22nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister in relation to the serious situation that has arisen in the New South Wales coal-fields, and particularly in the north coast district, due substantially to the mechanization of the mines. The number of unemployed in the coal-fields appears to have increased by more than 1,000 since the Prime Minister dealt with the matter previously. The towns in the coal-mining areas are adversely affected, and I submit to the Prime Minister that a matter which originally appeared to be a local problem has now become one of national concern. Will the right honorable gentleman inquire into the situation personally, as the Joint Coal Board is now conferring on this problem, to ascertain whether immediate action can be taken to solve the difficulty?
– With the permission of the Leader of the Opposition, I shall ask the Minister for Labour and National Service to answer the question.
– I know that my colleague, the Minister for National Development, who normally deals with the administrative aspects of this problem within the Commonwealth Government, has been in conference as recently as yesterday in New South Wales on this matter.
– Watching trends.
– We have done a lot more than watch trends. I believe it is generally known by honorable members that an important process of reorganization has been going on in the coal industry over the last three years in particular. It will not be denied that, up to very recent years, the coal industry of Australia, particularly in New South Wales, was in a very unhealthy condition, to put it mildly. For the first time, we are seeing, as a result of this process of re-organization, a coal industry centred in New South Wales with an assured future. It is a coal industry which, up to a very few years ago, was at such a level that we found it necessary to import coal from overseas for Australian needs. Now, the industry is able to achieve record production, increase man-hour output and export coal at the rate of 900,000 tons a year. That is quite a dramatic transformation in the situation within the coal industry.
It will not be denied, Mr. Speaker, that in that process, some thousands of coalminers have been displaced in the industry, but in order to meet the situation, an employment committee was set up which consisted of representatives of the Commonwealth and State governments, employers in the industry, the coalmining unions and the Joint Coal Board of New South Wales. That employment committee has had very considerable success in placing workers from the coal industry in other suitable employment. I think it is correct to say that in Cessnock, which has been the area worst affected, the number of coalminers receiving unemployment benefit is a little over 100 at present. There are still vacancies for some 160 coal-miners on the south coast of New South Wales. The State government, with increased funds made available by this Government, has been able to provide employment opportunities in the area. This Government is doing a lot more than merely watching trends. It is playing an active part in trying to assist the industry through this admittedly difficult process of reorganization - a process that is placing the industry on a very much more efficient basis and which is giving it a very much more assured future than has been the case hitherto..
– I should like to direct a supplementary question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is the Minister aware that within the last twelve months something like 1,200 people have become unemployed on the northern coal-fields? In regard to the suggestion that Cessnock is suffering from only a small percentage of unemployment, is it not a fact that notices were issued to more than 500 men only last week? I put it to the Minister that the situation is one of deadly seriousness. The towns in this area will suffer. The whole situation has not been handled efficiently, and I ask the Minister to look into it.
– I am not prepared to accept the charge, even from the prospective member for Hunter, that the situation is not being handled efficiently. Such a charge is a- reflection, not only on this Government^ but also on the New
South Wales Government, which is even more vitally interested. The New South Wales Government has available to it loan moneys beyond those which were provided last year, and I gather that it was able to balance its budget during the last financial year. I am not saying that by way of reflecting on the State government, because I believe that, in association with my colleague, the Minister for National Development, as the representative of this Government, it is making a conscientious effort to produce a satisfactory outcome. A major process of re-organization in an industry of such industrial significance is a difficult matter, and is one that requires the cooperative effort of all elements. The fact that comparatively few people are out of work and that so many have been absorbed in the growing industrial concerns of Newcastle and the south coast of New South Wales is evidence that the employment committee and the governments which are represented on it have made a very valuable contribution to obtaining a solution of these difficulties.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. A short time ago, the Minister for Supply issued a statement regarding the development by the department under his administration, at a cost of about £2,000,000, of a guided missile known as “ Malkara “. He implied that resources had been devoted to this project because the fruit of it would be peculiarly adaptable to the requirements of the Australian armed forces. Subsequently, the Chief of the Australian General Staff, General Garrett, was reported to have said that the Australian forces would not be armed with guided missiles in the foreseeable future. Can the Minister throw any light upon what otherwise must remain as confusion in the minds of the public?
– The development of “ Malkara “ was a project undertaken jointly by the Australian Government and the British Government. It has gone forward to the point that it is now being prepared for field trials by the British Government. As General Garrett said, the Australian Army has not decided to make use of “ Malkara “, but I can assure the honorable member that its development and the field trials that are to take place will be watched very closely by the Army. When those trials are completed, a final decision will be made.
Reference in Australian Play.
– I direct to the Minister for the Army a question regarding an Australian play entitled “ Curly on the Rack “, which was written by an Australian, Ru Pullan, and which is being performed at the Elizabethan Theatre in New South Wales. The central theme of the play is the loss of a unit’s pay-roll at the time of the destruction of Rabaul. Is the Minister able to say whether, as suggested by the author, the incident depicted in the play is one of truth? Is there anything in the archives to substantiate the story that that money was lost during the dark days of the war? Because of the general interest that has been aroused by the performance of the play, will the Minister ask his staff to investigate the matter?
– I am afraid I cannot help the honorable member in the matter he has raised; but it is of interest, and I will certainly have investigations made and will let the honorable gentleman know whether or not there is any truth in the suggestion put forward.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Health been drawn to a statement made by Dr. Brennan on the occasion of the annual conference of the Victorian Health Inspectors Association that, whilst Salk vaccine had almost wiped out poliomyelitis in Victoria, he was most concerned by the lack of applicants for immunization from the non-school teenage group? If this is also the case in other States will the Minister consider stepping-up publicity in connexion with the present re-opening of the Salk vaccine campaign in order to bring more forcefully before members of this age group the urgent necessity for immunization?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable gentleman refers, and I do not think that there has been a poor response in all States to the immunization campaign. In fact, I understand that the response, in Queensland and Western Australia in particular, has been very good. Whatever publicity should be given to the campaign is really in the province of the States at present. The Commonwealth makes the vaccine available to the States, and the administrative arrangements for giving it are in the hands of the State governments. The Commonwealth, of course, is willing to co-operate with those governments in any way possible.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he is able to give me the answer that he promised to give me concerning the acceptance by the Commonwealth of responsibility for personal injuries caused by drivers of Commonwealth vehicles.
– I told the honorable member that I would endeavour to give an answer on this matter to-day. It is a matter on which he has put a variety of questions, and on which he has been in personal contact with me. I know that he has taken a great interest in it. I have taken some interest in it myself. It has not been possible to answer the question before because there are some complexities in a matter in which the existing laws of six States operate in various ways. We have considered the matter now, and we propose to amend the Judiciary Act in order to make the Commonwealth liable to be sued for damages for death or injury caused to any person by a Commonwealth vehicle by whomsoever driven and whether with or without the authority of the Commonwealth. We would exclude from this general proposal, of course, cases where there is for any reason an insurer who is liable. We intend to make a further amendment to give the Commonwealth the right to recover from a person who drove a vehicle without authority the damages paid and costs paid or incurred in consequence. That proposition will be, in some cases perhaps, more theoretical than otherwise. We have also decided that the liability of the Commonwealth should be determined by a judge sitting without a jury, and we will enable a suit to be brought against the Commonwealth in the Supreme Court of a Terrritory of the Commonwealth in which a claim arises to the same extent as suits may be brought against the Commonwealth in the Supreme Courts of the States.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral in a position to tell the House whether a decision has been reached concerning the granting of a commercial television licence in Western Australia? If a decision has not been reached, when is one likely to be made?
– The position regarding the granting or the determination of a commercial television licence in Perth is this: The Australian Broadcasting Control Board, acting under instructions, has recently completed its investigations into applications for commercial licences in Perth. So far, the board has not presented a report to me on either the Perth applications or the Hobart applications. I expect that report to be available to me within, say, a month, and I shall then submit it to Cabinet for discussion. The decision of the Government will be made available as soon as that consideration has been given to the board’s report.
– I direct to the Minister for Primary Industry a question regarding the constitution of the Australian Meat Board. Is the Minister aware that Queensland provides 63 per cent, of the Australian Meat Board’s finance, 83 per cent, of Australia’s beef exports, and 70 per cent, of all meat exported, excluding canned meats? Therefore, could not Queensland expect better representation on the Australian Meat Board? At present, of the ten members of the board and a chairman, Queensland has only one representative, representing beef producers. Is the Minister aware that mutton and lamb producers provide a mere 15 per cent, of the finance of the board, yet have four representatives? The present position is that-
– Order ! Will the honorable member ask his question? At present he is giving information.
– What are the possibilities of meat producers in Queensland securing greater representation on the Australian Meat Board?
– Roughly, the facts put by honorable gentleman are correct. As to the prospects of amendment of the act this year, they are remote.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Is the 195.8-59 wheat harvest expected to be a record one? What are the current wheat production prospects in other major growing countries, and particularly in the United States of America and Canada? When does the International Wheat Agreement expire? Is it likely to be renewed? Is the disposal of a large crop in Australia likely to present a difficult marketing problem? If so - this is of particular interest to the growers - what is the present growers’ position?
– The answers to the questions asked by the honorable gentleman from Calare are these: First, as to the prospects in Australia for this year, I did hear that the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board estimated that there will be a delivery of about 180,000,000 bushels this coming wheat year. Last year, I think, about 80,000,000 bushels were delivered to the board. As to the second question, there is expected to be a record crop in the United States of America, and- a smaller crop in Canada. It is thought that there will be a reduced crop in Western Europe, due to wet weather conditions. China will have an increased crop. The overall result, therefore, is that an increased crop of wheat is expected to be available this year in the northern hemisphere.
The International Wheat Agreement will expire on 31st July next year, and negotiations under the United Nations for another agreement will commence shortly. As to the last question, there will, of course, be marketing difficulties associated with such a large crop and such a large over-supply. The Australian grower can be assured that his crop will be taken by the Wheat Board and will be paid for under the wheat stabilization scheme. Shortly, a bill will be brought before this House to continue the wheat stabilization scheme. Finally, because we do not have a carry-over, we are in a particularly fortunate position in Australia to handle such a large crop as 180,000,000 bushels.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question without notice. Has the right honorable gentleman’s attention been drawn to statements made by respected officials of wool-growers’ organizations that, because there is no wool surplus, there is no justification for the decline of wool prices; that there are forces at work detrimental to the industry; that the lack of woollen articles in some big stores is, to say the least, alarming; and that in many cases, synthetic materials are being used in place of wool? Will the Prime Minister have inquiries made with a view to protecting our wool industry?
– I have not observed the statements referred to by the honorable member, but I have no doubt that they are receiving careful consideration by the Minister for Primary Industry and the Minister for Trade.
– On behalf of the electors of Mitchell I welcome the Postmaster-General back to the chamber, and I mark the occasion by asking him a question. A good deal of discussion has arisen lately amongst telephone users over the proposed change-over from letter prefixed numbers to the all-figure telephone dial. As far as I am aware, the proposalis that in Sydney some telephone numbers will be switched over to the all-figure dialling system in November next, when the new telephone directory is issued. Will the Postmaster-General advise honorable members of his experience in this matter and what prompted him to agree to the changeover? Does he think that the criticism so far voiced is soundly based, or that it is a result of the reluctance of the public to change an ingrained dialling habit? In other words, what are the advantages of the all-figure dial, and how long would .t take for all Sydney numbers to be changed to the new system of dialling?
– I shall answer one particular phase of the honorable member’s question first. The honorable member asked whether I considered the criticism that has been offered in some places against this new system to be soundly based. My reply is that, as a result of my own investigations of the proposals. I do not consider that such criticism is soundly based. The matter has been dealt with in this House on previous occasions, and it has been pointed out that the proposed alteration in the system of numbering various subscriber services arises from the department’s plans to extend automatic telephone dialling throughout Australia. The project is a long-range one, and a number of matters that have a bearing on it will need to be attended to over a period. The alteration of the method of numbering subscriber services is one of those matters.
Several months ago, the department appointed a special committee to study this matter thoroughly. As a result of that committee’s investigations, the department is quite satisfied that the proposed system has very great advantages over the present system. If the honorable member would like me to go into further detail as to those advantages, I shall be glad to do so, but it would take rather longer than is proper when answering a question. It is sufficient to say that I consider that in this matter the department, in its forward planning, has demonstrated the capacity that it has shown in other things to keep well abreast of the latest developments in technological science, and that in instituting this change it is well ahead of current practices throughout the world.
Finally, I point out that the change was instituted in the Sydney area some time last year in the Cronulla exchange. I think that the honorable member will find that there has been no great objection in the Cronulla area to this change. Also, within the last month or two, the change has been introduce in the Brisbane directory. There was a great deal of criticism in Brisbane similar to that mentioned by the honorable member, but in the last few weeks I have discovered that the department’s former critics are now saying, “ We are sorry; you were right “.
– In addressing a question to the Postmaster-General I should like to say first that I am sure everybody is very pleased to see him back after his recent illness. It is because we have missed him that he is being asked so many questions to-day. My question is as follows: - Is the honorable gentleman yet in a position to say when Government policy in regard to the allocation of television licences in Adelaide and Brisbane is to be announced? I should like to ask, too, as I asked the Prime Minister the other day, whether the delay in making an announcement is due to the in ability of the Government to decide between the various newspaper interests which want licences. When was the report from the Austraiian Broadcasting Control Board received by the Government? Is it the intention of the Government to refuse to make any decisions until after the elections are over?
– I assure the honorable member for Melbourne that there is no desire, no intent, and indeed no reason for the Government to hold up its determination on this important matter. It may be that I have to acknowledge a little fault in the matter myself, because, as honorable members know, I have been away from duty for a little while.
– That is not a fault in this instance.
– The Australian Broadcasting Control Board carried out complete investigations in both Brisbane and Adelaide into the applications for television licences. Those investigations took a great deal longer than was expected, but the applications were very thoroughly canvassed. As I announced last week, I have recently received an interim report from the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. It is my duty to submit that report to the Government for its determination. That will be done very shortly, and some announcement on the matter will be made, I should say, within the next few weeks.
– When was the interim report received?
– I received it a week or two ago. I should think an announcement will be made within about a week.
– On 28th August I asked the Minister for Territories whether it was the Government’s intention to initiate a low-rental housing scheme for all citizens of the Northern Territory similar to the schemes operating in every State in the Commonwealth, and in the Australian Capital Territory. The Minister replied -
A decision in this matter was made by the Government some time ago, and provision has been made in the Estimates for such a scheme.
Since asking the question, I have had an opportunity to discuss this matter with
His Honour, the Administrator, and the Assistant Administrator of the Northern Territory, in Darwin. Both these gentlemen assured me that they had no knowledge of any decision or announcement in connexion with such a scheme. I, therefore, ask the Minister whether he still insists that such an announcement was made, notwithstanding the statements of those two gentlemen.
– I must apologize to the honorable member. I was in error in saying that it had been publicly announced. My statement was correct in all other respects.
– I ask the Prime Minister bow many Rolls Royce motor cars are being purchased by the Government. I understand that some of them are being purchased through Kellow Falkiner Proprietary Limited in Melbourne. What is the cost of them, and what will they be used for?
– All I can say is that I wish somebody had told me about this, because it is the first I have heard of it.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of the demands that are being addressed to some honorable members, by way of a printed green card issued by the Liberty League of Australia, and signed by individuals, mainly women? As the demands include a proposition that Australian butter and eggs should be sold locally at prices equivalent to those obtaining in London, will the Minister advise the House of the dangers inherent in this propaganda?
– I have seen the green cards to which the honorable gentleman has referred, and I have asked my department to make an investigation to see what they imply. As yet 1 have not received a detailed report, but as soon as I do receive it, I shall let the honorable gentleman know. As to the finalpart of his question, I think I should have to make almost a second-reading speech to explain the implications of the proposal he referred to, so I shall write to the honorable gentleman and let him have a full report on the matter.
Carriage by Post.
– Is the Postmaster-
General aware that musical records of a most obscene nature, referred to as “ blue “ records and originally made in the United States of America, are available for sale on the gold coast of Queensland? Is it a fact that these obscene records are carried as mail by the Postmaster-General’s Department? If these records are carried by the department, will the PostmasterGeneral take action to see that this practice is discontinued?
– I saw some reference to this matter of “blue” records in, I think, the week-end press. It was given some prominence in the Brisbane area. I know nothing whatsoever of the matter, but I shall have inquiries made to see whether there is anything affecting my department in the distribution of these records. 1 point out to the honorable gentleman that the contents of parcels submitted to the Postmaster-General’s Department are not indicated in every case, and that the department has no right to open parcels to ascertain their contents.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Is he aware that a cargo of Australian chilled beef recently arrived in Britain in such excellent condition that it was considered by experts to be second to none? I understand that the reason for its excellent condition was that it was only 40 days aboard ship on the “ north-about “ route via the Torres Strait. Will the Minister take steps to see that every encouragement is given to exporters to increase the quantity of chilled beef delivered in this way?
– The Blue Star Line is to be complimented on commencing a service on what is called the “ northabout “ route for the shipment of Australian chilled beef to the United Kingdom. This means that ships can call at the southern ports of Queensland to pick up wool, and then can go to the northern ports to pick up chilled beef. I think the honorable gentleman would like to know that the time taken for movement from Queensland meat ports to the United Kingdom was 28 days, as opposed to the previous 45 days, and that the chilled beef arrived in the United Kingdom in extraordinarily good condition. We are all hopeful that this will open up a new prospect for the beef industry of Queensland. Already an export advisory planning committee has been established, first of all, to work ou: the prospects, and secondly, to advise both shippers and producers on what they can do to exploit these new possibilities. T am glad the honorable gentleman has raised this question, because the system is quite a novelty. I will obtain more facts and will let the honorable gentleman have a document setting out not only what has been done, but also what it is hoped to achieve in the future.
– My question to the Minister for Labour and National Service is supplementary to those asked by the Leader of the Opposition relative to the disastrous and increasing amount of unemployment in the New South Wales coal industry. The Minister said that there were vacancies for coal-miners in the coal-fields on the south coast of New South Wales. Will he state whether houses are available in Wollongong, Port Kembla and other districts adjacent to the coal-fields for the families of coal-miners who may seek employment on the southern coal-fields?
– T used that instance as an illustration that the coal industry generally was not in a state of crisis, and to confirm my point that, as a result of this re-organization, it was in a very much healthier and more satisfactory position to face the future. No one will deny the hardship and great difficulty which, in individual cases, result from unemployment, however temporary it may be. I assure the honorable member that the best efforts of this Government and of the State Government also are directed to relieving those problems wherever they arise, but I will try to obtain some details of the particular point which he raises. I know that arrangements have been made for northern miners who wish to take up employment in the south but who have housing problems, to be accommodated, temporarily at least, in hostels in the southern district conducted by the steel companies and the Commonwealth Government. I will see whether I can obtain any details of more recent developments.
– I ask the Treasurer whether the Taxation Branch has recently changed its policy regarding the allowance paid to the wife of a service pensioner. Is the allowance now to be treated as taxable income - while the direct service pension remains exempt? Will the Treasurer investigate the matter? Is the same policy in regard to this allowance applied in all the States? If the allowance is now treated as taxable income, does this amount to the insertion of the thin edge of the wedge with a view to the ultimate abolition of the exemption which now applies to service pensions generally?
– There has been no modification or amendment over the years of the Government’s policy in this matter. The honorable member may be assured that whatever practice is followed it is uniform throughout the Commonwealth. That is constitutionally necessary. However, I will look into the matter further to see what information I can obtain for the honorable member.
Launching of Soviet Rockets
– Has the Minister for Defence any confirmation of reports concerning the firing of Russian rockets in various places, including the Antarctic and a site reported to be 40 miles south of the Australian coast?
– I have no precise information as to when or where rockets have been launched by the Russians. We did know that some rockets were to be launched by them during the International Geophysical Year.
– I should like to address a question to the Minister for the Interior. I preface it by assuring him-
-Order! The Minister for the Interior is not present. Therefore, the question is not in order at this stage.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Primary Industry with the comment that for some time I have been endeavouring to push the sale of Australian flour overseas. The Minister has reported that increased sales have been made to Ceylon, but I would like to ask him whether any progress has been made in recapturing some of the markets which, we have been told, were taken from us by unfair means. This is vital not only to the men in the milling industry - the greater proportion of whom have been thrown out of work - but also to Australian egg production. At present, as a result of our reduced sales overseas, the poultry-farmer and the dairy-farmer cannot obtain adequate quantities of mill offal, such as bran and pollard. Can the Minister offer any encouragement to these unfortunate people?
– I can give the honorable gentleman some reassurance by saying that the Minister for Trade has successfully negotiated agreements with both the Ceylon Government and the Malayan Government to recapture a substantial part of the Australian trade in flour with Ceylon and Malaya. So far as Ceylon is concerned, there has been an agreement to take 20,000 tons this year. Negotiations are continuing to see whether more comprehensive arrangements can be placed on a permanent basis. The Minister for Trade has not yet mentioned the exact figure for the permanent arrangements, but as soon as he is able to do so it will be made known to the House. As to Malaya, I cannot remember the exact figures or the terms of the agreement made with the Minister for Trade, but T am sure my colleague, the acting Minister, will, when he is able to do so, prepare a statement and make it known to the House. I can assure the honorable gentleman that this was one of the subjects discussed in some detail with the Malayan Government, and that some concrete assurances have been given for the protection of at least a part of our trade in flour, and also in wheat, on the Malayan market.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral yet in a position to make a statement to the House regarding the inquiry that has been held, or is at present being held, by a committee into the introduction of frequency modulation? If the report of the committee is available, will the PostmasterGeneral submit it to the House? If it is not available, will he ask the committee to expedite its hearings so that a great deal of doubt and uncertainty that exists in the business world and in the community generally can be removed?
– The Australian Broadcasting Control Board commenced its inquiry into the advisability or otherwise of the introduction of frequency modulation in Australia some considerable time ago, as the honorable member knows. According to verbal reports that I have had from members of the board, it appears that the response of the public, generally to the request of the board for evidence and submissions to it has been disappointing. After the board had heard a considerable amount of evidence, the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations requested the board to defer further consideration of the matter until after the federation’s annual conference, to be held shortly. As it was felt that it was desirable to have the considered opinion of such a body as the federation before any determination was made, the Broadcasting Control Board agreed to that request, and therefore it has held up any further hearing of the matter. Consequently, I am afraid that it will be a little while before the board is in a. position to make its final report to me on the inquiries which it has been conducting.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether he will have a review made of the health regulations administered by his department in Canberra to ensure that the conditions required under those regulations are compatible with the advances made in food technology, particularly in relation to the storage and transportation of perishable foodstuffs. In particular, will the Minister have an examination made of the regulations governing the importation to and sale in the Australian Capital Territory of foods such as milk, fish and packaged meats, and will he further satisfy himself that there is no longer any tendency in the department to use the regulations in an economic sense rather than purely as health measures?
– I am not aware that the regulations governing the import of food in general into the Australian Capital Territory require overhauling, but if the honorable gentleman will let me have particulars of any specific instance in which he considers they are deficient we will certainly have a look at them.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. I desire to know whether it is a fact that, according to a survey conducted by the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, the value of the Australian £1 is said to have depreciated by 54 per cent. since 1947. Is it a fact that this degree of depreciation, although an understatement, is greater than that of the value of the currency of every other nation with the exception of a number of South American countries? If this is a fact, is the Prime Minister now prepared to concede that his solemn promise in 1949 to put value back into the Australian £1 has not been honoured, and will he admit that, in fact, it was only a piece of blatant political propaganda designed to mislead the Australian electors?
– I have not seen the report, nor would I venture to commit myself to a particular figure. But I would make one general observation: Whatever the value of the Australian £1 may be to-day, it is very much higher than the value of the £1 would have been if the member for East Sydney had been Prime Minister.
– With the concurrence of the House,I should like to dispose of a certain matter conveniently at this stage. Several honorable members who have shown interest in the question of equal pay for the sexes have been told by me that I was arranging for the Department of Labour and National Service to prepare a factual document incorporating a lot of material gathered in Australia as well as material obtained from various other countries. The document has now been prepared, and any members of the Parliament who may be interested can obtain a copy from my private secretary at my office.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 28th August (vide page 938).
Proposed Vote, £3,253,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- Mr. Chairman, I wish to discuss a matter on which I was refused a hearing a fortnight ago when 1 raised it during the consideration of the estimates for the Prime Minister’s Department. The occupant of the chair - I think it was you, Sir - suggested that the matter could be better dealt with when the proposed vote for the Department of Health was before the committee.
Order! That was not necessarily a refusal of a hearing. That was merely putting the matter in its right perspective.
– Well, putting it in its right perspective.
I wish to make an appeal to the Government to assist crippled people who have to be sent overseas for specific specialist treatment not available in Australia. I have previously suggested the kind of assistance that could be given to these folk, and if this Government is not prepared to consider the request that I make this afternoon, the new government, which will take office after 22nd November, most certainly will do so. I have put this matter formally before the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who knows all about it, and he has refused help of any kind. I now address an appeal to the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron).
So often, Mr. Chairman, people who are unable to finance a trip out of their own resources have to go overseas for specialist treatment, and it then behoves public and voluntary organizations to get together in an effort to raise the funds needed to send a sufferer to England, Europe or the United States of America. My appeal this afternoon is specifically on behalf of the many people who have been stricken with severe spinal injuries, in particular, unusual brain or heart diseases, and other rare derangements of the human body, and who, in the opinion of the Australian specialists treating them, may be healed, even partially, by specialist treatment available in the United Kingdom, Europe or the United States - I emphasize that it is treatment not available in Australia. I am seeking assistance, not for cases that could be treated in Australia, but only for those special cases that cannot be treated or healed here. I suggest that it should be a condition of financial assistance from the Commonwealth Government that only such cases are eligible.
The Prime Minister’s Department distributes a lot of grants to various groups throughout Australia each financial year. Under Miscellaneous Services, at page 96 of the Estimates now before us, we find that, in the financial year 1957-58, the Prime Minister’s Department expended £64,650 on fifteen specific grants to various organizations. I feel that, although this is a matter that could be dealt with primarily by the Department of Health, the financial aspect of it should be finally handled by the Prime Minister’s Department, which makes a very wide range of grants indeed.
