23rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Prime Minis ter in his capacity as Minister for External Affairs, the following question: In the light of the brutal floggings and other inhuman treatment to which the natives of South Africa continue to be subjected by the minority-based government of that country, will the Prime Minister arrange for the debate on the motion on South Africa which stands in my name to be resumed to-morrow?
– I should think it most unlikely. If I thought that a debate in this House would have any beneficial effect on these matters, I would welcome it. But I doubt whether this debate would have any beneficial effect.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Interior. Has the provision of a new library building for the Commonwealth National Library close to Civic Centre, in Canberra, been considered? Are any of the various vacant blocks of land between the Canberra University College and Civic Centre available for this purpose, or are they all irrevocably dedicated for other purposes?
– The National Capital Development Commission has very much in mind the need for a site for the Commonwealth National Library. A block of land has not been irrevocably committed for that purpose, but there is in the area suggested by the honorable member a good deal of vacant land which could be chosen. There is also other vacant land in what is known as the central triangle where a site could be chosen for the National Library. However, the detailed planning necessary for the selection of a site has not yet begun.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Territories a question which relates to the administration of justice in the Territory of Nauru and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. The first part of the question is based on the report of the Administrator of the Territory of Nauru, which reveals, at page 58, that in half the cases in which there was an appeal against a sentence imposed in the lower court, the higher court increased the severity of the sentence. By Australian standards, this seems to be an unusual proceeding. I ask the Minister: Is there some settled policy of discouraging appeals?
The second part of my question is based on the report on the Navuneram incident by Mr. Justice Mann, Chief Justice of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, in which His Honour referred to the Department of Native Affairs, and stated -
The Department does not appear to fully understand that when one of its officers is acting as a Magistrate he is not in any way responsible to the Department ….
I should be grateful if the Minister would tell me whether the Chief Justice’s criticism of the department in respect of its relations with officers acting as magistrates has led to a change in attitude.
– I am not familiar with the cases in Nauru to which the honorable gentleman has referred. There is in existence a system of courts presided over by local magistrates, with provision for appeal to a Supreme Court, the Supreme Court being constituted by the Chief Justice of Papua and New Guinea. If the honorable member will give me exact references to the cases he has in mind I will have some inquiries made and furnish him with answers. I can assure him, however, that no policy direction is given to any court as to the way it should perform its functions, and there is certainly no thought of giving any policy direction to the effect that appeals should be discouraged by making the result of the appeals more onerous than the original sentences.
As to the honorable member’s second question, the report by Mr. Justice Mann followed his inquiry into the incidents at Navuneram. The department to which he referred was not the Department of Territories; it was the Department of Native Affairs of the Administration of Papua and New Guinea. As an outcome of the Chief Justice’s report on the Navuneram incidents, the Administrator has been asked to ensure that the officers of the Department of Native Affairs interpret their functions correctly, along the lines indicated by the Chief Justice.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Supply. In view of the ever-increasing importance to this country of research into the tests of long-range weapons and other equipment of a highly technical nature, can the Minister assure the House that every possible precaution is being taken throughout his department to ensure that top-secret scientific information does not come to the knowledge of Australia’s potential enemies, whose agents are no doubt seeking actively to obtain it?
– Since the long-range weapons organization was established in 1947 it has included a special security section, which has the responsibility of taking precautions to ensure the security of matters such as those mentioned by the honorable member. At the same time there is a special committee composed of senior officers of my department which also gives consideration to such matters. In addition to the precautions taken within the department, there is the closest possible co-operation with the Australian Security Intelligence Organization and with other intelligence organizations, with a view to preserving security in the way suggested by the honorable member.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. Is the Minister aware that one of the River class ships, “ River Norman “, which was practically given away last year for £55,000, allegedly for scrap-
– Order! The honorable member will not be in order in pursuing that line. He is giving information.
– I am merely describing
– Order! The honorable member is not in order in giving information.
– Then I will proceed from there. I ask whether the Minister knows that this ship-
– Order! The honorable member is out of order. He is seeking to give information and not to obtain it. He will resume his seat.
– Let him ask his question now.
– The honorable member was requested to ask his question, and he disregarded the request. He will proceed with his question or resume his seat.
– My question is this: What I am trying to get to is-
– Order! Ask the question.
– I am asking the question.
– If I cannot ask the question without giving-
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister. It follows on the question I asked yesterday of the Treasurer. Can the Prime Minister say whether he has received any request from the Western Australian Government for financial aid for victims of the recent cyclone in the Carnarvon area who lost property or crops, or whether the State Government’s request has been restricted to aid for the relief of personal hardship and distress?
– The request from the Government of Western Australia is, I think, couched in fairly general terms, but we have made the answer that we make on these occasions, that is to say, that in any scheme for the relief of personal hardship or distress arising out of this unhappy event, the Commonwealth will contribute £1 for £1 with the State Government. That reply has been forwarded. So far as I know, no further application has been received.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he is aware that Channel 2 and other television stations in New South
Wales have adopted the practice of repeating programmes and films. Is the Minister also aware that viewers are very concerned at this procedure which is most unsatisfactory and appears to be designed to increase the profits of the stations? If the Minister is aware of these practices, will he have a complete investigation made in order to prevent repetition of programmes, except in exceptional circumstances, and so ensure that viewers get full value for their licence-fee?
– I remember that, some little time ago, a question similar to the one asked by the honorable member for Grayndler was asked in this chamber. I replied then, as I reply now, that, in the first place, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, being a statutory authority, makes its own choice of programmes. That statement applies also, within certain wide limits, to the commercial stations. There are some programmes, I find, for which the viewers ask for a repetition because they want to see them again. This also enables those who missed them previously to have a second opportunity of seeing them. That, I think, is a good practice. If it were carried too far, I have no doubt that the commercial stations, particularly, would find that, as a result of a falling off in their viewing audience, they would have to review their attitude to the matter.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that, owing to light yielding wheat crops in many districts last harvest, wheat-growers are now finding difficulty in financing a programme of full production? Can the Minister indicate when further payments will be made from the current wheat pools?
– The position remains as I indicated it to be in answering a similar question some time earlier, namely, that when realizations reach such a point that there are sufficient funds, the Australian Wheat Board will make a further payment. Judging by what I remember of the state of the overdraft in respect of the previous year’s wheat pool - the 1958-59 crop - I would think that the fund has nearly reached the stage when a second advance can be paid on that crop. As soon as sufficient funds have been accumulated, there is no reason why the board should not make a further payment.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of the statement made by the Minister for Trade and recorded at page 795 of “ Hansard “ in which he said “ The practice of apartheid is entirely - “-
– Order! The honorable member is not in order.
– In that case, Mr. Speaker-
– Order! The honorable member is not in order. He will resume his seat.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that the Prime Minister intends to include Mr. William Dobell’s name in the next list of persons
– Order! The honorable member is not in order.
– Why not, Mr. Speaker?
– He is drawing attention to a matter for which the Prime Minister is not answerable to this House. The forms of the House provide that a substantive motion is necessary to discuss such a matter.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral given further consideration to my recent request that the company at Townsville which has made application to operate a television station, and which is the only applicant, be given some priority in consideration to enable it to proceed with the many preliminary arrangements necessary for the establishment of a television station?
– Order! To whom was the question directed? I call the PostmasterGeneral.
– Although I did not hear clearly the whole of the honorable member’s question in spite of his very powerful voice trained in the Services, nevertheless I think I know what he is referring to.
– Another Dorothy Dix-er!
– The honorable member is completely wrong. I had no knowledge of the question until two minutes ago.
– Order! I ask the Minister to direct his remarks to the Chair, and I hope he will be quite right.
– I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker, but I wanted to correct the misapprehension of the honorable member for Watson. The honorable member for Herbert is referring to an application by a Townsville applicant for a television licence. It has been suggested that this application might be heard, out of order, at the present hearing. I have given attention to this matter, and I point out that a decision would not be confined to the Townsville application alone. If that attitude were taken other applicants seeking a similar privilege would have to be taken into account. After discussions with the Australian Broadcasting Control Board within the last couple of days it has been decided that there will be no departure from the determined order of hearing.
