22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question in relation to the administration of the provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act as amended by the 1956 measure put forward by him during recent times. I specially direct his attention to the administration of what I may call the penal or coercive provisions of the act by the Commonwealth Industrial Court which was appointed to exercise the judicial powers that had to be separated from the powers now exercised by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission as a body devoted strictly to conciliation and arbitration. Will the Minister consider intervening in important cases to put before the court views consonant with those expressed by him during the debates on the 1956 measure, in which he said that it was not the intention of the Government that the coercive or penal provisions should be exercised except in the rarest possible kind of case? I think that that fairly summarizes what the right honorable gentleman said. I do not suggest that the Minister should deal with a pending case. But he will see, from proceedings at present in progress, that provisions of the act are apparently being enforced as if nothing had been said by the Government or the Parliament, and as if there were no spirit of conciliation and mediation that should be observed by both the judicial and the arbitration bodies. Will the Minister make a general statement especially as to interlocution before the courts?
– The question is an important one. I had a survey made by the Department of Labour and National Service some little time ago to see how the new system was working out. That survey was not confined to an acceptance of the views of the department, although it indicated that the scheme was working very well as regards both the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the Commonwealth Industrial Court. I have also taken the opportunity to discuss the working of the scheme with representatives of the unions and of management. I think that it is fair to say that the scheme has been working very well indeed since the new arrangements were made. The conciliation process has been employed to a greater degree than previously. I hear on all sides commendation of the work of the conciliators, in particular the men who were appointed to do that special job. I have not had any official complaint from the unions regarding the operations of the sanctions provisions as administered by the Commonwealth Industrial Court.
– They are causing grave unrest.
– The right honorable gentleman says that they are. The first intimation I had of it was the published statement, I think attributed to Mr. Souter, in quite recent times, and I imagine that I would have heard rather more about it than I have heard, had there been any widespread dissatisfaction with the way in which the system was operating, lt is not, I think, without some significance that the loss of working time through industrial disputes in the first months of this year compared very much more than favourably with the loss in the opening months of other years.
– That will not be the case for much longer, unless you do something about it.
– I know that it will not be the case if the honorable member for East Sydney has his way, because he never ceases to stir the turgid waters in this country. Coming back to the right honorable gentleman’s request, I shall look into the practicability of having a statement made about these provisions.
– And the possibility of intervention by the Government from time to time?
– I shall have the aspects mentioned by the right honorable gentleman examined, and I shall see whether a statement can be made.
– My question is directed to the Minister for External Affairs. Is it a fact that the Communist government in China is systematically paying for visits to that country of delegations consisting of influential persons likely to be well disposed to the regime, and that such persons, on returning to their own country, then proceed to regurgitate the propaganda they have swallowed? Will the Government take active steps to combat by the most effective means this deliberate and systematic tactic that seeks to cover up the aggressive designs of the Chinese Communist government and the repressive features of the Communist regime in China?
– I rise to order. I submit that the honorable member’s question seeks an expression of opinion from the Minister for External Affairs concerning a matter that is not within the control of a Minister in this House, and is therefore out of order.
– Order! Did the honorable gentleman’s question contain a request for an expression of opinion?
– No, sir. I asked for administrative action by the Government to combat certain matters that are important in this community, and which come within the administration of the Minister for External Affairs.
– On the point of order: As I understood the substance of the question asked by the honorable member for Bradfield, he raised what I think is an important matter for this country, namely, whether a systematic campaign is being pursued by a Communist government of inviting influential persons to visit Communist China in the hope that on returning to their home countries they will spread propaganda favorable to that regime. The question of whether or not that is a desirable thing may be open to debate, but surely the honorable member is entitled to ask the Minister for External Affairs whether the information in his possession indicates that that practice is being pursued.
– In reply to the argument of the Leader of the House, who has just spoken, I say that it is clear that the question of the honorable member for Brad field was intended to invite the attention of the Minister for External Affairs to this matter and to have him express an opinion on it. Since the question relates to the activities or objectives of other persons, it cannot relate to a matter of fact and must involve an expression of opinion. Of course, if such a question can be asked in this House in reference to one country, questions can also be asked in reference to other countries. I submit that this form of questioning is completely out of order. There is a growing tendency in this House to have these pre-arranged questions asked.
– I do not say that this is a pre-arranged question, although the right honorable gentleman, almost every day, hands prepared questions to his back-benchers. This question is intended to extract from the Minister for External Affairs an expression of opinion, and I submit that that is completely contrary to the Standing Orders.
– I desire to make a personal explanation, Mr. Speaker. It has been suggested that my question to the Minister for External Affairs was pre-arranged. I wish to say that I have not discussed the question at any time with the Minister for External Affairs.
– Order! I submit that there has been a tendency to ask for expressions of opinion from Ministers, and I rule that the question, in its present form, is out of order.
– I wish to raise another point of order, Mr. Speaker. After the honorable member for Bradfield-
– Is the Minister questioning my ruling?
– No, sir. I am raising a point of order on another matter. After the honorable member for Bradfield-
– Order! The Minister is out of order. He will resume his seat.
– My question is directed to you, Mr. Speaker. Is it a fact that the Serjeant-at-Arms of this House, Dr. G. S. Reid, submitted a thesis to the London University entitled “ A Comparison of the Financial Procedures of the Parliaments of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Australia “? Is it a fact also that for this thesis he gained the degree of Doctor of Philosophy? In view of the interest of honorable members in this subject, will you, Mr. Speaker, try to arrange with the London University for a copy of his thesis to be placed on the table of this House? In considering this mutter, sir, will you bear in mind the fact that many people interested in parliamentary procedures and responsibilities would welcome the publication of a valuable work similar to those written in recent years by our Clerk and by the Acting Clerk in another place, and subsequently published as parliamentary papers?
– Yes; Dr. Reid was awarded a doctorate by the London University for his thesis on the subject mentioned.
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an answer to a question to be supplied to Mr. Speaker beforehand?
– Order ! There is no point of order. It is pleasing to learn of the interest of the House in this matter, and I shall be happy to approach the London University authorities with a view to securing permission to place a copy of the thesis on the table of the House.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. Bearing in mind, first, that Australian exports to the countries of continental Europe which are members of the European Payments Union usually exceed greatly our imports from those countries and, secondly, that our imports from those countries are treated, for import licensing purposes, on the same footing as those from sterling area countries, will the right honorable gentleman consider liberalizing exchange control practice so that Australians travelling overseas may be free to spend their full allowance of foreign exchange without discrimination in any country which is a member of the European Payments Union, whether a sterling or non-sterling country, thus extending to travellers the freedom of choice already enjoyed by traders, and removing what some of our important customer countries in Western Europe regard as unjustified discrimination against them?
– The question raised by the honorable member is very important and the substance of it has been under continuous review and consideration by the Government. The observations made by him are well placed and will be taken into consideration.
– When the 1957-58 budget is being framed, will the Minister for Social Services consider changing the method of advancing financial aid for the construction of homes for the aged? At present, money granted by the Commonwealth is on a £l-for-£l basis. Will the Minister consider granting to existing approved institutions 100 per cent, of the necessary money so as to help in accommodating many pensioners who are not able to pay the high rents demanded for rooms at the present time? If the Government will not comply with this request, will it consider payment, on the present 50-50 basis of allocation, to municipal councils which undertake to do this most important social work?
– I should like very much to do whatever lies within my power to accede to any request made to me by the honorable member for West Sydney, but in this instance, with a sense of regret, I have to say that I could not support his proposal. I would do nothing to reduce the number of homes for the aged being built throughout the Commonwealth, and the honorable member’s proposal would have the effect of reducing the number by at least one-half.
– It has been reported in the press that concern was felt for the safety of an aircraft flying over the Timor Sea, carrying Hungarian migrants to Australia. Could the Minister for Immigration give some detailed information about this incident?
– I can give’ the honorable member some information about this matter, although not in detail. The aircraft was about 600 miles from Darwin when a fire warning was given in respect of No. 4 motor, one of the outside motors. In this type of aircraft, the fire-warning system is a very sensitive electrical circuit with solenoids, relays and so on. Quite often a micro-switch can be faulty and a fire warning can be given although, in fact, there is no fire. Whether that happened in this case, I do not know. However, the fire-warning light came on and the captain of the aircraft, quite rightly, stopped the motor and feathered the propellor. He was able to maintain height quite well on three motors, as can be done in this type of aircraft, and came in to a normal landing at Darwin airport.
I wish to say that the Royal Australian Air Force air-sea rescue service did a magnificent job last night. Their vessels were out to sea within minutes of the emergency being proclaimed. Radarequipped aircraft went out, located the aircraft that was in distress and escorted it all the way into Darwin. I think that was a very fine performance on the part of the R.A.A.F. That is, briefly, the story. The fire-warning light came on, the captain of the aircraft quite correctly feathered the propellor, and the aircraft came in and landed quite safely. I understand that very little had to be done to the aircraft to enable it to continue its flight to Wagga.
– Since the provision of housing for the aged is a federal responsibility under the social service powers, I ask the Treasurer whether he will initiate action at the forthcoming Premiers conference for the Commonwealth to seek Loan Council approval for the provision of additional finance, particularly for State housing commissions, for the purpose of providing single-unit accommodation for the aged and infirm at a nominal rental, over and above the allocation for the State’s ordinary housing requirements?
– I will examine the subject raised by the honorable member in his question and see to what extent his request can be complied with at the forthcoming Premiers conference.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry: Can he inform the House of the progress of wheat sales and neither it is true that shipping freights on wheat have decreased and are now lower than those which operated last year?
– I will get full details relating both to exports and sales of wheat and convey them to the honorable member just as soon as I can. So far as freights are concerned, there has been a substantial decline in shipping freights for wheat during the last few months. I think the rate has fallen from something like 230s. a ton, sterling, to 120s. a ton, sterling. That is equivalent to about 4s. Australian a bushel, and though this may appear to be a substantial fall, even 120s. is still fairly high compared with normal freights. Unfortunately, because of competitive conditions overseas, and the fact that the Australian Wheat Board has to charter in advance, the benefit is not being passed on to the Australian producer, but the c.i.f. price to the importer is being reduced by a somewhat equivalent amount.
I can deal with exports only in general terms, but I will get the details for the honorable member later. Exports have been substantially greater this year than last year. Forward sales are moving very slowly and I expect that there will be a substantial reduction this year, as compared with last year. I will get the exact details required by the honorable gentleman and pass them on to him.
– I should like to preface my question of the Treasurer by stating that, from time to time, it is necessary for age and invalid pensioners suffering from lingering illness to be admitted to private hospitals for treatment, because most public hospitals will not accept such cases. The relatives of such persons are more or less duty bound to pay the expenses so incurred. When the Treasurer is drafting the next budget, will he give earnest consideration to allowing portion of such expenses as a deduction for income tax purposes?
– When the next budget is being drafted the honorable member’s request will be given consideration, together with hundreds of other requests for income tax concessions, deductions and exemptions.
– Will the Minister for Territories inform honorable members of the stage reached in the development of the rice project in the Adelaide River District of the Northern Territory? Could he also indicate the acreage planted by Territory Rice during the season? Has the harvest been completed, and has he any idea of the size and quality of the crop? Has he any information regarding proposed milling facilities in the Territory, or the method by which the rice becoming available will be marketed? Could the Minister say what progress is being made with his own department’s experimental plot in the Sixty Mile area? What have been the results, and what are the prospects of future operations in the area?
– It is a little early in the season to give a final answer to the question asked by the honorable member for Darling Downs. During the current season the Administration planted about 200 acres of rice in three different areas - at the Sixty Mile, Humpty Doo and Beatrice Hills. The purpose of that planting of 200 acres was solely experimental, continuing the work that had been going on for a number of years in investigating various problems of rice growing. That crop, on those three areas totalling 200 acres, is now being harvested and we have not yet to hand the final results. Quite apart from the Administration’s experiment, a commercial venture - Territory Rice - planted a very much larger area. They commenced the season with aerial sowing on to a dry seed bed, and while the seed was still lying on the ground flocks of geese came and gobbled it up. So it was necessary for them to re-seed practically the whole of that area, and that gave them a rather later start than they had planned to have. But I understand that, in the final result, Territory Rice will harvest between 750 and 1,000 acres. I am not sure of the exact area, but that harvesting is about to commence. I understand that the general prospects are very good. On the question of milling, Territory Rice obtained a site at what is known locally as “ The Eighteen Mile “ for the erection of a rice mill for the treatment of the grain. 1 might take the opportunity, in view of some rumours that are current, of assuring the honorable member that the energy and resolution with which Territory Rice are carrying on this experiment is undiminished. In fact, they have all the confidence in the future that they had when they first started.
– Last week, in reply to my question, the Minister for Supply advised that about 100 stations, which have been referred to as “ sticky paper “ stations, were scattered throughout Australia. As the Minister did not give a complete answer to my question, I again ask him whether any of these stations are located in the WoIIongong-Port Kembla district. If not, why is not a check made on the amount of radio-activity in this heavily populated industrial district? Are similar stations located at other major centres of population in Australia? Will the Minister provide a statement of information which will convey to the public the results of tests made at the 100 or so stations scattered throughout the Commonwealth for the recording of the amount of radio-activity in Australia?
– If I have failed to answer the honorable gentleman’s question or if I have broken any promise to answer a question, I am sorry, but I do not think that I have. I do not think that I promised that I would tell him whether there was a station at Wollongong or any other specific spot, but I will look into that matter. I did say that there were about 100 stations around the Commonwealth. The point to be remembered is that these stations are not there only for the purpose of measuring radio-activity arising from atomic tests. They are also intended to fulfil obligations to the United Nations which we have undertaken, and also to collate for the benefit of scientists in Australia as much information as possible concerning what is called background radiation or, in other words, radiation from X-rays, as well as cosmic rays from the sun. By no means is the whole significance of this matter connected with atomic tests. I will get all the information that I can for the honorable gentleman. Whether the Government would be prepared to present to the public what I might call mathametical or scientific figures, which could not be interpreted by a layman, is another matter.
– By way of explanation of a question which I address to the Minister for Primary Industry I should like to state that some years ago the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture of the day issued a booklet which set out in plain terms allowable deductions and general taxation principles that applied to primary producers. The booklet was greatly appreciated. As it was issued before the taxation self-assessment system and other welcome measures were introduced, will the Minister for Primary Industry confer with the Treasurer with a view to the issuing of a similar booklet in up-to-date form?
– After consultation with the Treasurer without notice, I can give my colleague who has just asked the question an assurance that the whole of this problem will be looked at and the information brought up to date. Some time after the presentation of the next budget, the booklet will be issued in the form in which he has asked that it be issued.
– Can the Deputy Prime
Minister inform the House whether the recently created sub-committee of Cabinet, which was set up to study and report on transport problems in Australia, will consider the following matters: First, the standardization of the north-south railway from Marree, in South Australia, to Alice Springs, thus completing the standardization of the north-south line, which has already been built; secondly, the completion of the north-south railway in conformity with the undertaking given to South Australia under the terms of the Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910-1953; thirdly, construction of the Barkly Tableland railway connecting Darwin with the eastern States?
– The whole of the subject covered by the honorable gentleman’s question involves far-reaching policy that must be treated by the Government in due course in a well-considered way. A sub-committee of Cabinet has been set up to investigate and report, on the broadest possible basis, on the transport problem generally. There is no concentration on rail transport; the whole transport problem - rail, road, sea and air - will come within the scope of that subcommittee’s investigation.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs any confirmation of the reported sending of large quantities of Communist propaganda material to Australia from some source in New Zealand? Will he confer with the Minister for Trade on whether licences are granted for the importation of these publications?
– Yes, a good deal of propaganda material has been coming into Australia in the last four, five or six months. The material that has come to my notice has emanated from the Soviet Legation in Wellington, New Zealand, and is sent through the post addressed to individuals, either in their official or private capacity. I have forgotten the name given to the material. It is issued each week and is a roneoed thing of about twenty pages of what purports to be reproductions from the Soviet press - “ Izvestia “, “ Pravda “ and other Moscow newspapers. It is very dull and dreary. I cannot believe that it has very much propaganda value. It is very persistent. For instance, the secretary of the Department of External Affairs has no less than three or four copies addressed to him at a variety of places - just to make quite sure he receives it. I believe it is also sent to the secretaries of a number of other Commonwealth departments, such as the Department of Defence, and I believe it goes to the chairman of the Public Service Board and quite a number of other people. I do not take it very seriously. It is received by a considerable number of addressees, and we are in the course of trying to discover the number of copies sent to Australia. The material has not very much sex appeal from a political point of view, and I cannot believe that it is worth while taking very much notice of it. However, it is evidently a planned campaign, and we are trying to discover the extent and scope of it. When that is discovered, if any action needs to be taken it will be taken.
– My question is directed to the Deputy Prime Minister and is in reference to the representations that have been made to his department by the Australian Teachers Federation concerning the appointment of a practising teacher from within that organization as a member of the Australian delegation to the next conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In the past, representation has been restricted to the Commonwealth Office of Education. I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether, in view of the unquestionable right of the federation, which represents 40,000 members, to speak on matters affecting children’s education, he will give favorable consideration to the nomination of a delegate from the federation to the 1957 Unesco conference.
-In reply to the question raised by the honorable member, I know nothing of the representations that have been made. They were no doubt made to the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister’s Department. The honorable member said that the previous representations from the Australian Teachers Federation had been rejected and that fresh representations were being made on this occasion. Well, I do not know on the face of it whether the case for representation of the federation is any stronger now than it was formerly when the proposal was rejected. However, I will have the matter investigated.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Immigration concerning new Australians who have left relatives behind the iron curtain and are anxious for them to come out to this country. Is it considered dangerous for these people to nominate their relatives, as they might then be subjected to victimization by Soviet secret police? If not, how should they go about applying to have these people brought out to Australia, where they can begin a new life? Have any relatives of immigrants been able to reach Australia from behind the iron curtain in the last few years?
– This Government is constantly trying to get people from iron curtain countries, but the honorable member will appreciate that Australia has no representation there and always has to make representations through some other embassy from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Roumania. However, the Government has been remarkably successful, I think. We have been able to get quite a considerable number of people in the last twelve months. With Russia we have not been quite so successful. When Mr. Bulganin and Mr. Khrushchev were in England a cable was sent to them asking them, in the name of humanity, to assist this Government in reuniting families here in Australia, but that has not borne much fruit up to date. However, we are keeping the pressure on and we are trying our best to get a number of families out. Up to date I think about 300 people have come to Australia from those countries. There are indications that Hungary, which is under a Communist government, Poland and Jugoslavia, are allowing their people to go overseas and the Government is hoping to get more people out as the time goes by.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Immigration concerning an aspect of the Hungarian refugee problem. Have Immigration Department officers in Austria watched for the possibility of Communists from Hungary, disguised and acting as refugees, planting themselves among the refugees, getting through the cursory examination in the refugee camps, and finally arriving in Australia to carry on their nefarious activities? Will the Minister look at this aspect of the Hungarian refugee problem, which Australia, as a nation, has generously helped to solve? What tests and examinations are being conducted in the camps?
– The honorable member has raised a very important question, but it is such an obvious one that it has been attended to. When some 160,000 people come out of a Communist country, the first thing one thinks of is that there must be a fairly good security check on them, and to the best of this Government’s ability that check has been carried out. But there is what I might call an informal check by the refugees themselves. Those people who came from Budapest and other places and who suffered under the Communist regime have a very good idea who the Communists were and are. If the honorable member has seen the photographs published in “ Life “, he will get a good idea of what these people suffered at the hands of the Communists. I do not think there is much chance that Communists have been deliberately planted among refugees, although it must be remembered that Hungary for the last ten years has been under a form of Communist government.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. As travellers arriving back in Australia from England still complain that they have been unable to find Australian butter as such in the English shops, will the Minister urge on the Australian Dairy Produce Board the desirability of learning from the experience of New Zealand, and adopting a standard brand for the whole of the British market and discouraging the use of many of the present brands, such as “ Wallaby “, “ Kookaburra “, “ Southern Bounty”, “Unity”, and - worst of all- “ O.S.T.R.A.L.O.”?
– As I understand it, until a few months ago, it was customary to use Australian butter as a blending butter when it was sold in the United Kingdom. But, in recent months - perhaps in recent weeks - the Australian Dairy Produce Board has induced overseas merchants to sell Australian butter in pat form - that is, under a particular label. I am not quite certain of the names on the labels. Many of those just mentioned by the honorable member are quite new to me, and I had not heard of them previously. I shall ask the board to take up with the overseas merchants the question of a standard label, and also to see whether some of the better brands under Australian labels could not be sold on the United Kingdom market.
– I wish to address a question to the Minister for Immigration. In view of the Minister’s recent statement about the Government’s concern for re-uniting, in the name of humanity, families that are now separated, will he state the Government’s reason for refusing to re-unite Cypriot families that are at present separated, especially in view of the fact that Cypriots are British subjects?
– Under the ceiling that has been fixed, we may bring in only 115,000 immigrants each year, apart from immigrants from the United Kingdom, in respect of whom there is no limit. We are now bringing in from Cyprus, and from other Mediterranean countries, the close relatives of families already in Australia, but, obviously, the ceiling prevents us from bringing in all who wish to come.
– Then the Government will not bring in any Cypriots?
– Cypriots are coming to Australia in groups.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Territories whether he has had brought to his notice a recent statement by a leading industrialist who bitterly criticized the health facilities in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Can the Minister inform the House what is the exact position in the Territory, and what steps have been taken to bring the health services, including hospitals, up to date? Can he inform the House of the position in relation to medical services in particular? Further, will the Minister comment on the statement that considerable numbers of natives are dying, particularly from tuberculosis, because they do not receive proper attention? Will the Minister also inform the House whether this disease is largely fostered in the highlands by the ancient native custom of sleeping in small closed huts, and will he outline the action taken by the administration to overcome this ageold problem and to encourage the natives to adopt more hygienic housing?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member refers. In order to answer his question in full, I should require more time than I think the House would be prepared to give me now. But I should like to make two or three brief comments, first, on the general problem of health in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, and, secondly, on the measures taken to deal with that problem. The basic problem is that we have 1,750.000 people living in a country which is still, by and large, in a very primitive condition, and many parts of which are very difficult of access. But, within the limits permitted by the primitive condition of the people and the difficulty of access to all parts of the country, I consider that the territorial administration is, year by year, doing increasingly useful and praiseworthy work in caring for the health of the people. That work begins both in providing the basic services for primitive people and in undertaking basic training of primitive people in hygiene, and, at the same time, providing hospitals, clinics, and the other establishments that are needed for the treatment of disease that is already active. I think that, at the present time, about £2,000,000 a year out of the Territory’s budget is being applied to health problems. At the same time, we are developing, by a considerable programme, the basic establishments such as base hospitals, district hospitals, and village hospitals, and, year by year, we see additions to that basic organization.
We are also building up, year by year, the number of European medical men, nurses, and medical assistants who are devoted to this work, and we have also undertaken, to an increasing extent, the training of the indigenous people themselves as both medical assistants and native medical practitioners. The numbers of both European and indigenous people who are now engaged in the tasks of health administration, and the amount of money being applied to those tasks, show a very great increase over the past few years. In addition, we have undertaken to obtain specialist aid from the resources of Australian medical science in order to supplement what is done by the medical services in the Territory itself and, from time to time, specialist teams devoted to a particular subject go to the Territory from Australia. I can assure the honorable member that there is absolutely no foundation in any statement that may have been made that the natives are dying in large numbers as a result of inattention. The health of the people of the Territory is certainly very much better than it was, and I think that, having regard to the difficulties, the labours of the Territory medical services are among the more praiseworthy and more successful of the activities being undertaken by the Australian Government.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to Monday next, at 2.30 p.m.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).I have received a letter from the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) proposing that a definite matter of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely -
The gross inefficiency of accounting and clerical procedures in the Government’s administration of imports especially in the recording of import quotas, import licence applications and import’, entry records resulting in confusion in assessment of total imports and in measuring individual import quotas to the damage of thousandsof individual firms and the economy as a whole.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places) -
.- No one would deny the importance of the accounting and clerical procedures on which the control of imports into Australia is based. These procedures in the Government’s administration of imports are of great importance for two main reasons: First, any decisions about the total level of imports must be based upon these procedures, and unless the procedures are accurate and speedy, decisions cannot be made in accordance with the limit on the imports that may enter Australia in a given period. Secondly, these procedures really determine the size of the quotas of indivi-dual firms within that total of imports. Evidence has been obtained by myself and others, from the most reliable sources, that these accounting and clerical procedures are grossly inefficient, slow and hopelessly out of date. As accounting procedures - if they can be so called - they are 50 years behind the times. They are equivalent to single entry bookkeeping in these days of modern methods. They represent a time bomb which could blow up the whole system of import regulation. Because of this inefficiency, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of quotas have been reduced from time to time or kept lower than they need have been, thereby forcing small importers out of business or into insolvency. The accounting and clerical procedures at present in use are so bad that decisions of such dire consequence based upon them cannot be justified. Further, almost as much damage is done by delay. Every honorable member knows of numerous cases involving months of delay, and the cases that we know about represent only a small percentage of the total. Almost as much damage is done to the economy by delay of months which is predominantly the result of the cumbersome and inefficient system.
This proposal is not directed towards revealing trafficking in licences which may or may not exist; it is not concerned with imbalance or unfairness in the allocation of quotas between one importer and another; it is not concerned with dishonesty; but all these things are made possible, more likely to occur and more difficult to detect because of the confusion and inefficiency which prevails. There is a widespread conviction of inefficiency, and there is suspicion of worse. I refer to the “ Financial Review” of 4th April last, which states -
Senior officials and Ministers have said that the Minister’s interpretation presents far too rosy a picture of the efficiency of his department’s control over the rate of imports.
I am citing a responsible financial journal. The article continues -
Observers suggest that, on the basis of experience, the £40,000,000 cuts imposed in June last were actuated by a degree of panic about the inefficiency of the then licensing procedures which have turned out to be unjustified by the events.
The licensing procedures which were in operation then are still in operation to-day. In the economic survey entitled “ 1957 and Beyond “, which was presented by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to the Parliament on Thursday of last week, we have an admission that this position exists. The right honorable gentleman said, speaking of import controls -
Administratively they create the most intractible problems for which, in many cases, only arbitrary solutions are possible.
This is far from satisfactory. The accounting and clerical problems involved are far from extraordinary or intractable. Many retail stores and branches of trading banks handle accurately and quickly, vastly more transactions than those handled in this field.
T wish now to read from a responsible communication which has been directed to me. It states -
Close observation of procedure during the past year, have shown that this Department is actually attempting to perform National Accounting functions whilst failing to observe even the most elementary precautions to ensure the accuracy of its Accounting Reports. In many of its major Financial Controls there is no Reconciliation and no Balance whatever, to verify the accuracy of the Financial Statements on which Executive Action of National Importance and far reaching consequence is taken. In other words the System used it too inefficient in Method and consequently so unreliable in execution that it would probably not be tolerated in even a South American Republic. As a result of this, High Level Policy Decisions, of far reaching consequence and incalculable National importance are being based on unreconciled and unproved Financial Statements of consequential questionable accuracy. This deficiency is so serious that its harmful effects to the National Economy can hardly be overstated. The severe restrictions imposed last June were a consequence of a Panic resulting from miscalculation and defects in the Department’s Accounting Methods. The recent relaxations, reverting the Licensing Position back to that operative before the June restrictions were again due to the inadequate system’s belated discovery, and admission of the June error. But still, apparently nothing has yet been done to correct the Basic deficiencies of the Department’s system of Accounting in Import Licensing.
What happens in detail? The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), will know that what I am about to say is correct. The range and variety of the transactions involved are indicated by various publications. In the “ Tariff Guide “, for instance, there are 26 divisions covering 437 items. They require 226 pages to state them in detail. In the “ Monthly Review of Overseas Statistics “, which is issued by the Commonwealth Statistician, we find 21 classes and 290 items. I understand that approximately 50,000 applications for licences are handled each month, and that there are 75,000 import entries to be made each month. Perhaps this appears to be an extraordinarily big job for the department, but it is a job that is done week by week and day by day in retail stores and banks throughout this country.
– What nonsense!
– What would the honorable member for Hume know about it? By the introduction of proper methods, this task could be discharged as a matter of course. The Minister has referred to this work as a problem of great magnitude, but it is no greater than that handled by retail stores or banks. What is the system? It is perhaps wrong to use the word “ system “, because in fact, no real system exists. First, there is the problem of establishing the quotas. The base year records are made up from documents sent in by individual importers. Upon that base year an established quota level is determined. All of this is done by clerks working with typewriters, pen and ink and using outmoded methods. There are no automatic calculators or other machines. No controlled or automatic balance is possible, and so there is no check on omissions or errors. A whole handful of records could be eliminated and there would be no way of discovering automatically that that had happened.
The second problem concerns the granting of import licences. Here, the two factors are the established quota levels, on the one hand, and the import licence applications on the other. Again, in this field there is cumbersome clerical work. There is no controlled or automatic balance. It is single entry book-keeping and use of ancient methods. These two vital quantities have, on occasions, been millions of pounds out. Frequently the department asks importers to state the balance of their quotas. That is exactly the same as if a trading bank rang a customer and asked, “ How much money have you in our bank?”
The third problem relates to the level of licences granted and the actual import entries that are made. In respect of these important matters, there is a cumbersome clerical process with no proved or controlled relationship or balance between the two. Again, it represents the most ancient form of single entry book-keeping. In the course of each transaction, which takes a matter of minutes to complete, there is no control over errors or omissions. Compare this with modern accounting systems, using machines which turn out controlled and balanced entries at the rate of 100 to 400 a minute at various stages of the process. But under the system in use in the department the balance or position of thousands of individual importers is not known and the balance or position of the total imports that are possible in a particular period is not known. Therefore, decisions about the level of total imports which is possible and decisions about individual importers are conspicuous for the fact that there is no control, that no accurate information is available on which to make these decisions, and that such information frequently is six months late in coming to hand. So, decisions upon the total of imports and the quotas of many importers are based on guesses and accidents.
In summary, two fundamental things are not known accurately, but they must be known if this system is to be applied properly. They are, first, the value of licences issued against the value of established quotas in A and B categories, which take up about 64% of the total; and secondly, the value of outstanding licences which, at any point of time, is not known for any category of imports, including A and B categories. So, it is impossible to budget nationally; it is impossible to allocate quantities on quota properly to importers, or even in categories. Thus, the foundation of one vital part of our Australian economy is on shaky ground.
Again I allude to the communication to which I referred a few minutes ago. That such a position can be tolerated at all by a senior Minister with intimate knowledge of the vital importance of proper control is surprising; but the fact that its continuance has been permitted for a whole year since the inception of the Department of Trade is almost incomprehensible to the business community. If, as the evidence seems to indicate, the present departmental management is incapable of effectuating proper methods of national accounting, the Minister should see that the existing system is replaced. For this purpose, he should co-opt, if necessary, qualified officers from other Commonwealth departments and also, if need be, call on trained assistance from outside the Public Service. He should consider the use of accounting machines and automatic calculators.
When we look at what import controls are designed to do, we will be forced to the conclusion, quite definitely, that import controls cannot achieve even the most limited objective that has been set for them. To determine what the objectives of import controls are I refer to a statement by the Minister on 28th February, 1956, which appears at page 297 of “ Hansard “. The Minister said on that occasion -
The import controls are designed, not only to limit expenditure to a level that we can afford, but also to give essential imports a high degree of priority in our import programme.
It is worth noticing that, according to that statement, import controls are designed not only for the purpose of limiting expenditure and safeguarding our overseas currency, but also to give essential imports a high degree of priority in Australia’s import programme. But import controls are not achieving even that narrow first objective. It is certain that, in 1955, licensing was over the quantity of imports we could reasonably stand. It seems equally certain that, in 1956, we were £40,000,000 under that total. What the position is in 1957 we shall have to guess or wait for the future to reveal.
This on-again-off-again system which the business community finds most difficult to follow is the result not only of fluctuations in our funds, but also, fundamentally, of the methods used to determine import levels.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) has raised a general subject-matter of great public interest and an issue which, in its very character, is an irritant over a wide area of the community. This is not the first time I have made that statement. I have made it repeatedly. Acknowledging that this matter involves an administrative procedure that is, in its nature as a control, a restriction of the freedom of individuals, and bound to irritate, I have said that I, the officers of the department, and the Government, will never at any time regard the system as perfect, but will always be endeavouring to improve it. I have said before that it is a system in which injustices can occur, or can be believed to occur; and in that situation that I would never resent criticism, because I can think of no better way to ensure the production of evidence of injustice and the correction of the perpetuation of injustice than free and open criticism in the Parliament. This would confront me, as Minister, with the necessity either to justify what has been done, or to improve the procedure and correct injustices. I have made that statement before, and I repeat it.
I have listened carefully to the statements by the honorable member for Yarra. Frankly, what he had to say amounted to little more -than a long series of allegations unsupported by any evidence. That is the simple truth. It was a long series of allegations in which the honorable member pur ported to read an observation or a criticism by some third party whom he did not name. No weight can be attached to criticism by an honorable member who is unwilling to name the original critic. The only authority that the honorable member gave for any observation he made was, I think, a quotation from the “ Financial Times “.
– Do you deny what was said?
– Yes, I find it almost automatic to deny nearly everything that the honorable member for Yarra says.
– Even if it is true, you deny it?
– I have had that experience only on the most rare occasions. The simple fact of the matter is that the accounts of the nation in overseas currency are just as rigid as the bank account of an individual. The nation can no more overdraw its reserves or credits in overseas currency without going bankrupt than an individual can overdraw his bank account beyond the scope of any arrangement he may have with his bank without going bankrupt. The whole nation may as well get used to that idea and it is, I think, broadly accepted to-day. As I have said before, there are devices by which nations can restrict the import demands of their communities other than by this physical operation of import licensing. Indeed, the alternative devices are those that are most broadly used by other countries, in policies of internal deflation and credit restriction, and a variety of other means, including punitive taxation; so that, in the result, the community is brought to a position in which it is not able, or not willing, to buy from overseas more than it can pay for from its overseas currencies at its command. That is the practice followed by most countries. It is not the practice that the Government of this country has considered to be the most appropriate to Australia’s circumstances. The Government of this country does not want to deflate, to dampen down and reduce the purchasing power of the community. The whole general policy purpose of this Government is to stimulate development, to stimulate industry and to produce prosperity; and out of those ingredients you do get a desire and, in your own currency, an ability to import - I repeat, in your own currency, an ability to import. We believe that no one in this Parliament or outside it, with all the criticisms of import licensing that have been offered, has said that there should be no attempt to equate our imports to our capacity to pay for them. As far as I am aware, no one in this Parliament or outside of it has suggested an alternative approach to this subject or to the acceptance of the situation which produces the difficulties associated with the physical control of import licensing. The honorable member for Yarra quoted me quite correctly, because he read from the “ Hansard “ report of my speech. I said that we had import licensing for the protection of our overseas reserves, administered in such a manner as to give priority to essential things. Am I to understand that the honorable member for Yarra, or any other member of the Labour party, thinks that whatever funds we have to spend should be permitted to be spent without any regard for the essential requirements of this country? Unless he means that, he does not mean anything.