I propose to cite the details of a specific case which has arisen in Tasmania, and which is personally known to me, and to illustrate it by particular reference to what has occurred in the last two months. A year ago, Harold Roper, a metallurgist who lives in my electorate, fell twelve feet onto concrete while helping to construct a new mill at the Rossarden Storey’s Creek wolfram mine, and broke his back. He spent twelve months in the Launceston General Hospital, and at the end of that time the specialists there could do nothing more for him. Roper is now paralysed from the waist down. He is only 35, and has a family of five children; so his is a desperate case. For the rest of his life it appeared that he would be forced to lie bed-ridden in some hospital.
Some of Roper’s friends got together and formed a committee to raise money to send him to England for treatment. I came into the matter after the committee had been formed, when I was asked to become the trustee of the Harold Roper Fund and to assist in makins plans and to complete the arrangements for a trip to England to the Institute of Spinal Injuries, at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, in Buckinghamshire, where special treatment is given to patients who have sustained broken backs and1 other spinal injuries. The Hobart “ Mercury “ newspaper, at my request, after three weeks of investigation, decided to conduct a public appeal throughout Tasmania. Since it has the biggest coverage of the State among the three daily newspapers, that was a big help, and it did a wonderful job. The appeal was so successful that in six weeks £3,000 had been raised. That was the target that had been set to meet the expense of Roper’s trip to England, including his fares, and treatment at a cost of £40 a week. It seemed an extremely difficult target to set at the outset, but the response of the Tasmanian people was magnificent, and they gave willingly to help us in our efforts to have Roper treated’, and perhaps to get him on crutches again, as we planned. We were assisted by the Red Cross Society, churches, unions, sporting bodies with which Mr. Roper was associated and by many thousands of private persons. They helped us to raise £3,000 in six weeks.
We put Mr. Roper on an aircraft from Launceston to Melbourne on 17th August, and placed him on “Strathaird”. All arrangements were made to place him in the hospital bay under the supervision of the ship’s surgeon. A special rotor bed was made up at the Hobart Technical College, and this was the first time such a bed has been used on the ship. Mr. Roper had to lie for periods on his back and on his stomach for treatment and, with the rotor bed, he was able to have both forms of treatment without being turned over by hand. “ Strathaird “ is now passing through the Suez Canal and will arrive in England on 22nd September. Mr. Roper will then go into hospital. In England, Lady Binney is to help Mrs. Roper.
That is a specific case of a man who could not afford to pay even one-twentieth of the expenses himself. His wife has gone with him, but she had to sell personal assets to enable her to do so, as the fund was organized solely to help Mr. Roper. I have had a bank account opened at the Commonwealth Bank in London for Mr. Roper to use. I believe that such cases should receive a grant from the Commonwealth Government because the appropriate treatment cannot be given in Australia. I made representations to the Tasmanian Government, and it granted £500 towards the appeal. That was a magnificent stimulus to us all. Mr. Roper was not known personally to members of the Tasmanian Government, but they dealt with the request on its merits. I also approached the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and in a reply dated 12th August, 1958, the right honorable gentleman stated -
I did not get an interview with the Prime Minister, although I waited a fortnight. The letter from the right honorable gentleman continued -
However, having had a careful look at the papers to save time for both of us I think I should let you know that I can see no way of agreeing to your request.
There is no established fund or departmental allocation from which assistance could be given to cases like the one you have raised. Moreover, there is a number of objections to the establishment of a fund for this purpose; in particular, from what medical people say, there would be endless differences of opinion (even in the present case) as to whether or not the special treatment required is available in Australia and whether treatment overseas would produce any beneficial effect.
That is not the point at all. There is no doctor who could say for certain in all cases that the patient concerned would get better. That is a risk we would all have to take, just as we are taking it in this case with Mr. Harold Roper. The thousands of persons who have given amounts varying from 10s. to £100 have given the money in a venture of faith that he might get back on to crutches, at least; but he might not improve. He might be brought back to Australia in a year’s time no better than he is now. That is a risk we have taken and a risk that the Government must take in helping special cases of this sort. The Prime Minister added in his letter -
It seems clear, therefore, that it would be impracticable to administer a scheme of assistance which would give general satisfaction and it is considered that any assistance for the purpose of seeking medical treatment overseas would best be given, as in past cases, by local community effort and by those voluntary organizations which help in matters of this kind.
All right! Let them do that. But let the Government make specific grants of £500 or £300, as the case may be, to help in such cases and to assist the voluntary organizations. I am not asking the Government to make a grant to cover fares and treatment overseas entirely. All I ask for is a specific grant worked out by the department concerned. To meet the Prime Minister’s difficulty, I would suggest that, when a medical man or a specialist ruled that a case should go overseas, the patient should go before a panel of specialists approved by the Department of Health. The panel could be selected to deal with brain, heart or back cases. If a majority of the specialists were of the opinion that the man or woman concerned would probably be cured or greatly improved overseas under specialist treatment, either in England or the United States of America, the patient should be eligible for government assistance.
I raise this matter purely for humanitarian reasons. I have had the case I have mentioned before me for the last two months, and I know the details. Mr. Roper and his wife have left their family behind - one is a baby nine months old - in the hope hat the father may be even partially cured at the institute which specializes in spinal injuries. If this Government will not consider my request, I repeat that we on this side of the chamber will take it up again when we become the government after the general elections. One of our objectives will be to provide such humanitarian aid.
The Prime Minister approves of grants to all sorts of organizations. We spend millions of pounds in bringing immigrants to Australia. Could we not spend a few thousands of pounds a year in helping Australians to go to England for specialist treatment that cannot be given in Australia? I believe that we have a strong case for consideration by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), who is sitting at the table. Grants are given through the Prime Minister’s Department to the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, the Royal Australian Historical Society, the Girl Guides Association, Boy Scouts Association, Surf Life Saving Association, Royal Life Saving Society, Social Science Research Council of Australia, Pan-Indian Ocean Science Congress, Pacific Science Congress and the Australian Institute of Management. Those are some of the organizations which are assisted by the Government. If appropriate provision were made, the Department of Health could make payments as I have suggested, just as grants are made through the Prime Minister’s Department. The Minister for Health is a humanitarian. He has. helped me several times since I have been in Canberra. Many honorable members have had assistance from him when they have cracked up under the strain of political life.
Finally, I wish to express a word of criticism of the present health scheme. When the Australian Labour party is returned to office after 22nd November, we will introduce a new health scheme for Australia. I criticize the present scheme on several grounds. First, it has forced many people in Australia to join medical benefit associations against their will. I am one of them. I resisted joining a medical benefits society for two and a half years until I saw that I was cutting off my nose to spite my face, and we had ill health in the family. There are eighty associations in Australia which are recognized. Many of them are reaping terrific profits from the sickness of the people. My second criticism is the effect t that the cost of hospitalization and the payment of benefits is having on basic wage earners who are becoming afraid to seek medical aid, and the consequent delay is serious.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– First, I wish to pay tribute to the Department of Health for the splendid work it has done, not only as a Commonwealth department, but also in co-operation with the States in the campaign against tuberculosis. I hope that, in the not too distant future, a similar campaign, initiated by the Commonwealth Government, might be undertaken in the fight against cancer. I mention that matter because in Queensland, approximately one in every three people can look forward at some time in the course of their lives to having to undergo treatment for some form of cancer, mainly skin cancer. It is a field that the Commonwealth could well enter. This Government could do a great amount of good by co-ordinating the various activities. I firmly believe that the problem could be tackled on a Commonwealth-wide basis.
The second subject that I wish to discuss is one of which I speak almost every year in one way or another. I refer to the work of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I make no apology for the fact that from time to time I direct the attention of honorable members to the work that is being done by this organization and the progress that is being made by the service throughout the Commonwealth. The good work of the Royal- Flying Doctor Service should receive greater recognition. I know that State governments and the Commonwealth Government do give it some recognition. I know, too, that there are certain persons in the Health Departments of the States and, the Commonwealth who know of the wonderful work that is being done by the service and who believe that it can best be done in the way in which it is being done at the present time - that is, by an organization which is operated, in the main, by people who are working on a purely voluntary basis and’ who are trying to ensure that the wonderful vision of the Reverend John Flynn - Flynn of the Inland - is given effect and that the service will eventually spread beyond Australia to other parts of the British Commonwealth.
I also know that there are persons in some departments - I refer particularly to Commonwealth departments - who would like to see the Royal Flying Doctor Service taken over by the Government. I mentioned that last year, and this year I propose to elaborate it a little. I believe that opinion is gaining ground. If at any time the Royal Flying Doctor Service is taken over by a Commonwealth department, it will be not only a tragedy for one of the finest medical services that Australia has had but also the end, in a. way, of a splendid vision the materialization of which, in its own way, has done as much as, if not more than, any other single idea put forward by any one person to develop the Commonwealth.
I do not propose to outline the splendid early history of the service, which came into being as a result of Flynn’s concept of throwing a mantle of safety over the outback of Australia. I said last year that when Flynn first got the idea people said he was mad, and that it took him a considerable number of years to combine wireless with aviation to spread that mantle of safety over outback Australia. Australians should be proud of the fact that, as early as 1911, Flynn conceived the idea of combining wireless and aviation, both of which were- then in their infancy, to help our outback areas. 1 do not propose to talk at any length about the purely medical side of the service. I shall refer to only two points, the first being that last year in Queensland alone, as a result of the work of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, approximately 2,000 children who otherwise would not have had the opportunity were immunised against poliomyelitis. Another matter of which we should be very proud is that the service is doing splendid work in looking after not only the white population of the outback, but also the aboriginals. The Royal Flying Doctor Service does not pay any regard to colour. In the last few years, the organization has advanced Australia’s reputation in South-East Asia as being a country that provides an excellent medical service for its aboriginal population. The aboriginals receive the same treatment as do the whites. Almost half of the 8,000 patients who were treated last year were aboriginals.
I shall now refer to other ways in which the service has helped, and is still helping, to develop the Commonwealth. Last year, almost half a million miles were flown, with a total of just over 1,200 flights. In the Queensland section, the cost was approximately 6s. 6d. a mile, which is extremely cheap. I do not wish to made odious or invidious comparisons, but I point out that the cost of the aerial medical service that is run by the Commonwealth, as far as one is able to ascertain it, is between 12s. and 13s. a mile. I point that out because it is a very important factor in favour of the argument that the service should remain in the hands of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and should not become part of a Commonwealth department.
Let me point out the big difference between the outlook of the Commonwealth and that of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The Royal Flying Doctor Service believes that the doctor should go out to the patient, whereas the aerial medical service conducted by the Commonwealth believes that the doctor should not go out in every case. There is a vast difference of opinion on the point, and there is a considerable difference of principle. The record of the Royal Flying Doctor Service shows quite clearly that it is in the interests of the patient for the doctor to fly out to him. The way to early treatment is opened and, above all, it is of assistance to the pilot who has the benefit of the advice of a- skilled medical expert in deciding; when flying conditions are bad, whether to fly the patient .to base immediately or whether he can safely be kept on the ground until conditions improve.
Moreover, literally hundreds of airstrip? throughout the Commonwealth have come into operation as a result of the activities of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Those airstrips, situated on stations and at towns, have played a great part in opening up the outback. The fact that the Royal Flying Doctor Service encouraged people to build those strips and was prepared to use them has led to the pioneering of some of our outback feeder airlines. One outstanding example is the feeder airline which runs through the Channel country in Queensland
Some eleven Commonwealth departments use the twelve radio-control stations of the Royal Flying’ Doctor Service. These radio control centres, which are in almost daily touch with some 1,520 transceivers throughout the Commonwealth, are playing a big part not only in assisting the work of Commonwealth Departments, but also in helping people who are prospecting for oil, uranium and bauxite. I should like to point out, as a- matter of interest, that the Traeger type of transceiver being used at present has been shown to be the best of its kind in the world. Recently, a more modern kind of transceiver was the subject of experiments which showed that that type could not stand up to the very hard conditions under which transceivers sometimes have to work. The result is that the Traeger type is still used. That is, in a small but very important way, another outstanding achievement.
I say again now, as I have said for years past, that the Royal Flying Doctor Service has assisted the Postmaster-General’s Department tremendously with communications in the outback. For instance, in the course of the last year, more than 222,000 telegrams were delivered through the medium of the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s transceiver system and radio control centres. The Royal Flying Doctor Service not only plays a very important part in the social life of the outback by allowing people to keep in touch with each other, but also plays a great part in economic life by enabling distant stations, mines and various other establishments to keep in ready and constant touch with the capital cities.
I should like to remind the committee that the air-beef projects that exist at present in our north were in the first place made possible by the basic work done by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The “ School of the Air “, which plays such an important part in helping outback youngsters to be educated, relies on the work of the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s radio network.
I should like, finally, to remind honorable members that it is not only in times of peace that the Royal Flying Doctor Service has been of great assistance to the Commonwealth. The service has a very proud record in that it can be said to be almost the originator of the air evacuation ambulance services that are used by fighting forces throughout the world. The experience of the Royal Flying Doctor Service was placed at the disposal of the Royal Australian Air Force when it was preparing to equip the No. 1 air ambulance unit, which at that time had only three DH-86’s, which went into operation in the Middle East in 1941. As a matter of fact, the three DH-86’s did not last very long. They were all pranged very smartly. The idea caught on, however, and was carried forward by other air forces.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The average elderly Australian is very reluctant to enter an institution for the aged, whether it be controlled by a government or by a charitable or church organization. Elderly people desire to be as independent as possible. However, a time arrives in the lives of some elderly people without relations, or with relations who either will not or cannot care for them, when they have to enter such an institution because the condition of their health is such that they need the kind of care and supervision that those who control such institutions are able to give. If the lives of such elderly people are to be prolonged they must have access to institutions. This is particularly desirable in the case of aged people who are living alone, and it is often desirable in the case of aged couples.
To-day, there are more aged people on the waiting lists of institutions in every capital city than ever before in history. Many of them simply cannot get into institutions and have to remain unattended and uncared for - left to die, in effect - in the accommodation in which they live now. Their lives are shortened considerably because of lack of attention. One of the reasons for these long waiting lists is that the accommodation provided by institutions for the aged has not increased in proportion to the increase of population. There has never been enough accommodation for the aged, but the lack has become intensified because of the increase of population and the invention or discovery of lifeprolonging drugs. The result of the use of such drugs is that aged people already in institutions live, on the average, two, three or four years longer than was the case previously. In days gone by an aged person who developed pneumonia died very soon and the place occupied in an institution by that person became available for some other aged person. To-day, modern drugs can cure such diseases as pneumonia within a few days, and aged people who previously would have died continue to occupy accommodation in institutions for much longer than would otherwise be the case.
The Government should do something about arranging for an increase of accommodation in institutions for the aged in order to enable people now on waiting lists to be admitted to them. It should give a high priority to undertakings for increasing the accommodation in homes for the aged, but it would, of course, take a considerable amount of time to provide more accommodation. The Department of Health, which to-day is under the control of one of the outstanding humanitarians of his age, and the Department of Social Services, which is under the control of a rather thrifty gentleman, could co-operate in the provision of a kind of nurse-housekeeper visiting service for people awaiting admission to institutions because they cannot care for themselves.
Whatever the Government does about the provision of accommodation for the aged, it will not be able to extend the existing accommodation rapidly enough, and every year that passes makes the plight of the aged more desperate. Because of this, I suggest that the Commonwealth Department of Social Services and the Commonwealth Department of Health acting, if they liked, through State governments or municipal councils, could establish a housekeepernurse visiting service. That is, in certain regions, the departments could employ nurses, or persons with some rudimentary medical and housekeeping qualifications, whose job it would be to visit these people periodically, to give them some attention, and to do for them some jobs which they are unable to do for themselves, until such time as they can secure the admittance to the institutions for which they have applied.
That would not cost the Government any very vast sum, but it would alleviate a considerable amount of human suffering and prolong the lives of quite a number of our aged persons. It does not matter how old we become, we still want to hang on, I presume, for a few more years or a few more months. Everybody believes, like Bernard Shaw, that it his duty to live as long as he possibly can. I consider that it is the Government’s duty to enable all people to live as long as they possibly can. It has been well said that the measure of the civilization of any nation is the attention that it gives to its very old and to its very young. If that is so, then the civilization of Australia is not very high. If the Minister for Health and his confrere, the Minister for Social Services, adopt my suggestion, they can do something to make people realize that Australia is Christian, civilized, and humane. I suggest that, while every effort should be made to increase accommodation for the very old who are unable to take care of themselves continuously, in the meantime there should be established, with Commonwealth aid, a kind of housekeeper-nurse visiting service to relieve the elderly in this community.
.- The fact that the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) has referred to the Department of Social Services and, in particular, to the provision of homes for the aged, prompts me to say something on this subject, because, every time I look at the Estimates and consider the various religious organizations which deal with this matter, I am more impressed with the work that has been carried out by the Government over the last three-and-a-half years. That work has been due to the fact that the Government was prepared, first, to make available a grant on a £l-for-£l basis to religious and philanthropic organizations which were prepared to look after aged people. As everybody knows, the Government’s contribution has been increased from £1 to £2. Looking at item No. 5 of Division No. 225, one sees that during 1957-58, of the amount of £1,800,000 which the Government made available, only £837,895 was used for this purpose. I believe that the reason for this was that most of the religious and philanthropise organizations that have taken a specific interest in this type of social service have not yet realized the extent of the financial assistance that is available for this purpose.
Those organizations are doing an excellent job. The great financial contribution the Government has made towards provision of homes for the aged has, I believe, given fresh encouragement to these religious organizations to carry on this work. The organizations have always contended that a home run properly means more to elderly people than does a hand-out of money. That is where, possibly, I cross swords with the honorable member for Scullin. He seems to think that there is a reluctance on the part of many people, particularly elderly people, to enter one of these homes because of some kind of institutional environment. Well, Sir, the home, with an institutional environment has gone. The penitentiary type of building for elderly people has passed, and a new approach to this problem has been adopted, very largely, I think, as a result of the greater knowledge we have of geriatrics, or the medical care of aged people.
I am particularly impressed by figures which were published recently by the Department of Social Services of the number of grants made, State by State, and the total amount of money provided during the last three and a half years. This Government has made available £3,340,993. Everybody will appreciate that organizations have made available an amount equal to, or in some cases one-half, the amount granted by the Government. The Commonwealth has made available, in all, 263 grants. One of the interesting points appearing from this table provided by the department is that some States have taken a greater interest in this problem than have others. It is very hard to understand why this is the case. My own State has a particular interest in aged persons. Victoria seems to have been provided with more grants than, has any other State, and likewise a greater amount of money. Why that is so, I cannot say. It seems to me that, possibly, other States do not appreciate how much assistance can be provided to aged people under the aged persons’ homes legislation.
In the past, admittance to homes for the aged was usually limited to the indigent. The very expression “ homes for the aged “ implied a form of institutional care, and conjured up in the minds of people a penitentiarytype or bluestone building. But that is past, and to-day we have a different form of treatment. Those persons who have been privileged to visit some of these homes which have been provided under this legislation have been very much impressed. In fact, these days, there is a great desire on the part of old people to get into these homes, not because the homes provide care which they would not otherwise be able to get if they were looking after themselves, but because of the fellowship and the company and the mixing amongst people of their own age.
So I compliment the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and the heads of the Department of Social Services for the good work that they are doing, particularly in this direction.’ I have a very great respect for those people who work for the Department of Social Services. They have a very difficult job to do. It is probably one of the most difficult tasks in government service to perform, for the simple reason that most people think that they should be more free with their money, while others think that they pay out too much. It is rather interesting to note from a pamphlet received only in the last few days that the Taxpayers Association of New South Wales thinks that the Government is spending too much money on social services. Well, if that is the view of the Taxpayers Association of New South Wales. I am sure it is not the view of the community at large.
The Department of Social Services recently suffered a very great loss in the death of the departmental head, Mr. F. H.
Rowe. His death was a severe blow to the department and to the Public Service generally. Nobody could have a greater interest in his work than he had, or have applied such sympathetic understanding to his task. In fact, I think that even social recipients suffered some loss by his death.
In conclusion, I compliment the Minister for Social Services and the department for doing a good job of work. I sincerely hope that the amount set aside to house aged people will be increased each year, as I believe that this money provides greater assistance for the aged people than anything else that we can do.
.- I desire to speak to the estimates for the Department of Social Services and the Department of Health, and at the outset I wish to join with the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) in expressing my profound regret at the passing of Mr. Rowe. Mr. Rowe was a man who rendered outstanding service, and I think that the Parliament is poorer for his passing. He was a friend to all members, including backbenchers. He was one of those public servants who felt that he had an obligation to the Parliament, and not only to his Minister. I want to say how much I personally regret his passing, because I know that he was a great humanitarian. He rendered great service to the people of this country.
The operations of the Department of Social Service should be completely reviewed. To begin with, the National Welfare Fund should be revived and reestablished on a firm basis. We have continued along a haphazard line without any clearcut or defined pattern or policy. The Budget only emphasizes the tattered form of the patchwork quilt of our social services legislation, a type of legislation that seems to be born rather of political expediency than of the needs of the people. The time has long since passed for a complete overhaul of all our social services activities. Our social services should be based on realities and not varied according to the political temperature. Social services recipients should receive benefits based on the capacity of the country to provide. We must maintain a standard of living befitting our people. State and Federal differences seem to cloud the issue. Instead of supplementary legislation we find a clash of interests between
State legislation and Commonwealth legislation. All those things point to the need for a complete review of our social services legislation.
Take pensions! Before obtaining a pension an applicant must go through three forms of means test. He is tested to ascertain whether he is entitled to a pension. He is also tested to find out whether he is entitled to the rent allowance - something that so far has not been defined to the Parliament. He is also tested to discover whether he is entitled to medical benefits. The legislation should be amended to meet the needs of the people. The hardships of those who are suffering as a result of the means test should be ameliorated. Pensioners should be accorded a position in society in keeping with their past services to the nation and their present needs. When one considers the great contributions that many of our age pensioners have made to the development of this country - physical and social contributions - it is evident that a new approach is long overdue. Many age pensioners reared their families without the benefit of child endowment. They had to foot the bill for the entire upkeep of the family. Many of them received no unemployment benefit when they were unable to find work. Many of our age pensioners were engaged in industry when there was no workers’ compensation as we know it to-day, only some sickness benefit to which the worker had to contribute. Many of the people who contributed to the development of this country, and who helped to defend it in time of peril, are now in receipt of a small superannuation which has lost its value because of rampant inflation. Those people to-day find themselves unable to obtain social service benefits. This situation should be corrected, but we cannot expect this Government to take any action in the matter. I affirm the need for the whole of our social services to be based on justice and equity, and to be administered on those principles - not on political expediency.
I welcome the new legislation in so far as it will help single people who have very great burdens and difficulties, but even the rent allowance hardly meets the situation I have received letters from many of my constituents, good citizens, who in the course of time have been able to buy homes for themselves. Those people now find that because of the enhanced value of property in their communities, their rates, have increased alarmingly. and not every council is prepared to assist the aged and infirm by granting rate allowances. In one particular area in my electorate the municipal council is not prepared to give any assistance at all because of the large number of pensioners within the municipality. Other councils, however, have helped in some way where the number of pensioners in the municipality has not exceeded the number of other rate-paying citizens. Some of those people pay up to £70 a year in rates. Recently, I received a letter from a lady who is paying £90 a year in rates. She has a problem. I have suggested that the logical thing to do would be to subdivide her land, but it is an irregularly shaped piece of land covering a mountain gorge and cannot be satisfactorily subdivided. That lady finds herself in a far worse plight than many people who are called upon to pay rent. The payment of rates is a real burden to pensioners, and this Government has a responsibility to care for the thrifty people in the community.
There is another matter that affects many people harshly, and that is taxation. Many people who are in receipt of incomes ranging between £500 and £600 - and this is little enough under present inflationary conditions - are still being taxed, despite the fact that they are saving the Government money in that they are not drawing any social service payments. All these things seem to me to indicate quite clearly that there is great need to review our social service legislation and to base it on standards of decency and justice. Decency and justice seem to have been overlooked in the recent legislation brought before us.
I admit that certain aspects of that legislation are to be applauded. The recent decision to pay a subsidy of £2 for every £1 subscribed by communities for the housing of the aged is very good, as far as it goes, but most unfortunately local governing bodies have been excluded from the provisions of that legislation. That is most unfair, for I believe that local governing bodies are the authorities best suited to lead in this particular field.
– But it is the best provision we have ever had.
– I agree that it is the best we have had up to the present, but I still believe there is room to expand this policy. Our main consideration should be not what we have had in the past but what is best for the aged and the infirm from now on. I suggest that local-governing bodies really understand the needs of the people, and if we could make it possible for those bodies to play their part in helping to house the aged of the community we shall be doing something worth while.
To counterbalance the advantages to which I have referred, we have another unfortunate position under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I refer to the fact that the former economic rental provisions which were of great help to the aged in that they made houses available at reasonable rentals have been waived. The aged and the infirm are now denied the benefit of cheap rentals for houses built by the various housing authorities. In this way, those people are having great hardship visited upon them, and it is high time that this anomaly was corrected.
Another important matter to which I wish to make passing reference is the unemployment benefit. The present payment is out of all proportion to what is needed to maintain a family, and I take this opportunity of expressing disapproval at the paltry dole being paid at the present time. In my opinion, the least we should pay is an amount sufficient to maintain a family; in fact, I should like to see the payment so high that to have unemployment in the country would be unprofitable. Unless we have such a payment, the tendency will always be towards unemployment, and we all know that this country can ill afford to have any person unemployed. These are all urgent and pressing problems to which the Government ought to apply itself without delay.
I come now to the important question, of child endowment. This was introduce, in Australia first in 1925 by a Labour gr.vernment under the leadership of Mi. Lang in New South Wales. It was continued by a non-Labour Commonwealth government in 1941 when 5s. a week was paid for each child after the first. This amount was increased to 7s. 6d. a week by the Chifley Government, which increased the payment in 1948 to 10s. a week for each child after the first. In 1951, the present Administration granted a payment of 5s. a week for the first child, and there has been no alteration of any kind in these payments for the first child since that year. Further, there has been no alteration in the payments made for the other children since 1948.