– My question is addressed, to the Minister for Immigration on behalf of my colleague the honorable member for Braddon and myself. In view of the substantial grant of £100,000 by the Federal Government to war refugees from Tibet now in India and in view of the fact that Japanese children of Australian exservicemen are looked upon as refugees in Japan, will the Minister give consideration to the establishment of a fund in Japan for the education and material welfare of these unfortunate waifs, which could be operated by the Australian Embassy in Tokyo? I put this humanitarian suggestion forward in view of the statement by the Minister last week that he would not bring these children to Australia–
– Order! The honorable member has asked his question.
– I know that the honorable member is very interested in this question as also is his colleague the honorable member for Braddon, but what the honorable member is asking is something quite beyond the province of the Department of
Immigration. As my honorable friend has been in this House longer than I have, I am sure he knows that no funds are voted by Parliament for the department to spend in the direction that he desires. Moreover, may I say that last week I thought I gave two unequivocal statements, one at questiontime and one on the adjournment of the House on the attitude of the Government to this sad problem, and to what I said last week I have nothing further to add.
– I ask the Minister for Health: Is it a fact, as stated by the Minister for Health in New South Wales, that a 5s. prescription fee has now to be paid on some vaccines which cost less than 5s.?
– If the Minister for Health in New South Wales has made such a statement it certainly is not a fact - indeed, it is not a fact in any case. Any drug which costs less than 5s., costs the recipient only the pharmacist’s charge below that price. In fact, it ceases, technically, to be a pharmaceutical benefit. The alleged statement has no basis in fact at all.
– I ask the Attorney-
General whether it is a fact that a person in Australia can be declared bankrupt because of a minimum deficit of £50.
– Order! The honorable member is not in order in seeking a legal opinion.
– I am seeking to obtain–
– Order! The honorable member will sit down.
– I ask the Prime
Minister whether he will terminate the farce in regard to questions–
– Order! I hope the honorable gentleman is not reflecting on the Chair.
– No; far be it from me to do so. I ask the Prime Minister whether he will terminate the farce in regard to the present position of the Standing Orders relating to questions by arranging for a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee to be held before Parliament resumes for the Budget session.
– I do not know what the honorable member means by the farce. The Standing Orders on the subject of questions are quite explicit. They have been applied to-day and honorable members complain.
– Under your direction.
– That, of course, is an indecent suggestion.
– I will ask the honorable member to withdraw it.
– I withdraw it.
– I repeat what I said-
– You have never been the same since Dobell painted your portrait
– As a matter of fact, they tell me that is quite true; but, still, I would not know.
The Standing Orders on the subject of questions are perfectly clear. If the Leader of the Opposition desires them to be altered in some particular, the Standing Orders Committee will, of course, be the appropriate authority to promote the alterations. I would be very happy to participate in a meeting of the committee on specific proposals, which, I imagine, would be to enable questions to involve argument, to enable members of the Parliament to ask for legal opinions, and to enable members of the Parliament, under the guise of putting questions, to make highly contentious speeches! If that is to be the order of the day, let us have a look at the Standing Orders.
– My question is ad dressed to the Minister for the Army. Is it a fact that a reduction in both civilian and army personnel is contemplated at the Bulimba Army depot in my electorate of Griffith? If so, what steps have been, or will be, taken to absorb any such surplus personnel?
– I will inquire into the matter. I am not sure of the exact figures in relation to this depot, but I will let the honorable member know. If he would like to come to my office after question time, I will give him the information.
– I address my question to the Treasurer: When he thinks about our next Budget, will he bear in mind that taxation allowances to family men have been increased in the recent British Budget?
– I have read, of course, such information as has reached me of the contents of the Budget delivered by my friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the United Kingdom. However, I think it would be desirable for each government to examine its own financial and economic problems in order to determine the contents of its own Budget. And, indeed, no particular matter can reasonably be considered in isolation. It may be that in the current Budget in the United Kingdom there are good reasons for the action to which the honorable member has referred, such as the removal of primage on playing cards, which, I gather, was another item in the details of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s proposals. But whether we in Australia woud have the same view on all these things is a matter of policy which we will deal with at the appropriate time.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Health, is prompted by his reply to a question yesterday to the effect that arrangements had been made with the State governments for a payment by the Commonwealth of 12s. per day in respect of a pensioner in a public hospital. Does that arrangement apply to all pensioners, without charge to them, or does it apply only to pensioners who have pensioners’ medical cards?
– The arrangement is not a legal arrangement, but a sort of gentleman’s agreement between the Commonwealth and States. It relates to pensioners who are in receipt of social service pensions and are not insured. The Commonwealth will pay 12s. per day to States in respect of them when they need to go into hospital, and the State governments will admit them free to public hospitals. Some of them will not have medical cards, but the great majority will have them.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Can he explain the sudden fluctuation in the price of eggs from time to time?
– I refer the honorable member, for the reply to his question, to the State egg boards, because the price of eggs is fixed by the State authorities.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. In view of the general hostility expressed throughout Australia at the increase in postal and telephone charges, by means of which it is expected that the Postmaster-General’s Department will make a further profit of £20,000,000–
– Order! I think the honorable member is transgressing. All honorable members are entitled to seek information by asking questions, and are entitled to the protection of the Chair. We have been somewhat lax in relation to the asking of questions, because of the broadcasting of the proceedings and for other reasons. I ask honorable members to assist the Chair by conforming with the Standing Orders. I call the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, who is seeking information.
– Does the Minister believe that these increases in charges are a further imposition, by indirect taxation, on the long-suffering body of taxpayers? If he does, will he have a further examination of this question made with a view to cancelling these unjust impositions?
– I do not intend to enter into a debate with the honorable member now as to whether this is an unjust imposition or not, for the simple reason that I am informed that the whole subjectmatter of his question is to be discussed at a later hour to-day, when all the matters to which he has referred will be properly covered.
Mr. FAIRBAIRN__ Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that the Australian Wool Bureau is asking wool-growers’ organizations to support a proposal for more money for wool promotion? Will the Government match such an increase by a grant on a £l-for-£l basis to the bureau, or does this principle apply only to wool research?
– I understand that there is quite a lot of truth in what the honorable member says as to the Australian Wool Bureau discussing the matter of further funds or levies for the purpose of wool promotion. I would say, however, in reply to the last part of the question, that the Government’s policy would remain unaltered, and that there is no intention of paying a £l-for-£l subvention for promotion.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question without notice. Is it a fact that of the staff of the former Leader of the Opposition, the only member whose services with the Commonwealth were terminated following the appointment of Dr. H. V. Evatt as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales was Mr. Alan Dalziel? Is it a fact that Mr. Dalziel’s dismissal was at the Prime Minister’s personal direction, and was a pay-off by the Prime Minister for Mr. Dalziel’s pungent and forthright criticism of his actions, particularly during the period of the Petrov royal commission?
– Of course, Sir, the question is a contemptible one. As if I were going to devote my time and energy to wreaking some petty vengeance on a man I have never seen! That, of course, is too silly for words. The fact is that the temporary staff employed by the former Leader of the Opposition received, under the ordinary provisions of Public Service regulations, notices of termination of employment. I was asked personally, the one time that I came into the matter, as to whether the period of notice could be extended for a fortnight, for reasons which I well understood in relation to the cleaning up of certain matters on behalf of the former Leader of the Opposition, and I agreed. Since then, so far as I know, those notices have taken effect. I know they were given to one or two, or perhaps three people. As to their subsequent history, I am not informed.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has the President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission reported favorably on the working of the commission in his last report? Further, has industrial friction lessened? If the answer is in the affirmative, can the Minister reconcile these facts with the strenuous opposition and gloomy forecasts of failure by the Labour Party’s spokesmen at the time of the last amendment to the act governing the commission?
– It is quite true, as the honorable gentleman says, that when the last amendment was before the House many members of the Opposition made gloomy forecasts. I do not think that any one took much notice of them and I think that the statement attributed to the president of the commission has turned out to be correct. As one indication, I think that it is perfectly right to claim that the incidence of industrial disputes has been considerably reduced over the last few years. Speaking from memory, the man-days lost last year were about 365,000, and that is a very good performance. So I think we can take it that there has been a period of relative industrial peace in Australia and, for that reason, I am glad to be able to say that the comments that the president of the commission made have turned out to be correct.
