22nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 11.15 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. LUCHETTI presented a petition from certain citizens and electors of the Division of Macquarie praying that the House will take such steps as are possible to solve the unemployment problem of Australia and especially of the electorate of Macquarie.
Petition received and read.
– I have to announce to the House that the Minister for External Affairs will be leaving Australia to-morrow to attend the South-East Asia Treaty Organization council meeting. During his absence the Minister for Defence will act as Minister for External Affairs. The Minister for Labour and National Service will act as Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
– I desire to ask a question of the newly announced Acting Minister for External Affairs. Will he state, in plain terms, the policy of the Government in relation to the summit talks? Does the Government adhere to what the Minister for External Affairs himself said in this House on 5th December last, when he opposed summit talks, or in what way has that attitude been modified, if it has been modified?
– I do not remember what the Minister for External Affairs said on 5th December, but I shall ascertain the facts and advise the right honorable member.
– Is the Minister for
Primary Industry in a position to make a statement regarding the proposal of the New South Wales and Queensland woolbuyers to boycott future wool sales at Goulburn? Has he consulted with the New
South Wales Government to see what action can be taken to prevent the proposed boycott from becoming effective? Will he endeavour to ensure that no wool-selling centre is closed before agreement is reached between the woolbuyers, the woolselling brokers and the State and Federal Governments?
– The honorable gentleman will know that this matter is not one within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Government, and is, therefore, not one to which we can provide a solution. Nonetheless, I did express to the buyers my own opinion and the departmental opinion that it would be unwise to close the Goulburn wool-selling centre, as this Government believed in decentralization, and believed also that the closing of the centre might work to the detriment of the growers and adversely affect the price of Australian wool. We expressed that point of view in strong terms, not only to the buyers but also to the Graziers Council of New South Wales. Subsequently, I thought it desirable to suggest to the parties that the appropriate method of solving this problem was consultation between them to resolve their differences. I did not think it was a matter in which governments should intervene, but rather that it was a case in which the parties should sensibly solve their own problems. For this reason, I saw representatives of the New South Wales Graziers Association and of the buyers and asked them if they would consult in order to reach an amicable settlement. This was done. The matter was then referred to the brokers, the buyers and the graziers, and I understand that they have agreed to keep the Goulburn wool-selling centre open at least for this year. I am not quite certain what the subsequent course of events will be, but I hope that the parties involved will look at this problem in a sensible and realistic way, remembering that from this Government’s point of view the interests of the growers and of the nation are paramount, and that we hope that eventually the parties will be able to solve the problem without bringing any of the governments into the matter.
– I address my question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is it a fact that indentured Japanese labour is now employed on ships working out of the port of Broome, Western Australia, engaged in the pearling industry? Is it also a fact that the Department of Labour and National Service, acting on behalf of the Department of Immigration, recently put a proposal to the Shipwrights Union in Western Australia suggesting that Japanese labour be allowed to do shipwrighting work, repairs and construction during the off season at the port of Broome? Is it Further a fact that this approach was suggested by the Master Pearlers Association, the master pearlers being, by the terms of the indentures, obliged to contribute to the upkeep of the indentured persons throughout the off season? Will the Minister inform the House what reply was received from the Shipwrights Union?
– I am not personally aware of any of the facts on which the honorable gentleman has based his allegations here, but I shall have inquiries made and see how much substance there is in what he has said.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior how far consideration has proceeded of recommendations for amendments to the electoral legislation, particularly concerning the “ how-to-vote “ cards and the proposal that the hours of polling should be reduced to the period from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
– The matters to which the honorable member for Ryan has referred, as well as three or four other matters - not a big list of amendments - are now before the Government for consideration.
– I preface my question to the Treasurer by stating that Tasmania will receive only £142,000 from the Treasurer’s recent contribution to the States, and that because this ridiculously small sum will go towards reducing the State deficit - largely through the influence of the Commonwealth Grants Commission - it will not employ one more person. Further, unemployment in Tasmania and the housing crisis are as serious, in proportion, as they are in other States. Unemployment is worse in Tasmania than it has been for thirteen years, there being over 2,000 unemployed. There are 900 applications for Agricultural Bank home loans, to mention only one aspect of housing. In view of Tasmania’s very real need, will the Treasurer genuinely consider making a special direct grant to that State of at least £500,000, such as has been made to other States when a special crisis has developed?
– As long as I am Treasurer, this Government will not usurp the functions of the State authorities. I will not encourage any honorable member of this House to take unto himself the sovereign rights and responsibilities of the Premier of the State of Tasmania, who made adequate representations to the Australian Loan Council - of which he is a very able and valuable member - and who was quite satisfied with the unanimous decision of that body.
– Can the Minister for Primary Industry give the House the latest information on the progress being made with the export of chilled beef to the United Kingdom? Have any proposals been made by his department to shipping companies for suitable space to permit the transport of export beef carcasses in chilled form? Is it correct to assume that a first shipment will leave Queensland next May? What is the position of the trade in marketing frozen beef in the United Kingdom, particularly in regard to the implications of the United Kingdom meat agreement? Is the Minister satisfied that processors of canned meats are complying with the Government’s request for a high quality product in marketing goods for export? If not, will he confer with the State governments concerned on the adoption of a uniform standard in the quality of canned products for sale both at home and abroad?
– The honorable gentleman, whom we all know as an authority on problems of marketing Australian beef overseas, has asked me several questions. I think there are four. It would be wise for me to obtain detailed answers to those questions and let him have the replies in writing rather than attempt to answer the questions extempore in the House. I might tell him that the Government has been attempting to encourage the export oi beef in chilled form and, on the recommendation of the Australian Meat Board, has given special premium amounts under the deficiency payments scheme for the export of chilled and boned-out beef. The Government has been anxious to get a quicker method of transport to the United Kingdom by what is called the “ north about “ route, by which ships go north rather than via the southern ports. None the less, these are detailed and difficult problems and I would not like to answer the honorable member’s questions now. I give him my assurance that they have been considered by the department and the Meat Board and I shall let him have a detailed answer some time to-day or to-morrow.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry able to give the House any information on the volume of exports of eggs from Australia so far in this financial year? Will the Minister make a considered statement to the House early in this sessional period on the economic position of the egg industry in Australia?
– As to the second question that has been asked by the honorable member, I shall be only too happy to provide him with all the information I can get from the State egg marketing boards on the economic position of the egg industry. Already, two very detailed reports have been prepared and I shall give the honorable gentleman copies of those two reports as soon as I can do so. As to the actual quantity and value of eggs exported in this financial year, frankly I have not the figures in my mind; it is difficult to retain statistics relating to all primary industries. 1 do know, however, that the Australian Egg Board, which markets Australian eggs and egg pulp and products abroad, is doing remarkably well and when the facts are known to the House, I am sure honorable members will be only too ready to compliment the board not only upon its vigour, but also upon the success it has achieved in selling Australian eggs and egg pulp overseas.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Health. During the preceding session of the Parliament, I addressed a question to him concerning publicity that had been given to a reported treatment, either by vaccine or drugs, for the distressing and fatal complaint known as multiple sclerosis. The report assumed that the treatment had been evolved in Soviet Russia, and that the drug or vaccine for the treatment of the disease was being introduced into New Zealand by private interests. The Minister informed me then that he had no factual information on the subject, but that he would refer the matter to the Department of Health and provide me with a report in due course. Is he in a position now to give the House any further information on this important matter?
– When the honorable member addressed a question to me on this matter during the last session of the Parliament, I said 1 hoped that no extravagant expectations would be based on such reports as we had. We have now received detailed information on the researches that have been carried out in the University of Belfast. They all go to show that there is no reason to believe that the vaccine is of the slightest value in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
– Will the Treasurer inform the House whether the Government has reached any decision on the granting of a permit to the Western Australian Government for the export of iron ore from Tallering Peak, in Western Australia? If not, when is a decision likely to be reached? I point out that if such a decision were reached soon, it would assist in alleviating unemployment in Western Australia.
– The subjectmatter to which the honorable member has referred is one, by its nature, for consideration on a government-to-government basis. Representations have been made; and the Premier of Western Australia, who is primarily interested in the matter as the responsible head of his Government, has been communicated with. It would be quite unfair to disclose the nature of that correspondence except with the permission of the Premier of Western Australia.
– I address a question to the Minister for Trade concerning the projected Commonwealth trade and economic conference. Has the preparatory meeting of officials in London yet completed its work? Will the agenda of the conference include the European common market proposals, and is its time-table likely to be affected by the general election in Canada?
– I do not know whether the preliminary meeting of the officials in London has yet been concluded. If it has, I have not seen the result of it. I have no doubt that the European common market and the free trade area would be regarded as matters of prime interest in discussions between Commonwealth countries. I am quite sure that the Prime Minister will inform the House as early as practicable of the issues that are to be discussed. I understand that the general election in Canada is scheduled to take place towards the end of March, and that it will not interfere with the intended timetable of the conference.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade, and it relates to the fears that have recently been expressed by Australian fish processors and canners. They fear that under the Japanese trade agreement they are being undersold in this country. Their fears are grave ones. I have had correspondence from a canner in South Australia stating that fish similar to that being processed in South Australia is being imported and sold cheaper than the locally canned product. Some of these processors have been in the industry only a short time, but they are doing their best to succeed and are providing employment for many Australians, including new Australians. Will the Minister examine the situation very closely and afford protection to Australian industries that are employing Australians so that they will not be undersold by importers operating under the Japanese Trade Agreement?
– Protection of the Australian fish canning industry can involve two separate considerations; first, the major aspect of general protection over all and, secondly, the special aspect of Japanese competition. At its own request this industry had its position in relation to tariff protection generally considered by the Australian Tariff Board about two and a half years ago, and, on the basis of the finding and recommendation of the Tariff Board at that time, no additional protection was accorded to the industry. If the industry feels that it has a case for a further examination of its protective requirements, or that there is justification for additional protection, it can take the normal course of asking for further consideration.
– That process is fairly lengthy.
– Yes, it is, but it would not take such a great length of time seeing that a rather comprehensive examination on this issue has already taken place.
With respect to Japanese competition, the fish canning industry is one of the very few industries that asked to have its case considered by the advisory authority, Mr. M. E. McCarthy. The request was made te* me last December. Within 24 hours 1 referred the matter to Mr. McCarthy. I have not yet received a report, and I believe that Mr. McCarthy felt that the industry had not placed sufficient factual evidence before him when he first instituted his inquiries to enable him to reach a conclusion. He accordingly requested the industry to furnish further information. I understand that there was some delay in submitting this information. Mr. McCarthy, I believe, now has further evidence, and I expect to receive a report from him as to whether there is a case for protection against Japanese competition in the future. If there is a recommendation. I am sure that appropriate action will be taken.
– ls the PostmasterGeneral aware that, since the increase in the transmission power of national station 6WA in Western Australia, licensed listeners in many country districts are enjoying considerably improved reception? Is the Minister aware that in many of these districts, particularly in the northern and central midlands and the north-eastern wheat districts, listeners are still denied an alternative radio programme because of the inadequacy of the transmitting power of other national stations in Western Australia? Is it a fact that the only way that this unsatisfactory position can be remedied is by the provision of regional transmitters in the districts concerned? ls any action contemplated to give country listeners in Western Australia national broadcasting station facilities at least equal to those enjoyed in the eastern States of this continent, which seem to have preference in this matter?
– I do not entirely agree with the final part of my colleague’s question, nor do I accept the implication that Western Australia is not receiving equal consideration with other States. For instance, it is not so very long since, as the honorable member said, the power of 6WA was increased to 50,000 kilowatts, that being the first country station in Australia to have such an increase, lt is true, as the honorable member has said, that this increase in power of 6WA has considerably improved the reception in a substantial portion of the country area. I have had reports to that effect for some time. But it is also true that there are other areas of Western Australia in which the reception is not as it should be, and this has posed problems for the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. It is endeavouring to meet those problems. My information is that the remedy for that situation does not necessarily lie in the provision of new national stations in other areas, largely because of the fact that frequencies are not readily available. Therefore, the present plan is to improve the reception in the areas we are discussing and in other country areas throughout Australia by a fairly large increase in the power of stations already existing. For instance, it is planned to increase the power of 6WF Perth to 50,000 kilowatts quite soon. That in itself will provide much improved reception and also will enable the alternative programme to be received over far wider areas than at present. Further, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has arranged to send an engineer to Western Australia soon to make a thorough survey of reception conditions there. After that survey the board will present to me a report as to any desirable action.
– Is the Minister for Territories aware that dismissals and proposed dismissals of men employed on public works in the Northern Territory have caused and will cause extreme hardship to many people who normally depend on this type of work for their livelihood? In view of the urgent developmental work still to be carried out in the north, will the Minister give immediate consideration to making funds available, and will he bring forward the works programme for the coming year so as to relieve the distress in that region? I have in mind, in particular, road construction works, such as the all-weather road to the South Australian border from Alice Springs, the roads to the Finke River and the South Alligator mine, the reconstruction of parts of the north-south highway, and extensive maintenance work on other parts.
– I am not aware of the facts alleged by the honorable member. The Administrator of the Northern Territory is in Canberra in connexion with the visit of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. During his stay, I shall be having discussions with him, and the whole of the question raised by the honorable member will be examined.
– I desire to ask the Postmaster-General a question. Is he aware that in a strikingly successful live television broadcast from Duntroon and Parliament House to Sydney, yesterday, the commercial television station ATN demonstrated the practicability in Australia of long-distance television relays with mobile equipment? Will the Minister arrange for the Postmaster-General’s Department or the Australian Broadcasting Commission to seek information about the techniques used so that they may be adopted to give services of the same kind to patrons of the national television stations?
– I have received reports about the excellent television broadcast of the ceremony at Duntroon yesterday. It will interest the House to know that one report came from a gentleman very highly placed in the broadcasting world. He told me personally that the picture and the reception generally in Sydney of the television broadcast of yesterday’s ceremony at Duntroon was excellent. As the honorable member for Chisholm has said, this is an interesting development, which must be watched. The Australian Broadcasting Commission and the
Postmaster-General’s Department will certainly do all they can to obtain information about the facilities and equipment that were used, in accordance with our practice of constantly investigating means of providing wider transmission of television programmes. At present, the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board is investigating the latest developments in television in the United States of America, Canada, and Great Britain. He is expected back shortly. This is only one of the things that is being done in order to try to ensure that the most up-to-date television transmitting systems will be established in Australia. Yesterday’s experiment will be studied with interest.
– Is the Treasurer aware that there are at least 80,000 persons in Australia out of employment? Is he aware also that 70,000 people are desperately seeking accommodation, and that in New South Wales alone 30,000 homeless people are in a desperate plight? Is he aware, further, that thousands of pensioners are seeking shelter, food, and clothing? In view of the Treasurer’s announcement that this will be his last year in office, will he say what are the prospects for the people I have just mentioned, many of whom I represent?
– Knowing the honorable member’s interest in my future welfare, I will do the best I can to answer his question in the next Budget.
– I wish to address to the Minister for Labour and National Service a question prompted by that asked of the Treasurer by the honorable member for Wilmot. Will the Minister for Labour and National Service confirm or deny the allegation that the present level of unemployment in Tasmania is the highest since 1945?
– I heard the allegation that the level of unemployment in Tasmania is the highest, I think, for thirteen years. For that to be correct, Tasmania must have had a remarkable record of sustained full employment over the last thirteen years. I propose to give to the House the latest figures. I think that most honorable members will agree that it completely distorts the picture to sug gest that the figures indicate the existence of a situation that calls for panic treatment. The question was typical of the alarmist talk about unemployment which is coming so persistently from Opposition members.
– I rise to order. Is the Minister in order in dealing with a question that has already been answered?
– Order! The Minister is in order. He is answering a question directed to him.
– The Minister is watching trends.
– I am not so much watching trends as stating the facts. Those facts, I know, are not palatable to Opposition members. It is one thing to make a wild, general statement, but another thing to give facts, because facts can be tested. As at 15th February, the total number of persons receiving unemployment benefit in the whole of Tasmania was 359. At the end of January there were 988 work vacancies waiting to be filled in that State. These are the latest figures that I can give on this aspect of the matter. At the same time the total number of persons who had lodged applications for work was 2,020.
– And the Minister accused me of distortion when I gave the figure as 2,000!
– In any case, the figure is 2,020, as at the end of January. All honorable members know that these registrations are at their highest level in the month of January. Indeed, in each of the last three years the number of registrations has increased by 14,000 or 15,000 in the month of January. There are quite obvious reasons for this. It is the time when persons who have been in temporary employment until Christmas, and have then been laid off, apply again for employment. It is the time when those who have left school register for employment. Let us take the figure at its highest - 2,020 persons registered in the whole of Tasmania. When the Australian Loan Council met recently the Prime Minister and the Treasurer made additional funds available to the States in order to ease the employment positiongenerally, because this Government believes in sustaining employment at a high level. That is obvious from the Government’s record throughout its terms of office. We made available, by way of an additional Commonwealth grant from revenue, £5,000,000 for a four-month period. I think we should remember that the grant was made for a four-month period, not for the whole of the year. In addition to this amount, £3,000,000 was added to the borrowing capacity of the local government authorities in the States, because it is those bodies that can most speedily assist the employment position by making work available, particularly for the unskilled and semiskilled workers who, at the moment, make up the overwhelming majority of unemployed persons in the Commonwealth.
Let us test the position in relation to Tasmania. There were 359 persons receiving unemployment benefit as at 15th February. The amounts made available to the State of Tasmania were £142,000 by way of direct grant and £195,000 by way of increased borrowing capacity of local government authorities. These amounts total £337,000, for the assistance of unemployment in a State where there are only 359 recipients of unemployment benefit. It must be admitted, therefore, that the Government has made a practical approach to the problem, particularly when it is remembered that the additional grants are for a four-month period only, and that most of the extra money will be used for labour costs. The works that will be undertaken with the additional grants are those in which the money will be spent almost entirely, or at any rate very substantially, in payment of labour costs. This is the sort of practical approach that the Government is making to the employment problem, not only in Tasmania but also in the other States.
– In the absence of the Prime Minister, I address a question to the Treasurer. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that the prices of lead and zinc are lower than they have been for many years? This is indicated by the fact that the lead bonus at Mount Isa, which at one time reached the high level of £17 15s. a week, is now only £4 5s. a week. I have been informed that the British and Australian Governments stock-piled lead and zinc, and that when these accumulated stocks were sold the market was badly affected. Is it correct that supplies of lead and zinc were purchased for stock-piling purposes at £120 a ton, and that these stocks were later sold at £62 a ton? Was the Australian Government a party, with the British Government, to this stock-piling? Was the Australian Government a party to selling stock-piled lead and zinc at a loss, and, if so, why?
– This question calls for a considered reply. It contains certain implications and involves certain complexities. I shall have the matter investigated and see what information I can convey to the honorable member.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. As the term of the guarantee of 14d. per lb. for seed cotton is due to expire on the completion of the 1958 cotton season, has the Government considered the request of the Cotton Marketing Board and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock that the terms of the guarantee be extended for seven years beyond 1958 at a minimum of 15d. per lb.? If so, what is the decision of the Government on this important matter?
– I have had representations both from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock and from the Cotton Marketing Board of Queensland regarding the continuation of the bounty on cotton. Several proposals have been put to the Government and have been considered by my department. The latest proposal relates to a guarantee for a period of five years at the existing rate of 14d. per lb. - not 15d. per lb. - on seed cotton. The problem is being considered in the light of the latest proposals and I hope to put a submission on it before Cabinet shortly. When a decision has been reached, I will either announce it in this House or convey it to the Queensland Government.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: Will he either make an inspection or have an inspection made of the cells at the lock-up at the rear of the Canberra police station in order to have the very primitive conditions there improved? Will the Minister recognize that not all those who are required from time to time to occupy those cells are people of hardened criminal tendencies or of low standards? Will he ascertain for himself that the bedding provided in those cells is a coir mat on a concrete floor with a couple of not too clean blankets? Will he also have an investigation made of the sanitary conditions in the cells, of the ventilation and of the general structure of them in order to have very considerable improvements effected?
– I think it goes without saying that I will be glad to inspect the facilities.
– My question is directed to the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs. As there appears to be a great deal of misconception in some quarters as to who invited Alfried Krupp, the German armament manufacturer, to Australia, will the Minister say who did invite Krupp to this country and for what reason?
– My understanding of the position is that Mr. Krupp came to Australia, as he has already stated, partly for pleasure and partly for business reasons. The only connexion the Commonwealth Government has had with his trip - and I will check this - has been to provide a vise for him to come to this country.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service be able to find jobs for unskilled or semi-skilled immigrants arriving in Australia during the remainder of this financial year, or are they to be placed on the dole on arrival?
– The Government expects that, as in past years, it will have little difficulty in placing incoming immigrants in suitable employment. In fact, in view of the interest which honorable gentlemen opposite, and the honorable member for Watson in particular, take in the welfare of immigrants, they will be glad to know that the number awaiting employment in the migrant transition camps, which we have established for their reception in Australia, is very low at present, and that those now awaiting employment have been in the camps for a comparatively short period.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That the House at its rising adjourn until Tuesday, 11th March, at 2.30 p.m.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent motions being moved in connexion with the establishment of Joint Committees on (i) Foreign Affairs, (ii) Constitution Review and (iii) the Australian Capital Territory, the consideration of such motions, and the subsequent appointment of members to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) proposed -
That a joint committee be appointed to review such aspects of the working of the Constitution as the committee considers it can most profitably consider, and to make recommendations for such amendments of the Constitution as the Committee thinks necessary in the light of experience.
That the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives be ex officio members of the committee.
That, in addition, the following members of the House of Representatives, namely, Mr. Calwell, Mr. Downer, Mr. Drummond, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Joske, Mr. Pollard, Mr. Ward and Mr. Whitlam, be appointed to serve on the committee.
That the Senate be requested to appoint four members of the Senate to serve on the committee, and to appoint one of those members to be the chairman of the committee.
That the chairman of the committee may, from time to time, appoint another member of the committee to be the deputy chairman of the committee, and that the member so appointed act as chairman of the committee at any time when the chairman is not present at a meeting of the committee.
That, in the absence of both the chairman and the deputy chairman from a meeting of the committee, the members present may appoint one of their number to act as chairman.
That the committee have power to appoint sub-committees consisting of four or more of its members, and to refer to any such sub-committee any matter which the committee is empowered to examine.
That the committee or any sub-committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to adjourn from place to place and to sit during any recess or adjournment of the Parliament and during the sittings of either House of the Parliament.
That the committee have power to consider the minutes of evidence and records of the joint Committee on Constitution Review appointed in the previous session relating to any matter on which that committee had not completed its inquiry.
That the committee have leave to report from time to time, and that any member of the committee have power to add a protest or dissent to any report.
That six members of the committee constitute a quorum of the committee and two members of a sub-committee constitute a quorum of the sub-committee.
That, in matters of procedure, the chairman, or person acting as chairman, of the committee, have a deliberative vote and in the event of an equality of voting, have a casting vote, and that, in other matters, the chairman, or person acting as chairman, of the committee have a deliberative vote only.
That the foregoing provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the Standing Orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders.
That a message be sent to the Senate acquainting it of this resolution and requesting that it concur and take action accordingly.
– This committee has been constituted for some time to deal with a vital matter of general importance. Members of the Opposition are cooperating with representatives of the Government so that this committee may make a comprehensive and positive report to the two Houses of the Parliament. We support the continuance of the committee and its work.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Sir Philip McBride) proposed -
That a joint committee be appointed to consider foreign affairs generally and, in particular, to inquire into matters referred to it by the Minister for External Affairs.
That thirteen members of the House of Representatives be appointed to serve on such committee.
That the Minister for External Affairs shall make available to the committee information within such categories or on such conditions as he may consider desirable.
That, notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders -
the persons appointed for the time being to serve on the committee shall constitute the committee notwithstanding any failure by the Senate or the House of Representatives to appoint the full number of senators or members referred to in these resolutions;
the committee shall have power to appoint sub-committees consisting of four or more of its members; and to refer to any such sub-committees any of the matters which the committee is empowered to examine;
the commiitee or any sub-committee have power to sit during any adjournment of the Parliament and during the sittings of either House of the Parliament;
the committee and its sub-committees will sit in camera and their proceedings shall be secret unless the Minister at the request of the committee otherwise directs;
(i) one-third of the number of members appointed to the committee for the time being constitute a quorum of the committee, save that where the number of members is not divisible by three without remainder the quorum shall be the number next higher than one-third of the number of members for the time being;
three members of a sub-committee constitute a quorum of that subcommittee;
the committee shall, for considerations of national security, in all cases forward its reports to the Minister for Externa) Affairs, but on every occasion when the committee forwards a report to the Minister it shall inform the Parliament that it has so reported; except that in the case of matters not referred to it by the Minister for External Affairs, the committee shall not submit a report to the Minister nor inform the Parliament accordingly without the Minister’s consent. Provided the Opposition is represented on the committee, copies of the committee’s reports to the Minister for External Affairs shall be forwarded to the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives for his confidential information:
subject to the Minister for External Affairs being informed, the committee shall have power to invite persons to give evidence before it;
subject to the consent of the Minister for External Affairs, the committee shall have power to call for official papers or records;
subject to paragraph 4 (d), all evidence submitted to the committee, both written and oral, shall be regarded as confidential to the committee;
the Senate be asked to appoint seven of its members to serve on such committee.
That the committee have power to consider the minutes of evidence and records of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs appointed in the previous session relating to any matter on which that committee had not completed its inquiry.
That a message be sent to the Senate requesting its concurrence.
– Members of the Opposition oppose this motion. My colleagues and I do not believe that this body is a committee at all; it is merely a study circle. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who is not able to be present at this sitting, admitted, himself, that it was a study circle. I think it comprised about seventeen members representing both Houses of this Parliament, all of them being members of the Government parties, and, I think, one member of the so-called Australian Democratic Labour party. They meet, they deliberate, and they are addressed by diplomats and by the Minister himself; and they are supplied with a good deal of information which comes from departmental files. But I do not know that this committee, during the seven or more years that it has been in existence, has justified itself, if the contributions which its members have made to the debates on foreign affairs in this House are any criterion of the value of membership of that somewhat select and very secretive body.
Members of the Opposition, all along, have said that if we could have a proper foreign affairs committee we would consider participating in its work. We arc represented on various joint committees of this Parliament, the most important of which, at the moment, is the Constitution Review Committee and the re-establishment of which was the subject of a motion a moment or two ago and unanimously agreed to by the House. In passing, I should like to say that the work of this committee is being attended to by the members of it with great devotion. All its members are ably and fully co-operating. Some day we might be able to do something like that in the field of foreign, affairs which is, of course, very vital to our future existence as a nation and to our relations with neighbouring nations.
– May I ask the honorable member what he believes should be done?
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!
– I welcome that question, Mr. Speaker, and if you would allow me, I should like to answer it. We have put our position very clearly. Time and again we have asked that the committee should have some rights of its own. We do not want a committee that is merely a rubber stamp for the Minister. The Minister is the only person who can refer any matter to it. The committee can request the Minister to give it certain information or further information. This committee should be like every other committee, with power to operate on its own initiative and responsibility.
– It has never tabled a report, has it?
– No. Occasionally it does table a white paper which does not show us very much. The members of that committee ought to be free to inform their minds in the best way they possibly can.
– They are free to inform their minds.
– They are not free to inform their minds. They can read books in the library and ask for papers from the departments, but they cannot bring along witnesses as all other committees can.
Surely there is nothing so very secretive about foreign affairs to-day, other than matters of absolute security. But this committee cannot have open hearings. In contrast, President Eisenhower addresses press conferences and tells the world much more than any member of our Foreign Affairs Committee can ever ascertain. Mr. Macmillan, in his press conferences in Australia, England and elsewhere tells the press not only of the free world but also of the world as a whole just precisely what Britain’s attitude is to certain matters. The question of foreign affairs is not something within the keeping of the Government only. As Australians, we are all involved and all concerned, and as members of the Parliament we all have equal responsibilities and equal rights to be given whatever information is available.
I am afraid that on occasions the Minister has used this Foreign Affairs Committee for political purposes. I hate to have to say that in his absence, but it is a notorious fact that inspired questions, addressed to the Minister, have been handed around this chamber to honorable members on the Government side for the purpose of attempting to embarrass the Opposition or to create an atmosphere favorable to the Minister. So long as that atmosphere continues to exist, the Opposition does not want to have anything to do with the Government’s foreign affairs study circle.
But there is something worse than all that in it. This whole business of the Foreign Affairs Committee goes back beyond the days of the present Minister, who has even worsened the position created by his predecessor, Mr. Justice Sir Percy Spender, who is at present receiving a salary of £9,000 a year, free of tax, and other benefits as well. When Sir Percy Spender was Minister for External Affairs he said, quite frankly, that he did not want a committee which included certain members of the Opposition because they would be able to influence decisions inside the Department of External Affairs. He wanted a tame-cat show. We are not going to be associated with any tame-cat committee on foreign affairs or on anything else. If we join a body, we shall join it as a responsible Opposition and play our part in influencing its deliberations. To change the metaphor, we are never going to be part of a rubber stamp committee.