We have admitted the need to educate our children, we have all realized that additional grants for universities are necessary, but our children cannot take advantage of the opportunity to matriculate and to take university education unless further assistance is given to the family man. We spend vast sums on bringing new people to this country. I have no quarrel whatever with that, because I am firmly of the opinion that if we are to build Australia, if we are to enjoy the great wealth that abounds in this country, we must add to our numbers; but I point out that by far the better way of encouraging development is to encourage larger families, and, if we are to have large families in Australia, we must encourage the parents.
The first and most urgent step in this direction is to pay to the wife a higher amount of child endowment and to continue paying that endowment so long as her children are attending school. The most costly period of a child’s schooling is when it is studying for the intermediate or leaving certificate, yet, under the present system, child endowment is discontinued at the very period when it is needed most. I put it to the committee that this matter needs very careful and urgent attention. Children at that age need additional assistance. The present child endowment rate is totally inadequate, and I can only express the hope that the Parliament will give serious consideration to this important and pressing matter affecting the welfare of the people of this country, especially when we realize that when the present rate was fixed a 194:” the basic wage was £5 16s. a week.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The report of the Director-General of Social Services indicates the tremendous improvement that has taken place in the provision of social services since this Government has been in office. In 1949, the total expenditure on age and invalid pensions was £41,000,000. For the year just concluded, it was £121,000,000, just three times as much as the 1949 figure. The total expenditure on all social services in 1949 was £74,000,000. This year, it will be £202,000,000, again three times more than the 1949 figure.
The report also discloses that social services have kept pace with the rising national income, for in all years while this Government has been in office, expenditure on social services has represented approximately 4 per cent, of our total national income. It also discloses that pensions and other social service benefits have kept pace with national productivity, for, at all times during that same period, expenditure on these items has represented approximately 3 per cent, of our gross national product. The report also discloses that approximately 14 per cent, of the Commonwealth’s revenue has been spent on social services in all years during that period. In view of those circumstances, we can justly say that social services have kept pace with the rising prosperity of Australia.
Further, during the last nine years, the aged and the sick have been granted other benefits such as free life-saving drugs, free medical attention, free medicine and the tremendous benefits provided under the Aged Persons’ Homes Act to which previous speakers have referred.
This year, the Government is faced with a cash deficit. That being so, any increases in social service benefits must be paid for out of borrowed money. Notwithstanding that fact, the Government was determined to remove hardship where it could, with the result that, for the first time in the history of aged and invalid pensions, it has introduced a new principle. It has now introduced the principle of ascertaining where hardship exists and then taking such steps as may be necessary to remove that hardship.
The means test for pensions was first introduced in about 1909, and at that time it was treated as a measure of need. The means test has always been regarded as a measure of need since then, but it is now no longer a satisfactory measure in that it does not now measure real need. Honorable members have to look only at two cases under the present social service legislation to see how far short the means test falls as an accurate measurement of need. Under the present legislation, a married couple are entitled to receive £7 a week in superannuation payments and £8 15s. in pension payments, making a total income of £15 15s. a week, or approximately £2 more than the basic wage. At the other end of the scale is the widow in receipt of the base pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week, paying, say, £2 a week in rent, and struggling to live on the remaining £2 7s. 6d. In the first case, obviously it cannot be said that any real need exists, but in the second case the need is very great.
This year the Government endeavoured to arrive at a more accurate measurement of need. An examination was made in Melbourne of a representative number of persons in receipt of the age pension. It was found that 44 per cent, of those people owned their own homes and that 56 per cent, had to pay rent or board. Of the total number, 40.4 per cent, were single and paid rent and 15.3 per cent, were married and paid rent. It was obvious, following an examination of those cases, that the main hardship was suffered by the single people who had to pay rent. The Government this year found that the maximum additional sum that it could provide, having regard to the deficit for which it was budgeting, was approximately £5,000,000. If this £5,000,000 were to be used to increase the base pension rate, the increase would be approximately only 3s. a week. That would do virtually nothing to relieve the hardship suffered by single people, widows and widowers who have to pay rent. Therefore, the Government has decided that the £5,000,000 shall be used to assist those most in need, and those most in need are the single people, widows and widowers who pay rent.
So a special hardship payment of 10s. a week is to be made in a case where only one pension is coming into a home and where the pensioner has to pay rent and receives no income by way of superannuation or wages to supplement his pension. I feel that the Government is to be heartily congratulated for getting away from a cutanddried system which, as I have pointed out, does not really measure need. This special provision will get very much nearer to meeting need than anything else that has been in operation in this country for the last twenty years. I am sure that, with the experience gained as a result of this departure from the old system in the field of social services, the Government will be able to improve the system further as time goes on in such a way as to meet the needs of the smaller number of people who own their own homes but have to pay heavy rates and taxes and, in some cases, high interest rates on mortgages. It is only by practical experience that it is possible to find out where hardship actually exists. No cut-and-dried rule can be used. This departure from previous standards will provide the Department of Social Services with a very good means of ascertaining where hardship still exists after the reform has been implemented.
I was very pleased to hear the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), speaking on behalf of the Labour party, congratulate the Government upon this reform, because he knows more about social services than do all the rest of the members of the Labour party put together. Speaking about this proposed payment, the honorable member for Port Adelaide said -
The proposed 10s. a week increase in pension will be a wonderful boon to a lot of people. I know that many men and women who receive a pension of £4 7s. 6d. have to pay room rent of £1 10s. or £2 a week, as well as provide for themselves food, clothing, light and warmth. They have a terrible time trying to exist, and the proposed increase will help them considerably. Therefore. I am glad that the Government has gone at least that far.
It is a great compliment to the Government that an honorable member of the calibre of the honorable member for Port Adelaide should give such generous praise. It is not often we expect or receive praise from members of the Labour party.
The second reform that is to be introduced consequent upon the Budget has relation to the liberalization of the means test. As I mentioned earlier, the means test has failed completely to fulfil the purpose for which it was designed, namely, to be a measure of need. Although I have advocated, and will continue to advocate, the complete abolition of the means test, it is pleasing to me to note that the Government has, almost every year during its term of office, made some substantial and worthwhile liberalization of the means test. In 1949 a person was not eligible for a pension if he owned property valued at £750. Under the present proposals, a single person can own property to the value of £2,250, and a married couple can have property to the value of £4,500, in addition to a home, furniture and motor car. Although the Government has not totally abolished the means test, it has to a large extent removed the penalty on thrift. There are one or two other reforms I propose to suggest to the Government with a view to removing the penalty on thrift, which is so damaging to the whole economy of the country, but at the same time I wish to compliment the Government on the extent to which it has liberalized the means test. Nowadays a married couple are entitled to a partpension, provided their combined capital does not exceed £4,500.
I hope that the people who will become entitled to these benefits will lodge their applications quickly. If they do not lodge them before the passing of the act, they may miss receiving a portion of the benefits, because I imagine that the benefits will be paid from the date of the lodgment of a claim or from the date of the passing of the act, whichever is the later.
It is interesting to note in the report of the Director-General of Social Services that 48 per cent, of aged people are now in receipt of a pension, and that 67.6 per cent, of those people are women and 32.4 per cent, are men.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The Department of Social Services, T would say. is the most important department that the Parliament has to consider when debating the Estimates, because its administration affects such a large section of the Australian community. The few minutes I have at my disposal will not permit me to pay adequate tribute to the work that is being carried out by the officers of the department. Probably, being good public servants, they would not wish to be praised.
I should like to use the few minutes left to me in condemning the Government’s reluctance to deal with the pressing problems of age and maternity allowances, and in condemning the smugness and selfsatisfaction of its supporters over the Budget proposals. I was horrified to hear some of the things that were said by the honorable member for Sturt (M’r. Wilson)’. I intended to reply, to them at* some length’, but when he said that- 44 per- cent, of the pensioners im Melbourne’ owned their homes, and that 66 per cent, paid1 rent, I realized that his figures were haywire and could’ not be discussed seriously.
– I said that 56 per cent, of the pensioners in Melbourne paid rent.
– r thank the honorable member for correcting me. A great deal has been made of the Government’s proposal to pay a supplementary rent allowance to certain pensioners. The honorable member described it as being, in a sense, a step towards the abolition of the means test; but I suggest- that the Government, in thus differentiating between age pensioners and widow pensioners, is really aggravating the means test. Apparently people who are married are to be penalized for having embarked upon that very happy course.
– It will not affect the honorable member very much.
– It may well do so in the future. Married pensioners are to be denied the supplementary allowance which will be paid to the single pensioner though they have worked hard to rear families through the difficult days of the depression, have pioneered this country, and have, often in the face of considerable difficulties, bought a home? Such discrimination amounts to an aggravation of the means test, and certainly does not entitle the Government to expect congratulations. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) damned the proposal with faint praise. In any event the Government should not expect much praise from honorable members on this side. We are not altogether keen on the proposal.
We believe that the vast majority of pensioners are being denied social justice. A recent survey by the Chamber of Manufactures revealed that since 1947 the purchasing power of the £1 Australian had declined in value by 54 per cent. As pensions have been raised to only £4 7s. 6d. in the same period, it is plain that the movement in pensions has not kept pace with the reduction in the purchasing power of money.
– It has.
– It has not. At the end of last year the pension was 9.7 per cent, below what is should have been in order to keep pace with the decline in money values. In Queensland in the last twelve months, thanks to the Australia Country party-Liberal party State government, the cost of living has bolted, and the basic wage has increased by 13s. a week as a result. In the main, those who receive social service benefits are to be given nothing to offset this increase.
A few days ago I received a very pathetic letter from a lady who wrote in response to a broadcast which I made from a Brisbane station concerning the Government’s pension proposals. I may say that she is not one of my constituents. She writes -
I heard you say for all pensioners to apply for more pension. … I think we are in need of a rise just as much as those paying rent. We have just got a sanitary and rubbish service which is going to raise our rates by £5 18s. 6d. a year and very soon we will have electric light; which is more expense. . . . Also, I am a diabetic and am on a diet. I have to have bacon, eggs, butter, milk, fruit, fresh vegetables and meat, all cf which are expensive, especially here . . .
The writer lives beyond Caboolture, which is outside of Brisbane. She continues -
We are ten miles from Caboolture and have to pay freight on everything we get - 6d: for a parcel of meat, ls. 6d. for our groceries, and we have only one bit of a cash and carry store so you see we pay through the nose for everything we get. I have to pay house insurance, and 5s. a week for a’ savings insurance for my husband so he won’t be buried, as a pauper, and- I. can tell you it is very hard.
If we have to go to Brisbane it is 18s. for the car home, on top of the train fare. We have only a school bus here and he charges 4s. each to go to Caboolture, so we don’t go very much.
I- have never had a new frock in four year« and wo do not drink our money. We are very careful people. We have only been twice to the pictures in five years so you can see what a struggle it is . . .
Country party members may sneer, but I assure them that the writer is a constituent of a Country party representative here. The reaction of these gentlemen to the Budget proposals suggests that they are smugly satisfied’ with it, and contemptuous of the demand’s of the thousands of pensioners to whom it denies justice.
– Is that in the letter, or are you making it up?
– The letter continues -
I also have blood pressure and heart trouble and my doctor keeps saying - no worry - but how can you stop worrying trying to make ends meet? I do not know why the people won’t put Labour back in office . . . We pay ls. 4d. for a loaf of bread here.
Of course, we know that the present Government of Queensland has often stated that it will remove prices control, and I suppose that shortly the people in that place will be paying ls. 6d. for a loaf of bread.
The position of the pensioner whose letter I have just read is typical of that of thousands of pensioners in Queensland. They are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet. I believe- quite sincerely that the Government is making no attempt to help these people. It is helping only a small section of pensioners - the single persons who pay rent. Married pensioners who pay rent will receive nothing.
– What rot! Of course they will.
– The single pensioners who pay rent are the only pensioners who will be assisted.
– That is wrong.
– I am quoting the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). Let us hope that he is not guilty of deceiving the Parliament. He said that this provision would apply to single pensioners only. I prefer to believe the Treasurer rather than the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). If I must disbelieve one of them, then I disbelieve the honorable member for Mallee. I may say that another member of the Australian Country party disputes the contention of the honorable member.
The Government has claimed credit for the fact that married pensioners have the right to earn up to £7 a week or to draw superannuation payments of that amount without affecting their pensions, so that they may have a total income, including pension, of about £15 15s. a week. That is true, but that position applies in the case of only a few pensioners. Let us consider the plight of the majority. Many people in receipt of the age pension are unable to work. Employers will not take them on because their capabilities have been considerably restricted through age. The Government has no justification for boasting about allowing pensioners to earn money in addition to their pension. We know that, in the main, the wants of pensioners are not as great as those of young married couples who are bringing up families, but this Government has placed pensioners on a level well below the standard required in a community such as ours.
The Government is not fair in its administration of social services. It is gradually killing the child endowment scheme, and the same might be said of the maternity allowance. The rate of child endowment has not been increased since 1948, although a survey conducted by the Chamber of Manufactures shows that the value of the £1 has decreased by 54 per cent, since that time. Therefore, the 10s. a week that is paid to the mother of a child to-day has the purchasing power that 5s. had in 1948. The purchasing power of child endowment has thus been halved. The Government is completely disregarding this matter and, by doing so, it is depriving the children of Australia of several millions of pounds a year which should be paid to their parents by way of child endowment. A table that I have before me shows that, for a family of four children, the loss due to the decreased purchasing power of child endowment since 1948 is £1 13s. 6d. a week. For larger families, the loss is correspondingly greater.
The maternity allowance that is paid to-day is the same as that paid in 1948. In fairness to the people of Australia who are bringing up children, we, the Parliament of this country, should see that their standards are maintained and that the money they receive through social service benefits does not lose its value. Under this Government, it is losing its value very quickly.
.- I rise to make one or two corrections to statements made in the speech by the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) that we have just heard. The honorable member made some errors. It has been said that if you make a statement often enough, people will come to believe it. Therefore, it is best that I correct the errors immediately. With regard to one statement by the honorable member, what I wish to do involves nothing more than putting my opinion against his, but in respect of the others, definite proof that he was in error can be obtained from the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), and I shall read the relevant parts.
The honorable member said that the Department of Social Services was the most important of all departments because it concerned so many people. I do not think that it is the most important. I think that the most important departments covered by the Estimates are those that foster the industries that make possible the payment of pensions. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) has said that rates of pension should be based on the capacity of the country to provide such pensions. I agree with that. Therefore, the departments that foster the industries that provide the money for the benefits are the most important. The other departments are only of secondary importance. When the money is available, it is distributed to the pensioners. Of course, the more they receive the better we all are pleased. The honorable member for Griffith has a way of putting things back to front. Those listening to him may not understand him readily and may therefore get a wrong impression.
The honorable member said, rather dramatically, that he preferred to believe the Treasurer rather than to believe me, but apparently he believes neither. For the benefit of the honorable member, I shall read a passage from the Treasurer’s Budget Speech. If I read it word by word, he should be able to understand it. It is as follows: -
In reviewing its social services policy the Government has given consideration to the needs of certain groups of age, invalid and widow pensioners with little or no means apart from their pensions. It proposes to introduce a form of supplementary assistance to relieve hardship and improve the circumstances of single pensioners (and married persons where only one is in receipt of a pension and the other is not in receipt of an allowance) who pay rent and are deemed to be entirely dependent on their pensions. The rate of supplementary assistance will be 10s. a week.
Despite the interjections of honorable members opposite, it is clear that the supplementary allowance will be paid to both single pensioners and married pensioners. Those are the words of the Treasurer, whom the honorable member for Griffith prefers to believe. Yet, I said exactly what the Treasurer said.
The honorable member also took to task the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). He stated that the honorable member for Sturt referred to the number of people paying rent, the number not paying rent, the number boarding, and the number in other categories, to support a claim that the rent allowance represented an amelioration of the means test. I do not think that the honorable member for Sturt said that at all. If I understood him correctly, his reference to a liberalization of the means test related to the following passage from the Budget Speech of the Treasurer: -
In addition it is proposed to liberalize the means test in a number of ways. The limit of property beyond which a person is debarred from receiving a pension will be raised by £500, that is, from £1,750 to £2,250, or by £1,000- from £3,500 to £4,500 - in the case of a married couple.
We know that the honorable member for Sturt has been a great fighter for the abolition of the means test, and, of course, every liberalization is pleasing to him, as he stated this afternoon. But the honorable member for Griffith completely misunderstands him and, misunderstanding him, quoted something that was quite irrelevant. I think that should be put right.
I do not think there is any member of this Parliament who would say that pensioners should not get as high a pension as possible. The honorable member for Macquarie said that pensions are paid according to what the country can pay - that they are based upon the capacity of the country to pay such benefits. The honorable member said also that pensions should be paid according to the service given to the community by pensioners. I hope that I have not misquoted his words or taken them out of their context, and I am sure that an examination of “ Hansard “ will show that I have not done so. What he meant was that pensioners have given great service to the community. I am not trying to gain political points from speeches made by Opposition members, and I agree that the pensioners have given great service to the community. But I do not think that, in that respect, they are any different from other sections of the community. Indeed, they are just a cross-section of the people, as are members of Parliament. I do not think that all the pensioners are pioneers. In fact, I think that the days of pioneering have largely passed. There may be a few people pioneering in the Northern Territory and a few other outlandish parts, but the real pioneering was done by our early settlers. I do not think Opposition members will contradict mc when I say that. Therefore, I should be loath to say that the pensioners are the pioneers of this country. They are a cross-section of the community. Some of them are among the greatest people that we have had, some are ordinary, everyday people, and some are not so good as we should like them to be. However, I do not wish it to be thought that I am trying to disparage them.
Some have fallen on poor times, through no fault of their own. Some have had large families to rear. Taking all those things into consideration, they are just a crosssection of the community, and as such should receive the highest pensions that the Government can give them. But the Government is budgeting, this financial year, for a deficit of £110,000,000; so money is not as readily available as it might be. It has been stated that this Government has not maintained the value of pensions at the same level at which it stood when Labour last increased pensions in its Budget in 1948. Authentic figures clarifying this matter have been presented in this chamber before.
– The year was 1949.
– It was in 1948 thai the Labour Government last increased pensions, but I know that Opposition members always like to refer back to 1949.
– To the percentage of the basic wage that the basic pension rate represented then.
– To that percentage. It has been pointed out that the percentage is the same now as it was in 1949.
– What does the honorable member think?
– I think that the Government has done a pretty good job. Generally speaking, I have told the pensioners in my electorate that. I am prepared to support a move for higher pensions when the Government is in a position to pay higher pensions - when it is not budgeting for a deficit, but has available sufficient money to increase pensions. As with every other kind of social service benefit, the higher the pension we can give the better. A few days ago, we in this chamber were talking about the prosperity of Australia, and one honorable member remarked that the pensioners were not very prosperous. He said that we should make them as prosperous as possible. I have looked up the meaning of the word “ prosperous “ in a dictionary. Everybody knows its common meaning, but I found that its technical meaning was “ well-to-do, successful in business “. 1 think we should make the pensioners as well-to-do as possible, but perhaps the word “ prosperous “ is not the most fitting to use in this context. I think that the pensioners should enjoy standards commensurate with the high standard of living that we enjoy in this country, which has been prosperous over the last few years, and the Government has done all in its power to assist them in every possible way. Some people say that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is a very hard man, but the people who know him best know that he is very human and that he will do all he can to help the pensioners and others who receive benefits paid by the Department of Social Services, over which he presides.
.- Mr. Temporary Chairman, I disagree with some of the remarks made by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull).
– With all of them!
– No; where he put in full stops, some of them were all right. The honorable member talked about the needs of the pensioners and the capacity of the country to pay pensions, and he indicated that he thinks it is fair enough to pay pensions according to the capacity of the country. In regard to the country’s capacity to pay, it is interesting to note the utterances made by Government supporters. The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), I think, said that the country was lush with money. If the country is lush with money and fairly bursting at the seams with prosperity - if we are so well off and our affairs are so well run - we can afford to do better for the pensioners. The honorable member for Mallee said that he tells the pensioners in his electorate that they are well off, and that the Government has done a good job for them. I invite him to come and tell that to the pensioners in my electorate, particularly when fares in Victoria are increased in a week or two and the pensioners find that it costs them half as much again to travel anywhere.
– Electricity charges also are to be increased.
– Yes. The price of practically everything will go up as a result of these increases. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) quoted statistics. That is symbolic of the Government’s whole approach to these human problems. It has no consideration whatever for the human beings who experience the end result of anything that is done here. The effect upon them is the important thing. The consultation of figures, the studying of statistics, and the quoting of trends, have no significance if the human being behind it all is no better off. The difference of approach towards the effect of our actions on human beings is, I suppose, one of the philosophical differences between the Government parties and the Opposition.
This afternoon I wish to indulge in what may be called an exercise in the abstract. I want to appeal to the social conscience of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton). I refer particularly to Australia’s forgotten race - the aborigines - and to the fact that they are specifically excluded from many social service benefits. This is indefensible. We have been harassing the Minister for some time now trying to- get him to consider sympathetically the 45,000 or 50,000 full-blood aborigines and the 20,000 or 30,000 people who have part aboriginal blood, and to acknowledge their right to social service benefits. Whenever the Minister is taxed on this matter, he either gives a facetious answer or quotes the Australian Constitution. What is the situation of the aboriginal population? The aborigines are human beings, and they are as much entitled to consideration as is every member of this Parliament. But the Minister continually claims that the Commonwealth has no constitutional power, and gives us the usual Father Christmas act. He says that the Commonwealth Government has no constitutional power to make taws with respect to aboriginal natives, except those in its own territories. This is where the rather Christmas act comes in. He claims that, notwithstanding this, the Commonwealth does not exclude aboriginal natives from social service benefits, provided they conform to certain standards. Then the Government just makes certain by prescribing standards such as to exclude a great number of aborigines, particularly those who are in want and need. After 150 years of neglect - in many places, persecution, and complete disregard most of the time - the aborigines mostly are in no position to battle their way up in society.
Child endowment is paid to aborigines except where the mother is nomadic or the children are wholly or mainly maintained by the Commonwealth or a State. Child endowment is the benefit that is most universally paid. As Opposition members have pointed out repeatedly, it is the social service benefit that has fallen furthest behind in the decline of real values due to the depreciation of the value of money.
What about the maternity allowance? lt is paid only to an aboriginal mother who has been granted exemption from the provisions of the law of a State or Territory in which she resides. In other words, an unfortunate aboriginal mother is discriminated against if she does not reside in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia or Western Australia, where there is provision for the granting of certificates of exemption. What right has the Commonwealth Government to differentiate between people living under the Australian flag? Tn Victoria, where there is no such provision, an aboriginal mother may receive a maternity allowance if the Director-General of Social Services is satisfied that, by reason of her character, standard of intelligence and social development it is desirable that a maternity allowance should be granted to her.
What right have we to exercise that sort of judgment and evaluation towards one section of the community only? It is a disregard of the demands of humanity when these people are treated in this way. The provision in which I am interested is that relating to age, invalid and widows’ pensions. The conditions of eligibility for these pensions are much the same as those for maternity allowances. Pensions are not, however, granted to half-castes or lesser castes who live on aboriginal reserves or settlements. In his reply to a question on this point, the Minister stated! -
This is in accordance with the policy followed by successive governments for many years past.
The fact that that policy has been followed by successive governments is no excuse for neglect of duty now. In the last few days, a case has been brought to my notice of a woman on an aboriginal settlement in New South Wales who has been partially maintained by the State Government. She is excluded from obtaining a widow’s pension. She has children to keep, and because she cannot get the pension they cannot live decently. If they leave the settlement, they are not in a position to get a house or to make their way in society. I appeal to honorable members to take steps to have these anomalies removed from the statute. What I have said applies also to the unemployment benefit.
I make this appeal on behalf of people who form one of the world’s most neglected races. Some of them, whom I have known personally, are capable of making their way in the community and living on a basis of equality with the rest of us. They are capable of living in the same street, in similar houses and using similar motor cars. If some individuals can achieve those standards others are capable of doing so. It is the duty of the Commonwealth Government, whether this matter falls within its powers or not, to do something about it. I challenge the general interpretation that is put on the provision in the Constitution relating to the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to -
The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.
If we cannot make special laws for the aborigines, what right have we to exclude them from the laws that we do make. I ask honorable members who are associated with the legal profession to explain why we have no power to include aborigines but have the power to exclude them specifically from our laws. These are some of the points which should be considered by honorable members in a debate on social services. The Constitution has been interpreted in such a manner that we avoid our responsibilities instead of accepting them.
Much should be done for the social and economic equality of the aborigines. The Western Australian Government is in the process of removing legal disabilities under which the aborigines suffer. Something has been done in Victoria, but there are not many aborigines living there. In the Northern Territory, the aborigines are living under some disabilities but I admit that the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) has made some conscientious effort to do something for them.
When it is a matter of national pride, there is a very different approach to this problem by supporters of the Government. A fine stamp has been produced by the Postmaster-General’s Department showing the head of an Australian aborigine. This 2s. 6d. stamp bears a fine reproduction of an aborigine’s head. If this man was good enough to have his portrait included on a postage stamp which goes all over the world, he is good enough to be regarded as an Australian citizen with all the rights and privileges of Australian citizenship.
– Is there any .differentiation between the aborigines living in different States because of different State laws?
– Yes, there is. Because the aborigines live under certain disabilities in some States, they are not entitled to social service benefits. That is the case in all States except Victoria at present. If the aborigines are good enough to use in publicity for Australia, they should be good enough to have the rights of Australian citizenship. I refer honorable members to a picture of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in happy mood, and two very unhappy aboriginal children which was published in the Melbourne “ Sun NewsPictorial “ on 1 3th June last. It is a pity we could not include it in “ Hansard “.
– The children are not unhappy.
– I point out to the honorable member for Mallee that there is very good cause why these children should look unhappy. Their country has been taken from them. Their lands have been taken over by an industrial concern under the auspices of the Queensland Government without compensation.
– That is entirely incorrect.
– It is not. I know a fair amount about this matter. In this particular instance, application was made for grazing rights over some of the land, and those rights were denied to them. Their lands have been compressed into the smallest possible compass. The Prime Minister was happy to have his photograph taken with these children. He sang them a song -
Hey, hey, clear the way, here comes the galloping major.
– What is the tune?