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Can the right honorable gentleman yet state the terms of the latest dollar loan? Is the loan to be used for the purchase of capital equipment or technical know-how not available in this country, or is it to be used to offset a drain on our dollar reserves following the abolition of import licensing? Or is it to be used, like other dollar loans during this Government’s term of office, to pay private dollar dividends?
- Mr. Speaker,I do not know what the last part of the honorable gentleman’s question was directed to, but I shall see whether I can obtain for him the precise terms of the loan and the purposes to which it is to be devoted, as set out in the statement which is filed in connexion with a matter of this kind in New York, where the loan is to be raised. I have no doubt that if, as I expect will be the case, we are successful in raising this sum of money, underwritten as it will be by some of the strongest financial houses in the United States, it will contribute materially, as have earlier loans, to the programmes of development carried out by the State governments which, in turn, have greatly assisted in the development of Australia.
– Can the Prime Minister indicate whether any decision has yet been made in relation to the request for assistance for Tasmanian orchardists whose orchards recently suffered extensive and severe hail damage?
– The honorable member will be interested to know that when I arrived at the House this afternoon I inquired about the state of this matter because I thought it time that a reply to the request had emerged. I indicated that I desired to be in a position to give a reply before the House adjourns this week.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral whether it is a fact that the Bankruptcy Act 1924-58 provides that a person in Australia can be declared bankrupt for indebtedness amounting to a minimum of £50. Has this figure been in existence for over 30 years? If so, will the Minister examine this matter with a view to increasing the minimum debt for which a person can be declared bankrupt from £50 to, say, £250 to bring it more into line with current values due to the decreasing purchasing power of money–
– Order! The honorable member is taking advantage of question time to make a speech.
– The honorable member’s knowledge of the act is quite sound. The act is at present under review by a committee, and I hope soon to have its report. I shall support an increase in this minimum sum to bring it more into accord with current values.
– I address my question to the Treasurer. Owing to the greatly increased Government commitments due to the recent increase in margins, can the Treasurer say whether there is any likelihood of the Budget deficit being greater than £61,000,000? If so, will legislation have to be introduced, in conjunction with the second appropriation bill for the year, to provide for increased revenue by taxation or the issue of more treasury-bills?
– Although the Government has to meet an additional commitment arising from margin increases inside the Commonwealth Public Service, this will be offset by increased payasyouearn taxation contributions from both inside the Public Service and other sections of the community. In addition, the overall position is affected by the success which has attended our efforts to secure loans, both inside Australia and overseas. There will be another domestic loan raising in May of this year before the current financial year concludes. If that proves to be successful, we can expect that the overall loan raisings will be at least up to the Budget estimate and possibly beyond it. I would expect, therefore, that while the deficit will remain, it should not be any higher than £61,000,000, and I would hope that it would be somewhat less.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral tell me why a letter which I posted at 8 p.m. last Wednesday at the Post Office within Parliament House did not reach Newtown, New South Wales, until this morning’s delivery. Might I say that this is pre-selection ballot year and I can assure the Minister that the -matter is very important to me if not to him.
– The PostmasterGeneral’s Department and I have been keeping a careful watch on the way in which the postal services have been affected by recent changes. In the vast number of cases that I have seen, there has been a great improvement in the time taken for the delivery of mail. Occasionally, I have found instances where that has not been so. I have each such case looked into. I hope that the honorable member for West Sydney has kept the envelope of the letter to which he has referred. If he has the envelope and will let me have it, I shall have the case inquired into. I may say that I have sometimes found, on looking into these matters, that the fault does not lie with the Post Office. For example, in the case featured in the press recently, concerning the non-delivery of certain nomination papers in Melbourne, it was found, when the matter was inquired into, that the communication had been wrongly addressed by the sender and had been properly delivered by the Post Office to the address on the envelope.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. Will the Minister consider the enactment of legislation, in co-operation with the States if necessary, to enforce the warning given to shipowners to avoid crayfish pots and equipment off the south-east coast of South Australia, as the present heavy losses of crayfishing equipment are causing great economic loss to fishermen?
– I know that from time to time there have been complaints of incidents concerning crayfish and lobster gear in the area mentioned by the honorable member. The matter is rather complex. Although we may have some constitutional power within territorial waters, outside those waters there is probably no action that can be taken except against intra-state ships. We find that interstate vessels and Australian ships proceeding to ports outside Australia are probably beyond our powers. I may say that we regularly issue, through the Department of the Navy, instructions to masters of ships to keep from five to ten miles to seaward of the area that the honorable member has mentioned. If the present situation continues, I shall confer with the Attorney-General in order to ascertain what constitutional powers can be exercised.
– I desire to direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. In what circumstances did a Boeing 707 aircraft return to Sydney yesterday? What alternative was open to the pilot had there been a strong cross-wind blowing across the single long runway at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport?
– I have no knowledge of the particular incident that the honorable member has mentioned, and I shall refer the matter to my colleague in another place. The honorable member asks me what the pilot would have done had there been a strong wind blowing across the runway. If I had been the pilot I should have landed somewhere else.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral a question on the same lines as that asked by the honorable member for West Sydney. Can the Minister explain to me why two letters posted in Adelaide not later than 11 a.m. on 16th March, as indicated by the Adelaide postmark, were not delivered in Canberra until 30th March, the delivery having taken fourteen days? Could the explanation be that airmail matter was carried by Ansett-A.N.A. by road instead of air? Will the Minister consider arranging for all airmail to be carried by Trans-Australia Airlines in order to ensure safe and speedy transport?
– Some time ago, there was circulated in the press a statement to the effect that an Ansett-A.N.A. van had overturned somewhere on the northern highway between Sydney and Brisbane, I think, and that certain airmail had been found among the contents of the van. That statement was closely investigated by the Post Office, but we could find no indication of any truth in it. With respect to the actual case mentioned by the honorable member for Kingston, I assure him, as I assured the honorable member for West Sydney, that, if he will let me have the necessary particulars, I shall have the matter looked into.
In the main, the airmail service now results in very much accelerated deliveries, and I certainly would not for one moment consider taking airmails away from, AnsettA.N.A., which provides service and facilities equally as good as are those provided by Trans-Australia Airlines.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).I have received a letter from the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) proposing that a definite matter of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely -
The undesirability of continuing the present postal charges to provide an additional sum of £16,000,000 during this financial year in the light of the profit of £6,000,000 disclosed in the annual report of the Post Office for 1958-59.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places) -
.- Mr. Speaker, the present Government has expressed great concern and voiced numerous moral exhortations to other sections of the community about the evils of inflation as they exist in Australia. It has urged various sections of the community to endeavour to do whatever they can, within their own province, to reduce the prices of the goods and services which are provided for the community. But the Government itself is a culpable party, in that its last Budget and the consequent budgetary legislation added greatly to the charges paid by all sections of the community which use the postal, telephone and telegraph services. The increased charges have added something like £16,000,000 a year to the community’s costs. This is despite the fact, as is revealed in the annual report of the Postmaster-General for the year ended 30th June, 1959, which was recently tabled in the Parliament, that the Post Office, operating on the old charges, had already made a profit of £6,043,434 last financial year.
If honorable members look carefully at the annual report, they will find that the aggregate profit of the Post Office on what are termed its commercial accounts - and that is the basis used by the Post Office in settling its tariffs - for the year ended 30th June, 1959, was, as I have said, £6,043,434 - an increase of £2,033,254 over that for the previous financial year, when the commercial profit was £4,010,180. In the year ended 30th June, 1959, there was an improvement in every aspect of the undertaking conducted by the Post Office. A deficit of £1,953,583 in the financial year 1957-58 on postal account was reduced to a deficit of only £850,577. A surplus of £6,294,207 ou telephone account increased to a profit of £6,935,514. And a loss of £330,444 on telegraph account was reduced to a loss of only £41,503. As I have said, the overall profit for the year 1958-59 totalled £6,043,434. Yet, in the face of this, the Government, by its last Budget, increased charges in order to return about £16,000,000 more in revenue in the current financial year.