– I rise to order. The matter raised before the House this morning relates to the efficiency of the procedures adopted by the Department of Trade, not to whether the controls should be applied in one way or another. I suggest that the Minister is out of order, because he is not discussing the matter before the House.
I rule that the Minister is in order.
– Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, on the point of order-
Order! The point of order has been disposed of.
– We have a problem. It is an extreme problem, in this sense-
– Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, I direct your attention to the state of the House.
– Do honorable members opposite want this matter to be discussed or not?
– Yes, but we want the matter raised by the honorable member for Yarra to be discussed. We do not want this tripey statement by the Minister for Trade.
– Why does not the Minister for Trade answer the criticisms that are made?
– Honorable members opposite are stifling discussion.
– The Government is corrupt.
– The honorable member’s party knows all about corruption.
Order! The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith might find it profitable not to make observations of that kind.
– Even though they might be true?
Order! The honorable member for East Sydney might also take notice of my warning. [Quorum formed.]
– The honorable member for Yarra said, in fairly explicit terms, that the accounting system of import licensing-
– I rise to order.
– Honorable members opposite cannot take it.
– Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, may I ask your ruling on whether the word “ corrupt “ is an unparliamentary word?
Order! An imputation of corrupt practices against the Government is unparliamentary.
– I rise to order. I suggest that the honorable member for KingsfordSmith should be made to withdraw his remark that the Government is corrupt. It is offensive to me and, I am sure, to every member of the Government parties.
– Order! The episode is closed for the moment.
– -The honorable member for Yarra sought to compare the accounting system of import licensing with the accounting system of a bank or a retail store. That shows the profundity of his ignorance of this subject. Accounting in commercial practice is accounting in respect of known facts. Accounting in respect of import licensing is accounting ,to a large extent, in respect of imponderables. Import licences are issued and are valid for a year, but no licensee is compelled to use his licence. So, for a start, it is not known how many of the import licences issued will, in fact, be used. On an average, licences to the value of £100 issued on a c.i.f.e. basis result in imports to the value of £85 on a f.o.b. basis. The difference includes freight, insurance and unused licences. Sometimes one of these elements is higher than the others and sometimes lower. There has to be an element of calculated guesswork, based on records and experience. For commercial reasons, a licence is issued and is valid for a year, but almost every licence straddles two financial years and no one knows in which of the two financial years the licence will be presented and the overseas funds, drawn upon. There again, in calculations and recordings for this purpose there is, inevitably, an element of estimation. To compare this system with the simplicity of keeping bank accounts is just utter nonsense. In a system where the demand for goods fluctuates from time to time and the operative decision is not with the Government but with the commercial interest which holds the licence, there is an element of unpredictability in the calculations. As is well known, that has resulted in the actual expenditure, on occasions, being greater than that which, at an earlier period, had been estimated. I can say, however, that to-day with the financial year drawing fairly near to its close, the Department of Trade is confident that the actual expenditure will very closely approximate the authorized expenditure - more closely than ever before.
Import licensing is a prodigious business, with 600,000 licences current at one time. Sometimes thousands of applications are received in a week. The Government hoped, as I believe the whole community hoped, that this would not be a permanent or a very long-enduring feature of our national life, so there was not constructed a whole permanent apparatus at the outset, involving all the expenditure that would go with it; such as would be justified in the case of something permanent in the life of the community. I make no apology for that. I would find myself obliged to apologize if the Government had, at the outset of licensing, established an extensive and expensive structure and then had discovered that, as a result of a fortuitous increase in the price of wool, the whole thing had to be wiped out in a year.
But the Government has been prudent in this matter. When the department that I administer found itself in control of import licensing, the very first thing that its responsible officers did was to ask the Public Service Board, which is the expert authority on administration, to go into the matter of an export licensing system and advise the department what could be done to improve, if not to perfect, the administration and accounting procedures. Am I to be told that a back-bench member of the Labour party knows more about what ought to be done in this very technical matter than do the highly-trained specialists of the Commonwealth Government, whose function is to advise and study such matters, both here and overseas? That is what is being done, and the results that have flowed from it speak for themselves. A few months ago there were, I think, 3,000 applications for licences undecided, but a week or two ago there were only 700 applications undecided.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) has shifted the argument from the comparatively narrow ground on which it was based. It should be borne in mind that this is not an argument about whether import controls are necessary. The dispute is whether, having established a scheme of import controls, the controls are being efficiently and justly applied. For the benefit of the House, the text of the honorable member’s proposal ought to be read again. It is as follows: -
The gross inefficiency of accounting and clerical procedures in the Government’s administration of imports especially in the recording of import quotas, import licence applications and import entry records resulting in confusion in assessment of total imports and in measuring individual import quotas to the damage of thousands of individual firms and the economy as a whole.
The matter before us concerns the techniques of import licensing, rather than Government policy. I should have thought that the Minister would at least have intimated - if he knew - what accounting and clerical procedures were followed in administering this vast network of “ 600,000 individual import licences “. This does not, of course, mean that 600,000 individual firms are operating. There is a great deal of doubt and uncertainty in the minds of members of the business community, first, as to whether they are being fairly treated as compared with those who have already received import licences and, secondly, because, in the opinion of many, goods are being imported to the detriment of existing Australian industry. The problem must be evaluated in the light of this broad “ push and pull “ between the two interests. I invite the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne), who is to speak next, to give any indication that he can of the accounting and clerical procedures that are followed in the administration of import quotas. If he is unable to do so this morning, I suggest that he arrange for a full and adequate description of the machinery of the department to be given to honorable members before the House rises.
– I will need more time than the three minutes or so that you gave to the Minister for Trade.
– Criticism in this matter has come, not only from this side, but from the Government side of the House also. One Government back-bencher has referred to tea, and the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) thinks that there ought not to be import licensing at all. The Government cannot deny that there is a sincere concern about this great matter. Every one admits that the licensing of imports, which this year will have a total value of about £775,000,000, is a very complex problem.
If it is complex, is it being attacked by the single-entry bookkeeping methods that my colleague has so ably described, in an age of electronic computers? What techniques are being employed? If the problem is so much more complicated than anything encountered previously, has the Government sought the best accounting device available? Is there any difference of opinion among administrative officers on the machinery that should be employed in handling it? How many individual firms have applied for import licences? What is the method of recording applications? Is it by classes of goods, or by the names of firms making application? Is the administration centralized in one State, or dispersed throughout the Commonwealth as I believe it to be? Certainly there are officers in Sydney and Melbourne who handle individual applications.
What is the machinery for co-ordinating the import licensing in Victoria and New South Wales of certain categories of goods, and establishing the ceilings which surely must be set? These are the questions to which we are seeking an answer. We are not asking for glittering generalities of the kind that we have had from the Minister for Trade. We want to allay the fear in the minds of a great many people, particularly the small business man who is so dependent upon turn-over and who imports a fairly restricted class of goods. He cannot switch readily to alternatives as can some of the great importing firms. He must import only one or two lines. If his quota is restricted to, say, half, his overhead continues and he is very often driven to the wall. That is the kind of person who approaches honorable members on this side of the House. We are not approached by Myers or David Jones, but by the man who is endeavouring to fill some specialized niche in this great economy of ours. In attempting to get an increased quota he is met with frustration. Often he must wait five or ten weeks before he can obtain a definite reply and then, for the most part, it amounts to a refusal. Some importers have suggested that the department often does not seem to know what proportion of their quotas has been taken up. That is a technical problem that ought to be considered at once. As the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) suggested, it is almost like a bank manager ringing up a client and saying, “What is your overdraft? We have lost track of two or three of your cheques “. Unfortunately, that kind of thing is going on in respect of import licences. As I have said, in some cases, which I shall not particularize, the department has actually asked a client whether he can indicate how much of his quota has so far been taken up. That would seem to be to be absurd, because to the extent to which one person is overgranted, another may very well be undergranted, and so suffer grave injustice.
I wish to refer now to another matter that is associated with the co-ordination side of this great problem. Every honorable member would do well to read the Australian Industries Development Association’s “ Survey of Stocks for 1956 “. The association makes this comment -
The high stocks indicated by this survey is a reflection of the mis-judgment applied in the framing of licensing levels eighteen months ago.
It says that in the last eighteen months there has been an accumulation of stocks to the value of £300,000,000. This means that firms are already finding it difficult to sell either what has been imported or what is already being produced in this country. What machinery is there to evaluate this problem in terms of aggregate import licences?
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The complete cynicism with which this matter has been put before us is perhaps best illustrated by the attitude of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns).
– I rise to order. I take exception to the use of the word “ cynicism “. To my mind it is just as unparliamentary as is the term “ corrupt “.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKERThe word is not unparliamentary, and no point of order may be taken.
– The Minister for Trade was given very little opportunity to speak, and the cynicism of the Opposition is further illustrated by this attempt to prevent me from speaking. The honorable member for Yarra took two points of order and interjected continuously during the very limited time allowed my colleague in which to answer his charges. The same process is being followed again, and I suppose that, of my ten minutes, I will be lucky if I get two and a half in which to speak.
The genesis of this matter is that the honorable member for Yarra wishes to make political profit out of the understandable dissatisfaction that exists among commercial people when a restrictive policy such as import licensing has to be applied in the national interest. He is trying to cash in on that situation by dressing up his complaint in the trappings of economic and statistical criticism. On this side of the House, for a long time, we have watched with amusement the determined efforts of the honorable member for Yarra to establish himself as the chief economic adviser to the Opposition. I believe that there are other Opposition members who are better qualified for that position. He has surrounded a peculiar, political complaint with much mumbo-jumbo about accounting, which he does not mean. He wants to have attention directed to his motion. Let me attend to it.
The honorable member complained of gross inefficiency in accounting and clerical procedures in the Government’s administration. Then he went on to say that it was not governmental decisions on policy that he was complaining about. Broad decisions as to the volume of licensing to be allowed, the volume of imports to be permitted in any period, the division of imports between the different aspects of commerce and industry, are decisions properly to be taken by the Government. He has made it plain that he is not complaining about these things, but about the gross inefficiency of accounting and clerical procedure in the Public Service. I presume that he means the gross inefficiency of officials of the Department of Trade and the Department of Customs and Excise. Those are hard terms to use about very conscientious and able civil servants.
The honorable member for Yarra has made three complaints. One complaint concerned import quotas, by which I presume he meant the recording of import quotas. Another complaint concerned import licence applications, by which I presume he meant the recording of import licence applications. A third complaint related to import entries, by which I presume that he meant the recording of import entries which, he said, had resulted in confusion. Taking his first complaint, how are import quotas recorded? The procedure is this: It is the function of the Department of Trade to deal with applications for import quotas in categories A and B, and to deal with applications for the allocation of goods, which are in the “ administrative “ category. Once the decision is made as to whether or not a particular applicant should be granted a quota, the whole matter from that time onwards becomes one for administration by the Department of Customs and Excise.
The honorable member complained that there was gross inefficiency in accounting and clerical procedures in connexion with the recording of import quotas. The recording of import quotas is the business of the Department of Customs and Excise. The decision to grant the quota is made by the Department of Trade. That decision is communicated to the Department of Customs and Excise and the whole matter, from then on, as far as the importer is concerned, is one between him and the Department of Customs and Excise. The quotas granted are recorded by the collectors of customs in each State, and they are notified fortnightly to the Department of Customs and Excise in Canberra. The results are sent to the Department of Trade, so I have been informed this morning, monthly. In the past, it was done quarterly. In recent times, in order to bring the information more up to date, it has been communicated monthly.
The honorable member’s second complaint is that there is gross inefficiency in the clerical procedure relating to the recording of import licence applications. The procedure is this: An importer having been granted a quota, and that information having been communicated by the Department of Trade to the Department of Customs and Excise, a card is opened for the quota holder in the Department of Customs. He has only to go to the department and put in his application for a licence and, if his card shows that his quota has not been expended in that particular licensing period, he gets his licence across the counter on the spot. It is true that, because of the practice of some importers in not applying for licences until the end of the month, there is sometimes an accumulation of work which results in a delay of up to 48 hours. But, in general, the system is working smoothly. The recording of the licences as’ they are taken up is, again, the business of the Department of Customs and Excise. The information as to licences drawn out against quotas is communicated, weekly I think, by the collectors of customs to the department in Canberra, and recorded and classified.
The honorable member’s third complaint was that there is inefficiency in the clerical procedures relating to the recording of import entries. Here he moves off into a totally different field. The recording of import entries has been done by the Department of Customs and Excise, or by the old Department of Trade and Customs, since the beginning of federation, and it is the basis of the whole of the import and trade statistics of the country. Does the honorable member suggest that there is gross inefficiency in the recording of import entries? His claim is clear nonsense. The import records are forwarded daily to Canberra by the collectors of customs. They are tabulated and processed in the Department of Customs and Excise and they are forwarded daily to the statistical section of the Treasury. There they are processed and recorded, and are made available to the Department of Trade as they come forward.
I do not think that the honorable member for Yarra has any real interest in the matter that he has put forward. I do not know whether the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) suggested that that process needed re-examination. It has been going on satisfactorily for 56 years, with improvements as the trade of the country has altered.
What is the complaint? The complaint is of gross inefficiency in the recording of import entries. Is it to be presumed that the Opposition is concerned about this subject, or is it really concerned about something entirely different?
– The Minister is replying only to one small point that suits him.
– I am reading from the motion of the honorable member for Yarra, which alleges gross inefficiency in the recording of import entry records. Does the Opposition mean what it says, or does it mean something entirely different? I shall come back to the point at which I began. When this letter is examined, it is quite plain that the purpose of the Opposition is not to draw attention to these statistical records. Its purpose is simply to dress up with the respectability of economic jargon an attempt to make political profit from the dissatisfaction of some importers who, unfortunately, at this time, cannot be permitted to import all the goods that they want.
.- I am more than ever convinced that the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) has rendered a very great public service in raising this matter in the House to-day. One has only to observe the discomfiture of the two Ministers concerned in this problem to realize that, in their own consciences, they are confronted with a problem which they have not taken any satisfactory action to handle over the last few years. Let us see why it is that this problem arises. The plain fact is that, under the managed or planned economy that we have to-day, the Commonwealth Bank is the focal point of the economy, and is charged with the responsibility of maintaining full employment to the extent that it can effectively influence economic and banking policy. Imposed upon that responsibility and in order to maintain full employment, there must necessarily be a co-ordination of banking policy with import and export policy. To the extent that import policy can be determined, some form of control must arbitrarily be imposed from time to time.
It would appear to me, after listening to the two Ministers - and I think this is the real reason we are in trouble - that they have come to the conclusion that import licensing is something of a passing phase in our economy to-day and will not continue into the foreseeable future. The plain fact is that if we are to prevent disasters of a financial or economic character and safeguard the people against the awful effects of a depression such as that of 1929-32, the economy must be controlled in the way found necessary from time to time. At least one Minister realizes that that is so. Last night he conveyed the facts of our balance of payments problem to the House when he said that the price of wool had fallen from 80d. per lb. to 70d. per lb. and then to 60d. per lb. - three substantial variations within a comparatively brief period of a year or two. He said that wool was the factor which could cause a balance or unbalance in our economy. Would any honorable member in this House in a responsible position, ministerial or otherwise, say that in the foreseeable future the price of wool will remain reasonably stable? Is any Minister prepared to say that the price of wool is not likely to rise and fall by 5d., Id., lOd. or ls. per lb.? The very nature of that movement makes it essential to impose restrictions of some sort at some point in the economy, no matter which party may be in office. When it is realized that a movement either way of Id. per lb. in the price of wool means a reduction or an increase in our balance of trade position of £5,000,000, anybody can see how delicate the position is.
This Government, seeming to think that import licensing is just a passing phase, has neglected to equip the respective departments, particularly the Customs and Excise Department, with the essential plant and personnel to handle this problem efficiently and effectively as it may arise from day to day. It is quite true that, at the onset of the emergency caused by this problem, the department was hurriedly re-organized to deal with it, and no doubt the department did the best it could with the existing material. Post-war shortages and matters of that kind caused a similar position to arise during the last period of the Chifley Government’s Administration, and we did the best we could in the circumstances. It was not efficient. This Government has been in the saddle for eight years, but what has it done? It is plodding along in the same manner as, understandably, the Government plodded along eight years ago.
To evade their responsibilities, to-day, both Ministers tried to imply that the honorable member for Yarra and the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) were casting aspersions on the respective departmental specialists. What we say is that, as responsible Ministers, they have not ensured that their departments are equipped with the essential and specialized personnel and machines and all the rest of the apparatus that is necessary to handle this matter expeditiously. One needs only to look from time to time at the reports of the Commonwealth Bank and at reports in the press of the activities of the bank to realize that it is in touch with the most efficient banking practices in other countries. Only recently, I noticed that the Commonwealth Bank had taken steps to train a very substantial portion of its staff in the use and operation of machines that can, in a fraction of a minute, make a calculation arising from a most involved problem. The honorable member for Yarra raised this matter to-day to ginger, not the personnel, but the Ministers in the two departments concerned. I doubt whether the public service of any other country has more efficient members than has the Public Service of the Commonwealth of Australia. The attack is made on the negligence of the two Ministers. The Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) has been touring the world ordering aircraft. That is necessary; he is Minister for Air and Minister for Customs.
– I am not.
– He is the Minister for Air and Civil Aviation. Call him what you like; he is of little importance to me. He holds a dual portfolio.
– I do not.
– He is trying to carry on another man’s job, but he does not know what is happening in the Customs and Excise Department. The Minister for Trade tells the Department of Customs and Excise what should be done, but he does not know whether it has the wherewithal to do it efficiently and with the least pain to the unfortunate sections of the public concerned. Ultimately, of course, all members of the public are affected as a result of the inefficiency and failure of Ministers to cope with this problem satisfactorily.
Last night, the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) rendered a public service when he pointed out that certain favoured people enjoy privileges under this system. Those privileges are continuing, and something must be done. The Government is operating the war-time system under which, if a man has a quota, in certain circumstances when some control is imposed he becomes a monopolist. No one when he leaves school or has saved a few pounds can say that he will go into the importing business, because when he goes to the department he is told, “ We are very sorry, but import restrictions are operating and you cannot enter this field; other people are in it and we will not interfere with them “. I say emphatically that this sort of control will continue so long as Australia is unable to control the selling price of its great export product - wool. In those circumstances, if there is to be free enterprise, there must be some channel through which newcomers can enter the industry. If they cannot, those who have the privilege of holding a monopoly of importing must face up to their responsibility.
I emphasize that the Opposition’s attack is made not on the specialists in the departments, the administrative chiefs or their underlings, but on Ministers who seem to think that this is a passing phase and leave their departments ill equipped to deal with the problem, with the result that thousands of people - importers and those closely associated with them, and, ultimately, the public - do not know where they are and are suffering unfair and unjust imposts.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) showed a degree of inefficiency himself when he did not know the portfolios held by certain Ministers. Though the members who spoke before him tried to confine their remarks within the narrow terms of the subject raised for discussion and criticized Ministers for departing a little from those narrow terms, the honorable member for Lalor completely departed from them and indulged in a general discussion of economic policy. Honorable members opposite cannot have it both ways. They should confine their remarks to the narrow terms of the subject before the House. The honorable member for Lalor and the two previous Opposition speakers have said that this discussion is not aimed at members of the Public Service and that they are not criticizing the staff of the Import Licensing Branch. I want to read a telegram which has been received during the last few minutes. Strange to say, this follows an attack yesterday in another place by Senator Benn on the staff of the Import Licensing Branch. That attack is now being followed up by an attack in this place. The telegram, which is addressed to the Minister for Trade, Parliament House, Canberra, reads as follows: -
Staff of Trade Department-
– Order! The honorable member is out of order in referring to current proceedings in another place.
– Perhaps I should merely say that this is a telegram which has been sent to the Minister for Trade.
– Order! The honorable member will not be in order if he continues to refer to current proceedings in another place.
– I rise to order. May I suggest for your consideration, Mr. Speaker, that what the honorable member is doing in attempting to read this telegram is to make a comment on proceedings in this House this morning when Opposition speakers have criticized the handling of a certain matter by a department.
– I suggest that this is not referring to current proceedings in another place.
– I have ruled that it is.
– I rise to order. The telegram is addressed to me and I have read it. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that it does not refer to proceedings in another place. It is a telegram from a group of public servants who have been charged with corruption by a member of the Labour party. That is what the honorable member wishes to read.
– Order! The honorable member was definitely referring to current proceedings in another place. If he continues along that line he will be out of order.
– Would it be in order to read the telegram so that the Chair can judge?
– The honorable member knows his rights. He is out of order in referring to current proceedings in another place and if he persists in so doing, I will ask him to take his seat.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but the text of the telegram is fully understood, I am sure, by this House. I do say that following what took place in another place yesterday it is very significant-
– It is very significant to know that this same matter-
-Order! The honorable member will not go back to that line of argument.
– The point is that the real test of the import licensing system at the present time is the fact that it has actually worked. It has achieved two things. It has achieved success in the Government’s present trade drive. That success is reflected in our improving overseas balances. It is also significant that while the import licensing system has been in operation there has been no disruption of industry or commerce in Australia. In other words, the real test of the system is that it has been working.
It is also interesting to know that the system, which has been built up from scratch in a few years, is now at a stage of efficiency which does not warrant the criticism that has been levelled at it by members of the Opposition to-day. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) made a rather significant statement in the tirade with which he opened his remarks. He said that no single decision which had been made could be justified. I presume that he was referring to the system as ii has operated over the last year or so. 1 am not sure how he seeks to justify a statement of that nature, but that is an indication of the tenor of his remarks. In fact, it is a completely foolish statement which hardly warrants attention save to indicate that the whole basis of his argument was somewhat similar to his original statement.
Reference was also made by the honorable member for Yarra to delays by the Import Licensing Branch in handling applications. It has already been indicated by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) that the backlog which tended to build up last year with the change of base years and so forth has been cut down very considerably by the increased efficiency of the branch during this year. The number of outstanding applications has been reduced from about 3,000 to about 600 at the present time, which I think will be admitted is a pretty substantial improvement in a relatively short period. The honorable member also made a rather vague statement that the decisions last year were the result of panic judgment by the Government. He did not attribute this panic to anybody in particular. But if this kind of panic judgment produces the results to which I am about to refer, I would like to see a lot more panic in the future. At the end of June, 1955, our overseas trade balance was £428,000,000, and during that year we had shown a trading deficit of £142,000,000. A year later the balance was £355,000,000 and in that year the deficit was £73,000,000. At the end of June this year - this is a fairly firm estimate - our overseas funds are expected to reach £545,000,000, with a favorable balance for the year of £190,000,000. The combination of the trade policy which is being pursued by the Government, and the application of the import control system during this period, has actually achieved those results. If they are the result of panic we should have a lot more of it.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) stated quite clearly - bringing the argument back on to the rails again - that the discussion related to criticism of the import licensing system. He then proceeded to elaborate on that, but obviously he did not understand from the information in his possession and in the possession of the honorable member for Yarra, the implications of the system which were ultimately clarified by the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne). The Minister indicated that most of the background administrative machinery work, particularly in relation to quota items, is controlled by the Department of Customs and Excise and that the system has been operating reasonably efficiently for some years. I am sure no one here will criticize the work that the Department of Customs and Excise is doing in handling the applications and balancing out the quota system at the present time.
I would also like to indicate that during the last year, being Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade, I have been very closely associated with the import licensing system - I say that with regret in one sense. Nevertheless I have had the opportunity of seeing many hundreds of individuals and deputations and I have also dealt with a large volume of correspondence. Throughout the whole period of my association with this system, this is the first occasion on which this criticism has been brought forward as a basic argument. I suggest that it has been brought forward not with the object of being constructive, but with the object of being critical of the Government and trying to score some political point.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -
That the business of the day be called on.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 26
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That Standing Order 104 (11 o’clock rule) be suspended until the end of this month.
SUPPLY. (“Grievance Day”.)
Question put -
That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The House thereupon resolved itself into the Committee of Supply.
Sitting suspended from 12.39 to 2.15 p.m.
Messages from the Governor-General reported transmitting (a) Additional Estimates of Expenditure for the year ending 30th June, 1957; and (b) an appropriation of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the service of the year ending 30th June, 1957, for the purposes of the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve established by the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve Act 1955, of such sums as the Treasurer from time to time determines; and also a further message transmitting Additional Estimates of Expenditure for Additions, New Works and other Services involving capital expenditure for the year ending 30th June, 1957, and recommending appropriations accordingly.
Ordered to be referred to the Committee of Supply forthwith.
Motions (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
Additional Estimates 1956-57.
That there be granted to Her Majesty an additional sum not exceeding £15,305,000 for the services of the year 1956-57, viz.: -
Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve.
That, in addition, there be granted to Her Majesty for the services of the year 1956-57, for the purposes of the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve established by the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve Act 1955, such sums as the Treasurer from time to time determines.
Additional Estimates for Works and Services 1956-57.
That there be granted to Her Majesty an additional sum not exceeding £2,139,000 for the services of the year 1956-57, for Additions, New Works and other Services involving Capital Expenditure, viz.: -
Standing Orders suspended; resolutions adopted.
Resolutions of Ways and Means, founded on resolutions of Supply, reported and adopted.
That Sir Arthur Fadden and Mr. McMahon do prepare and bring in bills to carry out the foregoing resolutions.
Bill presented by Sir Arthur Fadden, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill, and of the associated Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill, is to obtain parliamentary authority for certain expenditure for which provision was not made in the 1956-57 Estimates. Details will be available and can be considered in committee. Major items include £3,600,000 for the redemption of savings certificates from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, in accordance with the practice of recent years.
Some re-allocation has been made within the total defence appropriation of £190,000,000, with consequential increases and decreases in individual votes. In addition, a further £1,000,000 is being sought for expenditure this year on the St. Mary’s project. The staff of the Postal Department has been increased to meet the expanding business, calling for a further salary appropriation of £631,000 this financial year.
There has also been some re-allocation between the items of the Postal Department, civil works and acquisition programmes within the Capital Works and Services Estimates. Provision has also been made for certain other unavoidable capital expenditure which could not be foreseen when the budget was presented. The main items are a further advance of £335,000 for the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission, an additional £90,000 for the Atomic Energy Commission and £97,000 for the Flax Commission. It is not expected, however, that the budget total of £109,700,000 for capital works and services will be exceeded.
Other new items of expenditure are an advance of £450,000 to the United Nations for the Suez Canal clearance, £300,000 as a contribution to the Olympic Games, £450,000 for migration of Hungarian refugees, and the Commonwealth contributions to the South Australian and Victorian flood relief programmes.
In the last budget speech I intimated that the Government had decided to apply an amount estimated at £108,500,000 to the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve to assist Loan Council programmes, or to meet other Commonwealth requirements for loan finance. An appropriation of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for this purpose is provided in the bill. The precise amount to be paid to the reserve will be determined towards the close of the year. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Ward) adjourned.
Bill presented by Sir Arthur Fadden, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In my second-reading speech on the Appropriation Bill (No. 2), I indicated that it was necessary to seek an additional appropriation for capital works and services. This bill will effect that appropriation.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Ward) adjourned.
Messages recommending appropriation reported.
Motions (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That there be granted to Her Majesty a sum not exceeding £184,212,000 for or towards the services of the year 1957-58.
That there be granted to Her Majesty a sum not exceeding £34,956,000 for or towards the service* for the year 1957-58 for Additions, New Worksand other Services involving Capital Expenditure.
Standing Orders suspended; resolutionsadopted.
Resolutions of Ways and Means, founded on resolutions of Supply, reported and adopted.
That Sir Arthur Fadden and Mr. McMahon do prepare and bring in bills to carry out the foregoing resolutions.
Bill presented by Sir Arthur Fadden, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to appropriate £184,212,000 to carry on the necessary normal services of Government, other than capital works and services, during the first four months of the financial year 1957-58. These are services approved by the Parliament in the Appropriation Acts 1956-57. The several amounts provided for ordinary services are -
These amounts represent, with minor exceptions, approximately one-third of the 1956-57 appropriations. The amount of £63,059.000 for Defence Services provides for expenditure on the current defence programme, and the amount of £25,871,000 for War and Repatriation Services provides for expenditure on war pensions and repatriation and rehabilitation services. Except in the relation to defence, no amounts are included for new services.
However, an amount of £16,000,000 is sought for an Advance to the Treasurer to enable the payment of the special grants to South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania to be continued pending the report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, to make advances which will be recovered during the financial year and also to meet unforeseen and miscellaneous expenditure, particulars of which will afterwards be presented to Parliament.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Ward) adjourned.
Bill presented by Sir Arthur Fadden and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to appropriate £34,956,000 to carry on the necessary normal capital works and services of Government for the first four months of the financial year 1957-58. There will be Commonwealth works in progress at 30th June, 1957, expenditure on which must be continued until after the 1957-58 budget has been considered by Parliament. In addition, it is the practice to programme the capital works and services in the major Commonwealth departments, including the Department of Works, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, War Service Homes Division and the Department of Civil Aviation. The appropriation will also provide funds to ensure continuous employment and to enable purchases of materials in advance for the carrying out of those programmes of works.
The bill provides for four months’ expenditure at the annual level at which expenditure was approved for the purposes of capital works and services in 1956-57.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Ward) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 15th May (vide page 1442), on motion by Mr. Townley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Members of the Opposition are pleased to have the opportunity again of reminding the Government of a number of objectionable features in the Public Service Act to which they have directed attention in the past. On occasions, they have obtained assurances from the Government that their submissions will be examined, but, beyond those assurances, nothing has happened. I think it is about time that the Government, instead of merely giving assurances that the matters will be examined, took some action to correct the situation. It appears to me that if it were any section of the Australian working class other than the public servants - who, traditionally have never been inclined to adopt what might be regarded as direct action to obtain improvement of their conditions - the Government would not have proceeded along the lines that it has proceeded in the past. But because the Government knows that, traditionally, the Public Service of this country is an organization of workers who have accepted, not without protest, many conditions which they find objectionable, it has taken no action to improve their lot.
I want to refer, as the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) referred so ably in his speech, to a matter that no member of this Parliament, individually, has approved - that is, the practice of giving the chief officers of the various sections of the Public Service the right to impose penalties up to £2 without the persons affected having a right of appeal. I think that that is an outrageous practice.
Let us examine why that is done and exactly what it involves. A chief officer is not restricted in his power to impose these fines. He can prefer a charge against an officer, but not only does he make the charge, he also conducts whatever inquiry is made and then he imposes a penalty. If the penalty does not exceed £2, there is no right of appeal. That applies whether the person who is charged admits that there is some ground for the charge being made against him. or asserts his innocence. Surely, if a person says that he is innocent of the charge preferred against him, he should be given a fair hearing, but not by the person who makes the charge, and certainly, when a penalty is imposed, he should be given a right of appeal.
How did this provision come to be included in the act and why does the Government allow this practice to continue? There is some rather interesting information in a journal called “ White Collar “, a publication issued on behalf of Public Service organizations. Representatives of these organizations approached the Commonwealth Public Service Board with a view to asking the Board to take up with the Government the necessity for removing this objectionable provision. Let us examine the reply of the Public Service Board and the arguments it advanced for not agreeing to the suggestion that this provision be removed. It said -
Administrative disadvantages, costs of proceedings and loss of time would outweigh any benefit to the majority of officers.
Did anybody ever hear it said before that questions of the administration of justice must be determined on the basis of cost? The Public Service Board, which is supported by this Government, argued that, no matter how outrageous a decision was given against an officer, justice ought to be denied to the accused person in the Public Service merely because it would cost a sum of money to administer a fair scheme. The report in this journal goes on to point out that the Public Service Board argued that -
Disciplinary practices in other spheres were taken into account and in general most criminal laws provide that there is no appeal from summary convictions for minor offences, e.g. parking offences in New South Wales.
Did anybody ever imagine that a public service board or any other body of responsible people in the community would argue that a parking offence in the State of New South Wales was a criminal offence? It is a ridiculous and outrageous argument to advance. Strange to say, it is not an accurate statement of the position. Although to-day the average motorist would not bother to appeal against a nominal fine imposed for a parking offence, if he wanted to do so he could, because there is a right of appeal against such a fine. I know of no instance - certainly not in Australia - where penalties are imposed and there is not some right of appeal to a higher authority. According to my knowledge, there has been no case in the recent history of the administration of justice in this country where a person has preferred a charge against another person and then has determined his guilt and imposed a penalty. But that is what is happening in the Public Service to-day. This report states further that the Public Service Board said -
In the Armed Services there is no right of appeal, but for other than minor offences, an accused has the right to elect trial by Court-Martial. In the Army, for example, there is no right to elect where the monetary penalty is £3 or less.
Honorable members will agree that those were remarkable statements for the Public Service Board to make in combating the request of the Public Service organizations. Let me quote a case to show what can happen. Recently, in the State of New South Wales, a clerk employed in the Department of Customs and Excise exchanged blows with a carrier. According to the information given to me, this customs clerk was fully justified in the action that he took. It appears that the gentleman with whom he became involved in fisticuffs was an overbearing type who continually went into a section of the customs premises where he was not entitled to go. When the customs clerk objected to his being behind the counter, in a place which obviously was reserved for members of the staff, he refused to go, a fracas occurred, and blows were struck. The case was immediately dealt with by the Collector of Customs, because the other person affected rang the collector and lodged a complaint. It is to the credit of the Collector of Customs that, although he found the customs officer guilty of the alleged offence, he adopted the course of fining him £3. He did that deliberately so that the officer would have a right of appeal. The collector did not consider it was fair to find the officer concerned guilty of the alleged offence without giving him a right of appeal. The officer exercised that right. The appeal was upheld, he did not have to pay the fine, and nothing adverse was recorded against him. But what would have been the position had the Collector of Customs determined that the fine would be £2? This man would still stand condemned in the records of the department as guilty of an offence, because he would have had no right of appeal whatever. Surely no honorable member would advocate the continuance of such a state of affairs merely because the Public Service Board claims that in the absence of this restriction, the appeal system would cost this or that sum to administer.
When this matter has been raised previously, Government supporters and Opposition members have objected to the existing procedure, but I am very much afraid that Government supporters, having gone that far, have not continued to apply pressure to ensure that the position was corrected. 1 hope that they will take this opportunity of seeing that the Government acts reasonably. I join with my colleague, the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), in saying that an amendment of the act to correct this state of affairs is long overdue. Indeed, the honorable member proposes in the committee stage to move an appropriate amendment, and I hope that the matter will be determined not on the basis of Government versus Opposition but on the basis of honorable members voting according to their conscience and exercising some judgment as to whether this unfair arrangement should continue to obtain in our Public Service.