– I do not think there was any tune associated with this song. It would be a tuneless ditty coming from honorable members on the Government side.
Order! The honorable member must relate his remarks to the Budget.
– I was under the impression that the Prime Minister had something to do with the Budget, Mr. Temporary Chairman, and I was referring to the inconsistency of supporters of the Government. They are responsible for producing the Budget, including that part of it which applies to the aborigines, but their attitude in providing social service benefits for the aborigines is not in line with their approach to the aborigines when they want some personal publicity. I speak as one who has taken great interest in the welfare of the aborigines, and particularly those in Victoria over the last fifteen months. A great many people all over Australia believe that something should be done to remove the disabilities under which the aborigines suffer. This Parliament could assist by removing the anomalies under social service legislation.
.- I hope that the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) will not think me discourteous if I do not reply seriatim to the arguments that he has addressed to the committee, but I want to say that he presented the characteristic unficationist point of view when he implied - or, indeed, declared - that the whole warrant of responsibility for the care of the aborigines descends upon this Parliament. I do not think that is the case. That is not the legislative position at all. I think that, in fairness, the honorable gentleman must concede that the States bear a very real measure of responsibility for the care of aborigines. The honorable member referred to the issue of interpretation of the Constitution. I would be the last in this Parliament to deny that we Australians have a very real responsibility to the aborigines, but I would hope that no one would interpret that to mean that I am distinguishing between aborigines and Australians. It is a responsibility that we are bound to say we have not accepted in the past in the manner we should have, but that is no reason for the honorable member for Wills to endeavour to make out that all the responsibility for the care of aborigines falls upon this Parliament and that all the shortcomings of various parliaments fall on this particular Government.
That was not the issue which attracted me to participate in the debate upon the estimates relating to the Department of Social Services. I rose to refer to one aspect of that department which I feel has been neglected in some measure not only by honorable members in this House but also indeed by the great number of Australians. I illustrate my point of view by advancing this point. The responsibility for the care of elderly people is by no means static. It is a growing responsibility, and I feel that it is growing at a rate of which very few people seem to be fully aware. In 1938, there were 224,154 age pensioners in Australia. To-day, twenty years later, there are 496,757 such pensioners. People could quite validly say that that growth was commensurate with general development in Australia in the last twenty years and was quite consistent with the increase in population over that period. But, on further inquiry and analysis, one finds that that simply is not the case, because whereas in 1938 age pensioners represented 325 per 10,000 of the Australian population, to-day they represent 504 per 10,000 of the population. The care of elderly people is a growing responsibility. It is growing at such a terrific rate and in such a manner that I hope that within the not too distant future the Parliament will be able to devote attention to it in a non-partisan manner.
Having said that, may I indicate, by way of contrast, the position in regard to invalid pensioners? In 1938, there were 86,096 invalid pensioners in Australia, whereas today there are 77,451 such pensioners. The first figure I quoted represents ,125 per 10,000 of the Australian population and the second figure represents 79 per 10,029 of the population. If you contrast the figures relating to age pensioners and those relating to invalid pensioners, you get a clear indication of the manner in which medical science, the discovery of life-saving drugs and various forms of social service assistance have increased the age span of many people. As I said earlier, I hope that in the very ,near future a non-partisan approach will be made by this Parliament to this terrific swelling of the responsibility of caring for aged persons.
I am amazed at the relative ignorance of many people of the fifth Commandment, “ Honour thy father and thy mother “. Last week, an elderly lady came into my office seeking a place in which to live. I shall recite her story briefly, and I hope that the committee will bear with me while I do so. She told me she was 71 years of age, that for several weeks she had been employed as a housekeeper, but that now she had nowhere to live. I asked her whether she had any friends or relatives, and I was amazed, indeed dismayed, to learn that she had five sons and five daughters. All of them were living, yet she had no accommodation! I think it is scandalous that, when some people breach some of the Ten Commandments, society applies the full and proper measure of its authority and imposes sanctions, but that apparently the fifth Commandment can be breached in a gross and monstrous fashion without society seeming to care about it very much.
Not one of the ten members of the family of this woman was prepared to give her a room and to care for her. That is a position which I frankly describe as being intolerable. Upon whom does the responsibility rest? Is it entirely the responsibility of the Government? Must the care of every elderly person devolve upon society? Surely that is wrong. If it is not wrong, I hope we will be able to summon the courage of our convictions and say quite plainly that the fifth Commandment is an anachronism and should be either amended or deleted.
The next matter to which I wish to refer in passing relates to the estimates for the Department of Health. A few weeks ago I asked the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald
Cameron) what was being done in Australia to determine or to analyse the clinical and statistical evidence available in regard to lung cancer and smoking. The honorable gentleman furnished me with a reply, the nature of which I do not quarrel with. I am a smoker, but with many other smokers I share a measure of concern at the statistical evidence in relation to smoking and lung cancer. The United Kingdom medical authorities have produced a mass of statistical evidence which must concern every one. I hope that the Minister for Health and the department under his administration will endeavour to produce a clear and unequivocal statement about the apparent connexion between smoking and lung cancer. In the question that I directed to the Minister, I suggested that he consider the establishment of a committee embracing the State health authorities to analyse the position and to determine whether there is any real and genuine connexion between the two.
Finally, I should like to pay a tribute to the officers of the Department of Social Services. Many of them go out of their way to a very great extent to help not only members of the Parliament but also members of the public. I become annoyed when the various sections of the Civil Service are bracketed and regarded as being one corporate body and when I hear them referred to as being a miserable collection of selfseekers and loafers. That is not the case. The Civil Service of Australia is a very fine body of people, and I have found resident within the Department of Social Services not only a readiness to help people but also a very real and very warm sense of humanity.
.- I should like to support the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) in what he had to say concerning social service payments to aborigines. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) has spoken about the constitutional responsibility of the States in this matter, but it seems to be regrettable that a Commonwealth law should be made dependent upon State classifications of aborigines. The honorable member spoke about the constitutional provision that the Commonwealth Parliament has not the power to make laws for aborigines as though it were something which ought to be defended.
The way in which it came about was very simple and, in many respects, is indefensible. The honorable member for Moreton, who takes an interest in the subject of Communist propaganda, will be interested to know that in India, not long before I went there, an immense amount of damage was done to Australia by Australian women Communists who quoted the constitutional provision that the Commonwealth Parliament had power to make laws for the people of any race other than aborigines as meaning that constitutionally we regarded aborigines as being less than human.
The .reason why that absurd provision - it is an absurd provision - was put into the Constitution appears in the Constitution conventions before the framing of the Constitution. It was simply this: The Commonwealth has power to acquire land for any purpose for which it has power to make laws. If it has power over post offices, it may buy land on which to erect post offices. If it has power over defence, it may take land from the States for that purpose. It was feared by many of the delegates at the Constitution conventions that, if the Commonwealth Parliament had power to make laws for aborigines, it would acquire vast tracts of territory from the States for reserves for aborigines. There was no rational, human consideration of the needs of aborigines at all. There was no thought about people. There was no logical reason why one race should not be subject to this Parliament while all other races should be. It was simply a determination to defend land against a possible intention on the part of the Commonwealth to acquire land for aboriginal reserves. It is in the Constitution, and I think that it is an indefensible provision. The honorable member for Wills has done a service in expressing regret about it.
I think that we ought to re-educate the Australian people about this matter by giving them more information on it. It is tragic thai in some States aborigines are eligible for Commonwealth social services whilst aborigines in exactly the same position in other States are, because of State law, not eligible for Commonwealth social services. I know of no Commonwealth laws other than those covering the provision of social services that are made contingent on State laws. Such a position does not apply to the laws .governing elections to this Parliament or, so far as I know, to laws in respect of any other matter except those which concern specific grants to the States. But no grant to a State is connected with this matter.
There are people of very great qualities among the aboriginal race who are being denied opportunities because of the provision I have mentioned, which exists for a minor reason only. The existence of that provision is affecting the status of this country abroad. Australian aborigines who go abroad are received in Asia in a way in which no Australian of European descent is received there. I have in mind an aboriginal lady from Victoria who went to the Philippines. The Filipinos immensely value their own aboriginal race, and this Australian aboriginal lady was received as a queen. Anybody who has visited Asian countries with Australian delegations knows that Asian leaders are interested in our people of the aboriginal race. The damage that is done to this country, ideologically, by anything which appears in Asian quarters as a discrimination against aborigines, is immense, and the honorable member for Wills, in directing attention to the anomaly in our social services legislation, has done the Parliament a service.
– Before dealing with two matters touching the Department of Social Services and the Department of Health I wish to make some comment on the suggestion made by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) that an age pensioner who has five sons and five daughters should be the sole responsibility of her family. Before the honorable gentleman makes such a statement in this chamber he should make a study of the financial position of the family concerned. Is the honorable member implying that this Government should go back to the methods used by the Lyons Government in 1932, when the granting of a pension was subject to a means test applied to the applicant’s relatives? If that is what he means, let him be frank about it.
There might be some logic in the proposition that families should do more about taking care of their aged parents than, in many instances, they now do - but only provided other factors are considered. What are we doing in this Parliament - what is this Government doing - to help families to support their elderly relatives? If the reason why the five sons and five daughters of the pensioner mentioned by the honorable member for Moreton are unable to help their mother is that they have their own commitments in the rearing of their own families, then these sons and daughters are already doing a tremendous service to the nation. Should not the Government accept some responsibility for the care of the mother? Should not the Government provide the widest possible tax concessions in relation to whatever help children give to their elderly parents? For instance, should not the provision for a rent allowance of 10s., announced in the Budget as assistance to single age and invalid pensioners living alone, be extended to cover cases of children who are providing accommodation for an elderly parent or parents? If the provision were extended to cover such cases we would be showing some humanity towards people whose position in life should be made easier. But the Government does nothing along those lines. In fact, we heard the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) say in reply to an honorable member on his own side that in relation to eligibility of a pensioner for rent allowance the Department of Social Services would not interpret the word “ rent “ in the broad sense.
I was surprised when the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) urged that every pensioner who thought himself or herself entitled to rent allowance should be lodging an application at this stage. I have not heard of anything so cruel as urging a single pensioner to lodge such an application only to have his cup of hope dashed from his hands when the application is rejected, as will be the case with thousands of applications because of the Government’s narrow policy regarding eligibility for the allowance. If ever there was a time when every possible help should be given to people who rely on social services that time is now. But the Minister has said that the interpretation of the word “ rent “, in assessing eligibility for the allowance, will be left to the Department of Social Services. The Government should lay down the interpretation of “ rent “ instead of leaving it to a departmental officer. I put it to the honorable member for Moreton that where an age or invalid pensioner is living with his family we should at least pay some amount towards his upkeep by widening the interpretation of “ rent “, instead of using a narrow and miserable interpretation.
Now I turn to another example of what I regard as cruelty. One of the cruellest features in the pensioner medical service is the omission of fracture cases from benefit under the service. I have before me at the moment a case concerning an old lady in her early 70’s, who fractured her hip. Because of complications arising from the fracture that pensioner’s doctor attended her on more than 100 occasions and, as a result of his attention, the old lady is well to-day. However, although the medical attention that he gave her was concerned not so much with the fracture itself as with the complications that resulted from it, he has been informed by the Acting Commonwealth Director of Medical Services in New South Wales that there was no entitlement to benefit because the case was a fracture case. The doctor’s attention was drawn to the fact that certain services did not come within the scope of the pensioner medical service. These were listed, as follows: -
When any complication arises from a fracture, the pensioner remains excluded from this protection which is so important. If ever there was a time when full medical services were needed by old people, it is when a fracture occurs. What is the type of fracture that is normally sustained by an aged man or woman who falls or slips? It is a fracture to the hip, leg, or arm. Under this service, in which we take pride, we say to such a patient, “ No. If you contract pneumonia in the ordinary way, medical service will be given. But if you break a leg and then contract pneumonia, the service will not be given, because the pneumonia is related to the fracture “. What will happen to this lady of 73 years of age? Is she expected to try to pay from her pension for these calls, numbering over 100, made by her medical adviser to restore her to health, or is it expected that the medical adviser will do this work for no recompense? It must be either one thing or the other. We should never rest until that tremendous injustice to aged people is removed.
The next matter to which I shall refer is one of which we are losing sight. I am rather sorry that the Minister for Health is not in the chamber, but I know that he will have some notice taken of the point I make. Over the last twelve or eighteen months, as the result of the use of tranquillizing drugs, many persons afflicted with mental illness are being restored to health. I am afraid that we, as legislators, are neglecting a tremendously important phase affecting the health of this community in future. When I was overseas last year, I was impressed by the great problem that exists in America to-day with regard to the rehabilitation of those persons restored from mental illness, not because they are unsound in mind when they are discharged, but because when they move back towards industry they have no reference from their place of last employment. They have no former employer to whom their new employer can be referred. Whether we like it or not, there is in this country, too, a stigma attached to mental illness, which should be removed by efforts at both Federal and State levels. Until we do that, we are neglecting a tremendous responsibility that rests on every parliamentarian in Australia.
Tranquillizing drugs are restoring to health people who suffered for many, many years. I think there is on record already in New South Wales the case of a man who suffered for over twenty years from a mental affliction but now, as a result of tranquillizing drugs, is almost ready to be released and to take his correct place in society. Do not let us put this question aside as something that affects merely State governments. The State governments have gone a certain distance. It will be remembered that during the life of the Chifley Government the Commonwealth had consultations with the State governments on the question of mental illness and patients, and an arrangement was worked out whereby a contribution was made by the Commonwealth for patients in mental hospitals. lt was little and miserable enough in its application, perhaps, but to-day we have a different feature of the problem, the feature of mental illnesses being cured. The Commonwealth approach should be on the basis that mental illnesses are no longer incurable.
We must go far beyond anything that was ever contemplated when the Chifley Government made those arrangements with the States regarding patients in mental hospitals. A responsibility rests on every government, including this Government, to see that there are workshops for the training and rehabilitation of those people who come from mental institutions, and to see that there is an advisory centre on a combined Federal-State level, because the expenditure will become fairly heavy. Perhaps most important of all is that there be for these people an employment bureau staffed by persons who understand the problem that they have in front of them. It is not sufficient to tell a person restored from mental illness to go along to an ordinary employment bureau and register, because he has no references. He wants guidance and assistance. As I said to the Minister in a question on 6th August last, the former patient wants a continuance, where necessary, of the free provision of tranquillizing drugs to bring him right out as a citizen of Australia in the same way as we are. That is capable of being done if we do the right thing by these people. I make an urgent and strong appeal for this Government to reconsider this matter, in conjunction with the States, at the earliest possible moment.
We have, in Victoria and New South Wales at any rate, psychiatric rehabilitation associations which are pleading for public support. The need goes far beyond anything that can be contemplated on the level of public support. It is a national problem and a national responsibility. So long as we in this Parliament dilly-dally with this problem of national health, we are playing with the lives of people who can be fully restored to their proper place in society and who can be put back into industry. I say to the Government: Do not let another Budget come down in this House without a commitment to provide, as America provides, a rehabilitation service and tranquillizing drugs for mentally ill people who are discharged. This is a Federal and State responsibility, and I urge that something be done as a matter of urgency.
.- I rise to say a few words on the votes for both the Department of Social Services and the Department of Health, but before doing so, I wish to comment on the speech made by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). He referred us to the commandment “ Honour thy father and thy mother”. Surely the commandments are not to be used by the Government as an excuse for avoiding its obligations to the Australian people. I remind the honorable member for Moreton that in the coming weeks he and some other honorable members should give thought to another commandment, which says, “ Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour “, because quite often at election time many false things are said. It is easy to recommend one commandment, but I suggest that we have a look at the whole lot and give a good deal of thought to them in the weeks to come.
I should like to make a reference to the supplementary pension which, it is intimated, will be payable to those single pensioners living alone and paying rent. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) advises pensioners to apply if they consider that they are eligible, but I suggest that he knows as well as do the majority of people the numbers of disappointed persons who have already gone to officers of the Department of Social Services and been advised that they are wasting their time in applying.
I challenge the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) to tell us immediately what instructions have gone out to departmental officers. What applications have they been directed to reject? The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) pointed out how cruel it was to tell people they should apply, to build them up to believe that they will receive an extra 10s. a week, when it is known already that they have no hope whatsoever of receiving it, because the instruction, regulation, or whatever it is, that the Minister has already issued to his officers, telling them who is and who is not eligible, clearly restricts payment of that 10s. to a very, very small percentage of pensioners. It is a complete disgrace to be advising pensioners to apply without informing them beforehand whether or not they are eligible to receive the payment.- Why does the Minister not make it clear to them, so that they will be fully informed and will not go to the trouble of filling in forms and getting a rejection? All that is being done is to make extra work for the Minister’s own department. He is cluttering up the department with work and kidding to people. If the Minister was game to table his instructions, they would show just how few will be eligible for this benefit.
– It is perfectly clear who is entitled.
– Is it perfectly clear? I should like the Minister to make it perfectly clear. The Minister has refused to answer several questions about this matter. He is quite content to tell the people to apply to the department. It is the Minister’s responsibility to make a statement as to who is eligible and who is not. It is just another way of trying to mislead the people into believing that something is being done about social services. Child endowment has been completely forgotten. There has been no mention of it. The young mothers who depend so much on child endowment receive no assistance whatever. The mothers of Australia and the age pensioners have been forgotten by this Government. The only handout is a make-believe show of providing 10s. supplementary rent allowance. The field of social services has been covered very fully by honorable members on this side of the House, and the Government has been clearly shown to have failed to face up to its responsibilities.
I turn now to the matter of unemployment. Yesterday, a man 58 years of age came to see me. He has been out of work for nine months, and cannot find employment. He and his wife are existing on £5 12s. 6d. a week unemployment benefit. They are worse off than age pensioners. This man has no hope of a job while this Government remains in office. He will be obliged to remain on unemployment benefit. He has been out of work for nine months, and £5 1 2s. 6d. is the most that the Government will give him to support himself and his wife.
I should like to deal now with the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness, for which £72.500 has been provided in the Estimates. The National Fitness Act states -
The Council shall advise the Minister with respect to the promotion of national fitness, and in particular in relation to -
the measures to be adopted to develop appreciation of the need for physical fitness;
the provision of facilities for instruction in the principles of physical education;
the organization of movements, and the provision of facilities, for attaining or maintaining personal physical fitness; and
the training of teachers of classes, and of leaders of movements or groups, formed for the purpose of promoting physical fitness.
When the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) took over his portfolio some time ago I hoped that he would show some interest in the National Fitness Councils. The Commonwealth Council for National Fitness has repeatedly asked the Minister to confer with the various State National Fitness Councils in order to ascertain their needs. But this Minister, like his predecessor, forgets all about the councils. He says that the Government provided £72,50.0 last year, and that seems to be a reasonable amount to provide again. That amount has been provided annually for nearly nine years. Surely to-day it is either too much or too little. The Minister should consult with the various national fitness councils. If he did, and if he took the advice offered to him, I am sure that the amount set aside for the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness would be substantially increased.
At one time, at least in South Australia, the Commonwealth grant was slightly ahead of the State grant. But to-day the position is reversed. Some years ago, I made a plea for a formula to be adopted whereby a certain amount would be set aside by the Commonwealth and a certain amount by the States, and I thought that the ratio existing at that time should be maintained. But South Australia has increased its contributions, whereas there has been no alteration at all in the Commonwealth grant. I do not think that there is a real appreciation of what a National Fitness Council does. It organizes youth clubs, it supplies equipment, it advises on matters pertaining to facilities and sports programmes, and ittrains leaders in various physical games. It lends films and projectors. It operates youth hostels. All those activities take money. The success of the battle against the bodgie and widgie cults is due in no small way to the National Fitness Councils. It is hard to estimate the worth of such a service, and I am sure that the councils are entitled to the finance necessary to enable them to provide facilities and advice of the same standard provided nine years ago. To-day, they are struggling to provide extended services on a small purse. At present, a survey is being conducted in South Australia to ascertain what playing fields will be needed’ in the next ten years. The task is not an easy one. The co-operation of sporting bodies has been sought and has been readily forthcoming, and it is hoped that the survey will do much to provide sporting facilities for the future. The main spearhead is the National Fitness Council, and I hope that the Minister for Health will at long last accede to the request of the various councils and arrange for regular annual meetings at which he will preside.
.- I realize that the committee will shortly adjourn for dinner, but there is one matter to which I should like to refer. Many honorable members on this side of the chamber wish to take advantage of the opportunity to point out the deficiencies of the Government so far as social services are concerned. It is a matter of great regret that they are unable to have adequate time to put their various points to the committee. When we see that the Budget provides for an expenditure of about £1,400,000,000, of which only £3,900,000 is allocated for increased social services, the Government’s unsatisfactory and unfortunate attitude to the under-privileged people of the community will be readily understood:
One matter to which I should like to refer concerns pensioners, who have suffered to a very marked degree.. It is a matter that should interest honorable members on both sides of the chamber. It relates to the ambulance service. Although this matter has been mentioned here on past occasions, it is regrettable that, along with other social service reforms, it has escaped the attentionof the Government. It is, of course, typical of the sorry social services record of Liberal and Australian Country party governments in both Federal and State spheres. It is a matter for great regret that very little provision is being made in the Budget along the lines I have suggested. The ambulance service to which I have referred is only one of the many things which have again escaped the Government’s attention.
Most honorable members have had some experience of ambulance services. Often they must have seen members of the ambulance brigades holding out collection boxes, selling lucky numbers and doing all softs of things in an endeavour to raise sufficient money to buy new ambulance vehicles and to maintain efficient general service to the community. It is appalling to think that the Commonwealth Government, which has some responsibility for the welfare of pensioners, is completely unconcerned about the fact that our ambulance brigades, which render such great service to the pensioners, are receiving no government assistance whatever so far as the transportation of pensioners is concerned.
During the year ended 30th June last, 49,000 pensioners received benefit from the ambulance service in New South Wales. In addition to that, 8,173 people who are described as persons who are not pensioners - they are probably down-and-outs who receive no benefits under our social services legislation - enjoyed the benefit of our ambulance services. The New South Wales ambulance service estimates that approximately £122,000 was expended on transporting pensioners to and from hospitals and in generally serving their needs in time of accident or sickness. The latest figures available for the Commonwealth are those relating to the year 1955, and they disclose that in that year 83,000 pensioners were either transported or assisted.
I submit that it is only reasonable to argue that the Commonwealth Govern, ment could well help the ambulance services of Australia. The fee charged for ambulance service varies from district to district and from State to State. In some places it is in the vicinity of £1 ls., and in others in the vicinity of £2 2s., and it is only reasonable to suggest that the Commonwealth should do something to help the various brigades. It could even invoke the provisions of section 96 of the Constitution, if necessary. Another avenue open would be to introduce legislation similar to that introduced by the Chifley Government which was responsible for the eradication of that dreaded scourge, tuberculosis, in Australia.
I make this suggestion to the committee recognizing that the ability of the ambulance brigades to render an efficient total service to the whole of the community is seriously impaired by their straitened financial position, which is brought about partly by the failure of this Government to contribute anything. I admit that it may be argued that the State governments could do something in the matter, but financial assistance in the direction I have indicated is really a legitimate responsibility of the Commonwealth Government, in that pensioners are a Commonwealth responsibility, and the ambulance brigades transported approximately 83,000 pensioners in 1955. It is probable that an even greater number were transported in 1958. I know that in my own area last year 4,500 pensioners were transported by the ambulance, and that is only one of the eight brigades operating in the Sydney area.
This is a serious problem. Although it has been mentioned before, I sincerely hope the Government will take note of my plea on this occasion and endeavour, by some manner or means, to alleviate the position of our ambulance brigades, so that they may continue to render efficient service not only to pensioners but to the whole of the community.
.- I strongly support the arguments adduced by honorable members on this side relating to the inadequacy of the present rate of pension and other social service benefits. That the present provisions are inadequate is proved by the fact that this Parliament has received petitions containing the names of thousands of people who know from bitter experience that present pensions are totally inadequate to meet their needs of to-day. I earnestly plead with the Government to be more sympathetic towards those who are now suffering great hardships in what the Government is pleased to call the present prosperous times. Time will not permit of my saying any more, but I hope that what I have said has been sufficient to signify my strong support of the case put by honorable members on this side for more justice for the pensioners, the real pioneers of the country.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 6.2 to 8 p.m.
Proposed Vote, £1,189,000.
Proposed Vote, £293,000.
Proposed Vote, £2,008,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- I wish to refer to a matter which comes within the jurisdiction of the Department of Shipping and Transport. I once again express my very acute disappointment that the Government has not grasped the nettle with both hands and, in collaboration with the State governments, made a determined bid to evolve a national roads plan. The longer this matter is delayed, the more difficult it will be to arrive at an ultimate satisfactory solution. I realize that under present circumstances the constitutional power to deal with roads is vested in the State governments. Before the Constitution came into force in 1901, it was agreed that the States should continue to control roads. However, what was quite satisfactory in 1901 is certainly not satisfactory in 1958. An entirely different set of circumstances has evolved, particularly over the last ten years.
Before we can have a national roads plan, there must be an agreement under which both the Commonwealth and the States agree that the Commonwealth shall have jurisdiction over certain types of roads. I suppose thatmost honorable members will agree withme when I say that the people of Australia, generally speaking, are emphatic in expressing their opinion that the present roads position is nothing short of tragic. All sorts of bodies, political and non-political in their outlooks, agree that the present circumstances, if continued, can lead only to dislocation and chaos as far as Australia’s road system is concerned.
The only body that is capable of suggesting a national roads plan at the moment is the Australian Transport Advisory Council. This body, whichwas set up some years ago, consists of the six State Ministers for Transport, presided over by the Federal Minister. It was set up for the purpose of discussing and solving, if possible, problems of transport, but I regret to say that on the level of road planning and development it has been a conspicuous failure. The faults certainly are not all on one side, because criticism can be levelled both at the State governments and at the Commonwealth Government for their inability to even suggest a framework for a contemplated plan.