Quite a number of honorable members on both sides of the House have recently cited with approval an address entitled, “ A Matter of Prices “ which was given at Perth by Dr. H. C. Coombs, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia. This address was published in the Australian Journal of Science, and Dr. Coombs had this to say, as reported at page 134 of that journal -
Another important element in the pricing policy of industrialists and traders is their belief that selling prices should be sufficient to provide not merely cover for costs of production, including a reasonable return on capital, but also a substantial part of the additional capital required for expansion. Undistributed profits after the payment of dividends at normal rates provide a very substantial part of the development funds of Australian companies.
And then follow the significant words -
In recent years this tendency in pricing policy has been extended to include major public instrumentalities, with consequential increases in prices of services to consumers.
This is precisely the practice that has been adopted in increasing postal charges, and the result has been to increase the cost to the community of services rendered by that great institution, the Post Office, despite the fact that that undertaking was already taking out in revenue £6,000,000 a year more than was needed for its expenses.
We have been told that this Government is greatly concerned about the morality of practices which have resulted in the inflation that rages in the community at the present time. When the matter of increased postal charges was argued during the Budget debate some months ago, we sought to ascertain the Government’s precise reason for increasing postal charges. We were given a rather garbled array of explanations by various Ministers, including the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) himself, who said in the course of his Budget speech -
The earnings of the Post Office should also be increased, not merely to meet the cost of its day-to-day services but to provide something by way of return on the additional capital.
From the point of view of meeting the cost of day-to-day services, the Post Office was already £6,000,000 a year in credit, so that apparently the only reason for imposing the increased charges was to provide something by way of return on the additional capital. Those words were echoed by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) when he introduced the legislation. He said: -
The new charges have been developed with the object of ensuring an equitable return to the Post Office for the services it provides.
In the annual report of the PostmasterGeneral for the year ended 30th June, 1959, recently tabled in the House, the same explanation is given for the increased charges that operated from 1st October, 1 959. On page 7 of that report the following statement appears: -
The Government, therefore-
And the responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the Government - considered it necessary to adjust certain charges for postal, telephone and telegraph services as from the 1st October, 1959, in order that Post Office earnings would be assured of meeting the cost of day-to-day services and, in particular, provide a return on the capital employed.
There might be less objection if the Government would honestly declare that this is part of its policy, but apparently the Government is in some doubt, because it set up a committee to examine the commercial accounts of the Post Office, and I understand from the annual report that this committee is now working. On page 7 of the annual report we find the following remarks concerning the work of the committee: -
The work of the committee will be of considerable importance to the Government in the determination of principles in relation to Post Office finances, including those concerned with the financial results of its operations, the funds made available for its capital works and the amount, basis or rate of any annual contribution which the Post Office may be required to make to the Commonwealth Treasury.
When this matter was debated here some months ago, we suggested that the Treasurer had predetermined what the committee was to do, because he had loaded the cost structure of the Post Office with amounts which go further than covering the day-to-day operations of the institution, and this can only be construed as a notional means of charging interest on the capital employed.
– Well, if that is not the explanation, I shall be willing to hear the Minister say so. One of his colleagues, the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), speaking on this subject in the House on 16th September, 1959, said -
If this is a proper policy, then the inevitable corollary to it is also proper; that is, that the taxpayer should not be unduly exploited to provide, below cost, a service to the citizens of the country in the normal field of commercial servicing.
Historically, most of the capital of the Post Office has been obtained by advances from the Treasury out of moneys raised from taxation, and the Government is now doing what Dr. Coombs has condemned in the private enterprise field. The Government is loading on to the cost structure an amount over and above normal expenditure, in order to provide a return for capital. That is one possible explanation of these increases. Another possible explanation, which is also based on an erroneous conception, is that the Government believes that users of to-day’s telephones should pay something, over and above to-day’s costs, in order to provide telephones for other persons to-morrow. In our view this is equally a wrong policy. It is a line of approach that was condemned by a responsible committee, the Herbert committee, which was set up in Great Britain in 1956 to report on electrical undertakings. In the “ Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Electricity Supply Industry “, which is document No. 9672 of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, we find the following remarks, and I suggest that with some alteration of detail they could readily apply with regard to capital expansion in the Post Office:-
In such circumstances, to use prices charged to the consumers as a device for raising capital for expansion is to impose compulsory saving on electricity users; to make them pay, so to speak, a tax in proportion to their electricity consumption, so that the community may build up the electricity industry for the benefit of future consumers. To make present consumers subsidize in this way the capital requirements of future consumers, would, in our judgment, be quite inequitable.
That was a firm decision arrived at by a committee appointed by a tory government after a good deal of examination of the situation. 1 would suggest that the committee that has now been set up by the Government should be working along similar lines, but the Treasurer has, in my view, prejudged the issues and prejudiced the work of the committee by imposing these increased charges before allowing the committee to examine the situation. As I said before, he is taking from the users of postal services about £16,000,000 more per annum than is required to meet the normal day-to-day costs. This is being done despite the fact that the financial position improved by £2,000,000 between 1958 and 1959 on the commercial basis of the then existing services; that the major part of the profit was in the telephone services; and that there were apparently insignificant losses in the other two branches - £41,000 in telegraph services and less than £1,000,000 in postal services. Bearing in mind that we maintain on this side of the House that the Post Office is more than a business undertaking - it is a great public utility providing services the value of which cannot always be accurately computed - that is not an unsatisfactory result in relation to these two sections. Therefore, we say it is unjust and inequitable that these charges should have been imposed and that until the committee makes its findings public, the Government should remove those charges which the last published report indicates are not necessary for the day-to-day commercial operations of the Post Office. At this stage, that is the only decision that this Government ought to be making because the question of future capital expansion, whether it is to be notional on the capital employed or on this other theory of asking to-day to pay for to-morrow, is also wrong.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The Australian Labour Party has not been under its new leadership for very long but, already, it is becoming evident to the public that one of the worst defects of the old management is being perpetuated and, indeed, aggravated under the new control. That defect was that, although the Labour Party could be very vocal in criticism, it demonstrated itself to be utterly barren in constructive and positive policy. Over the last few weeks we have seen an attempt, day after day, to find some ground of criticism. Such criticism is not backed by any constructive alternative and indeed, in this last week, a blatant effort has been made to capitalize politically for propaganda purposes on the fact that a by-election is to be held in La Trobe. This shows that the changed leadership in the Labour Party merely represents a new brand of mismanagement rather than a new brand of effective management. The party should make up its mind where it is going.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) made the basis of his attack the fact that our action in relation to postal charges in our last Budget was a contribution to inflation. But he knows that the effect of our action was to bring in additional revenue to the Government and thereby reduce what otherwise would have been a very much greater deficit than that which we found it necessary to budget for. He did not suggest, at any point of his remarks, where the revenue would have come from had these postal charges not been increased. Would he have had us impose extra taxation? Would he have had us reduce social services? What is the policy of the Labour Party?
The fact is that we set out to secure increased revenue from the operations of the Post Office. We believe that, having regard to the capital funds invested in the Post Office since 1945, which run into some hundreds of millions of pounds, taking into account the increased burden of the basic wage, and paying regard to the likely increased burden of the margins decision which, I am informed by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson), will increase the expenditure of the Post Office by £5,000,000 in a full year it was reasonable, even pending the outcome of the examination by the committee to which the honorable member for Melbourne Ports has referred, to increase the charges as they were increased.
The honorable member need have no fear that the Government is asking this generation to carry burdens which should be shared by a later generation. The installation of a telephone costs on the average more than £200. When all the capital elements are taken into account, the repayments secured by way of rental are only a fraction of the total investment. So one of the problems was to fix a reasonable charge for the services to the user in order to put the Post Office on a basis, not necessarily comparable or parallel with some private commercial concern, but one which would involve the user of the services in paying a fair charge rather than have that charge loaded onto the taxpayer quite inequitably, regardless of his use of the services.
As it happens, most telephone users are also taxpayers. If the revenue is not received from fair charges on postal and telephone services it must be secured from the taxpayer in his other capacity. But at least, by making a fair and reasonable charge for postal and telegraph services, there is an equitable imposition on the citizen who also happens to be a taxpayer. Unless charges are based on the use made of the services by the individual taxpayer the burden has to be carried by taxpayers generally, perhaps quite disproportionately to the service they receive from this institution.