– How long has it obtained?
-I understand that it has existed for some time, but I do not think that that is a valid argument in favour of its retention. The question is whether it is right or wrong, and whether it should be continued. No body of employees in any other undertaking would permit the continuance of such an outrageous provision. The Government is exploiting the traditional attitude of public servants in refusing to involve themselves in disputes involving actual stoppages of work, in order to redress grievances. They should not be penalized because of their past attitude. The Government should amend the act.
I want to refer also to the proposal to penalize public servants who report late for duty. I understand that at present they are not penalized if the officer in charge regards their explanation as satisfactory. The Public Service Board has various means of dealing with the chronic absentee, or daily latecomer. It can take disciplinary action and can actually dis miss an offender, but thousands of very worthy public servants will be adversely affected by the provision that the Government wants to put in the act, though they may not be responsible for their late arrival at work. A suburban train in one of the capital cities may be derailed, with the result that large numbers of public servants reach their place of employment late. At present, the officer-in-charge would regard that as a satisfactory explanation and they would not be penalized; but under the new provision every public servant who is late will find that his salary or wage is reduced accordingly.
It is not as if production - if one may apply the term to the Public Service - is affected by late attendance. Most public servants have a certain task to perform, and if they are late they must work harder to catch up. Therefore, the Government loses nothing as a result of an occasional late arrival. Now, because some one has had a brain-wave, every one in the Public Service is to be penalized. That is not the way to get a contented and efficient service. No trade unionist, or member of a workers’ organization, would object to a penalty being imposed for an undoubted offence. No one would suggest that an employee should be permitted to come late regularly, but surely the matter should be treated reasonably, and the circumstances surrounding the late arrival taken into consideration.
I suggest that the Government should re-examine this proposal. It will not derive a great deal of benefit - or revenue - from it, and it will certainly cause a great deal of dissatisfaction and discontent in the Public Service. I think that, in this case, the Government has certainly been unwise, and I hope that the two matters in respect of which I have supported the arguments advanced by my esteemed colleague, the honorable member for Banks, will be corrected.
.- In view of the discussion which took place last evening, and especially the remarks of the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), some facts on the growth of the Public Service should be placed before the House. The honorable member for Moore suggested that this growth had been greater than it should have been, and that the numbers of public servants could be reduced without in any way affecting the stability of the economy. I have no doubt that that statement was made in all sincerity, but it could give an entirely wrong impression. It is true that the Public Service has grown, but certain factors have made that absolutely inescapable. The matter must be regarded in its proper light.
In recent years the size of the Public Service has been affected by two main factors. The first is our steadily growing population, and the second is the expansion of industry generally. Most of the legislation that we pass makes a direct impact upon the people of Australia and, as a result, more and more public servants are required for its administration. I shall give one or two illustrations which will indicate that whenever we pass legislation which affects the people we should bear in mind the fact that inevitably the number of persons who administer the law must increase.
We have just discussed import licensing, the administration of which calls for the services of additional public servants. Only the other day we discussed national service training, with all its implications for the youth of the community. The administration of that scheme must, of necessity, involve an increase in the strength of the Public Service. We find it necessary to license wireless receivers and television sets. That, in turn, means that extra duties must be imposed on the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Because of legislation affecting commerce and trade, additional persons are required either in Australia or elsewhere for the purpose of administering the measures passed by Parliament.
– There is the national health scheme, too.
– As the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) has suggested, our national health scheme necessitated the appointment of additional public servants in the Social Services Department. We have to bear in mind that as society becomes more complex, and as the laws made by this Parliament impinge more and more on the community, the Public Service must grow. When the Public Service grows, this Parliament insists that the persons who go into the Public Service shall be of a required standard of education. We try to select from the youth of the community the best people that we can in order to ensure that the Public Service is carried on efficiently.
So I suggest that, instead of regarding the growth of the Public Service as an evil, we should look at it from the realistic standpoint, and realize that the laws we pass in the interests of the people require a larger Public Service as time goes on. In introducing this measure, the Minister for Immigration said that it was principally of an administrative character. I believe that to be true. I have gone through the bill, and there is no doubt that its major provisions are administrative in character. But I ask whether some of the provisions of the bill are in the best interests of the public servants or, indeed, in the best interests of the community as a whole.
Turning to clause 11 of the bill, which deals with offences, I find that the proposal is, in the first instance, to increase the minimum fine from 5s. to 10s. In the second sub-clause of this clause, the fine of £5 now provided for is to be increased to £20. One can understand, of course, that the existing fine of 5s. may be regarded by the Public Service Board as too low, but I suggest that there is no need whatever for the minimum of 5s. to be increased. Full discretion is given, at the present moment, in regard to fines levied under section 55 of the principal act, and the fact that they start at 5s. and gradually rise to a certain fixed amount is immaterial. The clause provides that no fine may be below 10s. There may be cases in which an offence is of a trivial character, and in which the chief officer or the person to whom he has delegated authority may feel that a fine of 5s. adequately meets the case.
– The provision is that it shall not exceed 10s.
– But the amount has been increased, and I do not think that the increase to 10s. is warranted, particularly when no appeal is allowed. The question of appeals also arises in connexion with this matter. The request of the Public Service organizations that all fines should be subject to appeal is a reasonable and fair one. Under section 55, the power to impose a fine is in the hands of the chief officer or any officer prescribed as having power to deal with minor offences.
– And there is provision for appeal from that.
– That is so. When the officer prescribed as having power to deal with minor offences fines the public servant, if the public servant feels aggrieved he has the right of appeal to the chief officer. When the public servant so appeals, the chief officer has power to increase, reduce or remit the fine, or to leave it as it was. But the right of appeal is granted in respect to a small fine. Section 55, subsection (3.) (d), provides in respect of offences that an appeal cannot be lodged unless the fine is over £2. I suggest that if it is good for a person to have the right of appeal in regard to a fine of 5s. or less, it is equally good that he should have the right of appeal when the fine is over 5s. but less than £2. I suggest that the Government might well consider the request that there should be a right of appeal in respect of all fines, no matter what the amount.
The mere fact that the fine is less than £2 does not make the fine a just one. It is very easy in matters of this kind for the person who is dealing with a case to make a mistake. He may not have given due weight to some evidence, or he may have taken a harsh view of the matter and imposed a fine where a caution could well have been given. A man who is fined £2 or less, and is unable to appeal against the unjust decision of an officer, is in a worse position than the man who has been fined 5s. or less by a person other than his chief officer.
The question of appeal is very important from the stand-point of the employee. A subsequent provision in this bill provides that records are to be kept and, if records are to be kept, unjust fines against which a man has no appeal will be placed on his record of service. It could then be held against him in connexion with his promotion or in connexion with an appeal against the promotion of somebody else. It might do him irreparable damage in respect of his advancement in the Public Service. Honorable members know, from their own experience in life, that everybody who has the power to impose a penalty does not impose it justly. A feeling of resentment is always left in the mind of a person who feels that he has been dealt with unjustly. If the Government wants contentment in the Public Service it will have to make the conditions such that not only may justice be done, but that it may be seen to be done. I think that that principle might well be applied to the Public Service Act. I suggest that the Minister might give further consideration to this question of the right of appeal.
Clause 13 of the bill deals with the question of garnishee orders. One has no objection to the principle that a person who owes a debt, and against whom a judgment has been secured, shall pay that debt. But the existing provisions in the Public Service Act are unfair and unjust when the conditions applying to-day, which are so different from those that applied when section 64 was first inserted in the act, are considered. The proviso to sub-section (3.) of section 64 of the act reads -
Provided that in no case shall a deduction be made which will reduce the amount to be received by the officer to less than Two pounds per week, or to less than one-third of the amount which would, but for the provisions of this section, be payable to the officer.
I am speaking from memory on this matter, and I am subject to correction. I have the idea that this provision was inserted in the act and applied from some time in the 1920’s.
– 1922, I think.
– At that time, the basic wage was about £4 4s. a week. The officer was not to be left with less than £2 a week or one-third of the amount which would, but for the provisions of the section, be payable to him. He was to receive not less than £2 or one-third of his wage. The position has now changed entirely. The minimum wage of officers now would be at least £15 a week and possibly higher. It is very frequently the married man with a family who gets into debt and against whom a garnishee order is made. If his wage is reduced to £2 a week, he is deprived of the means of livelihood. The opportunity should be taken during the passage of this bill to give further consideration to section 64 with a view to providing a maximum amount that can be taken from a man’s salary. I am again speaking from memory but I believe that in Victoria not more than £3 a week can be taken out of the wages of any employee who is subject to a garnishee order. The provision in the
Public Service Act should be that the amount which can be deducted in the settlement of a debt should not be greater than £2 or £3 a week. The employee would then be protected and the person to whom the debt is owed would receive the money owing to him without undue hardship falling upon the family of the worker. If the Minister cannot accept that proposal during the passage of the bill through this House, my suggestion could well be considered before the bill goes to another place. If my suggestion is adopted, a measure of justice will be given to the employee.
I desire also to direct attention to clause 21 of the bill, which deals with the very vexed question of temporary employees. The figures given to the House last night by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) show that the number of temporary employees is very large. The Public Service Board’s thirty-second report, for the year ended 30th June, 1956, indicates that permanent officers in the Public Service generally total more than 34,000 and the temporary and exempt employees total more than 39,000, whilst in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department there are more than 50,000 permanent officers and more than 28,000 temporary officers. The total number of permanent officers is 85,000 and the total number of temporary and exempt officers is 68,000. This bill amends a provision which has been in the Public Service Act for many years. The old section provided that a temporary employee could be employed’ for a period of three months and, if necessary, for a further three months. After having had six months employment, he would not be due for employment again for a further six months. The provision in this bill is that persons can be employed temporarily or casually for a period of twelve months, and that employment can be continued if the board certifies in writing that the continued employment is necessary. That is certainly an improvement upon the existing provision, which in fact was not and could not be carried out.
That raises the question whether it is desirable to permit the total number of temporary and exempt employees in the Public Service to reach a figure such as 68,000. I know that temporary employment has been inseparable from the life of the Public Service since its inception, but consideration should now be given to whether we should permit that position to continue. I know that at the present moment the Public Service could not continue without temporary employees. On the other hand, I agree with the view expressed by the honorable member for Banks that public servants are not happy and satisfied when they are living under a sense of insecurity and feel that suddenly the permanent list might be increased and some of them displaced. The stage has now been reached in the Public Service when we should give very earnest consideration to whether a large number of these temporary public servants should be absorbed permanently in the Public Service.
In some instances, persons have been temporary public servants for twenty years or more. Their employment for that length of time would indicate that there is a permanent need for their services, and they should be admitted permanently to the Public Service. I know it is a very difficult question, but I suggest that the Government consider the appointment of an all-party committee to examine ways and means by which temporary public servants of, say, five years or more continued employment could be absorbed permanently in the Public Service, lt is a matter that needs inquiry. An all-party committee would be able to give it mature and earnest consideration and make a recommendation that might be helpful in the staffing of the Public Service. I make that suggestion in the hope that something can be done to give people who have devoted, in some cases, more than half their lives to the Commonwealth Public Service in a temporary capacity, an opportunity to be made permanent.
I notice that certain sub-sections of section 82 of the Principal Act are being discarded. Since they relate to the servants of the House I feel that some explanation should be given why these employees are no longer being covered. This bill proposes to delete sub-sections (4.) and (5.) of section 82 of the principal act. Subsection (5.) contains two paragraphs, the second of which states -
Provided that this sub-section shall not apply to persons temporarily employed in the Department of the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Parliamentary Library, or the Parliamentary Reporting Staff, or in the Joint House Department.
That provision permits the employment of these persons for periods of more than six months so that they are not employed for six months, dismissed, and then re-engaged for a further six months, and so on. It is proposed to delete that particular section. Whether that means as a consequence that when persons employed temporarily in Parliament House or its environs have been employed for twelve months a certificate is issued that their services are required further, I do not know. No explanation is given for the deletion of this sub-section, and I feel that some explanation should be given. I do not wish to see any right now possessed by persons temporarily employed in Parliament House taken away from them. I hope that the Minister will look at that matter, and if he can advise the House of the reasons why this sub-section is being dropped, I will be very glad indeed.
– The next section covers it because it deals with re-engagement.
– I thought that might be the reason, but I wanted to be sure. I refer now to clause 24 of the bill which effects two important amendments. It relates to the power to make regulations, and inserts in section 97 a new paragraph dealing with forfeiture of salary or pay of officers or employees in respect of unauthorized periods of absence. Theoretically, at least, it means that if a person is three minutes or five minutes late for work he can lose payment for that period. It also means that if a person is away for days at a time, his pay can be subject to deductions. I do not like the wording of the provision for the forfeiture of salary or pay. That seems to imply that a deduction may be not only the equivalent of the time lost, but a greater sum. I disagree entirely with a provision of this description which makes it mandatory that the pay shall be reduced. A person may be late for work through no fault of his own, and to be fined in those circumstances would, in my opinion, be unjust and unfair. Provision should be made that the forfeiture of pay or salary shall not operate if a reasonable or satisfactory explanation is given for either absence or lateness. The whole question should be dealt with, as it is dealt with in industry, on the basis of whether absence was reasonable or unreasonable. In any case, any regulation that is made should limit deductions to the equivalent of the time lost as a consequence of lateness or absence. One does not desire to see come into operation in the Public Service something the trade union movement caused to be abandoned years ago. At one time, some employers had their own disciplinary code in the factory or warehouse. They fixed certain fines for offences and as a consequence were able to diminish considerably the pay envelope of employees. That practice was very prevalent at the beginning of the century, and it had to be fought. Fortunately for industry generally that type of petty tyranny has been abolished.
The second amendment in this clause omits existing paragraph (q) and inserts the following new paragraph: - for providing for the notification to the Board of punishments imposed on officers under Sections 55 and 56 of this Act and for the keeping, for such periods as are specified in the regulations, of records of punishments so imposed.
The existing paragraph is entirely different and I think should be retained.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The Opposition regards the bill before the House as being good in parts and very bad in other parts. The opposition, in the main, to the bill has been indicated by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), who has stated that later on, at the committee stage, he will move an amendment on behalf of the Opposition. The bill makes four or five amendments to the Public Service Act. The first one referred to by the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) in his secondreading speech relates to the extra-territorial operation of the act. The Minister has stated that there is some doubt whether public servants who are abroad in the employ of the Government are effectively covered, and that to remove such doubt this amendment is necessary. I. understand also that there is some doubt about the superannuation rights of members of the Public Service, and I would like the Minister to refer to this aspect when answering the citicisms levelled at the bill.
The bill proposes to increase the monetary penalties that may be imposed on public servants for misdemeanours. The Minister disputed a claim made by the honorable member who preceded me in this debate. I should like to read from the Minister’s second-reading speech, which, I think, makes it perfectly clear that the penalties to be imposed in the future will be harsher than they are at the present time. The Minister said -
The monetary penalties that may be imposed on an officer upon the commission of an offence have been increased from Ss. to 10s. as the maximum fine for a minor offence, and from £5 to £20 for other than a minor offence.
– That is the maximum. That was the very point that I made.
– But the fact of the matter is that the range of the penalties is being increased. Therefore, 1 think that it is up to the Minister to give the House a better explanation than the mere statement that the range of penalties is being extended. He admitted that it was being extended, because he continued -
This action will lessen the gap between the monetary penalty that may be imposed and the more drastic punishments of reduction in salary or status or dismissal.
Where the Public Service Board, or its representative, would formerly have imposed a fine of 5s. under this measure, it will impose a fine of 10s. Where the board, or its representative, would formerly have imposed a fine of £5, the fine will, in future, be £20.
– The cost of living has increased.
– It is not a question of whether the cost of living has increased. It is a question of giving the Public Service Board power to impose more drastic penalties on employees. I submit that the Minister has not made out a case for giving the board power to impose on employees heavier penalties than it may impose at present.
The Opposition has already intimated that it supports the proposal in relation to the extension of the terms of temporary employees. As the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has pointed out, the position of a temporary employee in the Public Service is somewhat invidious. I think that the circumstances of temporary employees should be carefully considered, especially in view of the fact that a person who has had 20 years’ service as a temporary employee may be faced with the prospect of summary dismissal. That is most unfair, and it should not be tolerated.
There are many reasons why public servants may not become permanent employees, but I do not think that the fact that they are not permitted to become permanent employees should be held against them in determining their rights when they have served the Government for many years.
I propose to deal now with working conditions in the Public Service. The conditions under which some employees have worked, and will have to work for some years to come, are appalling. In many instances, government employees are compelled to work under conditions that would cause a private employer to be haled into court. The Commonwealth should not allow thousands of its employees to work under conditions that are the subject of stringent and scathing criticism. The honorable member for Banks indicated the conditions under which employees of the Sydney Mail Branch of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department have to work. They are shocking. It is accepted by every one that the conditions are seriously undermining the health of employees. It is true that plans for future improvements have been made, but the fact remains that the employees have been working under these appalling conditions for the last four or five years. It may be argued that the Public Service Board is trying to improve the situation, but that does not permit the Government to escape criticism.
In all the capital cities, and particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, improvements are planned, but it will be many years before they are realized. At the present time, the Commonwealth is constructing, in Melbourne, a block of administrative offices, the estimated cost of which is £5,500,000, but it will not be completed for a considerable number of years. The Public Works Committee, two years ago, approved plans for the construction of a Commonwealth administration block in Sydney, but the work has been delayed by some difference of opinion between other authorities that are concerned. While these differences of opinion prevail, we shall get no nearer to improving the conditions of Commonwealth employees in many offices scattered throughout Sydney, in which working conditions are appalling. I think that the Government should do its utmost to improve the working conditions of its employees in the shortest possible time.
The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) stated, last evening, that the administration of the Public Service Board should be reviewed. I have made a similar suggestion on previous occasions. The idea is not new, and it will bear ventilating again. For some reason, we in this country seem to have accepted it to be afact that the principles on which the administration of our Public Serviceis based are the best in the world, and that no other country has a service comparable with our own. The criticisms thatI am making are not intended ‘to belittle the Public Service, but I object to the principles upon which the Public Service Board works. I think that it can be truly said that an appeal by an employee to the Public Service Board on a matter affecting his employment is an appeal from Caesar to Caesar, and that, when a department calls in the Public Service Board to put a matter right, it is a case of Caesar calling upon Caesar.
I think that it is about time the Government took into consideration the problems that have confronted other services where conditions are similar. The United Kingdom CivilService provides a good illustration.I think that it is the equal of any inthe world. Indeed, I think that it is due tothe traditions and efficiency of the British civil servants in India that ‘that country is making such : astonishing progress, in sharp contrast with the situation in Pakistan.Indiawas fortunate enough to be able toretain the services of almost 90 per cent of the personnel of the public service atthe timethatit attained independence, but Pakistan retained only about 10 per cent. Thishas been of tremendous help in the developmentof India.
The United KingdomCivil Service does not regard itself as being in a position in which it is immune from inquiry. It is the custom in theUnitedKingdom every decade to have independent persons from outside the Civil Service investigate the operations of the service. The authorities in that country have even appointed royal commissions to inquire into the operations of the service, and the investigations that have taken place have been most beneficial. In Australia, as I have pointed out, the final authority in : all matters affecting the Public Service is the Public Service Board, but I, for one, am not satisfied with this arrangement. I. submit that, in view of : the achieve ments in other countries, the Government would be well advised toexamine the functions and methods of the Public Service Board in the interests of efficiency and improved working of thePublic Service generally.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 -to 10 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 11 -
Section fifty-five of the Principal Act is amended -
by omitting from sub-section (2.) the words “ Five shillings “ and inserting in their stead the words “Ten shillings”; and
by omitting from sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (d) of sub-section (3.) the words “Five pounds “ and inserting in their stead the words “ Twenty pounds “.
.- I move-
That the ‘following paragraph be added: - “ (c) by omitting from paragraph (d) of subsection (3.) the words ‘if the punishment so imposed or recommended by the Chief Officer be other than a fine not exceeding Two pounds or if, in the case of an officer who has been deprived of his salary during suspension, the amount of the fine imposed, together with the amount of salary of which he has been deprived, exceeds Two pounds,’.”
Amendment of the clause in that way would meet the wishes not only of the Opposition but also of the Public Service organizations concerned. The matter was well debated during the second-reading debate. Honorable members from this side of the House then argued that there should be a right of appeal against a penalty, whether it is less than the specified amount of £2 or above it. We also are of the opinion that even if there is no fine but only a reprimand or a warning, the amendment is necessary, because in such a case the officer concerned has thepunishment recorded against him in his service history. I know that, at the moment, fines of less than 5s. are not recorded in the officer’s record, but there is another history sheet or dossierin which they are recorded.
– They would not be recorded for morethan two years.
– Yes, but there is this separate record which is not mentionedin the bill. That is why I say that an officer should have the right to prove his innocence, even though the penalty that has been imposed on him has been only a warning or a reprimand.
As the clause stands, it seems to members of the Opposition that the Chief Officer acts as both judge and jury, which is not consistent with British justice. It is for that reason that the Public Service organizations, through the joint council, have expressed themselves strongly, in an article in their journal, in the following terms: -
The plain facts of the present position under section 55 of the Public Service Act are these -
Any Chief Officer can charge a Public Servant with an offence, try the case, convict the accused and impose a punishment. The convicted officer has no right of appeal to the independent Appeal Board, even on the grounds of innocence, unless the penalty exceeds £2.
Such a situation is without parallel in modern democratic law. It contravenes every basic principle of British and Australian justice. It means that the accuser becomes the Judge and Jury and that there is no appeal against his verdict however unfair or unconscionable his decision may be. It means that all kinds of charges can be “ trumped up “ against an officer and he has no right of redress. An officer could be charged every day with faked and invalid offences, and every day he could be fined up to £2 for each offence and this could go on indefinitely and the Public Service Board would have no power to interfere and the convicted officer would never have a right of appeal even though he protested his innocence on every occasion.
The article concluded in this rather extravagant way -
Unless an innocent man is given the right of appeal, we can roll up the Bill of Rights, the Magna Charta, the Constitution and all the laws of English and Australian justice and burn them in a roaring bonfire, because we will have reverted to the dark ages of the star chamber, and the bones of freedom-loving democrats down through the ages will rattle in anguish in their graves at this modern affront to human rights.
Those are the views of the Public Service organizations in this matter and they indicate how strongly those views are held. I hope that the Government will heed the voice of these organizations and accept the amendment that I have moved.
– I want to reply, very briefly, to the remarks of the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa). First, I point out that this question has been considered very carefully. Initially, the joint council had a look at it, and then the Public Service Board also considered it. Eventually it came to the Cabinet. While it is true that there is considerable merit in the argument that has been put forward by the honorable member in support of his amendment, and also in that of the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), who spoke very wisely and exceptionally well a little while ago, the fact of the matter is that offences which carry a fine of less than £2 are, of their very nature, of a trivial kind. Foi that reason, it is considered that the importance of the disciplinary action would be unduly inflated if the officer concerned were entitled to appeal to the appeal board. As I have said, the matter has been very carefully considered, and I regret to inform the honorable member for Banks that the Government will not accept the amendment.
.- The action of the Government in refusing to accept the amendment will give rise to an anomalous position, and that, in my opinion, will be unfortunate. The relevant section of the act provides that a person who is fined has the right of appeal to the chief officer. He is able to state his case and a review of the penalty is made. So, the right of appeal is granted to those who are fined the sum of 10s., or less; but those who are fined an amount ranging from 10s. to £2 have no right of appeal. If the fine is greater than £2 there is again a right of appeal. That position creates a gap in which a certain range of fines is not subject to review through appeal, whilst fines below and above that range are subject to review. The Government’s decision is entirely contrary to the policy it has expressed in legislation touching proceedings before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, in which there is no restriction of the right of appeal. If my memory serves me correctly, at the time the Government introduced that legislation it was very firm about the basic right of appeal for people who believe that they have suffered an injustice.
I simply point out to the Minister that in other legislation that the Government has introduced it has insisted on the inclusion of the right of appeal; but in this bill the right of appeal is given in respect of penalties of up to 10s.. is withheld in respect of penalties ranging from 10s. Id. to £2, and is given in respect of penalties of £2 Os. Id. and upwards. That is a ridiculous and anomalous state of affairs, and I hope that the Minister will give further consideration to it.
.- Ever since I have been a member of this House I have fought hard for the right of appeal against any conviction to be enjoyed by a person who considers himself to have been unjustly convicted. The most refreshing feature of the amendment is that it indicates a complete change of front by members of the Opposition. It is well within my memory that no legislation respecting judicial proceedings that was introduced by the last Labour Government contained any provision for the right of appeal. I remember that on all occasions when legislation of a judicial character was introduced by the Labour government I fought for the right of appeal, just as honorable members opposite are fighting for its inclusion in this legislation. The result was the same. The Minister in charge of the legislation in those days acted as the Minister at the table at the moment is acting now, and stated that the Government could not accept the amendment. I need mention only two cases to support my argument. One was the legislation under which the Labour government appointed conciliation commissioners from whose decision in industrial cases brought before them there was no appeal. That meant that if one party to an industrial dispute refused to accept the conciliation commissioner’s ruling the dispute could go on ad infinitum. Honorable members will recall the engineers’ case in Victoria which almost resulted in a calamitous situation, and the Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Chifley, had to find some way out of the dilemma. That lack of appeal from the decisions of conciliation commissioners has, of course, been remedied by this Government.
Then there was the more notorious case of the celebrated Banking Act, which was to bring in the millennium. A judge was appointed as a tribunal to adjudicate on everything done in relation to the taking over of the private banks by the Government, and provision was made for any failure on the part of bank directors, or any employee of a bank, interfering with the Government’s usurpation of banking services, to be dealt with. Such offenders could be fined £1,000, or imprisoned for one year, or both, and no right of appeal was provided. So, it is most refreshing that the members of the Opposition have come round at last to my point of view, and that of many other honorable members on this side of the House, and now hold that a person who is accused, but who is innocent or considers himself the victim of an injustice, should have the right of appeal.
– We hope you will vote for the amendment.
– Will you vote for the amendment?
– I shall suggest a better one.
Having dealt with that matter, I wish to point out that summary jurisdiction in public organizations is an absolute must. It is essential unless we are to have complete and utter chaos. A person who is guilty of a minor offence punishable by a fine of 5s. or 10s. knows that he has to suffer some penalty, and accepts the position. I shall cite the position in the Australian Army, which is, in effect, a large public service organization, as an example of a procedure that might be applied in the present instance. Summary jurisdiction is vested in the commanding officer of a unit in respect of minor offences, but in every case the soldier has the right to be paraded to the highest authority in the Army if he considers himself aggrieved. On the other hand, if his offence is punishable by an amount greater than the amount of penalty awardable in a summary trial by the commanding officer of the unit, he has the right to choose whether he will be dealt with by the commanding officer or to go to court-martial. In such a case, therefore, summary jurisdiction may apply, but if the soldier thinks that a courtmartial would deal more fairly with him he may ask for a court-martial; on the other hand, if he thinks that a courtmartial would deal more harshly with him than his commanding officer would, he would choose to be dealt with summarily by the commanding officer.
There is nothing more irritating to an innocent person, a person of clean character, clean conduct, clean repute, to be penalized for something of which he feels himself to be perfectly innocent.. I can imagine that that would irritate a man for the. rest of his life. He would never get it out of his soul that injustice had been meted out to him. I believe that if the Government would consider adopting the army system in this case, and give the employee the right, to say whether he will have his commanding officer - that is, the head of his department or section - deal with the case, or whether it should go to a higher authority, it would be doing a desirable thing. The case mentioned by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was a case in point. The higher body would have the power to say that there was no charge, because there were extenuating circumstances which might not be takeninto consideration by a commanding officer summarily dealing with a case. b want the Government to have some consideration for the feelings of a man who is penalized and who knows that he is innocent. A man who was on a charge of punching another man on the nose and who was dealt with by the commanding officer, might be dealt with entirely on the basis of whether he had actually delivered the punch; whereas a higher court would want to know why he punched the man, and might say to the defendant, “You should have punched him twice, under the circumstances “. A higher court taking that view would acquit the man, who would therefore be exonerated. Could not the Minister introduce into this measure something, like the army system, which gives a man on charge the right to say whether he wilL be dealt with by his commanding officer or be paraded, as it. were, to the general?
The person in whom the authority to deal summarily with a man on charge is vested must be a man of equable temper and. character. He must not be liverish. He must not allow emotions to govern his actions. He must be completely the. administrator of justice in the case, regardless of what the appearances are, because appearances are often deceptive. He might find that in a certain case it is necessary to adopt a humanitarian outlook, and may award a penalty less than the maximum that he is authorized to. award, because of. the circumstances of the case. He must also be a psychologist, because you cannot treat Brown in the same way as. you treat Smith. They are men of totally different temperaments, and are actuated by totally different motives. Therefore, I repeat, the man authorized to administer summary jurisdiction must- himself have character and temperament, and- must be able to read the character of the persons who appear before him. We shall never cure an injustice by contending that the same injustice exists in some other legislation. It is not less an injustice in this Government’s legislation than, it was in the previous government’s legislation. So, I should like the Minister to have a look at this matter of giving a person on charge the right to choose to be dealt with by a higher authority than his commanding officer. I repeat that summary justice is essential in huge public organizations like the Army, but I think that in some cases a person charged should have the. right to elect to be tried by higher authority.
– That is a good point. It will be considered.
.- The replyby the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) in regard to trivial charges is that they are only trivial matters. The argument used by the Government from time to time is that if this right of appeal were granted in respect of trivial matters it would clog up tribunals, and there would be no end to the cases to be heard by them. L believe that if the right of appeal were granted in these cases fewer trivial charges would bc laid against employees. That alone would obviously regulate the position, and there would be less need for appeals. I do not consider that the purported analogy submitted by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) in respect of the Labour government’s legislation establishing conciliation commissioners, is a good one. We are against all appeals from the decisions of conciliation commissioners.
– I am in favour of them.
– We are against them. As the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor) said, it is no use appealing from Caesar to Caesar. The honorable- memberfort Dalley (Mr. O’Connor) said that it is in the nature of appealing from Caesar to
Caesar, but that is what happens in conciliation and arbitration. Another consideration is that that affects a vast body of men, en masse, whereas this involves the civil rights of the individual. I believe that the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) is confusing two jurisdictions. One is in the arbitration field and the other is in the. civil field, and I claim that there is no analogy between the two.
.- Whilst supporting the amendment moved by the Opposition, I wish, to raise a point concerning section 55 of the principal act. That is a section covering a wide range of subjects concerning offences and penalties. Sub-section (1.) (e) refers to a public servant who is -
Guilty of any disgraceful or improper conduct, either in his official capacity or otherwise.
If seems to me that within the meaning of the words “ improper conduct “ at the present time there is a series of conditions - I will not say offences - which is thought to be capable of being covered by the subsection. Although it seems to be difficult to convince some Government supporters that there is any sincerity on the part of a person who speaks in defence of those who might be brought under this sub-section - I refer to those who might be considered to be guilty of certain offences of political associations, or of certain subversive or security offences- I do. not think it is difficult to convince the Minister at the table, and that is why I raise the point now. It is not inconsistent with our amendment.
I suggest that the Government should take into account the possibility of creating an appeal tribunal for persons in the Public Service who feel themselves aggrieved by any decision of the Public Service Board which might attribute to them, directly or by implication, improper conduct in relation to their political activities. I make this suggestion because I happen to know that in the Public Service there is a feeling, shared by quite a number of people, that an independent appeal tribunal of this sort would meet the exigencies of this situation and provide fairness and justice. I seriously suggest to the Minister that some consideration be given to setting up a tribunal of this sort, to which people who were accused of improper conduct - for example, under section: 55 (1.) (e) - and were aggrieved by the decision, could appeal, and by which any evidence held concerning them could be examined properly, in the open.
If that course were followed, it would not in any way endanger national security. On the contrary, it would contribute to it, because there is nothing more likely to be inconsistent with national security than a feeling of injustice or the existence of some intangible suggestion in relation to his affairs that a person cannot bring out into the open and have examined, and upon which a fair decision can be given. I happen to know that quite a number of people feel this at the present time, and I think it is appropriate to suggest, in relation to this clause, that some provision be made to set up such a. tribunal.
I make this suggestion in all sincerity because I believe that liberty is of vast importance to the community - not to a few people but to all. I consider that one of the marks of an advanced society is the existence of facilities such as those I have suggested. Means to provide them have been devised in other countries, including Great Britain, and I suggest that we in Australia, could very well follow that example.
– The honorable member’s suggestion will be considered.
Question put -
That the amendment (Mr. Costa’s) be agreed to.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 22
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 12 and 13 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 14 (Leave of absence for recreation).
.- This clause removes sub-section (3.) of section 68, which reads -
When the absence of an officer is not sanctioned, he shall forfeit his pay for each day of such absence.
Our main objection is that this provision is being removed from the act and made subject to regulation. An act may be altered only by the Parliament, but a regulation may be altered from time to time by the board itself, or by a Chief Officer, who may also delegate his power. We believe that the Government should keep these matters within the power of the Parliament - the elected representatives of the people - and not allow them to pass out of its control.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 15 to 23 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 24 (Regulations for Commonwealth Service).
.- This clause, also, relates to the making of regulations. Sub-clause (b) omits paragraph (q) of section 97 (1.) of the principal act and inserts in lieu thereof the following paragraph: - “ (q) for providing for the notification to the Board of punishments imposed on officers under sections fifty-five and fifty-six of this Act and for the keeping, for such periods as are specified in the regulations, of records of punishments so imposed; “.
Existing paragraph (q) contains the following proviso: -
Provided that nothing in the regulations shall authorize the keeping, for more than two years, of the record of any punishment which does not exceed a fine of five shillings.
I presume that 10s. is meant to take the place of 5s. as the prescribed sum. Apparently it will be possible, by way of regulation, to alter the period for which records may be kept. Thus, the present safeguard that records shall not be kept for more than two years may be removed. I feel sure that the Minister, upon examining this clause further, will appreciate that it does take away a statutory safeguard, and will see that the bill is amended in another place. As the clause stands, the record of a punishment could be kept for all time.
.- Opposition members objected, during the secondreading debate, to the principle involved in this proposal. I did mention that clause 24 transferred a power from section 97 of the principal act to administrative regulation. Section 97 of the principal act reads -
The Board may, with the approval of the Governor-General, make regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, prescribing all matters which are required or permitted to be prescribed, or which are necessary or convenient to be prescribed, for carrying out or giving effect to this Act, and in particular for the following, namely: -
From now on, this right to deduct amounts from salaries or wages in respect of time lost by absence will not be administered under a section of the act, but under a regulation. The Opposition says that that is wrong in principle. Under this proposal, instead of the chief officer having the right to inflict a fine if an officer is late for duty and does not fulfil his proper schedule, payment can be withheld for the time lost. This is a new procedure within the Public Service, and members of the
Opposition think it is wrong. A department will now have the right to keep back part of the salary of a salaried officer. We challenge this principle because an officer is engaged on an annual salary, and if any portion of it is deducted for any reason he will not receive the prescribed salary, and that, we believe, is wrong.
