however, was an entirely different matter; it was a matter for decision by the Commissioner for Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation. I was amazed at the questionaire sent out to the parents, because it seems that although such servicemen are covered by the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act, it does not automatically follow that compensation is paid on their death. After the death of this young serviceman, the parents had to prove their dependence on him prior to death. They had to provide information concerning their average weekly household expenses. They had to go into detail and state how much they spent on food, how much for rent, and how much for clothing. Then they were asked to say how many contributions were made by the deceased to such expenses, and they had to produce proof of the contributions made by their late son. They also had to prove details of expenditure by, or on behalf of, the dependants themselves. Honorable members can understand that family relationships do not involve the passage of receipts for expenditure, because that is not the way in which the Australian family manages its affairs.
After a great deal of agitation, and after taking the matter backwards and forwards to and from the responsible Minister and the Commissioner for Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation, eventually I was able to extract from them an amount of £200 as compensation for the bereaved mother. The father is getting on in years, and because of the shock of his son’s death his capacity for earning a livelihood has been reduced. Having regard to the tremendous expense involved in running a household to-day, surely it could not be thought that £200 is adequate compensation. The old people accepted it because they had no alternative. Then they made a further request. They asked that a headstone be placed over the grave of their deceased son. There is a volume of correspondence on this matter. It was taken to the Government, considered by the Cabinet, put up for review by the Minister, and eventually this Government, which is literally rolling in money from taxation, decided that it has not the financial capacity to meet this expense. What expense would be involved, even if the Government accepted responsibility for putting a headstone over the grave of every serviceman who died while serving with the forces, and not merely from a minor complaint that he might contract as a civilian? How many such cases would there be in peace-time in this country? Applying the Government’s ruling on this matter it would seem that the graves of the four airmen killed at Duntroon recently will not be marked by headstones erected by the Government. We heard so much about the heroic sacrifice of these airmen, who, to prevent further loss of life, deliberately diverted their aircraft away from one of the Army buildings. The Government should show great respect for such deceased servicemen.
I hope that the Government will have * look at the matter. How much money would it involve? A few hundred pounds over a period of years would be all that was necessary to give these aged parents the opportunity to have the graves of their sons, who sacrificed their lives in the service of this country just as if they had lost their lives in warfare, marked in a proper manner.
Now let me turn to another subject. It refers to the question of import restrictions. I am wondering how much longer the Government intends to wait before it allows the public to know something of its intentions in respect of the easing of import restrictions. Everybody in this Parliament must be aware - no doubt every honorable member has had cases brought to his notice - of struggling Australian industries, many of them not very large, but nevertheless important to this country, which are being very adversely affected by continuance of the Government’s policy of clamping down on applications for licences by small Australian industries, while being most generous in handing out licences to the big monopolies.
I want to refer to a young Australian industry which was established by a certain gentleman during the war years to meet the needs of the community and of the nation in respect of goods which could not at that time be obtained from overseas. The undertaking, Argon Instruments, carries on its operations at Devonshirestreet, Surry Hills, Sydney. This little industry was established during the war years to manufacture scientific equipment, and it was most successful. The proprietor has a number of testimonials from officers of various government departments, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and from a number of medical men in charge of hospitals throughout the country, referring to the excellence of his work. One might have imagined that this man would have been encouraged. When the war ended and his business became less profitable, he decided that he could carry on quite comfortably if he were allowed to continue to manufacture scientific equipment, provided that he could get an adequate supply of moulded glass, so that he could supply the accessories that went with the particular equipment he was providing for various government departments.
He applied to Crown Crystal Glass Proprietary Limited which, at that time, as it probably still is, was the only manufacturer of moulded glass in Australia. What happened? When he went to the Crown Crystal Glass people he was told that they could not supply him with his needs because he was not a member of the organization that covered those who were engaged in the manufacture of scientific equipment. He thereupon applied for membership, but was told that he was not eligible for membership. He could not join the organization, and Crown Crystal Glass Proprietary Limited refused. to supply him with locally produced moulded glass. He then applied for a £25,000 import licence and was refused.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.43 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 March 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19570327_reps_22_hor14/>.