The Government has gone about this matter, we believe, in a straight and workmanlike way. We know that it is the policy of the socialist Opposition to try to get more government into business. If that is their slogan, ours is the reverse: We want to get more business into government. We want our great public utilities to be conducted on lines which will provide some incentive to the avoidance of loss. If even the most responsible public servants who conduct our great public utilities feel that all that happens in the event of a loss is that they turn to the taxpayer to remedy the deficiency, what encouragement is there for efficiency? We believe that if those who conduct these services - and this is not confined to the Post Office - are made to realize that the Government expects of them that the service shall carry a reasonable return on the investment in it, then there is less danger of loss and there is certainly a direct encouragement to greater efficiency in the conduct of the enterprise.
This misguided missile which has collapsed long before reaching its destination, as expressed, anyhow, in the words of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, is not even based on accurate premises. The honorable member told us that we are going to get an additional return of £16,000,000 from the Post Office in this financial year.
– That is what you said in the Budget speech.
– The fact is that we said we would get that amount in a full year, and that in this financial year we would get £10,000,000, or as near to that as one could estimate.
We have not yet heard the full story from the Opposition, but if we examine the criticisms of honorable gentlemen opposite at earlier times when we have discussed these matters, we find that they cannot even agree upon the grounds of attack. First of all, we are told that the Government’s action will have an inflationary effect, although, as I hope I have already shown, to have increased the deficit rather than secured our revenue in this way would have had an even more marked inflationary effect. Then we are told that our action is imposing such burdens upon postal and telegraph users that we will not get as much revenue as we budgeted for anyhow. The facts defeat this argument, too. The advice that my colleagues and I get from our officers is that our Budget estimate will be exceeded. The figures for the month of March, which are in front of me, show that, whereas we expected to receive about £120,000,000 in revenue in this financial year with the increased charges, because we have managed to keep the economy buoyant, if the receipts for March are sustained in each month of the next twelvemonth period, the return to revenue will be about £140,000,000.
So whatever may have been the gloomy prophecies of honorable members opposite as to the decline in the use of these services by the public, whatever may have been the dire expressions they gave us of what would happen in the publishing industry and the conveyance of packages by post, facts which have since come to light have shown that the Government’s estimate was almost precisely correct and those of honorable members opposite were, as usual, almost completely wrong.
The Government has appointed a committee, to which reference was made in the speech of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. The chairman of that committee is Sir Alexander Fitzgerald who has presided with such ability, for about fifteen years, over the Commonwealth Grants Commission. He has colleagues with him on that committee whose own ability should command respect from us. They have been working assiduously on this problem and I should hope that my colleague the PostmasterGeneral would receive the report of this committee before the end of the present month. After that time it will be closely studied by the Government, well in advance of the next budget.
But the action the Government has taken there will give us a clearer picture of what should be a reasonable component to include in postal and telephone charges, taking into account the amount of capital which has been invested from revenue over the years since the war and before it, as well as other considerations which the PostmasterGeneral’s Department may very properly advance for a balanced view of the matter. Secondly, it will have regard to the superannuation liability of the Post Office - in itself a not inconsiderable factor. It will also be able to pay detailed regard to the increased costs which have to be borne by the Post Office as a result of wage increases in the year under review, and in other directions.
I believe that these developments are in accordance with the best policies and practices of this Government which the people, as a whole, have come to respect. It is the kind of sound financial and economic approach which, in recent years, has established for Australia a credit-worthiness and standing in the eyes of our own people and of the rest of the world, which, I believe, has never been higher in the history of this country. We believe that the kind of approach which we have made in respect of the Post-Office and which we would hope to see extended to other government utilities providing consumer services, will give us, as I said earlier, very effective business in government, render a better service to the community to as a whole, lessen eventually the burden upon the taxpayer and provide for greater efficiency in our governmental affairs.
I am quite certain that when all these considerations are taken into account by people who study these matters they will find that the case submitted by the Opposition is as lacking in substance as others which have preceded it in the course of this session.
– For the last ten minutes or so the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has made very heavy weather in trying to justify the unjustifiable, to defend the indefensible and1 explain the inexplicable. There is not one person in Australia outside this Parliament who does not condemn completely and unequivocally these increases in postal charges for which this Government was responsible in its Budget of last year.
The case submitted by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has, I believe, the support of 90 per cent, of the Australian people. It is all right for the Treasurer to say that we have raised this matter on the eve of the La Trobe by-election. If it is going to have an influence in defeating the Government’s candidate in La Trobe, then we are rendering a service to Australia. If we give the people of La Trobe an opportunity of protesting against this increase in postal charges and in the cost of telephone and telegraph services, then we are doing a service.
The Treasurer says. “ We do not believe in socialism “. But he maintains this great socialist enterprise called the Post Office. Are we to take it from his sneering remarks that, in addition to giving away everything else in which the people’s money is invested, he would like to sell the Post Office, or he would like to hand over the telegraph and telephone systems to private enterprise as has happened in America? He said, “ Of course, we had to impose these increases because we needed more money “. If that is an honest explanation - and I doubt it and I challenge it - why did he increase these postal charges in the same budget in which he provided for a reduction in income tax which benefited the basic wage earner to the extent of 9d. a week but put £400 a year into the pockets of the big business people whose interests, up to date at any rate, have been identical with those of the Government? He need not have reduced the high rate of tax on incomes of £10,000 a year or more from 13s. 4d. in the £1 down to 12s. 8d. If the Government wants more money we say that the honest way to get it is by imposing direct taxation and1 not by loading the burden on to the people in the form of indirect taxation. This Government has balanced its budgets largely by increasing indirect taxation in the form of excise duties and sales tax.
There are 2,400 people in the La Trobe electorate waiting for telephones. Will they get telephones as the result of any action by this Government at this particular time? This Government has no real concern for the Post Office at all. At one time it is slugging the people with increased charges and on another occasion, as happened in 1951-52, it sought to balance the budget by dismissing 10,000 employees from the Public Service. There is a rumour circulating to-day throughout Australia in Post Office circles and elsewhere - and there is reason to believe that there is every justification for the rumour - that the Government has decided to hand over to some big business concern with which it is friendly the work of installing all switchboards and intercommunication units throughout this country. This will mean even higher charges for all those who have to have switchboards and intercommunication facilities installed because, in addition to the cost of installation, profit has to be made and paid. This will involve the dismissal of some thousands more public servants in this country.
– It will not.
– I believe that it will. The Post Office has resisted for years a move made by the Treasury - made successfully after it got rid of an Australian Country Party Treasurer and put a Liberal Party Treasurer into office - to make the Post Office pay certain charges which the postal officals believe ought never to have been paid. In the annual report of the Postmaster-General for 1959, submitted after the increased charges were levied, this sentence appears -
As in previous years no provision was made for interest on moneys allotted from Consolidated Revenue for Post Office capital works.
The Treasury moved in once a Liberal Party Treasurer took the place of the Country Party Treasurer, Sir Arthur Fadden. For eighteen years he was the Leader of the Australian Country Party and for eight years the Treasurer of the Commonwealth. No doubt he had pressure put on him at different times, but he refused to yield. As soon as he was got rid of and a new Treasurer came in, Treasury officials were able to introduce this newfangled, extraordinary idea of government finance which means that after the people have paid £400,000,000, through the medium of taxation, for capital works of the Post Office they have to be taxed again to pay interest to the Treasury on this money. That is the truth, and there is no doubt about it.
Sir Arthur Fadden has now left the political scene, but apparently he has not forgotten what is happening in Canberra nor has he lost his interest in the finances of the country. On Sunday, 20th March last, he expressed the view that communications should be as cheap as possible, and particularly so in an expanding economy. He also said that the postal increases represented a heavy degree of indirect taxation, were an undesirable burden to impose on commerce and industry, and were opposed to the Country Party platform. The last comment is of particular significance.
– Tell the Minister that!