We also think that it is wrong to make a deduction from the salary of an officer who, through no fault of his own, arrives late for duty. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made some reference to that. In Sydney, last week, a stock train fouled the lines and delayed 32 electric trains, which were carrying many thousands of persons to work at a time when it was likely that most of them would be public servants. These people were up to an hour late through no fault of their own.
– But they were not penalized.
– We hope to have an assurance that officers will not be penalized in such cases. That is one of the reasons that we are opposing this proposal. Under it, penalties could be inflicted on people who were in no way to blame for being late. Breakdowns of transport are not infrequent. They are happening all the time. Breakdowns of electrical systems are continually causing lateness in arrival for duty.
There is another reason why the Opposition will not support the proposal. Quite a number of officers, for health reasons, require health breaks at work. All officers are not equal. Some require more health breaks than others, and that fact could be used against them. That is another danger in this proposal. On those grounds and on principle, the Opposition opposes the proposed amendment. We intend to divide the committee on the matter.
Question put -
That the clause be agreed to.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 18
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
– I lay on the table the report of the Tariff Board on the following subject: -
Motor and aviation spirits.
Ordered to be printed.
– As Chairman, I present the first report of the Printing Committee.
Report read by the Clerk, and - by leave - adopted.
Debate resumed from 15th May (vide page 1402), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt-
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The bill amends the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act 1947-1956. The present charge is ls. 7d. a man-hour and the intention of the Government is to increase it to 2s. a manhour. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), in his second-reading speech, was at least very moderate in referring to the Waterside Workers Federation. On occasions such as this in the past, the waterside workers have been the target for criticism for whatever conditions might or might not have been prevailing on the waterfront. It was quite obvious from the ‘Minister’s speech that, notwithstanding .the recession that has taken place in the .industry, .the waterside workers have more than played their part in .attempting to bring about an improvement not only in the turn-round of ships but also in the stability of the industry. The figures given by the Minister show that the number of hours worked had been reduced by 4,500,000. That means, on the anticipated fall-off in working hours, that the reduction will be about 13 per cent, or 14 per cent, in the coming year.
– Not in the coming year. Those figures are for the year 1956-57. We .anticipate that from June the tonnage will be increased.
– There will be an increase in tonnage; that is so.
– 1 think we have estimated that the hours worked will be 36,500,000 for 1957-58.
– But the value of cargoes anticipated to be handled in the next twelve months, taking into consideration the Minister’s figures, will still be £38,000,000 below the figure for 1955-56.
– I am sorry; I have misled the honorable member. The estimate is 35.;000,000 hours. The estimate for this year was 3.6,500,000 and it will actually be 34,000,000.
– Forgetting the future for .the .moment, .1 .am .pointing out that, on the figures that were given, the working hours in the industry were reduced. The ‘waterside workers bore ‘the brunt of that reduction. The estimated value of cargoes to ‘be handled during 1957-58 will still be £38,000,000 below the figure for 1955-56. Therefore, the industry will be in a .position more or less below that of 19.55-56. The Minister mentioned quite a number of factors. He pointed out that there would be a fall-off .of imports and gave various .reasons for that fall-off. He said, also, that interstate .cargo was down 20 per .cent, on the 1955 figures. Therefore, there has been a decline generally .in the .industry; and, even during the .six months from .the end of June, the waterside workers will not get back to the position in which they were in 1955-56. Plainly, they will be faced with the prospect of having less working time, and that is ‘not a -very good prospect. The Minister admitted that as a result of the efforts of the waterside workers, the .turn-round of ships in Australia had considerably improved during the periods he mentioned.
The Minister pointed out that the increase ‘would be from ls. 7d. to 2s. a manhour in the industry and this would be used to finance the operations of the Australian Stevedoring Industry authority. However, he did not say how much the authority expected to collect from this increase. The Minister expressed the hope that the increase would not be passed on generally but would be borne by the shipowners and ‘the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission. He said that ;the commission had indicated that it was quite prepared to carry this increase, and he expressed the hope that the private shipping companies would do the same. Unfortunately, I am not as optimistic as he is. it has been shown that when these charges have been varied in the past, they have not been carried by the shipowners. In fact, the shipowners have passed them on; but when they have been reduced, no corresponding reduction has been made by the shipowners. This charge has been a fluctuating one and it has been found necessary to increase or decrease it according to circumstances. However, the shipowners have not shown themselves to be very much alive to their responsibilities when they have proceeded to pocket the advantages that have come their way through decreased charges. The Minister will recall that on previous occasions when this matter has been debated, I have raised this question and he has stated that the Government is helpless in attempting to try to get the shipowners to carry the increases.
– We are in a stronger position with interstate shipowners because the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission is a factor there.
– That is correct; the Government’s position is far stronger when dealing with interstate shipowners thani it is. when dealing with overseas- shipowners. Unfortunately, the Government has not shown any determination in dealing with interstate shipowners. When these charges have gone up I do not recall the Minister or the Government attempting to prevent the shipowners from passing them on.
– A good deal has been done in various directions. Freight rates would have gone up a great deal more if the Government had not acted.
– On a previous occasion when I posed this question the Minister asked what could be done. I say that as a result of these additional charges transport costs will go still higher. The shipowners should, carry this charge. With the money collected from the man-hour charge the authority finances its undertakings and operations. Perhaps I should correct here something that is misunderstood by a lot of people. The waterside workers receive appearance money and the popular opinion is that they are well treated in that respect. But T point out to the House that when the waterside workers receive appearance money they do not receive certain other social services. For instance, they are not eligible for the unemployment benefit which is available to other workers who suffer loss of employment.
In my opinion, the industry is well equipped to carry this charge. The interstate shipowners- have demonstrated, if one can accept- their reports, that they are doing exceedingly well. So many of them are interlocked that I think there are only two private shipping companies operating in this country. The remainder belong to a combine and their charges and prices are regulated and predetermined. This country has been compelled to bow to the dictates of the overseas shipping combine simply because this Government will not face up to its responsibilities. As a- result of this, Australia is finding itself in an almost impossible position in competitive markets throughout the world. Ultimately this Government wilthave to face up- to this problem, because’ no country can continue to allow itself to be’ held’ to ransom as Australia is being; held- to ransom- to-day through the demands” for ever-increasing overseas freights. The Government claims that it lacks the authority to deal with overseas combines, But I submit that it has other alternatives at hand if it is determined to provide competition. With the assets and authority now at its disposal, it could well step into the overseas shipping field and provide competition with the combine companies, but it is leaving- that field exclusively to overseas interests which do nothing to safeguard Australia’s economy.
The Opposition does not oppose this bill. We agree that the increase of the man-hour charge is necessary to finance the operations of the Stevedoring Industry Authority. From- this money amenities are provided, and I- would like to see the authority doing more- in this field. 1 give it credit for what it has already achieved. However, there remains quire a lot to be done. I do not know of any other industry that shows such a barren record of accomplishment by private interests. It is a record that can afford nobody any pleasure. Nobody can take any pride in defending private interests in this field because of the disgraceful way they have neglected the conditions of their own employees. There has been a constant conflict of authority. Every one has’ been saying that somebody else should be doing something about providing amenities, and until the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority started to do something there was a most disgraceful situation. However, the fact that the authority is attempting on a limited scale to provide amenities for waterside workers does not relieve other people of their responsibilities. It is not much use the Minister and Government supporters continually levelling attacks at the waterside workers when much of. theblame rests with the employers.
.- I have listened with interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr.
O’Connor) and particularly to his statement that the Opposition does not intend to oppose this bill. The honorable member has put forward a number of interesting points, some of which I must agree with. I refer to his remarks about amenities. I think members on both sides of the House must be pleased to see that as a result of the act passed by the Parliament last year the new Stevedoring Industry Authority has started to spend money on amenities and facilities to help the waterside workers during their working hours. In particular honorable members must be pleased to see how the authority has developed the mobile medical centre in the port of Sydney. That centre is now functioning efficiently and has commenced to increase its services during the last year. Members on both sides of the House must hope that before long, such services and amenities will be increased at other ports in the same way as they are now being increased at Sydney.
Taking the argument of the honorable member for Dalley a little farther, it does indicate how at last, as a result of the Stevedoring Industry Act passed by the Government last year, there are signs of improved co-ordination of all the various authorities on the waterfront - the port authorities, the shipowners, and the Stevedoring Industry Authority itself. Gradually, everybody is showing greater recognition of his responsibility to provide amenities. Honorable members can only hope that each of the bodies concerned will in the future continue this movement and accelerate it as far as possible.
Turning now to the bill as a whole, I do not think members on either side of the House would like to see costs increased, particularly on the waterfront. As the Minister has pointed out so clearly in his second-reading speech, this increased charge is due to factors which were not referred to in any way by the honorable member for Dalley. There are, first, the short-term factors that have existed during the last twelve months. In particular, the decline of the volume of imports coming into Australia has resulted in less work being available for the waterside workers. The Suez Canal crisis also has affected the flow of imports, but, as a result of the settling of the crisis, that situation will be overcome in the near future. A third factor is the abnormally dry autumn that we are experiencing. As a result, the rain factor that was taken into consideration when the original charge was calculated has not had as great an effect as was expected.
There are also the long-term factors that have made it necessary to increase the charge. As the Minister pointed out, they include the increased efficiency apparent on the waterfront during the last twelve months. I think that all honorable members welcome the signs of greater efficiency. It is a pity that, paradoxically, at the same time as efficiency has increased, we have found it necessary to increase the charge levied to finance the operations of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. However, if we take the long-term view, we can, as the Minister has said, see that, by the very nature of the long-term factors, the present need for the increased charge will be removed, and that it should be possible, in a reasonably short time, to reduce it below the level of 2s. to which it is now to be increased.
I think that we should consider very briefly some of the factors that have led to increased efficiency on the wharfs. When 1 addressed the House during the consideration of the Stevedoring Industry Bill 1956 in June of last year, I referred at length to the importance of the press and radio pick-up system of obtaining labour for the wharfs. I think that, as the Minister has said, that system is one of the factors that has made it necessary to increase the charge. It has operated in twelve ports with very great success, and has called forth very favorable comment from all who are affected by it. As I said before, in Melbourne, where it has operated for a long time, the waterside workers welcomed it, and would be loath to see it abandoned. Last year, I expressed the hope that, when the system was extended to other ports, the waterside workers at those ports would welcome it, and I think that I can say, without fear of equivocation by Opposition members, that that hope has been justified by its operation in practice. The people whom it benefits welcome it in spite of the extra cost involved.
In addition, there are other general factors which arose from the act passed last year - the short gangs for beams and hatches; the transfer system, which operated originally in Adelaide, and has now been adopted in most other ports; and the general increase of efficiency resulting from the sling-load judgment and the greater use of pallets for the movement of general cargoes. All of these factors have improved the turn-round of ships, and I am sure that all honorable members welcome that as an indication of increased efficiency on the waterfront. The honorable member for Dalley said that the reduction of working hours has forced the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia to bear the whole brunt of the increased efficiency. The most important effect of the Stevedoring Industry Act of last year was to make work on the waterfront less of a casual occupation, and the waterside workers have benefited as a result of the measures that have been adopted. It cannot be said that they have in fact borne the brunt of the factors that were mentioned by the honorable member. On the other hand, the act of last year has brought about a measure of permanent employment, which every waterside worker surely desires, and we are at last able to have some measure of stability on the waterfront. That is most important.
There are many factors that have led to the present situation. I have referred already to the improved wharf amenities that have been provided by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. The cost of those facilities is reflected in the increased charge now proposed. I think that honorable members on both sides of the House will agree that such expenses should be incurred, and that, if it is necessary to incur greater expenditure in order to improve amenities, it should be incurred, because we all should like to see amenities on the waterfront improved. I think that every one recognizes the need for improvement. The authority has encouraged all concerned to adopt a better attitude, and to increase efficiency, and we must congratulate it on what it has achieved in the last nine months in that way.
The Minister, in his second-reading speech, referred particularly to the reduction of the volume of general cargo being shipped round the Australian coast. I think that we all should consider that factor, because if the present trend continues, the demand for waterfront labour in Australian ports will decline. We have already seen the effects of events that occurred in the New South Wales coal industry only eight years ago. There is a chance that a similar situation may be arising on the waterfront. It is important that both the waterside workers and the shipowners should examine this general problem of coastal shipping. I should like to refer in particular to the trend towards increased bulk-handling of cargoes. The bulk-handling of sugar, ironstone, and oil, as is already well known, has increased efficiency at certain ports. If ships are to carry general cargo in competition with rail or road transport, we shall have to reduce shipping costs.
I hope that, as a result of the new attitude that is becoming apparent on the waterfront, the shipowners will embark on a programme for the construction of specialized vessels for the handling of general cargo. In the United States of America, a great deal of thought is being given to the construction of ships specially designed for the transport of particular cargoes. In that country, a special method, which is known as the “ roll on, roll off “ technique, has been adopted. Cargo is shipped on pallets, which are loaded in a body on a trailer. The trailer is hauled by a prime mover onto the ship, and is removed by another prime mover at the port of destination. I am certain that if the quantity of general cargo carried round the coast is to be increased, shipowners will have to consider in great detail the building of ships specially designed for this trade. Before they do that they must have some assurance that there is going to be a period of stability in the industry. Since, as a result of the actions of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority during the last nine months, this period of stability can now be foreseen, I think it is up to the shipowners to think of ways in which they could improve efficiency, and to build ships for these special purposes.
I hope, with the Minister, that the extra charge that will be incurred as the result of this bill will be absorbed by the shipping interests without increasing freights. I have already directed attention to the greater efficiency that is now evident on the wharfs, and the consequent reduction of costs should more than offset the extra charge. I hope that both the short-term and long-term factors to which I have referred, and which have necessitated this charge, will soon be overcome, and that within as -short a time as possible, the Government will be able to reduce the proposed charge of 2s. to something very much less.
– The thoughtful contribution of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) had a good deal of cold logic in it, apart from his pious hopes, if I may so term them, about a possible reduction of the stevedoring industry charge. Surely, if a’ll the features to which the honorable member referred, such as improved efficiency, were in fact apparent on the waterfront to-day, the charge -at the rate of ls. 7d. would be sufficient. One of the features that worry me in this matter is that we are not doing anything at all about the main issue on the waterfront - the decasualization of labour. I propose to direct my remarks along those lines.
Perhaps I am wrong, but I hold the view that any country that wishes to develop at a reasonable rate must keep two factors in mind. They are, the capacity to keep transport costs to a minimum, and the need to -employ its man-power in the most efficient and beneficial way for the nation as a whole. I know that we have had great trouble with this industry down through the years, due mainly to bad employeremployee relations, and I also know that the industry has been tinkered with from time to time. Perhaps I will be excused if I am not so sanguine about the position as is the honorable member for Fawkner. No doubt we all agree that if the proposed charge of 2s. were to be used to improve amenities on the waterfront, with a view to increasing efficiency, that would be a very good thing. If that were to be done, those on this side of the House, at ‘least, would say to the Minister, “ Well done! We think that is a good thing”. But of course that will not happen. The Opposition -supports the proposed increase, tout ;in -doing so we think that one or two observations should ;be made.
We have been told by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) that the increase of the charge from ls. 7d. to 2s. is imperative because the funds of the authority have been running down at a rapid rate. That certainly does not breed confidence in the operations of this body.
– The honorable member would not want it to reduce the work force and have all these people not being compensated, surely!
Minister had .every opportunity ito give his reasons for the increase, but he did not do so. We have had only half the story of this further twist to the tail of transport costs in this country. It is not good enough for people in this .place merely .to rise in their places and say that they hope something will happen. The Government, in inflicting increased transport costs on the community, should be .perfectly clear where it is going, and we in .this place should be told why it is -necessary to .do so. I -remind the House that the proposed increase of the charge will further increase transport costs, which already account for 33 per cent, of the total costs in industry.
– What justification has the honorable member for assuming that there will be an increase of transport charges?
– My justification is that the best that the Minister has been able to tell the Parliament is that he hopes something will happen. We are entitled to something better -than that. The increase from ls. 7d. to 2s. -is an increase of 1*6 per cent.
– Yes, but it is not an increase of freight costs.
– I wish that the Minister would hear what I have to say before he -states his case.
– The honorable member is arguing on ‘wrong premises.
– If we are to be asked, as a Parliament, -to -increase charges in respect of any transport authority, we are entitled to information on the -matter in a more appropriate fashion than by i way .of .interjections ‘from the Minister in charge of the bill.
– If the honorable member reads :my second-reading speech, he will ,have all the information he needs.
– I have read it word for word. I was disappointed in it, -and that ‘is why I am making these comments. My view is that it is high time that the Public Accounts Committee had a look at the operations of this organization. I say that deliberately. When we speak of an increase of 16 per cent., we are not speaking of a small increase, but of an increase which, in terms of working hours, will run into .millions of pounds.
– Does the honorable gentleman know what happens to the funds of the authority?
– I know what I am talking about, and I wish the Minister would listen to me.
– Does the honorable member want the Public Accounts Committee to investigate attendance money payments, sick leave, and all the other matters?
– I would not mind What the committee investigated, so long as it investigated the reason for a 16 per cent, increase of transport charges.
– it will not be -an increase of transport charges.
– The Minister can have his say at some other time. As I have said, we should have more information on this matter before we are asked to approve of increased charges. It is his responsibility to supply such information, and if he does not do so, the Public Accounts Committee should investigate the matter. If I had an overdraft with a bank I should be glad to get assistance where I could, but if an organization such as this has an overdraft, there is an obligation on this Parliament to correct the position immediately.
I am not satisfied on four counts. The Minister has attempted, by means of interjections, to vindicate the proposed increase. If what he says is correct, and the increase will not result in additional transport charges, what does it mean? I suggest it means that, for some period, there has been a rake-off to the tune of 7d. an hour from the existing charge. That is what it amounts to.
– The Minister should keep quiet until I have finished. He can have his say then. I want to put to the Minister four points that are not covered in his second-reading speech, because I think that we should have some information on them before we are called upon to increase charges in this way.
First, I want to know whether the Minister is certain that the waterfront industry is being run on proper business lines. The second point is: Have we too many men engaged on the waterfront?
– Have we too many?
Minister should let me put my case; he may answer it later.
– I was simply asking you whether you asked if we had too many men on the waterfront.
– I will pose the question in a different way later. Thirdly, the Minister should have supplied us with all the information it is possible to have on the subject with which the measure deals. He should not ask this House .to pass legislation that will have the effect of increasing charges in any way, unless we are told exactly what we are doing, ls it -not up to us to discover all ;the facts? The main question, in my humble view, is: “Have we tinkered too much with this waterfront organization since this Government came into office? Have things gone badly, and are we now being asked to cover up for the Government? As a matter of fact, that appears to be the position.
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) dealt with a point which I now wish to develop one stage farther; that is, the decrease in interstate sea traffic, particularly in the carriage of merchandise. That is a very serious problem. That decrease in interstate sea traffic has added considerably to the cost of transport generally in Australia. I ask the Minister to have a look at that problem, too.
I return to my first point about this 1’6 per cent, increase of the stevedoring industry charge. Last October we increased it by too much when we raised it to ls. 7d. a man-hour. To-day, when we have reached the Stage when 33 ;per cent, of the cost content in the price of goods is the cost of transport, the position calls for something better .than we have before us. I believe this matter should be investigated by the Public Accounts Committee. Wherever money is being wasted in this country, that waste should be .prevented. If, in .point of fact, the shipowners and the Government have arrived at a plan whereby thousands of men are being kept on the waterfront on part-time, and it suits these men in the hope that some day they will get a flush, and for the time being it keeps them off the unemployed list, this Parliament should not be called upon to provide funds to pay for that sort of setup, when we are told by the Government that in many avenues there is a shortage of funds. Somebody outside the control of the Government and that of the Stevedoring Industry Authority should have a look at the accounts. I certainly would be happier if I knew all the facts.
When we compare the proposed increase of 16 per cent, of the stevedoring industry charge with the background of the whole thing, we get a startling picture. The Stevedoring Industry Authority, under another name of course, was established originally to do something about decasualization on the waterfront and to provide amenities that would help to promote peace in the industry. It was established in 1945-46 at a time when 5.8 per cent, of working time was being lost through industrial disputes and for similar reasons. In October, 1949, the stevedoring industry charge set in 1947 was reduced to lid. a man-hour; so, in effect, what this Parliament is being asked to do now is to increase the charge from the rate of 2id. as at 11th October, 1949, to 2s. a man-hour only eight years later. We should be on our feet demanding some explanation of an increase of a charge from Hd. to 2s. in only eight years. In point of fact, the appearance money rate has risen 100 per cent, in that period, compared with this increase in the stevedoring industry charge from 2id. to 2s.
– Has the honorable member ever heard of sick leave? Does he want to deprive the waterside workers of that?
– I have heard of sick leave. I am asking the Minister for direct answers to my questions. In 1951, the Government increased the stevedoring industry charge to 4d.; in 1952, it increased it to lid.; and in 1954, it reduced it to 6d. Why? Because we were told that many difficulties on the waterfront were being settled. As a matter of fact, the Government had almost convinced me at that stage that it was at last going to find the answer to the problem, and achieve decasualization on the waterfront. That was the genuine wish of everybody who understood industrial relations. But what happened? On page 27 of the Stevedoring Industry Board’s 1950 report we find what was said in 1949-50 about decasualization and every one of us hoped that this Government, though it is of a different political colour from the Labour party, was finding the answer to the decasualization problem. I said then, and 1 say now, that we cannot have a great body of workers in any industry who are not being properly utilized for more than 25 per cent, of their time. Anybody who advocates the continued existence of such a body of workers advocates a condition that was condemned in England 30 years before the first Stevedoring Industry Board was established in Australia. The first report of the board for the year 1950, at page 26, states -
Decasualization was originally advocated as the remedy for a great social evil. The Court of Inquiry, which investigated working conditions and rates of pay for British dockers 30 years ago, said of the casual nature of the work-
And this is my complaint against this charge of 2s.! It is an easy way of avoiding our responsibility to face up to the need for decasualization. It seems to me, from the glib way that the Minister introduced this measure, that we have forgotten about the principles that underlie a real approach to the difficulties on the waterfront. I resume the quotation. The passage reads -
The Court is of the opinion that labour frequently or constantly under-employed is injurious to the interest of the workers, the ports and the public, and that it is discreditable to society. It undermines all security and is apt to undermine all self-respect upon the workers’ part. It is only among those who have sunk very far and whom the system itself may have demoralized that it can be accepted as a working substitute for steady and assured employment.
Continuing, the report says -
In one sense it is convenient to authorities-
I repeat that, because that is what we have to avoid in this type of legislation -
In one sense it is convenient to authorities and employers, whose requirements are at the mercy of storms and tides and unforeseen casualties, to have a reservoir of unemployment which can be readily tapped as the need emerges for a labour supply. If men were merely the spare parts of an industrial machine, this callous reckoning might be appropriate, but society will not tolerate much longer the continuance of the employment of human beings on those lines.
The report goes on -
The system of casualization must, if possible, be torn up by the roots.
That is why I am on my feet. Nothing that the Minister has said has given the House any hope of one step forward in this great question of decasualization of the waterfront. The report goes on -
It is wrong. And the one issue is as to what practical means can be adopted by readily providing labour, while avoiding cruel and unsocial conditions.
On page 29 of the same report, in the section entitled “ The National Economy and the Efficiency of the Stevedoring Industry “, these paragraphs appear -
The degree of efficiency of the industry may be gauged by analyses of two prime considerations. Efficiency under present standards is a matter of maxima, viz.:
Obtaining from the available labour force the maximum advantage of labour for employment; and
Obtaining in output the maximum value from the labour when in employment.
Before elaborating on the two points, it should be noted that point (1) is affected, independently of itself, by disputes which interrupt continuity of attendance. The Board’s purpose is to achieve the greatest possible continuity of activity by preventing, reducing or confining hold ups arising from industrial disputes. Since July 1st, 1947-
That was under a Federal Labour government - the proportion of work lost through disputes has been small, although this fact is not usually recognized. In 1947-48 the proportion was 2.2 per cent.; in 1948-49 it was 1.8 per cent, and - despite the “ Rotation of Hatches “ dispute in Brisbane and the “ First Aid “ dispute in Sydney during the troubled January-March quarter - for 1949-50 it was only 2.3 per cent. The significance of these figures is apparent when they are compared with the 1946-47 figure of 5.8 per cent.
The basis of the creation of this authority was, first of all, to eliminate casualization on the waterfront, and to establish better relations, and then, as a result of both of those conditions, to bring about a state of affairs under which attendance money and such payments would be gradually eliminated. Those payments had been required to provide amenities for the waterside workers which the shipowners had not provided. I know that the Minister will talk about public holiday pay and sick pay, but before he brings down a bill of this description we should be told how much is involved in those payments. It is not good enough for me, at any rate, to be asked to approve an increase of 26 per cent, without knowing the reason for it. If that 26 per cent, increase is tied to holiday pay and sick pay for the waterside workers, I will be the first to applaud the Minister for making such a provision. But I am not prepared to tolerate for much longer the continuance of casual labour on the waterfront. A real effort must be made to eliminate it.
I come to the third question. The Government took over a plan that had reduced time lost through strikes and other disputes from 5 per cent, to 2 per cent. The third question is: Has the Government been wrong in its approach to waterfront problems? I wish to refer to the report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, at page 17, where some remarkable figures appear in a summary of strikes and stoppages. The number of man-hours lost through disputes is shown as a percentage of man-hours worked. In 1949-50 it was 2.3 per cent, and in 1950-51 it was 5.4 per cent. In 1951-52 it was 4.6 per cent, and in 1952-53 it was 3.1 per cent. Everybody hoped that as a result of that reduction in man-hours lost this Government would do something about decasualization of the waterfront and the establishment of better relations between employers and employees. However, in 1953-54 the number of hours lost increased to 4.5 per cent, in 1954-55 to 6.6 per cent., and in 1955-56 it rose to the all-time high of 8.6 per cent., under this Government’s control.
– What has happened since then?
– This is the first report that the Stevedoring Industry Authority has written.
– The authority has not given a report yet.
– When Labour was in office, the stevedoring industry charge was 2’id. per man-hour, but now it is proposed to increase it from ls. 7d., the present figure, to 2s. I want to know where that 2s. will go. Although this is only an increase of 5d., in this matter we are dealing, in total, not with pence, but with sums running into millions of pounds. For an eight-hour day, this payment of 2s. an hour amounts to 16s. I point out that the waterside workers are receiving only 25s.. a. day- for attendance money. So the Government, is demanding from, the- public; j attendance money, LOs. a day for every day a. man- on the waterfront is not em. ployed. If talks about this 2s. an hour, but we want to know- where the money is going which is being collected in such huge sums.. I know that under this Government’s legislation this authority now has an overdraft, but I want to know more explicitly where the funds are going. I want a clearer, explanation than the Minister has given to-day.
The report of the authority includes figures, showing the hours worked as. a weekly, average per waterside worker of the real- labour force: The total average time throughout Australia worked by the thousands of waterside workers is 30.2 hours a week. Figures- relating, to some, individual ports- are as follows: - In the port of. Sydney, for the. year ended 30th- June, 1-95.6$ the average was-. 28.9 hours; in Newcastle, for. general cargo it was- 28.8-; and for coal 19.7. Nothing has been done about improving the coal-handling facilities, at Newcastle.
– Is the honorable member attacking the New South Wales Government now?
– The New
South Wales Government is not- imposing; this charge of 2s. an hour. In Melbourne, the average hours worked handling cargo amounted to 32.9 a week, and in handling coal, to 19.2. Is that the rates of employment that this Government wants, to perpetuate? If it does, it is inviting conditions on the waterfront that will increase the cost from 2s. to 2s. 6d. next year and 3s. the year after, and the rate will go on increasing.
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) is entitled to credit for raising the question of the falling-off in interstate traffic, because this is a serious problem. The honorable member spoke about the possibility of the “ roll-on “, “ roll-off “ method of loading, and that is something that must be examined closely. But what the honorable, member did not say - the Minister made it as. clear, as he was prepared to make it - was that it was general merchandise traffic that was falling off. The reason for that is the Privy Council decision, about which nobody is doing anything in this country. The transport costs of Australia have, risen, because of the failure of this Government and every State government, to face, up to the realities of transport, problems. These costs are vicious,, and this state of affairs is brought about largely by the road hauliers, who pay no tax on diesel fuel, and have an open go at transporting general merchandise. They are more than able to compete with railway or shipping transport because they are not obliged to contribute anything to the nation, by way of road or fuel taxes. They can undercut the charges of the shipping companies which should be handling the general merchandise that, the road transports carry. The Minister has said- that there has been a falling off, not in bulk cargo, but in general merchandise, and we agree. The road Hauliers- could not be. persuaded to touch bulk cargo. They pick, the eyes out of the cargo just, as they have done in competition with the railways.. Yet the Government does nothing but stand aside and watch them churn our roads to dust!
We speak of- spending £160,000,000 a year on this aspect of transport and, in the same breath, speak about increasing, the stevedoring industry charge from ls. 7d. to 2s. because of the reduction in the work, offering on the waterfront. If the Government is going to run the country in that way. it will end up churning the economy into the dust, along with the roads. Finally,. I object, to this Parliament being required to. subscribe to an increase-
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- No one doubts the good intentions of the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), but most people would find his argument difficult to follow. I was rather pleased to hear him begin by saying that he did not want transport costs to be increased. He has taken a very strong line in regard to transport, and we all know his. ideas about it. His wish for stable trans. port costs is very laudable, because transport is an important factor in our whole cost structure, but only a few weeks ago he supported an urgency motion favouring the restoration of quarterly adjustments of the federal basic wage. Where does he stand?
Opposition, members jump from one position to another; as: expediency dictates. When the- Arbitration Commission, anrnounced; recently, a 10s. increase, in the federal, basic- wage, every Labour leader in A’ustralia, threw up his hands and. said, “ What a- wicked shame, lt- is not nearly enough.”. But now we are told that Labour, does not want transport costs to go up. How can wages be increased without adding to costs?
Opposition- members, interjecting,
– The moment one attempts to- bring’ the light of reason into the foggy thinking of honorable members opposite, they begin to object. The honorable member for Blaxland, in wanting to keep transport costs down, has a- very good point, for we are living in a competitive world: But- he also advocates everything that will keep costs- up: He’ says that reasons given’ for an increase of” 5d! are not enough, but the- reasons for that increase were set out’ very clearly- by the Minister for Labour and National- Service (Mk Harold Holt).
The estimated cost of the- work of’ the Stevedoring Industry Authority was calculated last October, but events since that date have made the bill’ before us necessary. There was; first, the question of weather. This- is- always important on the waterfront for, unlike the- land, work does not continue- there when it is raining; as cargoes might be- damaged. In this- case the weather- was- dry and so only a few man-hours were lost. Again, no one could’ foresee the Suez Canal dispute or that the Stevedoring Industry. Act would work so well. Every one now acknowledges that’ there has been a better turn-round of shipping and that is one of the first things that had to be done to reduce the cost of transport by sea. In common with other primary producers, I am interested in what happens on the waterfront. Indeed, we have to meet, out of our own pockets, the cost, of everything that goes wrong there.
I have before me the speeches delivered by Opposition members during the second reading of. the Stevedoring Industry Bill in. June of last year. Honorable members may recall that. Mr.. Healy was present and this, of course, may. have affected the. attitude of some speakers. One after another, Opposition members attacked the bill as the most, vicious ever directed at a trade-union movement. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) described it as a totalitarian measure designed to smash trade unionism. Even more reasonable members, like the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. 0:Connor) described it as a straight-out attack on the trade union movement. Every Opposition speaker has been proved wrong. The Government believed that, something had to be done and, though things are not yet entirely satisfactory, there are good grounds for believing that a substantial, improvement, has taken place on the waterfront.
The honorable- member for Blaxland also ! said that too many men were engaged on the waterfront. Iti is almost impossible; in. seasonal work, to gauge exactly, what one’s labour, requirements will be. One thousand fruit, pickers might be required in a certain- district, but one hailstorm will reduce that number to- 200. Certain conditions which, have obtained in the last six months, have made the estimate of waterside labour requirements- inaccurate. If too. many, men are engaged on. the waterfront, surely the Waterside Workers Federation, can- rectify the position.
One honorable member- opposite spoke about shipping combines, which the Opposition is- always attacking, and’ suggested that there were only two- independent shipping lines, and’ the Australian Coastal- Shipping Commission- - that all the rest’ were interlocked. Surely competition is provided by road and. rail transport. The honorable, member for Blaxland said that the fallingoff. in interstate shipping was; serious. Of course iti is. But the Opposition is always talking about the profits- of the shipping companies-.. How can they, make profits if. their ships are not getting cargoes?. Labour supporters cannot have it both ways, or consider- only, the factors in their favour, neglecting all the others. Business people do not like to use interstate shipping transport because of the. time factor and- the constant danger of hold-ups through turbulence on the waterfront. I make that direct charge,, not against’ the waterside workers alone, but against the shipping people also,- for all’ sides are equally guilty.
The question of decasualizing the waterfront must concern any government, but there must always be some casual work. I have always followed with interest the views of John Lewis, the great American leader of the coal-miners. His philosophy was that he did not care how many miners lost their jobs, but did care that every one who had a job got good pay. That is sound reasoning. His other point was that if a man wanted good pay he had to earn it. That reasoning could very well be applied to the waterfront of this nation. I believe in high pay; I always have believed in it. But if ships are to be turned around more quickly, and if cargo is to be handled more quickly, we must expect to have a certain number of men moving out of the industry as well as into it.
There is a tremendous turnover of labour in Australia, and that is one of the reasons for our high costs. After a man has got to know a job and has become valuable as a producer, he vacates the job for another. However, there must be a turnover in labour. The men who leave one industry and move into other fields may reduce costs in the industry which they enter. John Lewis has always been prepared for miners to lose their jobs in the American mining industry as it could employ the remainder provided they are well paid and work hard. That is why America is able to compete on European markets with its coal, and it is able to do that only by practising a reasonable philosophy such as that of John Lewis. The people who are engaged in our shipping industry say to the waterfront workers, “ If we can reduce costs, you will get more wages “. That is a philosophy which I would support.
There has been a great improvement on the waterfront. There is no doubt about that. I have here figures for the three months of January, February and March showing the hours lost in various ports in Australia. Only two States, Queensland and New South Wales, have bad records. Apart from the waterfront, the number of industrial disputes that take place in the two States of New South Wales and Queensland is always higher than the number elsewhere in Australia. The number of disputes, both on the waterfront and in manufacturing industries in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria is comparatively small, but the figure is always high in New South Wales and Queensland. Nobody can tell me that there is a vast difference in the character of the workers in the six States of Australia. The only essential difference is that they have different governments. We hope to have a change soon in Queensland, which has one of the rottenest governments we have ever had in Australia. There is an equally bad government in New South Wales. The morale of the nation stems from the top, and it is in Queensland and New South Wales that most of our industrial troubles arise.