– I am sorry that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) should take up again the same arguments that he has been using for some time past. He says that he does not want to be a member of a tame-cat committee, but he takes part in a scratch-cat debate, and the arguments he has put forward tend to disprove, rather than establish, the point he has been attempting to make. While the Opposition refuses to be represented on the Foreign Affairs Committee it makes the extension of the activities of that committee much more difficult for the Government to achieve. The honorable member understands that himself, as is implicit in the arguments he used. He said the committee was little more than a study circle. I can say from my experience on the committee that the studies pursued by that circle are of very great value in enlarging and expanding what might be called public information with respect to various principles and matters concerned with foreign affairs. I think I will be supported in that statement by the other members of the committee.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition knows quite well that under our system of executive government you cannot have a parliamentary committee taking out of the hands of the Government the formulation of policy or the making of actual decisions with regard to foreign affairs. So the committee cannot be an executive committee, because executive responsibility rests with the Government, which is responsible to this Parliament. However, the committee could exercise a very much greater influence by advising the Government with regard to the various questions that come up from time to time on foreign affairs if the Opposition were represented on it. The presence of Opposition representatives on the committee would give greater force to the advice of the committee, because that advice could be the common decision on foreign policy of both sides of the House. I still hope, as I think every member of the committee also hopes, that the Opposition will change its stand on this matter and join the committee.
I know that many members of the committee would like to see the committee’s duties enlarged, but there are certain boundaries beyond which we cannot go, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition knows as well as anybody else. The position in the United States is different, because the United States Senate Foreign Affairs Committee operates in an executive capacity. I do not think that anybody here, not even the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) himself, or any other member of the Opposition, would suggest that any Australian parliamentary committee should operate in an executive capacity.
– We do not suggest that.
– No, but it is implied, and you just write the committee off by saying that it is merely a study circle. I think that one of our great difficulties in Australia has been that practically until the end of World War II. very few of the members of this Parliament, and very few members of the public, had to bother much about foreign affairs. The reason was that we grew up, as everybody who reads our history knows, under the protection of the British Navy. It is only in recent years that we have really begun to operate a foreign policy of our own, trying to keep as close as possible to the policy of our homeland, Great Britain, and that of our friendly cousins, the Americans, on the larger world questions. At various times, however, and acting well within our rights, we have enunciated a foreign policy that has been distinctly Australian.
As I have said on many occasions, the fact that we are the only Western nation in the Far Eastern clime, and are geographically Asian, means that we have a very big and very heavy responsibility. This has been particularly true in the post-war years, and is so now in regard to the various issues that arise in connexion with foreign affairs. One of our greatest difficulties is the ignorance that exists among members of Parliament and the public generally regarding world affairs.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition raised the question of giving the committee power to compel witnesses to attend. Perhaps it is wise that the committee should have that power; perhaps it is not wise, lt might be possible to get very much more from people who attend voluntarily than from those who attend under compulsion. There are some people who have a very big influence on this country’s thinking on foreign affairs. The press, for instance, has a very big influence on the opinion of the public on foreign affairs, much more influence than it has on the public’s opinion on internal matters. The ordinary member of the public knows something about our internal affairs, but has great difficulty in knowing anything about external affairs. I think one of the most interesting features of the problem is that some press people have been very diffident about accepting invitations to discuss with the committee principles that they were advocating very strongly in leading articles. [ do not feel that the position would be improved if we compelled a leader writer to appear before the committee to give evidence if the committee were given such powers of compulsion.
So I say to members of the Opposition that, in my opinion, the Foreign Affairs Committee is doing very valuable work. Maybe it should have its powers expanded, but I point out that it is much more difficult for those powers to be expanded while the Opposition remains aloof from the committee. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not suggest any particular way in which the powers of the committee should be expanded. He said the committee should have some rights of its own, but he did not enunicate those rights. He said it should have the power to operate on its own volition. It has considerable power to operate in this fashion, and the Minister has given it the widest latitude in regard to the people who are invited to come and discuss various questions with it. He said also that the committee members should be free to inform their own minds. Well, they have been entirely free to inform their own minds. I can only say, as chairman of the committee, that I trust that the advice and information that the members have passed on as a result of their deliberations have been of some value to the Government, to the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) and, I hope, to the staff of the Department of External Affairs, also.
So I ask the members of the Opposition to give this matter further consideration. The presence of Opposition members on the committee would enhance the committee’s value. Were the Opposition to be represented on the committee its members would have an opportunity to see how the committee operates, and perhaps we could then come to some decision as to how the committee’s powers could be expanded without interfering with the principle of executive government as we know it. But the Opposition writes the committee off as something of no value whatsoever. The opposition says, in effect, “ It is something that the Government has proposed and we do not intend to have anything to do with it “.
– We write it off because it does not meet our objections, which we have stated year after year.
– The objections are only on general principles. The Opposition will not come along and co-operate and see how the committee works. All I can say now, as someone keenly interested in foreign affairs, like every other member of the committee, is that I feel that the committee’s work, even if it is restricted in the view of some of us as well as in the view of the Opposition, has been of very great value. Other members of the committee will support me in this opinion. The responsibilities of the committee can be increased only if the committee really represents both sides, so I ask the Opposition to give early consideration to being represented on the committee.
Mr. WARD (East Sydney) [12.181.- The Foreign Affairs Committee has been in existence for a number of years, and it amazes me that the Government persists in referring to it as a joint committee, because the committee represents the Government parties only. The Government hoped to make it a joint committee, and tie the Opposition to it, for a purpose that I will now indicate. It is quite obvious that what the Government endeavoured to do was to create the impression here and abroad that in foreign affairs it spoke for the whole of the Austraiian community. In fact, the Government does not speak for the whole of the Australian community in respect of foreign affairs. Had the Labour Opposition not taken a different stand from that of the Government in respect of a number of decisions on international affairs Australia would now be deeply involved in overseas conflicts. It was the Labour Opposition which maintained sanity in the consideration of these important international affairs as they developed.
What does the Government hope to do with the Foreign Affairs Committee? We have heard a great deal about members of the committee informing their minds. If the Government wanted the committee to work as a real joint committee it could have provided that the committee should have equal Government and Opposition representation on it, or have an Opposition chairman, and that the matters to be discussed by the committee were not to be restricted to those submitted to it by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey). Had the Government acted on these lines it might be getting to the point where it would have a proposition that could be considered. What is the existing arrangement? This committee, which is referred to as a “ joint committee “ but which is purely a government committee, will inquire into matters referred to it by the Minister for External Affairs. It cannot initiate any investigation. It cannot make inquiries of its own. It can only consider and investigate the matters referred to it by the Minister for External Affairs. Further than that, the resolution says -
That the Minister for External Affairs shall make available to the Committee information within such categories or on such conditions as he may consider desirable.
So the committee is not free to get what information it desires! It can only have the information and the documents which the Minister makes available.
The committee cannot call persons before it unless it informs the Minister for External Affairs of its action. It may be considered that that is merely a matter of courtesy but, with a Government majority on the committee, would it not be a fact that anybody of whom the Minister disapproved would not be invited to appear before it? Opposition members might move for certain people to be called before the committee but the Government, by the use of its majority on the committee, could prevent those people from being called. The same situation applies with respect to papers. The motion states-
Subject to the consent of the Minister for External Affairs, the Committee shall have power to call for official papers or records.
The honorable member for Chisholm said that members of the committee had an opportunity to enlarge their knowledge of particular aspects of foreign affairs, But what use can they make of that knowledge if they observe the conditions laid down for the establishment of the committee? The motion states that the information placed before the committee shall be regarded as confidential to the committee. So, unless the Minister for External Affairs cared to release the information, this Par.liament and the community could be completely ignorant of what was going on and members of the Opposition, bound by their undertaking to treat the information as confidential, would not be in a position to inform the public.
How absurd it is that the Government should talk about the usefulness of this committee! There is no doubt why the Government wants it. There is a dual purpose. The major purpose is to try to tie the Labour Opposition to the rotten foreign policy that is being pursued by this Government. What is the Government concerned about? It sticks its nose - to use an Australian term - into every part of the world, where it believes there is a movement which is challenging the existing order of society. If there a-re nationalist movements which are fighting for their independence, if there are movements of workers in various countries, fighting to improve their economic conditions, the Government regards them as a challenge to the capitalist system that it strongly supports, and it considers this sufficient reason for interference to whatever degree may be possible.
In my opinion, Australia should be expressing an independent view on these matters. How can a Labour party which hopes to end the colonial system, which hopes to provide improved economic conditions, and which hopes to see great social reforms effected in Australia and throughout the world, tie itself to a conservative government which does not believe in change and which wants to hold on to the present rotten system under which so many unfortunates, even in our so-called enlightened community, have not the bare necessities of life? The honorable member for Chisholm tried to “ get us in “ by saying, “ Come into the committee and see how it works “. I suggest to the honorable member that if he wants us to learn how the committee works he should support the idea of an observer attending a meeting on behalf of the Opposition. The observer could then see how the committee works and report back to our party.
There is another purpose which the committee serves for the Government. The Government, only temporarily, of course, has large numbers in this Parliament. It has some dissident elements on its back benches for whom it has to find, not only something to do, but also some way in which they can share in the fees and emoluments that accrue to members of these committees. The committees afford the Government an opportunity to throw out a bait here and there to members who are making nuisances of themselves to the Government. I imagine that that is the reason why the honorable member for Chisholm was appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Government hoped to weaken his criticism of its policy.
Let us get away from this rubbishy position. Let us be frank and come to the point. The Government wants the Opposition to support its foreign policy. What is that foreign policy? In my opinion, it is only an extension in the international field of the Government’s domestic policy. The Labour party has a domestic policy which is diametrically opposed to that of the Government. It is truly ridiculous to think that the Opposition would be stupid enough to make it appear to the Australian people that it was supporting the Government’s foreign policy to which we are diametrically opposed. I hope that the Government will not continue the existence of this committee.
However, if the Government persists in continuing the committee, I hope that it will cease to call it a “ joint committee “, because it is purely a Government committee and nothing else.
Mr. DOWNER (Angas) [12.261- It is a pity that, once again, we have to go over the ground that seems to be covered annually when this motion comes up. I would not have risen to speak had it not been for the surprisingly intemperate speech of the honorable member for East Sydney. If his claim is true that the Labour party, from time to time, has influenced the foreign policy of the Government, I should think that that is all the more reason why members of the Opposition should come into this committee and try to influence the Government’s policy. It seems to me that the very claim that the honorable member has made is simply a further reason why the Opposition should agree to the Government’s most sensible and reasonable request and should change, at long last, its bigotted point of view by joining this committee and try to make it work better.
My honorable friend is also in error in casting aspersions upon the powers of initiation and investigation of this committee. In fact, although, at first sight, the terms of reference of the committee might seem to be circumscribed, it has considerable powers of initiative. I, myself, had the pleasure of being, as it were, a foundation member of this committee when it was first constituted in 1952 and I can testify, from my own experience of the work of this body, that it has exercised, over the years, a great deal of initiative. It has done a lot of investigatory work, not at the behest of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), but because of the desire and will of the members of the committee. So long as this committee consists, as it now consists, of people who are not easily bamboozled or dragooned and who are not content merely to sit on the committee as stooges to the Government or the Minister, so long will it continue its investigation and research and, I repeat, initiative.
The Opposition’s attitude is all the more disappointing to us on this side of the House because surely every sensible person who is not just a hidebound party bigot must agree that, in the volcanic state of the world to-day, Australian interests can best be served by our trying to evolve a bi-partisan foreign policy. Already, of course, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), by his own action and speeches, has made it plain that he disagrees violently with some of the policies of the Minister for External Affairs and with some of his actions.
Of course, members of the Opposition are quite entitled to have a contrary point of view, but I should have thought that, if they were really sincere in trying to advance the interests of Australia and her prestige in the world as a rising power in the South Pacific, they would say, “ However great our differences in points of view, let us try to iron them out and let us try, perhaps, to dislodge the Government from some of its points of view “. One of the ways in which they could do that, if they had any real sincerity in these things, would be to join this committee, have a frank exchange of views, and help us in the investigation of these gigantic problems. Men of the calibre of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition and some honorable members on the Opposition side, with their experience and practical knowledge, should join with us, not for the good of any potlitical party but for the good of Australia. They could then try to’ evolve something that would be to the advantage of Australia in the councils of the world.
I challenge the Opposition’s sincerity on its foreign policy and its motives. If honorable members opposite were really motivated by the highest principles of helping to advance their country in the international field they would say, “ Although we do not think much of this committee in some respects, let us join it, let us make it work and let us make it work better “. I am not one who, knowing the lack of perfection in human institutions, thinks that this committee is free from blame or blemish in every respect. Of course it can be improved. Of course it would be better if it had more authority- If honorable members opposite would join with us, we could make it a really national parliamentary committee which could induce the Government, I am sure, to give it added powers and make it work for the benefit of all Australia.
– I think the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer), who has just resumed his seat, illustrates the fact that very little thought is given to the functions of the Foreign Affairs Committee by him or by those who are interested in including the Opposition in the range of the committee. Let me go back a little to the statements that were made earlier in this debate. As the honorable member has pointed out, there is no such committee in the United Kingdom. There is some such committee in the United States of America; but practically all the proceedings of the committee there are open to the public.
– There are really two committees in the United States of America.
– Yes, there is one in each House; and the public proceedings of those committees become an important element in the public debates on foreign affairs in the American legislature. The committee that has been set up by this Government in Australia is not a public committee at all. It is run quite differently. I throw back at the honorable member for Angas his reference to the Opposition’s sincerity. We have put our views on foreign affairs for years and most of them have turned out to be correct according to events and decisions of nations like Great Britain as the years have gone by. I invite honorable members to study the reports of debates in this Parliament. Who has made the most valuable contribution on foreign affairs?
I do not altogether, or always, differ from the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) by any means. As I have said before, I believe that he is a man of goodwill. I do not think that he is conscious of some of the implications of the decisions that are reached, however, and if any honorable member is in doubt about that, he should study the report of the debate on foreign affairs that was initiated by the Minister in this House on 5th “December last. I suggest that honorable members should compare the contributions that were made to that debate from both sides of the chamber. We made our contribution to that debate in public because we wanted to influence public opinion on foreign affairs. Does this Government take any notice of public opinion on these important matters?
I shall give to the House another illustration to show how honorable members on the Government side are completely unaware of practices in other countries, including the United Kingdom. If something of great moment in international affairs occurs, it is discussed in the United Kingdom between the leaders of both sides of the Parliament and not by some subordinate committee. The Prime Minister or the Secretary for Foreign Affairs discusses the matter with the Opposition leaders. If it is practicable, quite possibly some agreement on important foreign affairs is reached. That is the way that it should be done.
I can give one illustration of events in this Parliament which proves my point conclusively. I refer to the great Suez crisis. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was abroad. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who was Acting Prime Minister and the present Minister for External Affairs consulted me. as the Leader of the Opposition, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) three or four times every day. We saw all the cables and all the communications on the Suez crisis and we gave our advice to those Ministers. If our advice had been taken - and I think I can say that our views were identical with those of the Acting Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs - there would have been a very different solution to the Egyptian crisis. That was an occasion when we could help. That was a time when our assistance mattered.
It was the same during World War II. An Advisory War Council was set up during the war on the initiative of the Australian Labour party. It was also a council on foreign affairs. Both sides of the Parliament were represented and the business was conducted practically on a Cabinet basis. Some of the great decisions of the war affecting foreign affairs and the initiation of post-war policy were so determined. The Parliament cannot deal with foreign affairs by having a little tuppenny ha’penny committee of this sort which acts as a study circle. I have no objection to it as such, but I believe that all the material that is given to the Foreign Affairs Committee as a study circle should be given to all honorable members, The committee must have information which, by virtue of its nature, would not, for the most part, contain any element of defence security. That would have to be determined, of course, by the Minister.
I am quite prepared to look again at this matter having regard to the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward.). The honorable member for Angas attacked the speech that was delivered by the honorable member for East Sydney. Supporters of the Government do not agree with me on that point, but apparently they did not understand that what the honorable member for East Sydney said about foreign affairs is true.
– The Leader of the Opposition does not understand the working of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
– There is the old reaction. As soon as the Opposition touches on this matter we hear the old cry, “ No, no, no “. Honorable members on the Government side should read the report of the speech that was made by the honorable member for East Sydney. He was correct. Great factions are struggling in the world to-day. The Labour movement in Australia and the Socialist movement in Great Britain and New Zealand, do not want world affairs to be determined as though they were simply issues in local politics. They are matters of great moment.
Take summit talks, for example. Earlier, at question time, I asked the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) to tell us the Government’s policy in that respect. He does not know. I can understand that, because on 5th December the Minister for External Affairs was against summit talks. The Opposition supported them, but they were not supported by one honorable member on the Government side. The Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Macmillan, came to Australia and said that summit talks were a good thing. Then there was a sudden change. This Government was willing to support the proposal. Then Mr. Macmillan, before he left Australia, altered his views and said that he would support the proposed summit talks but not if agreement could not be reached beforehand on the agenda. Imagine postponing such talks which are urgent in the light of a speech that was given recently by Professor Oliphant. He said that as a result of atomic experiments a great number of people who otherwise would have lived will certainly die. He completely nullified the views of this Government against which the Opposition protested.
These are vital matters. The Foreign Affairs Committee might be strengthened, lt might be made smaller. We might make it a practice to do what was done during the Suez crisis. I pay tribute to what was done then by the Treasurer, as Acting Prime Minister, and the Minister for External Affairs, if Labour’s views had been accepted at that time, military intervention would not have occurred in Suez, which would have been a good thing, not only for Australia and the British Commonwealth, but for the world,
– What about your views on the sending of our troops to Malaya?
– With regard to Malaya, the Labour party does not believe in intervention by force. The Opposition cannot support this motion. Let it be postponed, or let us vote on it. The Opposition will do anything to assist in placing foreign affairs in their proper perspective in this Parliament, because they can mean life or death to the people directly involved. IE is useless to confine these matters to a small number of people. How many members are there on the committee - 15 or 18? They may get some information, and it may do them some good, but why can they not supply the information to the House? These matters must be thrashed out in public, lt is true that they receive some publicity in the press, and invariably the press obtains information about foreign affairs far in advance of governments. We read things in the press, and if v/e ask Ministers questions about these press releases they are unable to deal with them. On Tuesday last, in relation to Indonesia, 1 suggested that the Commonwealth should intervene, by good offices and mediation, to stop civil war amongst a nation of 75.000,000 or 80.000,000, which would be. a horrible event if it took place. However, the Minister said, to all intents and purposes: “ No, let them fight it out “. The first thing to do is to prevent civil war, and we would be doing our neighbours a good turn if we intervened by way of conciliation.
The committee, in its present form, would be most unacceptable. The Opposition’s objection is not merely because of some formal matter relating to the committee. I assure the honorable member for Angas that he need not impute insincerity to people whose views differ from his. The Opposition’s sincerity on these matters is shown by its public advocacy of them when they were unpopular causes, but times have changed. The Labour party was the first political party in Australia to advocate summit talks years ago, long before they were actually instituted. Similarly, Labour’s policy in regard to Asia, and many other aspects of foreign affairs, has been proved correct.
– The right honorable gentleman must not continue to discuss foreign policy.
– I shall not pursue the matter. 1 have outlined the Opposition’s broad views and honorable members on this side of the House will always be prepared to consider proposals. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made certain suggestions. It would be better to have a much smaller committee and extend its jurisdiction. The Minister should be a member of the committee and the committee should have, to some extent, the status of the Advisory War Council, and its members could speak for the parties they represent.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
.- When the sitting of the House was suspended for lunch we were debating the re-appointment of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) had complained earlier that this was not a joint committee because it consisted only of members of the Government parties. It has already been pointed out to him that it consists of members of the Government parties and a member of a third party in the Senate; but the point to which I wish to direct attention is that the constitution of joint committees under the Standing Orders - which, after all, the honorable member for East Sydney should know well - is covered in Chapter XXVII. Standing Order 383 reads - !n every Message proposing to the Senate the appointment of a Joint Committee, the House will state the number of Members it will appoint to serve on such Committee.
A joint committee is a committee of both Houses of this Parliament, so the suggestion of the honorable member for East Sydney thai this is not a genuine joint committee because it did not consist of members of the Government parties and of the Opposition is, of course, quite fallacious.
It is a matter of great regret to members of the committee that the original intention that the committee should consist of members of all parties has not been carried out. Honorable members will recollect that from the very inception of the committee the Labour Opposition has refused to take part in it, and to-day Opposition members have reiterated some of their objections. They say that the committee is purely a study circle, that its discussions are held in camera and that it cannot initiate investigations. Some of those objections were stated by the honorable member for East Sydney, and others by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). They are all quite fallacious, because if honorable members look at the motion they will see that paragraph (1) reads -
That a Joint Committee be appointed to consider foreign affairs generally and, in particular, to inquire into matters referred to it by the Minister foi External Affairs.
-“ Hm! “, says the honorable member for Herbert. What he overlooks is that the purpose is, first, to consider foreign affairs generally, and then, in particular, the matters referred to it by the Minister. And what is unreasonable in that? The Minister would know those matters on which he would wish the committee to be particularly informed and on which he would like the committee to help him to form further opinions. So, he would direct certain individual matters to the committee saying, “ I wish you to study these matters in detail now”, because those matters were current or for whatever other reason he might have. This is something that rather interests me. Members of the Opposition, who are not members of the committee, have imagined all sorts of disabilities which this committee suffers. As they are not members of it, they cannot possibly know, because it is well known to you, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure to the House, that the utmost confidence has been observed by this committee in all its deliberations since its inception. Certain matters are referred to the committee and the committee forwards its reports to the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey). Paragraph 4 (g) of the motion reads - subject to the Minister for External Affairs being informed, the Committee shall have power to invite persons to give evidence before it;
The only qualification is one of courtesy, requiring that the Minister for External Affairs shall be informed. The next subparagraph (h) reads - subject to the consent of the Minister for External Affairs, the Committee shall have power to call for official papers or records;
The unfortunate suggestion is being made now by some of my noisy friends of the Opposition that this provides some means by which the Minister can control this committee. In my experience, which extends over some few years, the Minister has never attempted to influence the committee, or to subject it to his will.
I deplore the suggestion of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that the Minister has been in the habit of handing out questions for political purposes. I feel quite sure that the Deputy Leader himself does not believe it, and I am very sorry that he introduced that distasteful note. The fact of the matter is that this committee is free to investigate very openly amongst its members matters of current interest, and matters of more than current interest. I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that probably the outstanding objection that the honorable member for East Sydney at least has to the committee is that its deliberations are held in camera, which denies him the opportunity of making public his own ideas on these matters.
I, personally, am sorry that the Opposition has not seen fit to join the committee. I am one of those members who were appointed to the committee because of that defection which enabled the Government to fill the vacant seats which were not filled by members of the Opposition. It is well understood that if the Opposition chooses to join the committee, those of us who were appointed under those conditions will immediately cease to be members. However, I should be very sorry indeed if I were not able to continue my membership, if only for the purpose of belonging to an intensive study group as it has been described by members of the Opposition. The benefits of being a member of this committee are very great, not only to the member himself but also to his electorate, and I believe that they must be great to the people of Australia.
The idea of making available for public consumption all the information that comes to the committee is, of course, too ridiculous for words. Obviously, the reports that come to us from our representatives in other countries must be treated in the strictest confidence, but they are of no value unless they are read and digested by people who are prepared to respect that confidence. I am not suggesting that if members of the Opposition joined the committee they would betray that confidence. In fact, nothing is farther from my thoughts, but during the course of this debate it has been suggested by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) that these matters should be discussed in public in this place. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that that is an absurd suggestion which the right honorable gentleman himself, in view of his standing, cannot conscientiously believe in.
The position arises, therefore, that the Government has proposed the reconstitution of this committee, which has ceased to exist only because of the prorogation of Parliament. The Opposition says, “ We will not join the committee because of certain objections that we have. One is that it is a study group, another is that the deliberations are in camera, and another is that it may not initiate investigations “. I have disproved the last-mentioned objection by reference to the terms of the motion. The Opposition says, “ For these reasons at least we will not belong to the committee. In addition, we will not even agree to the formation of this committee “. I suggest that there is nothing to answer in any of those objections. The committee has proved its worth, not by the introduction into this House of reports of its deliberations but in the results of its deliberations which have been conveyed to the Minister and which, I have no doubt, have eventually received Cabinet consideration. I submit that there is every justification for the re-appointment of the committee.
– I think it can be generally agreed that questions of foreign policy are matters that should be determined by bi-partisan decision. We all are in whatever decision is reached by a government in respect of foreign policy, and it is just as important to consult, and obtain the approval of, Labour members, as representatives of the power of labour, as it is to seek the approval of Liberal and Australian Country party members who represent in this Parliament the power of capitalist influence. A war cannot be fought only with capital or only with labour. Both are necessary to a war effort, and both sides should participate in decisions on foreign policy. I think that the Government knows very well that it cannot engage in a war over any issue unless it has the support of the Opposition and of the people represented by Opposition members. I shudder to think of the results of a war in which the great Australian trade union movement refused pointblank to participate on the ground that it was a war fought for imperialist gains or in the interests of the people opposed to Labour. Therefore, it is important that a bi-partisan decision be arrived at before a government, whatever its political complexion, enters into a war with some other power.
I have a very strong feeling that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was perfectly correct when he said that the real motive behind the Government’s anxiety to have the Opposition associated with the Foreign Affairs Committee is a desire to have the Opposition tied to the Government’s foreign policy and to its mad desire to plunge this country into a conflict with some other nation in order to uphold the outmoded imperialism that is turning Asia into a hotbed of successful Communist intrigue.
The Government’s proposal is condemned by sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph 4 of the motion, which states - subject to paragraph 4 (d), all evidence submitted to the Committee, both written and oral, shall be regarded as confidential to the Committee;
I think I have already proved that the Government must get the support of Opposition members for a decision on foreign policy involving the country in a war, because Australia could not possibly fight a war without the united support of all sections of the community, including more particularly, perhaps, that section of the community which supports the Australian Labour party. If the Government wants the co-operation of the Opposition, it should, at least trust every member of the Opposition as a man with as much honour as Government supporters. A person elected to this Parliament takes his place in it as a man with a certain measure of responsibility, and no man without honour or responsibility would receive the support of the electors. Consequently, we have to assume that every man who enters this Parliament as an elected representative of the people is regarded by 40,000 or 45,000 electors as a man of sufficient honour to be entrusted with decisions on the matters about which we are now talking. Indeed, this would have to be the position for the Government even to advance its proposal envisaging the appointment of six Opposition members to the Foreign Affairs Committee, which will receive a great deal of confidential information.
The Government must assume that every Opposition member is a man fit to be trusted with the secrets that will be shared with the Foreign Affairs Committee. If it did not work on that assumption, its proposal could never be put forward. This is clearly the position, because the Government knows that the Opposition always gives to its caucus the right to choose Opposition representatives who will sit on committees constituted by the Parliament- The Government knows that it would have absolutely no control over the selection of Opposition members for service on these committees. Knowing that, it persists with its invitation for the Opposition to appoint any six members from its ranks to sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee. It excepts no Opposition member. This being so, we ask the logical question: “ Why does the Government not trust all Opposition members? “ And if it is prepared to trust all Opposition members, why is it not prepared to trust all members of the Government parties as well? If it is prepared to trust them also, what is wrong with the Parliament having secret sessions in order to discuss the matters that at present are confined to the select few who sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee? Let us have secret sessions of the Parliament to discuss all questions appertaining to foreign affairs before the Government ever again makes a decision on foreign commitments binding on the nation.
Government supporters need not say that this cannot be done because it has already been done in time of war. During World War II., this Parliament met in secret session at which every member of the Parliament had the right to hear the confidential reports that were made by the Prime Minister and other leaders of the War Cabinet in order that the entire Parliament, and not just a few of its members, could make decisions binding on the whole nation. Every member of the Parliament should be given the full facts before he votes on a matter on which the whole nation will stand committed. I see absolutely nothing wrong with the holding of secret sessions of the Parliament to consider questions of foreign policy. If the Government will trust six Opposition members, whom it does not name - in other words, any six Opposition members - to sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee, why will it not trust all of them and constitute this House a foreign affairs committee to discuss foreign policy whenever necessary?
If the whole Parliament could discuss those matters in camera, we might have a little more common sense arising from debates on foreign affairs than we have had up to now, with every one playing to the press gallery. That is the kind of thing that turns a debate on foreign affairs into the kind of fiasco that we have seen in the past. That is the kind of thing that makes every Government supporter decide that a summit conference is a bad thing to-day, and a good thing to-morrow. Let us get down to common ground on at least one thing - foreign affairs. Let us consider them as Australians, and not as members of the Liberal party, the Australian Country party, or the Australian Labour party. We shall never be successful in this objective unless the Government is prepared to turn the Parliament into a foreign affairs committee to debate these confidential matters in camera. I do not make this proposal actuated by the thought that was in the mind of one member of the Parliament who said, during the war, that he was all in favour of a secret session of the Parliament to consider confidential matters, because there were many questions asked by his constituents that he had not been able to answer. Meetings of the Parliament to consider foreign affairs should be really confidential, but the secrets should be shared by the whole Parliament and not by just a few members.
I think it is entirely wrong for a committee to carry on any longer this present game of make-believe, kidding itself that it is doing really important work and that it is influencing the Government’s decisions even one iota. The honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) said that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) had never attempted to influence the committee. I accept his word on that. I accept it as the truth also, that the committee has never attempted to influence the Minister; that, if it has attempted to do so, it has met with no success; or that, if it has influenced the Minister, the results have been disastrous for Australia. Whichever way it goes, we are caught. Whichever of the propositions I have stated is chosen, the committee has proved to be ineffective and hopeless.
– Yes, hopeless. What is the record of the honorable member? He said that he has been a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee since its establishment. I have never yet heard him make one worth-while contribution to a debate on foreign affairs. The honorable member is one of the products of this specially selected school of great brains which possesses that marvellous information that nobody else can obtain. Just look at it!