– It is of no use telling him. He knew the platform of the Country Party. He resisted for a while and said he would not impose this new taxation. The Prime Minister had to send the Leader of the Country Party, the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), to ask him not to resign his portfolio in protest. He did not resign; he went on against his will to carry out the decision of the Government. I would like to have had the television rights to the meeting of the Liberal and Country parties when this matter was discussed, because there was a good deal of criticism then. As a matter of fact, there is still a lot of criticism of the Government in the ranks of the back-benchers on this issue.
In the debate last year, I put forward the proposal that the Post Office accounts should be put on a proper basis and that the Post Office should be credited with the profits it made in the past years. What this Govern ment has done for years is to use the profits of the Post Office to finance its activities generally. In a reply given in this House yesterday, it was stated that the public authority surpluses have risen from 0.2 in 1949-50 to 1.1 in 1958-59.
– That is the national gross product, too.
– That is right, but now the Government says it must impose this increased taxation. Well, Sir, for seventeen years up to the date of the last Budget, the profits of the Post Office on postal charges, telephones and telegrams were no less than £70,000,000. This comprised a profit of over £27,000,000 for the postal section, a profit of over £50,000,000 for telephone services and allowed for a loss of over £7,000,000 for telegraph services. Why cannot that be taken into consideration and the Post Office credited with the profit of £6,000,000 made in 1958-59, which was disclosed only recently, instead of the community being asked to pay the additional £16,000,000 a year, £11,000,000 of which is for some spurious interest charge? This is an undercover way of getting money out of the people, because if money was not raised by this devious means, taxation of another sort would have to be increased. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) referred to the increase of £16,000,000.
– Order! The honorable member’s time is expired.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) followed his usual practice in the speech he has just delivered and used rather extravagant language when referring to arguments that had been put by honorable members on this side of the House. He referred to the reasons given by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) for an increase in the postal and telegraph tariffs, which will amount to about £16,000,000 in a total revenue of some £100,000,000; that is to say, an increase of about 16 per cent. This is how he attempted to make his point. He said, “This is an attempt to justify the unjustifiable “. How he loves these flowing phrases! He said, “ This is an attempt to defend the indefensible “, and used another expression which I have forgotten. Let me point to the insincerity in these statements. In 1949, when the honorable gentleman was acting in this House for the Postmaster-General, he said, when dealing with increased tariffs -
The combined additional revenue which it is expected will be received from the revised postal, telephone and telegraph charges is in the order of £5,500,000 yearly-
Here is the point - representing a net increase of about 16 per cent, in the total earnings of the Postal Department.
An exactly similar increase by our- friends opposite to that which we are now discussing! He went on to say, and I have no doubt that this will amuse him -
It will be agreed that this is a moderate increase, bearing in mind the costs of labour and commodities since the end of the war.
Have there been no increases recently in the costs of labour and commodities on which these increases can be based? But that is not all. I take honorable members now to 1949. The same honorable gentleman, in explaining further increases in that year, said -
The proposed adjustments will increase postal revenue by only 16 per cent.
That, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the extent of our increase. He went on to say -
When one considers the effect of the introduction of the 40-hour week and the increased wages and salaries operating as a result of Arbitration Courts determinations, it is not to be wondered at that the charges have been increased 16 per cent. The wonder is that they have been kept so low.
I could have used those very words in this debate in referring to the present increases, because they are exactly applicable to this situation. However, they were uttered by the Leader of the Opposition, who has just been very critical of the Government. All this shows the truth of the Treasurer’s statement that this matter has been raised at this time in the hope that it will have some possible impact on an event next Saturday. I have no doubt that that is why I was brought back in such a hurry last night from another job.
I will refer later to one or two of the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition, but I turn now to the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), who introduced this matter. He seemed to base his case on the fact that a profit of a certain percentage for the past year has just recently been disclosed.
There is a good deal of insincerity there, too. That honorable gentleman knows, perhaps better than any one else in the House, that such a profit disclosed in the commercial accounts as they stand at present cannot be taken as a reliable indi? cation of the commercial position of the Post Office. I do not know whether he still holds the position, but for some considerable time he was a valued member of the Public Accounts Committee. In 1954, while he was- on that committee, the committee examined the Post Office accounts. I have been interested to go through the report on the commercial accounts. If the recommendations to which the honorable member was a party had been carried out - they have not been carried out yet - the national profit of £6,000,000 showing in this year’s accounts would have been a loss. Therefore, this is not a proper basis on which to level a charge. The committee said -
The form of the Postmaster-General’s Department’s commercial accounts could be improved.
Dealing with superannuation liability, the committee said -
The amount of the liability for the Commonwealth’s proportion of superannuation for present employees occurring in the year in question should be included in the commercial accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
That passage is from a report of a committee of which the honorable member was a member, and I have no doubt that he subscribes to it. In this year’s accounts there is an amount of £4,000,000-odd shown as a debit for superannuation. If these recommendations had been applied, that amount would have been over £6,000,000, and therefore there would have been a reduction right at the start in that £6,000,000. There would have been a reduction of £2,000,000 if the honorable member’s recommendation had been followed. See how insincere is this case!
Again, capital, interest and exchange charges are matters that we have invited the independent committee referred to by the honorable member to look into. The Public Accounts Committee, when dealing with that matter, made the following recommendation: -
If all those things had been carried out, and if they were included, as apparently the honorable member suggested, they could have been in last year’s accounts and would have resulted in the showing of a deficit instead of a profit. My point is that in that case the attempt of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports to base a case for the reduction of tariff on that profit indicates either that he has forgotten what he professed previously, or that he has hoped that we would not know or be in a position to twit him with it.
I now turn to another aspect which has been mentioned by the Treasurer, and which was referred to by me in my second-reading speech and in other statements I have made in this House. More and more we must draw every year, for the Post Office, increasing amounts from the Treasury or from Consolidated Revenue to provide for the extended services which Australia’s development properly demands.
It will interest the House to know that, in the last five years, these amounts drawn from capital expenditure have increased, as follows:- £27,300,000 in 1954-55; £28,700,000 in 1955-56; £30,700,000 in 1956-57; £34,300,000 in 1957-58; and 1958-59, the year under consideration, £36,300,000. In the current year, the amount has been increased to £39,400,000. No doubt some one professing to be a properly accredited accountant will say that this is for capital expenditure and that we should not total it with the other expenditure on ordinary services, but that does not get away from the fact that this is an annual drawing from Consolidated Revenue which will proceed for a long time in the future, for long after we are here. Therefore, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, when he says, “You cannot take that into account when determining the drain on the Treasury because it is capital expenditure “, ignores the fact that it is an entirely different aspect fom the normal capital expenditure of a business operating in private industry. Just as we now say there should be some contribution towards that, so will the next generation, because of Australia’s development, be required to make exactly the same contribution.
I have to face the fact that, in spite of this continual increase in the capital made available to the departments, we are still not receiving enough to properly service the demands of the community. I remind honorable members on both sides of the House - and particularly those on the Opposition side - that I am constantly getting demands for more post offices, for more telephones, and for more services of all types, and we are trying to provide them. Each year, in the department, we set up a record in respect of installations. I have the figures for the eight months of the current financial year ended 29th February. They are the latest figures available. We are going on towards a record number of installations of telephones this year, which is the yardstick by which we measure the service we are giving. The gross connexions for the eight months totalled 112,750, compared with 97,700 last year. Yet we are still falling behind.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has introduced the subject of the Government’s indefensible tax grab. We have seen the unhappy plight of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) in following the Treasurer in this debate and we have noticed the disjointed case made by the Postmaster-General in trying in slavish fashion to follow the pattern dictated by the Treasury, which has no relationship with the situation affecting the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. It was truly a case of the puppet and the puppeteer, one pulling the ropes and the other responding. This is indeed an amazing financial procedure - in the course of which an indefensible tax is levied upon the people. One has only to read the annual report of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, dated 1st
December, 1959, in which the PostmasterGeneral, above his own signature, said -
The Government, therefore, considered it necessary to adjust certain charges for postal, telephone and telegraph services as from 1st October,1959, in order that Post Office earning would be assured of meeting the cost of day to day services and, in particular, provide a return on the capital employed.