I have before me a record of the disputes that have occurred each month in the ports of Australia. There have been minor disputes such as a demarcation issue between the waterside workers and the Australian Workers Union in Queensland. It resulted in the loss of 11,000 man-hours. Sometimes, there are minor troubles in which men lose their jobs because they have been smoking in the ship’s hold, and man-hours are lost. There is friction of this kind the whole time. The responsibility is not on one side. In the month of January, the employers were at fault. I believe in putting both sides of the question. In the case of “ Iron Master “, the ship’s derricks were not working. As I have said, the blame is not all on one side, but if relations were as bad between employers and employees on the land as they are between men and management on the waterfront, how much primary production would we have in Australia? If we on the land were over-ready to fire our men, and the men were prepared to leave us at any moment because of some dispute, what would happen to primary production? I believe that the present position on the waterfront could be rectified. Costs on the waterfront affect every man, woman and child, the people whom honorable members in this House are supposed to represent.
I believe that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has made quite a good case for this bill, although red herrings enough have been drawn across the trail. When the Opposition talks about costs on the waterfront and, at the same time, initiates urgency debates designed to increase wages which are the main content of all our costs, I feel that it is not sincerely working in the interests of the people it is supposed to represent. I think that this bill, in which it is proposed to increase charges, is completely justified. The Minister has said that he has spoken to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), who has informed him that the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission believes that the improved turnround of ships should make it possible for them to accept the 10s. federal award rise and the increased charge without increasing freights. The Minister also mentioned that Mr. Parker, of Huddart Parker Limited, had referred to the better turn-round of shipping. Those people do not make such comments and then increase freight charges. There is no reason to suspect that charges will go up. In the same speech the Minister said -
It is, perhaps, not unconnected with the good performance of coastal shipping in northern Queensland that there has been a reduction of £1 a ton in freight for cargoes transported southwards from the northern ports.
So it will be seen that the responsibility is on the shipping industry - both the employees and the employers - to try to improve the conditions there, and one of the factors that will operate in this direction is the stevedoring legislation that was passed last June. I commend the bill to the House.
.- In this measure the Government is legislating to increase the stevedoring industry charge from ls. 7d. to 2s. per man-hour, which represents an increase of 26.3 per cent. That is a figure of some consequence to the community at large, and it is one which the Government, as the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) said, cannot justify. The four reasons for the Government’s proposals were not mentioned in the second-reading speech of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt). The Opposition recognizes that it is from the funds raised by this charge that the operations of the authority are to be financed. We also recognize that it is from these funds that payments of attendance money, payments for sick leave, and payments for statutory holidays will flow. The charge is levied on man-hours worked. When we speak of the stevedoring industry, we speak of the Australian waterfront and all the kinds of work that are performed there. It is from that angle that I propose to deal with this question, following the broadening of the issue by the honorable member for Blaxland.
The ambit of the Minister’s secondreading speech was very limited, restricted and narrow. It did not provide an ample explanation as to why this charge should be increased by such a stupendous amount, following increases that have occurred in recent times. When did those increases take place? In 1949, the new rate of 2id. applied as from 11th October. As from 4th December, 1951, it went up to 4d. As from 28th October, 1952, it went up to lid. It then dropped back to 6d. as from 4th October, 1954. It was increased to ls. 7d. a man-hour from October, 1956. Those increases occurred in a period of eight years, and now we have another stupendous increase in the charge. These increases will be reflected in the prices of commodities that are handled by the stevedoring industry. That is an important point and must be remembered. That is why the Opposition is so concerned about this issue, which has been presented as a small and simple one. Whilst it may be small and simple, it also has an impact on the cost structure, a subject dear to the hearts of those who support the Government.
In considering the situation on the waterfront, it is important to bear in mind that the figures for the last three months show that from 24 per cent, to 33i per cent, of the total registered force has been unemployed. That is a serious condition, because the attendance money paid is a charge against the authority and is one of the reasons given to justify the increase of the charge. It is well to look at the figures for the last three months because they tell a story of importance. We find that in December, 1956, the number registered was 25,168 and the average number employed each day was 16,675. That is equal to 66.3 per cent, of the total membership actually finding work. The remainder had to live on the miserable pittance of attendance money. In January, 1957, an average of 61 per cent, of the total work force was engaged and in February, 1957, the percentage was again about 61 per cent. This was due not only to insufficient work but also to a number of other factors. The basic, broad approach is that the stevedoring authorities, the shipping companies, the big manufacturing concerns, the agents and others who are responsible for the flow of goods to the waterfront have shown a degree of inefficiency in their management of waterfront activities.
Let us examine the reasons given by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) in justification of the increased charge. His first point was that the volume of imports has been lower than anticipated, due to the imposition of import restrictions. The Minister said, “ The easing of import restrictions has not so far resulted in increased cargoes “. Does not that indicate that those responsible for the flow of goods into and out of Australia have no confidence in this Government because of its shilly-shallying and its “ stop-go “ economic policy? In turn, that is reflected in a substantial decrease in ‘the volume of -goods entering or leaving this country, but is reflected particularly in imports. Business people have the jitters and they have no confidence in the Government’s policy.
The second reason given by the Minister was a decline in the tonnage of general cargo handled by interstate shipping. That point has been dealt with by Opposition members who have already spoken on this bill. It is quite true that the volume of interstate cargoes has declined by 20 per cent. The main factor affecting employment on the waterfront is a drop in merchandised goods, not in bulk loading. This Government has failed to grapple with the situation. It is permitting the drift to continue. We have not heard any suggestions from the Government about what it proposes to do to take an active part in restoring shipping activities or, as the honorable member for Blaxland pointed out, in meeting the challenge of road hauliers who are pulverizing our roads to dust, picking the eyes out of cargoes and leaving the noxious types of goods that are unprofitable for them to be transported in other ways. That factor cannot be divorced from this issue; it is a factor in the increased cost. I would expect that the leaders of the Government would grapple with the problems, and not merely mention them. We know that they exist, but the Government should give some lead. It is the duty of the Government not only to point to factors causing a condition but also to find a solution of the problems. Instead of that, we have silence from the Government.
Another important factor is the increase in shipping freights. The real reason for the reduction in our imports and exports is that Australia has been costing itself out of world markets. That sort of thing will contribute, -just as did the shipping companies’ grab in increased freight rates, to circumstances which will be further evidenced in the movement of cargoes to and from this country as time passes. The cost factor is resting on the profit angle adopted by stevedoring companies, shipping companies and manufacturing concerns.
The question of efficient management by stevedoring companies is almost a laughing matter. Any one who gives attention to the position on the waterfront cannot but be dismayed by the lack of mechanization. Mechanization is virtually non-existent on the Australian waterfront. We are still continuing to do the work on the waterfront in the way it has been done from the inception of this .country. Except at Fremantle and the heavy loading at Port Kembla and Newcastle, where , the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has built cranes for heavy loading, the general position of handling .cargoes has hardly altered. The companies can be charged with total failure to spend money -on improved methods. That is obvious. Even the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) was bold enough to make a suggestion for improved cargo handling based on an American .method. I trust that senior members of the Government will lend an ear to the principle he enunciated. There is a need for improvement. I do not necessarily agree with the details of his proposal, but the need for improvement must be -recognized.
Honorable .members conversant with the waterfront are aware of the true situation. It :is that our waterside workers are being asked to handle and are handling an increased tonnage of cargo with most antiquated equipment. The antiquated methods, of course, add to the cost, and that is of prime importance in our consideration of this bill. The methods are primitive and costly, but, periodically, Government supporters pass the sins of the waterfront on to the workers in the industry. In fact, the guilty men on the waterfront are those who are taking the profits but are not spending money on improved methods for the handling of cargoes. What is the position in Sydney? There, we have a lot of jetties. They are cramped bottlenecks which contribute nothing but inefficiency to the handling -of cargoes. No effort is being made to change that situation, which has existed for many years. No doubt the bottlenecks on the Sydney jetties will remain for many years to come, if this Government continues in office. It requires a greater impulse to bring about a change of front. In almost every industry one finds that improvements are being made by managements. All sorts of ‘improvements in working conditions are being effected in other industries because there is widespread rethinking on this subject but little has been done on the waterfront. There is still a slow and sluggish procedure.
Take the case of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. There has been no fundamental alteration in its waterfront methods for many years. At Port Kembla, a very important centre of Austalian industry, the jetties are fed by one railway line. Conditions become choked there every day with the shunting and movement of goods back and forth. Transport on the wharfs is balked and frustrated. Railway trucks arrive at the waterfront loaded with steel of various dimensions. It has been loaded at the plant of Australian Iron and Steel Proprietary Limited. The company does not have to bear any of the expense incurred through a delay resulting from the manner in which the various sizes of steel plate are loaded. The company loads it on to the trucks in a higgledy piggledy fashion and so when it reaches the waterfront, the waterside worker is delayed in his work by the inefficiency of the business management of Australian Iron and Steel Proprietary Limited. At times the waterside worker has to load single sheets of steel into the hold of the ship because of the size variations.
There is an urgent need for precision and organization in stowage. The same thing applies -to the loading of steel rails. Boats have been booked to take rails and when they arrive at the jetty it is found that because of the dimensions of the rails there is a delay in transference time and in some cases a necessity .to reload the trucks.
Those factors are real but the Minister has not drawn the attention of this House to them. He should do so, because his advisers will know that what I say in this regard is the truth and can be observed any day of the week if the Minister cares to go to Port Kembla and see for himself what is going on. These delays are frustrating, apart from being costly. From them emerge -many industrial disputes that could have been avoided ‘by efficient business management at the point where the trucks are loaded, where the cargoes are allocated, and where the consignment notes are made out. 1 know of shipments coming down to that district with the -wrong -consignment and there has been delay and frustration while somebody gets the correct consignment. These time losses add to waterfront costs. That has to ‘be realized and the blame placed on the business executives of this country. Those people should give more efficient service. At present they are escaping their responsibilities.
What do we know about a lot of .these things? Stowage is highly important. The late arrival of goods is important. That is continually occurring. Men are held up. Gangs of men are standing by. The overall cost structure is mounting and this is reflected in reports that find their way into this Parliament. Wool agents are often responsible for gross inefficiency. For instance, a ship was loading wool at Brisbane on 22nd January last. It was delayed from 8 a.m. till 12 mid-day, awaiting the arrival of four bales of wool. That is not efficient. The cost involved in that is charged against the Stevedoring Industry Authority, and in turn criticism is levelled at the waterside worker, who is blamed for ;the high cost.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 .p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I was criticizing the Gcvernment’s proposal to increase the stevedoring industry charge from ls. 7d. to 2s. a man-hour, an increase of approximately 26 per .cent. It ‘has been clearly shown by Opposition members that the Government is seriously at fault as .a result of its failure to provide a very detailed statement of the reasons for its decision to increase the -charge.
I repeat my earlier assertion that incompetent management by stevedoring companies has resulted in high costs and delay in the turn-round of shipping, because it has impeded the loading and unloading of cargoes throughout the Australian waterfront. Delays are costly, and if the delays that have occurred as a result of incompetent management were eliminated, it would not be necessary to increase the charge. The onus of eliminating delays caused by mismanagement rests upon management, not upon the waterside workers. In this regard, I cite the case of the vessel “ Pioneer Star “, which was loading wool at Brisbane on 22nd January last. The delays that were experienced are typical. Such delays are clearly reflected in the cost of handling cargoes on the waterfront. Responsibility for them is wrongly laid, both within Australia and outside it, at the door of the Australian waterside workers. “ Pioneer Star “ was delayed from 8.10 a.m. until 12 noon, on 22nd January, waiting for four bales of wool. Similar delays are constantly occurring. Earlier, I enumerated a number of instances. A classic example is to be found in the transport of mineral ores and lamp black. Mineral ores are transported from Western and central Australia in hessian bags, and lamp black is transported in a similar way. Owing to the duration of the journey, exposure to weather, and the inadequate protection provided, the hessian bags burst, and the waterside workers have the difficult and onerous task of unloading these cargoes, which should be shipped in suitable containers such as steel drums. The costly delays, and the other costly difficulties involved, all are reflected in the proposed increased charge.
Wet weather is another factor that causes delay. The Minister for Labour and National Service mentioned it as one of the reasons justifying the proposed increase. The average time lost at Australian ports through wet weather is as much as 8.6 per cent, of the man-hours worked. At Port Kembla, it is 8.1 per cent.; at Newcastle, 8.9 per cent.; and at Sydney, 8.1 per cent. That represents a terrific loss of man-hours and enormous cost, but the stevedoring companies, which control the detailed management of operations on the waterfront, refuse to provide awnings over wharfs and jetties, which have been in use, it seems, almost from time immemorial. We constantly see evidence of the idiotic and reactionary attitude of management with respect to this detail of operations. It is impossible to imagine this sort of thing occurring in other industries where some progressive thought seems to dominate relations between employers and employees. Yet, on the waterfront, this sort of irritant is constantly present, with destructive effects as a result of its influence on the cost structure.
Delays cause a great deal of nonproductive paid working time, and this problem also is well worthy of consideration. The average loss of time from this cause is 35.6 per cent. That represents an enormous loss, due to all kinds of factors, most of which could be eliminated by sensible and thoughtful management. These factors, which could be eliminated to-morrow, and should be eliminated, are constantly affecting the cost structure. The increased costs are borne, not, as the Minister asserts, by the stevedoring companies, but by the consumers, who have to pay higher prices for goods. As a consequence, this measure is of deep concern to every consumer of goods shipped through Australian ports.
We have no modern equipment on our waterfront, as the House has already been told. Conditions are almost prehistoric, and mechanization is almost completely lacking. The Australian waterside workers have to perform their daily tasks with inferior equipment, whereas most workers in other industries are provided with modern equipment to help them do their work efficiently and well. In that connexion, I propose to read to the House the views of Professor J. Duhig, of Brisbane, who made a survey of waterfront conditions as recently as October, 1956. He said -
I cannot truthfully help saying that I thought the handling system in this highly scientific machine age is crude and primitive.
I have no doubt this system was a vogue in Athenian triremes in the Aegean nearly 2,000 years ago and has been altered little since.
That is a truism, and it is a terrible reflection on management, which is content to take the cream in the form of extremely high profits, regardless of its responsibilities.
What is the situation in respect of labour relations? There is a very primitive approach towards this question. The minions of the companies are sack-happy. “ Sackem “ is a nickname very freely applied to agents of the companies throughout the waterfront. There was a classic case in Sydney not so long ago. A company employee, acting under pressure to dismiss waterside workers freely, “ sacked “ a man whom he saw standing about. The man was found to be a first-class passenger on an overseas ship. But should we sack any one? We have to realize that this is a casual industry, as the honorable member for Blaxland demonstrated so clearly this afternoon. It is fraught with uncertainty of employment for a fine body of Australian workers, who are citizens as good as is any one either inside or outside this Parliament.
I should like now to cite an article written by Edward Sykes, who is Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Queensland, and who has made a special study of waterfront problems. The article, which was published in a leading Sydney newspaper on 8th May last, stated, referring to views highly derogatory of the wharf labourers -
Such views are of course very exaggerated but, none the less, thoughtful observers who are closely in touch with the actual situation are appalled by the poor organization, wastage of time, lack of effort and discipline, and poor history of industrial relations that has for so long plagued the stevedoring industry.
That is a complete condemnation of management by a man whose impartial mind is completely removed from the turmoil of politics, and it takes a great deal of answering.
In industrial awards on the waterfront, industrial legalism is notoriously widespread. The Waterside Workers Federation of Australia has often asked the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to take action against shipowners for industrial reasons, but the authority has never taken action. The Stevedoring Industry Act is “ loaded “ against the waterside workers in this respect. In all such cases, it has to be proved that the company has failed to carry out operations “ expeditiously, safely and efficiently “. Unless the union’s case can be proved on all three counts, it fails completely. Consequently, industrial bias operates freely in the application of industrial law on the Australian waterfront. The victims of this bias are the men who provide the vital spark of the industry - the workers. This Government’s stevedoring industry legislation, as is demonstrated by this bill, reeks with bias. I should like to have an assurance from the Minister, if he were present, but I see that he is not here.
– He is here.
– He is, after all, but I see that he is otherwise engaged. I should like to have his assurance that no senior Ministers, and no other influential Government supporters, have a direct financial interest in the profit-making activities of the shipping and stevedoring companies. It is important that this should be made clear. Information in my possession indicates that a number of the leading men on the Government side in this Parliament, have active interests in companies concerned with the stevedoring industry. No less a person than the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself is indirectly interested, because I understand that his wife has shares in the Capel Court group of companies and other investment companies which, in turn, are linked for financial gain with the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which has interests in the major interstate shipping companies, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, Huddart Parker Limited, the Melbourne Steamship Company Limited, the Pacific Trading Company Limited, and W. R. Carpenter and Company Limited.
Then we have the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who has interests in the Capel Court group of companies and Mount Isa Mines Limited which, in turn, owns one-sixth of the shares in the North Queensland Stevedoring Co-operative, of Townsville. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has probably the largest coastal shipping and stevedoring interests in this country. Included among those who hold shares in that company is Francis E. De Groot, of Sydney Harbour Bridge fame. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) is, I understand, mixed up, through shareholding, in Burns Philp and Company Limited. He, of course, was a senior member of the Bruce-Page Government which brought about the destruction of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I should like to know whether this legislation is intended to be a part of the pay-off. Then we have a notable family by the name of Downer, which is concerned with Elder Smith and Company Limited and the B.H.P. Would that family be related to the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer)? Would the honorable member himself be concerned in any way with investments in those companies?
I suggest that the facts that. I have, stated should explain to the people of this country why this legislation has been introduced. They should’ explain, too, why the Government continually runs away from its responsibilities in this direction and why it refuses to see that the only solution of the problem lies in intelligent effort,, rather than in increasing charges and asking the people, of Australia to pay them.
– I intend to deal with the bill before the House, and- in doing so I do not want to discuss personalities. Recently, Mr. Speaker, when the Parliament had before it a measure dealing with roads, I said that one of the serious problems associated with road transport, apart from the damage, that motor vehicles were doing to our roads, was the fact that we were depending too much on motor transport, rather than on sea transport, between our capital cities. As I said then, that is one of the results of denying our- shipping industry its due share, of cargoes.
The: Minister for Labour and National Service: (Mr: Harold Holt) has said, in connexion with this, bill, that the loss of revenue which, had been experienced by shipping interests, in Australia has been due, not to a decline in the- total volume: of- cargoes carried,, but to the type of merchandise carried. I. can go back over the years and recall, the same thing, happening in connexion with our railways, when motor transport first came, on the scene in the various States. I found then - and I spoke about it in this strain- many years ago in the South Australian Parliament - that motor, transport was carrying cargo that the railways should have had. It was found that merchandise, in respect of which a fair freight, charge was made on the railways, and which could be sold at a good profit, was being carried by- motor transport in competition with the railways, but that when it came to the carriage of wheat, superphosphate, or other heavy commodities, intended for use in the country, the railways were, allowed to continue to carry them. An unfair proportion of the transportation of goods of that kind has- militated against, the profitable running of the railways and has made necessary increases of freights. So we find to-day that the decreased tonnage being carried by our coastal ships has been brought about, to a considerable degree, by the type of goods that are carried by road. Honorable members perhaps will say that the increasing carriage of goods by motor transport represents progress and that we shall have to put up- with it;, but we cannot get over the fact that that position has given rise- to this proposal to increase the stevedoring- industry charge, and that, no matter what the Minister may say about the increase improving efficiency on the wharfs, it ultimately will go on to the shoulders of those who ship goods from State to State. They, in turn, will pass on the increase to the people who purchase the goods.
As I said in this place some weeks ago, increases of this kind are brought about by unfair competition-. Honorable members may remember that I stated then that if motor transport organizations paid a fair share of the cost of upkeep of the roads, motor transport would not be able to compete as successfully as it does with sea transport. Unless the Government is pre? pared to face the whole matter of transport in Australia, particularly between the States, the shipping industry will have great difficulty in solving its problems. I do not believe in saying, “ I. told you so “, but I remember that when I was speaking on similar legislation in this place last year - and it was even suggested then that force might be used by the shipping companies to get men onto the registration lists for port quotas - I warned the Minister that, if he was not very careful, quotas would’ be increased to such a degree that there would be many more men on the wharfs than were needed. Again, in reply to aquestion that I asked recently, concerning port quotas and the need to have equitable quotas, the Minister stated that the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority had” taken action and was adjusting the quotas. More recently, in reply to other matters raised by honorable members on this side of the House, he said that surely we did not advocate that men should be put off, thereby bringing about hardship on the wharfs. We certainly do not advocate that, but we do say that the Government and the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority have to face the problems that exist. It is apparent that the authority has not been sufficiently far-seeing. I admit that the introduction of sick leave for waterside workers has imposed an additional financial burden on the authority, and I appreciate that it is not possible to pay out money unless money is coming in.
The proposed increase means that for every man-hour that is worked on the waterfront, the shipping companies will have to pay to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority an additional 5d. That adds up to quite a big amount of money. But I cannot understand why the stevedoring industry cannot see far enough ahead to do the Tight thing. We have honorable members opposite telling us that the waterside workers are led by Communists. They are always talking about Mr. Healy. I should like to quote to-night, not the general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, but its federal president, Mr. Beitz, who made a statement in the press recently about the number of men employed in the waterfront and the numbers required. He told of what was being done by the shipping companies to try to reduce the number of men employed. He said that the modern tendency is to concentrate on loading cargo through ‘the -side of the ship to increase the speed of loading. I do not know the details in that respect; ;but -I do know Mr. Beitz, who was born within two miles of ray own ;home. His father was a waterside ‘worker who worked -under the old conditions. As a boy, Mr. Beitz knew what -his father had to put up with under the horrible conditions that existed years ago. This is the man who is fighting to get the best he can for the employees in the waterfront industry.
I ‘knew Mr. Beitz when .he worked in the flourmilling industry. I also knew him .as a member o’f the Labour party committees in my own electorate. He is not a Communist. His parents were bitter against Communists. ‘He was himself brought up in the .’Labour party. That man is to-day the federal president of the Waterside Workers Federation. We are told that a lot of the trouble in the waterfront is caused by the go-slow tactics of the men. I .know .that there are men in .the waterfront :ind.ustry, just as there are in any other industry, who may not be prepared to .play their part; but I know that there is any number of men on the waterfront who believe in doing a good job day after day.
I often meet men who have spent a lifetime in the waterfront industry, and when 1 ask them what they are doing and whether they are still on the wharfs they say that they are on the invalid pension. When J ask them why, they reply, “ The old ticker could not stand up to it, and I have gone on the pension “. Why should that be so? That is brought about all over this country by the extremely hard work that waterside workers have to do. We hear people like the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) talking about the good old men and the good old days. These good old men were just building up their constitutions for an early collapse as a result of work on the waterfront.
Honorable members opposite claim that waterside workers are Communist-led. 1 know the workerside workers, and I know that they are entitled to decent conditions of work. The port installations at Port Adelaide do not include equipment necessary for the expeditious handling of ships. The stevedoring industry does not provide all the proper equipment needed for the speedy unloading of ships and the expeditious handling of cargo. The Government, at one stage, built a marvellous wharf down there; but when a ship berths, the unloading has to be carried out with the ship’s .gear. It should, instead, be carried out with up-to-date gear on the wharf; but that gear is not there. We are looking forward to getting it some day.
Honorable members opposite talk about what waterfront delays are costing the primary producers. ‘In Wallaroo, in South Australia, a big jetty was built to permit the .bulk handling of wheat. Previously 200 -or 300 waterside workers were employed at Wallaroo, whose work was dependent on the handling of bagged wheat. I know that we cannot stop progress, and I do not wish to stop it, but I remind honorable members opposite .that the jobs of these men depended upon the loading of bagged .cargo and -ended with the introduction of the bulk system. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell), in whose electorate Port Pirie lies, knows that the very same thing is happening there. Waterside workers have to leave the port because of the cessation of the handling of bagged cargoes. Their view is that if the man who grows wheat is to get the benefit of modern handling, then the waterside workers also should get some benefit instead of just losing their jobs. Surely, as time goes on, the Government and the Stevedoring Industry Authority will realize that these men must get the recognition and the conditions which other workers enjoy. It is many years now since workers in many industries in this country have bad the benefit of sick leave; but it is only comparatively recently that waterside workers have had that benefit. Yet, the waterside worker had to be ready to be called upon to work at any hour of the day or night. He had no holidays. If he took a holiday he received no pay. The result was that many of them could not afford to go on holiday. In recent years, although other workers have long enjoyed annual leave, the poor old wharfie has had to go without it, or take it at his own cost.
– It was a Liberal government that got the waterside worker annual leave.
– It does not matter what government got it for him. I am not running down any government. I am just stating the facts and standing up for these men who are prepared to put up a fight for themselves. They would not have got what they now have if they had not fought for it. Honorable members opposite were condemning the New South Wales Labour Government and the Queensland Government for introducing legislation to give workers long service leave. They said that the New South Wales Government was the worst government in the world. A few weeks ago a deputation from the South Australian Trades and Labour Council saw the Premier of South Australia about long service leave. He told them that he would give them an answer in three weeks’ time. Why should he wait three weeks? The Labour Government in New South Wales and the Cain Labour Government in Victoria have already given the workers long service leave, as has the Queensland Government. Anti-Labour governments give benefits to the workers only when they are forced to do so as a result of the progressive actions of Labour governments.
– The taxpayer pays for the lot.
– The taxpayer pays for it. He also pays the honorable member’s salary and my salary. If I am entitled to vote for an increase of my own salary and of the honorable member’s salary, surely the workers are entitled to fight to have their salaries increased.
Over the years waterside workers have had to put up with many indignities, and still have to. They have to work in the rain; yet honorable members when on their way home at the end of a session want an umbrella to shelter them from the rain between the motor car and the airport waiting room. They would want to rush out and get some protection to get to the plane, and I would not blame them. But when they see the wharfies, who have to handle cargo on the wharf, going into the shed for shelter when it starts to rain, they should not complain about loss of time, or the fact that that has to be provided for.
– What about the farmers? They have to work in all weathers.
– My friend remarks about the farmers. I was farming for years and I used to take a load of produce into the market town twice a week. There were two sale days a week and on those two days all the prosperous farmers in the district would be at the sale yards sitting on the rails of the fence while the auctioneer - a person such as the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) - was selling sheep. They were interested to see what prices the sheep brought. Others would go round to see how much pigs were sold for. I know what farmers do. I do not question that the farmer has to work, but when any one suggests that he cannot take time off from his work, I know that he can. He can take a day off and travel miles to be present at an auction sale. When I was on a farm horses were used for transport and farmers would travel 10 miles to a sale. Now that they have cars, it is no trouble to travel 40 miles.
I am not complaining about that; my complaint is that when we try to obtain equitable conditions for men in industry who have to battle for a living, and members of the Australian Country party interject about what the farmer has to do and the hours he has to work, my reply is that the farmer, unlike the waterside worker, does not work to-day under conditions such as prevailed 30 or 40 years ago. He does not now trudge along behind a harrow or hang on to the handles of a plough. He sits in the seat of a tractor and away he goes, dragging the load behind him. That is progress, and I am happy to see it. We must not think, if we want to compete with other countries either in primary or secondary industries, that we must not be up to date. But if we want the men working in industries to give of their best and increase the production which we are always asking for, we must not always be lambing and slamming at them. We have to remember that while the worker is doing something to increase production and so earn more for his employer, it is right, not only that he should do so, but also that he should be able to look for some improvement in his own earnings and the conditions under which he works.
In connexion with this bill I said that I would not attack other people. I do not think that I have been personal. I have just been dealing with the personal aspect of the conditions of the workers in this industry. When the Minister introduced this bill he said that perhaps twelve months hence it will be possible to make a reduction in this amount; but I am very doubtful about that. I say again that the quotas have had a lot to do with this increase. Men cannot be put off now, because they have been taken on. The Government has agreed to give them attendance allowance at the rate of 24s. a day. That figure has been increased from the original payment of 12s. From the time it was first introduced it has been increased from 12s. to 16s. and then to 24s. a day. I remind the Government that the taxpayer is paying part of that amount. Let there be no mistake about that. As has been pointed out here to-day, if the waterside worker attends for employment on five days in a week - not six days - he receives 24s. a day, which is £6 for a five-day week. That is a sum big enough to relieve the Government of the obligation to pay him unemployment benefit. But I say again that this money has to come out of the pockets of the taxpayer because ultimately the taxpayer is the person who purchases the goods. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) said that he is very interested in the waterfront because the primary producer has to pay extra money for his goods. In the same way the taxpayer is interested. If this charge is to be increased to 2s. - and I am not opposing the payment of the extra charge - the person who ultimately has to provide it is the ordinary consumer. It does not matter whether he is a farmer buying galvanized iron or wire netting or fencing wire, or somebody in the city whose wife buys goods from a shop, such as tea or something else that has been brought to the country by ship, ultimately it all comes from the pocket of the man at the bottom. The man at the bottom is the taxpayer and he is the man in whom I am most interested. Honorable members might say that the amount that members of Parliament have to pay in tax is pretty tough. It is not what we pay in tax that matters; what we have left afterwards is of greater importance. We have a lot more left after paying tax than has the worker right down at the bottom.
Let us. try to keep costs down, including shipping freights and charges. The honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) was talking just now about ships and mentioned a case in Queensland of a ship being held up for hours to await the arrival of four bales of wool at the wharf. That certainly meant a heavy cost to the owner of that ship. I know that in Port Adelaide when a ship has to be loaded with wool, the wool is unloaded on to the wharf so that lead can be loaded at the bottom of the holds. The wool is then reloaded on top of the lead. At that port means do not exist to save time in loading and costs, and consequently the price of goods is increased. The primary producer has to pay more to have his produce transported by ship and the importer has to pay more to bring goods into this country. When those goods are sold to the consumer, it is the consumer, ultimately, who has to pay.
I am not throwing stones at the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, and I am not prepared to quote one instance tonight in which I could say, “You have done so and so wrongly “. If I want to criticize, I should produce evidence in support of my criticism. However, I know that, generally, in shipping matters, there is lack of supervision. The Stevedoring Industry Authority has not the right to direct how cargoes shall be stowed That is the right of the officers of the ship or of the. stevedoring company doing the work. However, I think that the Stevedoring Industry Authority should see. that the work is carried out in. a. proper manner.. If work, can be properly supervised and carried out in other industries, I feel that the Stevedoring Industry Authority should have power to, enforce loading of cargoes, including stowage, in a proper manner.
I am sorry if I have taken up too much time. According to the Minister, the Opposition has been debating this matter for too long. He suggested that we were making a stunt of the debate. I remind him that when the Wheat Tax, Bill was being discussed, earlier this, week, all honorable members interested in wheat spoke on it. Members of the Opposition did not complain, about that. We laughed sometimes, perhaps, about their enthusiasm and their interest in that measure. I say to the Minister that when a matter like this is brought forward for discussion, I want to exercise my right’ and make the most of the opportunity of speaking on behalf of the workers concerned. I am- only doing what Government supporters do when they speak on behalf of those they represent in primary or secondary industries. I am not objecting to this charge, but I ask that before the Stevedoring Industry Authority forces up the quotas again and increases the numbers to a degree which the organization considers is necessary, it should think very deeply and provide only quotas that are sufficient to carry out the work in a reasonable manner.
.- First of all I compliment the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) on the excellent contribution he made to this debate. Although- it may have annoyed- the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) and. other members on the Government side, I think that what the honorable member had to say was rather pertinent, to the very question that we are now discussing. Members of the Opposition are not opposed to the. Stevedoring Industry. Authority obtaining sufficient revenues in order that employment conditions on the waterfront may be improved, including the provision of. increased attendance money. We regard, the sum proposed as altogether too small and we think it ought to be increased. We agree that the provision of. sick leave and the awarding of statutory holidays is proper. These conditions are long overdue, to the waterside workers.
I should like to correct the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), who seems to. claim- some credit for the Government with which he happens to be associated at the moment for these improved conditions on the waterfront. As. a matter of fact, the Waterside Workers Federation and. associated unions, working in co-operation with the political Labour party,, have been responsible- for improving conditions- not. only on the waterfront, but throughout. Australian industry generally. The: truth of that must be quite evident to any. reasonable person who examines the facts. Though beneficial legislation may be introduced from time to- time by an anti-Labour- government, it is done: only reluctantly and after considerable agitation. It is not a willing concession, but, rather, something, that the workers, by their organized’ strength, have, extracted from the Government.
Mr. Howson interjecting,
– The honorable member for Fawkner, who interjects, regards work as a disease, and something to be avoided at all costs. We regard the worker, as. engaging in an* honorable undertaking* and as one who should command the respect of the whole community. I remind the honorable member that it is the workers who make it possible for this Parliament to function, and for its members to- receive their- salaries.
The Minister, referring: to the proposal to increase the stevedoring charge, said, “ It. is paid by the employers in the industry “. That is not true. The employers pass the increased charges on in the form of increased, freights. Will any Government supporter deny that the stevedoring companies are mere adjuncts of the privately owned shipping companies* which are to-day making: millions by exploiting the primary producers, the workers in secondary industry, and the community as a whole? We know very well that the increased charge will be used as an argument in favour of increased freights which, eventually, the consumer must pay. The higher freights operating along the Australian coast are very serious. The Minister admitted that,, in one year’s operations, the quantity o£ general cargo carried had fallen, by 20 per cent. The Minister may express belief that the shippers should absorb the- increased cost, and not raise freights still higher, but. he does not tell them, “ You are earning sufficient already and must absorb these increased charges “. On this subject, the Minister said, in his second-reading speech -
The improved waterfront performance should enable shipowners to absorb all or most of the increased charge.
Given reasonable prospects of a continued improvement in waterfront performance, I should hope to see not merely an absorption by shipowners of this, charge, but also, as the charge becomes reduced - as I most certainly hope it will be in the near future - corresponding steps taken by them in the direction of a reduction in their shipping freights.
That statement was made merely for public consumption. Here we have a Minister in a responsible Government telling the shipowners that he “ hopes “ the increased charge will be absorbed by them. It is not enough to say that this “ should “ happen. The Government should ensure that it does happen. Inevitably, the shippers will attempt to pass the increased charge on to the Australian public.