I shall now turn to some of the others. The honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler), who is not in his place at the moment, is another member of the study circle that we are trying to prove is a hopeless proposition and can never achieve its purpose. He has never made a contribution to a foreign affairs debate that can be recalled by any member in this House. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), who is so glum now that I am talking about the contributions members have made - and for a good reason - has never made a worthwhile contribution to a debate on the subject.
– I am not even a member of the committee.
– Then my information in that particular matter is incorrect. I turn now to the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight). He is the person to whom I wish to refer rather than the honorable member for Petrie whose knowledge of foreign affairs is very slight anyhow. The position of the honorable member for Lilley is even worse. Before he joined the committee he was reasonably bright on foreign affairs but since joining has become one of the most hopeless propositions the committee has ever seen. I believe that on the Foreign Affairs Committee there are only three members who have any worth-while knowledge of foreign affairs. One is the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) who, because of his keen discernment in these matters, has not been spoiled by the committee. He is just as good now as he was before he joined it. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer), who always had a wide knowledge of foreign affairs, may not be quite as good now as he used to be, but J believe he is still reasonably good. However, if this committee is the wonderful proposition we are told it is, he should be very much better.
I refer now to the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), the only member who has shown any real improvement since he joined the Foreign Affairs Committee.
– There was a lot more room for improvement in his case.
– As the honorable member has said, there was a lot more room for improvement in the honorable member for Mackellar. It is true that he is the only one of the thirteen members of the committee of whom I have any knowledge who has shown any improvement at all, but that is because there was such great room for improvement that he could not very well do other than improve.
I believe that we ought to have another look at this proposition. Supposing the Labour party decided that it would accept the invitation to send along its membership, I have no doubt that my honorable friend, the honorable member for East Sydney and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) would be certain of election - I would be a starter, too - together with many other members of the Opposition who have been described in the past by the Government parties as Communist sympathizers.
– Hear, hear!
– They would become members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the honorable member for Petrie says. “ Hear, hear! “. We cannot be Communists just before an election and trusted members of the foreign affairs study circle immediately after the election. The Government cannot have it both ways. If it really thinks we are Communist sympathizers before the election, we should not be invited to join the committee after the election which, let us hope, is less than a year off. Yet even now, such a short time before the election the Government is once again inviting members of the Opposition to join its most important committee and to participate and become aware of the most important and vital secrets that could come to the knowledge of any party or person. At the next election the Government cannot, as it has always done previously, tell the people that we are a lot of Communist sympathizers and secret Russian agents if, at the same time, it is prepared to appoint us to this committee where we will hear the secrets mentioned by the Minister. The only other conclusion I can draw is that the Government really thinks that we are Communists, and that this committee is nothing more or less than a racket and that no real information is given to its members, or that the committee ought to be wiped out completely and matters of foreign policy be decided by the whole Parliament in camera. The honorable member for East Sydney was correct when he said, by way of interjection, that if the Government is so anxious to prove to us that this is such a wonderful committee, why does it not give us the right to send along some observers to see how the committee behaves.
– Let us psycho-analyse you!
– As the
Deputy Leader of the Opposition says, let us psycho-analyse you. Let us see why all of you prove such dismal failures after you have been on the committee for any length of time. Let us see whether it is the fault of the committee or the fault of your own brain-power that you turn out to be such miserable no-hopers after being on the committee. If we find it is not the fault of the committee or because of the lack of information available to the committee, but really the fault of the second-rate brains that constitute the committee, maybe we will have a look at the proposal and possibly contribute our part towards making the committee a worthwhile instrument for expressing views on foreign affairs.
In conclusion, if the Government is prepared to adopt a system on the American lines whereby matters of foreign affairs are thrown open to the public for public debate and scrutiny, then we would be prepared to have another look at it. Alternatively, the best and only solution to this problem that I can see at the moment is to allow the Parliament itself to be the foreign affairs committee and to advise the Government so that the decisions arrived at represent the will of the people of Australia. Honorable members opposite are making a mad rush towards war, but they will never succeed in a war. They will be hopelessly defeated if they plunge the country into war before the people we represent are prepared or willing to support them.
.- The extreme levity of expression and extravagance of argument used by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), who has just resumed his seat, is a pointer to the grave danger of having representatives of the Opposition sitting upon the Foreign Affairs Committee. Until such time as the Labour party is rehabilitated and returns to some degree of political stability and responsibility, I believe it would be dangerous in the extreme to allow the honorable member for Hindmarsh and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) to sit upon such an important committee.
I was somewhat surprised to hear the proposal put forward by the honorable member for Hindmarsh that there should be a secret session of this Parliament from time to time on foreign affairs, for the reason that ever since I have been acquainted with him he has assiduously cultivated the impression, to my mind at least, that he is violently opposed to all forms of secrecy. Yet this afternoon he put forward this staggering and rather engaging proposal of secret sessions of Parliament. He then employed the argument that if the Opposition were to participate in the work of this committee it would automatically be tied to the Government’s attitude on foreign policy. That is a fascinating argument. When one looks at such a staunch individualist as the honorable member for Hindmarsh and such a rugged individualist as the honorable member for East Sydney, it is fascinating to try to conjure in one’s mind the picture of two such strong and staunchminded individualists allowing themselves to be tied to anything.
Before the suspension for lunch the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) rebuked the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) for being so caustic in his remarks concerning the honorable member for East Sydney. I thought that the honorable member for Angas dealt with the honorable member for East Sydney with great gentility, because even though the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) endeavoured to convince the House that the Opposition, on purely procedural aspects, would not join in the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the honorable member for East Sydney revealed the truth of the matter when he said this afternoon that the division in foreign policy between Her Majesty’s Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition is so great that it would be completely futile for the Opposition to participate in the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Then the right honorable member for Barton, with characteristic immodesty, said, “ During the Suez crisis I advised the Government what to do. If my advice had been followed the Government would not have run into this danger and that danger.” He was referring to his suggestion, or the Opposition’s suggestion, that summit talks should be held. You may recall, Mr. Speaker, the line that the right honorable gentleman pursued. All I can say is that the conceit of the right honorable member for Barton is so great that it would not surprise me in the least if he were to present to this Parliament draft amendments to the Ten Commandments - and, no doubt, in that enterprise he would have the support of the honorable member for East Sydney.
The truth of the matter is this: The real reason for the Opposition’s refusal to participate in the workings of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs is to be found not in procedural matters but rather in doctrinal matters. With regard to foreign affairs the Australian Labour party to-day is clearly following a pro-Soviet line. It is in the fact that the foreign affairs policy of the Labour party is dominated by the right honorable member for Barton, the honorable member for Hindmarsh and the honorable member for East Sydney, the triumvirate whose views on foreign affairs are so extreme, so leftish and so essentially pro-Soviet, that one finds the fundamental reason why Her Majesty’s Opposition will not join in the work of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs.
– I hope that my remarks this afternoon will commend themselves to the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) as evidence of my continued improvement. The Opposition, doubtless through ignorance, has, I think, underestimated the powers and the functions of the existing committee. As one who has sat on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs since its inception, I can say that it has had considerable influence in certain directions. I take particular pride in saying that although the committee has received a great deal of confidential information from both Australians and representatives and citizens of other countries, there has never yet been, so far as I am aware, any leakage of the confidences that have been entrusted to it. I myself would not like to be more specific because by being specific I might betray those confidences in this House.
The Opposition has made the point that the committee could be bi-partisan if it had more power. I want to address my remarks for a moment to the question whether or not it should be bi-partisan. All Australians want an Australian foreign policy, a policy that is the policy of this country as a whole. The honorable member for Hindmarsh is, of course, perfectly right when he says that if the trade unions were opposed to the conduct of any war it would be very difficult for the Government to prosecute that war successfully, even though the Australian nation, as such, might be in danger. He does not need to put that forward as a speculation, because it is fact. In 1940, when the National Socialists in Germany and the Bolshevik socialists in Russia were in alliance and both, virtually, conducting war against us - hot war on the part of Hitler, cold war on the part of Stalin - certain Communist union leaders in Australia persuaded their unions to oppose and sabotage the Australian war effort. As I have said, the honorable member for Hindmarsh need not have recourse to hypothesis, because this is what happened in 1940. and it is what happens when Communists are in control of the affairs of a section of the community or are able to control the policy of unwitting people, who do not know the way in which the Communists are using and moving them. This happened in 1940, and there are honorable members sitting in the Opposition benches to-day who were in the Parliament in 1940 and who. to their shame, either openly or under the lap contributed to the Communist sabotage of the war effort.
– Who are they?
– Let those who think the cap fits them put it on.
There was a time when I thought we should have members of the Opposition on this Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. I believed that we could fashion in this Parliament a bi-partisan foreign policy. That was at a time when the then leader of the Labour party took a very different view of foreign affairs from that taken by the party’s present leader. Those were the days when the ascendency of Communist influences in certain sections of the Parliamentary Labour party was not so evident, and there was some hope that these Communist influences would be driven back by the saner and more loyal elements inside the party itself. I must confess, with some regret, that I do not feel always the same confidence to-day.
Although I believe the Government was perfectly right initially in thinking that the committee should be a bi-partisan one and in wanting the Opposition on the committee so that we could have a bi-partisan policy, the alinement of certain elements in the Labour party with the policy of our Communist enemies - because if there is any contest in the world to-day it is between freedom and communism - renders the emergence of a bi-partisan foreign policy unlikely until there is a change inside the Opposition party itself.
One of the worst features of the matter - and I take well the point made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh - is that the Opposition itself would choose the members to represent it on the committee, and that we on this side of the House would not be able to say, “ This man or that man is unacceptable because of his pro-Russian affiliations “. That is a point that the honorable member made, and he made it very well. Because of that fact we could not be certain that from this committee there would not be a leakage of vital information to our enemies, or for political purposes.
I direct the attention of the House to a particularly scandalous and gross breach of confidence that occurred in this House this morning, when the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) referred to incidents which are alleged to have occurred during the Suez crisis. The Leader of the Opposition referred to incidents which took place, or which he alleged took place, during the Suez crisis. 1 know nothing of these beyond what the right honorable gentleman said in the House this morning, but 1 want to direct the attention of the House to the very gross nature of the breach of confidence which then occurred for a political purpose. The Leader of the Opposition said, “ During the Suez crisis. I and my deputy were consulted by the Treasurer and the Minister for External Affairs. We were shown all the cables.” He then said - and whether it be a fabrication or truth I know not - “ The Treasurer and the Minister for External Affairs took a view different from that of the Prime Minister “. I forget his exact words, but that is the sense of what he said, and a check-back on “ Hansard “ will show it is the sense. I invite the attention of the House to what has been done and what has been said in this House, and I invite the Leader of the Opposition either to get up and confess that it was a fabrication or, alternatively, to apologize to the Ministers and to the House for the gross breach of confidence that he committed in saying that the Treasurer, then Acting Prime Minister, and the Minister for External Affairs said to him certain things in confidential discussion during the Suez crisis.
And if that is the kind of thing that can be done even between two men - and I do not want in any way to involve the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in anything like this; I am speaking only of the Leader of the Opposition - how can you be certain that the people who by their open actions have shown that their policy is in alinement with the Communist policy will not. either for purposes of political propaganda in this House or elsewhere, or by report to people who are agents of the Kremlin, divulge the things which are said in confidence in that committee?
So, I for one feel that although it would be a good thing - it may be an essential thing - to get a bi-partisan Australian foreign policy, it is not possible while certain elements - and I say only certain elements; I do not want to involve the whole party - maintain their present position inside the ranks of the Parliamentary Opposition.
We have been asked by the Opposition for certain extensions of power for the committee. 1, for one, feel that some extension of power might formally be desirable - although it would not amount to very much, because, in point of fact, the committee has had all the facilities which could reasonably be offered to it - but only if the members ot the committee were such as could be thoroughly relied on. i take well the point, I appreciate the point. ‘ agree with the point that the honorable member for Hindmarsh makes when he says that you cannot tell which half dozen members of the Labour party would be called upon to serve on that committee, it it was, in fact, bi-partisan.
There are many members of the Labour party whom 1 would welcome on that committee. There are some - as the honorable member for Hindmarsh said, it is not for the Government to choose - whom because of their affiliations, because of their conduct, because of their promulgated views, I would find extremely unwelcome companions in any confidential discussion.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for Mackellar has completely misrepresented my statement. I repeat what I said. I was giving an illustration of how it is better in connexion with matters of foreign affairs arising on a high level to have meetings other than the meeting of a subordinate committee. I illustrated it by the fact, mentioned publicly in this House by the Treasurer, who was Acting Prime Minister, that at the time of the Suez crisis, day by day, and almost three or four times a day, he, the Minister for External Affairs, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I went into this crisis. We came to certain views about it, and I said - and I repeat - that if our views had been accepted by the powers responsible, there would have been no Suez tragedy. What is wrong with that? It is my duty to say so. That, in substance, is exactly what was implied by the Treasurer while these proceedings were going on, when he paid a tribute to what we did. Every one knew we were in agreement. This statement by the honorable member for Mackellar is completely destructive of the meaning of my illustration because of some motive which I cannot understand and which seems to impregnate everything he says. I assure the
House that I have correctly described the position and I call upon my deputy to give his recollection of it.
– I, also, wish to make a personal explanation.
Does the honorable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, Sir. I have been grossly misrepresented in association with the Leader of the Opposition.
– I rise to order. I particularly said that the remarks I was making did not apply to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, I cannot be said to have misrepresented the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– No point of order is involved.
– What the Leader of the Opposition said is completely correct. The honorable member for Mackellar misrepresented me when he said that the Leader of the Opposition and I had attended several meetings with the Treasurer and the Minister for External Affairs during the Suez crisis and that because the Leader of the Opposition to-day indicated the nature of those meetings, the Leader of the Opposition was guilty of a breach of confidence. I was present at all those meetings, which were held, as the Leader of the Opposition said, three times a day, at least on some days. As a matter of fact, I was a most enthusiastic supporter of the idea that we meet and I encouraged it in every way. The Treasurer and the Minister for External Affairs both expressed their satisfaction in the House that the meetings had been held and, indeed, the Treasurer - not in the House, but in a press statement - made reference to the co-operation which existed between the Government and the Opposition at this important time.
You, Mr. Speaker, know the general smear. The party is smeared and one person is exempted from the smear. I want to be included or excluded equally with every other member of the party, in regard to matters of this sort. The Treasurer complimented the Leader of the Opposition, in my presence, for the manner in which he was able to exercise restraint upon the Opposition side when he was apprised of all the facts of the Suez crisis. If the Opposition had wished to make it difficult for the Government and for our allies at that time, the Leader of the Opposition would not have behaved as he did. His was a great restraining influence which contributed to the maintenance of stability in the Australian legislature at that time. He and I are entitled to our own opinions on the Suez crisis, and we are entitled to our opinions as to the difference of opinion between the Treasurer, the Minister for External Affairs, and the Prime Minister on this question. It was not a secret disagreement, but one that was known as a notorious public fact. (Several honorable members rising in their places) -
Motion (by Mr. Opperman) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Dr. Donald Cameron) agreed to -
That a joint committee be appointed to -
examine and report on all proposals for modifications or variations of the plan of lay-out of the City of Canberra and its environs published in the “ Commonwealth of Australia Gazette “ on the nineteenth day of November, 1925, as previously modified or varied, which are referred to the committee by the Minister for the Interior; and
examine and report on such other matters relating to the Australian Capital Territory as may be referred to the committee by the Minister for the Interior.
That the committee consist of two members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Prime Minister, two members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, three senators appointed by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and two senators appointed by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
That every appointment of a member of the committee be forthwith notified in writing to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
That the committee elect as chairman of the committee one of the members appointed by the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
That the chairman of the committee may, from time to time, appoint another member of the committee to be the deputy chairman of the committee, and that the member so appointed act as chairman of the committee at any time when the chairman is not present at a meeting of the committee.
That the committee have power to appoint sub-committees consisting of three or more of its members and to refer to such a sub-committee any matter which the committee is empowered to examine.
That the committee have power to send for persons, papers and records and to sit during any adjournment of the Parliament and during the sittings of either House of the Parliament.
That the committee have power to consider the minutes of evidence and records of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory appointed in the previous session relating to any matter on which that committee had not completed its inquiry.
That the committee have leave to report from lime to time and that any member of the committee have power to add a protest or dissent to any report.
That five members of the committee, including the chairman or deputy chairman, constitute a quorum of the committee, and two members of a sub-committee constitute a quorum of the sub-committee.
That in matters of procedure the chairman or deputy chairman presiding at the meeting have a deliberative vote and, in the event of an equality of voting, have a casting vote, and that, in other matters, the chairman or deputy chairman have a deliberative vote only.
That the foregoing provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the Standing Orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders.
That a message be sent to the Senate acquainting it of this resolution and requesting that it concur and take action accordingly.
Debate resumed from 25th February (vide page 54), on motion by Mr. Malcolm Fraser -
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to -
May it Please Your Excellency -
We, the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
– I wish to join in the debate on the Address-in-Reply. Yesterday, in Canberra, from Duntroon to Government House and to Parliament House last night, the demonstrations of the ordinary people showed clearly that we have nothing to fear about the loyalty of the Australian people to the Crown. These demonstrations of loyalty were made by the ordinary people who were not fortunate enough to receive invitations to official functions, and they make one proud of the
British Crown and of those associated with it. People were seated along the byways for hours, waiting for a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and in that way expressed their loyalty far better than they could have expressed it in any other way.
I wish to make some comment on statements that appear in the Governor-General’s Speech. Reference is made to the visit to this country of the Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Kishi, following a visit to Japan by the Prime Minister of Australia. With other members of the Parliament, both from this House and from another place, I was privileged to visit Japan in response to an invitation from the Japanese Diet. After listening to a debate in this House on the Japanese Trade Agreement and having again heard criticisms of that agreement by honorable members opposite on Tuesday last, I am convinced that not seven members of the Parliament but every member of the Parliament should visit Japan at some stage. We may be worried about the immediate repercussions on our mode of living of a trade treaty, but, if we have any thought for the future, we must understand much better than we do now the problems that face Japan. If we do not, we will regret any stupid action on the part of the Australian public towards a nation which I believe is trying to follow a democratic way of life and to follow the example of democratic nations. I hope later to refer to that point more fully.
I want to pay a very high tribute - a tribute in which I am sure other members of the delegation will join - to the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) for his leadership of the delegation. He faced a formidable task. It was a task that warranted the skill of the best diplomat in the country, and the Posmaster-General displayed that skill on many occasions. This Parliament should be most grateful for the ability that he showed. One could not praise too highly the Australian Embassy staff in Tokyo. Visits overseas by members of Parliament are sometimes criticized in the press as a waste of public money, but they are vital if Australia is to assume the role that it wants to assume amongst the nations of the world. The people who should know what is hapening in other countries and who should know how our overseas posts are functioning are those who are responsible for the establishment of such posts and for the allocation of moneys for them. I think that we should revise our ideas on overseas representation. The Australian Embassy is staffed by the most excellent of men, but a few men cannot do the work of many. It is strange to see a country such as Australia, which is so closely concerned with events in the Pacific and which has far more responsibility in the Pacific than have New Zealand and, particularly, Canada, being represented by a staff much smaller than the staffs of those two nations. Canada, which is far removed from the Pacific and which is leaning more towards the Atlantic in its foreign policy and its interests, has a services attache, but Australia has not.
Another alarming feature is that, although the Australian Embassy in Tokyo is well supplied with officers who can speak the Japanese language, I do not think that more than one or two others in the whole of the Department of External Affairs can converse in, or read and write, Japanese. That is a pity, and some action should be taken to promote the further study of the Japanese language. It is true that wherever one goes in Japan some one can speak English. However, as an example of the point I am making, I mention a Communist Chinese trade commission which visited Japan. All of the many delegates, except one, could speak Japanese fluently. They did not discuss trade so much as spend their time praising the Japanese and saying that they were there on a friendly visit to admire Japan.
There seems to be considerable misconception regarding trade with Japan. This morning, the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) asked a question about the export of iron ore from Western Australia to Japan. The original refusal by the Government to grant an export licence was, I believe, on the ground that we were conserving our own stocks of iron ore for the future. That in itself is a creditable idea. However, a further survey of the iron ore deposits in Western Australia indicates that we have sufficient reserves for very many years. If an export licence for 1,000,000 tons of iron ore is granted, the iron ore that is exported must be paid for, and the big problem facing Japan, which must import most of its raw materials, is how to pay for its imports. We cannot expect to build up a very large export trade to Japan unless, at the same time, we are willing to accept imports from Japan. We cannot argue on the one hand that a trade agreement with Japan is entirely wrong and that we will cripple Australian industry, and on the other hand say, “ But let us sell more to Japan and get money for our exports “. There is no such thing as money in international trade; it is really a system of world barter and exchange as a simple means of paying for goods.
I suggest that honorable members devote more thought to their questions on this subject. Foolish or thoughtless utterances can not only damage Australian industry, but also threaten the future security of this nation. I explain that point by saying that, wherever we moved in Japan, the Japanese expressed their friendship towards Australia. They recognized that they had committed atrocities during the war and showed a determination to adopt the democratic way of life. They hope to live in peace with the people in the Pacific and hope that Australia can be an ally in the future as she was in 1914-18. Everything depends on how we, in Australia, react in the future, lt is impossible for many Australians to forget and no one would ask them to do so. But, in remembering, we must recognize that peace in the future can be achieved only by accepting some things that perhaps we think we should not accept. In his speech to the Diet, the Japanese Prime Minister made quite clear that the purpose of his Southeast Asian trip was to apologize to all the nations for what Japan had done in the past. Wherever we moved in Japan, it was evident that the Japanese were making a sincere effort to adopt a form of democracy. It is not possible to wrap democracy up in a parcel and deliver it, because democracy comes from a desire of the people to live in a democratic fashion. Japan has so many problems facing her to-day that unless she can be assisted by the nations of the West to overcome them there is a danger that she will move the other way and become a future menace to Australia. In my very humble opinion Japan’s future actions will depend largely upon not what she is doing in the next decade, but what we in Australia might be doing.
The signing of the Japanese Trade Agreement was one of the best things that could have happened. We hear repeatedly the case for the preservation of Australian industry, but the people who are most conscious of the need for that are the Japanese industrialists themselves. They expressed that view to us, and went so far as to prove it. One might come to the conclusion, after hearing the speeches of some honorable members, that Japan was a nation which employed slave labour, that working conditions generally were poor and living standards low. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I admit that we were taken on conducted tours of factories, but we were also free to go anywhere we chose. We were amazed to find that the Japanese factories provide working conditions equal to any in the world.
– What is the Japanese trade union system like?
– I do not want to spend much of my time on that aspect. Some of the honorable member’s colleagues had long discussions with labour unionists and members of the Office of Labour there. They could doubtless give him all the information that he seeks. The union set-up is fairly good. From memory, there are two distinct types of unions and these, so far, have not joined forces.
The over-population problem of most Asian nations - of which we have been very conscious - is very important to Japan. The Japanese believe that they have more or less overcome it because, in the course of a few years, they have greatly reduced their birth-rate. They have achieved this by a heavy publicity campaign on birth-control methods, and by setting up abortion clinics. They claim that every year there are 1,000,000 legal abortions, and an estimated 700,000 unreported abortions, in their country. That should give Australians some cause for thought. The Japanese have been forced to take these measures because they have been unable to find a solution of their population problem.
Migration is, of course, almost out of the question for the Japanese people. They have had some little success in encouraging emigration to South America, but generally speaking, they have no wish to move from their homeland. The average Australian might be indignant to learn that the Japanese envies the lot of the Australian, but the Japanese would not be human if they did not do so. We possess in abundance the things that to them are essential for mere existence.
Unfortunately, the Japanese do not properly understand the limitations confronting us in developing our vast continent. Some believe that all of our land is fully productive. For that reason, I suggest that when the delegation from the Japanese Diet returns our visit it will not merely be shown Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, with short air trips between, but will be placed on the Trans-Australian railway and carried from coast to coast in similar fashion. Its members may then realize that Australia, despite all its advantages, has its own terrific problems. They may learn that we have great open spaces, not from any desire to keep people out of them but because of the lack of water, and that much of our land is incapable of closer settlement.
At one factory which we visited 22,000,000 bushels of wheat were used annually in a chemical process for the extraction of a salt from the grain. Not one bushel of it came from Australia, though the directors of the establishment were keen to get it from us. They said that they used Canadian wheat because it had a highly glutinous content, which was essential to the chemical process. In adhering to the f.a.q. standard, and grouping all our wheat together, we may be damaging not our present wheat market, which is fairly stable, but the wheat market of the future. I believe that the market for Australian wheat would widen markedly if we became more selective in grading our wheat. However, I do not claim any special knowledge of wheat or wheatgrowing and can only hope that this matter will engage the attention of those who have that knowledge.
Turning now to our wool, I am reminded that everything one does or says in Japan brings one back to the Japanese Trade Agreement. Obviously, we cannot always sell to other nations, and never buy. Japan is Australia’s second best wool customer, and is likely to continue to be. One is amazed to find that at least 80 per cent, of the wool purchased by Japan is used on the home market which is, of course, tremendous and caters for the needs of 90,000,000 people. Only 20 per cent, is used for export and that, of course, is split up between the various purchasers of Japanese products. Therefore, very little of our wool comes back to this country in the form of finished goods. The Japanese state categorically that they could use approximately twice as much as they do now, and are only prevented from doing so by lack of means. Our primary industries are the life blood of Australia, and the man in the city, who complains about the price of wool or the fact that we are getting a few finished goods from Japan, should realize that he is actually parasitic upon the primary producer, without whom the office worker and factory worker would not exist. Therefore, it is obvious that if there is any need at any future date to extend the operation of the Japanese Trade Agreement that will be done first, to protect our own earning capacity, and, secondly, to help that nation to attain her rightful place among the countries of the world.
If we are honest with ourselves we must realize that it is quite stupid to adhere, and talk about adhering, to the United Nations Charter and at the same time try to tear down a nation because we disagree with that nation, or consider it politically unsound to do anything else. If we come to this House and decide things on the basis of whether or not they will win votes, we shall not be worthy of our place in this chamber. These questions are vital, not only to the present generation, but to future generations also.
If we wish to remain in the Pacific as a link between West and East - for we are the only Western Power in the area - we must do things which, although they may seem wrong now, will be seen in the light of history to be statesmanlike and not mere political stunting. Problems which confront the Japanese stare one in the face. Some of them cannot be corrected. The Japanese are acutely conscious of the trouble on the Australian waterfront. They realize that trade must be kept moving, but Japanese shippers are loath to send a ship to Australia if they think that it might be tied up and in the long run result in their having to pay higher freights. Japanese commerce is so dependent on sea hauls that if the freights from Australia are too high for them to meet they will look for business nearer at hand and cut down their costs. However, I think that there will be an increasing build-up of trade with the
Japanese. They have 300,000,000 cuscustomers at their back door and 9,000,000 in this part of the Pacific and since they must increase their overseas trade to survive it is inevitable that that will be developed.
I wish to emphasize to all honorable members one of our responsibilities as Australians. We have to make sure that when the Japanese parliamentary delegation comes to this country we shall do all in our power to show them that the Australian people, as a part of the British Commonwealth of Nations have not changed in what has been a characteristic of the British races - that we are a peace-loving people, prepared to accept a former enemy as a friend if we are satisfied about the future intentions of that ex-enemy. We have to realize, at times when some of our hatreds would get the better of us, that if we of the British race were to remain unfriendly with our ex-enemies, we would not have a friend in the world to-day - not even America, France, Germany or any other nation. Therefore, as a member of this Parliament and of the delegation which visited Japan, I look forward to the visit of the Japanese delegation to Australia and hope that that visit and probable future visits will help to develop a friendship between Australia and Japan which, I believe, is essential to peace in the Pacific and to the future welfare of our Commonwealth and people.
I wish to pay a tribute, in conclusion, to one man who, I feel, does not at times get the credit due to him. Earlier today, when it was announced in this House that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) was leaving for a meeting of the Seato council, there were groans from the Opposition. I understand that it is the job of the Opposition to groan and I do not criticize honorable members opposite for that. But I believe that Australia’s status in the whole of South-East Asia has been built up and is dependent upon two factors. The first is the excellent work done by our overseas posts, and secondly, and most important, the work of the Minister for External Affairs. It does not matter where one moves or whether one speaks to Government or Opposition members of parliaments in the South-East Asian area, one finds that the Minister for External Affairs is held in the highest regard.
– He should have handled the Suez trouble.
– It is difficult for an honorable member in this House to make one point without an honorable member on the opposite side trying to score off it. If the Minister for External Affairs were present he would resent the insinuation of the honorable member for Watson that he did not handle the Suez crisis.
– I do not think he would. He was pushed aside.
– I am inclined to think that in matters like this the Minister for External Affairs-
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I do not doubt the sincerity of the speech of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney). He gave a very good resume of the visit of our parliamentary delegation to Japan and, although I agree with much of what he said, I do not agree with him in every point. He said that the Japanese people do not like moving away from home. I think they had every intention of moving away from home at the commencement of the last war, which was part and parcel of their co-prosperity plan to come down and take Australia without our agreement in any way. I do not think the Japanese buy our wool because they like us or want to oblige us. They buy our wool because if they did not, their economy would be a lot worse off than it is. They are lucky that we have that product to supply to them. Insofar as our import policy is concerned, I should not like to see our Government do anything that would put Australians out of work in order to provide Japanese with employment. If the Japanese have an adverse trade balance to correct, let them correct it. Do not let us do it at the expense of the Australian worker.