Is there any need for this startling increase of 20 per cent, in postal charges and the other serious rises that affect every section of our community? Surely there is no need for them at all! If one were to take the balance-sheets issued by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department one would find that in 1956- 57, the profit was £3,117,046 and in 1957- 58 it was £4,010,180. Last year, as both we and the people outside know, the profit was no less than £6,047,434, yet increased charges were imposed on the users of the postal and telephone services. When one realizes, as the Postmaster-General himself must realize, that the Postal Department is not reimbursed to the full extent for all the services that it makes available in a variety of ways, including services related to the Electoral Office such as telegrams and a number of matters too numerous to mention on this occasion, one realizes the amazing financial procedure which I have referred to.
In the first place the people are taxed and some of the proceeds are handed to the Postmaster-General’s Department to carry out the operation of a public enterprise. In the course of events, it is the same taxpayers who are called upon to pay interest on their own money which has been made available to the Postmaster-General’s Department for the carrying on of these essential services. In order to finance those services the Treasury has put forward this spurious proposal, whereby the people are taxed in this unashamed way. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself, has condemned this method of finance. At a meeting of the Australian Loan Council, when discussing this sort of procedure as it affected the various States, the Prime Minister himself went on record as saying -
Therefore, charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of bookkeeping that does not produce one pennyworth of financial results.
Despite that condemnation, the Prime Minister, with the aid of his Minister, carries this complicated bookkeeping pro cedure forward into the Post Office unashamedly, to make this unjust impost on the people. The Postmaster-General tries to evade his responsibility by pointing out that labour costs have gone up and that there are other charges. It is the old song sung by every tory government. As soon as they are in trouble with a problem they claim that the working people are getting more in wages than they should be.
In giving his reasons for the increase of charges the Postmaster-General said that the cost of labour in the Postal Department had increased by 10 per cent, in the past four years. He also stated that the volume of business conducted had risen by 34 per cent, in the same period. So there we have it. Staff costs increased by 10 per cent., turnover increased by 34 per cent. We all know that this is only a subterfuge to explain away this serious impost on the people of Australia - an impost that hits every section of the community, including blind people who want telephones in their homes so that they can communicate with the outside world, businessmen of all kinds, family men, and especially country people. Here is something that members of the Australian Country Party ought to be alert about, ought to be vigilant about.
In order to see the effects on the country of this impost we have only to look at what has happened to the postage bills carried by country newspapers. As a result of these increases in postal charges and teleprinter charges, the bills for postal and allied services borne by country newspapers have in many instances increased by about 100 per cent. In one case the bill rose from £1,300 to £2,600, and in another case from £800 to £1,374. One could quote many figures to indicate just how the country people have been hit a staggering blow by this impost, laid on them by an Australian Country Party Postmaster-General without any regard to their needs. Only one Australian Country Party speaker has participated in this debate, as the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) reminds me, and I am not surprised at that. This action of the Government is so wrong, so utterly unjust and unfair, that “The Taxpayers’ Bulletin “, the organ of the taxpayers’ association, described it in its September issue last year as the “ Double-take in taxation “. That is the case being made by the Opposition in this House. This is the double-take in taxation. It is a spurious means of getting at the people once again. “ The Taxpayers’ Bulletin “ said -
Taxpayers will greet with emotions ranging from sorry resignation to foaming indignation the interesting discovery of Mr. John Eddy, economist and financial editor of the Melbourne “ Herald “, that the purpose of the proposed increases in postal and telegraph charges is not, as alleged, to meet increased operating costs, but to pay interest to the Treasury - on money extracted, interest free, from the taxpayers of Australia and made available to the Postmaster-General’s Department over the post-war years for capital works.
If the Postmaster-General’s Department had some clear-cut policy, or any definite plan, to meet the needs of the people of this country, one could appreciate its plunder of the public purse in this fashion. But the figures regarding the lag in the provision of telephones in the division of La Trobe - a most interesting electorate at this time - show, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has said, that there are approximately 2,400 unsatisfied applicants for telephones in the area, and these are not only individuals, but also business houses. In Croydon, one area in that electorate, there are 548 applicants awaiting telephones. In Mitcham there are 941 unsatisfied applicants, and in Ringwood 558. One could find that position repeated all over Australia.
I have two specific cases in my own electorate which show the failure of the Postmaster-General’s Department to meet the needs of the people. A post office building which was promised to the people of Bathurst in 1951 has not yet been started. All we have is evasion and shifting of ground by the Postmaster-General. A post office was promised to the people of Oberon in 1954, but nothing has yet been done about providing it. That is the position all over the country.
The Opposition has every justification for protesting about these excessive charges, which are a new form of taxation, about the failure of the Government to give maximum services to the people, and about the fact that the services which are provided are lagging behind the increase in our population. We also have every right to protest about the narrow partisan attitude adopted by the Postmaster-General, and the amazing situation that the department refuses to give services to the people who need them. There are 40,000 applications for telephones outstanding in this country. It is truly an amazing state of affairs that the Post Office is the only business from which people cannot get the services they pay for.
-Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- This proposal, of course, will deceive nobody. It is a hardy old chestnut, well known over the years. When costs rise and the increases are reflected in the financial results of the operations of the Post Office, charges must be raised too. If at the time there is a responsible government in office the charges are raised. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) quoted remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) when he introduced increased postal charges some years ago. It is a sad deterioration, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from the position in the time of the late Mr. Chifley, who held very different views in these particular matters from those of the present Leader of the Opposition.
The fact is that in most branches of the Post Office, when you take into account the capital used, there is an operating loss. It would be as well to narrow down the field of discussion somewhat in relation to this matter. The Opposition has made great play with postal charges. In fact, in the last year, 1958-59, there was an operating loss of £822,000 on the postal section of the Post Office. The question of interest on the capital used does not enter into the matter, because that loss is just a sheer operating loss. If, in fact, we were to go on meeting increased costs and doing nothing whatever about offsetting them, that loss would become more and more each year. There is also an operating loss on the telegraphic section of the Post Office. It is only in relation to the telephone services that by any juggling of accounts one can possibly reach the conclusion that there was a profit. And that profit needs to be closely looked at, because the basis of the Opposition’s case is that there was a nominal profit, before charging interest, of £7,700,000.
Before we touch the question of interest there are a few other things which are uncertain and unclear at the moment. One is, of course, the charging of superannuation due to employees of the Post Office which, in itself, represents a very large amount. There is also a number of questions concerning whether maintenance is, in fact, fully charged and does not, in some cases, spill over into the charge against newworks, and should not have been so charged. It is notorious that over the years the basic accounting of many of the Post Office accounts has become unsatisfactory. For that reason a committee is inquiring into the matter. It no doubt will elucidate many of these problems in due course, and enable us to make a better judgment. But this argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the taxpayer is called upon, first, to pay a large sum of capital to the Post Office, and then pay interest on it back to himself should, of course, deceive nobody for very long. There are two definite identities concerned in this process. One is the taxpayer as such, and the other is the user as such. If, in fact, when capital is provided, no interest is paid on it at all, the taxpayer has to meet that much extra in the following year. If, as is so in the telephone branch, the total assets invested are worth £411,000,000, and the users of telephones paid interest on that capital amounting to something like £20,000,000 a year, that amount would be a subtraction from the amount that they would have to find in the following year for postal works, including extensions to the telephone services. Now, the brute fact is that it costs on the average £290 to install a telephone, and the user of the telephone pays about £10 to the department to have it installed. The taxpayer makes up the difference. If he pays no interest whatever on that sum, the telephone user, as such, receives a gift from the taxpayer, as such, of something like £280. If we were to adopt the general principle which has been advocated by the Labour Party, where would we draw the line? It has been said that the Post Office is a public service. To take that principle to its logical extreme, you would in fact provide the service free of charge and make the taxpayer bear the whole cost. But if the services which are provided by the Post Office are to be used in an economical manner, it is only fair and equitable that, by and large, the user rather than the taxpayer should pay for them. From whatever angle you view the matter, you always get back to this question: Shall the user pay, or shall the taxpayer pay?