On the side of the State governments, the greatest weakness of the structure of the Australian Transport Advisory Council is the almost complete absence of State roads Ministers and their departmental advisers, who are, of course, the commissioners or chairmen of the main roads authorities of the respective States. If we look at the gentlemen who represent the States on the Australian Transport Advisory Council we will glean some idea why the council has not got very far in finding a solution of the roads problem. The New South Wales representative on the council is Mr. Enticknap, who is the State Minister for Transport. He is, in effect, the State Minister for Railways. The Minister for Highways, Mr. Renshaw, who has made a very intelligent approach to a national roads plan as the Minister responsible for roads in the New South Wales Government, is not a member of the Australian Transport Advisory Council. In Victoria, Sir Arthur Warner, the State Minister for Transport and, in reality, the Minister for Railways, is a member of the council, but Sir Thomas Maltby, who is the Minister in charge of the Victorian Roads Board, is not a member. In Western Australia, Mr. Graham, the Minister for Transport or, in reality, the Minister for Railways, is the State’s representative on the council, but Mr. Tonkin, the Minister in charge of the Main Roads Department, is not a member. When we come to the northern State, Queensland, we find that the State representative on the Australian Transport Advisory Council is Mr. Chalk, the State Minister for Transport or, in effect, the Minister for Railways, whilst Mr. Evans, who is the Minister in charge of the
Department of Main Roads, is not a member of the body of which I consider he should be a member. In Tasmania, the State representative on the council is Mr. Cashion, who is the Minister for Transport and Railways, while the Minister for Works, who is in charge of the Roads Department, is not a member. As a matter of fact, there is only one State in which the Minister in charge of roads is a member of the Australian Transport Advisory Council. In South Australia, Sir Norman Jude has the joint responsibility for roads and railways. He sits on the Australian Transport Advisory Council.
I submit that in this day and age, when roads have a place in the national transport system second to no other media, the absence of roads Ministers from five States is a glaring anomaly. Highly experienced and well-informed main roads chiefs are excluded from attendance at meetings of the Australian Transport Advisory Council because their Ministers are not members of it. This makes the position even more unrealistic. It is high time that the States recognized that their main roads departments should be represented, through the Ministers responsible for roads and the chairmen of the main roads departments, at conferences held on a CommonwealthState level to deal with transport problems.
I should like to epitomize my suggestions very briefly. Honorable members on this side of the committee, as well as some honorable members on the other side, have for a number of years been advocating a national roads plan. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) and myself, on this side of the chamber, have been particularly active in advocating a national roads plan. We have said that the Commonwealth and the States should give very serious consideration to road problems. Our reasons can be epitomized in the following way. Firstly, the present roads problem adversely affects everybody throughout Australia, because of the transport cost structure. If by reason of the inferior roads system, transport costs are increased, it means that we have to pay more for the goods which are carried over that system. Secondly, because of the increase of all kinds of motor transport, roads have assumed within the national transport system an importance undreamt of ten or fifteen years ago. Thirdly, less than 10 per cent, of Australia’s 500,000 miles of roads are both paved and sealed. Of the remaining 90 per cent., less than 25 per cent, are paved, and the rest are merely formed, cleared or in their natural state. Included in the 10 per cent, of roads which are paved and sealed are the main arterial roads between the State capitals. They are capable of great improvement. We should have at least two-way highways giving access to and from the State capitals, but we have an expanse of road barely wide enough in most cases for three cars abreast.
The fourth reason is that Australia already has 2,500,000 motor vehicles. This number is expected to grow to 4,000,000 before 1970. In the City of Melbourne the motor vehicle population - if I may use that expression in relation to that city - is expected to double within five years. Of course, the position is not so bad in the country areas. These figures show that we cannot expect our inadequate road system to cope with the demands of the rapidly increasing numbers of motor vehicles which will use it. Our present antiquated system results in a shocking national waste of both time and efficiency. It contributes to the inflated cost structure and to the stultification of the gains which accrue to industry as a result of greater technical and scientific knowledge. Though productivity in secondary industry has increased tenfold in the last ten or twenty years we have continued to use outmoded methods of road construction and have refused to deal with our transport problems as we have dealt with the problems of industry generally.
Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Government has shown a reluctance to campaign for an alteration in the status quo. I would have thought that, recognizing this as a national problem of importance and significance, it would have given a lead to the undoubtedly recalcitrant State governments. The majority opinion throughout Australia is that the accumulated arrears of road construction, plus immediate and future needs, present a problem beyond the financial resources of the States. This stark reality must be faced now, or in the very near future, if we are to keep pace with modern developments. We must, in short, initiate a national road plan. It follows that the Commonwealth Government must accept the need for great increases in road expenditure. It will, of course, need to have some say in how the money will be spent. I do not suggest that the Commonwealth Government should simply hand over larger and’ larger amounts to the States and say to them, “ Go ahead and spend it “.
I would suggest that any such plan should be based on the assumption that the Commonwealth should be responsible for the construction of main interstate roads and that the States should devote their resources to the development of internal roads. When all is said and done, interstate highways represent a relatively small percentage of Australian road mileage but, because of the vast amount of traffic which travels on them from day to day, they are extremely important. Under present circumstances the States, with their meagre financial resources, have a Herculean task in supplying and maintaining an internal road system. Secondary highways and developmental roads are in a shocking condition. Indeed, the only decent State roads are the main highways from provincial cities to State capitals such as Melbourne.
The Commonwealth Government should give special consideration to the national and defence importance of interstate roads. No one, either in this chamber or anywhere else in Australia, can claim that our road system has kept pace with the advances in every other sphere of trade and commerce. We have approached all our other national problems in a modern and progressive fashion but deal with the problem of the roads in a frame of mind more appropriate to the ‘twenties. A new national conception of road planning is inevitable. It will be forced upon us by public opinion, despite the opposition of any government, State or Federal.
Recently honorable members had an opportunity of seeing a film showing the progress of the national roads plan which has been in operation in the United States of America for the last three or four years. I do not suggest that any Australian plan can ever be of the same dimensions, because that country has seventeen or eighteen times as many people in a comparable area, but I would suggest that we should take serious notice of the American scheme. The United States of America has a
Federal-States road system and, though we could not spend upon our roads anything like the same amount of money, we could at least begin on the same basis. If we did that we would ultimately produce a road system worthy of this great continent.
.- The speech of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) was both interesting and instructive. He speaks on the subject of transport quite often because it is one for which he has a great enthusiasm and in respect of which he possesses a great deal of knowledge. However, I do not agree with everything he said. I cannot help feeling suspicious of this talk of national road plans - at least until I know precisely what is meant.
– One reason - and it is borne out by the remarks of the honorable member for Batman - is that a national’ roads plan often means nothing more than building super interstate highways. I suspect that if a national plan came into being those highways would be built at the expense of roads which I regard as being very much more important - the secondary,developmental and feeder roads in the rural areas. One of this Government’s great achievements has been its insistence that a high proportion of the greatly in-‘ creased finance which it has provided for’ road building should be spent on these rural roads. I do not know what the situation is in other States, but in South Australia1 developmental and secondary roads have improved out of all recognition as a result’ of that stipulation. There is, however, room for improvement. Work on our roads must continue, but if talk of a national roads plan is to mean anything, it must envisage priority for rural roads, because of their influence on the cost of primary production.
I wish to direct the attention of the’ House to that item in the Estimates of the Department of Shipping and Transport’ which appropriates £500,000 for thebroadening of the railway line in the south-“; east of South Australia. This work, which’ flows from a railway standardization agree-‘ ment between the Commonwealth and South Australia, has almost been completed’.’ I would have expected it to meet with the. approbation of every honorable member, and would not have risen if the Government had not been strongly criticized for acquiescing in the project notwithstanding the claims of the lines in what are sometimes called the Peterborough division of the northern part of South Australia. It has even been suggested that the railway in the south-east of the State serves no useful purpose.
Such an argument ignores two factors. First, South Australia had commenced widening the line on its own account when the Commonwealth Government came into the picture. It was, as far as I can learn, undertaken as a purely State railway work from 1946 until 1952. In all the standardization agreements which were negotiated between the Commonwealth and the States when the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was Minister for Transport, the south-eastern division was accepted by the Commonwealth as having priority in South Australia. The agreement between the six States and the Commonwealth was replaced by the agreement with three States and, finally, by a unilateral agreement between South Australia and the Commonwealth. In each of these successive agreements - the original agreements being knocked on the head, mainly by New South Wales - the south-eastern railway in South Australia was specifically mentioned as an integral part of the standardization programme.
Order! The honorable member is really debating a matter that comes under Capital Works and Services, which will be debated later; it is not included in this proposed vote.
– In general, shall we say, this matter of the standardization of railway gauges comes within the jurisdiction of the Department of Shipping and Transport. It is in respect of that part of the work of this department that I am speaking to-night. I said that it had been an integral part of the work of the standardization programme. So, Mr. Chairman, the suggestion that this Government departed from the spirit and intention of an agreement that was negotiated between-
– Order! I am afraid the honorable member cannot get round my ruling in that way.
– I want to intervene in this debate very briefly to say something about the proposed votes for the Department of Territories. The vote which is included in this group of departments is a vote of a comparatively small size - £293,000 - in respect of the Department of Territories located at Canberra. Financial provision in respect of the Territories properly so-called, that is, the Northern Territory, Papua and New Guinea, Nauru, Norfolk Island and Cocos Island is provided in Part 3 of the Estimates, and there, together with the Australian Capital Territory, we have a proposed vote of approximately £36,000,000. I respectfully suggest to you, Sir, and to the committee, that the main debate on the Territories themselves, that is, the Northern Territory, Papua and New Guinea, the Australian Capital Territory or any other Territory should take place on Part 3 of the Estimates rather than at this particular point of time when the proposed vote before the committee is a comparatively small item in respect of what might be called the head-quarters expenditure in Canberra itself. If the committee needs it, I willingly give an assurance that ample time will be provided when Part 3 of the Estimates comes before us to enable honorable members to discuss at appropriate length the proposed votes for any of the Territories in that part to which they wish to direct themselves.
– I accept the assurance of the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) that sufficient time will be allowed to enable honorable members to discuss matters relevant to the Territories when the proposed votes for the Territories are under consideration. At this particular stage. I should like to raise one matter which probably would not come within the scope of the general debate. I refer to the matter of constitutional reform for the Northern Territory, which does come under the proposed vote that we are now considering.
Some time ago. as a result of certain action that was taken by the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth Government invited all members of the council to Canberra to participate in a conference with selected Government members for the purpose of discussing a report which the Legislative
Council, in its wisdom, had drawn up and presented to the Commonwealth Government. At that conference, certain recommendations were formulated to be placed before the Cabinet for agreement, amendment, endorsement or some other action. Since that time - some two months ago - no further action has been taken or, I should say, if further action has been taken it has been kept within the confines of the Cabinet and no word has been released in regard to it. I should just like to say to the Minister that I have not been able as yet to get any information as to what is happening in respect to the report or the recommendations. When I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) whether it was contemplated that action would be taken during the life of this Parliament, or whether the matter was to be shelved, I received no satisfaction from his reply.
I just want to say to the Minister that both the members of the Legislative Council, and the people of the Northern Territory, are becoming quite restive at the prospect that no action will be taken during the life of this Parliament on the recommendations that were submitted to the Cabinet. The thought is gaining strength that the whole matter will be shelved until after the forthcoming general election, in the hope that it will be forgotten by the people and that no further action will then be required. I suggest to the Minister that if the Government does not take action on the recommendations that were submitted to the Cabinet during the remaining life of this Parliament, that is the interpretation that will be placed on the delay. I therefore suggest to the Government that it make an announcement at an early stage - preferably this week - of its intentions in regard to this matter, and say quite clearly that action will be taken to implement by legislation the proposals that have been endorsed by the Cabinet - assuming that they have been endorsed.
In raising this matter, I do not necessarily support any of the recommendations, and I shall reserve my comment until they come before this chamber in legislative form, but I want to indicate at this stage that I do not agree with the recommendations that went forward with respect to representation in the Federal Parliament. Nothing short of a full vote for the member for the Northern Territory in this Parliament will have my support.
– There are two quite separate subjects to which I want to refer. One relates to railways, and the other to roads. As to railways, we are, of course, waiting for the bill which the Government is going to bring down to ratify the works which are proceeding on the Albury-Melbourne standardization, and we regret that the illness of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) has perhaps delayed that bill. We are, however, looking forward to seeing it. Let me say that the next work to be done - it is not included in the Estimates - should be the Broken Hill-Port Pirie section, and the standardization of the line into Adelaide. As honorable members know, the South Australian Government until recently wanted to convert the Broken Hill-Port Pirie section to 5 ft. 3 in., rather than to the standard gauge of 4 ft. 8i in., but last June, in the Governor’s speech in the State House, the South Australian Government agreed to the course, which is the proper course, that the line should be converted to 4 ft. 8i in. This is in accordance with the recommendation made by the two committees, one from each side of the House, the reports of which were printed by order of the House some time ago. I believe that we should be immediately taking steps to get on with this work. We cannot start construction at this present moment because some preliminary survey is needed, and I understand that the Premier of South Australia-
– Order! The honorable member may not debate that matter. It is covered by the proposed vote for Capital Works and Services.
– On the contrary, Sir, I am only debating the policy of the department. This matter is not included under Capital Works and Services.
– Order! I rule that standardization does come under Capital Works and Services. There is an appropriation made under that heading.
– With respect, it is not made. If you will look, Sir, you will find that no appropriation is made.
– The honorable member may carry on and I shall see whether he is in order.
– I am discussing Division 113 - Salaries and Payments in the nature of Salary - which is before us, and the policy that emerges therefrom. I am patently in order in so doing. The matter is not included under Capital Works and Services.
If I may proceed, Sir, may I say that the Premier of South Australia has requested from the Commonwealth Government a grant of £50,000 for the preliminary survey. That grant has not been approved. I hope that it will be approved without delay. May I make one practical suggestion in this regard? While it is true that the standardization works between Broken Hill and Port Pirie, and on to Adelaide, cannot immediately be put in hand because survey is necessary, there is a part of the scheme on which work could start forthwith. It is part of the scheme which was recommended by the Government members committee, of which I had the honour to be the chairman. I refer to the ballasting of the line from Broken Hill into Parkes, in New South Wales-
– Order! The honorable member may discuss that subject under the proposed vote for works, but not here. That is my ruling.
– Very well, Sir. The raising of the line at Condobolin also could be undertaken. This could go ahead straight away-
– Order! If the honorable member does not obey the Chair he will have to resume his seat.
– I shall return to this matter later, because I think that it is something that should be done now. There is a reason for the work being done now.
I turn to the other matter that I wish to raise - the question of roads policy, to which the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) and honorable members on this side of the House have recently been adverting. I am one of those people who believe that the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax and excise should be made available for roads, and I do not in any way retreat from that position. In this regard, I want to make a practical and concrete suggestion. This Government has given to roads, from the proceeds of petrol tax, considerably more than any other government has given, but it has not yet given the whole of the proceeds. I believe that the difference between what the Government has so far allocated under existing legislation and the whole of the proceeds - the margin - should be allocated between participating States on a population basis. The participating States should be those that agreed that there would be no ton-mile road tax, so that participation in this further grant would be conditional upon the States removing their ton-mile road tax. Further, I believe that it should be conditional on the States agreeing to spend this extra money on roads, whether it be through their main roads authorities, through grants to local councils, or on the purchase of capital equipment for the maintenance of roads and the carrying out of a really efficient roads programme.
This is a concrete and specific suggestion that I make. It is one which I believe will commend itself to the transport industry, which is being burdened down by the vexatious road tax. Apart from the amount collected, that tax is imposing upon primary producers, and also on carriers, a quite unreasonable burden in the maintenance of forms and the carrying out of formalities. I know that difficulties have arisen by reason of the interpretation of section 92 given by the High Court and the Privy Council. I am fully conversant with the cases, insofar as they can be understood of man, decided by the High Court and the Privy Council.
I therefore say that the Government might well recognize this position and make available this extra grant to those States which agree - and only if they agree - to forgo the ton-mile road tax. I believe that motorists would find no real grouch against the imposition of petrol tax and excise if they knew that the whole of the proceeds was devoted to roads. I say this not because I think that road transport is the only method of transport. I know that the railways have an essential role to perform, and I hope, by your grace, Mr. Chairman, to discuss this matter further when we come to Capital Works and Services. Nevertheless, I think that we should be spending rather more than we are on roads. We should be getting rid of expedients like the ton-mile tax. I believe that it is fairest to allocate the additional money, not in terms of any abstruse formula, but in terms of the simple ratio of the populations of the participating States.
.- The only advanced thinker on the Government side on this matter of roads seems to be the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). He stands with the Australian Labour party on this vital question. In our last policy speech in 1955 we included the matter of the allocation to roads of the entire proceeds from petrol tax, and I think that that will be included in the policy that is to be announced shortly. I wish to continue this subject for a few moments. I fully support my colleague, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), who, with myself, first raised in this Parliament the matter of a national roads plan back in 1952. Since then, the suggestion has been taken up by outside bodies and has been given much publicity. We shall persist with that idea, whether the Government agrees with it or not. After all, the present Government will not always be the government of Australia. Despite all the confidence of the Government parties; despite the fact that they had introduced a Budget that is not really theirs, but that of a group that will give them support at the forthcoming general election; and despite their complacency, they will not always be in office. Some day, the Australian Labour party will have the opportunity to give justice to all the users of roads throughout Australia by introducing a national roads plan, in conjunction with the States.
We know that the States are crying out for more money for roads. So, too, are the municipalities, and rightly so. Our roads are numbered among the worst of the roads in advanced countries of the world. The roads that we call highways would be only back tracks in America. There is probably no roads system in any advanced country worse than that which we have in this country to-day. People who have dealt with the statistics of the matter have suggested that we should spend £1,000,000,000 on our roads to bring them up to date. That is not something suggested by the Labour party, but is the opinion of men who have given thought to this matter. America has seen the light in regard to roads. Its great federal roads plan is in operation. The Americans proposed to spend 10,000,000,000 dollars on the plan and to complete it by about 1975, linking all States and by-passing the main towns and cities.
We in this country should have something to get our teeth into, and I suggest that we should have a federal plan for an expenditure of £250,000,000 on interstate highways over five years. This would mean an expenditure of £50,000,000 a year over and above what is already being spent on roads by States and municipalities. Such a plan, of course, would depend on the States allowing the Commonwealth to take over interstate highways, which represent about 6,000 miles of our roads system. That would immediately relieve the States of the enormous expenditure that they are now meeting in trying to keep our highways in reasonable repair, and they would be able to put that money into feeder, secondary and rural roads. The Commonwealth would take over the entire responsibility for widening, reconstructing, and initially constructing completely modern interstate highways. That plan is reasonable and rational, provided that the States will agree to it, Mr. Chairman. We could raise the money by allocating to this purpose the entire proceeds of the petrol tax, which would provide another £14,000,000 or £15,000,000 a year. We have suggested - and we still suggest - that another means would be to allocate £20,000,000 from the Defence vote for a federal roads plan. In defence - even in modern defence in the atomic age - roads are absolutely vital.
– Order! The honorable member is getting off the beam.
– We on this side of the chamber, Mr. Chairman, acknowledge, too, that good roads are vital to primary producers. I have suggested a practical way to solve a great problem in this country, but all that this Government does is to push the matter aside year after year. We get no further ahead, and we hear from the Government and its supporters not one constructive suggestion about roads, except from the honorable member for Mackellar. This is a tragic state of affairs in a country in which the roads need so much attention.
The other matter that I wish to discuss is shipping. I come from an island State which depends on shipping for the transport of 95 per cent, of the goods that it buys and sells. The remainder is transported by air. Shipping is highly important to Tasmania and to the rest of Australia. We have 12,000 miles of coast line, and we depend on our shipping for our economic livelihood and progress. We on this side of the chamber say quite deliberately thai the shipbuilding industry, which was established by the Labour Government in 1940, is gradually deteriorating. The yard’s of Walkers Limited, at Maryborough, in Queensland, have closed down entirely, and about 600 skilled men have been put out of the industry. The Government has allowed this great industry to slip downhill instead of helping it at this critical time.
Harking back for a moment, I remind the committee that the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand), in a very good speech in this chamber on 21st August last, urged the Government to revive the declining shipbuilding industry. During World War II., the Labour government established the former Commonwealth Shipping Line, and also shipbuilding yards which constructed about 45 ships of the River class, the D class and the E class. Those vessels did a magnificent job during the war, and are still doing it. This Government continued the shipbuilding programme up to a point, and increased the Commonwealth subsidy on ships of over 500 tons built in Australia to 33i per cent, in order to encourage Australian shipbuilders - a subsidy system begun by Labour. But that subsidy is not sufficient now. Competition in the shipbuilding industry has increased. Japan is turning out ships faster than is any other country, building 325 last year, and is now the first shipbuilding country in the world, even ahead of Britain. We must speed up our shipbuilding and try to build our ships more cheaply. Therefore, we must increase the subsidy.
Last year, 31,000 tons of shipping were constructed in Australian yards for both private owners and the Government, but vessels totalling 35,000 tons were purchased overseas. The high proportion of new shipping bought overseas is very serious indeed’ for this country, and we urge the Government to protect the local industry against this ur fair competition from outside. The only way to do it is to increase the subsidy on Australian-built ships and to give more orders.
We now have, or did have, the establishment of Walkers Limited, at. Maryborough, in Queensland, the yards of Mort’s Dock and Engineering Company Limited, in Sydney, and of Evans Deakin and Company Limited, at Kangaroo Point, in Brisbane, and yards at Whyalla and Newcastle. These establishments have either been extended or opened in the last fifteen years. We have to try to compete with overseas shipbuilders, and, in our opinion, the Government has failed to appreciate what is happening to the Australian industry. The Maryborough yards are capable of constructing 6,000 tonners, the Whyalla yards 32,000 tonners, and the other Queensland and New South Wales establishments 14,000 tonners. The capacity of the Australian shipbuilding yards is a great tribute to the industry, and especially to the skilled artisans who have been brought into it since 1940, but it is tragic to think that we should now be putting off skilled shipbuilders who have learnt the trade over the years, and who are now relegated to the ranks of the unemployed. So I urge upon the Government the need to reconsider its approach to this problem of shipbuilding and to do something really constructive in order to prevent the industry from declining even further.
I think, also, that the Australian National Line should Be reconstituted in order to make it a real competitor with private enterprise on the Australian coast. About 53 vessels have been built by the Commonwealth, and the Australian National Line should have all those ships and be run as a separate entity in the form of a commission, as is Trans-Australia Airlines, under the Australian National Airlines Commission, in direct competition with private enterprise. In addition, some of the Commonwealthowned ships could be put into service on overseas routes in order to help reduce freight charges on overseas shipments.
I remind the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) that the farmers, some of whom he claims to represent, would like to see some competition between the overseas shipping lines. There is no competition at all to-day. The Conference lines, which comprise 21 shipping companies, have complete monopoly of overseas cargoes. We need to introduce competition with them in order to reduce freight charges on our farm produce.
If the Australian Labour party is elected to office, the Labour government will immediately investigate the Australian shipping industry, and particularly the use of Australian-built ships. The present Government formed the Australian National Line, but it might as well be run by private enterprise, because it does not compete with private shipping in the real sense and brazenly operates to Asia to take advantage of the high freights. It is not run as an independent commission and, by preventing it from operating in that way, the Government has limited the real effectiveness of the 53 Commonwealth-owned ships, which Labour would bring back into service in true competition with private enterprise.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, 1 point out that, in the matter of overseas shipping freights, this Government has supinely given in to the monopoly of the conference lines, which has been able to increase freights on overseas cargoes as and when it liked. That monopoly has recently again increased the freight charges on beef exported from Australia. Wool is hit again also. Thus, another great industry has been interfered with and hit hard by the monopolistic conference shipping lines.
It is amazing, these days, how the little companies are taken over by bigger ones, which, in turn, are taken over by even bigger concerns, until we have complete monopolization such as we have seen occurring under the administration of this Government. There is no real competition to-day between the bigger industries because they have combined to keep prices at a certain level. That applies to shipping above all things. Australia is dependent on shipping for its existence.
The Opposition condemns the Government for its complacent attitude towards rises in shipping freights. We condemn the Government for its surrender of the Commonwealth’s ships to private enterprise. This Government sold out our shipping line. These matters are important and this is no time to pat the Government on the back; it does not deserve any praise. On the contrary, the Government deserves severe criticism for the way it has allowed shipbuilding to decline and for its attitude to the shipping monopoly which controls freight rates irrespective of the effect of those rates on the farmers. The Opposition condemns the Government for having allowed 53 Commonwealth ships to come under the control of the private shipping companies.
– In speaking on the Estimates, I wish to direct my remarks to the Department of Territories and the Department of Immigration. In particular, I wish to refer to the development of the Northern Territory and the relationship between immigration policy and that development. 1 want to repeat a plea that I made in this chamber two years ago. No doubt, the recently announced increases in the zone allowances for taxation purposes will be gratefully received by residents of the Northern Territory. But if we are to develop this Territory as quickly as I believe it should be developed, it is essential that we grant all residents there, both individuals and companies, a complete exemption from income tax for an initial period of 25 years. Certain provisos may have to be made with respect to companies. For example, it might be stipulated that from 40 per cent, to 50 per cent, of their profits should be ploughed back into development. If we were to take this bold step, I believe we would be able to attract much more foreign capital to the Northern Territory.
I hope that my remarks will not be dismissed as those of an irresponsible person who is always advocating concessions or reduced taxation, or who has no appreciation of the amount of money that is required to run this country. I realize fully that if this concession is granted, an equivalent amount of money must be obtained from other sources and that some one has to pay. I also realize that unless we do a great deal more than we are doing at present to develop the Northern Territory more quickly, whatever government is in charge of Australia in. a comparatively few years’ time may not have an opportunity of collecting any taxes from the Northern Territory. How much time have we got? Many thinking people have variously assessed it at anything from five to twenty years. That is frightening. Some of those people may be wrong, but I believe that our time will certainly run out before the end of this century unless we drastically alter our present policy towards immigration.
I wish the members of this committee could have heard the stirring speech that was delivered by Mr. Rohan Rivett to the last Citizenship Convention held in Canberra. He pointed out that to our near north, only 24 or 48 flying hours away, there are between 1,300,000,000 and 1,400,000,000 people. In some of those countries to the north of Australia, the population increases by between 5,000,000 and 10,000,000 persons yearly. In other words, the population of some of these countries increases annually - and certainly within two years - by the number of our total population. I should like to quote a few brief extracts from Mr. Rivett’s speech to the Citizenship Convention. He stated -
It is no idle thing that there are thirteen hundred or fourteen hundred million people a few hours from our shores. Much more than half of those people live so close to the fantastically shaky level between subsistence and slight malnutrition that sometimes they are this side and sometimes they are that, and you can never say from month to month which side they are on. . . .