I now turn to the Governor-General’s Speech which His Excellency delivered in the Senate on Tuesday last. That Speech reviewed the record of the Government in most favorable terms. The mover and seconder of the Address-in-Reply were very generous also in their summing up of it. The Opposition sternly condemns the contents of the Speech. The Australian
Labour party, after making a calm and dispassionate analysis, thinks that it is a grave reflection upon this Government which slavishly follows a monopolistic, capitalistic, private enterprise course which will put Australia on the wrong road and cause this country to experience the same fate as has come to many other countries subject to a similar policy.
The Governor-General’s Speech was negative in content. Not one paragraph in it would inspire confidence in any way. It was a collection of phrases expressing the Government’s view - “ We hope this will happen “, “ We support this thing that has happened “, “ We will co-operate with something else if necessary “, “ We agree with a whole lot of things “. It should be the policy of this Government to bring down some positive plan that would ensure achievements and provide opportunities for every bread-winner in the nation to be employed, whether he be a new Australian or an old Australian. Surely, this Government is not so bereft of ideas, in this year of grace 1958, that it cannot bring down some plan to ensure employment for every one who is able to work and wants to earn his living. It was a shocking thing for the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) to have to announce recently that in Australia 75,000 people are out of work. That is a shocking state of affairs in a country that has been blessed with an abundance of good seasons and all the things that make for a stable economy.
In 1949, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said -
The aspiration for full employment is no monopoly of the Socialists.
He was, of course, referring to members of the Australian Labour party. He went on -
We are all human beings. Yet it is clear that full employment is to be the Socialists’ election slogan. This is a false issue.
When the Prime Minister said that, in 1949, we know that in Australia, for the first time in its history, everyone who wanted a job had a job. For the first time in Australia’s history there was full employment. It has not been that way all the time since then, and it certainly is not the case now.
We should have a national plan to prevent unemployment. The Minister for Labour and National Service this morning tried to contradict the fact that unemployment is widespread, but on all sides reports prove that what the Labour party says about the employment position is correct. I have here a cutting from a Newcastle newspaper which says that the big works of Lysaght’s Limited intends to dismiss 250 mill operatives and process workers at its Newcastle works this year because it is intended to cut down production by 30 per cent. That is an industry, of course, that is involved in the building of homes. The Government should ensure that such a thing could not happen.
It was published under the headlines in the press yesterday that the Mayor of Lithgow had gone to Sydney to ask the Premier to make finance available so that 400 people who were out of work in Lithgow could be re-employed. The newspapers every day report similar unemployment all over Australia. Such things should not be happening in this country. The Government should evolve a plan for national development that would instil confidence in every family by giving people the knowledge that a job could be obtained whenever it was wanted. When one plan has been put into operation and completed, another plan should be ready in order to ensure continuity of work for everybody. Every human being is entitled to a job, especially in a land like Australia. A government that does not ensure that jobs are available for all is not worthy of the name.
I do not know why the office of Minister for National Development and the department exist. Neither the office nor the department have justified their existence. No plans, for national development are in operation. The only plans in operation to-day for the development of Australia are those that were put into gear when the Labour party was in office during the war years and up to 1949. The only great national developmental scheme in operation at present is the Snowy Mountains scheme, and that was put into operation by the Labour party.
– The Minister says “ Nonsense “. He should read “ Hansard “. If he did, he would learn that Mr. Lemmon, a member of the Labour party, introduced the legislation under which the scheme was first put into operation.
– And Ben Chifley opened the scheme.
– Of course he did. Plans should be made to develop Australia and to ensure that there is a job for everybody who wants one. It is about time this Government did something about the problem.
About this time last year, when the Parliament was opened, the GovernorGeneral made a Speech similar to the one he made on Tuesday. It was full of negatives. The intervening year has proved that the policy then announced on behalf of the Government was a negative policy. The Opposition was so incensed and dismayed by the omissions from the GovernorGeneral’s Speech last year, particularly the omission of any reference to a plan to deal with the most urgent and pressing problems that were affecting the nation, that it moved to censure the Government, basing its attack on the Government’s failure to deal properly with the housing problem. The Government deserved censure because of its failure to deal with many other problems besides housing, but the Opposition decided to deal with one tragedy at a time. The Leader of the Opposition moved -
That the following words be added to the Address: - “ but add -
That the Government is censured for the statement of housing policy made by the Prime Minister on 7th March last and for the acute social ills caused by its continual failure to establish, in conjunction with the States, a national housing plan.
This failure has been largely caused by the provision of inadequate finance for homebuilding ….
The Leader of the Opposition’s amendment suggested that adequate finance should be made available to State governments for home-building - they are responsible, in their spheres, for this work - and for war service homes, for which this Government is directly responsible. It also suggested that money should be made available to cooperative building societies and to Australians seeking to build their own homes.
The amendment stated that the national housing plan should have regard to the immediate reduction of immigrant intake. That was not because the Opposition does not like new Australians. We think that, for their own sakes, people should not be brought to Australia from overseas when there are already people here out of work.
That is why we believe there should be a reduction of the immigrant intake. AsI have mentioned, 75,000 people in Australia are at present unemployed. Why add to the number by bringing more people in? The amendment then stated that the national housing plan should have regard to - employment of the maximum work force in the home-building industry;
At that time, workers in the building industry were out of employment. The next suggestion was that the national plan should have regard to the availability of materials. The fourth paragraph stated -
It should also provide for -
priority to home-building over less essential private investment;
provision of sufficient finance to promote home ownership at low rates of interest.
We know that the housing loans that are available in Australia at reasonable interest rates are inadequate; they do not nearly cover the cost of a home. If an adequate loan is available, the interest rate is so high that an ordinary person on wages could not afford the repayment instalments.
Another reason why the Opposition selected housing on that occasion for the basis of its censure move was that an absurd statement had been made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). He had said that no crisis existed in the housing field in Australia, and that if it were not for a shortage of man power and materials, the lag in housing would be overtaken. 1 think everyone in Australia was astounded by that statement. It indicated to the community how out of touch the Prime Minister was with the problems affecting the people.
The Opposition is of the opinion that in the Speech delivered by the GovernorGeneral on Tuesday other problems besides housing were not adequately dealt with. I have been emphasising employment and immigration, but I could talk about prices and the Government’s failure to put reasonable value into social service benefits. I know that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) does not like my saying that. The same consideration applies to repatriation payments, which have lost their value. Opposition members could also criticise the Government for its policy on taxation and finance generally. However, we decided last year that we would deal mainly with housing, and on this occasion we will deal mainly with housing and employment.
The housing statistics supplied by the Government indicate that, despite an increasing demand, fewer houses are being built, and that those being built are more expensive. I shall cite some figures to prove that statement. They were taken from a publication issued by the News and Information Bureau of the Department of the Interior. In 1950-51, 79,229 houses were built; in 1951-52, 77,898; in 1952-53, 77,330; in 1954-55, 74,906- the trend is for the number to get less and less all the time - and in 1955-56, 75,536. The number did increase slightly in that year. The last figure available is that for 1956-57, when the number of houses built dropped to 65,540. More people are being brought to Australia and more people are getting married. Each year there are 80,000 marriages. What is the good of building only 65,000 houses when 80,000 people are marrying each year, quite apart from the immigrants who are arriving in Australia? It is nonsensical not to have a programme designed to accelerate home-building.
The statistics issued by the Department of the Interior contain an interesting commentary on the cost of home-building nowadays. In 1953-54, 77,578 homes were built at a cost of £199,000,000. In 1954-55, 82.000 homes were built. Several years back we built more homes than we are building now, although we did not require so many homes as we do now. The cost of the 65,000 homes built in 1956-57 was £209,000,000, yet the cost of the 77,578 homes built in 1953-54 - 12,000 more homes - was only £199,000,000. So it is easy to see that the trend is fewer homes for more money.
The same trend is apparent in respect of war service homes. In 1950-51, 15,000 war service homes were built or purchased at a cost of £25,000,000. In 1956, 11,000 war service homes - 4,000 homes fewer - cost £30,000,000. The War Service Homes Division is spending more money and getting fewer homes for it, and at present it is harder than ever for an ex-serviceman to get a war service home. There is still a delay of about fifteen months to be faced by the applicant for finance. (Government supporters interjecting) -
– I know that these figures, which come from the Government itself, irk the Government’s supporters, but I cannot help that; I have to state them to the House in order to prove that my statements are absolutely correct.
To-day a war service home in New South Wales costs, on an average, £3,782 to build.
– Does that include the cost of the land?
– Yes. The statistics supplied by the Department of the Interior show £3,7S2 to be the average cost of a war service home, yet the maximum war service loan is £2,750. That means that the intending builder or purchaser has to make up, in some way, the difference between the maximum advance and the actual cost. How are workers on wages to find £1,000 or more in order to buy a war service home?
The maximum home-building loan available from the Commonwealth Bank is £2.500. It costs £4,800 to build a comfortable home nowadays - almost twice as much as the maximum loan available. It is difficult to get the maximum loan of £2,500. You have to put up a very strong case to get it. Even a weather-board home nowadays costs £3,800. The difference between the maximum loan and the building cost puts homes of their own out of the reach of ordinary people.
The maximum loan under the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement is also £2,750. The tenant or buyer must find 10 per cent, of the cost of the home and pay interest on it at 4i per cent. It is impossible for workers to build homes for themselves under those conditions.
In turning now to the subject of immigration, I wish to make it clear that I do not want to be misunderstood on this matter, because the Labour party is not against the principle of immigration or against immigrants. An honorable member who spoke on the subject of the Japanese earlier in the debate said that he has no prejudice. Neither have I. I do not care whether a man is black, white or brindle. I do not care where he comes from. Labour’s policy on immigration, which I support, is not based on prejudice. I say that it is absurd to bring into Australia large numbers of people whom we have not the capacity to absorb, employ and house. It is only sensible to adjust our immigration intake so that the people who come here will have security, will have work and homes. For that reason we support the basing of the intake on the number of skilled men who are needed in this country. Let us requisition for the number of skilled men we require. Then, when they come here, they will have a job and will be happy in Australia. If skilled labour is required in any industry let us select the number of immigrants for whom there are vacancies and bring them here.
If the intake of immigrants were reduced the Labour party would not support any policy that would lead to the long separation of families. If a husband is brought here by the Department of Immigration at a time when he is unable to bring his wife with him, his wife should be allowed to follow him as soon as possible. Families should be re-united without undue delay. Other close relatives of the immigrant, such as a mother, should also be brought out under priorities should the immigration intake be reduced in accordance with our capacity to absorb the immigrants.
We believe that British immigrants should constitute 60 per cent, of the total. We do not adopt this view because of any prejudice, but because we think it is wise to preserve the British outlook and the British stock of this country. Another advantage is that British immigrants are easier to assimilate than non-British immigrants, because they understand our language and our laws. They are like us in every way, and it would be an advantage to have them in that proportion of the total intake.
I do not want anybody to misunderstand the Labour party’s policy .respecting foreign language newspapers. We believe that there could be a danger in having newspapers published in Australia in foreign languages. I think it is important for all of us to know what appears in newspapers and, if a newspaper must be published in a foreign language, each foreign language component of the paper should be accompanied by an English translation. This would have the additional advantage of assisting immigrants to learn our language.
All in all, the Labour party supports immigration in accordance with Australia’s capacity to absorb immigrants. It was the Labour party which initiated the immigration scheme, on humanitarian grounds, after World War II., when we knew that hundreds of thousands of persons were housed in refugee camps in Europe. Out of the goodness of our hearts we brought them here and gave them jobs. We believed in that kind of humanitarianism. The other reason why we brought them here was that we wanted them to develop the country. We of the Labour party believe in extending friendship to new Australians when they come here. As honorable members know, after the war we initiated a policy of full employment because we wanted to bring extra people here. That policy, which was adopted by the late Mr. Chifley, still stands good.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I think all honorable members are very pleased to see the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) back again after a very serious illness which threatened to incapacitate him for some time, and to know that he is able still to make those moderate, constructive speeches for which he is so well known in the Parliament. I am sure all of us hope that he remains very well indeed.
There are many causes of unemployment and economic crises with their consequent dislocation of business and work. Some of those causes can be controlled by this Parliament, but others, such as world conditions, cannot be controlled. It is our duty as members of the Parliament to attempt to remove the local causes that are under our control or which can be brought under our control. One of them, about which I wish to speak to-day, is the question of droughts and floods. This matter has not been dealt with satisfactorily in the past because there has been some difficulty about the interpretation of the navigation clause in the Constitution and as to who really has the power to deal with rivers as a whole. I wish to propose a plan to-day which, if adopted, will enable us to overcome this constitutional difficulty.
I suggest that our policy for overcoming this terrific enemy of the progress and development of Australia should be integrated with our external defence power.
It is just as important to save millions of tons of soil that are carried to the sea every year as a result of floods, and to prevent the frequent loss of millions of sheep and cattle, as it is to get ready for an external foe. In fact, later I shall point out that, if we do not take steps to overcome the problem of droughts and floods, we will not be able to provide the food that is necessary for the 30,000,000 people who, I suggest, are necessary to defend our country.
Let me say a few words about what has happened in Australia during the 100 years of responsible government in this country. We have had responsible government in the State sphere for 100 years and in the Commonwealth sphere for nearly 60 years. I have discovered from the records that in at least 50 of those 100 years there has been dire trouble as a result of severe floods and droughts. Some of the droughts have been long and devastating. Statistics that I have received from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization show that between 1891 and 1902 the sheep population of Australia fell by half from 106,000,000 to 53,000,000,000 and that the number of cattle in Queensland declined by 70 per cent, from 6,000,000 to 2,000,000. Between 1910 and 1916 the sheep population fell from 98,000,000 to 73,000,000, a decline of 25,000,000 or 25 per cent. Between 1943 and 1947 the number of sheep declined by no less than 30,000,000. Between 1921 and 1928 the cattle population of Queensland fell from 6,400,000 to 4,200,000.
The C.S.I.R.O. has investigated the problem to ascertain just what those losses have cost Australia. The document that was submitted to me by that organization sets out, year by year, the loss that was suffered as a result of the 1945-47 cycle of droughts. In that period, as I indicated earlier, we lost 30,000,000 sheep and probably well over 1,000,000 cattle. In the opinion of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, in the ten or twelve years that have elapsed since then the value of the loss of wool has been no less than £600,000,000.
I have discussed the position with the butter and milk producers in Queensland. They have said that over the last 30 years Queensland has lost £300,000,000 as a result of the absence of continuous production. It is quite obvious, therefore, that if we could prevent half of these losses, the total of which during the last 100 years I estimate to be greater than the total sum of British investment in Australia, we would be able to deal very much more satisfactorily with some of the economic problems that we have had in this country. Taking into account the value of the loss of wool, we probably would have had an extra £600,000,000, we would not have had to impose import restrictions, we would not have had half as many balance of trade problems, we would not have had to impose as much taxation, which touches everybody in the community, and we would have been in a very much better position now because there would not be the unemployment that exists.
In the district that I represent, where there has been a very bad drought for some eighteen months, dairy farmers whose average monthly cheque was £200 are getting only £10 or £15 a month - only £2 10s. a week for the work of a whole family! Country storekeepers are feeling the effects of the situation and, strange to say, even in the big city stores there has been a definite decline in the sale of commodities that are usually regarded as being the necessaries of life.
We should try to eliminate these enormous losses that are interrupting continuous employment and production. I believe that the right way in which to deal with the matter is to marry our policy for dealing with the internal enemy of droughts and floods with our policy for external defence. In other words, we should have a national defence and development policy. I tried to have such a policy adopted in 1938 in this very chamber, but, unfortunately, the State Premiers were not in complete agreement. If we had adopted that policy, this problem would have been under control, because provision would have been made for priorities and for dealing with matters that cannot be said to be completely State or completely federal matters or which, if they are State matters, could be dealt with by a Commonwealth and State partnership.
One result of these terrible recurrent floods is that millions of tons of fertile soil, which the scientists have told me has taken, in some cases, more than 1,000,000 years to build up, is swept to the sea. When we fly over the eastern and southern coasts of Australia after floods have occurred we see the sea stained for 8, 10 or 15 miles out from every worthwhile river. All that soil which, as I said, has taken millions of years to build up, is irretrievably lost to this generation which has to face the problems of modern defence.
When I look at what has been done, I find that almost all, or at least a great part, of what has been done to overcome the problem has been done as a result of some substantial contribution by the Commonwealth or the active co-operation of the Federal Government with State governments. One notable example of what a State government has done was the construction of the Somerset Dam by the Queensland Government some twenty years ago. That part of Queensland does not now experience floods of the kind that were experienced in 1893 when a warship was carried up into the Brisbane botanical gardens. The mayor and aldermen of Brisbane were sitting around to see what should be done when, by the grace of God, another flood came and took the vessel back into the river. Of course, we cannot expect such luck all the time. We must build up a balanced programme by federal initiative and cooperation with the State governments. I think that such a balanced programme could be built up very quickly. I have been in intimate touch with State administrators and engineers such as Kemp and Nimmo in Queensland, Brewster, Young, Corbett and Jacka in New South Wales, and East in Victoria, all first-class men. There are piles upon piles of records and plans - more than could be put into this building - but nobody will do anything about them. Mr. Brewster said to me: “ I am going to retire in a few years. I shall leave these plans and nobody will know how to interpret them. I also have in my head a great deal of invaluable information, but no use is being made of it.” The time has come for us to make certain that we use these plans to the full. Quick action is imperative for our own security and development.
I do not believe that anybody thinks that we can really hold Australia with less than 30,000,000 people. Even then, it will take us all our time to hold it. But our present food production will not sustain 30,000,000 people. Meat is one of our big industries. We produce about 1,000,000 tons of meat, a year. About one-fifth of that quantity is exported and we consume the other fourfifths. In other words, we produce only enough to feed about another 2,000,000 people. We must increase our production from 1,000,000 tons to 2,500,000 or 3,000,000 tons a year. Not long ago, potatoes reached a price of £300 a ton. We will have to increase our production of that commodity by 30 or 40 times if we are to feed 30,000,000 people. We shall need three times our present production of butter and other milk products in order to feed a population of 30,000,000 and have some to export to help pay for the things that we need from abroad. I think that our present production of milk is about 1,200,000,000 gallons a year. We shall have to increase that to about 3,000,000,000 or 4,000,000,000 gallons.
How can we do these things? There is only one possible way and that is to make our rich land produce continually. Thai can only be done by getting water to it. Water is the secret of success in this dry land. In the eastern part of Australia, especially, we have an ideal set-up. We have the Great Dividing Range with the coastal plains on one side of it and, stretching out to the west, we have rivers upon which we can build dams to supply water to the surrounding country. In other countries it has been found that the construction of dams on rivers causes the level of water under the surrounding land to rise. Sir John Kemp told me that he constructed a number of 25-ft. dams on the Lockyer River. Not only did those dams raise the level of the water in the river but, 10 or 15 miles from the river, men who were irrigating their land were able to put down wells and get water at a depth of 10 feet where they used to have to go to 25 feet or 30 feet for it. The amounts that those dams saved in electricity costs alone was substantial. I have been along the Lockyer when it has been raining hard and the irrigation pumps have still been going because it was cheaper to keep them going than to use labour to turn them off. That indicates the extent to which we can improve conditions if we get on to the job.
Already, we have attacked this problem in a co-operative way with great results. In the Australian Loan Council we have integrated our loan policy. People grumble about what the council does, but what would happen if every State was trying to raise loans for itself at the present time? They would have to borrow at interest rates of up to 12 per cent. The States with big cities might possibly get some money at reasonable rates, but the others would not. The Australian Agricultural Council which 1 established in 1934 as a voluntary body has unified our agricultural policy. That council has enabled the States to reach gentlemen’s agreements on the growing of such things as rice and sugar cane and so on with the result that those industries are very profitable to the individuals who are engaged in them and to Australia as a whole.
If we start to make heads of water available for irrigation, power production, and all the things ancilliary to water services, we will get 100 per cent, co-operation from the producers and their organizations. During the last few months representatives of official organizations have spoken to me on this matter and said, “ Surely this is the psychological moment to get something done, while people are suffering from the drought.” Of course, some rain has come, but the effects of the drought will be felt for a year or eighteen months in business and, possibly, in employment. But we can get 100 per cent, co-operation from primary and secondary producers’ organizations as well as from business and industrial organizations.
It would only be necessary to put a plan of magnitude and vision to the newspapers to find them all ready to boost it and try to secure the most solid support from every direction. They could provide constant informative publicity in order to ensure the best use of whatever resources were provided. I am sure that this Parliament would help individuals in every way. Many years ago, when I was Treasurer, I encouraged the building of dams by providing that the cost of their construction should be a deduction from taxable income in the same year. That provision has been improved, to some degree, by the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), but still more can be done. We should examine the question of what assistance can be given in the taxation field to people who use new devices. Once producers have sufficient water they can improve production, not 100 per cent., but 300 per cent, or 400 per cent, and supply the needs, not only of Australia, but of our overseas markets.
When I was Minister for Commerce 1 made an agreement with the New Zealand Government in order to ensure that Australia and New Zealand would send 20,000 tons of butter every month to the English market in order to get the maximum advantage from our advertising. The English grocers had been complaining, justifiably, that we advertized Australian and New Zealand butter but failed to keep the English market supplied. Consequently, New Zealand agreed to supply 150,000 tons of butter a year to the English market while Australia agreed to supply 90,000 tons. Then we had dry weather and Australia could provide only 40,000 tons and for two months had no butter on the London market. What the New Zealand Minister and the English grocers said to me on that occasion still rankles in my memory because it was so just an accusation.
If we can maintain an increased level of production it will make an extraordinary difference in all our transport facilities. The provision of a constant flow of produce will get transport prices down. In addition, increased production will result in land holdings being cut up into smaller blocks. More telephone and electricity facilities will become available and it will be possible to build better roads. It will also be possible to deal with the conservation of fodder in a national way and the men who grow fodder will grow it, not only for themselves, but also to put into store. Those who cannot grow fodder will always be able to get it by reason of the fact that we will have a tremendous quantity of fodder on hand. I put such a scheme into operation in 1941, when the Commonwealth had all the power that was necessary under defence regulations. Unfortunately, however, although the State Ministers for Agriculture agreed to it 100 per cent., the Premiers disagreed with it. They said they wanted the money for some temporary purpose, and the result was that the scheme was knocked on the head. I am sure that if such a scheme were in existence, with a revolving fund operated by the Federal Government to start it off and a State revolving fund with which to purchase machinery to cut down the cost of handling, we would not have this mess that we have to-day which has resulted in the necessity to import 15,000,000 bushels of wheat into New South Wales. Instead, there would be about 40,000,000 bushels in the reserve store that would have been available in time of trouble.
Such expenditure could rightly be called defence expenditure. Indeed, it would be reproductive defence expenditure. What reproductive things do we get from the present defence expenditure? Can honorable members think of one such thing? I have been trying to do so for a couple of days and none has occurred to me yet. There may be some reproductive defence expenditure, but I cannot think of any. On the other hand, expenditure of the kind to which I have referred would be completely reproductive. I do not believe that expenditure in this direction, which would bring about an increased volume of production, an increased stream of goods, leading to employment for a greater number of workers and enabling them to build homes, because they would be able to get timber cheaply, and so on, would result in inflation. If it were inflationary, I think the degree of inflation would be insignificant.
I believe that if, with that scheme, we combined a proper system of immigration, we would be able to get people to come to this country in sufficient numbers. Let us take the case of houses. We have the timber. There is an area of 3,500,000 acres of timber in my country that is not yet even under the forestry authorities. It is 60 miles from the northern railway - 60 miles from the only unified railway in Australia; it is 60 miles from the Pacific Highway and 60 miles from the New England Highway. There is not a soul on 3,000 square miles, in an area that has a rainfall of 50 inches a year, simply because nothing has been done to provide access to the area. The result is that the cost of houses is ever so much greater than it should be. There is no question that if we could say to prospective immigrants, “ There will be a house for you when you land in Australia “ - building ahead of their coming - we would get people to come from Britain. We would not have to put special inducements in our policy statements to try to attract people to Australia. What immigrants want to know as soon as they land is whether they can get a decent house to live in. I am sure that capital expenditure which ensured regular income and reproductive employment would have a stabilizing effect on the whole economic position of the country. Even if there were some lack of economic balance as a result, we would be able to put up with it.
The important thing that we have to ask ourselves is, “ What should we do? “ It seems to me that we must make up our minds about the time by which we want to see 30,000,000 people in this country. I think that we have not more than fifteen or twenty years, if we are to play safe. Such a population will have to be fed, and in the meantime, a whole national fabric must be constructed to enable us to use our water, food, clothing, houses, timber, electrical power and transport facilities to advantage, and to ensure that the necessary educational and other facilities are provided. I have worked out a short list of the things that we must have, not merely on the primary side, but also on the secondary side, to deal with such an increase of population. A community of 30,000,000 people must have at least 10,000,000 tons of iron and steel made for it every year. It would be able to use 45,000,000 tons of coal a year, which would mean that there would be none of this trouble that we have now with coalminers out of work. There would have to be a chemical industry linked with the coal and steel industries to enable us to use all the by-products of those industries. We would need engineering workshops which would consume at least 1,000,000 tons of steel a year. In addition, we would want electrical engineering plants.
– Order! The right honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I find it a pleasure to follow the honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) because of the most effective criticism of the Government that he made during the course of his speech. I should like to review several points of that criticism, because they came from the father of the House, one who has, I think, occupied many Cabinet posts. I feel sure that he has expressed and propounded previously the plans for national development which he has propounded today. During the greater part of the time that the right honorable member has been here, governments of which he was a member, and made up mainly from the parties on the other side of the House, have been in office. I think it must be recognized as a pretty sorry state of affairs that to-day the right honorable member for Cowper has still to point out the vast deficiencies that exist in the matters to which he referred.
The right honorable gentleman pointed out, in his effective criticism of the Government, that land settlement in Australia is in a deplorable condition. We know that there are fewer people on the land to-day than at any time in the last 25 years. I think we also know that if the present system of land settlement continues, the situation will be worse in 25 years’ time than it is now. The right honorable member pointed to the alarming deficiency in the immigration programme and the lack of provision of houses for immigrants who come here. He pointed out, also, that if an immigration programme were planned properly and houses were provided for immigrants, we would “get immigrants in large numbers, particularly from Great Britain. This is most effective criticism of the Government and there is very little that I can say to add to it.
The right honorable gentleman turned also to the very narrow, unproductive way in which the present Government treats defence expenditure. I noticed that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) looked up in surprise at this criticism. No doubt he knows that the greater part of what is called defence expenditure is completely unproductive. I think that the right honorable member for Cowper is quite right in directing the attention of the House to the need to consider that the defence of this country rests mainly upon economic development, not upon forming fours and carrying rifles, or in the purchase of jet fighters which are now, it would seem, outmoded. The defence strength of this country is its economic strength, as the right honorable member for Cowper rightly has emphasized. The time when this Government should make a decision in conformity with that principle is long overdue. I do not know what the Minister for the Army would have to say on this point, because we hardly ever hear his opinions, or for that matter, the opinions of the Government on the subject; but if the Minister does not think it necessary to answer me, I should think that he would consider it neces sary to answer the right honorable member for Cowper, who is one of the most experienced men in this House.
I believe that there are national objectives about which there is general agreement in all places. Some of those national objectives are: To raise rapidly our living standards; to develop the nation rapidly, including the objective of increasing our population by way of both natural increase and immigration; and to contribute to the maximum of which we are capable to the peaceful settlement of international problems, at the same time safeguarding the security of Australia. All sections of the community hold these objectives. Not all sections hold them in the same way, and not all hold them for the same reasons. However, I do not intend to spend any time in discussing those reasons. It is sufficient to say that these broad national objectives are acceptable by all of us, and I do not think that there is an honorable member on the other side of the House who will deny that he supports those objectives. In fact, at every election, and also between elections, the Government has repeated its acceptance of them.
We have reached the stage when we should ask ourselves seriously the question, “ Have we achieved those objectives? “ I think that the honorable member for Cowper has already given the answer. We have not. In recent times we have had peace and prosperity. For most of the last eight or nine years, prices of Australian exports have been at record levels. In such circumstances, it is a shocking state of affairs when a senior member on the Government side, the honorable member for Cowper, should be able to utter such damaging criticism of the Government on these matters as he has done to-day.
Let us examine the first objective stated, the living standards of Australians, to see how successful the Government has been in raising them. When we consider living standards we must remember that over the last five years prices have risen by at least 50 per cent. That means that 50 per cent, of the measurement of our standard of living in money value is purely nominal. To get at the true standard of living, we must examine the position of various sections of the community. It is quite misleading to consider any general standard of living. In connexion with pensions and social services, we have had figures from time to time from the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who is now sitting at the table. Those figures have shown the total expenditure on social service benefits. Figures relating to pensions that have been presented to us have shown that perhaps they might have just about kept pace with increases in prices if such increases are accepted on the most conservative basis. There can be practically no dispute that age and invalid pensioners, who total about 500,000 persons in Australia, are hardly any better off now than they were in 1950.
The standard of living of those whose position is affected by child endowment has fallen considerably. In fact, the Government has virtually abandoned child endowment in recent years. The Minister, in an endeavour to support his arguments that the Government has done well in providing social service benefits, has relied on figures showing the total expenditure on social service payments. The fact that the value of social service benefits has not risen is shown, however, if we compare the number of persons who receive such benefits with the increase in money payments made to them. Further evidence is contained in the proportion of total national income that is represented by social service benefits. In 1952-53, social service payments comprised slightly more than 6 per cent, of the national income and the figure was almost unchanged in 1953-54. It had risen to 6.16 per cent, in 1954-55 and to 6.44 per cent, in 1955-56, but had fallen to 6.36 per cent, in 1956-57. Although the number of persons who share the total expenditure on social service benefits has increased considerably, there has “been little more than stability in the proportion of the national income that has been made available to them. Nobody can claim successfully that there has been any significant rise in the living standards of those persons. On the contrary, for many of them there has been a significant decline. That does not indicate that the Government has achieved the national objective of raising living standards.