The honorable member for Cunningham made a. most important contribution to the debate. Despite the interjections which came from, the Minister and other honorable members,, no Government supporter has yet attempted to answer what the honorable member said. Evidently the Government does not want this matter examined. The honorable member did not make any wild or irresponsible statements. He merely said that information which had been passed on to him indicated that a number of members associated with the Government, including the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself, had a financial interest in stevedoring: operations - if not directly as shareholders in stevedoring companies, then through financial organizations with interlocking interests with stevedoring and shipping, companies. Every one knows that a member who has a- financial interest in any matter which comes before the Parliamentshould not participate in any discussion thereon,, or in any vote that may be taken. The Government, however,, does, not take such considerations seriously. It regards indirect participation in Parliamentary debate as one- of the rights of private enterprise.
A member of the Australian Country party attempted to ridicule the waterside, worker by suggesting that a lot of working time was lost during rainy weather. The waterside workers have never asked for more than protective clothing; in inclement weather, so that they can continue work, ing without danger to their health, and, of course, one of the main reasons why they cannot continue to work in heavy rain, is that it is the practice of the stevedoring company to cover the hatches in order to protect the cargo. A great deal of rubbish is talked about the waterside worker knocking off every time there is a few spots of rain. That simply does not happen. The Minister himself has admitted that the turnround of shipping has improved. We have also been told that slow turn-round is one of the things that keeps freights high; so why have not freights come down now that the turn-round has improved? Unfortunately, a quicker turn-round merely results in the shipping companies deciding that they have- too many men working on the waterfront.
The. waterside worker has been quite correct in opposing some of the propositions put forward from- time to time by the shipowners and the stevedoring companies. No man who is dependent upon his weekly earnings- for the maintenance of his family, should be expected to deliberately put himself out of work. Even if he did, it would not serve the national interest. If this were a properly organized economy a man who was not required on the waterfront could be transferred to some other suitable and well-paid employment; but it is not a properly, organized economy. Improved turnround: merely means enhanced profits for those who have invested capital in shipping. That is why the worker is very critical of what is happening.
I agree with honorable, members who have pointed out the importance of keeping freights down to a reasonable level. One way to do that is to establish effective competition. Does the Government intend ever to allow our Commonwealth shipping line to compete with private shipping interests around the Australian coast? I think not. As a matter of fact, the Commonwealth ships, have been deliberately sabotaged by the very stevedoring companies that this Government is setting out to’ protect, and has protected in the past:
Everybody knows that, by legislative enactment, this Government provided that the Commonwealth Shipping Line could not have its own shore organization - its own stevedoring company - in order to work its ships. The Government decided that those ships would have to be worked on a costplus system by the existing stevedoring companies. Those stevedoring companies, working on the cost-plus system, do not worry whether waterside workers are kept idle or not, so long as they are kept on the pay-roll, because the bigger the pay-roll the bigger the profit for the company.
Quite deliberately, Commonwealth ships have not been permitted to get sufficient labour to work them as they arrive in port. On the other hand, when there is a shortage of labour in a port, it is always diverted to work privately owned ships. It is amazing that Commonwealth ships have been able to operate so successfully from the financial viewpoint in view of the terrific handicaps imposed on them by the Government, I am satisfied that if the Commonwealth line of ships were allowed to work as it should, as a really competitive service around the coast, it would not have to increase freights in order to absorb the increased stevedoring charges. But it will be compelled to increase freights because the Commonwealth line of steamers has to follow the policy laid down by the private shipping companies. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), who controls the Commonwealth line, will see that it observes the conditions established by private shipping companies. Therefore, it is obvious that this is a bigbusiness government. It always protects big business. It is always on the side of the big battalions.
I am not criticizing the stevedoring authority. I think that the stevedoring authority is doing a worthwhile job in improving conditions on the waterfront. But the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has been talking about his hopes of what the private shippers will do. Why does he not say that his Government intends to see that the private shipping companies, and the stevedoring interests with which they are allied, do not pass on the increased charges to the Australian community? Whilst the Opposition supports the raising of more revenue for the stevedoring industry authority, believing that it is essential if improved conditions are to be provided for the waterside workers, I hope the authority will see that all the money raised is really used to improve conditions on the waterfront.
The occupation of waterside worker is not as good as honorable members in the Australian Country party seem to imagine. They seem to think that it is an industry in which the pay is too high, the conditions too good and the hours too short. The amusing part about this position is their ignorance in regard to the exact conditions on the waterfront. The waterside workers constitute one of the hardest-working sections of the Australian community. They are not so highly paid, because to-day the waterside worker is not permitted to work his full 40 hours a week. Under the system of casual employment and the gang system, the waterside worker obtains on an average only about 34 hours’ employment a week, according to the latest figures that I have seen. The Minister for Labour and National Service evidently does not realize that those men who work an average of 34 hours a week accept all the work that is available to them. Under the gang system and the rotary system, they are given only 34 hours’ work a week, and that is all they are paid for. If honorable members examine the situation on that basis they will find that waterside workers are not a so well-paid section that some members believe them to be. There is a number of old men among them who, because of age and illness, cannot work constantly. They are placed on the disability list, and receive a very moderate income because they are able to work only when their health permits.
Whilst the Opposition welcomes the extension of benefits to waterfront employees - benefits obtained for them by the Australian Labour party and the industrial organization to which they belong - I hope that the money raised under this measure will be used to expand the services on the waterfront. I hope that the Minister, instead of merely expressing his wish that the charges will not be passed on, will give the House a definite assurance, on behalf of the Government, that he will stand by the words he has uttered and ensure that, because of the improved turn-round of shipping and the improved profit of shipping companies and stevedoring companies, he will see that the charges mentioned in this measure will be paid out of profits, and not added to the living costs of the Australian community.
– in reply - This has been a very interesting debate and, once again, it has revealed the extraordinary divisions of opinion to be found in the ranks of the Labour Opposition in this Parliament. I do not need to spend a great deal of my time in analysing the speeches that have come from the Government side of the House. I have given my second-reading speech outlining the policy of the Government and the reasons why we have felt it necessary to increase this charge from ls. 7d. to 2s. an hour. From the Government side, there were two thoughtful, intelligent, well-informed contributions, one from my colleague from Fawkner (Mr. Howson) who, as chairman of the industrial committee of the Government parties, has made a close study of this problem; and the other from my colleague, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) on behalf of the Australian Country party. He, also, has made a special study of industrial questions in Australia. I should like to thank both my colleagues for the helpful contribution that they have made. Some honorable gentlemen opposite, particularly the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), alleged that the inevitable effect of the Government’s proposal would be to push up freight and transport charges. 1 can assure them that we have not so docile a body of supporters that I would not have heard a great deal more about it from honorable gentlemen who sit with me on this side of the House if that were so. Government supporters have followed closely what the Government has been trying to do. I shall give a few facts in a moment which will demonstrate-
Opposition members interjecting,
Order! There are too many interjections.
– I am always delighted when honorable members opposite feel moved to interject. It is always clear proof that they cannot deny a statement of fact when they feel it necessary to upset one’s presentation of facts, and try to sabotage one’s performance.
– Give us some facts.
– I have already given facts, and I shall supply more. I doubt whether the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) has ‘taken the trouble to read my second-reading speech, because if he has read it and says that he got no facts out of it he is not the man of discernment that I have so far believed him to be. But I shall give a few more facts in a minute. Before doing so, I want to direct the attention of the House to the fact that Government supporters have recognized the efforts that the Government has made to secure an improved performance on the waterfront. Not only have they commended the Government on its efforts, but they have also expressed appreciation of the fact that we have been able to demonstrate a substantially improved waterfront performance in Australia since the passing of the legislation that we put to this Parliament in the course of last year. I shall give some of the evidence in a moment if honorable gentlemen opposite can restrain their impatience. The Opposition speakers fall into three well-defined groups. In the first group is the honorable member for West Sydney, who opened the debate for the Opposition. He made a characteristic speech which did him credit and which was expressed in clear and earnest terms. He put the point of view that he felt. It was a constructive speech and an analytical speech with which I feel no cause to cavil.
– The honorable member for Dalley?
– I mean the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor). I cannot follow all the redistributions. He started in West Sydney, and the representative from West Sydney in the past has always been a stalwart in putting the point of view of the waterside worker. The honorable gentleman carries on that tradition.
– Get off the blarney and back to the bill!
– I will make my own speech, if the honorable gentleman on the front bench will allow me.
Mr. Bryant interjecting,
– Order! The honorable member for Wills will remain quiet or I will name him.
– I am sure that in these matters the honorable member for Dalley would rather be right than left. When I turn to the other extreme of the Labour party - and in that I include the honorable members for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) - it is quite apparent from what they have said to-night that they would always rather be left than be right.
– What is wrong with that?
– They certainly were not right in the sense of putting the facts. I do not intend to spend very much time on their speeches. We had hoped that the honorable member for Cunningham, who is a recently arrived member on the Labour side, would have shown a rather higher sense of responsibility and a rather more realistic appreciation of the facts than was revealed in the extraordinary speech which came from him, not so much before dinner when he was making his own speech as after dinner when, obviously, during the suspension of the sitting he had been fed by the honorable member for East Sydney, or by somebody who thinks in a similar way. Before dinner we heard from him the speech of a Labour man; after dinner we had from him the speech of somebody fed from the pages of the “ Tribune “.
The third group of Opposition speakers included the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison). Most of my remarks from now on will be directed to the substance of what the honorable member for Blaxland had to say and the queries which he raised.
– There is never any substance in his speeches.
– My friend, the honorable member for Gippsland, says that there was no substance in it. I was just about to say this-
– When are you going to give us some facts?
– Would you mind restraining yourself? You will get them and you will not like them when you get them.
– You are taking >long enough to get ‘to them.
Order! There are too many interjections. 1 will have to take action unless they cease.
– I have always looked upon the honorable member for Blaxland as one of the more responsible members of the ‘Labour party and one who tries to express the traditional trade unionist line on matters which come before this House. However, ‘I say, more in sorrow than in anger, that he made on this subject the ‘most stupid speech I have ever heard from him, and I will show why in a moment. Here are a few of the facts.
The remarkable ‘thing is that we are dealing with a piece of legislation designed to raise the finance necessary for certain declared benefits available for the waterside workers of this country. This measure of all measures, if honorable gentlemen opposite were truly the spokesmen of the trade unionists as they claim to be, would have received their warm support. Instead of that, the warm support has come from a party which, on its record in respect of prosperity and employment in this country, has proved itself to be the friend of the worker -and the wage-earner in Australia. From this side of the House has come the support for the measure and the matters proposed to be financed through it.
I come to the queries which the honorable member for Blaxland put to me. I shall proceed to demonstrate the correctness of what I am saying. I remind honorable gentlemen opposite that they will not get away with this bluff because a lot of wage-earners and a lot of trade unionists have been watching the performances from both sides of politics for a great many years, and they are still supporting that side of politics which has given them these conditions and which has demonstrated that it is determined to deal fairly with every section of the Australian community.
– Come down to the next meeting of the wharfies with me!
– All right. I have been to a few of them in my time.
Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will cease interjecting.
– I shall now deal with the first matter mentioned by the honorable member for Blaxland. He spoke of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, which conducts the operations financed by the charge now being levied in this legislation. He asked: ls it being run in a businesslike way? I shall come to the results in a moment; but, first, let us look at the composition of that authority. Is it being run in a businesslike way? The chairman of the authority is Mr. Hewitt, who was appointed, if my memory is correct, by the Labour government when it was in office. Does anybody on the Labour side challenge Mr. Hewitt’s capacity to conduct this authority in a competent way? There are two other members of the authority- One is Mr. Jim Shortell, who was a former president of the Trades and Labour Council of New South Wales.
– A grouper!
– The honorable member may not like him for that reason. He certainly was not a Communist and he has no time for Communists. I do not think he would have very much time for the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin), but I shall not commit him to that. At least, he did enjoy the distinction of being one of the most respected members in the Labour movement of this country and a president of the Trades and Labour Council of New South Wales. He is one of the three members of the authority. The other member is Mr. Fred Gibson, who was the executive officer of the Australian Council of Employers Federations - again a very respected representative of management against whom I have never, as far as I can recall, heard a word of criticism from those of the trade union movement or even of Labour politics. Here are three able men, and, in my judgment, the performance that they have produced since they were given the responsibility of conducting this authority has more than justified the confidence which the Government placed in them and the very considerable powers in relation to the waterfront which have been entrusted to them. That is the first question: Is it being run in a businesslike way? I shall give the results in a moment, but they are the men who are in a position to conduct it in a businesslike way.
The next question was: Are there to» many men employed on the waterfront? This is asked by the honorable member for Blaxland, who claims to speak on behalf of the wage-earners and the unionists! If he wants a frank answer to his question as to whether or not at this moment there are too many men in the waterfront work force, my answer unhesitatingly is “ Yes “. What the honorable member wants and has asked this Government to do is to sack all the surplus waterfront workers, throw them on the industrial scrap-heap and get down to a very much tighter industrial group. That is the inescapable implication to be drawn from what the honorable member for Blaxland put this afternoon. This Government is not quite so heartless as that towards the wage-earners. This Government has taken the view that there should be a regulated work force on the waterfront. It has left to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority the responsibility of deciding what the quota shall be in particular ports. The need for that quota varies according to the circumstances of the freight movements between this and other countries and around our coast. Those quotas have been progressively reduced over recent months. From a total work force of about 27,000, there has been, in eight ports of which 1 have knowledge, a total reduction of 1,750 in the quotas, in addition to the normal wastage which can be expected as men move out of the industry as they advance in years. Now, how rapidly does the honorable gentleman want us to proceed? Does he want us to throw suddenly on to the scrap heap a great body of men who have been regularly employed on the waterfront when we know there is going to be some easing of import restrictions and therefore a heavier demand in future for their labour? Does he want us to throw them out for some time and then try to re-engage them several months later? We believe that while we are passing through this phase there should be a fair spread between the regular waterfront work forces of the work available, while proceeding at the same time with some reduction of quotas in addition to the normal wastage which occurs.
– You did nothing about decasualization
– We did a great deal about it. If the honorable member knew one-tenth of what he should know about the waterfront he would know that we submitted to the Waterside Workers Federation a scheme of guaranteed employment for every waterside worker and that scheme was refused by the federation.
Mr. E. James Harrison interjecting,
– Order! If the honorable member for Blaxland interrupts again, I will name him.
– What I said is true and the honorable gentleman cannot deny it. We offered a scheme of permanent engagement-
– At what level?
Order! I have already warned the honorable member for Blaxland. I will give him an opportunity to apologize to the Chair and to refrain from interrupting again.
– I apologize, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, and with respect to yourself I say this-
Order! The honorable member has apologized and will take his seat.
– I am sorry to provoke the honorable member for Blaxland. He knows 1 have a respect for him, and I do not want to provoke him, but he made some very bitter criticisms this afternoon and I have a responsibility on behalf of the Government to answer them. The third question the honorable member raised was this: He asked whether this increased charge had become necessary because we were tinkering around too much with the waterfront - tinkering around in the sense of too much legislation and too much administration. Let me tell the House this: This Government has been tinkering around with the waterfront but at least it has produced some results to show that the tinkering has been to some purpose. I can give the House the figures of working time lost on the waterfront for i he first quarter of each of the last four years. That is one pointer. I am prepared to exclude the first quarter of last year, which included the general hold-up when we were going through those rather agonizing processes of trying to get a better deal on the waterfront both for management and the men. At that time the working days lost were colossal - 2,547,000 in round numbers. For that period the loss of working time amounted to just on 33 per cent.
For the first quarter of 1955 the number of days lost was 349,000, representing 3.3 per cent, of the possible working time. For the first quarter of 1954 the figure was 388,000 working days lost or 4.3 per cent. For the first quarter of 1957 162,000 working days were lost, which was 2 per cent of the working time. Compare that 2 per cent, with the other figures I have given and the normal Australian average in other years of about 6 per cent.! I do not say that with any great complacency. There is a lot more to be done. We have a lot more improvements to make, but at least it is a very substantial and, I suggest, significant improvement.
In the same period, in terms of efficiency, there have been some very notable developments. Opposition members were asking for , facts a moment ago. Well, here are some facts and I trust that the Opposition will mark them well. I will take a typical port. Resulting from the award of Mr. Justice Ashburner, certain concessions-were granted to waterside workers - concessions which are being financed by this charge that the Parliament is now asked to approve - such as sick leave and attendance money payment increases. In addition the judge said that the stevedoring companies and the shipowners should have the right to decide the gang strengths and the conditions of loading by way of pallets, and so enabled them to go ahead as they saw fit with mechanization of various processes on the waterfront.
So, on the one hand the waterside workers got some very substantial benefits including increases of pay, and the grant of annual sick leave and annual holidays, and on the other hand, the stevedoring companies got the right to decide what should be the gang sizes and the pallet loadings. At Townsville, a typical port in north Queensland where metal concentrates from Mount Isa are loaded, gang sizes have been reduced, using ships’ gear, from fifteen to nine. Using cranes, two slings at a time, the gangs have been reduced from 25 to thirteen. When off-loading dross the gangs have been reduced from sixteen to eight. When loading, dross they have been reduced from nineteen to eight. With respect to sugar the position varies at various ports according to the way in which the sugar is loaded. For bags ex truck, the gangs have been reduced from 2’5 to 20. For bulk loading the reduction has been from 22 to 19’. For the loading of frozen meat the gang strengths were previously 2.1 or 23 but have now been reduced, generally speaking, to 19. For the loading of hides and tallow gang strengths have been reduced from 17 to 15.. The position with general cargo varies according to the manner m which it is discharged, but discharging into the shed has meant a reduction, of gang strength by four. Other figures which might usefully be quoted show that at Port Kembla, where steel is handled^, gang strengths have been reduced from 9 to 7, but while loading with ships’ gear the reduction has been from 11 to 9. In the handling of fruit at Tasmanian ports, which, I know is of particular interest to some of my colleagues, on this side of. the House, in Hobart last year the gang strength was reduced from 27 to 21. That has been extended this year to Port Huon and Beauty Point. These are very significant facts. They show a substantial reduction in gang strengths. At the same time, with the reduced numbers, we have been getting approximately the same through-put of cargo*.
Not often can it be said that I pay a tribute te- the Waterside Workers Federation in this place, but I believe that after the first restless period following the introduction of the award the waterside workers accepted in a reasonable manner the introduction of mechanized processes and the determination’ of the court in- relation- to gang strengths and pallet sizes. The result of all that is that the Australian waterfront is now operating more efficiently than at any time I can recall in my own period in this Parliament.
The honorable member for Blaxland kept coming back also to the- question of the increase of transport costs that would follow the increasing of the charge. He said that we proposed to increase transport costs by 16 per cent. That statement indicates that he completely misunderstands the purpose- of this bill, and its likely consequences.. I think that I covered that point by explaining that the improvement of efficiency had been so beneficial that the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission had intimated to the Minister for Shipping, and Transport (Senator Paltridge), who, in turn, had discussed, the matter with me. that all the indications are that the commission will be able to absorb not only the increase of 5d. a man-hour, but also the basic wage increase of 10s. a week recently awarded by the Commonwealth- Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, without finding it necessary to’ increase its freight charges.
– But the private shipping companies have given no guarantee.
– I am talking about the Commonwealth’s own authority - the Australian- Coastal Shipping Commission. If the honorable member and his colleagues will see to it that no industrial1 disturbances of any consequence occur om the waterfront between now and the end of this financial year, I think I can underwrite the intimation given by the Government’s own instrumentality that freight rates will not be increased, as a result of either the increased charge proposed in this measure, or the 10s. a week basic wage increase.
– Why qualify it?
Mr- HAROLD HOLT.- Because we, on this side of the House, try to conduct government enterprises profitably and efficiently, and a departure from the conditions that I have mentioned, with a consequent deterioration, of the finances of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, might require some action to be taken. I am happy to say that the very heavy losses which the Commonwealth shipping line sustained while it was conducted by the Labour Government have been turned into profits since this Government has taken over its administration.
I hope that I need not labour this matter any longer, and that honorable members on both sides of the House will do what they can to encourage what has been, from- my stand-point, and I believe from- the- nation’s stand-point, the most heartening improvement of conditions on the waterfront that we have seen for very many yeans. I pay tribute to the members of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority appointed by this Government for the spectacular results that it has achieved in a relatively short time. I think that we can hope for continued improvement. I believe that waterside workers and other trade unionists are gradually coming to recognize that this trouble between management and men on the waterfront does hot remain just a brawl between the worker and his boss, but adds to the costs of all the commodities that every Australian trade unionist buys for himself and his family, if it interrupts the regular flow of shipping and detracts from efficient performance on the waterfront. I know that that is coming to be realized by responsible trade union officials with whom I have discussions in the course of my official duties, and I think that it is gradually filtering through to the men on the waterfront. A further sharp lesson to them is the fact that the only section of industry, apart from the waterfront, that has my employment troubles worth mentioning is the coalmining industry.
– In both cases, they have bad bosses.
– In both cases, they have shockingly bad industrial leadership. In both case, they have been led by militant Communists for years, and, in both cases, the industrial tactics employed have helped to destroy their own security of employment. Consumers of coal have turned to other kinds of fuel, such as brown coal and fuel oil. They have tried to make themselves independent of coal from New South Wales, the most turbulent State industrially, and, therefore, coal-miners have lost employment opportunities, solely because of their folly in taking the course that they have taken. Similarly, there is less employment on the waterfront to-day because people who ship goods from one part of Australia to another cannot rely on the regular movement of ships being ensured by speedy turn-round and expeditious handling of cargoes on the wharfs.
Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. At one minute past nine, while I was waiting patiently for the Minister to come to his facts, you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, told me that, if I did not keep quiet, you would name me. Since I was sitting very quietly and patiently at the time, I suggest that, perhaps, it might be in order for you to have that passage expunged from the records, or else for you at least to apologize to me.
Order! The honorable member has been continually interjecting throughout the day, at least while I have been in the chair. Although I may have made a mistake when I warned him on the last occasion, the honorable member has transgressed so often that I think the warning may well stand.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Harold Holt) read a first time.
Debate resumed from 14th May (vide page 1338), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER.When the Minister for Primary Industry moved the second reading of the bill, he suggested that it and the Wheat Tax Bill 1957 be debated together. With the agreement of honorable members the secondreading stage of the bills will be debated together, but they will be taken separately in committee and voted on separately at all stages.
.- The two measures now being debated - the Wheat Research Bill 1957 and the Wheat Tax Bill 1957 - are the outcome of an offer by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation to make, in respect of all wheat produced in Australia, a contribution of id. a bushel for research, and scientific investigations, relating to the production of wheat in this country. I think that the Government is to be commended for accepting the offer and introducing legislation to enable the country to avail itself of these funds from the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. It is obvious that it would be beyond the capacity of the wheat-growers and the organization to collect this money satisfactorily from individual wheat-growers without the power of law to back them. Consequently, authority to collect the money will be given by a taxing measure associated with this legislation.
I notice that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is sitting opposite me, and I assume that he will support the imposition of a tax of one farthing a bushel, even on those members of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation who might be unwilling to have such a tax imposed on them. I am glad to note his concession to a form of compulsion. After all, a majority of the members of the organization have signified that they want such action to be taken because they know that it will be not only to their benefit, but also to that of the nation. The money that will be raised by the Commonwealth, as the collecting authority, by this tax will amount, in a normal wheat year, to between £150,000 and £160,000, a very considerable sum. That money will come from an industry which, during the last quarter of a century, has grown wheat on an area ranging from 15,000,000 acres to approximately 7,000,000 acres at the present moment. It is an industry which has been able to lift its average production, during the last ten years from approximately 11 bushels per acre to about 17 bushels per acre. Admittedly, that increase of production has, in some measure, been due to the very good seasons that we have had during the last ten years, but it has not been entirely dissociated from the fact that research workers, scientists, soil investigators and the wheat-growers themselves have been interested in the application of the results of research to the problems of the industry.
In dealing with this industry, we cannot be unconscious of the fact that, in a normal year, approximately half of the wheat produced in Australia represents the basic food of the Australian people and is therefore of paramount importance to them. Roughly speaking, the other half of the annual production is exported to the markets of the world. That indicates that the industry feeds not only the Australian population of more than 9,000,000, but also an equal number of people in other parts of the world. Those figures surely indicate that this is a very important industry.
It is to the credit of the wheat-growers of this country that, in making this offer, they have shown appreciation of the fact that, over a long period of years, the people of Australia and governments ,of different kinds have helped them substantially in putting their industry on the basis that it is on to-day. The Australian wheatgrowers enjoy a marketing system which is second to none in the world. That system was obtained not without a great deal of struggle and strife. From 1947 until the present time, the wheat-growers have enjoyed the benefits of stabilization and price guarantees used on the cost of production - a system inaugurated in this country by a Labour government and endorsed by succeeding governments. I believe that it is now firmly established and that it is so suitable in its application to the marketing and other problems associated with the industry that no government, whatever its political complexion, would dare to tamper with it.
There was a time when the wheatgrowers were the victims of the vagaries of the market. They were also the victims of the wheat speculators, not only in Australia, but all over the world. At this juncture, when it has been prophesied that we shall face marketing difficulties in the future, the wheat-growers must feel very secure in the knowledge that if prices fall even to an all-time low, they still will be assured that, in respect of 100,000,000 bushels of their production, they will be paid the guaranteed cost of production, although for the balance, they will have to accept the hazards of the world markets. In the absence of a stabilization scheme, they would have no alternative but to accept for all their wheat the world ruling prices, whatever they might be.
Having said that, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, I now apply myself to the purpose to which this money is to be devoted. Because the money is being made available for research in the technical, economic and educational fields associated with the industry, there may be a tendency on the part of some people to exaggerate and to imagine that the wheat-growers of Australia are producing wheat which is so low in value and quality that the sudden injection of £160,000 a year for research purposes is necessary. That, of course, is not so. I say - I hope without fear of contradiction - that, notwithstanding some of the aspersions that have been cast on the quality of Australian-grown wheat, it is excellent wheat. It has enjoyed a widespread market over a long period of years. During the war, at one stage we supplied the people of Britain with 80,000,000 bushels of wheat in one season, through one contract. We supplied our allies all over the world - on the Continent, in the East, in New Zealand and in other parts of the globe. Our wheat had a fascination for many of those people. It is true that Australian wheat differs, in some respects, from the Canadian hard red wheat and the Russian wheats; but to imagine, because of a justifiable clamour for more and more research, and because markets are not as buoyant as they ought to be, that £160,000 a year is being injected into the industry because Australian wheat is not satisfactory is to entertain a very wrong and harmful idea.
– Hear, hear!
– I am glad to see that for once, I think for the first time that I recall, my friend the Minister for Social Services agrees with me. The world should know that from the very dawn of wheatgrowing in Australia, research has been progressing in every State. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, mentioned the great Farrer, who engaged in breeding experiments and produced the great Federation wheat. It is true that since Farrer’s time there have been many men in every State who have made important contribution to the science of wheat-breeding. Their names have not been publicized, but I make bold to say that many of them deserve praise equal to the praise rightly given to Farrer.
Our yields of various varieties of wheat have been substantially increased. Some endeavours have been made over the years to improve the gluten and vitamin content of wheat, and some success has been achieved. Irrespective of the contribution from the wheat-growers provided for in this measure, these experiments would go on. I think it is correct to say that in Canada, the United States and, for that matter, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and also in Europe, research is going on all the time into means of increasing the gluten and vitamin content of wheat grown in those countries. That being so, I think that we can say that there is still a very great field for improvement of Australian wheat production, and a very great field indeed for research such as that proposed under the bill.
I now turn to the bill itself. The measure proposes to establish a Wheat Research Council on a Commonwealth basis. It is provided that there shall be a representative of the Department of Primary Production, who will be chairman of that council, two grower representatives, five State Department of Agriculture representatives, one representative of the universities of Australia and one representative of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. All these representatives will be appointed by the Minister on the nomination, in the case of the grower representatives, of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation and, in the case of the State Departments of Agriculture, on the nomination of each State Minister concerned. As far as I can gather, in the case of the universities and the C.S.I.R.O. the representatives will be nominated by the Minister himself after consideration. I think that that composition of the council is a relatively good one; but I suggest that as one of the things that concerns the bread-eating people of Australia is the quality of wheat - as it concerns sensible people all over the world - and the gluten and vitamin content of wheat, it is of paramount importance that there be representation on the council of the flour-millers of Australia. I ask the Minister to consider that. It is a reasonable suggestion because, after all, whilst it is true that the wheat-growers are sometimes accused of growing a variety of wheat that will give them a large yield, rather than a better quality, it is likewise true that flour-millers can adopt methods which will give a low vitamin content of flour instead of a high content. Bakers also can make a less satisfactory loaf than would otherwise be the case if they paid more attention to certain considerations.
If the council is to be considered the body from which all those associated in the milling and baking industries are to learn something, the same consideration should also be given to the employees. Only the other day I read an article by Professor Wadham, of the University of Melbourne, in which he pointed out that if tin loaves are made and are not allowed to rise to the top of the tin in the process of baking, the bread is not of as good quality as would otherwise be the case. I suppose there are other technical reasons involved.
The bill provides that there shall be established in each State a Wheat Industry Research Committee. The membership of these committees is not to be fixed except as agreed upon from time to time between the Minister for Primary Industry and the State Ministers for Agriculture. That is a most unusual provision in any bill. An unlimited number of people may be appointed. There may be justification for that provision. It may give the Minister that degree of flexibility which, in the case of State committees, would allow flourmillers’ and bakers’ employees and others to be represented. The members to be appointed to the State committees must comprise a majority of members from the Wheat Growers Federation or its affiliated organization. In view of the fact that the wheat-growers of Australia are, as far as I can see in the absence of some promise from the Minister, to find all the money, I do not think it is unreasonable to suggest that they should have majority representation on the State committees as on the council.
– That is the Wheat Growers Federation?
– Yes. That is provided for. I do not think it is unreasonable. It is in the bill; I did not say it was not. The term, of course, is at the pleasure of the Minister, because he can dismiss them at any time. The State committee in each case will appoint its own chairman. That appears quite reasonable.
The Minister made passing reference in his second-reading speech to the fact that the Commonwealth will provide some of the necessary money from time to time. In the measure itself there is provision for the creation of a trust fund into which may be paid, from time to time, contributions from Consolidated Revenue. I would make a pretty good guess that there will not be any Commonwealth money provided at all. So far, there is not a promise of a solitary penny. Apparently, the Commonwealth Government has said, “ Here is a generous offer of £160,000; we will take it. We will make provision for the appropriation of money from Consolidated Revenue to go into the trust fund, but we do not expect that anything will ever go into it from that source “. There is nothing in the bill to ensure that anything will go into the fund from the Commonwealth. It is like putting a money box at the door and telling people that it is available, but never putting anything into it. That is where the Commonwealth Government leaves this problem at the moment.
We find that there is provision for the setting up of a trust fund and that the moneys received from each of the States are to go into separate accounts. Money appropriated from Consolidated Revenue is to go into a separate portion of the trust fund. There is provision also for the payment into the fund of contributions from any persons for the purposes of particular research work. In the case of contributions from persons in Victoria or New South Wales, for example, there is a provision that each contribution, if the wish is expressed, shall go into the section of the trust fund set aside for the State concerned. Then there is provision for the investment of the trust money, separate accounts, and so on.
That is about all there is to it, except that I think I should put on record again the purposes stated in the measure for which the money may be utilized. The money is to be used for scientific or economic research likely to benefit the industry; for the training of persons for research and allied purposes; for the dissemination of information and advice relating to technical matters in connexion with the wheat industry; for the publication of technical reports, periodicals, books and papers in connexion with the wheat industry, and for any purpose incidental to any of these matters. That is a very wide and generous field, and I have no doubt that these moneys, if applied sensibly, will have a very important influence on the future welfare of the industry.
I direct attention to another provision in the measure. I do not think it is worth much, but it is a good thing, I will admit, to express an intention sometimes. I have no doubt that it was put there as the result of a request by members of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. This provision is that the moneys shall not be spent, or payments made of the moneys, unless the Minister is satisfied that the payments are not for purposes that would have been undertaken by the C.S.I.R.O., departments of agriculture or universities. This indicates that, as far as the wheat-growers are concerned, they do not want any department of agriculture, any research institute, C.S.I.R.O., or other instrumentalities to reduce in any way their existing research expenditure. That is a very understandable view. It will be impossible to police this trust fund, as I think the Minister will admit, but that opinion is expressed - rightly so, I think - and I hope that it will have the effect of preventing money contributed to this fund from going into the pockets of organizations which otherwise would have found their own funds.
In the purposes that I read out there is a very wide field for investigation. The question of grading could be dealt with, because economics are not outside the field of research. There has been much difference of opinion on that question. I read in the press recently a controversy between Dr. Sutton, a noted authority on wheat, and Sir John Teasdale, the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board. Dr. Sutton’s point of view was very interesting, and so was Sir John Teasdale’s. The discussion concerned the question of grading wheat - separating strong wheat from weak wheat. Great differences of opinion existed between those two versatile authorities. Perhaps this new body will be able to deal with that problem.
I remember being a member of a royal commission appointed by the Government of Victoria as far back as 1924 to inquire into the advisability or otherwise of installing a bulk handling system for wheat in Victoria. I remember that the commission examined three of the foremost wheat speculators and wheat gamblers in this country at that time. Every one of them, despite the fact that they were all great wheat-buyers, nationally and internationally, expressed his opposition to the installation of a system of bulk handling in Victoria. In my young, and perhaps even then suspicious mind, I sought reasons why they should oppose this proposal. I believed then, as I believe now, that wheat speculators, buying under the f.a.q. system and paying an average price, are able in due course, in some cases, if not in all, to sell at a premium the wheat which they buy at an average price, thereby making a substantial profit. I believe that they are hostile to the introduction of bulk handling systems because they think - perhaps rightly so - that it will offer facilities for the grading of wheat, which they would forthrightly oppose. To-day we have farmers’ organizations^ - the Wheat Growers Federation and the Australian Wheat Board - which are able, by making some changes in the mechanical conditions of their silos and plant, to introduce a grading system. One objection is that if a farmer brings his wheat to the silo and desires to empty his vehicle quickly, he will want a decision there and then as to whether his wheat is strong, medium or weak, and it is said that there is no technical equipment yet devised to enable such a decision to be made rapidly. Perhaps, with the establishment of this research organization and the availability of these funds, that problem can be examined closely.
I understand from an interjection that it is thought there is a possible solution to this problem. If that is so, the position will arise that those who grow stronger wheat, which in some cases does not give so heavy a yield, will be able more easily to obtain a premium price for it. That would encourage the growing of a stronger wheat in Australia, with a consequential benefit to local consumers and to our export wheat trade.
I leave it at that. I give my blessing to the measure and hope that a successful outcome will be apparent within a few years.
– It is a pleasure to follow the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) when he is in his present frame of mind. In the past, I have both followed and preceded him, but this is the first occasion on which we have agreed absolutely, and I congratulate him upon the quality and quantity of his speech, if upon nothing else. Might I be permitted to preface what I have to say by remarking that every Australian Country party member wishes to speak to this bill, largely for the purpose of congratulating the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) and the Government. Similarly, a great many members of the Liberal party, including the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), are most anxious to address themselves to this bill. Therefore, what I have to say must be confined to covering as rapidly as I can what I consider to be its salient features.