It is all very well for us to worry so much about watching the cost of living, watching the basic wage, asking, “Are we really better off? Are we getting real wages to make us better off than we were two or three years ago; or are we being robbed? “
That is not nearly so important as this other issue, because these people are right on our doorstep and their problems are very pressing. . . .
We cannot, with our rate of development, sit here smugly on 3,000,000 square miles of territory and say, “We have chosen this. It is ours. You stick to your few square miles, your crowded paddy fields and your overpacked valleys.” I do not believe we can get away with that, and I think we are only kidding ourselves if we think we can.
I do not wish to be an alarmist or to impute wrong motives to any of the peoples to our north, but no matter how friendly they may be disposed towards us to-day and whatever their present attitude towards Australia may be, sheer economic necessity in ten to twenty years’ time may compel them to look towards Australia for expansion. Is it not better to give the concessions I have suggested while we still have time to grant them, or must we wait until pressure is put upon us, perhaps even through the United Nations, to yield some of our northern and north-western areas completely? What would we lose then? We would lose not a few miserable millions of pounds but the great wealth and the potential wealth of this area - copper, tin, uranium, gold, bauxite and perhaps even oil.
This so-called dead heart of Australia can be made to beat if given water. I had the privilege of serving during the Second World War for fourteen or fifteen months in the north-western areas of Western Australia and I saw for myself the great change that was wrought in the country after heavy rains. This country could be made to grow anything if it were irrigated and provided with a regular supply of water. I say unequivocally that if the Government has not the money to develop this Territory, it should give every possible encouragement to private enterprise to get on with the job while there is yet time.
Some members of the Opposition hold up their hands in horror when it is suggested that we should increase the flow of American capital into Australia. I believe it is not only good business to do so, but also good defence policy. In time of war, it is only natural that the Americans should protect their own interests. The more American capital that is invested in Australia, just so much more quickly will the United States of America come to our assistance whenever we are threatened. I should like to conclude with a further quotation from Mr. Rivett’s address to the Citizenship Convention. He said -
Time is no longer on our side. We cannot go along at the rate of 115,000 a year, even if it is uncomfortable to take even that many.
If we, as Australians, are to go ahead in the way we believe we should, we may have to make sacrifices that hurt. I think, however, that in the end we shall only be making them for our own children and their children after them.
.- I wish to refer to the shipbuilding industry, an activity that comes under the control of the Department of Shipping and Transport and which is of great importance to Australia, particularly to the electorate that I have the honour to represent. Strange as it may seem to honorable members, the second largest shipbuilding yard in Australia is situated in the City of Brisbane. It is located in the electorate of Griffith, at that old established suburb on the Brisbane River known as Kangaroo Point. Early in the last war, on the very sound advice of Mr. Curtin, then Leader of the Australian Labour party, a shipbuilding yard was established at that point by the Queensland Labour Government and was leased to Evans Deakin and Company
Limited. That yard has played a very important role in the- construction of ships both in time of peace and in time of war. However, I propose to deal only with the building of ships for peaceful purposes, because I appreciate that you, Mr. Chairman, would rule, and rightly so, that I should confine my remarks to that aspect of the matter.
The shipbuilding yard of Evans Deakin and Company Limited, has built many ships since it was established, but almost all those ships have been built for operation by the national shipping line. Reluctantly, I must admit that the Australian shipping lines have almost completely refused to have their vessels built in Australian yards, and to-day many of them are having ships built in overseas yards. Recently the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) issued a statement in which he suggested that there would be no further construction of ships for Australia in overseas yards until there had been an inquiry by the Tariff Board. The inquiry will not commence until after the federal election, which will be held on 22nd November. That is a rather significant observation. The Tariff Board, a capable governmental body, has already concluded one inquiry into this matter. It recommended that a subsidy of 33i per cent, should, be paid on ships built in Australia. The board suggested that we must maintain a very efficient shipbuilding industry in this country.
I am pleased to be able to say that during the last few years the Government has subscribed to that view and that a subsidy of 33$ per cent, is paid to Australian shipbuilders. But the Tariff Board further observed that, in order to maintain an efficient shipbuilding industry in Australia, there must be a demand by shipping companies for Australian-built ships for operation on the Australian coast. That is where we are falling down. Far too many Australian shipping lines are asking for their ships to be built in overseas yards.
Because of my interest in the maintenance of an efficient shipbuilding industry, I have informed myself of all phases of the industry in the City of Brisbane. One of the directors of Evans Deakin has informed me that it is not necessary for Australian shipbuilders to depend entirely on the sub sidy of 33i per cent. He told me that the output per man-hour in Australia compares more than favorably with that of workers employed in overseas shipbuilding yards and that the subsidy made available by this Government more than compensates for the inflation that this Government has permitted since 1950.
– The subsidy was introduced by Labour.
– Yes, and it has been continued by this Government. I feel, as a result of what I have been told by men who are associated with the industry, that it is not necessary to depend entirely upon that subsidy. One of the real problems facing the ship-building industry is that the shipping companies which operate on the Australian coast are tied in some way to overseas shipping companies and shipbuilding companies and are not prepared to have their vessels built in Australian yards. A study of the programme for the building of ships overseas shows that in the main the ships that will be built within the next few years for operation on the Australian coast will be built in overseas yards.
– That is a tragedy.
– It is a tragedy, as the honorable member says. What is this Government doing about it? The Government is in a very fortunate position, lt could help the ship-building industry. Before a ship can be imported into Australia, the personal authorization of the Minister for Shipping and Transport must be obtained. But, unfortunately, the present Minister, or his predecessor, has given a licence for the construction overseas and the importation into Australia of the ships that are being built for the Australian coastal trade. It is true that, because of the activities of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, the Whyalla shipbuilding yards are full and that, as a result of negotiations between this Government and the Ampol company, provision has been made for the construction of a 32,000-ton oil tanker which, I am sorry to say, will be manned by a non-Australian crew. At least the ship is being built in Australia by Australian workmen.
But what is happening at the shipbuilding yards in the rest of the Commonwealth? At Maryborough, Walkers Limited which after the war built two ships each of 6,000 tons, has almost completed the last vessel for which it had a contract. Boilermakers and skilled artisans are being discharged. I was told only recently thai skilled operatives are digging drains with picks and shovels for the Maryborough City Council. Having been discharged from the shipbuilding yards of Walkers Limited, they are being absorbed into municipal work of a labouring kind, which is being paid for by a special grant made by this Government to relieve unemployment. Walkers Limited has finished its contracts; it is now merely fitting out the last ship for which it had a contract.
In the electorate of Griffith, Evans Deakin is building “ Lake Sorrell “, which is a bulk carrier. That company has another vessel of 6,000 tons to build for the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited and following that two minor tugs of 250 tons each.
– I rise to a point of order. I point out that ship, construction comes under the proposed vote for Capital Works and Services.
– Order! It comes under the proposed votes for both the Department of Shipping and Transport and Capital Works and Services. Therefore, I have allowed discussion of the matter.
– I have been reliably informed that when a shipbuilding company obtains a contract to build a ship it must undertake at least twelve months of work in its drawing office before it can lay down one part of the ship in the shipbuilding yard. That means that unless the company has a continuity of orders the work force of skilled artisans will be disbanded after the construction of each ship. Then, when a new contract is received, the draftsmen will start work and when they have finished there will suddenly be a move to muster the necessary force of skilled tradesmen to build the ship. I appeal to the Government - not on a political basis, but on a defence basis if there is no other basis on which a successful appeal to it can be made - to let us keep this important industry stable, to let us keep it going.
The world has been at war since before the Christian era, and I suppose we shall go on having wars unless reason prevails eventually. That being so, we must have shipping because the island continent of Australia has a longer sea coast than has any other single country in the world. We have a coastline of 12,000 miles, and we must have ships to maintain our communications. We have an inefficient railway system and a deteriorating road system. Our only stability in communication is in shipping, and the stability of shipping depends on shipbuilding. I appeal to the nation and to the Government to get the shipbuilding industry going properly, and to see that it has no lack of orders.
.- I should like to direct my remarks to the proposed vote for the Department of Shiping and Transport, and particularly to the work of the Australian Transport Advisory Council. I am glad that two honorable members opposite, the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) and the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), devoted part of their remarks to the subject of snipping, although I believe that, to a degree, they directed the attention of the committee to some of the less important aspects of the coastal shipping industry.
I should like to direct the attention of the committee, first, to a report of the Australian Transport Advisory Council, brought down three years ago, which dealt with the traffic task that is performed by each form of transport in Australia. It is interesting that of the total ton miles accounted for by all forms of transport coastal shipping accounted for nearly 50 per cent, in 1953-54, whereas road transport accounted for only 26 per cent., railways 24 per cent, and air services .1 per cent.
A more interesting aspect of the report, however, is a table dealing with the real operating costs of Australian domestic transport. The council analysed the percentage of costs borne by the users of each form of transport and the percentage paid by various governmental authorities. The users of shipping transport bore 95.8 per cent, of the total cost and governments bore only 4.2 per cent. In the case of road transport, however, governments bore 7.1 per cent, of the total cost, and in the case of rail transport, 12.4 per cent. In the case of civil aviation the governments bore 17 per cent, of the total cost.
The interesting point about this is that the coastal shipping services are the least subsidized form of transport in the Commonwealth. I believe that if the subsidies directed to various forms of transport were spread more evenly, shipping could well be more competitive with other forms of transport than it is at present. At the moment, there is a drift in the carriage of general cargo away from ships towards road and rail. I believe that if competition were based on the actual, instead of the subsidized cost, there would be a drift back towards shipping for the carriage of cargo, because shipping is the most economical form of transport in the Commonwealth.
I believe that the need in this country is to have more co-ordination in the development of our shipping services. At the moment, the Minister for Shipping and Transport has the benefit of an advisory council to assist him in connexion with road transport; but even more important to-day is the need for a sea transport council to advise the Minister on shipping. Such a council should represent not only the Commonwealth, but also the Ministers in the State governments who are responsible for shipping and for the development of ports, because the development of port facilities is even more important to the shipping industry than is shipbuilding itself. It is essentia] that we should have a body that could assess the needs of Australia in relation to ports, and could plan for the development of ports. Such a body should be responsible for raising the money for port development, not necessarily only from taxes. It could, I believe, produce a co-ordinated plan which might well lead to the raising of money from the International Bank or some such body.
– On a Federal or State basis?
– It would have to be done on a Federal basis, because ports should be developed in accordance with a nation-wide plan if we are to avoid having some ports developed too rapidly and some not rapidly enough. In this connexion, I should like to read to the committee some extracts from an address given by Mr. F. D. Arney. general manager of the Port of Bristol Authority, when speaking to a committee of members of the United Kingdom Parliament. He said -
I feel that there is to-day not sufficient cooperation between shipowner, shipbuilder and port authorities. The tendency is rather too much for the shipowner to give an order to a builder for the ship that he thinks is going to be satisfactory, without taking into account the nature of the port facilities that have to be used in the turnround of that ship . . . We see to-day the difficulty of new ships having to accommodate themselves to docks that were built many years ago. . . . The tendency is to build a longer and broader ship, and one often sees a ship of some 600 feet in length, and with six hatches, going into a port that can only readily accommodate a four-hatch ship. It is in this sort of thing where I think there should be greater collaboration between owners, builders and port authorities.
He expressed his second point in the following words -
Looking at the shore side, the most outstanding development in the post-war years has been the very great change-over from rail delivery to and from ports, to road delivery. In prewar days something like 25 per cent, of the total dock traffic passed by road, the balance by rail. We now take something like 60 per cent, of our traffic by road. That has created quite a problem, because most docks were not laid out for road movement of traffic; in the main they were for rail development only.
His third point was expressed in these words -
When it comes to the design of new sheds and new quays we have clearly to take account of this tremendous step-up in road delivery, and lay out our sheds and quays in such a manner that instead of an improvisation for roadwork we have in fact provided modern facilities. The general trend is to allow sufficient width of quay to take rail tracks and road independently of one another.
If that is true of the United Kingdom to-day, it is even more true of the needs of our Australian ports. It is vitally important for us to realize the tremendous change that has taken place in the requirements for port facilities in Australia over the past ten years. We can improve these facilities only if we co-ordinate the work of port authorities, shipbuilders, shipping companies and shippers. For one thing, to-day ships can alter more rapidly than can ports. Therefore we may have coming to this country new ships such as I have just mentioned, with six hatches. If an effort were made to deliver cargo from those ships to sheds with only four doors, tremendous congestion would result.
I believe that we cannot allow the ports of Australia to develop in the way in which they have developed in the last ten years. We are not, as a nation, meeting the present-day needs of either coastal or overseas shipping. We should devote much more attention to the development of our wharfs, and this can be done only by a co-ordinating authority under the chairmanship of the Federal Minister for Shipping and Transport.
There are certain immediate needs. We have heard, for instance, of the problems in relation to the freight on meat exported from this country. If we had better port facilities in northern Queensland, we should probably be able to reduce the cost of transport of meat both to the wharf and into the ship. There is at the present time an interesting development in the United Kingdom in the provision of cool stores in the port of Southampton for the storage of meat that comes from Australia. They have been erected by the Blue Star Line in co-operation with the port authority of Southampton. In Australia, and in north Queensland especially, we need cool stores directly on our wharfs, and not only at the meat works, which are often 10 or 12 miles away from the wharfs. I believe that new developments such as that can take place only under the guidance of a co-ordinated port development committee, and I think the lead for that must come from this Government.
I should like to conclude by repeating that there is a need for a sea transport council under the chairmanship of the federal Minister for Shipping and Transport. We must co-ordinate the needs of all the ports in this country, and that must be done in co-operation with the State governments, with the Ministers responsible for ports and shipping, and with the port authorities. It is along these lines that we could achieve the greatest economies in shipping and the greatest reduction in transport costs, which would be of inestimable value to the whole economy of this nation.
.- The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) delivered a very interesting address on the subject of port facilities for ships that trade on the Australian coast, and for overseas ships as well. He pointed out, quite correctly, that there is a need for the co-ordination of port facilities and for the creation of better and larger ports. He explained that substantial savings could be made if that subject were attended to. I do not disagree with him. But what he avoided was the much more important subject of the need for the Commonwealth of Australia itself to own and operate ships.
I well recollect that, when the population of this country was from 3,500,000 to 5,000,000 people, the Commonwealth owned a splendid line of ships, the last of which did not go to the bottom of the ocean until it was engaged in a very gallant action during the last war. The line had a varied existence. It made profits and it suffered losses, but nobody has ever been able to deny, nor will anybody ever deny, that while the Commonwealth owned that line of ships there was a deterrent to the shipowners of the world exploiting the people of this country - the primary producers and whose who imported goods.
To-day we are a country of 10,000,000 people, and within another ten years probably we will have a population of 12,000,000, but we are completely at the mercy of the conference lines, which can charge what they like for the carriage of our products overseas, because we have no ships in which to send our goods to other countries. While that state of affairs remains, talk about improving ports, coordinating shipping facilities, and so on and so forth, is beside the point. We are confronted with the most important subject that we can possibly be required to deal with when we consider freight for overseas transport.
Only twelve or eighteen months ago, the primary producers of this country, in cooperation with the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), were in holts with the overseas shipping representatives, trying to determine by how much those people should increase the freight on the products which they take overseas from Australia and on the products which they bring to Australia from overseas. In the end, of course, the shipowners won. What other outcome could there be? After all, they own the ships and they call the tune.
It is true we have legislation with the pleasant sounding title of the Australian Industries Preservation Act, but it does not mean much. What it means is illustrated by the fact that only twelve or eighteen months ago the charter rate for shifting wheat from Australia to the overseas markets stood at the record figure of 7s. a bushel, but nobody here could do anything about it, because we had not available in this country one ship to take our wheat overseas at a reasonable freight charge. It was said in justification of this charge of 7s. a bushel for taking wheat overseas, that it was imposed because there was a great demand for ships for the Atlantic coal trade. It had no relation to the cost of transporting the wheat overseas. It was simply a matter of the operation of the law of supply and demand. There was a shortage of ships for charter work, so the shipowners were able to say that the charge for carrying our wheat was 7s. a bushel. If we did not agree to pay it, there would be no ships available.
The end result was that the wheat shifted at that period actually returned on the London market a sum less than the cost of production and carriage. I understand that in recent months, because there has not been the same demand on ships for chartering, wheat has been shipped overseas at a price in the vicinity of 2s. a bushel. So by virtue of the fact that we had no ships owned by the Government available to ship wheat from this country and to give a service to the primary producers and the nation, we had to pay the difference between 2s. and 7s. on wheat freight alone.
We know from the daily press that within the last few weeks a demand has come from the overseas shipowners, the conference lines controllers, for another 30 per cent, increase of the freight charges on meat shipped from this country. After a conference between the shipowners and the Minister for Trade, the Minister for Primary Industry and other Ministers, the matter will probably end in an increased charge of 25 per cent, being imposed. The gentlemen who own these great liners fitted with refrigeration machinery, fully equipped for taking produce overseas and bringing goods back, and also equipped for carrying passengers, hold Australia, a great nation of 10,000,000 people, in the palms of their hands. They can charge what they like when they like, and they can withdraw their ships from the trade whenever it suits them. I do not blame them, but it is disgraceful that a great nation of 10,000,000 people, which has proved itself in peace and in war, which will produce more in the future than it has ever produced before, and which will import more in the future than it has ever imported before, has neither a privately owned shipping line nor a governmentowned shipping line to take its produce overseas and to bring produce here. That is a terrible position for any nation to be in. Two or three years ago, we were told that Australia had three years in which to prepare for war. We all know that in the event of war Australia would lose the services of a substantial number of the ships that are now under the control of other governments, but are being used in trade with this country.
I am told that Australia has only one oil tanker. There are up to a dozen oil refineries in this country, but we have only one tanker. It is not a government tanker. What would happen to this country in the event of war if that tanker were withdrawn from service, and if it did not suit other nations and other owners to provide the tankers that are provided in peacetime to bring oil to Australia? Some people will say that the Government’s previous experience of ship owning proved disastrous. The previous government-owned shipping line was profitable on occasions and at times showed losses, but it is impossible to calculate the indirect benefits that flowed to Australia from the ownership of that shipping line.
So I submit that there is a case, not for a future government to buy 30 or 40 liners, but for the Government to say that within two or three years, ships will be owned and controlled from this country, forming the nucleus of a line that will grow and give a measure of protection to the people who have been shamefully exploited in the past. Honorable members will remember that when private enterprise was allowed to compete with Trans-Australia Airlines, they were told that competition was a splendid thing. We were told that competition would prevent the government-owned airline from exploiting the people, and would give private enterprise an opportunity to prove its mettle. We were told that a modest amount of competition was very desirable, and that is why T.A.A. and Ansett-A.N.A. were allowed to operate in competition. This country could, perhaps, get along without air transport, but we could not survive without sea transport. In those circumstances, there is an excellent case for the ownership of a line by this Government, or at least by people resident in this country.
I turn now to immigration. Nobody will deny that the immigration system initiated in 1947 by the Labour government has been a success. At the time of its introduction it was doubtful whether the immigration policy would be accepted by the Australian people. That policy has been continued by successive governments. There have been some differences of opinion between the Government and the Opposition with regard to the numbers that are admitted under economic conditions that are at present less favorable than they were a few years ago, but those are only matters of detail. I appeal to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), if he is faced with a case similar to the one with which he was faced last week, to be more hesitant and more reluctant to exercise arbitrarily his powers under the Migration Act to deport a migrant for some offence allegedly or actually committed. In my opinion, it is too much power and too much responsibility for one man. If I were faced with the exercise of that power I would want my decision to be reinforced by consultation with two or three other people of judicial character. I am not saying that the Minister has not a judicial mind - I know that he has - but the fact remains that in this particular case, had it not been for some friends who got in touch with legal opinion, perhaps at great cost, this migrant would have been summarily put on a ship and deported when in all probability he is innocent of the charges laid against him.
I know that it is possible for completely false allegations to be made against people. In this particular case this migrant was alleged to have been a member of the Mafia. 1 do not know whether he was a member of that organization or not. but I think that honorable members are entitled to know who made the allegation. Was the allegation made by somebody who was prejudiced? Was it made by an unconsciously biassed person? In those circumstances, surely the Minister should be protected. He should be able to consult with somebody other than his departmental officers, to whom I attach no blame in this case. The Minister’s hand should be strengthened before summary and arbitrary action is taken. It is all very well to say that this migrant exercised his right, and that his lawyers sought a writ of habeas corpus. That sort of thing costs money, and people should not be put to such expense. All T ask is that in future there will be more time and better opportunity for an individual to lodge an appeal or to consult with somebody who can see that justice is done. I do not say that justice has not been done in this case - I am not in a position to know. I do think that in the end the Minister did the right thing. 1 should like to say a word or two about migrant hostels. I know that when he gets an opportunity the Minister will visit as many hostels as he can. With regard to the hostels that have about 50 per cent. European migrants and about 50 per cent. British migrants, I urge that some endeavour be made to see that the European migrants have available to them food similar to the food eaten in their own countries. I know of one hostel where completely unsuitable food is offered to people who have just come from European countries. If a hostel held only 10 per cent, of migrants from European countries I could understand if they had to put up with food and cooking wholly British or Australian in type, but when there is in a hostel a large percentage of migrants from European countries other than Great Britain they feel that it is a hardship when they cannot get their bologna or other foods to which they have been accustomed. T know of many European migrants living in hostels who go to the European-owned delicatessens in order to buy food more palatable to them.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It would indeed be a very serious thing for migrants if macaroni were as scarce as the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) makes out. One of the unfortunate features about the grouping of departments in this debate on the Estimates is that honorable members must hop from, say, the Northern Territory to Immigration, and then across to Transport. The honorable member for Lalor devoted the greater part of his speech to discussing the need for establishing an overseas shipping line owned in Australia. This is not the first time he has done that. Many honorable members opposite have, from time to time, advocated the same thing. We are at present experiencing relatively low freight rates, but from 1945 to 1949 freight rates were very high, and the same factors that operate to-day operated in those years when Labour was in power to an even greater extent. It is quite useless for honorable members opposite to argue that the possibility of establishing a shipping line was not considered by the Labour government of those days. Of course it was, and the Government came to the obvious and sensible conclusion that on the previous occasion when we did own an overseas shipping line, whatever the indirect periodic benefits might have been over the years, it was accompanied with tremendous financial losses. It now costs approximately £200 more a day to run an average sized cargo vessel on the Australian register than it costs. to run an overseas vessel. That factor also operated then, and the Labour government of the day had the good sense to keep out of the overseas shipping business. 1 hold no brief from, nor do I come here to argue the case for the overseas shipping lines, but I point out that we are not, in fact, tied hand and foot to the Conference lines. If any group of producers in Australia likes to get away on its own, and organize and charter its own ships, it is quite free to do so, and shipping, over the world as a whole, is one of the most competitive of all trades. If, on the other hand, producers’ organizations see fit to make arrangements with the Conference lines for regular service, that is their own business. At least it cannot be said that we are forever tied hand and foot to the Conference lines. There are alternatives, and if honorable members opposite object to the present system of dealing with Conference lines - and these are dealt with not by governments as such but by those interested in shipping different commodities - I remind them that dealing with the Conference lines is much less unprofitable at present than it would be to set up an overseas shipping industry of our own and thereby repeat the frightful losses which occurred on the last occasion.
– You have not got the facts right.
– I think the facts as I have put them are right. If the honorable member challenges my statement that a cargo vessel of 10,000 or 15,000 tons costs at least £200 a day more to run on the Australian register than it does on the British register, then I shall be interested to see his figures.
I have great sympathy with many of the aspirations of the honorable member for
Wilmot, particularly his desire to see a shipbuilding industry established in Australia, but the one thing we should do, in our thinking is separate shipping from shipbuilding. If we load the Australian shipping industry with the cost of shipbuilding, then we shall steadily put the Australian shipping industry out of business. As it is, Australian shipping is being increasingly confined to bulk handling and shipping goods between here and Tasmania. Stevedoring costs in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne take up about 56 per cent, of the total cost of shipping. If we are to have a ship-building industry in Australia, let us consider it as a separate subject, let us subsidize it adequately, and let us recognize that we shall have a big cost to pay. Do not let us load the shipping industry with it.
Several speakers have indicated that the Government is in fact allowing many ships to come from overseas to the Australian coast instead of building them in Australia. I do know of one particular case in the last few weeks in which the Government refused a company engaged in shipping coal from the Newcastle area to Sydney - a competitive trade - permission to import a ship about four years old at a cost of slightly under £100,000. The minimum cost of building a similar ship in Australia would be £280,000, yet permission to import that particular ship has been refused. And that is not the only case. When I came across this case, I rapidly learned of a number of other parallel cases. Honorable members will see, therefore, that it simply is not true to say that the local shipbuilding industry has been retarded unduly by the importation of ships from overseas.
The only way in which our own shipbuilding industry can compete is for us to face up to bearing the full cost instead of simply confining our interest to a limited subsidy. The Tariff Board is going into this matter now, but if, in the meantime, we load the shipping industry with the cost of our infant shipbuilding industry, then we shall steadily push goods off the sea onto road and rail transport, and that, in many cases, is not a truly economic proposition.
One of the things which we should do is look at the question of transport as a whole. The Transport Advisory Council was criticized by the honorable member for
Batman (Mr. Bird) who pointed out very significantly that this is a body on which the States have more to say about what will happen than does the Commonwealth as it is comprised mainly of State Ministers for Transport and the sole idea of the States on transport is railways - nothing else. Only one of its members is a Minister interested in road transport. 1 have every sympathy with the honorable member for Batman’s criticism of the functioning of this body, hut, of course, his criticism is fundamentally criticism of the States, not of the Commonwealth at all. Reference has been made to a national roads plan, and this is a very good idea, but a national roads plan, in essence, consists of interstate highways, which represent only a tiny proportion of our total highway system, and other roads totally within the States. We of this Parliament may or may not like the fact that we are restricted in our dealings with roads to a very small mileage, but we have been elected to administer that portion of the road system which falls within Commonwealth jurisdiction, and the part the Commonwealth plays is not one of which we should be ashamed. The resources made available by this Government for roads have been increased year by year.