If we study wages, we must be careful first to recognize that the Government has consistently used a false level of wages as a standard; that is the average wage compiled from pay-roll tax returns. The average figure has risen from £13.65 in 1951-52 to £1S.70 in 1957. If those figures are applied to the prices index which has shown an increase in prices of 50 per cent., it is obvious that there has been no increase in the real value of the average wage. The average wage is a statistical measure and is not purported to be a measure of living standards. Nevertheless, it is consistently used by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) in this House in an endeavour to persuade the people that their living standards have been raised.
If we examine other wage measures, we find that the basic wage has been pegged for three years. Therefore, that element of the wage earner’s income can have shown no increase at ail. Awards are another important element in living standards, and the index of real wages published by the Commonwealth Statistician shows the following changes in recent years: - 1206 in 1950-51, 1201 in 1951-52, 1217 in 1952-53, 1223 in 1953-54, 1229 in 1954-55, 1213 in 1955-56, and 1,212 in 1956-57. Those figures show that real wages in fourteen industrial groups have been much lower in the last two years than they were in 1952-53. Those are the levels of the standard of living of a large section of the Australian people. I refer to those who depend on social services and those who depend on wages.
If we examine other incomes in the community, we see where much of the increased national income has gone. Company earnings are shown at from 6 per cent, to 7 per cent, of the national income, but it is clear that those figures give a false impression. The proportion of the national income represented by company income has risen from 11 per cent, in 1949-50, when this Government was elected to office, to 12* per cent, in 1954-55. Before 1949-50. company income represented about 9 per cent, of the national income. The latest figures available show that the proportion in 1956-57 was 11.2 per cent.
Another important factor, which is fortunate for those concerned, is the remarkable increase in depreciation allowances in recent years. They amounted to 4 per cent, of the national product in 1951-52 and now total 6 per cent. That involved an increase from £148,000,000 in 1951-52 to £343,000,000 in 1956-57. The aggregate proportion of the national income going in those two directions has risen from £52S,000.000 in 1951-52, or 15.3 per cent, of the national income, to £888,000,000 and 17.2 per cent, of the national income in 1956-57. It is clear that there has not been a significant increase in the number of persons who benefit from the distribution of company income. Whenever those figures have been quoted, the answer that has come sooner or later from the Liberal party office which provides speeches for honorable members on the Government side, is that there has been an increase in the number of shareholders. The fact is that we do not know very much about the shareholding position in Australia. The point to remember is that of the 26,000 companies which pay company tax in Australia. 20,000 have no more than 10 per cent, of the total company income between them. Just over 5,000 of those 26,000 companies receive about 90 per cent, of the company income. That is an enormous concentration of national income in the control of very few persons.
The history of living standards over the last five years shows that they have been years of prosperity and good export prices on the whole. There should have been a great improvement in living standards but, on the contrary, we find that the standards of one-third of the people have been depressed. They comprise pensioners, unskilled workers near the basic wage and workers with large families even though they possess some element of skill. There has not been any significant improvement in their living standards. The next onethird of the people up the income scale have received little or no improvement in their living standards; but if we consider the one-third of the people at the top of the scale, we find that there has been a greater improvement in their living standards, as a result of direct income, excess profits or capital appreciation.
The second national objective - the increase in population - is something in which this Government has taken great pride. Let me direct the attention of the House to a set of statistics which have not been quoted or considered recently. There are two ways to increase the population - by natural increase and by immigration. Let us look at the birth-rate figures and see whether we have achieved our objectives. In 1950-51, the average num ber of marriages in Australia per quarter was 19,211. In 1956-57 the number was 18,111, a fall of 1,100 marriages per quarter, despite a population increase of 1,200,000. I challenge the Government to say why the marriage rate fell so significantly in the years I have mentioned. If the Government believes that Australia is achieving its national objectives, what has it to say about that alarming fall in the marriage rate? A perusal of the statistics will show an almost unbroken fall from the time this Government took office up to the present day, despite the fact that the population has increased by 1,200,000. The figures show that from 1950-51 to 1956-57 there has been an increase of 4,000 in the number of births over deaths, which is an increase of 14.4 per cent, during the time this Government has been in office. In that time, the population has increased by 14.5 per cent., so that population has increased faster than natural increase.
Let us look at immigration. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) rendered a magnificent service in attending that Libera! party rally called the Australian Citizen ship Convention and pointing out that the Government’s propaganda about its immigration programme is completely misleading. Labour’s objective was a yearly intake of 1 per cent, of the population, depending, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) pointed out, when he spoke in 1945, on the maintenance of full employment, adequate housing and other services. The present Government came into office in 1950 when the rate of intake was 165,000. By 1953-54. the rate had fallen to 50,000 a year. It rose to 95,000 in 1955-56, and fell to 82,000 last year. Talk about not turning the immigration programme on and off like a tap! I have never seen a better example of that than the Government’s own record. According to information gathered by a research worker at Adelaide University, the proportion of British immigrants has declined to a little more than one-third of the total. Is the Government proud of that? Is that achieving our national objective?
Immigration from southern Europeancountries is now restricted to dependent relatives, those engaged to sponsors in Australia, and females between the ages of eighteen and 35 years. The Government with its proud immigration programme, is drawing a line between families one half of which is in Italy or other parts of southern Europe, and the other half in Australia. The Labour party says that should not occur, and that immigrants in Australia should be permitted to bring their relatives here.
Why has the standard of living in this country made so little progress? Why has the marriage rate and the rate of natural increase been so poor? Why has the immigration programme to be cut in order to save the living standards of the Australian people? The answers to all these questions lie in the Government’s inadequate economic policy. The Government has not maintained full employment. The Government’s record in housing, hospitals and other services is shocking. In 1952-53, there were 29,984 people receiving unemployment benefits. As a result, the immigration programme had to be cut from 108,000 to 50,000 in the space of eighteen months. It is not only a matter of unemployment; the rate of increase in employment has been extremely poor. Since June, 1955, only 50,000 more salary and wage earners have gained employment in Australia. Since June, 1956, only 6,000 have joined the work force, and since June, 1957, the figure has increased by only 2,600. That is unsatisfactory. Since 1955, at least 200,000 more people have become available for employment.
Now let me consider the matter of public works. What is the Government’s record in this regard? In 1951-52, public works expenditure was 9 per cent, of the gross domestic expenditure. The figure was 9.6 per cent, in 1952-53, and it has fallen ever since, until to-day it is 8.3 per cent.
In 1951-52, houses under construction numbered 78,380, of a value of £177,600,000, or 4 per cent, of the gross domestic expenditure. That was not enough. But in 1956-57, the number of houses under construction had dropped to 53,313, the total value being £154,100,000. The value of houses under construction declined from £177,000,000 to £154,000,000, and expenditure on housing as compared with gross domestic expenditure fell from 4 per cent, to 2.28 per cent. Honorable members cannot fail to have noticed how expenditure has increased on luxury hotels, office buildings, and service stations during this period. Such buildings have been multiplying needlessly throughout the country. In 1951-52, the value of such luxury buildings under constuction was £125,500,000, representing 3 per cent, of the gross domestic expenditure. In 1956-57, the value had risen to £230,500,000, or 4.2 per cent, of the gross domestic expenditure. Such is the economic picture in Australia. One might think that with a free-enterprise Government in office there would be improvement with relation to fixed capital equipment in private industry, but in 1951-52, the amount involved represented 16.7 per cent, of gross domestic expenditure, whilst in 1956-57, the figure was still only 16.7 per cent. Australia is suffering as a result of this Government’s economic policy, from under-investment even in fixed capital equipment in private industry, after eight years of free-enterprise government.
What is the explanation? The explanation is that everything is left to a maximum profit economy, plus pious hopes. The Prime Minister expressed a pious hope on Tuesday last when he said that if only the insurance companies and banks would return to their traditional role of lending for housing, the situation in relation to housing would be far better. What a pious hope that is when they can lend on hire purchase contracts enormous amounts of money at enormous profits, far greater than they could hope to obtain from loans for housing, hospitals, or roads.
National development cannot be left to private enterprise. The country must face the question of priorities. We must decide what is essential, what is less essential, and what is not essential. It is impossible for a Liberal government to do this. A Liberal government is committed to allowing free enterprise to spend its money where it can get the greatest returns. A Liberal government and its business associates can provide non-essentials at hire purchase rates, but it will not and cannot discharge the responsibility of ensuring that the essentials for national development are secured. We have lived long enough in a fool’s paradise, as is indicated by the figures I have cited. Government supporters would do well to look at those figures instead of interjecting with the same old catch-cries. If they did, they would probably improve their knowledge of the situation. Believing that a free enterprise government cannot and will not devise and apply the appropriate remedy, the Australian Labour party says that certain definite action can be taken along the lines of establishing proper priorities for national development, and ensuring that they are observed. If those advocates of national development, such as the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), were to look at the statistics, they would become aware of the Government’s shocking record and would recognize that certain things are essential to our national development and to our defence. If the Government supporters are satisfied with the position, then honorable members on this side of the House are not.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I hoped that the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) would observe the established customs of the Parliament when he was referring to the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). He, quite intentionally to my mind, referred to him as the member for Cowper. I have heard it rumoured that the honorable member for Yarra has had the benefit of an Oxford education. That may be so, although I am bound to say that he has very carefully and cunningly concealed from me any knowledge he may have acquired there. One thing is luminously clear. It is that at no stage in the honorable gentleman’s life has he acquired any manners, because, to refer in the quasicontemptible fashion in which he did this afternoon to that distinguished member of this Parliament, the right honorable member for Cowper, was, I believe, the very antithesis of gentility.
I hoped, too, that the honorable gentleman would spare us from listening to the details of his rather painstakingly-gathered thesis that recently won him a doctorate. For myself, I would have preferred to read it. At least it would have been a little more enjoyable and a little more pleasant.
I want to say to the honorable gentleman that the record of this Government in the field of social services is not simply comparable with the record of any previous Labour administration; it is infinitely better.
The honorable gentleman referred to land settlement, implying that this Government had shirked its responsibility in that sphere. I want to devote but a passing minute to that argument, because it is a rather astonishing one. I have always been under the impression that the main responsibility for land settlement in Australia was resident with the States of the Commonwealth, but when I look back on twelve years of Labour rule in Queensland from the end of war until, thank heavens, just recently, and when I see Labour’s lamentable record of land settlement in that State, I say to the honorable member for Yarra that far from criticizing a Liberal-Australian Country party administration on land settlement he would be much better employed in directing his energies, his efforts and his enterprise to gingering up the Labour attitude to land settlement.
– He could write a thesis on it.
– I thank my colleague for his apt interjection.
The honorable member for Yarra turned to the rather extraordinary argument that defence rests entirely upon economic strength. I do not think I am distorting his contention willingly when I say that he has argued that defence rests upon economic strength. As I have said, that is an extraordinary view. When I think of the 200 divisions that the Soviet Union has at instant command for deployment in the field, when I think that by the end of this month the Soviet Union will have some 30,000 jet aircraft at its immediate disposal, when I think that some hundreds of Soviet submarines are available for the furtherance of international communism, I say to the honorable member, who obviously has some affection for Soviet policies and for Soviet ways that if that is the Soviet’s idea of securing defence then it must also be our idea of securing defence.
The honorable gentleman contended, as every member of the Opposition who has spoken during this debate has contended, that the country is in a shocking position to-day, that depression is imminent, if not already upon us. The honorable member for Yarra and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) hold the view that they can simply plan their way out of this problem or these problems that may be upon us.
I have no doubt that they can plan, but I venture to suggest that the price of planning, under the hands and under the auspices of socialist-minded intellectuals, allegedly, such as the honorable member for Yarra, is one that the Australian community cannot afford to pay.
The honorable gentleman also made the charge that we have not full employment in Australia to-day. 1 want to say at once that, speaking quite personally, I cannot view employment figures without trying to gain some appreciation of the plight and personal distress of those who find themselves out of a job. I also want to say to the House, and in particular to the honorable member for Yarra, that the only possible way in which full employment can be maintained under any and every circumstance in a modern economy is, according to the socialists, by the direction of labour. That is the price that will have to be paid.
I turn at once to one of the great figures in the international socialist movement - the late Sir Stafford Cripps. Even though it may ill become one to refer unkindly to those who have passed to their fathers, I am bound to say I look back on Sir Stafford Cripps as being a disastrous figure because I remind myself of the fact that it was Sir Stafford Cripps who presented to the Soviet Union half a dozen Rolls-Royce Nene jet engines from which the Soviet Union developed the “ Migs “ that maimed and killed so many American and Australian troops fighting in Korea.
This is what Sir Stafford Cripps had to say on the direction of labour and full employment. It will pay my honorable friends opposite to listen -
No country in the world, so far as I know, has yet succeeded in carrying through a planned economy without conscription of labour.
That was a statement by Sir Stafford Cripps, who is much admired by the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) in particular. To show that was not simply the projection of a hypothesis but was actually put into practice, I give the House an extract from the Attlee Control of Engagement Order, issued, I believe, either in 1945 or 1946. lt was an explanatory pamphlet to make plain to the people in the United Kingdom what their responsibilities, duties and obliga tions were under the Attlee Control of Engagement Order. Listen to this choice sample -
Once again we meet the policy of the planners, of the socialistic intellectuals who are completely convinced in their own minds that they can plan themselves out of anything! What happens eventually is that they plan from one crisis to another.
So much for the United Kingdom. Lel us come a little closer to home because the right honorable member for Barton, who is in the chamber, had this startling observation to make in 1942-
– I rise to order, ls the honorable member entitled to refer to the Leader of the Opposition as the right honorable member for Barton, or must he refer to him as the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition?
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay)The honorable member for Moreton should refer to him as the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition. I must correct the honorable member for Moreton on that point.
– The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition, this synthetic defender of civil liberty, had this to say in 1942-
The right of the individual to choose his own vocation and employment is only one of the freedoms which the Australian people must forego in the interests of the State.
– Who said that?
– The Leader of the Opposition. To show that that was not some ephemeral or transient view, in 1944 the Leader of the Opposition had this to say -
To-day with the enormous development of industry and industrial organization, corporate control and finance, there is no longer a full right in every person to choose his own vocation in life.
I leave this question to the impeccable judgment of the House and to every thinking Australian: Are we in this country prepared to pay the price for full employment, to destroy the very essence and the very fundamental of free and civilized authority? The crux of the issue is simply this - I have made this allegation before in this House and I make it again this afternoon: The course of time has taken most of the members of the Australian Labour party, or at least those who presently sit in this House, so close to an adoption of the Marxian concept of economies that there is virtually no distinction. The Marxist believes that the free enterprise system of economy must be destroyed from within. Those who follow the Leader of the Opposition share this belief. They also take the view that their task in political life is, in the first place, to preach depression, in the second place to hope for depression, and in the third place to work for depression.
We have heard and we shall continue to hear until this debate expires an orchestration of what one may describe as the “ Sonata Depressionata “. In this, we have as the first violin the Leader of the Opposition, as the trombone the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), as the bassoon the honorable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr. Curtin), and as the flute obbligato the honorable member for East Sydney.
I think it would be of some value to the deliberations of this chamber if I were to take the House back to another rather engaging statement. So many engaging statements are made by honorable gentlemen opposite that one runs out of apt descriptions for them. This was made by my friend, the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). He and I - not through my fault, at any rate - are linked. There is a bond of consanguinity between us. I speak of him with deference, great respect and great humility. He shows great judgment on many occasions. He brings to the deliberations of the Parliament an epigrammatic wit, at times rather heavily disguised, and something in the nature of an original personality. But after all, in the final analysis, he is a person highly respected by the Opposition. This is what the honorable member for Parkes had to say some years ago. It is not only passingly pertinent, but critically pertinent to this debate. He was speaking to the Reestablishment and Employment Bill in this chamber in 1945 and to my mind this is not a statement that one makes on the spur of the moment. It is not something that one suddenly cooks up, as it were. This is something that one deliberates upon, sleeps on overnight, and then lets go. The honorable member for Parkes said -
I realize that there cannot be total employment, but if we can get down to 5 per cent, of unemployment, for all practical purposes that can be regarded as total employment.
– When did he say that?
– On 15th May, 1945. lt is recorded in “ Hansard “, volume 182, page 1697. I do not lightly dismiss the opinion of the honorable member for Parkes, and I am not prompted on this occasion to dismiss it. If we took his formula as a yardstick, out of a work force of approximately 4,000,000 people, in a condition of total employment some 200,000 people could be unemployed. I submit with humility that the Parkes formula, if I may so describe it, vis-a-vis the present situation in Australia shows how futile and puerile is the charge that has been made by members of the Opposition.
I turn to another matter in the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General which I believe dominates and overshadows all other considerations. His Excellency said -
While we may take some satisfaction from the consolidation of our friendships in Asia, the international scene in general is no less complicated than when I last addressed you. The “ cold war “ against the unity of the free world continues, and my Government will maintain this nation’s contributions to the security of the democracies.
One does not need to sit swami-like, as does the honorable member for East Sydney, to predict that probably this year there will be a summit conference. 1 am bound to say that in my view if the western democracies attend a summit conference without being firmly determined in their minds to wrest from the Soviet Union the ambition of world domination, it may well be that the world will descend into an abyss of despair. Only at the end of last year, on 21st December, 1957, Mr. Khrushchev had this to say upon the settlement of this great and dominating world problem -
Let us settle outstanding issues by peaceful negotiation and soberly, without diktat, discuss on an equal footing problems agitating mankind, let us exclude war as a means for solving international problems, let us recognize the status quo, that is the present situation in the world, when there exist socialist and capitalist states, let us not interfere into each other’s internal affairs.
In the same speech, Mr. Khrushchev said -
We have retained our great revolutionary ardour and assure our comrades in the struggle for the working-class cause that we shall be ever loyal to the principles of Marxism-Leninism, to the principles of proletarian internationalism, that we shall continue to regard ourselves as the vanguard which raised on high the banner of Lenin, and, with Lenin at its head, was first to storm captialism, which has victoriously carried forward this banner for forty years.
We pledge to hold firm the banner of Lenin, advance confidently to Communism, and fight persistently for world peace.
If there is any person in the free world to-day - and I am not going to be overcautious in attempting to define “ free world “ - who has not been completely convinced that it still remains the intention of the Soviet Union to dominate the world, all I can say is that there is within that person a form of entrenched ignorance. I am quite dismayed to listen to various people in this place express views - and unhappily to read in some of the newspapers of this country -that the Soviet Union has passed through some form of change and that to-day it no longer holds to the idea of world domination. That is a form of criminal lunacy. If any person inside or outside this Parliament can convince me that the Soviet Union has repudiated Marxism-Leninism with its idea and concept of world domination, I shall instantly hand to you, Mr. Speaker, my resignation. I believe that the Soviet Union is still intent on world domination, and that it still remains its ambition to put into the one mould of serfdom every individual and every country. So I hope that at the summit conference, which I believe will be held this year, it will be the most robust determination of the representatives of the Western powers to manoeuvre - if one likes the word - in order to force the Soviet Union to surrender its idea of world domination.
Finally, Mr. Speaker - and, I suppose, from the stand-point of Opposition members, happily - I pass on to another subject. The right honorable and gallant member for Cowper, this afternoon, made some objective observations about water conservation, in dealing with the ravages of flood and drought - those two extremes of Nature in Australia. I should like to join with the right honorable gentleman in emphasizing to the Parliament the urgent need for a rethinking of our attitude of mind towards drought and flood. In Queensland, we have recently passed through a great and rather disastrous drought. During the last two or three weeks, people in the north of Queensland have become the victims of disastrous floods. 1 have in my hand a photostat copy of an outline of a water conservation scheme advanced by the late Dr. J. J. C. Bradfield, as published in a Rural Reconstruction Commission report prepared in 1945. The number of floods that has occurred in the last 25 years in the main Queensland streams, particularly the Thomson, Barcoo, Paroo, Warrego, and Maranoa rivers, and Cooper’s Creek, is simply fantastic. From 1920 to 1925, there were 20 floods in the Thomson River, and 37 in the Barcoo River.
It is high time that we started to re-think our attitude towards the two extremes of Nature represented by flood and drought, and I should like to propose this afternoon the appointment of an all-party select committee of the Parliament to re-examine the principles enunciated by Dr. Bradfield. I am well aware that his scheme has been casually dismissed by many competent authorities in the past, but I suggest that, in the light of recent technological advances, it may yet profit this country and its people to re-examine in detail Dr. Bradfield’s principles. As the right honorable member for Cowper said this afternoon, if we are to continue to help Australia, it behoves us to set ourselves to the task of developing Australia. So long as we are plagued by the two violent extremes of Nature - flood, on the one hand, and drought, on the other - we shall never hold Australia, because we shall never be able to develop it.
I regret, Sir, that I am not able to develop, in greater detail, and on a broader canvas, my proposal for the appointment of an allparty select committee to examine the Bradfield scheme and kindred proposals. I believe that there is an urgent need for Australians to re-examine the ravages being wrought by drought and flood on this magnificent continent.
.- Before I proceed to the main theme of my remarks, Mr. Speaker, I should like sincerely to thank you personally for your visit to my home during my illness when you travelled to Tasmania to attend the funeral of the late Honorable Claude Barnard. I should like to thank the members of the Australian Labour party and my leader, members of the Government parties, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) for the messages of encouragement that they sent me during the nine months of my absence from the sittings of the Parliament, and to say how much those messages were appreciated. I believe that there is a real fellowship among the members of this Parliament, regardless of their political persuasion, when trouble or sickness strikes one of their number. This is a great thing, and a member who falls ill comes to know the real warmth of that fellowship. I greatly appreciated your thoughtfulness, Mr. Speaker, in visiting me at my home on the occasion that I have mentioned.
The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), also, was a member of the fellowship of my well-wishers. However, I may say that I appreciated the letter that I received from him during my illness much more than I appreciated the speech that he has just made. That may be only natural. Had his speech, at the outset, taken the tone on which it finished, it would have been a very sound contribution to this debate.
– And there would be no unemployed!
– And there would be no unemployed, as the honorable member observes. If that great water conservation plan mentioned by the honorable member for Moreton were under way, there would be no unemployed.
The two quotations of remarks made by members of the Australian Labour party that the honorable member read to the House in discussing unemployment were taken direct from the war years. I emphasize that, in war-time, many policies and principles are thrown overboard, for war is ruthless. There are no principles in war; one must defeat the enemy, and that is the only objective. In all countries, all parties and all governments have had to do in war-time things that they would never have thought of doing in time of peace. It is most unfair for an honorable member to cite remarks made by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), in war-time, as an indication of Labour’s real policy on employment.
This Liberal party-Australian Country party shotgun marriage Government is living in an ivory tower of complacency and inertia after nine years of office. I am afraid that this is something to which all governments that have been in office for more than eight years are subject.
– Unless there is a good opposition.
– There is a good Opposition now. It has kept the Government on its toes in relation to all the main issues confronting Australia to-day. However, the active strength of the Opposition in’ this House is only 47 members, compared with the Government’s strength of 74. The Opposition is not afraid of its record as an opposition in this Parliament. It is proud of that record. In this connexion, I need mention only the banking issue, in passing. The Government will be forced to make a second attempt to get its banking measures through, because the opposition to them when they were first introduced was too great. My only regret is that I had to be content with listening to the debates on those measures, and could not participate.
Two important problems outweigh all others in Australia to-day. They are the problem of the 75,000 men and women who are registered as unemployed, and that of the housing shortage. In dealing with those problems, this Government thinks in terms of percentages, and not in terms of people. One has only to examine the statements made by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) to know that he thinks only in terms of percentages, and not in terms of people; otherwise, he would never make the statements that he has made, or take the inferences that he has taken from the statistics that he uses. There is no humanity in the cold statistics of employment and unemployment that the Minister pours out every month. This Government is looking at the two important problems that I have mentioned through the wrong end of the telescope. It is marvellous how far away a man seems when one peers at him through the wrong end of a telescope.
This Government pursues its financial policy on the basis that inflation is more serious than deflation. I repudiate that assumption with all the vehemence at my command.
– Only because the honorable member does not know what he is talking about.
– So the economist from the Riverina butts in! J have not lived so long as the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) has, and perhaps I have not lived as gloriously as he has; but 1 have come up the hard way and studied through years at high school and university, and I will not let him say that I do not know what I am talking about. I have served in this Parliament nearly twice as long as the honorable member has done.
I say again that inflation is not as serious as deflation when deflation means that thousands of men and women no longer have the right to earn because the work is not there for them. To say that that position is better than the inflationary conditions of more money than goods is a criminal statement to come from anybody who believes in humanity. I would rather see everybody working, and inflation rampant in the country, than the situation we have to-day without inflation. Over 100,000 people are out of work, which means that not only the worker himself but his family is directly involved, or nearly 300,000 people throughout the country. When one looks at the humanity of the matter, it is criminal to say that inflation is more serious than deflation.
This Government believes that a pool of unemployment is inevitable because it believes in the old jungle law of supply and demand. It can never get away from that philosophy. The serious stresses in the economic structure to-day are basically related to the laissez-faire policy of capitalism that is espoused by this Government. In plain English that means “ Let her go; no controls; full steam ahead and the devil take the hindmost! “. That is the laissez-faire policy that dominates this Government’s thinking day in and day out. No wonder we have the present situation while that philosophy continues along its ruthless way.
Let us look now at the GovernorGeneral’s Speech on behalf of the Government, prepared by the Prime Minister and his advisers. With 75,000 registered unemployed - and the number would be nearly 100,000 in actual fact because hundreds do not register - together with the fact that thousands are not yet accommodated in decent houses in Australia, the Speech of 2,700 words, devoted only 80 to unemployment, and not one line to housing. Where is the Government’s sincerity revealed in the Governor-General’s Speech when these two great crises are dismissed in such a cavalier fashion? To spend money on housing is the greatest thing any Government or individual can do. The housing industry, with its ancillary and dependent industries, is the greatest employer of labour in the Commonwealth. It is a magnificent industry, but when we find it beginning to decline through lack of credit we are in for trouble because the shock of the decline rebounds on the 101 ancillary industries. When a decline occurs in housing a wholesale disastrous effect is felt throughout the Commonwealth.
This is a stark illustration of the Government’s cavalier and complacent attitude to the serious trends and stresses in the economy to which honorable members opposite are always referring. Think of it! Of the Governor-General’s Speech only 3.4 per cent, was devoted to providing an answer to unemployment, while housing was not even mentioned.
This Government, and some of its Ministers, delight in using fancy names in an endeavour to camouflage the true meaning of unemployment. That word is oldfashioned so they use the words “ disemployment “ and “ over-full employment “. For Heaven’s sake, we know they all boil down !o the one plain stark fact, that men and women are out of work and are lining up for work at certain factories each morning. They are registering as unemployed in the agencies throughout the Commonwealth because they cannot receive unemployment benefits until they do register.
The Governor-General’s Speech is noted for its lack of deep analysis and poverty of answers to such questions as unemployment, housing, excessive immigration, credit restrictions and the rural slow-down. It is a homily of generalities.
The “ Canberra Times “ which, in my opinion, is doing a great job as a national paper in the national capital, headed its leading article on Wednesday, 26th February, 1958, in this way -
Unemployment will not cure itself.
The article then states -
In the Governor-General’s Speech in opening Parliament yesterday, three of the 45 paragraphs referred to the economic situation in Australia, and one of these mentioned unemployment. This reference was a disconcerting understatement, and the implication seemed to be that unemployment was not regarded anxiously by the Commonwealth Government. Something in the nature of a danegeld to the States is apparently expected to solve all troubles. The complacent assumption is that if something is done to assist employment opportunities, the Commonwealth has discharged its full responsibilities.
The article goes on -
At least, one thing that might have been imported into the Speech was some sympathy with those who are the victims of rising unemployment.
A further portion of the article reads -
It is neither sufficient to leave the solution of unemployment to others or to point to the failures of other agencies without doing something positive towards procuring or enforcing a remedy. In a statement in the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister made an appeal to private financial institutions to resume lending funds for housing, but no reference was made to the credit policy of the Government which retains restrictions on housing accommodation.
In a recent statement, General Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, at least showed his deep sympathy for the 4,500,000 unemployed in America to-day. But the Governor-General’s Speech contained not one word of sympathy for or encouragement to the thousands of unemployed in Australia. To the people out of work, the Speech is as cold as Heard Island. One wonders whether the Government is interested in the problem when it regards unemployment so cold-bloodedly.
In the “ Canberra Times “ of Wednesday last the following article also appears under the heading, “ Recession Signs in Rural Areas, Graziers’ Claim “: -
Rapidly increasing unemployment is only one sign of a drift towards a national economic disaster.
The word “ disaster “ was used, not by the Opposition but by Mr. D. W. Bucknell, president of the Graziers Association of New South Wales. About ten of his members would vote for the Labour party. His organization is financially one of the largest in Australia, and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who is at the table, knows something about it. The article continues -
Mr. Bucknell said the most significant signs of developing recession in Australia were to be found in rural areas. These were:
A considerable fall in the incomes of primary producers because of wool prices, drought, a slump overseas in commodity prices, increasing costs and a taxation policy to meet a nonexistent inflationary situation;
Unemployment was being felt most severely in rural areas.
Of course, when a person is unemployed, less bread, meat and butter and fewer eggs and so on are consumed. The article in the “ Canberra Times “ continues -
Mr. Bucknell warned unless adequate measures were taken to achieve these objects what was now a threat could become overnight an economic disaster.
I should now like to quote an amazing statement-
– Is this the statement about the extra grant of money to the States?