Agriculturally speaking, these two bills can be described as the most hopeful signs of the century. Modesty compelled the Minister to play down the drama of his unique position. Here is a Minister who introduces a bill for an act to impose retrospective taxation on an exclusive section of the Australian people for an exclusive purpose, at the will and pleasure of the people whom he proposes to tax. Only a Minister who has the absolute confidence of the people whom he is appointed to serve would be requested to introduce measures of this description, and only a government with a record of, and reputation for, absolute integrity would ever be requested to pass such measures.
There are, as the Minister explained in his second-reading speech, two bills. There is the Wheat Industry Research Bill, which is designed to provide the way for the intensification and expansion of investigations into the agricultural, scientific and economic problems associated with the wheat industry, and there is a bill designed to provide the means to accomplish that task. [Quorum formed.]
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who called for a quorum, pays too much attention to me. I have done without his attention up to this point, and I can assure him that I could do without it to the end of the road. Both bills have been introduced by my colleague at the request of the accredited growers’ representatives - at the request of the people engaged in this most important of our agricultural industries. Strangely enough, these extraordinary procedures are not without precedent. The people engaged in the great wool industry, and the people engaged in the increasingly important tobacco industry, have taken precisely the same course and we have cause to be grateful to them for setting a splendid example, lt is not surprising that wool-growers, who have always been resolute in their determination, manage their own affairs and reach their own decisions as to what should be done to advance their great industry should agree to tax themselves and set up a research organization. Nor is it surprising that the tobacco-growers, who are engaged in a comparatively new industry, beset by problems that are inseparable from the production and processing of tobacco leaf, should adopt a similar course. But it is surprising that the wheat-growers, who are experiencing the only period of permanent stability that they have known, should take this first opportunity to request the Minister and the Government to bring down legislation of a like nature. So I say that, agriculturally speaking, it is the most hopeful sign of the century, and I speak as a farmer.
It is an understatement to say that the Australian standard of life and living is largely founded on agriculture. All human progress has followed in the wake of the plough. If there are countries that are exclusively pastoral, they are countries of no great importance. If there are countries that are predominantly industrial they are utterly dependent on other parts of the world, not only for their markets but for their food - for the stark necessities of life. It was the Australian farmer who went out into the arable areas of our vast country, brought them to production in the first place and kept them in production, regardless of the social, economic and agricultural consequences, until urban society as we know it to-day could establish itself in the concentration points of population and engage in the secondary and tertiary industries. Without wheat there would have been no effective occupation and development of our country, and without the effective occupation and development of our country it is very questionable whether we could have survived. It is unreasonable to suppose that, with a population of 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 people, we could have held this continent during the troublesome years that followed World War I. It was the wheat-grower, belting out millions of bushels of wheat year after year, who brought communities and commercial enterprise to our countryside. It was the wheat-grower who brought roadways, railways, villages, towns, cities, shires and even States to our country. Unless one has made a farm from virgin land, unless one has survived the hazards of climate and seasons, unless one has weathered the economic blizzards that have blown from time to time, one can have no conception of the magnitude of the task undertaken in this country by the Australian wheat-grower.
There was no easy way to clear land and make a farm and there was no known way to bring it to production. By trial and error, the Australian farmer had to discover when to plough and when to sow. He had to unravel the mystery of the Australian cereal year and devise methods suitable to vagaries of our seasons, our soils, sub-soils and substrata. So most of his work was literally, in deed and in fact, experimental in character. For the first 50 years he did it alone. ‘Later, he was assisted, of course, by the departments of agriculture in the various States. A great industry was founded. But if the problem of production was difficult, the problem of marketing became even more difficult and the Australian farmer was ill-equipped to attempt a solution to that vexed question. There was no problem of marketing when our production was confined at or below the rate of local consumption. The Australian people, because of their geographic position, were required to pay an Australian price for wheat equal to or greater than the landed cost of imported wheat and they did it willingly. The problem was created by the intuitive skill of the Australian farmer and the virgin fertility of our soil. When a great export industry was established the local price of wheat was related, not to import parity as it had been, but to export parity for the first and fateful time.
It was at that point in our political and agricultural history that a grievous and tragic blunder was made. The Australian price for Australian wheat was superseded by a demand that the Austraiian wheatgrower should make his wheat available for local consumption at the lowest export parity price and not a fraction of a penny more. It was I who, in a moment of desperation at that time, coined the phrase, “ the coolie price for Australian wheat “. Whatever the coolie, wherever he was to be found, was prepared to pay for Australian wheat became the maximum price paid by the Australian consumer to the Australian wheat farmer and not one-eighth of a penny more. The coolie determined the price that the Australian farmer got for his production. With Australian agriculture chained to the chariot of this export parity price structure, the Australian farmer was dragged through the labyrinth of international trade as a natural consequence.
If the export parity price of wheat was high, the Australian wheat-farmer and the nation was prosperous. But if the export parity price fell - and it fell so frequently that it brought disaster to land utilization as we knew it in the arable sense of the term - the entire nation was driven to despair and the Australian wheat-farmer was brought close to ruin and was urged, in the national interest, to grow more wheat. Do honorable members remember the desperation of those “ grow more wheat “ campaigns? May I be permitted to warn honorable members of the “ grow less wheat “ campaigns that are so prevalent to-day? In my opinion, the “ grow more wheat “ campaign was the sole cause of our land disaster. As the export parity price of wheat fell, so did the Australian farmer increase the area under production. As he increased the area under production, so did he reduce the chemical and physical properties of out soils and go down to -his ultimate ruin. That is the explanation of our land disaster when we lost a generation of Australian farmers, and there is no other acceptable explanation.
If I may be permitted to say so, I have , been closely associated with the wheat industry for 35 years. During the whole of that time I have done whatever ‘lay within my power to make .governments, State and Federal, see the utter folly of an agricultural policy that was visiting ruin on our farms and farmers alike -and reducing arable land usage in our -country to what can only be described as an agricultural reproach. I have been coming -to -this place at regular intervals since 1927 in order to fay to find the solution to this agricultural problem. I -have an intimate knowledge of the struggle that went -on, year after year, in this place to establish the principle, if I may use -another phrase of my own making, that the produce of the land belongs in its entirety to the producers, subject only to the discharge of their lawful obligations. That principle has been established by this Government.
The accredited growers’ representatives ;and organizations have been officially recognized by this Government for -the first time in our agricultural or political history. They have been taken into the confidence of this Government in all its deliberations affecting the industries associated with primary production. An orderly system of marketing which preserves the producers’ equity in their own production has been devised and -adopted, although I think that it will still have -to stand the acid test when the export parity price falls below the cost of production and the stabilization fund created by the growers has ‘been exhausted. The fell !hand of depression, largely because of ‘the application of members of the Government to the problem that confronted us, has been lifted from the industry for the -first time in our agricultural history.
As a direct consequence of these reforms, a great transformation has taken place. The traditional wheat-farmer, who was forced by economic circumstances to savage his land in order to live and to create national income, has entirely disappeared from the Australian agricultural scene. Mis place has been taken by men “who are in a position to farm, in the highest sense of ‘the .term, for ‘the first time in .our history; ‘by men who are conscious -of their obligations to the land and who for the first time, are in a position to discharge these obligations; by men who recognizethe -need .and the urgency for .research intoevery -aspect of their industry, and who,, because the ‘field of investigation is limited’ by the resources that up to this point have been available, are willing to pay an exclusive tax to expedite .research and to expand it.
The Minister -made -reference in ‘his second-reading -speech ‘to the part played in the negotiations which preceded the introduction df .these measures :by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. If I may foe ‘permittee! to do so, ‘I mention briefly ‘as a matter of great importance that (the traditional .agricultural history of our organizations in this country, naturally enough, followed the .political pattern. We began with .State organizations. As they grew in importance and as their responsibilities spilled .ov,er from one State into another, it .became accessary to form federations. Because the federations themselves assumed national responsibilities, they .had to form a national body, and, because the National Farmers Union undertook international responsibility, agricultural organizations generally became international in character. Of necessity, a federal Minister can do business only with federal organizations, so far as primary industries are concerned, and the federal organizations are exclusively commodity in character. When a Minister introduces a wheat bill, it is his .manifest duty to do his negotiations with the accredited representatives of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. If he introduces a wool bill, as -he has done within the last few hours., it is his -manifest duty, if he wants to take the growers into his confidence, to negotiate with the Graziers Federal Council or the Meat and Wool Growers Federation. All our federal organizations are commodity in character and commodity in kind. It was appropriate that the Minister should negotiate with the Australian Wheat Growers Federation when he intended to introduce this bill.
Limitless fields exist in primary industries for research, both in the laboratory and on the farm, more particularly related to our arable land. There is the problem of production, and everything that has happened in the utilization of our arable land has happened because of trial and error by the farmers, assisted latterly by the Departments of Agriculture in all the States and subsequently by that magnificent organization, the ministerial head of which is the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. There are unlimited fields for investigation into the question of production, as the honorable member for Lalor said when he spoke for the Opposition. He mentioned certain very important figures and I might be permitted to use them again for another purpose. For example, the area under wheat production fell during the last quarter of a century from 18,000,000 acres, a vast area of land, to 8,000,000 acres. But, as the area under production fell, because of the experimental work done by the farmers, by the State Departments of Agriculture and by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the yield of wheat grew during that quarter of a cen- tury from 11 bushels to almost 20 bushels, or 19.75 bushels to be precise. With all our mechanical equipment, our technical knowledge and information gathered over the years, if the Australian cereal farmer in a moment of emergency wanted, in the national interest, to expand his production back to the 18,000,000 acres that obtained more than 30 years ago, he could, on the average yield of to-day, produce a crop that would approximate 400,000,000 bushels. That, of course, is gigantic business by any standards.
There are also limitless opportunities for investigation into our soils and our soil deficiencies. When the first wheat was grown, no one knew anything about the soil, the sub-soil or the sub-strata. Yet, those valiant men and women went out, put a plough into our arable land after it was cleared, and met with disaster because no one knew the natural sequence of agricultural events in our country - when to plough, when to sow, when a germination of cereals was possible and when a crop might be harvested. They did the experimental work and they got so close to perfection that the results of the preliminary trials have stood the acid test of time. A great deal has still to be told about our soils and our sub-soils. Because much of it is beyond the sphere of the average farmer, it is necessary that those who have dedicated their lives to scientific investigation should assist in this great work and, because the assistance up to this point has not been adequate, the growers have agreed to tax themselves and have asked the Minister to bring down measures for that splendid purpose.
There are limitless opportunities for scientific investigation into land utilization. At one time, we did not know anything about rotational crops or a careful use of our arable lands. The traditional custom was that, when a farmer cleared an area of land, he brought it under production and held it there through a system of repetitive cropping until the chemical properties were reduced and the physical properties destroyed. Gradually, rotational systems were devised. Lea farming has been introduced for the first time in our history and we are making great agricultural progress, which needs only the stimulus of bills of this description.
I have only a minute left, and I want to use it by referring to what the honorable member for Lalor failed to understand in the Minister’s second-reading speech. It is perfectly clear that provision is made in the bill for a Commonwealth grant at any time up to and including a maximum equal to the amount levied and collected under the wheat tax. Surely, that is simple enough for any one to understand. If the wheat tax amounts to a sum of £100,000,000, it is competent for the council or the committees to appropriate from the federal budget an equal amount from time to time. I end as I began, by saying that this is the greatest event in our agricultural history during this century, and the Minister is to be warmly congratulated.
.- I am one of the many members who join the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) in congratulating the Minister for Primary
Industry (Mr. McMahon) upon bringing in this measure. Because I know that many other members wish to speak, I will not take up a great deal of time, but I do wish to say that the wheat industry is entering a new era. I think the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) is rather inclined to underrate the necessity for wheat research. He was inclined to say that Australian wheat is an excellent wheat. Well, it may be, but we know that by comparison with some other wheats it is not as good as it should be. Surely that is one reason why the growers believe that it is necessary to put a tax on themselves in order to encourage research to improve the quality of that wheat.
Recently I was looking at a list issued in the United Kingdom of wheats entering that country. I noticed that a Canadian wheat, No. 1 Northern Manitoba, the Canadian hard wheat, was shown as having a protein content of 12.48 per cent. At the same time, the Australian f.a.q. wheat on the same list was shown to have a protein content of 9.63 per cent. In other words, that is a difference of nearly 3 per cent, in the protein content between the Canadian wheat and the Australian wheat. I would not have thought there were many people to-day who did not realize that the greatest necessity in Australian wheat-growing is to increase the protein content or the quality of Australian wheat.
The Minister has certainly recognized it, because in his second-reading speech he said -
The need to improve the quality of our wheat crop is being more widely recognized, and the spur to analysis of the problems involved in doing this can be provided by making more money available for research.
Later the Minister said -
Recent experience in overseas markets indicates clearly that we have prospects of selling more wheat if we can produce a quality higher than our present f.a.q. There is little doubt our market outlook would be greatly improved if we were producing more hard medium-hard high quality wheat.
One could go on and quote one person after another. The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) on Tuesday, in answer to a question by my colleague, the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan), mentioned that there is no doubt that given a higher quality of Australian wheat we would be able to make better sales. Recent sales in Japan have indicated that the Japanese require at least 1 1 per cent, protein content before they will be prepared to purchase our wheat. A higher quality wheat has become more necessary because the markets of the world are being flooded by wheat which is being dumped from the United States. For that reason also we must improve our quality so that we can compete with this subsidized home-grown wheat which is being dumped on to other markets.
How can we encourage the growth of more hard wheat by farmers? First of all, can we grow hard wheat in Australia? The answer is that we can. In the electorate of the honorable member for Gwydir, and in the south of Queensland, we grow an excellent quality wheat. In fact, some 4,000,000 bushels annually is purchased by millers at a considerable premium because they know that from that wheat they can make more loaves of bread. But not only in those areas can we grow better wheat. We have shown from tests that high-quality wheat can be grown throughout Australia. Recently, tests were carried out at Temora. That is not regarded as a high-quality wheat area, but a selection of six different types of reasonably hard wheats, grown under proper conditions in soil which had been improved by clover leys, produced wheat with a protein content of more than 13.5 per cent. One variety, Pusa 4, contained up to 15.8 per cent. There was a recent test of 321 different samples in Western Australia, and the average protein content was 12.69 per cent. The interesting thing about those 321 different varieties was that they were only selected because the farmers thought they were of high protein content. They thought that because they knew that the wheat had been grown on good land which had been growing clover for a considerable time and so had had its nitrogen content built up. They selected a hard-quality wheat, of which there are a number of varieties already available in Australia. So we can say we are growing any amount of hard-quality wheat in Australia. But we are growing a lot more which is just being lumped in with f.a.q. wheat, and for which, if we had a method of segregating it from f.a.q., we could get a higher price on the world market.
Why is hot more being grown? The obvious answer is that the farmer is paid exactly the same price whether he grows wheat of 8 per cent, protein content or 16 per cent, protein content - apart from the very small quantity of premium wheat which is grown in the north of New South Wales and southern Queensland and which I mentioned earlier. So, obviously, a farmer will grow the wheat that fills the bags and the wheat which is filling the bags is not the wheat which has the high protein content. There are two ways of getting things, done. Let us take the oft-quoted illustration of the donkey. To move him, you can hit him with a stick, light a fire under him, or dangle a carrot in front of his nose. The same may be- said of wheatgrowing. We can “tell the wheat-growers that they must grow high-protein wheat and that in order to make them do that, we are going to limit the number of varieties they may grow. We can tell them that they can only grow Gabo, Pusa, Javelin, or whatever the different varieties are. I do not agree with that and I do not think it will achieve results. There is no doubt that by eliminating wheats such as Bencubbin we would improve the quality of Australian, wheat. It is interesting to know that even Gabo, which is probably the hardest wheat grown in Australia, has recorded protein qualities from 8.15 per cent, to 15.58 per cent, in the one year and in the one State, showing that not only the type of wheat grown, but also the quality of the soil and the disposition of the rainfall affect, the protein content. So, by limiting farmers to certain wheats we are not going to increase the protein, content of Australian wheat very appreciably. The other way,, obviously, is what I would call the, carrot method,, and that, is to pay a pre.mium for the stronger wheat.. Applying the same principle to wool’, how many people would grow 70’s or superfine qualify wool’ if they were paid the same amount as for- 56’s?’ Obviously every one would produce the 56’s.
We are up against a problem in wheat. In wool any one who has had reasonable experience of: classing can look at a fleece and immediately say correctly that it is 56’s, 64’s-, or something else. On the other, hand, up to now, test in a chemical labora tory has been necessary to determine the protein content of a wheat. That test takes some considerable time. In other words, you cannot run your truck into the siding, take a sample, and decide how you are going to grade it. Luckily there is every indication that it will be possible shortly to conduct a test on wheat which will determine within two minutes its protein content. I refer to the test which the Minister mentioned to-night by way Of interjection. The test is known as the Zeleny process, which has been developed m Germany and has been taken up here by Dr. Sutton, one’ of our experts in Western Australia on wheat. The process is now being examined by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. If it proves successful, we will completely revolutionize the system under which Australian wheat is graded.. Even under the present setup Dr. Sutton believes it would be possible to segregate wheat quickly into the three qualities in which it is segregated to-day, namely premium, f.a.q., and below f.a.q. It is a slow and difficult process at present, but if the Zeleny process proves successful, we will be able in a very short time to grade wheat the moment it comes into the silo, and of course, the corollary of grading is that the wheatgrower is paid more if he produces a higher quality wheat. A quick grading method’ would enable the flour-millers to purchase the wheat that they require.
We in- Australia’ have great opportunities’. We are the only large exporter of wheat in the sterling area, and, if we can produce the kind of wheat that is required, many countries will buy from us instead of spending valuable dollars in buying hard wheat that they can get at present only from Canada and the United States”, of America.We have already received inquiries from New Zealand-, Japan, and South- Africa1, and I am sure that countries in the Far East also will show interest. Although’ we have great opportunities, we have a constitutional difficulty that presents a hurdle. Although the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon)- has been able to introduce this excellent measure to provide for. a- levy on wheat, it is not possible for him. to control the handling- arrangements in each State, because every State is responsible for the grading and Handling of the wheat produced within its boundaries. Therefore, I should like to see some of the Commonwealth funds devoted to the financing of an Australian committee, which should be given the major task of recommending ways in which wheat may be graded or segregated. I can think of no man better fitted to serve as chairman of that committee than Dr. Sutton, who, for years, has advocated segregation of wheat, and has shown how it could be achieved, even under the present arrangements.
As I have said, I do not want to speak at great length, because I know that many other honorable members wish to address the House. However, I should like to congratulate the Minister on the introduction of this bill, which is one of the greatest forward steps for the benefit of the wheat industry that has been taken in a decade.
.- It is good to have before the House a measure that has the unanimous support of honorable members. Before I decided whether to support this measure, I discussed it with V.I.P.s in the wheat industry in my electorate. They approved the bill, but they made a number of suggestions for alternative provisions, which I shall mention later. I think that the wheat-growers realize that the most significant factor affecting the sale of wheat, or of any other commodity, and particularly of primary products, is undoubtedly quality. I know that the farmers have a very deep sense of their duty to do the very best that they can on their farms, and to grow the best crops, whether it be wheat, barley, or other grains, or any other product. They have a sincere sense of their duty to the community, and they try to excel in the production of the commodities marketed from their properties. I know that any one of substance in Australia to-day tries to do his job to the best of his ability. The farmers do not spend their time looking at the clock, but try to do their best to serve the community, which depends on them so much. If they can profit materially at the same time, so much the better for them.
Until a couple of years ago, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, overseas buyers were not very fussy about the quality of the wheat that they took from us. I remember attending a wheat-growers’ meeting in my electorate, at which it was pointed out by a mem ber of the Australian Wheat Board that, at that time, overseas buyers did not mind whether they obtained wheat of inferior quality or weevil-infested wheat from places with large storages, such as the Lake Marma storage, at Murtoa. He said that they could sell almost any kind of wheat, but that the time would come when overseas buyers would be fussy. That time has arrived. The buyers of all the commodities that we export are interested to-day, not in quantity, but in quality. In support of that contention, I refer to a report in yesterday’s Melbourne “ Herald “ of the opinions of Mr. L. T. Ritchie, managing director of H. V. McKay Massey Harris Propriety Limited, who is reported to have said -
Australia’s wheat marketing problem was one of quality rather than quantity. If our wheat were of higher protein content, customers would be eager to buy it.
The demand for wheat of better quality is not confined to buyers from overseas. It is shared also by local buyers. The people want better wheat so that they may have better flour from which to make better bread. The quality of Victorian wheat and flour has improved considerably during the last twenty years. Over this period, both the average yield to the acre and the total production have increased markedly. All who attended a wheat industry convention held in my electorate agreed that further progress was desirable, and should be achieved by the intensification of the activities of several sections of the industry represented on the Victorian Wheat Advisory Committee, directed towards the improvement of wheat, flour and bread. Those sections of the industry were the wheat-growers, the flour-millers, the bakers, the merchants, and the Victorian Department of Agriculture.
Research which will be made possible by this measure should be conducted in several fields, but I think that emphasis should be placed on the improvement of quality. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) outlined other fields of research in his second-reading speech, from which I should like to read three very short passages. He said -
The purpose of this bill is to set out the details of plans which will result in new research into the scientific and economic problems of the wheat industry.
Later, he said -
Recent experience in overseas markets indicates clearly that we have prospects of selling more wheat if we can produce a quality higher than our present f.a.q. There is little doubt that our market outlook would be greatly improved if we were producing more hard or medium hard high quality wheat.
The Minister said also -
It is only by the establishment of a broadly based research programme that we can maintain our position in this fiercely competitive industry, and provide Australia’s wheat-growers with the “ know how “ to protect their competitive position against producers in overseas countries. We need to keep these changes under constant review, to assess their importance, and to be ready to use our research resources in a way designed to help the Australian wheat-growers.
Mr. W. N. Pearse, a growers’ representative on the Australian Wheat Board, has spoken of the problems of the wheatgrowers, which, I believe, can be alleviated by this measure. His views are reported in the May, 1955, issue of the “ Journal of the Department of Agriculture “, published in Victoria, in these terms -
After tracing the history of Victorian wheat production from early in the century when lack of protein was not a major problem until this present era of what he called “ so-called prosperity “ when huge crops were being grown at the expense of soil nutrients, Mr. W. N. Pearse . . pointed out that Victorian wheat-growers were endeavouring to arrest the decline in fertility by resting their paddocks and growing clovers and medics to put nitrogen back into the soil while the land was out of cultivation.
One of the farmers greatest problems was to meet the high cost structure of their industry in face of the possibility of reduced incomes. However, Mr. Pearse added, “The grower is prepared to ‘ do his bit ‘ towards the vexed question of low quality. But we do not expect to carry it all ourselves “. He added that the “ go slow “ policy of employees in industry, undue profits during manufacture, and inefficient business methods could also be contributing factors to the wheat industry’s problems.
I believe that wheat quality is influenced by many factors mentioned in that report, including crop rotation, the planting of clover and medic pastures, fallowing and cultivation methods, and the use of fertilizers of different kinds, with or without trace elements, and other management practices, such as the use of green manures and selective weedicides. The Senior Agronomist of the Victorian Department of Agriculture has stressed that the most important aspect of wheat farming is the use of rotations to maintain soil fertility and to improve the soil, if possible, so that crops of good-quality grain may be grown. This aspect of the problems of the wheat industry is a fitting subject for research under this measure. I do not propose to speak at any length, and I do not want to repeat what has been said by other honorable members who have spoken. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), particularly, stressed all these points. However, I do want to say a word or two concerning an amount of approximately £300,000 which is held in trust by the Australian Wheat Board for the wheatgrowers.
This money has been accumulated from the fractions of a penny which have been received from the sales of wheat from the various pools, and it has been suggested that before the growers are called upon to make any contribution to this fund that is being established, the £300,000 should be used. Well, if that were done, roughly 288,000,000 bushels of wheat would need to be supplied by the growers before they would have to contribute even one penny. Another suggestion that was made was that the growers themselves should contribute only one-eighth of a penny a bushel until the £300,000 had been used. The wheatgrowers themselves do not feel particularly strongly about this matter. No mention of it is included in the bill, but I do not think that that will disappoint them, because they realize that if we start wheat research we shall have to continue it, and that if we have a drought in our major wheat growing areas at any time we shall need to have money. They realize, too, that it is good to have this reserve, because such money is often used as a part of the first payment for their wheat, and in that way they save interest charges.
I am certain that, in respect of this legislation, there will be co-operation and coordination between the State and Commonwealth departments, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in relation to its research problems. We do not want duplication, nor do we want overlapping of research measures. I believe that tremendous good can result from this legislation. The provisions are fair to the industry, to the States and to the Commonwealth. I am sure that it will receive the unanimous support of all those in the industry, and I myself support it with great enthusiasm.
.- Perhaps I might begin my remarks by saying that it is particularly appropriate that an honorable member from Western Australia, and the representative of an area which grows a great proportion of the wheat produced in that State, should address himself to this bill, because this research fund and this proposal had their genesis in Western Australia. The wheat-growers of that State, despairing of ever achieving unanimity amongst wheat-growers in the various States of Australia, went ahead and devised a research scheme of this kind of their own volition. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) referred to the matter in his second-reading speech, and he mentioned the contribution that the wheatgrowers of Western Australia voluntarily made to the industry by establishing a research fund to be applied for the benefit of the industry. Their contribution has been taken into consideration in this measure, and an allowance will be made to them when it comes to operation of the tax which will be imposed.
– Another example of how we lead the wise men of the east!
– As the honorable member for Canning says, this is another instance of how the people of the west have led the so-called wise people of the east. It is another indication of the source from which the wisdom of the Commonwealth really springs. So I say that it is appropriate that an honorable member from Western Australia should discuss this measure. It is also appropriate that he should point out that the primary purpose for which this scheme was devised was concerned not so much with the grading of wheat, or with improving the quality of wheat, as with improving the industry generally. Wheat growing has many other industries associated with it. The purpose of the Western Australian wheat-growers in instituting this scheme was to promote research into all the operations of the industry. Problems involving the quality of wheat, soil fertility, soil erosion, the growing of additional crops in order to improve the soil and to enable the grower to reduce the costs of operation by such profitable side-lines, were all part and parcel of the picture which the Western Australian wheat-growers had in mind when they proposed this scheme. Therefore, the whole of the ramifications of the industry come into the picture when this scheme is being discussed.
I am very glad to see that the bill provides that the application of this money is not to limit in any way research which has been carried on in the wheat-growing industry by any other organization. That is a welcome provision. However, in spite of the affirmation by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) that a specific amount will be provided by the Commonwealth Government from the Treasury for this fund, I fail to find any specific mention of it in the bill. All that the bill says on this subject is that, in effect, the Commonwealth may appropriate whatever amount it deems to be advisable and pay that amount into the trust account. It does not say that the Commonwealth shall do so. I should have preferred the bill to contain specific provision that the trust fund shall be subsidized by the Commonwealth, on a £l-for-£l basis, to a specified maximum amount, as has been suggested by previous speakers. As it stands, the bill merely provides that moneys appropriated by law shall be paid into this trust fund. It gives the Government power to appropriate money without specifying an amount. Perhaps we shall find that such provision will be made later.
Much has been said concerning the quality of our wheat, and it has been suggested that the solution of this problem lies in the grading of wheat. It is contended that if we could segregate hard high-protein wheat from medium or lower grade wheat, we could increase our markets. In this connexion, may I point to the example of Canada, which, so they say, produces the best wheat in the world. The bulk of the Canadian wheat is hard wheat. Canada has on its hands a wheat problem that is far more serious than the problem that Australia, the Argentine, or any other country is facing or is likely to face. I do not believe that the answer to our problem is to offer overseas markets the top quality of hard wheat. Quite frankly, I do not believe our wheat is of the low quality that some people suggest, and I think that if we did improve the quality we would still not increase the market potential, because there its no evidence anywhere that there is this tremendous ‘market for best hard wheat about which we are told. On the contrary, the country that produces the best hard Wheat in the world, Canada, faces a wheat problem almost bigger than we can imagine. lit has also been suggested that we might improve our wheat position by engaging in an intensive search for new markets. I ‘do not for a moment believe that the purpose of this fund should be one outside the internal requirements of the industry. The Department of Trade and the Department of Primary Industry have funds, voted by this Parliament, which I believe should be devoted to the promotion of wheat sales abroad.
The finding of markets for our wheal presents a major problem today, if we take full cognisance of present circumstances and the circumstances that are likely to obtain in the immediate future. I have never been pessimistic about the wheat industry. On the contrary, I have always taken a most optimistic view of it. But i say that there are problems associated with wheat marketing which this Government, the growers themselves, the flour millers, and all those associated with the export of wheat have to tackle. There are problems which have to be examined, and the nature of which must be conveyed to the growers clearly and definitely so that they themselves can do something about them. I understand that the Government had a conference some time ago with various bodies interested in the flour milling industry. I do not know what the outcome of it was; but I have discussed the question of milling with people engaged in the processing of wheat, and I know that the millers are alarmed over the present situation and over the possible future situation.
The markets for our flour are disappearing at an alarming rate. We have lost markets to competitors, for instance to the United States. We have lost markets, strangely enough, to a country which is at times an importer of wheat - France. We have lost them because these markets have been offered flour and wheat at concession rates. The United States has adopted the subterfuge of subsidizing its export wheat by accepting payment for it in the currency of the buyer country. Our problems in marketing wheat in India, Pakistan, Ceylon,
Japan and Formosa might well be solved if we were willing to accept payment in the currency of the buyer country, if we could afford to do so. I have not delved into that aspect of the matter. All those countries, Ceylon, Pakistan and the East Indian nations, which have been among the biggest outlets for our flour, are reaching a stage in their national development when they are demanding self-sufficiency. I am not denying :that they are entitled to selfsufficiency. The result is that they are building mills for themselves. So, while they will continue to be importers of wheat from some country or other, the market for our flour will disappear rapidly. I would say that in the next couple of years these countries will have enough mills to provide the major part of their flour requirements.
– What is wrong with that?
– Nothing is wrong with it; but it presents a problem to this country in a number of respects. I do not know how costly the operation of Australian flour mills is, but once they cannot maintain two shifts at work the question of the price of bread will become a major factor for consideration. An even bigger problem is that of Where our dairying industry, our poultry industry, and even our race-horses, will get the products of flour mills, the wheat offal, which is a staple necessity for them. That is a problem which the Government, the people, and the growers themselves will have to solve. It is not a problem of competition. We have demanded selfsufficiency in Australia in our time, and the countries of Asia which have been the markets for our flour have demanded it also, and are sensibly applying it to-day. That means that we have to look at the wheat industry not as it is to-day, but as it will be to-morrow, next year and the year after, and we have to plan the basis of the industry accordingly.
Anybody who looks at the statistics concerning the world wheat situation cannot help but feel a degree of concern. America has huge stocks of wheat which she is prepared to quit regardless of the consequences to her friends - and we are supposed to be one of her friends. Canada, the country which grows such splendid wheat, faces a problem far beyond the problem we face. Canadian silos are full of last season’s wheat, and the farms have a huge crop now ready for harvest. What will be the position in Canada? Then, Ave have a country like France, which was formerly a considerable importer of wheat, but has now entered the export market. F ranee had a bad season last year and is faced with a possible loss of the markets it had established in previous years, particularly for flour. So, she is importing wheat in order to mill it and reship it to her markets in order to maintain continuity in these markets, which were won at considerable cost to Australia, because they were once Australian markets. That position requires considerable thought. I do not think the solution rests entirely with the Government. I want to say to the growers that each one of them is an independent unit in what is to-day a wellorganized industry. I want to say to them also that they .are part and parcel of the democratic system of government. The difference between the democratic system of .government and the totalitarian system of government is that under the democratic system everybody is required to think for themselves, whereas under the totalitarian system, which the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) would like to see here, nobody is required to think for himself. The bureaucracy does the people’s thinking for them. The growers need to put their thinking caps on. I do not think that a reduction or a restriction of acreages - a -wheat-growing holiday, so to speak - is the solution of the problem. Other solutions are available to the wheat-growers, if they could think of them. It will be the responsibility of the Government and of the research trust, also of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, the Department of Trade and the Department of Primary Industry, to inform the growers fully of the current situation and of likely future trends. The responsibility will then rest on the growers to decide what action to take, in the light of the best possible information. It is not the responsibility of the Government, or of any individual member of the Parliament, to tell wheat-growers what they shall or shall not do, any more than it is our responsibility to tell refrigerator manufacturers, electric kettle makers, jam makers or beer brewers what they shall do in their industries. It is not our job to tell the brewers how much beer it would be advisable for them to brew in a particular year or what they should do a’bout their industry. The people in these industries must think things out for themselves.
Every wheat-grower, although he is a part of a well-organized industry, is a unit of the industry. He is in the industry for his own benefit and he must think these things out. The responsibility of the Government is to tell him the facts about his industry - for example, that Australia has shipped overseas a tremendous quantity of wheat, which has not been sold. The Government can .tell the grower how many ships were chartered to carry that wheat and how it has been hawked to various markets in an effort to sell it. The grower must be made acquainted with the marketing position to-day and the likely position in the future. Those are the major problems confronting the industry to-day. I do not think that this research fund will be of much help to the growers in those directions, but it can be used to help the wheat industry to re-organize in such a way that the industry will be able to meet any situation that is likely to arise as a result of world conditions over which the growers and the Government have no control.
.- I find -myself in disagreement with honorable members who have spoken on this bill, because I do not think the scheme will work. There is nothing wrong with the objectives of the bill or with the intentions behind it. Those objectives would be supported by every wheat-grower throughout Australia. They are praiseworthy. Everyone wants to see more research conducted into the problems of the wheat industry, but I do not believe that this scheme will bring that about. I shall give my reasons for saying so.
The proposal is that a tax shall be levied on the wheat industry to raise money for the purposes of new research. It is the word “ new “ which gives rise to the first difficulty. This is a developing industry. Technical advances in the industry are going on all the time, and there will be great expansion. The specific methods of assisting the industry at the present time are set out in the bill. That work is being done by State government agencies and Commonwealth Government agencies. How are we to determine, either now or in the future, what constitutes a new research project? Surely it is reasonable to expect that the money raised from the wheatgrowers by the tax that will be levied under this scheme will be merged with the rest of the funds available to those agencies. It will make no difference to the amount of research work carried on. The only change will be that the wheat-grower will be carrying a heavier burden. Well, the wheat-grower is accustomed to doing that. For many years he has been subsidizing the consumer of bread by selling his wheat at the home-consumption price. That has cost the wheat industry many millions of pounds. The wheat-grower has also paid out of his income for all the wheat storage facilities and shipping facilities for his crop. This additional burden will not hurt him very much, and he will not object to it if it achieves anything new that is worth while. But I doubt very much whether we can take that aspect of the scheme on trust. I believe that the money raised in this fashion from the wheatgrowers will be pooled with the rest of the funds which the State governments obtain from the Commonwealth Government.