Returning to my main point, I repeat that we should view the question of transport as a whole. That we do not do so is clearly illustrated by the figures given a little earlier by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson). It is very difficult to obtain up-to-date figures on these matters, but although those I am about to quote are a little old, I doubt whether the position has changed substantially, and. if T may, I shall repeat them. Civil aviation is a Commonwealth responsibility and 17 per cent, of its cost is paid for by the Government whereas in the case of shipping, which is very largely a matter outside the responsibility of the Commonwealth, only 4.2 per cent, of the cost is paid for by governments. Again, only 7.1 per cent, of road transport costs is paid by governments whereas in the case of the railways, the darling of the States, and in connexion with which political considerations make them n drag on the modern transport system to some extent. 12.4 ner cent, of the costs is paid by governments.
One thing we should do fairly soon is even out the proportionate costs paid by governments, for only in this way can we hope to get a proper economic distribution of transport business. The honorable member for Fawkner advocated the establishment of a sea transport council. I think there is a great deal in that suggestion. Since the Transport Advisory Council is in fact nothing more nor less than a gathering of State Ministers for Railways, it would seem that if we are to make any progress we ought to have under that body both a road transport council and a sea transport council. Surely it would be much more satisfactory to have separate meetings of the State Ministers responsible for each of those branches than to confine ourselves to what is nominally a transport advisory council but is, in fact, a railways council. The present council is very much confined in the contributions it can make to a solution of our overall transport problem.
The honorable member for Fawkner suggested also that we needed a scheme for the improvement of our ports. He suggested that this was something for which international finance might well be made available. I endorse those remarks. Our overall capital requirements are such that we are desperately short of funds to do almost everything that requires capital in this country. Various honorable members, particular the honorable member for Batman, complained that not enough was being spent on roads and some one said that not enough was being spent on shipping. The fact is that capital funds are short in every direction. We should persevere in attempting to produce schemes which will command the confidence of overseas investors and induce them to bring additional funds to this country. A well-integrated scheme for the inprovement of ports throughout Australia is a specific scheme, the results and benefits of which could be readily demonstrated by the overall improvement of our economy resulting from lower costs of transport. Such a scheme might well embrace a number of overseas investors.
– I speak as a shipbuilder. The nonproductive gentleman opposite, who is now interjecting, is useless and hopeless.
– Order! The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith will withdraw the assertion he has made against the honorable member.
– What was that?
– Order! The honorable member will withdraw his assertion.
– I withdraw the assertion. I want to present a case for the unemployed shipbuilders of Australia. For nine long years I have sat in this Parliament and watched our shipping industry being gradually and deliberately destroyed by the actions of a Government which toadies to private interests overseas, at the expense of high-grade tradesmen in its native land. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) talked about inviting American and other overseas interests to invest in Australia. What is wrong with Australian investors? What is wrong with the Commonwealth Bank? What is wrong with financing our industries in the same way as we financed the 1939-45 war? We all know how the great Labour leader, Ben Chifley, financed the last war.
– He was wonderful!
– There is no doubt that the Labour party won the war. The present leader of the Government walked out and left Australia to its fate when the Japanese arrived at the north of this country.
There is a plot to destroy our shipbuilding yards by withdrawing work from them. I defy honorable members opposite to deny that the Vickers engineering firm is now in control of Cockatoo Dock, is now in control of Mort’s Dock and is now negotiating for the purchase of the Captain Cook Dock at Garden Island. I want a denial of that statement by the Minister, if he is able to give it. If that private firm gets control of the big dockyards in Australia, then perhaps it might condescend to build ships here. Australia manufactures the cheapest steel in the world, and the Japanese shipbuilders know that. American investors have made Japan the most active shipbuilding country in the world to-day. It is using Australian steel supplied by Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. As a matter of fact, 90,000 tons of shipbuilding plates were exported to Japan dur ing the last twelve months under an export licence granted by this Government.
What has happened to Mort’s Dock? What has happened to the murdered town of Maryborough? As the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) said, Maryborough is dead. One of the best towns in Queensland is dead for the simple reason that this Government has withdrawn all orders and all support from the ship-building industry that was built up in that town during the war, and which did a wonderful job. It sickens me to hear talk of co-ordinating plans and committees in regard to this matter. Let us do something. Let us lay a keel and build a ship, not just talk about it. We have no need to go around the world looking for people with the know-how, as it is called. When General MacArthur was in Australia during the war he remarked that Australians were the greatest shipbuilders he had seen during his travels. So they are. Australian shipbuilders, with a background of Scotsmen who came here and taught them all the rudiments of shipbuilding, have not a peer in the world.
– They came from Belfast too.
– Yes, from Belfast, too. The honorable member for Wentworth spoke about the Australian shipping line, which was built up over the years by a Labour government at great sacrifice. He told1 us that it went broke, that colossal losses were incurred and that it had to be sold in the long run.
– Because of smart accountancy practices by certain people who were ever ready - just as this Government is - to get rid of anything Australian. We all remember the story of the Bruce-Page Government, which sold the shipping line to Lord Inchcape. Lord Bruce sold it to Lord Inchcape. Did not the noble Lord Inchcape do eighteen months in gaol for fraud in connexion with the sale of the line? Has Australia been paid for it yet? Of course not. The noble lord did his eighteen months, or a part of it, for fraud. He got the money, but we got nothing.
– I think you have your lords mixed up a bit. It was not Lord Inchcape who was convicted. It was Lord Kylsant.
– 1 am sorry, lt was Lord Kylsant. He did time for fraud and the older lord - Lord Bruce - sits in the House of Lords to-day as his part of the bargain. He was initiated into the House of Lords. Nevertheless, the Australian Government has not been paid for that shipping line yet. The honorable member for Wentworth said that we had to sell it, but the sale was the greatest fraud in Australia’s political history. 1 am talking on behalf of my organization, the boilermarkers’ union. We are concerned because day by day mechanics are being put off in one place and another. As 1 mentioned previously, work in Maryborough has almost stopped. Morts Dock has been closed down. Cockatoo Dock is working part time and 350 men have been put off at Garden Island during the last three or four months. Those facts cannot be easily dismissed. At Williamstown in Victoria there is another big yard. That is going to the pack as well. This Government showed its insincerity in this matter when it pushed the Navigation Bill through the Parliament at the end of the last sessional period. That legislation provided that any ship, under any registration, could trade between Australian ports. That was part of the plot to destroy Australian shipping and Australian shipbuilding. Under the act it is possible to register a ship in Panama and sign on a crew there without offering proper trade union conditions or amenities. The crew can be given whatever pay the shipowners care to offer them. We will have the spectacle of ships trading around our coastline from Fremantle to Brisbane under coloured labour. Nothing in the law can prevent that from happening. Not only will the shipbuilding industry be destroyed, but also the Waterside Workers Federation and the Seamen’s Union. That is part of the long-range plot of this Government. It is as plain as day and cannot be lightly dismissed by Government supporters. We will have here coffin ships in which no white man would sail. They will be manned bv coloured crews, and those crews will unload them. That will sound the death knell of the Waterside Workers Federation. Earlier, when I was referring to unemployment I omitted to mention the fact that the Woolwich dockyards, where a number of ships were built during the war, has also closed down.
– We put a ship in there last week.
– I give the Minister full credit for being a Navy man, but he is misinformed. That ship went into Woolwich for what is called in waterfront parlance a “ haircut and shave “ - a scrape and a paint. So far as repairs to ships and the building of ships are concerned, Woolwich has been officially closed down. In this country we must not merely talk about ship-building; we must act. It is not enough merely to pass the buck from day to day while highly trained mechanics who could do splendid work - in our naval dockyards in particular - are walking the streets.
The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) is sending us back all sorts of dire reports about the dangers confronting Australia in the Near East and in the Far East, but at home we remain virtually undefended. We have not a ship! What is this Government doing about it? It is doing nothing at all except show its hypocrisy. We must build ships for the safety of this country, which has 12,000 miles of coastline and some of the finest harbours and rivers in the world. It is undefended, but the Government does nothing about it except at the behest of overseas interests.
Let us consider for a moment the shipbuilding activities of Ampol Petroleum Limited. Ampol is supposedly - and I say this advisedly - an Australian company. That is all so much nonsense. It is controlled by the big oil interests which control almost the whole world. By the simple trick of registering in Australia, Ampol became eligible for the Australian shipbuilding subsidy of 33i per cent. If the Government had been honest it would have told Ampol that it was an overseas company and was not, therefore, eligible for the subsidy. The ship in question is being built by the Broken Hill Company Proprietary Limited, which also, contrary to popular belief, is an English company. The Baillieus and the Darlings, who control it. are more interested in financial return than in the welfare of this country. In short. Ampol will get a vessel for 66J of the real price.
Why cannot the Australian Government undertake the building of cargo ships? If it wants advice on how to build them it ought not to go to the professors, the longhairs, the egg-heads; it should go to the practical men who will show it how to lay a keel, put the ribs in, put the plates on, and get a vessel ready for sea. If Government supporters want a little advice on this subject I am only too willing to supply it. T do not need a professor to tell me how to build a ship. The keel has been laid of a 30,000-ton tanker for Ampol and, as a result of the Government’s action, that company will pay only 661 of the actual price.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I shall not take up very much of the committee’s time, but I feel compelled to correct some of the grosser misstatements of the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin). We are well accustomed to his flights of fancy, which are customarily unrestrained by regard for fact; but to-night he has produced some unusually extravagant statements. In addition, he has thrown in for good measure the suggestion that Vickers, the English shipbuilding firm, is negotiating with the Australian Government to buy the Captain Cook graving dock.
– That is true.
– It is not. I remind the honorable member that the Captain Cook graving dock is not a building dock but a refitting and repairing dock. It is part of a naval dockyard, and does not build ships.
The honorable member then said that the Cockatoo Dock was controlled by Vickers Armstrong. I remind him that it is almost completely engaged upon long-term navy contracts. He made a charge with complete carelessness and lack of foundation, against a very prominent leader of the English shipping industry who died a number of years ago.
– That does not make him any less guilty.
– But I shall not pursue that except to say that that man’s name is well-known in Australia. He has many associates and relatives in this country who will not think it edifying for completely false statements to be made against him by a member of this Parliament.
I have in my hand a publication called “Australian Shipping and Shipbuilding
Statistics “, which completely disposes of the charge made by the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith - if I understood him correctly - that by allowing vessels to be imported into Australia this Government is destroying the Australian shipbuilding industry. That charge is not borne out by the facts. The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) said something to the same effect. The facts are that since June of last year no permit has been granted to build abroad a ship for the Australian trade. Indeed, only five permits to build ships abroad have been granted in the past four years. One only has been granted in 1958; one was’ granted in 1957; and three were granted in 1956.
– Would it not be better to build the ships in Australia? We have unemployed shipbuilders.
– No permission has been granted in recent times at all.
– Why were permits granted at all?
– Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will remain silent.
– I am speaking with some difficulty, Mr. Chairman, because of these constant interjections. I am trying to give the facts.
– They are not facts.
– Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will obey the Chair, and refrain from interjecting.
– May I correct what I said before. No permit to build any ship abroad for the Australian trade has been given since June, 1957. There are eight ships on order abroad still being built. The last of those was approved on 31st January, 1956. So, in fact, no approval to build a ship abroad for the Australian trade has been granted since 31st January, 1956. I think that one second-hand ship has been allowed to be imported from abroad since June, 1957. The number of second-hand ships allowed to be imported from abroad has been diminishing steadily for years. Only one was imported in 1958, one in 1957, and three in 1956.
– I assume you are referring, not to tugs and so on, but only to ships of 200 tons and more?
– 1 cannot give the honorable member for Werriwa the precise tonnage of the classifications of boats and ships, but if he really wants to know 1 shall give him access to this publication.
– I asked the Minister for Customs and Excise for the relevant particulars, and he furnished me with an answer on 3rd December last.
– 1 ask you to distinguish between ships imported and approvals to import ships. Only five new ships built abroad have been imported since June, 1957. It is reasonable to assume that as it takes years to build a ship, the Government’s approval for these vessels was given many years ago. So it is quite clear that this charge that the Government is allowing ships to be imported at the expense of the Australian shipbuilding industry is not sustained by facts. I repeat, before 1 sit down, that the last approval to build a ship abroad for the Australian trade was given on 31st January, 1956.
.- I am interested to hear the figures which the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) has given to the committee because they appear to me to be completely at variance with the figures which were given to me by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) in answer to a question I had placed on the notice-paper. The answer was given on 3rd December last, and it appears in “ Hansard “ at page 2806. I asked the Minister to inform me on how many occasions the Minister of State for Supply, and subsequently the Ministers of State for Shipping and Transport, had produced to the Collector of Customs their consent for the importation of a ship between the time when the prohibited imports regulations were made in February, 1951, and the date of my question. The Minister listed in his reply 75 permits which were granted for the importation of ships.
– Since when?
– From 1951 till the end of 1957. The earliest date was 24th April, 1951, and the last, 14th November, 1957. I have had a similar question for the same Minister on the notice-paper since 14th August last, and I have not yet received a reply. The Minister for Air, who has just addressed the committee, gave the last date upon which permission was given to import a ship as somewhere, 1 think, in the middle of 1956. I forget the exact date he gave.
– The last date on which permission was given to build a ship for the Australian trade abroad was 31st January, 1956.
-! think it was “ Ian Crouch “. Between that date and the end of 1957, according to the information given to me by the Minister for Customs ar.d Excise last year, permission was given to import ships which are described as of the following types: three general cargo, one bulk sugar carrier, another general cargo, a tug, a whale catcher, a bulk carrier, a bulk sugar carrier, two tugs and yet another general cargo.
– They would presumably be ships for which permission was given years ago.
– No, they are all ships in respect of which the Minister listed the date of approval as subsequent to 31st January, 1956.
– That would be approval to import as distinct from permission to build.
– I am very grateful to hear that explanation, but I have given the Minister the date and the reference and 1 have mentioned at least a dozen ships for which permission to import was given subsequent to the date which the Minister mentioned. All those cases that I have mentioned are ships which are required in Australia and ships which could have been built in Australia.
– A ship is not something that you buy new off a shelf. You have to get permission to build it and then you cannot be denied permission to import it.
– 1 would have hoped the Minister would make a more helpful explanation than that. The fact is that all of the ships are to be imported, and all of the ships could have been built in Australia.
The last time we were given a report by the Tariff Board on the question of shipping - the Tariff Board made a report four years ago and the Government tabled it a year later - we were told that the shipbuilding industry in Australia was operating at onethird capacity, that 5,000 people were employed in the industry, that by the employment of another 3,000 people the output of our shipyards, without increasing their equipment, could be trebled, and that the bulk of our coastal shipping was well over its economic age of twenty years.
Now, Sir, this I believe is one of the greatest faults on the part of the Department of Shipping and Transport. There is no department of state which has greater opportunities and there is no department of state which has more signally failed to realize its opportunities. This Parliament, under the Constitution, has always had the power to deal with trade and commerce with other countries and among the States, and in no respect has the Parliament failed to deal with that category of power so markedly as in regard to shipping. We ought to have an international shipping line, we ought to have a coastal shipping line, and it ought to be possible for us to build all the ships for both those services. The Commonwealth shipping line could assist our trade as much as, and more cheaply than, any tariffs or bounties which are provided by our legislation. We are constantly told by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) himself that as a trading nation, Australia ranks among the leading ten countries in the world, but we are the only considerable trading country in the world which has no external merchant marine. All our imports and all our exports are carried in foreign ships. Our shipbuilders have shown again and again - particularly in the case of Whyalla - that we can build any ship which is required for trade round the Australian coast or between Australia and any other country in the world. This cannot be disparaged as a socialist notion. In other countries - other big trading countries - there are shipping lines, but Australia has not got a shipping line.
If private enterprise will not set up a shipping line, a responsible Australian government should establish one itself. Australian employment cannot be maintained, the raw materials for our industries cannot be provided, our standard of living cannot be sustained, without imports, nor can we pay for any of those things without exports. If any country of the world depends on trade it is Australia. We are completely in the hands of foreign shipowners, not foreign government lines but foreign private lines, for the acquisition of many raw materials and many consumer goods, and for the disposition of all our surplus products. We could be held completely to ransom. We could be completely boycotted just as surely as could any of the countries of the Middle East, about whose economic plight and political turmoil we have had to engage ourselves so much in recent months.
Let me deal in some detail with the position of our shipping industry, as given in answers to questions I have asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport. It appears that in the last year the Australian National Line, the government line, upon which the shipping industry of Australian has been practically entirely dependent in recent years, placed no orders at all. The only shipping order which was placed in the last financial year anywhere in Australia was that placed by Ampol Petroleum Limited. It does not matter in this connection where Ampol’s shares are owned. The point is that Ampol is building the largest ship that has ever been laid down in Australia. It will be a fine ship. There is no obligation on the company to build it here, but it will provide valuable employment at Whyalla until 1962.
Let us look at the position of the other shipbuilding yards of Australia. Walkers Limited, of Maryborough, has only one order in hand. It will be completed in December this year. Evans Deakin and Company Limited has two orders, the second of which will be completed in October next year. The State Dockyard at Newcastle has only one order, which will be completed in November next year. The ordinary time required to build ships is such that a shipyard usually likes to have orders in hand for two or three years, but none of those yards will have any orders at all after the end of next year, while one of them will have none after the end of this year. At this rate, the only yard which will be going in fifteen months from now and which will have orders to fulfil is the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited yard at Whyalla.
What were the deliveries in the last financial year? The Minister told me that Evans Deakin and Company Limited, the Broken Hill Company and the State Dockyard each made one delivery, and in each case it was to the Australian National Line, the only line which has consistently supported the shipbuilding industry of Australia, and without whose support shipbuilding in Australia would long ago have gone by the board. What was the position in the last financial year regarding shipbuilding overseas for the Australian trade? Five lines - Mcllwraith McEacharn Limited, Howard Smith Limited, H. C. Sleigh Limited, the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand Limited, and the Western Australian State Shipping Service - each had one delivery, in each case from overseas. There are six ships still to be delivered from overseas, according to the Minister for Shipping and Transport, in his reply to me. all to private owners.
In the few minutes at my disposal I wish to direct my attention to a couple of other responsibilities of the Department of Shipping and Transport, the least imaginative and the least effective of all the Commonwealth departments of State.
Let me refer to the position of our ports, which was ..mentioned by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson). He put in an entirely reasonable plea to coordinate and standardize all our ports. His Government two years ago deleted from the Stevedoring Act the provision which enabled the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to modernize wharfs. It is fantastic that ships trading around Australia, or to Australia, have to provide varying kinds of equipment so that they may enter different Australian ports, because there is no co-ordinating authority. Some ports provide all the equipment which may be required by any ship to load or unload, while other ports provide none of it. The consequence is that every ship has to provide all the equipment it may need at the worst equipped ports, and to provide that equipment superfluously in the well equipped ports. The Commonwealth can deal with trade and commerce with other countries and among the States, and none of our transport equipment is used more for that purpose than our ports. None of it is being used so increasingly for that purpose as our ports.
Shipping is becoming exclusively an international and an interstate traffic problem and therefore a Commonwealth responsibility. Very few ships now trade intrastate and thus fall within the jurisdiction of the States. I invite the attention of thecommittee to questions I have asked of the Minister for Shipping and Transport concerning the implementation of the 1954 International Convention for the Preventionof the Pollution of the Sea by Oil. That agreement was made in May, 1954. Australia is very fortunate under the agreement, because when we implement it we will be saved from pollution for 150 miles, from our eastern, southern and southwestern coasts, not just the ordinary 50> miles. The United Kingdom Parliament passed the convention in May, 1955. TheMinister has told me that the Commonwealth cannot adopt the convention without. State legislation, but the Commonwealth did not even start discussing it with the States until February, 1956, and we arestill in that position. The convention has now been adopted by all the great tradingcountries of the world, so the Minister informed me on 12th August last. Yet, we have not adopted it and he is unable to say when the model bill, which was discussed’ by the Commonwealth and the States, will be introduced into the different parliaments.
Sir, I know of no department which has, fallen down on its job so conspicuously and in such a shameful fashion as has this Department of Shipping and Transport. Whether one considers the unco-ordinated’ construction and deteriorating condition of our roads, or the impediments to interstate rail transport in gauges, equipment and freight rates, or the diverse and archaic equipment of our ports, or our dwindling merchant marine, or our idle ship yards, or the failure to implement the Navigation Act we passed last session, the estimates for this department show the Government’s greatest failure. This department has the greatest opportunity of any department, but the opportunity is not realized. It has fallen short of realization more than in any other department whose estimates we have to discuss this week.
– I hesitate to intervene in the debate, Mr. Temporary Chairman, because I know from my own experience as a private member, after eight long, weary years <P: the back benches, how, during the discussion on the Estimates, one resents the intervention of Ministers. But, Sir, I would like as briefly as I can to take this opportunity to-night of informing the committee of the details, in broad outline, of the Government’s immigration programme for the current statistical year, 1958-59.
– How long will that take?
– The honorable member will be well advised to listen, if he has the interests of his country at heart.
The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in his Budget speech, announced that the overall target for the present year would remain at 115,000. Honorable members may recollect that that figure is divided into two categories: Those who are assisted migrants, this year, as with last year, numbering 63,000; and those who come out, as it were, under their own steam, commonly called full-fare migrants, numbering 52,000. We propose in the current year to seek to obtain from the United Kingdom and Eire, in the assisted passage group, 35,000, which represents an increase of, in round figures, 4,800 on the actual arrivals of the year 1957-58. From Malta, we hope to attract a round thousand, which represents an increase of approximately 270 over actual arrivals in th: previous year. From Holland, we look forward to receiving 9,000 assisted migrants, which, if all goes well, will be quite a considerable increase of approximately 3,600 over the number who arrived here in the previous year. From Germany, we expect 5,000, an increase of 800 over the preceding year. The figure for Austria is set at 2,500. That for Italy remains the same as for 1957-58 at 3,000. It will be a mere 200 over actual arrivals in the preceding year. Our estimate for assisted migrants from Greece is 1,500, as compared with 1,907 arrivals in 1957-58. We hope, Sir, to induce 2,000 Danes to settle here during the current year. From those countries which we classify as subject to the general assisted passage scheme - I refer to the Scandinavian lands, Switzerland and the United States of America - we expect approximately 1,500. We are willing to receive also at least 2,500 refugees and, if required to do so, we shall raise that target slightly to 3,000. This adds up to a total of 63,000.
– If we take some Icelanders they could bring their own igloos with them.
– They could make very useful settlers in some parts of this country. 1 think that one of the very useful aspects of this programme for assisted immigration in the current financial year, Mr. Temporary Chairman, is that if our hopes are realized - and I have every ground for believing that they will be - we shall welcome to these shores the largest percentage of British immigrants compared to our total programme - not the largest overall number of British immigrants - to come to Australia during the last 30 years. That, I take it, Sir, will meet with the general approval of this committee and, I believe, of the country.
So far as the other aspect of our immigration programme, which provides for those who come out paying their own fares, is concerned, as I said a few moments ago. we estimate the overall target at the same figure as in the last financial year - 52,000. Here again, Mr. Temporary Chairman, very briefly, if honorable members are interested. I shall read out what we estimate to be the arrivals. From Britain, we expect 24.000. from Malta, 500; from Holland, 1.200: from Germany, 1,000; from Austria, 50: from Italy, 13.000; from Greece, 5,200: and from Denmark, 50. From those countries with which we have no assisted migrant arrangements - those which we classify in the general assisted passage scheme - we expect 1.000 full-fare arrivals. We. think that we shall probably get about 1.450 refugees paying their own passages. From other countries - and this would include refugees from iron curtain countries - we expect 4,550. As I have already said. Sir. the total of these is 52,000, making an overall figure of 115,000.
– Were any from Spain included in those figures?
– An experimental contingent of about 150 Basques arrived from Spain about two weeks ago. They have proceeded north to the Queensland canefields. Should our hopes in that respect be realized, no doubt we shall examine further the possibility of attracting Spaniards to this country. But at the moment we prefer to go slowly and see whether these 150 can become assimilated and prove themselves generally suited to Australian conditions.
– We might get some bullfighters.
– That is true, of course. A little variety in the way of a bull ring here and there would contribute to the diversification of Australia. It might provide the public with an alternative to what sometimes takes place in this arena, Mr. Temporary Chairman.
Before I conclude, I should like to refer to one or two remarks which my friend, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), made when he turned his attention to certain aspects of the immigration programme. He began by adverting to this deportation case involving the young man Tropeano, which has attracted some interest in Melbourne. I do not propose at this stage, Sir, to say any more than I have said already, because, as I think honorable members will realize, I have expressed my willingness to stay the deportation of this young man, at any rate until such time as I have received further evidence and been able to consider the matter further. Therefore, as I think the committee will probably agree, anything that I could say at this stage would not be particularly helpful.
The honorable member for Lalor went on to infer from the handling of this case that there was too much power in the hands of the Minister for Immigration. I will say at once, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that on that matter, which is a weighty one, I have no absolute, hard-and-fast views. I think that before honorable members make up their minds on this point they should reflect that this power with which my predecessors and I have been armed has been exercised by all Commonwealth Governments virtually since Federation - ever since the first Immigration Restriction Act was passed 57 years ago. These powers were exercised from time to time by the Labour Government, of which some honorable members opposite were members and others supporters, during the eight years that it held office in the 1940’s. When honorable members opposite criticize this power, they should reflect on that, and should remember that they, in their own season and their own time, wielded it and found it necessary in some cases. I would remind the committee, too, that the deportation system that we have here operates in principle also in the United Kingdom and, I believe, in most other countries.
There is another aspect of this matter, Mr. Temporary Chairman. If the Minister’s powers are to be subject to review in deportation cases, this will inevitably bring about delays. It will do so, of course, by definition. But, as any one with experience of the Department of Immigration realizes, speed in this matter is sometimes necessary.