– That amount should have been £25,000,000. I shall read now from an article in to-day’s “Daily Telegraph “. The heading of the article is, “ Economy is Sound, says Expert “, and it reads as follows: -
Adelaide, Wednesday. - Professor R. I. Downing to-day said that Australia was in a twilight zone-
I’ll say it is, with 70,000 out of work: - between full employment and inflation. That was just where it would want to be, he said. Professor Downing is Ritchie Professor of Economic Research at Melbourne University.
He was on a visit to Adelaide. No doubt the people in Melbourne were glad to get rid of him. The article goes on: -
He was addressing a summer school on business administration. “ The present increase in unemployment is pathetically small when we look at our total work force”, he said.
That is the way this Government thinks. The article continues: -
It is less than in Britain and the United States.
As if that is any comfort to the 100,000 who are out of work: - “ Although unemployment has gone up, so has everything else “, said the Professor.
In fact, under this Government’s administration, I may say that everything has gone up but the rain. The article goes on: -
He said the rise in new car registrations was impressive….. Professor Downing said that the Stock Exchange was healthy.
Professor Downing must be earning a great deal of money as a professor, but he does not deserve the basic wage if he makes statements of this kind. It is a shocking statement for a man in his position to make, that we are in a twilight zone and that it is just where we would want to be. He gives no answer to our problems at all. He merely states the facts of the situation without attempting to give any of the answers. This statement shows clearly the cold-blooded way in which the country is being viewed to-day by the experts and economic advisers of this Government. It is a pity that members of the Government did not get rid of their experts and do some thinking for themselves.
I shall refer now to the position in Tasmania. At question time this morning I asked the Treasurer whether, in view of the fact that Tasmania will get only £142,000 from the recent Commonwealth grant to the States, and as unemployment in Tasmania is at its highest level for 13 years, and as 900 applications for home loans are registered with the Agricultural Bank at Hobart - to mention only one aspect of the housing problem - he would consider making a special direct grant to Tasmania of at least £500,000, as has been done in the case of nearly every other State that has faced a similar economic crisis. The Treasurer went stark mad because I, as a backbencher, had the temerity to ask this question concerning Tasmania. He seemed to think that any such question should come from the Tasmanian Premier, who, he said, is a wonderful man. Then he continued with “ blah, blah, blah “ about what our Premier is. I shall certainly not take that sort of thing from this or any other Treasurer. We Tasmanians are here to represent Tasmania, just as other honorable members are here to represent New South Wales, Victoria and other States. We have a right to speak for our State and to put the facts before this Parliament.
– The honorable member has no right to distort the facts!
– I am coming to that. The honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham) was a willing stooge of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), when he asked the Minister a question after my question had been answered by the Treasurer. The reply given to me by the Treasurer shows that Tasmania will get no further assistance, and that the Government’s attitude towards the problem is as cold and barren as Heard Island. The Minister for Labour and
National Service came into the chamber and asked the honorable member for St. George to direct a question to him. We call such questions “ Dorothy Dix-ers “. The Minister then accused me of distorting the facts of the situation in Tasmania. I absolutely deny any distortion. I said that just over 2,000 persons were out of work in Tasmania at the present time. The Minister went further and, quoting statistics of the situation a week or two ago, said that 2,020 are registered as unemployed in Tasmania. Yet he called my statement a distortion. I throw the word back in his teeth.
– Check the figures for September, 1949, when a Labour government was in office!
– I have the unemployment figures for the last thirteen years. In fact, I have taken them’ from a statement of the Tasmanian Premier. He was recently at a meeting of the Australian Loan Council, as were all the other State Premiers, but the latest statistics on unemployment were not released until after the meeting. The figures that the Premiers had before them did not accurately represent the position at that time. The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) has just handed me a copy of the “ Monthly Review of Business Statistics “, which shows that in Tasmania, in September, 1949, there were only 31 receiving benefits. That was the figure that the honorable member for St. George asked me to check. There would not have been more than 150 out of work then.
I suggest that the Minister must have had some motive in coming back this morning and accusing me of distortion when no distortion at all had taken place. Let him tell his story to the Tasmanian people. I know which of the two versions, his and mine, the people will believe, because I have given the actual position. Never in the past ten years have I had so many men as during the last four months coming into my office and asking me to help them to get work, or so many small farmers asking help to obtain credit to develop their farms, or to buy new machinery or more stock. Something must be wrong with honorable members opposite if they cannot see what is going on.
The Minister for Labour and National Service, when answering the question asked this morning by the honorable member for
St. George, added together the £142,000 that Tasmania will receive out of the special grant to the States, and the £165,000 that it may get. I say “ may “ because this is merely the extra amount that the municipalities have been given permission to raise by way of loans. We might get £16 or £16,000, but I can guarantee that we will not get £165,000 within the fourmonths period. The Minister added those two figures together and obtained an amount of £307,000 and said that we have this amount available to provide work for the unemployed.
– The Minister can sidestep better than he can quick-step!
– That is a very apt statement. The Minister’s reply shows me that he had some motive in trying to knock me overboard. But he will not succeed iri knocking me overboard, because I have come from Tasmania armed with these facts. We see the situation in that State at first hand. I have been very close to the problem during the last six months. Even though I have been ill I have been kept busy with problems of this nature.
Finally, let me say that the economic situation is dangerously fluid. To put it in another way, it is balanced precariously on a knife edge. Only a short-term rejuvenation by release of bank credit to farmers and home builders, and a long-term adjustment of the immigration programme, can recover the lost ground and stabilize the employment situation in a way that will satisfy honorable members on both sides of this chamber and any one else who has at heart the welfare and security of the Australian people.
– I agree with the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) that the economic situation is, in very many respects, fluid. But this is true not only of Australia but also of many other countries, and perhaps of most countries, at the present time. The economic situation is not the only thing that is fluid. If honorable members will study the Speech of the Governor-General, I think they will agree with me that in many respects we stand on a watershed. Our old concepts of defence are no longer adequate to meet the situation in which we find ourselves. No longer can we hope to maintain the security of Australia by the methods that have enabled us to keep Australia ours for over 160 years. We have to re-adjust our thinking with regard to international affairs in quite a number of ways, and I should have liked to devote the whole of my remarks to this one aspect of the matter. Instead, however, I shall deal with the subject of the fluidity of the economic situation, which has engaged the attention of the House to a certain extent this afternoon.
The position is this: We have now reached a stage at which we have made good most of the devastation caused by the last war. We have to adjust our economic policies to suit a new type of capital investment, and we have a chance to improve living standards all round, because we now have greater natural resources on which to build. But this process of re-adjustment is not an easy one either for the world as a whole or for Australia. If we have difficulties - and we have, just as other countries have difficulties - let us remember that they are difficulties of opportunity. But at the present moment it is the difficulties which bulk larger than the opportunity in our thinking. We look at world prices falling, and having fallen, bringing tensions into our Australian economy. We look at the terms of trade, the ratios in which our exports exchange for our imports, which have been so markedly favorable to us since the war but are returning to normality or are even unfavorable again. Governments here and in other countries have to re-adjust economies to these circumstances.
In Australia, there has been a small rise in the unemployment figures. It is all very well for us to say of a man who is unemployed that it is probably not very significant, that lots of other people are unemployed or few other people are unemployed; all he knows is that he is unemployed and the suffering comes back to him. The individual must, of necessity, lose a sense of proportion because his own problems press on him personally so heavily. Let us remember that, and remember that we are dealing with not merely statistics, but personal problems.
I do not think it is right that members of the Opposition should go up and down the lobbies as they have been going during the last few days gloating on the increase in unemployment, saying jubilantly that there are another 3,000 people out of work, and that they are going to get back into office on the backs of the unemployed. I think that that is not a right attitude for them to adopt. They know perfectly well that they have been saying this thing up and down the corridors over the last few days.
But let us not try to make political capital, as they have done, out of this position. There are 70,000 or 80,000 persons unemployed - something like 2 per cent, of the total work force. We do not want that, although it is considerably better than the 5 per cent, which the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) used to pose as the desirable level of unemployment in the kind of economy that the Labour party wanted.
– He did not say that.
– On the basis mentioned by the old Mr. 5 per cent, of the Labour party, there would be 200,000 persons out of work. We are not going to get into that position. We must, and we will, take action; in point of fact, we have already taken it. The Prime Minister has spoken of the extra money that has been released for housing, the extra loan money that will be available to various authorities, and the relaxations of credit. All these things are moving. I wonder perhaps whether they are yet moving fast enough because, as the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) said a few minutes ago, the situation is fluid. We should take it in hand and make certain that it does not get in any sense out of control.
– It is already out of control.
– There is the gloating from the Labour party to which I have referred. Listen to the gloat in the voice! Honorable members opposite want the unemployment situation to be bad.
– It is already bad.
– Order! The honorable member for Herbert should respect the right of the honorable member who is addressing the House to be heard in silence.
– I welcome the interjections, which give the honorable member away completely. We want to cure unemployment quickly in order to make certain that in this period of transition it does not grow. It is to the political advantage of the Labour party, unfortunately, for unemployment to be as bad as possible, and don’t honorable members opposite know it! Are not they saying it?
– That is being very nasty.
– Let us see, then, whether there are any concrete things that can be suggested. Housing is, perhaps, the main thing which lies ready lo our hand. It has its advantages. Housing, in the first place, is mainly in small units, so that there is no necessity for a long-term plan. In this respect, it differs from the building of a large dam or the like, plans for which take years to draw before the job is done. Cottages, which are small units, can be started almost straight away. Some part, at least, of this problem lies immediately within the province of this Federal Parliament. For example, if I may refer to a small thing which is very significant, we could at this present moment provide houses for married men in the defence forces who, by reason of their postings, have been suffering quite considerable disability since the war. Of course, that would not cure the whole housing shortage, but it would alleviate it. That is something that can be done here, now, and immediately. We can release more credit for housing. We have already taken up the slack in relation to war service homes. We are talking about building and employment. That is one avenue in which homes can be provided without delay for those who are eligible. These are matters in which the Federal Government, as opposed to the State governments, has its particular concern because, by and large, housing is a State function. However, it is an understatement to say that credit is important; it is vital to the housing programme. This is a federal function, and in the release of credit perhaps more can be done. Perhaps we can see an extension, federally sponsored, of some system of guarantee, which operates on a small scale in certain States in relation to the financing of individual housing loans. I believe there is scope for the Federal Government to act in these ways.
Then, Mr. Speaker, there is the question of transport. Here, again, we have something which is in the first place the concern of the State governments, but in which the Federal Government assists them materially. I have spoken in this House previously about the need to dieselize quickly the Australian railway system. We have the capital resources with which to build diesel-electric locomotives. Let us get them going. Let us get a revolving fund or something of that character, as has been suggested before in this House, which will enable orders to be placed now so that we can look forward to a cheap and efficient railway system in the not-too-distant future. All competent authorities who have examined this question are unanimous in the view that modernization of the traction of the railway system is essential if it is to become an efficient transporter of goods at a reasonable price.
Then there is the question of standardization of railway gauges. The Government has already made the first very desirable moves. Perhaps now we can think of doing this work a little bit faster. We are told that, because of the fall in the price of certain base metals, there is not full producion. even at Broken Hill. Perhaps a work force will be available which will help us to standardize the vital link from Broken Hill to Port Pirie.
– But the State government is not keen on it, is it?
– I am not certain that we cannot come to some terms with the State government in that regard, because this is a reasonable proposition that will benefit the economy not only of South Australia but also of Australia as a whole. If we can do this, we will help to reduce costs of production at Broken Hill and thus enable fuller employment at the present level of world prices.
– What about the Mount Isa railway?
– The Mount Isa railway is another line that merits consideration. I am not trying to give a list; I am trying to suggest the sort of thing that lies open for us to do.
The fall in the price of base metals has undoubtedly retarded mineral development, but there is immediate scope for the intensification of our oil exploration programme. Mention is made in the Governor-General’s Speech of the fact that the Government has taken the very forward and desirable step of subsidizing certain stratigraphic drilling in order to increase our chances of finding oil in Australia. That is well and good, but I understand that, because of the limitation of funds, not all the applications, not even all the desirable applications, have been able to be accepted. Perhaps the release of a little more money in that direction would increase employment there, at the same time adding to the defence and economic security of Australia. Perhaps the time has now arrived for us to think of our first producing atomic power reactor.
Again 1 emphasize that I am not trying to give a complete list; I am suggesting that a list with priorities should be compiled and that we should be getting on with the job without delay, because there is a little lag in the response to these changed circumstances. It is vital that there should be immediacy of response. If there is a lag, then there is a tendency to over-correct; the steering becomes woolly, as it were. If we have immediacy of response, it is not necessary to go nearly as far as would otherwise be necessary in the provision of credit or of artificial stimulus to the economy. If corrective action is taken immediately something is observed to be going wrong, it is much easier to keep the whole thing under control. I wonder whether the Government’s statistical information is always as up-to-date as it should be. The Statistician does an excellent job in many respects, but for this kind of thing we need a more intensive application of the sampling technique - not the full statistics but a properly controlled sample of statistics. In that way we can have from day to day or week to week an appreciation of the trends instead of having to wait, as we have to wait now, until the full statistics are published. Very often they come too late and do not enable us to give the immediate correction that the circumstances require.
This Government is definitely a government of full employment. We have had thrown in our teeth for the last eight or nine years, always with a certain amount of pleasurable anticipation by the Opposition, the assertion that there will be unemployment. The columns of “ Hansard “ are full of such comments. However, the past eight years have been the period of highest employment ever in Australia’s history.
– That is not true.
– That is true. In no other period of eight consecutive years in the history of Australia has employment been so high and unemployment so low.
We can claim by results to be a fullemployment government. What we must do now is ensure that we maintain that record. However, there are conditions and difficuties. Where are the limits? The first limit is the limit of prices. I noticed that one honorable member said, “ Oh, laisserfaire, let her go “. He wants to let prices go. He wants unlimited and uncontrolled inflation. We do not want prices to go up in that way. With the present depressing influences on world prices, there is scope for injecting credit into the economy to affirm the price structure in Australia. But I do not think that we should “ let her go “, as apparently the Australian Labour party wants to do, and thus send prices skywards again. It is a limitation. These factors must be balanced, and it is useless trying to distort the motives of those who plead for some reasonable balance, believing that there must be and should be a fullemployment economy. Then, of course, there are the limitations of the overseas position. We cannot go too far out of step with what happens in the rest of the world. If we do, we lose liquid funds and get into various financial difficulties.
Thanks to the policy of this Government, Australia’s position is now remarkably stronger than it was, shall we say, in the days of the onset of the troubles in the early 1930’s. That is so for two reasons. The first is that we have very considerable balances in our London funds. The Treasury Information Bulletin shows that those balances were £590,000,000 as at December, 1957 - a small increase during the course of last year. That is a very considerable sum to have - a very considerable buffer. Of much more importance is the second reason. We have now an economy which provides a far greater proportion of its needs from its own resources and is therefore, in the long run, far less dependent upon imports, if there should be any stringency. We are making most of the things that we need. The real trouble is that we, as a full-employment government, have not available to us, and do not want to have available to us, the spur of unemployment. In order to keep up productivity in the labour force we need adequate incentives. I believe that we have to be thinking along these lines so that productivity will bring a reward to the individual, thus keeping up effort without having to resort to the spur of unemployment which we have discarded and never want to use again. I know that there has been an instinctive and understandable reaction from some people in employment to say, when things are slowing down, “Let us go slow and spread the available work “. Over the short term that is understandable, but over the long term, now that we have in power a government dedicated to full employment, there is no need for anything like that which cuts back our living standards and reduces the capacity of Australia to provide goods and services for its own citizens and reduces our capacity to make and keep our living standards the best in the world.
– What does the honorable member mean by “ full employment “?
– By “ full employment” I mean just that - “full employment “. I know that in a growing, healthy economy, there must be a switch of men from one job to another, and men may be out of work for brief periods. But full employment means that any one who is willing to work can get a job without any undue delay. I hope that the honorable member will not try to suggest that because in a switchover from one job to another a man may be temporarily out of work, that can be regarded as unemployment. That is not what I mean. I say that we have full employment when, apart from the transients who are changing their jobs, those who genuinely want work can get it. That is what the Government has provided during the last eight years and that is what it will provide for the remainder of its present term of office and also throughout its next term of office.
Sitting suspended from 5.S8 to 8 p.m.
Suspension of Standing Orders.
Motion (by Sir Philip McBride) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) from speaking for a period not exceeding 45 minutes.
– The subject-matter of the debate is the Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the GovernorGeneral. We are, of course, in entire agreement with certain remarks that have been made by honorable members concerning the very important visit to this country of the Queen Mother, and other matters. Her Majesty’s visit has been a very happy one for Australians and has, in the words of His Excellency’s Speech - it was the best part - revived memories of her late husband, who was to visit Australia with her when, alas, the trip was foreclosed by the onset of serious illness. I think that it is right, too, that the Speech should refer to King George VI. as a great king. I think that he was a most underestimated king because his reign was overshadowed, in one sense, by the devastation of a great war. In that war his late Majesty rendered great service to the Commonwealth, and especially to those who came from overseas - certainly to none more than to the representatives of Australia who from time to time visited London during that period. I can speak with conviction about that because I had experience of it on a number of occasions.
With the exception of these, and a few other completely non-partisan matters, the tone of His Excellency’s Speech was not what one would expect in a serious situation such as at present exists. The reference to employment has, more than anything else, given rise to this general feeling. Of course, unemployment is an economic condition which comes and goes. One cannot be dogmatic about the future extent of unemployment, but we believe that the present situation, and the situation which preceded it, can only be described as serious. The Australian Government undertook, by its acceptance of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to maintain the principle of full employment, and any departure from adherence to that principle should be looked at closely. The figures reveal that, in fact, the departure has been very considerable indeed.
The latest figures produced by the Department of Labour and National Service put the total number of persons registered for employment - that is unemployed people wanting jobs - at 31st January at 74,765, an increase of 15,000 over the December figure, and 22,000 over that for January, 1957, The number of those receiving unemployment benefit - which is practically equivalent to what is often fairly called the dole - increased by 3,800 from the figure of 26,000 mentioned in debate the other day. Thus, the actual figure is 29,856.
The December figures revealed an increase of 7,000 in the number registered for employment, and 6,000 in the number receiving unemployment benefit, or the dole. Very stringent comment has been made upon this fact in the columns of newspapers which usually support the Government. For instance, in the “ Sydney Morning Herald” the following appeared: -
The ranks of the unemployed are fully comparable with the extreme trough of the 1952-53 recession. And still we have had no word that the Government proposes to do anything about checking the drift.
The article then refers to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), and goes on -
On both these vital issues of employment and housing, the Opposition can literally say that the Government has not only taken no steps whatever to correct trends which are proving contrary to its expectations, but that it has not even deigned to offer a word of explanation of its inertia. Its silence can either be construed as a confession of its own uncertainty or a stubborn, touchy vanity which could be disastrous for it.
An article in another Sydney newspaper reads -
If there is one thing you can rely on the present Federal Government for, when any sort of real crisis approaches, it is complete and absolute inertia.
I think that is true. We have seen it in connexion with the defence administration, which has gone from bad to worse. Finally, Sir Leslie Morshead has been brought into the picture and is now engaged in making certain recommendations to the Government. The position in all the defence services must, as previous debate has shown, be regarded as unsatisfactory. The same kind of complacency is found in the Speech to which we are replying.
The phrase used in regard to unemployment is, “ There has been some increase in unemployment . . .” That is certainly not a description of what has happened. There has been a very substantial increase in unemployment. Similarly, in relation to the defence forces, the Speech reads, “The programme is proceeding satisfactorily …” I do not think that any one associated with the defence forces would agree with that. It is typical of the whole tone of the speech.
I should like to say at the beginning of my observations that it is not proper for the Government to put words like that in the mouth of the representative of the Crown. After all, his Speech, as we know, is prepared by the Government. Many people outside of the Parliament do not know that, and are apt to regard His Excellency’s Speech as representing a detached view of the situation. From beginning to end one finds casual references to serious subjects, and attempts to remedy the situation. That is a very serious matter, and I do not know of many cases in the history of this country in which it has occurred. The Speech of His Excellency has simply been treated as an opportunity to make an ordinary political statement. That has prompted the amendment to the Address-in-Reply which I shall move at a later stage.
Some of the criticism directed at the Government has contrasted the inaction of this Government with the activity of the United States Government. The Sydney “ Daily Mirror “ had this to say -
The Governor-General, Sir William Slim, opening Federal Parliament yesterday, said the Government was “ continuing to keep under the closest scrutiny the increase in unemployment.”
Then the following very fair comment was made: -
This is the kind of fatuous statement that is making even its best friends despair of the Menzies Government. (Sir William was, of course, reading a speech which the Government had written for him.)
That is contrasted with a recent statement by the President of the United States of America on the same subject. The position in that country is tremendously serious. There are more than 4,000,000 persons unemployed there.
– The figure is at least 5,000,000.
– That may be so. Certainly the position is very serious. The percentage of persons unemployed in Australia does not compare with that obtaining in the United States but it is, nevertheless, quite serious. It is not nominal at all.
– It is worsening all the time.
– It is worsening. The percentage of unemployment is not to be regarded as of no importance. The Minister for Labour and National Service uses phrases like one he used to-day in answer to a question when he said that the Government’s policy has always been to try to maintain high levels of employment. That is correct, and in one form or another has been said by quite a few members on the Government side of the House. It is that phrase which, in my opinion falsely describes the aim to obtain full employment for our people. “ High levels of employment “. That was the phrase the United States wished to include in the United Nations Charter on this important economic subject. Australia and other countries, in 1945 when the Chifley Government was in office, put forward proposals by which all the nations pledged themselves to maintain full employment in co-operation with the authorities within their own borders and other countries. The pledge was one of full employment. Representatives of the United States wanted to water that phrase “ full employment “ down to “ high levels of employment “. That was a matter of extreme concern at a critical period in the conference. In the end, the United States proposal was defeated, and the Charter embodies the pledge of full employment - a pledge made by every member of the United Nations. Not only that, but the Declaration of Human Rights consolidates that position from the point of view of the individual. It says, in terms which should be quite clearly understood, that it is the right of individuals to obtain employment. It recognizes that human right as being of a universal character. I know that from time to time it is not easy to carry out that undertaking. It may, in some respects, be regarded as the ideal. It would be the ideal if it extended all through the world. But it does mean something more than having this great number of people idle, this great pool of unemployed in the country, which is the despair of those who are out of a job and the fear of those who are wanting to keep a job. You cannot, in a modern democracy, where the people’s welfare is so bound up with conditions in industry and the employment situation, aim at less than that; and my complaint against the Government - and it can be vouched tor by many of the speeches of its members - is that it does not aim at full employment.
I admit that the Government aims at, and has achieved to a large extent, high levels of employment in very prosperous conditions, and that that is better than the situation which did occur in the great crises of past depressions; but the objective should be the right of every man and woman in this community to obtain a job under reasonable conditions, and it should be the duty of the Government so to organize conditions, so to plan, so to legislate, that that will be possible. 1 know it is said - it has been said by speakers this afternoon - that the choice is between full employment and inflation on the one hand and high levels of employment and less inflation on the other. I do not think that is the choice. I do not think that there is necessarily involved this interference with individual freedom - “ manpower control “ as one honorable member has termed it to-day. I do not think that that is involved in adherence to the doctrine of full employment. It is by that doctrine, laid down as internal policy by Mr. Chifley, that the Labour movement stands. We must stand by it. In this modern age, this is a question of great significance to all members of the community, having regard to the Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter. Whether they be old Australians or new Australians, if they are unemployed, or if any substantial group of them is unemployed, that is not only an injury to themselves and their loved ones; it is also a threat to everybody else in the community. So they must act together in that matter.
That, I think, is the proper approach to this great question of employment. There is no doubt whatever, as has been pointed out in comment and criticism of the Government on the employment position, that it should not be a matter of touch and go. But in fact the main influence on Government policies has been the force of inertia. Its members having sat immobile upon their dignities whilst things have drifted this far, the Government inspires little or no confidence in its policy to grip the situation if it heads towards something worse. Whether it does so head towards something worse depends on what is done. The situation will not right itself of its own momentum. You cannot leave the thing alone, as was the old motto of the laisser-faire conservative governments, and admittedly there has been some action by the Government, as indicated in the House and in public statements. But that action seems to us to be grossly inadequate to meet the position, and if the present situation continues, or even improves a little, you will still have the great problem of the pool of unemployed.
The Government says it does not believe in having the pool of unemployed, though it is advised by the experts to have one. 1 saw a reference the other day to a group in the United Kingdom who are called, or call themselves, “ The Three Wise Men “, and who advocate some degree of unemployment. They said, in substance, that the situation, so far as wage claims are concerned, could not be satisfactory otherwise. Of course, if wage claims are made and there is actual unemployment, or the fear of unemployment, that condition will be a deterrent to the success of the claims. The same thing is suggested here. One could collect references of that character over the last two years particularly. I believe that such an approach - the burning desire to prevent any unemployment, to try to get to the cause quickly, to encourage development, to encourage industry to meet unemployment - is the cause of this sad situation, not yet tragic, but a bad situation; and that situation has indeed been allowed to drift.
To-day, in the House, for instance, the Minister for Labour and National Service made a statement about the situation in Tasmania. I think that he has been sufficiently dealt with by other honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) and the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard). The position in Tasmania has been shown to be quite contrary to the Minister’s description of it. It is a serious position, as revealed by the Minister’s own figures. Some one on the Government side said that, at one stage when the Chifley Government was in power, the situation in Tasmania was worse than it is to-day. Reference to the relevant figures shows that that claim is absolutely untrue. That was not the position at all, and it has been pointed out. There is no purpose to be served in using vague figures. It is perfectly true that at one period in the life of the Chifley Government - during the coal strike in 1949 - there was a good deal of unemployment caused by the stoppage in the coal industry. Numbers of people came on to the unemployment relief roll for a time. That was a special occasion, and practically the only case of its kind during the regime of the Chifley Government.
– It was a condition that did not last long.
– It did not last long. In addition, the numbers of those in receipt of unemployment benefit in that period were only tiny when compared with the position that came into existence in 1952-53 under the regime of the present Government, and compared with the position to-day. I do not think there is any comparison of advantage to the Government there.
I referred a moment ago to the situation in the United States. It is indeed so serious that the President announced a positive policy by which practical steps were to be taken to end unemployment. They were -
See how that applies to Australia -
Lowering of the interest rate! We have had debates over the last two or three years on that matter. The Government, of course, is responsible for increasing the interest rate in this country. From that a direct benefit was obtained by the private trading banks of this country. They advanced the extraordinary argument that if you increased interest rates you would, in effect, cause anti-inflationary conditions. That did not turn out to be so at all. Inflation continued with a steady momentum, giving profits to great businesses, not earned by any exertion, but due to a slow increase of the value of the goods they sold, the value at the end of the year being greater than that at the beginning of the year.
The same view of profits and interest seems still to control the Government’s thinking. It was announced only the other day that on funds lodged with the central bank by the private trading banks the interest rate was to be increased from 5s. per cent, to 15s. per cent. That was a very substantial increase, especially as the Treasurer had announced at the time of the previous increase of interest rates that that rate would be reduced as, to some extent, a counter-balance to the general increase of interest rates.
The President of the United States thinks that one way of achieving full employment or a better employment situation is to have cheaper money and a reduction of the interest rate. That was the policy of Mr. Chifley. What Mr. Chifley said has been tested by events. We find that his remarks on great questions affecting the economy of the country have practically all been proved to be true - not by the arguments of economists, but by actual facts. Is not cheaper money the great necessity for this country? We have never wavered from that view. Our belief is that it does not follow that dear money is a check on inflation. I do not believe it is. I believe that the figures cited by honorable members on this side with special skill in finance and economics prove that the theory of dear money was completely wrong. At any rate, in the great emergency in the United States the President is turning to the view that cheaper money is necessary. That was the American view for a long time, although it was not held by the Republican party for a considerable time. The Americans are going back to it. According to the Sydney “ Daily Mirror “, the President added - this applies again to Australia -
The increased availability and lower cost of credit which these steps have brought about will help promote a higher level of home-building and construction generally.
That might be applied to conditions here. Such a policy would make it easier and less expensive for State and local government authorities to go forward more quickly with the construction of needed public facilities. The newspaper, having quoted the remarks of the American President, commented -
Whether these steps will achieve their objective remains to be seen. But they do at least indicate that the American Administration is doing something. They contrast with the silence of the Australian Prime Minister and the woolly generalities of Mr. Holt.
Summing it up, the employment position can be regarded as serious, not merely because it may worsen, but because even if it does not worsen but improves - we look forward to improvement - unemployment is something that should not be tolerated in this country. The fear of continued unemployment has an effect which has been described by those who have studied this question and written about it. It is destructive of the pride of the workers. It may threaten any of them. It makes steady advance difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, the proposals that we put to the House demand action in relation to unemployment.
Some of the subjects dealt with in the amendment will doubtless be developed later by some of my colleagues, but I want to refer to housing and immigration, in that order. They are connected, of course, with the problem of unemployment. With regard to housing, the position can best be summed up by saying that the latest housing returns reveal that the number of completions of houses and flats combined has been the lowest since 1950. Provisional estimates for 1957 show the number of completions as 70,097, as against 73,945 completions in 1951 - a decrease of 3,848. Commencements in 1957 were 71,514, a decrease of 14,700 on the 1951 figure. For the December quarter of 1957 commencements numbered 16,976, a drop of 1,944 compared with the September quarter. Dwellings under construction at the end of the December quarter totalled 54,625, compared with 57,000 at the end of the September quarter. The Melbourne “Age” of 11th February stated-
Not only is the lag in housing not being made up but no account is being taken of the expected 50% growth in the number of people of marriageable age during the next ten years.