Let me turn to the second point. How much will the Commonwealth Government contribute to this fund? Will it contribute anything? If it will contribute, why does it not say so? Why must we take that completely on trust? Who are we trusting? We may trust this Government, but in the future there will be other governments. Can we trust them to contribute any specific amount? I do not think that we can. We are proposing to disburse this money for a variety of extension works and research works. I think it is unreasonable to expect that the department will allocate a part of the funds that it gets annually to some work that is being carried on in a State, additional to the work that is financed by the normal grants to that State for agricultural research. I think that it would be quite unrealistic to expect that to be done. I suggest that a much better procedure would be for the Commonwealth to nominate specific works and to stipulate the amount of money it is prepared to contribute annually to those works. Then we would know exactly where we were going and what the wheat-grower was paying for.
The third point to which I refer is crucial. Who will pay this tax, anyway? It will not be the wheat-grower this year. It will not be the wheat-grower next year, because the cost of production is now above the export selling price and we are drawing on the stabilization fund. Considerable sums have been drawn out this year. The fund will be exhausted in another year, and no more money will be available from that source. So the fund will pay the tax this year and the Government will pay it next year. This trend in costs and prices has been apparent for a considerable period. There is no reason to believe that it will suddenly turn the other way, just because we have passed this legislation. We must proceed on the assumption that the present trend will continue into the foreseeable future. If it does continue in the way in which it has gone in the last few years - that is, with overseas prices falling and costs at home rising - this tax, in future years, will be paid by the Government.
If that assumption is sound, I suggest to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) that it would have been better to defer this proposal for discussion during the negotiations that will take place next year when the wheat stabilization scheme comes up for renewal. The scheme expires next year. There may not be a wheat stabilization scheme next year; there may be a subsidization scheme.
I regret that I have to disagree with the Minister on this bill, because I know that his intentions are wholly admirable and praiseworthy, but I hope that the suggestions I have made will be considered by him before the bill goes much further.
– First of all, I want to congratulate the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) for introducing the bill. I go further and congratulate him on the way that he introduced it. He is always willing to explain matters to honorable members, in the light of information in his possession to which honorable members have no access. I am sure that the way he does that is appreciated by all honorable members. I also congratulate the wheat-growers upon their willingness to adopt the scheme, and their organizations upon fostering it. The hour is quite late and other honorable members have discussed the wheat industry at length. Therefore, it is not my intention to do that, but there are one or two salient points to which I should like to direct attention.
This morning I asked the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) whether, with the Federal Treasurer, he would issue another booklet along the lines of the one issued some years ago, but now out of date, on taxation deductions and principles, as they affect primary producers. Numerous concessions have been made recently and the self-assessment system of taxation has now been introduced. Having such things in mind, my first thought, naturally, was whether the proposed payment under this legislation would be a deduction for taxation purposes. That is a very important matter. The Minister has been good enough to inform me that the taxing measure provides for the Australian Wheat Board to pay tax before allocating the return to the grower. The net amount is, of course, included by the grower in his tax return, so that his taxable income, and consequently his tax, are reduced accordingly. Therefore, a taxation deduction is not necessary.
I am not quite happy about certain proposals regarding segregation of wheat, because this could well ruin orderly marketing and have an effect on future stabilization plans. I am not prepared to support any such move until we can find a method of segregation that will not affect orderly marketing. If orderly marketing disappeared, the same price might be received for our top wheat as we receive now for all our wheat. Orderly marketing is so important that we must watch very closely any step towards the segregation of grades of wheat. The grower will suffer in the long run if the matter is not fully considered before application. High-class wheat may be produced, but it may bring only the price that our general wheat is bringing to-day. I have been told by a noted wheat expert that Australian wheat is the best general-purpose wheat in the world.
Some primary producers may be reckoning the amount that they will have to pay under this bill. On an average crop of 3,000 bushels, the payment would amount to £3 2s. 6d. Interestingly enough, a committee is to be set up in each State to allocate the tax collected in that State. Therefore, the State with the most wheat will have the most money to allocate for research. How different that is from the petrol tax distribution formula! Moreover, the Commonwealth will provide certain funds which can be used for the purpose of additional allocation in a State where a project calls for the expenditure of more money.
The general position of the wheatgrowers at present is one of great prosperity, but we must remember that the greatest progress has been made in times, not of great prosperity, but of great adversity.
I pay tribute not only to the Minister and existing wheat-growers, but to those who paved the way for Australia’s wheat productivity. Those men did not receive the benefit that the farmer is receiving to-day. In most wheat districts, three or perhaps as many as six successive owners have worked to bring the farms up to their present state of productivity, but only those who are at present on the farms have received an adequate return for their labour. The Minister has said that this money is being contributed by men who realize the need for research. Wheat research has taken great strides recently. The men who pioneered the wheat industry did not have available to them the modern inventions and scientific discoveries that are at hand to-day. I approve of the bill and see no need to speak for a half an hour upon it. Most honorable members already know the ramifications of the wheat industry. If they do not, the wheatgrowers, and honorable members representing wheat-growing electorates, certainly do. I support the bill and congratulate all those who have been associated with it.
.- The socialist Opposition groans as I rise to speak. It is surprising that honorable members opposite do not want to hear any more about wheat. They do not hesitate to go into the electorate and woo the wheat-grower by telling him all that they are going to do for him. For some 41 years I have been engaged in wheatgrowing, and as my job has been producing it and not talking, I shall not speak for very long this evening.
I do not share the doubts of my colleague the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) regarding the outcome of this legislation. I believe that it will produce the result sought. I have some doubts however, as to how the matter will be handled by the State governments. On form, they will probably claim unto themselves the credit for any benefits that may flow from the administration of the scheme, just as they have attempted to claim the credit for the wheat silos that have been bought out of the wheat-growers’ money. The average farmer will, I am sure, readily support research into wheat and all its associated problems, although some years ago the position might have been different. 1 think that the bill will assist most of all in the field marketing. I suggest that research should be directed towards improving the quality of wheat in districts which are not already producing wheat of a high quality. I say that because some districts have shown already that highquality wheat for both milling and other purposes can be grown in Australia. Unfortunately, at present a considerable amount of wheat is grown which, although it has high yielding qualities, brings down the overall quality of the Australian crop. Therefore, I think that the big consideration should be to produce better-quality wheat in districts that are not at present producing it. This would improve the f.a.q. standard of all our wheat. It has been a very sore point with farmers in years gone by that whilst they have produced wheat which by weight was considerably over the f.a.q. standard, sometimes they have not received any premium for it. But if towards the end of the season rain bleached some of the quality out of the wheat they were immediately docked, although the overall quality of their wheat was up to f.a.q. standard. That has existed for as long as I can remember, and no attempt has been made to correct it. Admittedly, premiums have been paid on certain qualities of wheat but we find that, even during this last year, whilst premiums were paid for wheat grown in a very high-quality district such as the electorate of my colleague, the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan), no premium was paid to farmers in other districts where the same variety of wheat was grown, but where the wheat was stripped later in the year. I believe that, to some extent, that may have been caused because millers, having filled their requirements from the districts with early matur ing wheat, did not require more wheat of the same type produced later on in the season.
That causes a considerable amount of dissatisfaction, and the whole purpose of this legislation, which is to encourage the production of a better-quality wheat, will best be achieved if consideration is given to the marketing problems associated with the wheat industry. A farmer spends the whole of his working year producing something which is valued for sale in a matter of minutes, and it is essential that he be given the encouragement to produce a better-quality wheat by receiving some premium for it if he does so. At the present time, good-quality wheat in some districts does not yield as much as other wheats which are not looked upon so favorably. After all, value per acre for the amount of work done is the criterion. There is no reason for a farmer to grow a variety of wheat which has a small yield but for which he will receive a good price when he can just as easily grow a variety which has a bigger yield and for which he will get the f.a.q. price. I suggest that research be directed to that aspect of the problem so that farmers can be persuaded to grow better-quality wheat. But unless they receive some remuneration for this, it is obvious that they will not do so.
I said that I would not speak for very long, and I hope I have not trespassed on the time of the House. I consider the bill is a good one, and that it will be accepted by the farming community, who will be quite satisfied to contribute towards the cost of this research. I believe that if the research is carried out in the right direction, particularly with the idea of improving the overall quality of the wheats in Australia, it will be successful. I am very happy to support the bill.
– in reply - I rise to answer three questions that were put to me by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) when he resumed the debate as the official spokesman of the Opposition. The first question he asked was as to the Commonwealth’s contribution. I should have made it a little more clear that the Commonwealth has agreed it will contribute on a £l-for-£l basis up to a maximum amount equal to the amount contributed by the growers. In other words, if worthwhile schemes can be put up and the Wheat Industry Research Council, which will be constituted under clause 9 of the bill, recommends research schemes which I, as the Minister, think are worthy of being supported, then the Commonwealth will make its contribution on a £l-for-£l basis. The Commonwealth will contribute if there are sufficient schemes recommended which it considers worth while, and it will make a contribution up to a maximum amount equal to the amount of cash provided by the growers. I think that is a generous contribution by the Commonwealth, and it has met with the full approval of the growers themselves.
The second question asked by the honorable gentleman was as to why the flourmillers, the bakers and their employees were not to be represented on the council. The answer is that the flour-millers have their own specialized research section and therefore are not interested in coming into this research scheme, relating as it does to the production of wheat.
– What about the Bread Research Institute?
– If the honorable member will wait a while, I shall refer to that. I arn at present replying to the question asked me by the honorable member for Lalor on behalf df the Opposition. The bakers have their own Bread Research Institute. They are satisfied with that institute and have not suggested that they should contribute to another research body or to be represented on the Wheat Industry Research Council.
The third point raised by the honorable member for Lalor concerned the State committees. Here I should say that this scheme was put to the Government by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. It initiated the scheme and recommended the contribution of id. a bushel. When the federation made its recommendation to the -Government, it said it wanted the amounts collected in a State to be distributed to the various research organizations in that State. It was the federation’s suggestion, and I personally think it was proper for the Government to agree to it. I think I have answered the three questions that were asked of me by the honorable gentleman who has spoken on behalf of the Opposition.
The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) asked whether new research projects would be financed, and he raised some doubts as to the efficacy of the scheme that has been proposed. I think it has already been indicated that the scheme has the approval of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation and I, for one, am prepared to rely upon that approval. As to whether the scheme will be efficient, the Government has looked at it and believes that it will be. The Australian Wheat Growers Federation has considered the bill and thinks that the purposes for which the legislation has been drafted will be carried out by these provisions. As to new schemes, it is solely because of the fact that the Commonwealth is making new contributions that there is not only a hope, but an expectation, that new schemes that are put to the Wheat Industry Research Council will, in fact, be approved. Therefore, I say to the the honorable member for Gwydir, first, that the Australian Wheat Growers Federation believes that the formula contained in the bill will make its purposes effective and, secondly, that the contribution made by the Commonwealth will be for the purpose of new schemes, and to carry out new research projects.
I have every expectation that the plans and hopes of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation will be realized. I hope the scheme will be carried out in accordance with its wishes and make a notable contribution to the development, not only of the wheat-growing industry in this country, but also to the national economy.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message):
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to establish a Wheat Research Trust Account, and for purposes connected therewith.
Resolution reported and adopted.
In committee: Consideration resumed.
Bill - by leave - taken as a whole.
.- Having had some experience in the wheat area, I want to speak to clause 5. Some years ago the wheat-farmers found themselves caught as a result of an interpretation given by certain people consequent upon the omission of a specific provision from an act. Clause 5 provides that the amounts to be paid into the proposed Wheat Research Trust Account shall include -
I take it that those moneys will be the contribution made by the Commonwealth. A few moments ago, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) said that the Commonwealth would make an appropriation on a £1-for-£1 basis to the maximum of the amount received from the wheat tax. If that is the intention of the Government, I claim that it should be written very clearly into this bill. This Government will not occupy the treasury bench for all time.
– Hear, hear!
– But it will be here for a long time. I am looking to the time when the present Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) will not occupy that position and some one else will be Minister and will be able to place any interpretation he wishes on the words in sub-clause (1.)(b). I would like to see it more specifically stated that the Commonwealth will contribute on a £1-for-£1 basis. I suggest that paragraph (b) be amended to read, “ moneys appropriated by law, being moneys equal to the amount received under the Wheat Tax Act 1957, for the purposes of the Account”.
I am not questioning the sincerity of the Minister or of the present Government; their intention is quite clear. I am looking to the future when the same kind of government may not be in office and the wheatgrowers may find that they have been led up the garden path and they themselves are the only ones making contributions to the account. I think that all honorable members who represent wheat-growing constituencies should endeavour to get this provision stated more specifically. In another five or ten years’ time, if the contribution by the wheat-growers should amount to £100,000, another government could appropriate only £50,000 for payment to the account. If the Government’s intention is as stated by the Minister - and I do not doubt that it is - let the Government state the intention specifically; let it state that it will make this contribution on a £1-for-£1 basis.
– The purpose of this bill is, first of all, to provide out of the wheat tax collections an amount which it is now estimated will be necessary for the purpose of carrying out certain research projects. It is also thought that certain additional projects may have to be carried out in the future, but their nature is not known and the cost of them is not known at the moment. Therefore, I for one would think it would not be logical to provide a specific amount of money for projects which are not at the present moment known and the cost of which cannot be estimated.
When this matter was put not only to the Australian Agricultural Council but also to the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, they agreed that a clause along these lines would meet their requirements. I think it will be adequate. I think the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) will know that as long as this Government remains in power it will honour its promises. Therefore, I can but suggest to him that the wisest course for him to follow is to work to the limit of his capacity to see that this Government remains in office so that its promises can be honoured.
– Does the Minister mean that some of these projects may cost more than the amount received from the wheat tax plus the Commonwealth’s contribution on a £1-for-£1 basis?
– No. I only argue that the amount that will be contributed by the wheat-growers will be fixed, and that so far as the amount of the Government’s contribution is concerned a committee will meet at the beginning of each year and decide on the projects which it considers deserve an allocation of funds from this account. A recommendation will then be made by the Wheat Industry Research Council to the Minister. He will recommend to the Treasurer that the funds be appropriated by law and, in accordance with the act, a decision will then be made as to the amount of money to be allocated. I believe that this procedure will be satisfactory. It has been placed before the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, which has agreed with the Government’s proposition.
I concede the validity of the point made by the honorable member for Canning. If we wanted to make absolutely certain that the money would be allocated, year in and year out, such a provision could be inserted in the bill; but I remind the honorable member that if another government came into office and disagreed with this principle it would only need to amend the act and cut out that provision altogether, and the position would be much worse than it is under this bill.
.- I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister. My interpretation of his remarks, particularly the concluding portion of them, makes me believe that there may come a time when the Government will be asked to contribute more than the amount collected by the tax. If that is so, the wording of paragraph (b) is less satisfactory still. If that thought is exercising the mind of the Minister and his advisers and they believe that the Government’s contribution should be made on a £l-for-£l basis, paragraph (b) should specifically provide for that basis of contribution. To make the position clear, the words “ at least “ should be inserted. I repeat that I am not doubting the Minister’s sincerity, but as I recall the position, he said, when closing the debate, that the collection would be on a £l-for-£l basis with a maximum amount equal to the contribution made by the wheat-growers.
– When did he say that?
– When he was replying to the Opposition.
– I do not recall his saying that.
– He did say it. I do not want to cause embarrassment, or keep honorable members late, by moving an amendment to test the position, but I do want to register my objection to this provision because I have seen this kind of thing happen before, especially in connexion with the wheat-growers. I remind the Minister that the bill could be altered in another place, and I do urge him to give serious consideration to an amendment along the lines I have suggested. I realize that this provision could be altered by another government, but the point is that the responsibility for proposing an alteration would be borne by that government, and the proposal itself would be argued throughout the length and breadth of the country. I should like to see the Government’s intention stated clearly by the insertion of the words “ at least “ in the provision for the contribution on a £l-for-£l basis of moneys equal to the amount collected by the imposition of the tax.
– I am very glad to receive the suggestion made by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), but I frankly think, first, the adoption of the proposal is unnecessary, and secondly that the provision already in the bill will achieve the purpose the Government has in mind. It would not be desirable to provide that the amount should be at least that contributed by the wheatgrowers, because, to be perfectly frank, we do not know at the moment what projects will be put to the Government for consideration. That being so, we do not know how much will be involved; but I am certain that at least for one or perhaps two years, while we are getting the necessary staff together, while we are getting the technical personnel trained, and while we are putting up the buildings, it would be extremely difficult to spend more on new projects than the amount that will be contributed by both sources. Therefore, I suggest that it is unnecessary to use words that set a minimum to the Government’s contribution.
Secondly, let me say to the honorable member that I am perfectly prepared to give the matter further consideration. If, at a later date, it is thought that the provisions of this bill are inadequate, then I am certain the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and I will be only too happy to consider it. This provision has received the most careful and detailed consideration by all people interested in the scheme. As I have said, the bill itself has been seen by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, which approved of it.
For that reason, on behalf of the Government, I can only express the personal opinion that the terms of the provision, as we see it at present, are sufficient. If they should not prove adequate, I can give the honorable member my assurance that they will be looked at again.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 14th May (vide page 1339), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill returned from the Senate with an amendment.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I am pleased to see the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) in the House, because the matter I wish to raise deals with the department he administers. I take up the time of the House because I feel that the matter is important. It deals with the conduct of certain officers of the Army towards a soldier whose only crime has been to ask me to make representations on his behalf. The activities of certain of those officers of the Army with whom this soldier has had dealings can only be described as ungentlemanly, un-Australian, mean and despicable.
The soldier to whom I refer is 2/1946, Warrant Officer 2 Leo, J. P. He was stationed at George’s Heights, in Sydney, and he received a posting to Bandiana, in Victoria. He applied for compassionate retention of his posting, and that application was investigated by certain Army officers. After he had received a complaint from his family medical officer, he approached me and asked me to make some representations on his behalf. He has been a friend of mine for many years. He is a man of good repute andhas an exemplary army record.
I made representations to the Minister, and, despite the fact that the representations made and the case presented were strong, the posting was confirmed. I have with me a copy of the submission that was made by the honorary medical officer who carried out the investigation in the second instance. After I had made a complaint about the manner in which the investigation had been carried out in the first instance, certain other officers were put on to investigate it. I shall read now only the final paragraph of the report of the medical officer. It reads -
I agree with Dr.– ‘s opinion and consider if it is militarily practicable that the utmost consideration be given to Warrant Officer Leo’s application.
A padre was also placed on the investigation and his recommendation was -
I can only recommend that Leo be retained in a Sydney posting but would point out that he will probably claim compassionate circumstances for the remainder of his engagement.
Despite the reports of the investigating officers, the posting to Bandiana was confirmed. Warrant Officer Leo then asked me to make representations on his behalf for a compassionate discharge. I did so, and the Minister, who I must admit has given me every consideration and every opportunity to place the case before him, replied to the effect that Warrant Officer Leo, having been sent overseas to a school, would be expected to serve for the remainder of his five years’ bond, or pay £300. A discharge from the service would be granted only on condition that he paid the £300 or that he served for the remainder of the time, which would take him up to 15th September, 1957. Warrant Officer Leo asked that a part payment of the bond be taken as acceptable by the Department of the Army, and that he be discharged on the payment of £30. That was unacceptable to the Army and Warrant Officer Leo agreed to serve for the remainder of his time.
On 1st May of this year, Warrant Officer Leo made application to clear ten days’ accumulated leave. The period of leave for which he asked was from 13th May to 24th May. He specified that period because it coincided with the school holidays and he desired to go with his wife and family to his father’s house at Tuggerah. Previously, the leave had been postponed on two occasions to suit Army purposes. The application was recommended by his officer commanding and was submitted to the commanding officer. On 2nd May, he was advised by the Adjutant, Captain
Manwaring, that he was to move to R.A.E.M.E. training centre, Bandiana, by 3 p.m. on 3rd May. He drew Captain Manwaring’s attention to the application for leave. Captain Manwaring promised to contact Eastern Command, who were handling the posting, and see whether the leave could be granted. After a lapse of time, Warrant Officer Leo rang Eastern Command himself and spoke to Captain Enton. He asked Captain Enton whether any decision had been given to his application for leave, and Captain Enton assured him that he know nothing at all about his application. He then paraded himself before Captain Manwaring and asked whether there had been any decision given by Eastern Command. I ask the Minister to note particularly that Captain Manwaring told him that Eastern Command had refused the application.
Armed with the information that he had received from Captain Enton, he then asked for a parade to the commanding officer. Captain Manwaring repeated in front of the commanding officer the statement he had made to Leo that Eastern Command had refused the application. Leo told Captain Manwaring and the commanding officer that he had contacted Captain Enton and that Captain Enton had advised him that no approach had been made by Captain Manwaring or any other officer of his unit. The commanding officer then said that he would contact Eastern Command. He apparently did so, and the leave was refused.
Prior to Captain Manwaring informing Leo that he was to move to Bandiana, the captain approached the R.A.P. sergeant and told him that Leo, who had been under treatment for six weeks for an infection of the eyes, would probably come to him in an endeavour to obtain a delay of the posting. Captain Manwaring instructed the RA.P. sergeant to ring the honorary medical officer and tell him that Leo would probably be approaching him and that in his, Captain Manwaring’s, opinion Leo was only malingering and endeavouring to delay his posting. Leo has made very few appearances on sick parade and, when he has appeared on sick parade, he has always had good reason for doing so.
Warrant Officer Leo reported to Bandiana as instructed. On arrival, he was interviewed by the officer commanding of his wing, Major Ollie. He requested leave of Major Ollie and outlined the reason for his application. Major Ollie informed him that the dates he required would not inconvenience any one because the first course he was expected to instruct on would not commence until 10th June. He made the application on 6th May, and on 8th May, at 12.30 p.m., he was informed that his leave would commence as from that evening. He interviewed Major Rice, the administrative officer, and stated the reasons for requiring his leave as from 13th May. Major Rice stated, “The CO. has decreed you will take your leave as from to-night. Do not expect any consideration from me or the colonel. As far as we are concerned, you will get no privileges or consideration while you are with this unit. Do not ask me for consideration, and as for your pay, you can wait until the pay parade to-morrow at midday or get it from Victoria Barracks, but your leave starts to-night.” Major Rice, I might add, is at present under investigation by Southern Command for drunk and disorderly conduct on a major Melbourne railway station. He is the individual who is standing over this warrant officer and telling him that unless he does exactly as he is told and is willing to toe the line and obey the instructions that are given to him by his commanding officers, he will not get any consideration at all.
Because I have not sufficient time to continue with the details of this case, I ask the Minister to take up the matter and to have the highest investigation possible made into the facts that I have placed before him.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I wish to take up a matter which was brought before the House last night by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) and to which the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) replied - that is, the import of tea. One of my constituents, a Mr. Hoy, who has been in the tea trade all his life except for the time he was absent in the Army during the war, and who is a man of considerable substance in the trade, has been unable to obtain a primary licence to import tea. He approached me, and I put the facts before the Minister about the middle of last year. Having set out the circumstances, I attached a letter from Mr. Hoy, which said -
Dear Mr. Wentworth,
During interview with an officer of Department
I have supplied the name to the Minister, and I do not intend to read it out to the House - in response to his question, “Where were you in 1942 “,-
That, of course, is the date on which tea licences were based - my answer was “ In the Army “, after which I was rudely advised to “ stop waving the flag “; “ Stop marching on Anzac Day “, and I said I would put matter through local member and his answer was “ If you do I shall see you never ever receive a licence although you have a good case “. A written complaint was made to Department in Canberra and although insults were not denied, no apology was tendered.
That went before the Minister, and some time later I received a reply from the parliamentary under-secretary to the Minister, which set out the principles upon which tea licences were issued. One paragraph of the letter was as follows: -
When, in June, 1955, the Tea Importation Board was abolished, it became necessary to determine a basis for the issue of licences to private importers. It was originally decided to restrict the issue of import licences to those firms who were known as primary wholesalers. Later in 1955 it was considered desirable to extend the eligibility for importation and those firms which imported tea prior to 1942 but had not been recognized as primary wholesalers by the Board were permitted to participate in the quarterly allocations.
The position at the present time, therefore, is that the issue of licences to import tea is confined to the primary wholesalers and others who imported tea prior to 1942. The quarterly allocation of funds for this purpose is distributed amongst these eligible firms in proportion to their imports prior to 1942.
It does seem to be ridiculous that quotas are allocated in that way. It is especially ridiculous that a man who was absent in 1942, for the reason that he was serving in the forces in a war, should ever since then have been denied a licence, although he was engaged in the tea trade. It seems to me that, in this case, the import controls have been administered rather more tightly and with less flexibility than in other cases. What seems to me to be extraordinary is that these controls are unnecessary, for the reason that the honorable member for
Chisholm advanced to the House last night, and which was admitted by the Minister in his reply. The Minister said -
We allow into the country as much tea as is consumed here.
So the imposition of these controls does nothing to decrease the amount of tea consumed here and, as honorable members know, there is no local supply of tea. So, the controls do nothing to diminish imports. They are, therefore, unnecessary.
The Minister said last night that there was one other reason for them - to prevent undue stockpiling. I want to read to the House some figures extracted from the official reports on imports of tea into Australia. They show that, from all sources, 58,800,000 lb. were imported in 1952-53. In 1953-54, 58,500,000 lb. were imported. In 1954-55, the imports climbed to 65,000,000 lb., and in 1955-56 - immediately after the subsidy was taken off- they fell to 46,200,000 lb. So, it is quite obvious that although the so-called control has been used, as the Minister says, to prevent stockpiling, stockpiling has, in fact, taken place on a fairly large, perhaps gigantic, scale - probably to an amount in excess of 30 per cent, or 40 per cent, of the annual consumption. So, whatever the purpose of the regulations, they have not been administered to prevent stockpiling. This stockpiling, or the major part of it, took place immediately before the subsidy was removed.
I return to the point made by the honorable member for Chisholm. These regulations are unnecessary. It is not reasonable to expect that importers will stockpile to a greater extent than they did under the Government’s control. So why have these regulations? After all, surely the Government is out to abolish this kind of control whenever that can be done without imperilling or jeopardizing the stability of the economy.
I would say, sir, that there is some evidence now that there has been an undesirable element of monopoly in the tea trade. I would not say that the evidence is conclusive. I would say that there is evidence which requires rigorous investigation. I am not prepared on the evidence that is before me to say there has been anything improper. What I am saying is that the evidence before the House does justify quite stringent investigation into what has occurred. If it be true that an officer of the department behaved in the manner which my constituent has alleged in writing, giving his name, I think that would indicate that there is something very wrong in the state of Denmark.
I now come to the other aspect of the matter, and that is the possibility of importing more tea from Formosa. The figures indicate that Formosan tea can be brought in at approximately 3s. 4d. per lb. - these are f.o.b. prices - as against 5s. per lb. for Ceylon tea. That would be a considerable saving. I do not suggest for one moment that anybody should be compelled to drink Formosan tea, nor do I suggest that they should be forbidden to do so. It is, surely, a case where the consumer should be allowed to have his choice. I have had some Formosan tea. I regard it as of good quality. I like it, but other people may not. Let the consumer have a free choice. I read in Thursday’s press that some ladies in Sydney had made tests and thought that it was an excellent tea. I have been able to obtain, through the courtesy of Dr. Chen, the Chinese Ambassador, some of this tea, which, I understand, will be available to honorable members on request as from next week. We will see what it is like. I am not going to suggest that anybody should be compelled to drink tea he does not like. All I say is that he should have a free choice in regard to this tea. If it can be put on the market at a cheaper price, that is something which I think everybody will welcome, because tea is one of the main components of the cost of living and is something that all sections of the community consume to a fairly considerable extent. I do not want to press the matter further. I simply say that this is something that should be investigated. I say, further, that if the Government is out to improve our foreign balances, it will be looking for ways and means of obtaining tea at the most reasonable prices.
There is some evidence of a deliberate campaign to write down the quality of Formosan tea in the mind of the public. I say there is some evidence - not conclusive evidence - of that. It is something that the public can look after for itself, and that the trade can look after for itself, but I think that it should be not entirely ignored by the Government in looking at this question.
– The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) has raised a matter about which he has spoken to me personally on a number of occasions. First, I want to say to him - as I think he already knows - that I shall be very happy to investigate this case, and to do it on the highest level - particularly the new charges that he has made to-night against certain officers. I am not going to say, Mr. Speaker, that these charges are untrue. I do not know. All I say is that they are ex parte charges and that they could well be untrue. There may be another story to tell. Some time ago I saw Leo, the officer to whom the honorable member referred-
– Mr. Leo.
– Very well, Mr. Leo. 1 forgot his rank at the moment. I saw him at the request of the honorable member for Lang. I know the case very well. This young man was a very promising recruit in the early stages and was chosen, because of his obvious ability, to go overseas. He was sent overseas with his wife and family. He was over there for some years. When he came back here, he was still a very good soldier. But he adopted the attitude that he knew better than all the other officers in the Army.
– That is what they told you.
– It was obvious from my observations. I am not making an ex parte statement now. I saw this officer and I am convinced that what I am saying is right. I am certain that if he had stayed in the Army he could have done very well, but he got into conflict when his opinion clashed with decisions of the officers of the Army. He would not accept the decisions of the Army. He would not accept the decisions of people much older and much senior in rank. He was very arbitrary in his views and became very dissatisfied. We are very loth to lose him, and I am very sorry that he is leaving the Army. When he went overseas he entered into a contract. That applies in all such cases. A bond is entered into, and, if it is broken, liability to repayment is incurred. This man entered into a bond.
-The Government breaks contracts.
– I am not in the habit of allowing contracts to be broken. It might as well be known that while I am Minister for the Army I will not allow contracts of this kind to be broken. I have told the honorable member that I will investigate this case; but what I want to impress on the House is that this is the second occasion in about a week on which charges of this nature, many of them scurrilous, have been made against officers of the Army, some of whom have been named. Extravagant charges do no good to the service and are completely unfair to the officers concerned. It is unjust to take advantage of the privilege of Parliament to mention the names of officers. Every honorable member in this House should know that he has only to come to me and he will get a most complete investigation of any charge that is made.
I told the honorable member for Lang that. I did not want to dissuade him. If he wants to come to the House he can; but I told him that if he gave me all the facts I would have the matter investigated at the highest level. That being so, I think it is most unfair to officers of the Army for an honorable member to enter this chamber and make ex parte charges, some of them of a scurrilous nature, I say again that honorable members need have no doubt about the inquiries that will be made by me if they have cases of dissatisfaction. Of course, there are cases of dissatisfaction. I cannot guarantee every personality in the Army. But I assure honorable members that they will get a “ fair go “ from me in relation to these matters. Any case that is brought to me will be independently investigated in a proper way and fair treatment will be given to the men in the service.
Several members rising to address the House,
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 31
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.29 a.m. (Friday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
m asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
m asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
– On 14th May, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) asked me the following questions, without notice: -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Royal Australian Navy.
d asked the Minister for the
Navy, upon notice -
Will he furnish the following information in respect of the year 1937-38 and at present: -
The number of Royal Australian Navy ships in commission?
The number of sea-going personnel, showing the number of officers and ratings separately?
The number of persons employed at the Navy Office, Melbourne, showing naval and civil personnel separately?
The total number, showing naval personnel and civilians separately, employed at naval shore establishments?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Housing at Queanbeyan.
r asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
Australian Air Force Station, Canberra, and 25 to 30 persons serving at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, are desirous of obtaining homes in Queanbeyan?
– The Minister for National Development has furnished the following reply: - 1 and 2. Under the terms of the Housing Agreement 1956 the localities in which the Commonwealth requires that dwellings be erected under the agreement for allocation to serving members of the Forces are specified by the Minister for National Development to the appropriate State Minister in respect of each financial year. In specifying localities for the erection of service housing, however, the Minister is guided by advice submitted to his department by the Departments of the Navy, the Army and Air as to the distribution throughout each State of the number of dwellings expected to be allocated during the financial year. The service departments are well equipped to advise the Minister in this connexion because they are informed about the housing requirements of personnel located at service establishments under their control in the various States. Up to date the service departments concerned have not listed Queanbeyan amongst the localities at which they desire houses to be erected under the Housing Agreement. If the service departments do request that houses be made available in Queanbeyan I will certainly include that centre in the programme submitted annually to the State Minister for Housing.
Telephone Poles at Pascoe Vale.
s asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
y asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. In March, 1944, allied forces operating under the direction of General MacArthur as Supreme Commander, South-West Pacific Area, recaptured the Admiralty Islands, including Manus, from the Japanese. The recapture of the islands was followed within a short time by concentration of allied air, land and naval forces at Manus. While operations of war were in progress under the Allied Command the question of formal government-to-government agreements on the use to be made of the territory did not arise.
The simple facts are that the United States of America, in the person of the American Secretary of State, suggested in formal discussions in early March, 1946, that the United States of America might be given long-term base rights on Manus Island to be shared jointly with Australia.
The matter went on for fifteen months in the atmosphere of discussing not whether this joint use of Manus Island should take place but solely whether it should be broadened into a regional arrangement in the Pacific. For practical purposes the joint use of Manus Island was not discussed again.
The Americans cooled off. Within a year or fifteen months they said, in effect, “ Well, please forget what we suggested in March, 1946. We do not want to pursue it any more.” So Australia lost what I think was a tremendous opportunity to retain the militant interest of the world’s greatest power in a position of immense value to us in Australia - a position which roughly speaking is half way between this country and the great continent of Asia.
I now ask the following question and it is not a rhetorical question - “is Australia stronger or weaker as a result of the fact that America is not a joint user of Manus Island with us now? “ There can be only one answer. We are very much weaker indeed.
I am fortified . by a report that I received yesterday from the Department of Defence - that Manus Island was a first-class naval base during the latter years of the last war. It had two floating docks, each of which was capable of taking the largest battleship afloat or the world’s largest merchant liner of 80,000 tons. These docks were supported by the necessary shore-based facilities for a great fleet. It was on a major scale I point out that Manus Island had probably one of the greatest and safest harbours in the world in which, prior to the attack on Leyte, a great armada of 1,200 vessels of war were safely ensconsed. For aircraft there were five air strips capable of taking what were then the largest bombers in the world. Other strips had been made for fighter aircraft. In all there were eight or ten air strips. For the purposes of the military, every conceivable kind of establishment was constructed and amenities were provided for tens of thousands of troops. Manus Island was a naval, military and air base on a grand scale, compared with which Gibraltar was a flea-bite.
b asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 May 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19570516_reps_22_hor15/>.