In saying that, I do not wish to imply that one should set aside the canons of justice in any way whatever. Not only critics in this chamber, but those outside it also, are prone to forget these things; but government implies that, whether you like the government of the day or not, you must be prepared to place an inherent trust in Ministers. Let us never forget that, in immigration, the power to import people must, as I see it, involve as a corollary a power to deport. So, if you do not vest these powers in the government of the day, and if you do not trust the Minister to exercise them according to his discretion, his fairness, his sense of justice, and his wisdom, you are going to hamstring the immigration policy of the country.
I wish to advert now to what my friend from Lalor (Mr. Pollard) said about the food in immigrant hostels. The honorable member is quite right, of course, in pleading for variety. I myself, in the short six months since I have been in office, have made it my business to visit some of these hostels. I was pleased with some of them.
– Were you expected?
– No; I was in the army much too long to fall for that trap. You do not see what is going on when you advertise your arrival beforehand but, by and large, whatever one may feel about the conditions in the hostels generally - and we are all agreed that it is a temporary existence and anything but an ideal life - I was most impressed by the quality of the food and also by the odd meals I had there.
– Would the Minister compare the meals with those at the Hotel Kurrajong?
– I hope that some time the honorable member will invite me to have a meal with him at the Hotel Kurrajong, and then I shall be able to make a comparison. All I can say is, that, so far as the quality of the food in the hostels I have visited is concerned, you would go a long way before you would find anything which was its superior. So far as the complaint of the honorable member for Lalor relates to the cooking, I think we should remember that our great immigration programme has conferred many advantages on us, and one of the best of them is that a good variety of continental cooks are coming into Australia. I would be surprised if the hostels stuck rigidly to stodgy British-type cooking without any consideration at all for the nationals who are in the hostels.
– Those people do not like mutton.
– During my inspection, I found that some of the dishes being prepared were mouth-watering at times. With all respect to my honorable friend, I do not think there is much cause for complaint. Nevertheless, I shall bear in mind what he has said to-night and give his remarks the consideration they merit.
.- I listened with great interest and attention to the explanation given by the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) and to his statement of Government policy on immigration for 1958-59. I was very pleased to learn that there will be a marked increase in the number of immigrants to Australia from Great Britain; but I believe that the Minister could do more to assist those intending immigrants who have been waiting in Great Britain for long periods to come to Australia. Many of them have been sponsored by persons resident in Australia and the figures relating to them cannot be disputed. I have referred a number of applications myself to the Department of Immigration. Intending immigrants have been sponsored by persons living in Tasmania under the assisted passage programme, but are still waiting to leave Great Britain because of some technical difficulty presented by the Department of Immigration in London. I am not suggesting that the officers there do not give due consideration to all the requirements of the department, but I believe that the department is inclined to be difficult in some of these cases. The Minister might give consideration to that matter and see whether it is possible to assist some of the people in Great Britain who have been waiting, in some instances, much longer than eighteen months.
The Minister said that the Government’s programme provided for 115,000 more people to be brought to Australia in the current financial year. Perhaps, it is not the Minister’s prerogative to indicate to the committee how it is intended to find employment for these immigrants, having regard to the fact that there are 67,000 registered unemployed in Australia. The Minister should consider the employment factor in relation to immigration, however, and also the critical housing situation. I have referred to the Department of Immigration many individual cases of persons in Tasmania who are living in the most desperate circumstances. They have been brought to Australia and left to their own devices to find employment and accommodation. The Minister has prepared a statement indicating the countries from which the new immigrants are to be obtained, and I appreciate the manner in which he has presented that information to the committee, but he might have gone a step further and stated precisely how the Government proposed to provide employment and housing for the immigrants.
– They will be employed all right.
– I hope the Minister is correct, but he stated only a few minutes ago that more immigrants had arrived in recent weeks and had been sent to the Queensland canefields. I point out to him that the unemployment situation in Queensland is most serious. If immigrants continue to arrive and are pushed into employment as soon as they land here, obviously the Australians who have been registered with the Department of Labour and National Service for employment - in many cases for six to nine months - cannot be found work, and will continue to draw the miserable pittance of £5 2s. 6d. per week for a married couple. While we have 67,000 registered unemployed, it is the duty and the responsibility of the Minister and the Government to indicate how they intend to find employment for the immigrants who come to Australia in 1958-59.
Let me pass now to another matter that has been under discussion to-night. I refer to shipbuilding in Australia. Sufficient has been said already to indicate that that industry is in an extremely critical situation. I was highly amused to hear the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) accuse the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) of a certain inaccuracy when he himself displayed a complete lack of knowledge of the shipbuilding industry. I pause to remind honorable members that the Minister for Immigration, who is now at the table, said that we ought to have an inherent faith in the Ministers who occupy the treasury bench. I repeat that the Minister for Air. when replying to the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, indicated that he was not able to assess with any accuracy the number of ships being built overseas for the Australian trade. He indicated that something like six vessels were under construction, but the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) was able to produce figures that had been supplied by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) and which showed that during the period referred to, import licences had been made available to enable certain sectional interests to import no fewer than 75 vessels. Admittedly some of those vessels are comparatively small, but the fact remains that all of them could and should have been constructed in Australia. I reiterate that, even though the Minister for Air suggested that the honorable member for KingsfordSmith had been guilty of certain inaccuraries he himself displayed a lamentable lack of knowledge.
The shipbuilding industry is in a serious condition. Honorable members who have preceded me in this debate have indicated quite conclusively that, unless the Government is prepared to face up to the position and recognize the importance of the industry from a national viewpoint and from the viewpoint of defence requirements, the industry will continue to deteriorate. Only one ship was built for the national shipping line last year. Honorable members will recall that the figures made available to the honorable member for Werriwa indicate that by 1959 at least two Australian shipyards will be out of operation. One of the largest shipbuilding yards in Queensland has already been. or will shortly be, forced out of production because it has no further orders.
This Government is not doing anything to encourage or to enforce the building of ships in Australia. The Government continues to offer a subsidy, but while it is prepared to allow shipping companies to pur- chase their vessels overseas there will be no future for the Australian shipbuilding industry.
– lt is a contradiction.
– As the honorable member for Wilmot has pointed out, to offer a subsidy and to allow shipping interests to purchase their requirements outside Australia is a contradiction. It is certainly not in conformity with the recommendations of the Tariff Board following an inquiry instigated by this Government, the report on which was made available to honorable members during 1956. On that occasion the Tariff Board recommended that the subsidy payable to the Australian shipbuilding industry should be increased by 25 per cent, to 33i per cent. . That increase was granted, but obviously the industry is still in serious difficulties. The only way to solve the problem is, first, for the Government to increase the subsidy, which can and should be done, and secondly, for it to enforce, if it cannot encourage, the private interests to place their orders within this country.
Let me now direct my attention for a moment to the Bass Strait passenger ferry and the roll-on-roll-off cargo ferry. . No doubt honorable members are aware that in 1957 the Government decided to provide a passenger ferry for the Bass Strait service. The construction of that 1,500-ton vessel at least will provide some employment in the shipbuilding industry. It might also be pointed out that the roll-on-roll-off cargo ferry, a vessel of 2,000 tons, will be under construction during the current financial year. But the point I wish to make in regard to the passenger ferry is that, when this matter was first considered, the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission decided that there would be only one point of disembarkation in Tasmania. The commission asked the Tasmanian Government to indicate the port at which the passenger ferry terminal would be erected. The Tasmanian Government decided on the port of Devonport. I disagreed with that decision - I still disagree with it - because I felt that the passenger ferry should be allowed to call also at the port of Launceston. The Tasmanian Government’s decision meant that the port of Launceston would be denied a service that had been available to it over the last 70 years.
Then the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission decided to provide a rollonrolloff cargo ferry, which should call at three Tasmanian ports. Devonport, Burnie and Launceston were the ports decided upon. That decision meant that terminals would have to be erected at those three ports. Now that the Launceston Marine Board is to construct a terminal at its own expense, I think the commission ought to alter its original decision to have only one port of call for the Bass Strait passenger ferry and should allow the passenger ferry to use not only the port of Devonport but also the port of Launceston.
I have not sufficient time just now to present to the committee all the arguments that can be offered in support of that contention. The decision rests with the commission. It ought to re-examine the matter in the light of the facts that have been presented to the Minister for Shipping and Transport, not only by me on many occasions, but also by interested bodies in the city of Launceston. A terminal will have to be constructed for the use of the cargo ferry.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) commenced his speech by attacking the proposed intake of 115,000 migrants in the current financial year.
– I did not attack it.
– The honorable member referred particularly to the fact that the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) had not indicated how those people were to be employed. He also emphasized that there were 67,000 unemployed people in Australia at the present time. I say that is deliberately away from the truth. The statistics issued by the Department of Labour and National Service show that the number of persons who are registered for employment is 67,000. The number of people receiving unemployment benefit is approximately 20,000. As T have said before in this Chamber, included in the figure of 67,000 is a tremendous number of people who already have jobs but are looking for better jobs and so have registered for other employment. Of course, honorable members opposite deny that that is the situation. It so happens that I know many people who belong to the category I have mentioned. If there are 67,000 unemployed people who are seeking jobs I do not understand why the Government is paying unemployment benefit to only approximately 20,000 people.
– Because there is a means test applying to the unemployment benefit, you mug.
– Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will apologize to the Chair for his disorderliness.
– I do so.
– The honorable member will say, “ 1 apologize to the Chair “.
– I apologize to the Chair.
– The next point I want to make is that not all of the 115,000 people to enter the country under this year’s immigration programme will be employable. A very large percentage of them will be dependants of immigrants. Many of them will be, for instance, the fiancees of immigrants already here. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) has raised the question of housing for these people. The point has been made previously, and I make it again, that housing is a State responsibility. The States which have the worst record in regard to housing are the States which have the lowest percentage of migrant intake in relation to total population. That applies particularly to New South Wales, which has a back-log of 50,000 out of the total back-log of 80,000 houses. I suggest that in every State where the intake of immigrants has been substantial relative to population there is no real housing problem, because immigrants have contributed to the overtaking of the housing shortage whilst at the same time providing housing for themselves.
The immigration programme is not haphazard. It is a planned programme. Decisions in regard to the programme are not made by the Department of Immigration alone. There is very close liaison between that department and the Department of Labour and National Service. As chairman of the Immigration Planning Council I can tell the committee that there is not a council meeting at which a representative of the Department of Labour and National Service is not present to co-operate with the council on this vital aspect of immigration, the employment of immigrants. The outstanding fact is that there are very few people in migrant hostels at present who have been there for more than three or four weeks. That is a clear indication that these people are being employed very soon after their arrival and in many cases, notwithstanding the fact that there may be a language problem with some of the immigrants from European countries, there is a tremendous demand by industries for immigrants. Surely the fact that there is a bigger percentage of skilled men among immigrants than there is among our own population means that the skilled immigrants provide opportunities for work for unskilled Australians, and surely that is something of very great importance.
I want to make just one other point in relation to this matter because the immigration programme this year is not just a question of bringing in and absorbing 115,000 people. All of these people, both workers and dependants, are consumers who will add to consumption demand in Australia. Industry in this country, particularly secondary industry, is geared to cope with great development, and the arrival of these additional consumers will mean that factories which are geared to higher production will have the opportunity to dispose of their increased output.
It is essential that immigrants continue to arrive here year by year so as to help in the expansion of our economy. Immigrants do not in any way detract from the prosperity which we have enjoyed over a. very long period. Rather, in my opinion, do they enhance the prosperity we have enjoyed. When members of the Opposition, like the honorable member for Bass criticize the immigration programme, they are only repeating the views that their leader expressed elsewhere earlier in the year but which, for obvious reasons, he is not voicing at present. I know that there is an objection by the Labour party to the present large intake of immigrants, but I have confidence in our ability to expand our industry and increase our population considerably. I will not accept as true any statement of the type which comes from members of the Opposition on the subject of immigation, and I lose no opportunity to point out in this chamber some of the material facts which are important for the public to consider in relation to what I believe to be the greatest project for national development undertaken in this country in the last ten to twelve years.
.- The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) has given a new slant to the unemployment statistics. It seems extremely odd that whilst, week after week in this chamber, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has given the number of unemployed as 67,000, and has made no attempt to give a lower figure, to-night we have had a new explanation of the figure from the honorable member for Petrie which seeks to lower the total. Like other Government supporters, he is trying to have us accept the lower figure than the Minister himself has been giving us over a period. I myself believe that the figure of 67,000 given by the Minister does not convey the position accurately.
I differ greatly from the honorable member for Hume regarding the total, because I believe that there are thousands of people out of work to-day who have not registered with the Department of Labour and National Service for employment because they believe that they will soon find work for themselves. After weeks of bitter experience of the difficulty of finding jobs, such people finally register for employment. There are thousands of people in that category. In addition, there are thousands of people who are employed but are working only a short week - something that is reminiscent of the days of the depression of the 1930’s. The industry whose employees have been particularly affected by having to work a short week is the textile industry. Trade union figures show that more than 1,000 trade unionists in that industry are working a short week. Notwithstanding all the attempts that have been made, and will be made, by the Government to minimize the seriousness of the unemployment position, the public is becoming more alarmed and more aware of those facts. All the blandishments and all the arguments about figures that we hear from time to time will not dispel the spectre that haunts many people to-day. Unfortunately, unemployment is a reality in our midst.
I rose principally to say something about the question of shipbuilding and to express my grave concern at the failure of the Government to do something adequate to protect the Australian shipbuilding industry. There has been a marked decline in this industry over the last twelve or 24 months, but the Government has been oblivious to this trend. It seems to think that by quoting figures it will satisfy everybody. I should have thought that, with this vital industry languishing, we should have had something of a definite and positive character in the Budget or in the Estimates, but, glancing through these documents, we see that the Government is prepared to allow this industry to go on in the present way. The Government is making no contribution to ensure the welfare of the industry or to guarantee permanency of employment for those engaged in it. As a consequence, the industry is facing a period of twelve months which will be just like the period of twelve months it has just had to endure. If the statements of the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) as to what the Government is doing to protect the industry are correct, all I can say is that the Budget papers completely contradict the Minister.
I am indebted to the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) and the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) for information that has been supplied to them as a result of questions they asked, and some of the statements I shall now make will be based on the information that they have received. That information proves conclusively that the future of the shipbuilding industry in this country is far from happy or promising. We find that at the end of 1958 there will be fewer ships being built here than were under construction in 1949. The honorable member for Wilmot was informed, in reply to a question, that in 1949, seventeen vessels were under construction; in 1954, twenty vessels were under construction; and that now the number of vessels under construction has fallen to ten. Since 1954, in four years, ship construction has been halved. Figures that were supplied to the honorable member for Werriwa show that at the end of this year eight ships will be under construction . in Australia, of which five will be built at Whyalla in South Australia, two in
Queensland, and one at the Newcastle dockyards. At the end of that programme, there seems to be no future for the industry at all.
To prove my statement that the Government is not taking positive action to combat this apparent decline in the industry, I say that the Budget papers show that the subsidy which the Government granted to merchant shipbuilding in 1957-58 amounted to £1,800,000. The subsidy which it proposes to pay in 1958-59 will be £1,400,000. In other words, the subsidy for merchant shipbuilding will be £400,000 less than it was in the previous year. We find that the amount provided for expenditure on ship construction is £5,900,000, but it is interesting to note also that the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission hopes to recoup from the sale of ships the same amount of money. In effect, the money which the Government gets from the sale of ships will be spent on ship construction. In a year the Government is doing nothing towards giving an impetus to the shipbuilding industry.
There has been a decline in this industry, which I submit was a nourishing industry at one time. Regrettably, the signs of decay are making their’ appearance. For an authoritative background of the shipbuilding industry, I think one can quote no greater authority than a report made by the Tariff Board after it had inquired into this industry at hearings commenced in 1954. The report reads -
At the time of the inquiry, the five merchant ship-building yards and their sub-contractors were employing approximately 4,300 men and of this number approximately 4,000, including those engaged by sub-contractors, were directly engaged on shipbuilding. All yards reported a shortage of labour and the indications were that if all plant available worked to capacity a further 3,000 employees would be required, giving an industry employment figure for merchant shipbuilding of approximately 7,500 men.
These figures do not include those employees engaged in the manufacture in Australia of main and auxiliary machinery, ships’ fittings and equipment, estimated by Mr. Weymouth at 1,500 persons. A wide range of steam reciprocating engines and turbines is produced in Australia and in addition three types of oil or diesel engines are now in production, which collectively cover a range of from 500 to almost 4,000 horse-power.
So we find that in 1954 the industry was working at only about half of its capacity. As a result of the Tariff Board’s inquiry, the subsidy was raised from 25 per cent, to 33i per cent. I do not believe that the matter should have been referred to the Tariff Board for a determination. Instead, the Government should have taken the responsibility of making a decision. When subsidies were first granted to the shipbuilding industry of this country, they were granted on the initiative of the government of the day, the Chifley Government.
This policy of allowing the Tariff Board to make these determinations sometimes involves protracted hearings and delays. The Tariff Board first sat on this inquiry on 28th September, 1954. It completed its hearings on 15th February, 1955. Its report was presented and adopted here on 16th June, 1955, approximately nine months after the board had commenced its hearings. Other countries take positive action in dealing with this question of the protection of their own shipping. Circumstances are operating here that are completely intolerable for a country situated as Australia is. We have permitted our overseas shipping to be dominated by outside interests and influences, and we are completely at their mercy. Our coastal shipping is disappearing; local owners of coastal vessels have stated that it is not their intention to replace the -vessels that now operate round our coasts. While local owners are moving from the scene, the overseas shipping interests are moving in, and1 as a result of the operation of certain sections in the Navigation Act, overseas interests are to-day carrying more of the coastal trade than ever before.
The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) a few months ago made the rather odd statement that the conditions governing the granting of this subsidy of 33i per cent, would apply to owners who wished to replace their fleets. It seemed to be an extraordinary statement for the Minister to make when everybody knew that the owners’ decision was reached over two years ago. To all intents and purposes the owners here have indicated that they have no intention of replacing their existing fleet. That means, in effect, that overseas shipping combines will move in. I fail to see why the Government cannot take some positive action, not only to combat the influences of these overseas combines, but also to protect the interests of Australia. The Government should initiate steps whereby a positive shipbuilding programme would be commenced that would enable ships to be built in this country capable of competing with overseas vessels. In view of the disinclination of local owners to cater adequately for the local trade, and their failure to replace their existing fleet, there is plenty of opportunity for the Government to move in.
On other occasions I have protested in the Parliament at what I regard as practices that are strange, to say the least. I have had complaints from various shipping companies in the Balmain area about the practices that have been adopted by the Australian Shipbuilding Board. I have ventilated this matter before, but the answer I received was that the procedure was considered to be satisfactory. I submit that the failure to reveal the accepted tender to other people who have submitted tenders for jobs is quite contrary to all tradition. Local shipowners tender for jobs here and after contracts have been allotted they go to the board and endeavour to obtain the price of the successful tender, but they are unable to secure that information.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I wish to comment briefly on a statement made by the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer). Even at this late hour, such a statement should not go unchallenged. The Minister was replying to the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) on the Tropeano case. I have no direct knowledge of that case and. of course, I express no judgment as to whether Tropeano should be allowed to remain in Australia or not. But the Minister was dealing with contentions by the honorable member for Lalor as to the proper extent of ministerial power in deportation matters.
It seems to be undisputed that there is a possibility that this man will be allowed to remain in this country. The Minister has undertaken to examine fresh evidence and information and to review the whole case. But it also appears that if this man had not had friends and relatives to champion his cause, he would, under the exercise of the Minister’s powers, now be on the high seas, deported from Australia, and beyond any possibility of having his case dealt with in any other way. It is in those circumstances that I question the statement which I understood the Minister to make - that if a Minister is given power, and very wide power, to import people into Australia, it follows as a necessary corollary that he should have some similar power to deport people from Australia. I do not think there is any corollary there at all, and that statement should not be allowed to stand.
Obviously, the Minister must be given very wide power indeed to import people into Australia. Those people are not within the scope of our law and cannot be dealt with by our courts. They are completely outside this country. We have no way whatever of judging their case, because we do not know them, and they are not in our country. However, it does not follow that the Minister cannot exercise with justice the power to import people into Australia, and it does not follow for one moment that there is not considerable, unfair discrimination in the choice of those who are allowed to come into Australia and in the shutting out of people because of their advanced or radical political opinions. I do not want to enter further into that aspect other than to say that whilst it may not be desirable, it is inevitable that the Minister must be given wide power over the importation of people into this country because the Parliament has no way of directly reviewing the decisions he has to make.
A totally different position surely should exist once a person has been admitted into this community. Once he has been brought here and is within this community it would be the sheerest despotism to say that everything else should be set aside and that the Minister should possess power to deport equal to the power he possesses to import a man into this country. Instead, surely the proper position is that the man, once having been admitted into this community, should from then onwards be given the maximum protection of our laws.
It is on that point that I rise to speak to-night, because the Minister said that honorable members should have inherent faith in the Ministers who are appointed to deal with these matters. I think that is the exact opposite of the truth. I think honorable members should have inherent suspicion of all Ministers in the execution of their administrative duties. I think that if any other position arises the value of the parliamentary system is considerably reduced. It is important that a Minister should have behind him the loyal support of the majority, which consists of those who are on the Government side, in matters of policy, but in matters of administration, particularly affecting individual rights, the proper function of all members of Parliament is to be eternally vigilant on behalf of the individual whose rights are being challenged, and suspicious of the way in which the Minister is exercising those administrative powers under the guidance of outside officials. If the Parliament adopted the view of the Minister that the Parliament itself should have inherent faith in the wisdom and Tightness of ministerial administrative actions, it would set aside its proper function in those matters in giving protection to the rights of indivdual citizens and would also set aside its recognition of the corrupting influence of power even on the most upright of the servants of the Queen in this Parliament.
Proposed votes agreed to.
House adjourned at 11.30 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: - .
t asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1 and 2. Public Service Board General Orders provide for leave with pay and without deduction from sick leave credits to officers volunteering for a blood transfusion, including blood donations to the Australian Red Cross Blood Bank.
b asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. The answers to these questions are precisely the same as those given in reply to the same questions in this House on 11th September, 1956. I would draw the honorable member’s attention to “ Hansard “ of this date, page 407.
m asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
It should be noted that Commonwealth scholars, except mature age scholars, may choose to take their courses on a full-time or a part-time basis.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Equal Pay for the Sexes.
m asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
Is he able to say what States in the United States of America and what provinces in Canada have legislated for equal pay for men and women doing work of equal value?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
In the United States of America the following States have legislated for “ equal pay “ in some form or another: - Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington and Alaska. In Canada there is legislation of the Dominion Parliament and the Provinces of Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Alberta. To be of any value the answer to the honorable member’s question would have to deal in detail with these various laws, which are by no means uniform in their application, and duplicate a statement prepared by my department which will, I anticipate, be available for general distribution before long. A copy of this statement will be made available to the honorable member and any others who may be interested.
Payments to the States.
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
son asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1. (a) It is impossible to state precisely the amount of sales tax collected in 1957-58 in respect of television receivers because many sales tax returns do not show details of sales of specific commodities. (b) The revenue received from television viewers’ licence-fees was £1,389,055. (c) Miscellaneous revenue includes licence-fees paid by television stations £7,327 and a portion of fines amounting to £29,324 imposed under the Broadcasting and Television Act.
b asked the acting Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the acting Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the acting Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has replied as follows: -
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has replied as follows: -
Government Schools in Papua and New Guinea.
t asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
i asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Broadcasting in Papua and New Guinea.
t asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
What plans are in hand to increase the power and scope of the broadcasting service in Papua and New Guinea?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
It is proposed to increase the power of national medium frequency station 9PA Port Moresby from 500 watts to 2,000 watts and the power of national high frequency station VLT Port Moresby from 2,000 watts to 10,000 watts.
z asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Will early consideration be given to the provision of a new post office building at Pittsworth, Queensland?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
It is proposed to provide improved postal accommodation at Pittsworth by erecting a new post office building as soon as circumstances permit. Unfortunately, however, it is not practicable to undertake the project at this juncture because of the large number of more urgent projects listed for attention. Reasonably satisfactory facilities can be provided in the meantime from the existing post office premises which although old are in fair condition.
d asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
Where a member of a medical benefits society approved under the Commonwealth medical benefits scheme is obliged to enter hospital, is he entitled to receive payment at the full rate of benefit in accordance with the scale of benefits for which he is insured or only to reimbursement of the actual amount of hospital charges where this is a lesser sum?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The question of whether a contributor to a hospital benefits organization is entitled to the full amount of benefit for which he is insured or only to reimbursement of the actual amount of the hospital charge is governed by the terms of his contract with the registered organization with which he is insured. Some organizations do, in fact, have rules which limit the total benefits to the amount of the hospital charge. Others pay the full amount of benefit regardless of the amount of the hospital charge.
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
Is he able to say whether it is proposed that the tanker being built at Whyalla in South Australia for the Ampol Petroleum Company is to be registered overseas and manned by a crew obtained outside Australia?
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has furnished the following reply: -
The Ampol Petroleum Company has stated it intends to register its tanker in London. The company has made no announcement as to where it intends to pick up a crew for this vessel.
k asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has furnished the following replies: -
b asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has replied as follows: -
e asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has replied as follows: -
The figures for the year 1957-58 have not yet been collated by the Statistician, so the figures for 1956-57, the latest available, have been included.
s asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has replied as follows: -
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
What stage has been reached in the development of nuclear energy propulsion for passenger and cargo vessels?
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has furnished the following reply: -
Investigations into the possibility of developing nuclear power for use in merchant vessels are being made in a number of overseas countries. Advice has been received that the United States has let a contract for construction of the nuclear powered passenger/cargo vessel “ Savannah “ which was expected to be completed in 1960 at a cost of 21,000,000 dollars.
A Japanese company has also announced plans for an atomic powered merchant ship to cost 3,000,000,000 yen and several groups in the United Kingdom have been formed to collaborate on the design and construction of nuclear powered ships. Similar investigations are being made in Norway. France and West Germany.
My department and the Australian Shipbuilding Board receive regular reports of developments in this field overseas and are watching the position closely, but the high cost of construction of these ships makes it unlikely that any developmental work will be carried out in this country for some time.
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has replied as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 September 1958, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1958/19580909_reps_22_hor21/>.