It is to be hoped that the Federal Government will see the need to tackle the housing problem in a new and much more urgent spirit, something like the spirit a nation shows when it faces war. Nothing less will suffice to meet the growing crisis.
The Financial Editor of the “Sydney Morning Herald “ described the situation as an “ inexcusable fiasco “ and added -
In the relapse of the Australian housebuilding figures for the December quarter, we have a final demonstration of one of the most appalling social and economic botches of our day.
All the predictions to the contrary by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) have been disproved by events. The solution of the housing problem is linked with the solution of the unemployment problem, because housing, as is well known, provides a variety of employment. It covers an extensive field which is vital to the general economy, embracing almost hundreds of trades.
I turn to the vital problem of immigration, the third subject dealt with by the amendment. In the view of the Labour movement, the immigration programme should be reviewed periodically in the light of changing circumstances. It certainly ought to be reviewed now. There is no doubt that the great numbers of immigrants to this country have been responsible for a portion of the unemployment problem. I do not know how one can find out how many immigrants are unemployed, but I think we can safely conclude that of the people unemployed in Australia to-day - the number runs to well over 70,000 according to the official figures; it may be higher, but it is impossible for an outsider to obtain the correct figure, and probably impossible for the Government also - some would be immigrants. To say that the flow of immigrants to this country cannot be stopped or regulated is a counsel of despair and a silly statement. It is simply a means of avoiding honest thinking about the problem. The Government starts ofl by fixing a number and then adopts the attitude that it cannot alter that number and must on no account reduce it. Apparently it is all right if the number is increased, but it cannot be reduced. The view of the federal conference of the Labour movement is that the present intake of immigrants is excessive. It is necessary at the present juncture substantially to restrict the number of immigrants. It does not follow that when things improve the present number may not be reached again. It may well be that that number will be reached, but we simply cannot let the situation drift on.
But that is not the only question that arises in connexion with immigration. There are serious problems allied to the economic side of immigration. Let me refer first to an economic aspect of it which I think is extremely important. In recent years, the immigration plan has gradually assumed the aspect of a plan for finding employees abroad. I understand that some of the large industries in this country requisition through the Department of Labour and National Service for so many workers from a certain country, that those workers come to Australia and are placed in the industry concerned. That arrangement, to some degree, provides those migrants with a more secure position, particularly when they are in competition with fellow immigrants who are already here and with Australian workers generally. I take the view very strongly that there should be a substantial reduction of the intake.
Let us now turn to the other aspects of the question. I do not think there have ever been such misleading and false statements as have been made in relation to the quota of British immigrants who enter this country. By “ British “ I mean immigrants from the British Isles; I do not mean persons who may be of British nationality but who come from elsewhere. At the Australian Citizenship Convention held in Canberra last year, the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) said that it was ridiculous to suggest that there was any discrimination in Australia against British immigrants. He said there were no figures to support criticism that an unduly high proportion of immigrants were brought from southern Europe. He added that between October, 1945, and October, 1956, there were 1,138,048 permanent arrivals in Australia, of whom 937,068, or more than 80 per cent., were from Britain or northern Europe. Of course, those who came from northern Europe were not British immigrants. They were included just to make the figure bigger. He also said that British immigrants made up about 50 per cent, of Australia’s immigrant intake. That is the figure that has been handed down over the years, but it is completely untrue.
A paper presented to the 1958 convention by Mr. Borrie, Professor of Demography at the Australian National University, showed clearly that the number of immigrants from the British Isles who have come to Australia and settled here, that is to say, the net permanent gain, was not 50 per cent, of the total but was only 34 per cent. The figures that have been advanced by the Minister have been put forward deceptively, because the Government does not want to stand up to the fact that, in many cases, it prefers not to have British immigrants. There is no doubt about that. Quite apart from his basic British character, the British immigrant who is a trade unionist and who knows the political freedom of his own country is the best type of immigrant we could have. He is a person who, on coming to Australia, will support his trade union and see that he gets his rights. I do not think any one can deny that. On the other hand, the immigrant who comes from Europe is inexperienced in these matters. For the most part, he has lived under the administration of tyrannical governments that have suppressed trade unionism, and he is unable to take his place as a trade unionist. There is a grave danger to the Australian people’s sense of freedom and to the trade unionist. To suggest that British immigrants make up 50 per cent, of Australia’s immigrant intake is a lie; the true figure is 34 per cent. Within the last year, the figure fell to 24 per cent. - a decline of 10 per cent. I emphasize that I am referring to immigrants from the British Isles - England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. They are the people who should form the backbone of our immigrant intake.
The Prime Minister of Great Britain, during his recent visit to Australia, made a statement which may have been regarded as being slightly ambiguous and which was seized upon by certain people who said, “ Oh, well, we cannot get immigrants from Britain “. But Mr. Macmillan corrected that before he left and made it perfectly clear that a very substantial contribution towards our intake should be made voluntarily by the British people, provided they get decent conditions when they arrive here. That includes the chance of getting a job and a home, to which they are as much entitled as are Australians. So we get back to the same problem from another angle.
– What did Professor Borrie say about our ability to get immigrants from Great Britain? Tell the whole story.
– I do not take much notice of Professor Borrie’s statements on a subject with which he did not deal.
– He did deal with it.
– I do not think the honorable member is very enthusiastic about the migration of British people to this country. I have in my hand a pamphlet that was sent, not to immigrants who were British subjects by birth, but to those who obtained Australian citizenship. It is full of an attack upon the Australian Labour party. It is a filthy canard against Labour. I shall read a sentence from it to show the lies that the Liberal party issues, no doubt with the approval of the honorable member for Petrie. It is a disgraceful little sheet. The following is a typical expression: -
The Liberal party . . . believes always in the human freedoms - to worship, to think, to speak, to choose and to be ambitious.
What a dirty way to take advantage of the immigrant who does not know much about the country, and still less about the Liberal party! This is one of Willoughby’s essays attacking Labour. It goes to every naturalized person. The person whose name appears at the end of it has been mentioned, by some chance, in one of the honours lists submitted by this Government. It is a pack of lies from beginning to end. This is another paragraph -
To-day the Evatt Labour party-
It is nice to get publicity - is talking a lot about a new policy which it calls “ democratic socialism “. This has nothing to do with social democracy as it is known in Europe.
But it is precisely the same as European social democracy. As a matter of fact, six months ago I represented the Australian Labour party at the international conference on social democracy at Vienna. The British Labour party, the French social democrat party, and the Italian, German and Belgian parties were all represented. But these people on the other side of the chamber, for dirty political reasons, put their stuff before the immigrants. In many cases, the immigrant is unable to speak English and does not understand the kind of people who are sending out the document. He ought to have the truth placed before him, and we will do it if at all possible.
The immigrant is to become an Australian, and it is for his benefit that the trade union movement exists in this country. We do not want the immigrants to be curtained off so that they will be unsympathetic to trade unionism, which is the basis of British democracy and European democracy. I say publicly that the views of the social democrat movement of Europe - the British Labour party is an essential part of it - the Australian Labour party, and the New Zealand Labour party are exactly the same. This pamphlet to which I have re ferred is the kind of thing that we must fight, but in spite of it I believe that, when the immigrants get to understand the position, they will know that it is to their benefit that there should not be a preponderance of immigrants from European countries other than Britain but that this will be and must be primarily a British community. They must understand that. They certainly know that, but for the efforts of the British people, the last war would have ended in defeat instead of victory for the Allies.
The other matter in the amendment to which I wish to refer does not, 1 think, need expansion because it is substantially the decision of the Australian Labour party in connexion with public works, and employment generally - the finding of jobs for immigrants and Australians and the provision by the Commonwealth to State Governments and local governing authorities of funds necessary for public works, including housing, roads, schools, hospitals and services essential to public health. These are the obvious parts of a plan to deal with unemployment, housing and public works.
Finally, as I indicated previously, portion of this debate will turn upon the necessity for effective defence administration and organization. What is the position of the Defence Department? Several of my colleagues in the Labour party, including some who spoke on this question in the last budget debate, have made a special study of it. The Government has engaged in much talk on defence but it has done very little - much talk, no do. There is not a word in the Governor-General’s speech about the tremendous danger that arises from nuclear experiments - not from war, but from experiments. Professor Oliphant has said that already thousands of people have been condemned to death throughout the world because of atomic experiments. His view is supported by other distinguished scientists. There was not a word about that in the Governor-General’s speech although the whole world is interested in the subject. There was not a word in the speech about summit talks. On the 5th December the Government was against such talks according to the speech of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey).
I move -
That the following words be added to the Address: - “ But we desire to inform your Excellency that your advisers have failed to realize the urgent necessity of putting into effect positive policies and measures aimed at -
the prevention of unemployment and the securing of full employment;
the building of sufficient homes;
an immediate and substantial reduction in the migrant intake until the serious deficiencies present in the existing programme are removed;
the provision by the Commonwealth to Stale Governments and local governing authorities of funds necessary for the building of public works and housing, roads, schools, hospitals and services essential to public health; and
effective defence administration and organization “.
– I second the motion.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) began by dealing with that part of the Governor-General’s Speech which referred to the visit to this country of Her Majesty the Queen Mother. I am very glad that we are in harmony with him on that matter, and that I am able to express my agreement with what he said about our gratitude for the visit, both for the pleasure it gives us in the present and for all that it recalls of her services and her late husband’s services to the whole Commonwealth in the past. We are indebted to the Royal Family and present events will fill our hearts and minds for a long time to come.
I am afraid that when the Leader of the Opposition moved on to the next subject of his address my agreement with him ceased. He quoted the Declaration of Human Rights and the policy of full employment of his party. There are few things, unfortunately, in Australian political life which are bipartisan, but let me assure him that a belief in a policy of full employment is one of them. The Government parties believe just as strongly as does the Opposition in the virtue and validity of full employment in Australia. I say that with confidence. The Government can claim with justice to believe in full employment because under eight years of Menzies-Fadden administration, full employment has been substantially achieved. That is not merely a belief; it is a fact.
The Leader of the Opposition mentioned President Eisenhower’s action. The right honorable member is noted for many things in public life but consistency is not one of them. The leader of the Opposition, the ejector of American’s from Manus, the bitter critic of their foreign policy, now turns for passing political advantage to the current actions of President Eisenhower. The major part of the right honorable gentleman’s speech was directed to unemployment. The Opposition, assisted by some sections of the press, has tried to create the impression that there is serious and widespread unemployment in Australia, and that the trend is such that we are headed for calamity. Both these things are quite untrue. Let me say at once that I know that unemployment is very serious indeed for the man who suffers from it, and for his family. If there were only a handful of men unemployed it would be just as serious for them as it would be if there were thousands. But sympathy should not blind us to the facts.
What are the facts? It is impossible to get exact figures, at any time, of the number of unemployed. The reason is that the number of people registered for unemployment is not the number of people unemployed because there is quite a considerable lag in clearing the register of those who have subsequently obtained jobs. Also, the number of people on unemployment relief is not quite an exact reflection of the number of people unemployed because there is a lag between the time at which a man loses his job and the time at which he qualifies for relief. Then there is the operation of a means test, so the real figure for unemploymnt on any given date lies somewhere between the number of people on unemployment relief and the number of people registered for employment. The last figures available to me are those for the month of January, which is always a slack month. A comparison of the conditions in January of one year with those in January of another year should be valid. The period at the end of 1956 and the beginning of 1957 was one of high prosperity and of practical full employment. Let us make a comparison between the situation in January of this year and that of January a year ago. The figures for this purpose are available.
There were 22,000 more people registered for employment this January than there were a year ago, and there were 1 3,000 more people on unemployment relief. What was the percentage rate of increase? In a work force of about 4,000,000 persons, 22,000 represents approximately .55 per cent., and 13,000 represents approximately 33 per cent. As I have explained, the true figure of unemployment at any time lies somewhere between those registered for employment and those drawing unemployment relief. So that it appears that the increase between January of a year ago and January of this year has been of the order of .4 per cent.
That can hardly be said to be calamitous, particularly as we know that most of the increase is attributable to New South Wales and Queensland, the two States most severely affected by the recent drought which, we hope, is now at an end. The drought and lower prices for wool and metals, with a consequent lower export income, combined with conditions in the United States and the United Kingdom, have led to a slight downturn in our economy. There is no reason to suppose that that will continue, and indeed, there are strong indications to the contrary. The indications are these: Consumer spending is high; consumption of petrol, beer and cigarettes has increased, and so, too, has the number of television licences issued; while registrations of new motor vehicles were 11.6 per cent, higher in the last recorded quarter than they were in the same quarter of the year before.
Those things do not indicate calamity in the community. They do not give very much support to the Leader of the Opposition and his party, who are seeking to establish that the country is facing a calamitous state of affairs, in the hope of raising panic and destroying confidence. Rural production, as I have said, has been hard hit, but industrial production has increased under almost all headings, and business investment is high. The stock exchange, which is a sensitive indicator of prosperity, certainly gives no indication that confidence has fallen. On the contrary, it rather shows that business confidence is high. These conditions do not suggest calamity, or any reason for despair.
There is one thing, however, that could cause serious trouble, and that is a loss of business confidence. The speech of the Leader of the Opposition to-night, and other speeches that have been made during this debate by members of the Opposition, are, I believe, designed to achieve that end and to destroy confidence in the community.
– That is a deliberate lie.
– The Leader of the Opposition says that that is a lie, but the people will be the judge of that. The line of the Opposition in this debate has been to destroy confidence and create panic. We all know that this is an election year. Lack of confidence in the community and unemployment would be politically and electorally advantageous to the Opposition. The record in this House of the Leader of the Opposition gives me, at least, no confidence that he would not welcome with open arms a lack of confidence and unemployment. Yet honorable members opposite claim to represent the worker! If they really had his interests at heart they would eschew exaggeration in a situation such as this for fear of the harm that exaggeration and misstatement could do. Why do they not stick to the facts?
Our economy is finely balanced. We all should know from past experience that over-full employment leads to excessive demands for labour, higher costs and inflation, which are harmful to everybody. Equally, we know that deflation can cause fear of unemployment and can result in lack of confidence. The objective of this Government has been to preserve this fine balance in the economy and to maintain a steadily expanding economy in which the resources of the country can be developed and the population increased, and in which the general level of prosperity can steadily rise. Yet, many of the conditions on which this finely balanced economy depends are beyond the control of any government. The seasons, the prices paid abroad for our primary products, and the degree of prosperity of our principal customers are things outside our own control.
The Opposition has tried hard to create the impression that this slight down-turn in our economy, to which I have referred, has come upon us unheralded and unnoticed, to the surprise of a government which has done nothing about it. That is quite untrue. Economic trends have been most carefully and painstakingly observed by the Government, which has taken action in time to meet them. Let me point to the action that has been taken. As early as May last, at the Loan Council meeting of that month, the Government agreed to an increase of £8,000,000 in the governmental loan programme, lt agreed to an increase of £7,000,000 in semi-governmental and local authority programmes. Tax reimbursements to the States were increased by £6,000,000, and the Commonwealth aid roads grants went up by £5,000,000. That was in May last. Then, in August, in the budget, further measures were taken. We made tax concessions of £28,000,000 for the current financial year, which will amount to £57,000,000 in a full year. Social service benefits were increased in that year by more than £9,000,000, to an extent which will cost the revenue £16,000,000 in a full year, while total Commonwealth expenditure rose by £87,000,000. Those were not the actions of a government which was trying to force deflation. On the contrary, they were actions which represented a cautious lift to the economy, very well in advance of the conditions which they were intended to minimize and mitigate.
The Government was not the only party that was active in this connexion. Last December, the Commonwealth Bank announced that the trading banks had been given, at some time prior to December, new instructions on credit policy. The announcement stated that the trading banks had been advised by the central bank that, particularly in view of the need to meet the reasonable requirements of customers arising from adverse seasonal conditions and the need to maintain balanced growth and stability in the economy, it was considered appropriate to continue a rate of lending which would result in some increase in advances during the current financial year. That was a public statement of an instruction which had been given to the trading banks at a time previous to last December. The instruction was expressly stated not to apply to further hire-purchase and instalment selling.
Further governmental action has been taken since then. At the Loan Council meeting this month, an increase of £3,000,000 in the local authority programme was approved. I ask the House to notice that this was directed to helping local authorities with their programmes, because local authorities are the ones which are best able quickly to give help in time of difficult rural employment.
– They have to get the money!
– There is nothing difficult about that. A direct special revenue grant of £5,000,000 has been made by the Commonwealth to the States for expenditure over four months. The larger share of that will go to Queensland and New South Wales, because of the more serious effects on those two States of the recent drought. The Government has asked all States, as far as possible, to spend that money on housing.
That is not the total of the list. This, so the Opposition would have the country believe, is a government which has done nothing about this matter. Yet, I am pointing out a long steady series of steps that have been taken, beginning as early as May of last year, to alleviate a situation which has been appreciated. Other steps have been taken recently. Fourteen million pounds is to be spent over three years on universities. An amount of £2,500,000 is to be spent over five years on the development of north-western Australia, and the standardization of the railway from Albury to Melbourne is to be undertaken and pushed ahead rapidly. It might be argued that these undertakings have their origin in objectives other than that of adjusting the economy. That is true, but they will have that effect inevitably. They will stimulate demand and employment. The timing of these undertakings is important and significant. I want to hammer home the fact that this trend has been foreseen and action was taken as long ago as last May to minimize it.
We could not foresee the drought or the ending of it. It has been severe and, in earlier years, it would have had very serious long-term results, but now it is reasonable to hope that owing partly to the stability and resiliency of the economy and partly to the great technical advances that have been made in our rural industries, the country will be able to absorb the effects of the drought without anything like the severe consequences that it would have caused in the past. Droughts and rains are acts of God, but within the limits imposed by nature, it is a government’s responsibility to make and keep the conditions in which the people can work for prosperity.
I claim that we have done just that and are continuing to do it.
A good deal has been said by the Leader of the Opposition about housing. He quoted figures which would indicate that the rate of building this year is the lowest since 1950. He did not give the source of his information and it does not agree with the estimate that has been prepared for the Government. That estimate shows that about 73,000 homes and flats will be completed in 1957-58. That is 4,600 residential units, or 6.7 per cent, more than the number provided last year. If that estimate is anywhere nearly correct, the prognostications of the Leader of the Opposition are quite wrong. The increased rate of building this year substantially exceeds the annual need for new houses, and so provides for some reduction of the back log though not a very rapid one. The situation is not as black as the Leader of the Opposition wants us to think. Building material costs have fallen slightly recently, and the general cost of building is stable. As honorable members know very well, the Commonwealth’s scope in dealing with the housing problem is limited. First, there is the Commonwealth and State Housing agreement. Then there are the war service homes. As honorable members know, the amount that is to be spent on war service homes in this financial year is £35,000,000. As a result, an applicant for a loan to build a new house under the war service homes scheme can obtain his loan virtually without waiting, whilst an applicant for a loan to buy an existing house will have three months less waiting time than he had previously. The Commonwealth Government also provides housing in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
As the Prime Minister pointed out on Tuesday last, the Commonwealth Government is committed to an expenditure of £77,000,000 for housing through these agencies this year. The solution lies principally with the States. New South Wales is by far the worst off and it is significant that there is increasing criticism of the New South Wales tenancy laws. That State also has the lowest average number of persons to each dwelling.
– Does the Minister want to see two families in each house?
– No, but we want to see more than three persons in each house, and that is the average in New South Wales. The Commonwealth Government also made an advance of £5,000,000 for homes to the States at the recent meeting of the Australian Loan Council and attempts are being made to stimulate more private finance for home-building. I would like honorable members to note that conditions of operation imposed by the central bank on savings banks brought into existence by the private trading banks require them to lend a substantial part of their deposits for housing. The banking legislation which the Government introduced and which was rejected by the Opposition in the Senate was framed to provide for finance for housing through the savings banks to be made very much easier.
The Leader of the Opposition directed his attention at some length to immigration. There was a time when the Opposition was proud of its authorship of the immigration scheme, but now honorable members opposite want to turn immigration on and off like a tap without any regard for official Labour policy. At the last Citizenship Convention held in Canberra, the Leader of the Opposition delivered an outburst which destroyed the whole bi-party basis of the immigration programme.
The Australian Labour party is howling calamity. It is doing its best to destroy the confidence that is essential to prosperity. Let us get the situation in perspective by looking over the past eight years. When this Government was elected to office at the end of 1949, Australia was like a chrysalis coming out of a cocoon of war-time restrictions and restraints. The nation knew that there were possibilities of great things ahead, but the people did not know how soon they would come or how sure they were. In the past eight years, we have been through several periods of difficulty, each time to the accompaniment of prognostications of calamity from the Opposition and from sections of the community which had special interests to serve at the time. In 1950 and 1951, the Korean War increased defence expenditure. The high rate of investment caused great demands, and acute shortages for all sorts of goods developed. Then came the drop in export prices in 1951 and 1952, and a flood of imports from abroad. The Government had to restrict imports and raise taxes and interest rates. These actions were very unpopular at the time. The more stable position reached in 1952 was accompanied by slight unemployment, although it was greater than the present volume of unemployment, and there was reduced output in some industries. Some attempt was made by the Opposition then, as now, to destroy confidence, and the Government was bitterly assailed.
In 1953 and 1954 there was a period of surging private investment and expansion. There was full employment. Price inflation and shortages appeared again and, once more, the Government was attacked. There were charges of lack of forethought and lack of action. In 1956, a rise in interest rates could not be avoided and it was necessary to increase taxes, particularly on company incomes and motor cars. Those measures also were unpopular in their day and the Government was criticized. But if we look back over the past eight years, can any Australian say that there has not been enormous growth and expansion? There has been growth in our economy, in our prosperity, in our population and in our importance in the world. In retrospect, those years stand out clearly as wonderful years of progress and development. This record should pull up the calamity pedlars with a round turn.
I hope that the Opposition will fail completely in its attempt to destroy confidence. We Australians, far and above most people of the world, have reason for hope and confidence in the future. Our amazing progress during the past eight years has been punctuated by ups and downs and by floods of criticism of the Government. But they seem insignificant in retrospect. I believe that this latest attempt by the Opposition to criticize the Government will also seem insignificant in due season.
Mr. WARD (East Sydney) [9.91- The contemptuous attitude of the Government towards this most serious problem which is under discussion is rather noticeable. This is the second day of sitting of the new session of the Parliament after a long recess. Even speakers on the Government side admit that the problem of unemployment is very serious. One would naturally have assumed that the Government would immediately announce its additional plans to deal with this very serious situation. But what happened? The House met on Tuesday; there was no sitting on Wednesday; the House resumed this morning, and tonight we will adjourn until 11th March. I shall tell the House why. Just as one might read in the newspapers of cricket statistics, and who has the record score for the year, so the members of the Government are engaged in a competition to see who will top the score for the most Royal handshakes. The Government, completely contemptuous of the unemployment situation, will adjourn Parliament. The Government is not worried about the 75,000 unemployed, who have no income other than the paltry amount handed out by the Government for the maintenance of their families. The Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) was put up by the Government to answer the excellent speech and case made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in connexion with this motion. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), having made his appearance in the chamber, immediately departed for places unknown.
Let me deal with this very serious unemployment problem. Does the Government deny - as it denied early last year that there was a housing crisis, at a time when the Opposition was asserting that there was a housing crisis - that there is no employment crisis in Australia at the moment, that unemployment is not increasing rapidly and has now reached a figure of 75,000 registered unemployed? I think that the figure is much higher than 75,000, because there are many thousands of unemployed people who do not register for work with the Government organization. Any semiskilled or unskilled worker knows that he is not qualified for unemployment benefits unless he can satisfy the means test. He knows also that it is useless to register for employment because it is a long time since the Commonwealth Employment Service was able to find work for that type of man. He does not bother to register because he regards it as a waste of time.
In my opinion, the unemployment figure to-day is nearer 100,000 than 75,000, and the figure is constantly increasing. The Government admits that the figures are the highest for five years, and they do not take into account part-time employment. The mines at Broken Hill are now working short time. Further coal-miners are to be dismissed as a result of loss of orders. Members of the Waterside Workers’ Federation, because of short-time work, in some weeks are not even earning the basic wage. These facts have been completely disregarded by the Government. The Minister for Air claimed that the Government had done something about the problem, that it had not been inactive. He said that the Government has agreed to grant an additional £5,000,000 to the States and to give local governing authorities the right to go on the loan market for an additional £3,000,000. Is it not a fact that the Premier of New South Wales and the other Premiers associated with him pointed out to the Government that the money they had asked for was not for the purpose of absorbing the unemployed who then existed in the community, but was to avoid the necessity of dismissing men who were working in the State services. Also the Premiers had asked the Government for a much larger sum than the one they received. Their funds are rapidly becoming exhausted. The Government’s grant will merely enable the States to carry on for a little longer, but will do nothing towards providing employment for the 100,000 unemployed.
Let me deal with the question of the right of the local-governing authorities to borrow £3,000,000. How does the Government expect these loans to be successfully floated on the Australian market to-day? Does the Government think that people will invest their money at 5i per cent, when daily in the newspapers one can read of offers of 10 per cent, for loans of only twelve months’ duration? Of course, the local-governing authorities will not be able to raise the £3,000,000 and the Government is only holding out a false hope to them.
When the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) announced some weeks ago this serious rise in unemployment, did he immediately say that Parliament would be called together to deal with the situation? No! He said, “ I am studying the trends “. That will not be regarded by anybody as a satisfactory handling of the situation. Every newspaper in this country is to-day attacking the Government, so that when the Government talks about forces outside this Parliament, it cannot use its old stock-in-trade and say that Communist agitators are trying to destroy confidence. The people who are saying this are the wealthy newspaper proprietors, who are worried about the economic situation. On 20th February of this year, the Sydney “ Sun “, in an editorial, said -
If there is one thing you can rely on the present Federal Government for when any sort of real crisis approaches, it is complete and absolute inertia.
It has an unequalled facility for pointing out where troubles and dangers lie.
But when it comes to meeting them with action, it is struck with a crippling, unshakeable paralysis.
It collapses into a dream of words and figures and leaves the country to fend for itself.
That is what the Minister for Air was doing - citing figures and quoting from some authority with regard to the estimate of homes to be constructed in the next twelve months, an authority whose name he would not divulge.
All honorable members must recognize that employment is linked with the carrying out of an effective housing programme in this country, so it is interesting to know what the Liberal party said at its inaugural meeting in 1945. The gentleman who was addressing the inaugural meeting is the present Prime Minister, and his promises then were just as artificial as the colour he uses on his eyebrows to-day. At that time he said that the policy of the party was to ensure that sufficient man-power was made available to produce building materials and to erect houses; to permit no public works other than those of an urgent nature to interfere with the housing programme; to establish priorities prohibiting luxury houses until the public requirements of the people were satisfied; in collaboration with the central bank to ensure necessary finance for both government and private building; and to control the prices of materials, home equipment and building sites. That was the policy of the new Liberal party. Evidently the party recognized that there was a housing crisis then. It still exists to-day. The Prime Minister, or the Leader of the Opposition, as he then was, said - and this was the Liberal party’s policy - that providing good homes for good Australians to live in was priority No. 1 in Australia.
Yet we find that the housing situation to-day is probably as desperate as it ever was. It is rather interesting to recall that in 1945 the present Prime Minister was talking about the need to prevent luxury building. But the Melbourne “ Herald “ of 1st January of this year carries the following headline, “ Labour Minister builds house “. The article states -
Eight weeks ago, the Minister for Labour, Mr. Harold Holt, decided to build a holiday house at Portsea. lt was not to be a home in which to live permanently, but a holiday house. The article continues -
A few days ago he moved into the finished house. It was built in six weeks and half a day.
That was record time. The house is not what the ordinary toiler might regard as a week-ender - just one room in which to house his family - but has four bedrooms, a combined lounge-dining room, and a bar and kitchen combined. There is one redeeming feature about the house. It is built on a sloping block on a cliff overlooking the sea.
All that this Government can do to solve the housing problem is to talk about the difficulties of providing homes for the people, but when a Minister wants a luxury holiday home he can have it built in six weeks and half a day - a record time. Why does not the Government do something about providing homes’ for people without one, for people living in garages, people sleeping in paddocks with their families and being moved on by the police from point to point because the local councils object to them sleeping in the parks?
Bringing it a point further forward, I remind the House that in 1949 the Prime Minister said -
The Liberal party will regard as its permanent and most vital responsibility the speeding up of the housing programme. We give this firm promise to young couples.
That was in 1949. Only one thing can be said about the use of the word “ permanent “. I suppose that so long as this Government remains in office we can look upon the housing problem as being of a permanent character.
I come now to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). Honorable members will remember that last year the Australian Labour party appointed a factfinding committee. This was indeed a factfinding committee. As a result of its investigations, we were able to reveal facts that greatly embarrassed this Government, and experience since that time has proved that we were talking of and dealing with matters with which we were fully conversant. This is what the Minister for National Development said at that time -
The end of the housing shortage would be in sight if a rate of 77,000 home completions a year could be maintained for the next four or five years.
Figures for the last year for which statistics are available - that ended 31st December, 1957 - reveal that only a few more than 67,000 homes were constructed. This was about 10,000 homes below the target mentioned by the Minister. If his statement that we would reach the target in four or five years is true, then the target must be a receding one for we are now 10,000 homes below the figure mentioned by him.
Then the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) comes forward and says, “ That is past. It will be better in the future. This year, we shall have 73,000 completions “. Honorable members can take it from me that if this Government remains in office we shall not have 73,000 completions in the next year but something far below that figure.
An important point to be kept in mind is the fact that under this Government the rate of home construction is falling back, as was pointed out by the Leader of the Opposition. Last year, we had the lowest number of home completions for the last seven years during which this Government has been in control, and in that same sevenyear period the population has increased by approximately 20 per cent. The actual position is that with an increasing population we have a lower home-construction rate. How can the people expect to get their homes in those circumstances? We all know of the Prime Minister’s complacency towards this question, and we have all experienced his intellectual arrogance. Everybody remembers how last year he ridiculed the claim made by the Labour party that there was a crisis in connexion with housing, and that housing had become a great social problem. We all remember how, when speaking of criticism levelled against him by not only the members of the Labour party but also other people interested in the community, he called it clamour and grizzle. He was puzzled at what he called the quaint ideas that were being advanced. He referred to his critics as being ignorant and said it was a tragedy that these elementary things were not understood. During his speech we heard not one word of sympathy for the homeless! Nor do we hear any now.
The Minister for Air seems to think he has dismissed the problem merely by saying that it is a serious enough matter for the unemployed workers to-day. Immediately after saying that, he referred to the low percentage of unemployment in the community, implying that this constituted a satisfactory state of affairs. The Government has now destroyed any claim it had previously to being a believer in a policy of full employment. The Minister for Air said that the Government had “ substantially achieved its objective “. That is like telling a woman that she is moderately virtuous. How do you “ substantially achieve “ full employment? You either have full employment or you have not got it. Under this Government we have never had full employment. It was a Labour government which, for the first time in the history of the country, established a position in which it could be said we had full employment.
I come now to what Mr. W. Ford, secretary of the Master Builders’ Association, said in March, 1957, when we were attacking the Government for its failure to deal with the housing situation. He said that the Prime Minister’s statement that the housing problem was a matter of the lack of manpower and materials was utter rot. He said that unlimited materials and plenty of labour were available and he added that “ hot air and criticism are not going to solve the building industry’s big problems “. Honorable members will recollect that at that time a cartoon appeared in the “ Daily Mirror “. It depicted the Prime Minister, elegantly attired, sitting down to a sumptuous banquet with the butler drawing the blind aside to reveal a scene of slum dwellings. In it the Prime Minister is depicted as saying, “ Housing shortage! What housing shortage? “ Of course, the Prime Minister knows of no housing shortage, nor do the members of his Government! They do not experience the day-to-day worry that many breadwinners in this country have in providing some shelter for those who depend upon them. That is not the worry of Government members. They dismiss the matter airily by saying that the Govern ment is examining trends and watching the situation!
What is the attitude of the banks towards this problem? The Minister for Air referred to a directive given by the Central Bank to the private banks in 1957 in which the private banks were requested to lend more for housing while keeping the total level of their advances unchanged. The important question is, “ Did the private banks carry out the request? “ I frankly admit that I realize why the Government has taken no action to force the private banks to do anything about the matter, because we all know that the private banks, the big monopolists and financial institutions are the Government’s political masters. The Government has got to do what they say. That was clearly demonstrated here when we were discussing the banking legislation. We all saw how the Government had to carry out the wishes of the big banking and monopolistic interests.
Why are not the private banks lending money for home-building? I wager that any kiddie in any primary school in this country could answer that question. The private banks are not advancing loans for home-building purposes because they can do better by lending through the hirepurchase organizations. That is why money for home purchase and building is not being obtained from the private trading banks. Every trading bank has some association with a hire-purchase organization to-day, and when people in the country or in the city find it necessary to seek bank accommodation they are frequently confused for the banks and the hire-purchase organizations often work in the one building. At one end of the counter applicants for financial accommodation are told that there are no funds available but if they go to the other end of the counter where the hire-purchase business is done they can get the money if they like to pay double the bank rate of interest for it.
Since 1953, hire-purchase loans in this country have increased eight times faster than bank advances. It is perfectly true that the total amount of the bank advances still exceeds the advances made by the hire-purchase companies, but the hirepurchase loans have increased eight times faster than bank advances. In the two and three-quarter years between December, 1955, and September, 1957, bank overdrafts dropped by £5,200,000 but the hire-purchase debt increased by almost £60,500,000 to a total of £243,000,000 in the same period. It is easy to see what is happening. The private trading banks are now permanently associated with hirepurchase activities.
What can the Government do about the general situation? This year, approximately £250,000,000 worth of Commonwealth loans will mature. When addressing the Sydney Stock Exchange, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) drew attention to the problem that was confronting the Government, and said -
As a result, you cannot expect to get any tax reductions.
He also said -
Rather than increase taxes, the Government would like to popularize Commonwealth loans.
What is happening with respect to Commonwealth loans? The Minister for Air has mentioned the confidence that Big Business has in the Government. Why would not the big monopolists of this country have confidence in this Government? It is their government. It is the government which is legislating in their interests. But what is the position with the general public? Have the people in general got continuing or increasing confidence in this Government? I am quoting the Treasurer’s own figures. In the year 1952-53 public holdings of public loans, bonds, or stock, had risen by £64,000,000, in the following year by £88,000,000, the following year by £69,000,000, and the following year by £48,000,000. In 1956-57, the last year for which figures are available, public holdings in government loans increased by only £35,000,000. What does that indicate? It indicates simply that people who have invested in long-term loans have then found that not only have the loans returned a low rate of interest in comparison with that offered on more recent issues, but also that half of their capital has been destroyed in the process because the Government has done nothing about arresting inflation in this country. Why should the people have confidence? Last year, the Government had to dip into the National Debt Sinking Fund to the extent of £30,000,000 to make up the deficiency in loan conversions because people who had lost confidence in this Government refused to re-invest.
In the few moments at my disposal I want to refer to one matter that should be raised. I commenced my speech this evening by saying that the Government was contemptuous of the unemployment position. One of the disgraceful things that has happened in this country in recent times is the endeavour of this Government to make party political capital out of the visit of the Queen Mother. During this visit of a member of the Royal Family, the Government has tried to hog the scene. The Prime Minister and members of his Government have been running from point to point. If the Prime Minister were here - he is not often in the House these days - I would ask him who had the brilliant idea of presenting the Queen Mother with a pendant, which, according to reports, cost £5,000, but which, according to information handed to me, cost approximately five times that figure- I am not blaming the Queen Mother, because I should imagine that she was never consulted.
If the Goverment wanted a memento of the visit of the Queen Mother to this country, why could we not have had some children’s hospital ward endowed, or some fund for the alleviation of distress amongst ex-servicemen assisted? Why could not subnormal children or other needy people in the community have been helped? But nothing like that was suggested. Does any honorable member say for one moment that the Queen Mother needed the pendant or brooch that was presented to her? Not at all! That was merely an attempt by this Government to make political capital out of the visit, using the public funds of this country for the purpose. 1 say to the Government that there are many people in this country, not merely those who support Labour, who share the viewpoint that I am expressing. Of course, let us show the greatest respect for the Queen Mother when she visits this country. It is not a question of respect, but if the Queen Mother had been given the opportunity, I guarantee that she would not have accepted the gift. She would not have agreed to the suggestion had she been consulted. 1 read in a British newspaper that the Prime Minister also presented a brooch or pendant to Lady Dorothy Macmillan, who was recently in this country- I do not know what that one cost. I do not know whether the Prime Minister bought it out of his own pocket, or whether the cost of that also was met out of public funds. Has he started out on a campaign of distributing these gifts in the hope that he will help his Government out of its difficulties?
I conclude by saying that this Government stands roundly condemned. Though we may not secure a favorable vote in this Parliament, though we are in the minority here at present, I am quite certain that at the next elections we will have a majority in the place where it counts - in the ballotboxes of this country.
– During the course of this debate we have seen a great display of debating skill. We have heard various points of view put forward forcefully by honorable gentlemen on both sides of the House. I associate myself with everything that has been said in regard to the visit to our midst of that very great lady, the Queen Mother. Those of us who were here when Her Majesty visited us 31 years ago to open this House, will appreciate, as she has no doubt appreciated, the progress that Australia has made since then. We have progressed in spite of the fact that many of us appear to be determined always to run down our own country, to create a false impression in the world as to our own capacity for achievement, and perhaps generally to make ourselves believe that we are really worse than we are.
I pay a tribute to the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) who was for a short time the Prime Minister of this country and who is now, I think, the father of the House, for his constructive approach to the problems which are associated not only with employment and unemployment but also with the general defence of this country. His speech was of the kind that one might expect from a man who has dedicated practically his whole adult life to serving his country exceedingly well, first in time of war, and then in time of peace. To my certain knowledge, gained by personal relationship with him, he has always considered it more important in public utterance to put forward something constructive that might ultimately lead to the real solution of problems, than to score a debating point against his opponents. 1 know of no attitude which is more important than that in this House. 1 say, without any rancour or bitterness, that I was frankly disappointed with the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) - the leader of the once great Australian Labour party. It may be a great party again, but certainly it is not so to-day. One would have hoped that out of the mass of words that were said would have come something to indicate to the people of Australia that the Labour party had some real solution of the problem, instead of there be/ng put forward a set of figures which, after all, are rebutted by another set of figures. But there was not one really constructive suggestion as to how this country might combat the present unemployment or prevent it from developing. I cannot but feel that when an analysis is made of the case put forward by the right honorable gentleman, it will be seen that the reply of the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne), supported by figures, was complete.
To-night, in the limited time at my disposal I wish to suggest that we have a fundamental long-term defence weakness, which was, as a matter of fact, touched upon by the right honorable member for Cowper. Probably the most significant statement that that right honorable gentleman made was that the defence of a country is one and indivisible. To-day, we are concentrating defence expenditure upon arms, including nuclear weapons. Perhaps we have little choice, but it must be recognised that, ultimately, our defence will depend upon our capacity to support in prosperity a much greater population than we have to-day. If we do not recognise that our economy is such that we cannot afford to see our great natural resources dissipated by flood, our defence effort will be very largely crippled from the start. The right honorable Sir Winston Churchill - that great statesman - insisted, in the midst of war, as I think the right honorable member for Cowper pointed out, that it was more important, in that time of crisis, to increase the productive capacity of Great Britain, particularly its capacity to produce food, than to put one more division into the field. That is a lesson that we who, by the grace of God and a great deal of good fortune, hold this continent and the Australian Territories, cannot afford to ignore.
I want to deal now with two other aspects of this question that are closely allied to the views expressed by the right honorable member for Cowper. A highly authentic publication that has just reached me from the United States of America indicates rising unemployment and a decline of production in that country. The reasons given are, first, that the country is passing through a period of adjustment, and secondly, that there has been a change of emphasis in defence expenditure. Among the measures taken to combat these developments was a reduction of discount rates by the Federal Reserve Bank, which regulates the cost of borrowing money in order to control inflation or deflation, as the case may be. In this instance, obviously the measure taken has been intended to combat deflation. Other measures taken in the present situation were encouragement of the home-building programme and an increase in defence orders.
I wish to deal briefly with those three measures. The first two correspond to measures taken by the Australian Government, in association with other measures, on which I congratulate the Government. With respect to the question of the increase in defence orders, we are moving from an economy in which defence depended on conventional arms, which required a vast body of men to use them as well as a vast body to produce them, to an economy in which fewer men are needed to use the arms and every available worker is needed to produce them, consistent with the maintenance of stability in the economy generally. Every man who has the capacity to understand higher technological development and to undertake higher technical training is needed in this atomic age, in which there is less emphasis on unskilled or partly skilled labour, and a higher premium on national security. Our very existence depends on our ability to train every man, woman - and child, for that matter - to the limit of the individual’s ability, and in this respect no country has a surplus of capacity.
I propose to link those observations with the figures revealed in Commonwealth
Employment Service statistics, which indicate a very interesting situation with respect to the number of persons registered as unemployed at 31st January. Some of these figures have already been mentioned. ‘ The total number of persons registered as unemployed was approximately 55,247. It is significant that 19,348 were in New South Wales and 16,619 were in Queensland, making a total of 35,967 in those two States. At 1st February, 8,223 people were receiving unemployment benefit in New South Wales, and 9,342 in Queensland - 17,565 out of a total of 25,198 for the whole of Australia. These are significant facts, and they bring us back to the point made by the right honorable member for Cowper: New South Wales and Queensland are the two States that have been hardest hit by drought. The only logical conclusion is that the additional people who are registering for employment are the victims of drought rather than of any other other circumstance. In New South Wales, for example, fewer than 4,000,000 bushels of wheat have been harvested, whereas in the past the harvest has totalled as much as 72,000,000 bushels. It may be that if all the water that runs to waste in that State were conserved, the wheat harvest would not have reached 72,000,000 bushels in a season such as we have just experienced, but the water conservation policy advanced by the right honorable member for Cowper this afternoon would do more than any other measure to prevent such losses of production, apart from the incidental benefits that it would bestow.
Having made that point, I pass on to one that comes fairly close to home where I am concerned. This is the thing that I have been leading up to. I have been informed that instead of the 258 people indicated by the Commonwealth Employment Service statistics as being unemployed in Armidale, 400 or more are out of work. There are about 100 aborigines who went to the city from other parts of New South Wales for various reasons, and who are not normally resident in the district. If they are eliminated, we have about 300 people unemployed in that city. A substantial proportion of them can be regarded as victims of drought. They are bush workers and, generally speaking, the salt of the earth.
They are not no-hopers or drifters. Normally, they undertake some of the most useful tasks in the community. I emphasize that the largest group in this body of unemployed workers in Armidale is made up of building workers. As one well-known citizen with whom I am closely associated has found, it is necessary to wait many months to have building work done. The gentleman whom I have mentioned has waited eighteen months to ha%’e a minor building job done. This highlights the real trouble: There is no lack of work, but there is a shortage of skilled workmen.
In 1936, as a Minister of the Crown in New South Wales, I was sent overseas by the New South Wales Government to study education. I investigated what was happening in the United States, which, like Australia, was then suffering from the effects of a very grave depression. In that country, it was found that unskilled workers were the most difficult to place.
The American authorities set up classes to re-train skilled tradesmen, and others up to 46 years of age, for new occupations, and found that men trained in one skilled occupation more easily absorbed another. That was one of the means adopted to combat the difficulties with which they were confronted. But what has been the position in this country? My friend, the right honorable member for Cowper, proposed that an Australian council of education should be set up to review the whole question of education with a view to making full use of the capacities of not only the young but also many of the older people. For years we have been putting a premium on people becoming unskilled labourers. I am not charging this or any other government; I am speaking to a subject which I understand.
Many bright youngsters would leave school as soon as they reached the leaving age stipulated by the State, go into unskilled occupations and receive remarkably good wages until they reached the basic wage. That practice continued for many years. What did we do to combat it? The Prime Minister, when presenting the report of the Universities Committee to this House on 28th November, 1957, stated -
In addition to these, the secondary schools, providing an education to matriculation standards, are making a heavy demand on universities for graduates in arts, mathematics and science. That demand is unsatisfied, with the result that we find ouselves in something cf a vicious circle, the university students being numerically limited by the number of teachers in the schools, and the supply of teachers in the schools being limited by the insufficient number of university graduates. For 1960-61, government and non-government schools in Australia will require an annual intake of 450 mathematics and science teachers. Bui the output of science graduates from all universities in 1957 for all purposes is likely to be little more than 500.
What is the reason for that shortage? It is because a request which I have pleaded in this House for years has never been granted by any government, or understood, I believe, by any one associated with the Parliament. Otherwise something more constructive would have come from the Opposition to-night. Governments have not recognized that no counter-balance of assistance has been provided to parents to keep their children at school and carry them, not only to the universities, but also, for those who have the manual dexterity and skill to become good tradesmen or technicians, to the technical colleges against the excellent wages which induce youngsters to enter unskilled occupations. That is the problem which confronts us.
If we are to combat unemployment it is not sufficient merely to erect houses - although that is most important - or to start unskilled works. Let us get to the root of the trouble and stop this erosion of the talent in this country which, like the erosion of the soil to which the right honorable member for Cowper referred earlier, is steadily washing away the natural riches of the land and leaving us the poorer. In addition, we should put into practice the policy enunciated in the report of the Universities Committee which was prepared as a result of the Government’s intervention.
The university in my electorate has just suffered a major disaster. If that could be considered as an isolated matter it could be treated perhaps on a local basis, but it is a national calamity when a science building is wiped out and the existing problem of education is accentuated. Unless there is a recognition that the State Government was doing more than required by the recommendations of the University Committee, unless it is understood that speed is of the essence of the contract and that the science building which was destroyed so completely must be replaced in record time, Australia will be faced with one more handicap when we should be removing handicaps and speeding up the whole process of the development of our scientific capacity.
We have the testimony of some of the greatest scientists in this country and others to the effect that a government may spend large sums of money on defence in conventional ways and follow old paths, but unless it takes time by the forelock and concentrates its capacity on expanding the knowledge it already possesses, and uses the knowledge of people on the other side of the world who are willing to make that knowledge available, then the nation will lose the fight for national existence. The only way in which a country can achieve the full benefit of these things is to provide for every child with the necessary capacity to be educated to the highest standard by affording the necessary means of assistance and encouragement, instead of allowing the children to enter unskilled occupations. That is one side of the picture.
The other side was portrayed by the right honorable member for Cowper. Let us examine again the tremendous loss that is being suffered by this country by reason of our failure to impound, conserve and use the great waters which fall from time to time and which, properly controlled and used, would enable us not only to fight successfully against drought, but also to plan for the absorption of a population of up to 30,000,000 persons. That is only the beginning if we are to hold this country. That matter was referred to extensively by my distinguished friend.
These two reforms march side by side. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has shown us how to produce and has enabled us to fight pests. At the same time we are throwing away a great deal of the benefit of that organization because we are dithering about instead of conserving the waters that at one time wash our richest lands to the ocean, and at another time apparently disappear into the void and leave us, as is the case to-day in my own State, with a major problem of unemployment of people on the land, and in all States with a loss of national income which, in turn, rebounds on every man, woman and child in the community.
– I have read with great interest the six pages which comprise the GovernorGeneral’s Speech which we know is written for him by Ministers of the Cabinet led by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). I have looked very closely at this document to find some reference to two of our greatest problems, unemployment and housing. After reading nineteen paragraphs of the speech I noted that the twentieth paragraph read -
There has been some increase in unemployment, some part of which was undoubtedly attributable to the less favorable seasonal conditions. It still represents a relatively small proportion of our total work force; nevertheless it is a development which my Government continues to keep under closest scrutiny.
We have been listening to that for the last twelve months.
The speech contains no reference whatsoever to housing, although the housing situation to-day is a national scandal. However, that is to be expected from a government of this kind.
The grim spectre of unemployment again stalks Australia. Day by day we hear of factories closing down because of the oppressive financial laws which, under this calamitous government, are sending firms and persons into bankruptcy. Because of the policies of the Liberal-Country party coalition, under the leadership - or should I say the lack of leadership - of the tragic Prime Minister Menzies and his equally tragic Treasurer Fadden, Australia is again sinking into the morass of misery and poverty. The very thought of unemployment sends a shudder through every person in the community, because of the horrible thought, “ It may be my turn next “. When a person thinks of unemployment he contemplates the destruction of the things that he holds dear, particularly his home and the personal effects that it contains. He faces the threat of eviction through being unable to pay his rent. These are the things that happened to those who lived during the horrible period of the early 1930’s. I was a victim of the calamitous depression at that time, and I speak of this matter with some authority.
The pattern that we saw in the years from 1927 to 1929 is again taking shape. We have 100,000 unemployed at present, and this figure could easily become 200,000 within six months. But what does the Prime Minister do about it? In the aloof manner that he has cultivated over the years, he waves aside all protest from those on this side of the House. With a contemptuous sneer he makes sarcastic references to the unemployed and their families. He has no plan to remove this cancer of unemployment. He has no positive policy, and not one person in his Cabinet or in his Government has any idea of how to tackle the problem effectively.
The unemployment problem threatens the existence of our nation. The Chifley Government had no trouble in bringing about full employment, with security for every person in the land. There was security for every citizen. Every mother knew that she had security for the future for her children. She could plan for the future. She was assured of 52 pay packets every year. She had no worry that her husband might come home and say, “ I have been dismissed from my job. God only knows where I will find another one “. What happened in the 1930’s is happening again in 1958. Men are being dismissed from their jobs, with no prospects of obtaining others. The quest for work is completely hopeless in the case of men over the age of 45. Immediately such a man presents himself at the employment office he is told, “ There is no work to-day for men over 45 “.
The greatest tragedy that Australia experienced during the last half-century was the defeat in 1949 of the Chifley Government. The election of the Menzies Government at that time was a signal for the beginning of the decay that has been apparent since 1949 throughout our whole economy. When the Prime Minister was faced with the necessity to pay off his wealthy supporters, he set out, with great gusto, to destroy the assets of the Australian people. Organizations such as Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, the Australian Whaling Commission’s undertaking, and other lucrative enterprises were disposed of at bargain rates.
The Prime Minister then attacked the high standards of living that had operated under the Chifley Government. He appointed certain persons to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court, after legislation introduced in 1952, to do certain work, which they have done effectively. The first of these tasks was the freezing of wages. That was the commencement of the attacks upon our living standards. High commodity prices then slowly but surely ate up the savings of the people. Ex-servicemen who had kept their deferred pay, and their wives who had gone to work during the war period, had nest eggs put aside, but the high commodity prices that have been prevalent under this Government have slowly whittled down the savings of such people. After having denied themselves little luxuries in order to amass these savings, they find that the savings have been gradually whittled away. This, of course, has been the result of a master plan hatched by big business for the purpose of taking money from the hands of the many and placing it in the hands of the few. Inflation was encouraged for the purpose of doing this job. Inflation has been a catchcry for years, but it has proved a useful method of transferring the savings of the many into the hands of the few.
Time has marched on, and we have reached the point at which, if we hesitate, we will be lost. As events are shaping today, a crash is inevitable. What happened in 1929 is happening again. If we do not take the necessary action to stop the rot, we will be lost. Unemployment rolls on. Make no mistake about this: Unemployment has gone beyond the point of no return. This Government cannot stop it, because it rolls on and on, reaching epidemic proportions and crushing every one in its path. High interest rates are helping to add to the burden. All the ingredients are present for a return of the conditions that operated in the 1930’s. Any one who was a victim of the depression that occurred at that time can see quite plainly that the same conditions are likely to apply again.
On 8th March next a by-election will be held in the electorate of Parramatta. I appeal to-night to the fathers of the younger generation in Parramatta to tell their sons and daughters what happened in the 1930’s. I want the people who are unemployed today to know that what is happening to them is exactly what happened in the 1930’s. A milestone was reached a fortnight ago when a woollen mills in Parramatta was closed, throwing hundreds of men and women out of work. The closure of this mill resulted from the trade treaty that was concluded by this Government with the Japanese. I should like fathers and mothers in the Parramatta electoral division to tell their children before election day what can happen if this Government is allowed to remain in office, and I am sure that the result of that by-election, reflecting the feelings of the electors, will be an object lesson to the Government.
Let us consider the position on the waterfront. Many of our dockyards are closing and skilled men are being dismissed. At a time when Garden Island, Mori’s Dock, Maryborough and Williamstown dockyards are dismissing many highly skilled men, this Government has allowed 95,000 tons of steel plate to be exported to Japan for use in the Yokohama and Kobe shipyards. I urge supporters of the Government to give a little thought to this matter and to realize that such a policy is really one of causing unemployment in Australia and providing full employment in Japan. No one can deny that that is the policy of this Government. Even ships of the Australian National Line are being chartered to the Japanese. Those ships are being taken off the Australian coast in order to pave the way for overseas shipowners to increase freight rates between Australian ports. The vessels formerly operated by the Commonwealth are now engaged carrying nickel and other raw materials from New Caledonia to Yokohame, Kobe and other Japanese ports, thus assisting to develop Japan’s economy at the expense of the Australian economy.
This is the second occasion on which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has deliberately betrayed the people of Australia at the behest of the private banks, big business and huge monopolies. This conspiracy has many strange facets. When 100,000 of our people are faced with starvation, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has aided his leader in this race to disaster by faking unemployment figures. Only last week, the Minister made the amazing statement that he saw no cause for alarm in the unemployment figures. If 100,000 workers are out of work, it is reasonable to assume, taking their families into consideration, that about 250,000 people are existing on relief. Something is radically wrong with the administration of this country. Is it any wonder that the people are fed up with the present Government when a Minister is so devoid of responsibility that he sees no cause for alarm in the fact that 100,000 workers are unemployed. He has been guilty of betraying his trust by nonchalantly ignoring the present tragic state of affairs. It is pertinent to ask: How would the Minister himself like to be one of the 100,000 unemployed? The present situation can be remedied only by the removal of this Government from office, and in this respect the electors of Parramatta can give a lead on 8th March.
His Excellency stated that preparations are now being made to receive another delegation from Japan. Why is another delegation from that country to be received? Are further trade treaties between Australia and Japan ready for signature, or is this delegation coming to Australia as a result of an announcement that this Government has allowed a contract for work on the Snowy Mountains scheme to go to Japanese industrialists? The letting of the contract to a Japanese firm will result in thousands more of our people being thrown out of work, because one of the terms of contracts on that project provides that a successful tenderer be permitted to provide his own employees. This means that if a Japanese contractor is successful in obtaining such a contract - and I believe that has occurred - he will be able to bring Japanese workmen into Australia. As I have said, this will result in thousands more Australian workers being thrown out of work. We are approaching the point of national suicide. I urge the people of Australia to realize the lengths to which this Government is going in the direction I have indicated.
The present state of affairs is causing considerable alarm among the small business people in the community, but it is not worrying the big monopolies. There has recently been a big increase in the number of bankruptcies. The same pattern is being followed in our internal economy as exists in the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom. Recently in the United Kingdom a committee of three persons appointed by the British Government propounded the view that unemployment is inevitable and must be accepted. That committee was composed of a lord and two knights, and they did not state whether it was inevitable that they themselves should be unemployed.
Let us consider ways of overcoming the unemployment situation. Full use should be made of the facilities of the Commonwealth Bank. We have heard uttered a lot of tripe about finance not being available. I remind the House that the Commonwealth Bank financed our country during the Second World War. At the end of the war the Chifley Government was proud of the fact it had not incurred a debt outside Australia. But immediately the present Government assumed office, it started to borrow, beg or steal all over the world. Australia now owes 79,000,000 dollars to America. Why should such a large sum of money have been borrowed from America? The Commonwealth Bank is quite capable of financing this country through any period of war or peace.
Over a long period the private banks of this country have taken full advantage of the kid-glove methods of this Government in order to exploit the community. The recent increase of bank interest rates, to which this Government agreed, made it virtually impossible for many small business men to carry on, and for many people to build their own homes. Many people who had scraped together sufficient money to pay a deposit on a home were told that no money was available from the banks for home-building, but they were directed into other channels of finance where they had to pay from 10 per cent, to 15 per cent, interest for loans. The Commonwealth Bank must remain unfettered. A housing division of the bank should be established. I believe that suggestion will meet with general approval. Many young people would marry if homes were available for them to live in. Money for this purpose must be provided through the Commonwealth Bank. The bank controls the note issue, and that control should be exercised in the interests of the people. Money must be provided at a cheap rate of interest for home-building. The deposit should be kept to the minimum to allow these people to start to build the home that they badly need. This policy of making money available to people who need it would not prevent the private banks operating. We would find that a little competitive banking would do much good in the community. Surely the private banks, with all the means at their disposal, could easily find a basis on which to compete with the Commonwealth Bank.
Under the incoming Labour regime, the full facilities of the Commonwealth Bank will be used for the benefit of the people and cheap money will be found to build the thousands of homes that are needed. Australians and New Australians will be able to borrow money on reasonable terms to carry on their businesses, whether they be small or large. Every one who wants to build a home will be able to borrow money on reasonable terms. Let us look at this Government’s hopeless approach to home building. Not long ago, the Prime Minister said that the shortage of labour and materials was responsible for the housing position. However, I remind the House that in 1949 he said -
We give this firm promise to young couples. The Liberal party, when returned to office, will regard as its paramount and most vital responsibility the speeding up of the housing programme. We will not allow any other public works, other than those of the utmost public urgency, to be given priority over home building.
This master of deceit has been exposed for what he is. He was preparing then to disregard callously the very people from whom he was soliciting votes. The electors, unfortunately, fell for his blandishments and now, when he is questioned about housing, he says that he is tired of hearing people complain.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Hulme) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.23 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
m asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
To what countries, in what quantities and at what price has the Australian Egg Board madesales of eggs in shell in the last twelve months?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Australian Egg Board’s sales of shell eggs, on behalf of the “ pooling “ States of Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, are made only during the main export season each year. In the 1957-58 export season the Australian Egg Board on behalf of the State boards in the export pools for shell eggs, sold a total of 170,552 cases (each of 30 dozen) as follows: -
The world shell egg market is a highly competitive one and it would not be in the best interests of the egg industry to disclose prices obtained in individual markets for the simple reason that dissatisfaction might be created in those countries paying the higher prices and future sales might be prejudiced accordingly. The estimated average net return to the board from all the sales is 2s. 11.247d. per dozen. The average net return from all the board’s sales in 1956-57 was 2s. 6.536d. per dozen.
d asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– This question is in identical terms with one addressed to me by the honorable member in the final week of the last session. As it was not practicable to provide him with a reply before the House rose, I answered his question by letter on 17th December, 1957. As the honorable member no doubt recalls, my reply was as follows: -
m asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1 and 2. This omission was an oversight, but the reports have always .been available to honorable members and the public. When this oversight was discovered, immediate steps were taken to table the report for 1956 and future reports will be so dealt with.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 February 1958, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1958/19580227_reps_22_hor18/>.