I turn now to the accounting system. If, as we recognize, there are certain users who for one reason or another should be subsidized, there is no reason why that should not be done out of Consolidated Revenue. But if we do that, let that process be clear in the accounts. Do not let us befuddle and confuse the general public as to the true position. This issue has been raised on this occasion, and no doubt it will be raised again. Similar things are said every few years whenever it becomes necessary to raise Post Office charges. It might be said that these increases could be avoided if the Post Office were to become more efficient. The fact is that over the years the Post Office has become more efficient. This has been indicated quite clearly in the annual reports. In the last five years, business in the postal branch has increased by 22 per cent, while the staff has increased by only 12 per cent. In the telephone branch, business has increased by 35 per cent, and the staff by only 14 per cent. But in the Telegraph Branch, business has declined by 13 per cent, and the staff by 1 1 per cent. So, over the years the service has become more efficient, but unfortunately this efficiency is not increasing at a rate which enables the Post Office to offset increasing costs.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports who, as we all know, contorts his natural inclinations to fit. the political situation - has suggested that by charging a little more than is required to meet the daily operating expenses, we are charging the present user for installing to-morrow’s telephones. The fact is that the present user of a telephone has received a direct subsidy from the taxpayer and, far from paying for to-morrow’s telephones, he is not even paying for his own.
.- The urgency debate which has been initiated by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) directs attention to the undesirability, having regard to the profit of £6,000,000 which was disclosed in the annual report of the Post Office for 1958-59, of continuing the present postal charges which will provide an additional £16,000,000 during this financial year.
One would have expected the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) to be the first to come into this debate and give some answer to the logical argument put forward by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. But the Treasurer (Mr. Harold -Holt) took the lead. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) said that the Opposition’s move to-day had deceived nobody. But the Treasurer made it crystal clear that not only this Parliament, but also the people of Australia, were deceived by the reasons given by the PostmasterGeneral and by the Government for the increased charges which have been levied. As has been pointed out by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti)-
– What is your policy?
– That is the parrot cry of the Treasurer. It is the same parrot cry ‘that he uttered during the debate on another matter which was before us recently. Does he expect the Opposition to bring down a policy to govern Australia? Are he and the Government so helpless that they cannot advance any concrete proposition? Does he have to ask, “What would you do to solve the problem? “? If the Treasurer is incapable of doing the job that he has been elected to do, he should resign and make way for somebody else. He should not push the Country Party Minister out of the way and virtually take over the portfolio of Postmaster-General as he has done to-day.
We know that the Postmaster-General is most uncomfortable. He never supported the proposition that postal charges should be increased, and I have been wondering what members of the Country Party will rise in their places during this debate to support him. What about the upandcoming young honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), this promising leader? One would expect him to rise and say something about it, but he is conscious that the people of Lismore have already expressed their views on the increased postal charges. What about the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who usually will rise in his place on any pretext? He has not sought to defend these increased postal charges to-day. What about the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton)? He has not said a word about them. The Liberal Party has taken control. Its action to-day in pushing aside “the Postmaster-General has shown that this is a Treasury concern. The Treasurer has admitted that postal charges were increased to obtain additional revenue.
– Quite right!
– The Minister has said, “ Quite right! “. Then why not resort to a subterfuge when the measure was introduced? Why did the Government not say that the additional revenue was needed to counter the high costs as a result of the increase in the basic wage? Have Ministers joined the employers who were castigated by a member of the Industrial Commission in the recent basic wage case? The judge pointed out that many private concerns were quite able to carry the increased basic wage, and that he knew of a firm which had increased its prices to cover the increase when, in fact, the firm could have covered it adequately without raising its prices. Has the Government become like the transport authority which claimed that increased wages were responsible for increased transport charges, but which, when on appeal a court held that this was not an acceptable reason, conveniently forgot to reduce its charges? This Government used the same old excuse that increased wages had caused the increased costs. But the Treasurer has now said that Post Office charges were increased to obtain additional revenue! At least, now we know the reason. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has pointed out, it was a tax collection.
What is wrong with increasing direct taxation? What is wrong with being honest about the proposition?
– The Government reduced direct taxation.
– That is right, the Government reduced direct taxation for the people who can afford to pay, but has hit the little people in the community - as it always does - and is making them carry the burden.
I should have liked to hear the postmasterGeneral 1 tell us the story associated with his threat to resign his portfolio over this matter. It would be most interesting. I should like the honorable member for Canning, who assists the Postmaster-General, to tell us the real story, but, like the honorable member for Richmond, he remains silent.
At least, we have learned to-day that the increased charges were levied as a means of obtaining additional revenue and not to cover the day-to-day services of the Post Office, and that the Government gives relief to its friends in the very high income bracket and imposes these additional charges on the small people in the community. It would not be so bad if we had some real plan from the Post Office to cope with some of the problems with which it is confronted to-day. However, I do not blame the staff of the Postmaster-General’s Department for the absence of a plan.
The large number of telephone applications outstanding has been mentioned. The number is increasing each year instead of decreasing, at least in South Australia. One would expect that, with the great revenue being earned and the great profits being made by the telephone branch of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, the department would have been able by now to introduce a plan to get rid of the long list of outstanding applications eventually, whether in one year, two years, three years or four years. Instead, the number of outstanding applications just goes on increasing. The Government’s only answer to this is to increase charges and rentals in the hope that it will price out of the list the people with outstanding applications. In spite of this approach, however, applications continue to come in.
We find a ridiculous situation in which, perhaps, cables are run half-way down a street. They may serve to satisfy only twenty applicants. The department’s men then pick up their gear and move to the far end of the district. By the time they get back to that street again, maybe one or two years later, four times the original number of applicants from that street will be waiting for telephone installations. Just as Bill Jones, who may have been waiting for four or five years, looks like getting a telephone, a newcomer moves into his street, and, on the department’s system of priorities, he manages to get a telephone, and Bill Jones misses out.
Every honorable member in this House knows, as do the many people who are waiting for the installation of telephones, the tone of the letters that come back from the department: “ We appreciate your difficulty.” “ Plans are in hand.” “ Additional cables will be laid.” The people of Australia are paying plenty in postal and other charges imposed by the Postal Department, and they are entitled to receive service in return. To-day, I brought up the matter of two letters which were delivered only after considerable delay. The honorable member for Richmond has told us about a letter which his wife posted a week ago and which has not yet been delivered. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) also mentioned long delays, and the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) also has complained. Service should be given, but it is not given despite the high cost to the people.
This matter should be earnestly considered by the Government. We know that the Liberals do not care about it. We know that they have pushed the Australian Country Party about and that they think they now have that party out of line. But here is a chance for members of the Country Party to show that they are opposed to the Government’s policy in respect of the Post Office and to speak up, if they have the courage. I challenge them to speak their real thoughts and to express their opinions plainly.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think it has now become pretty obvious that the Opposition is completely bereft of arguments to support its case and has now descended to personalities and pure party politics. In other words, as my friend, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), has so well said, Opposition members cannot present to this House an alternative policy; nor, for that matter, can they make effective criticism.
Three points were raised by the honorable gentleman from Kingston (Mr. Galvin). He asked, first of all, why the Treasurer replied to the Opposition’s case first on behalf of the Government. This was solely because the Treasurer first mentioned the changes in postal charges in the speech in which he presented the Budget for the current financial year, and this was a perfectly normal thing for the Government to do. Consequently, it is perfectly normal, also, for the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) to follow the Treasurer in this discussion.
The second point mentioned by the honorable gentleman from Kingston was that the additional fees and charges were imposed in order to obtain more revenue. That is perfectly true, Sir. They were imposed to obtain revenue for the purpose of meeting both current expenses of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and some part of the department’s capital expenditure. I think it ought to be fairly well known, although it has not been pointed out to the House in this discussion, that the department’s accounts are in two different classes. There are, first, the normal current accounts, which are generally referred to in the annual report made by the PostmasterGeneral. Secondly, there is the department’s capital account, which is dealt with by the Treasurer in the Budget each year.
I know that no one likes to pay higher charges, whether they are railway fares and freights, electricity charges or the prices of normal consumption goods - or, for that matter, fees and charges imposed by the Postmaster-General’s Department. It is perfectly obvious that, if additional fees have to be paid by those who use the services provided by the department, complaints will be, as they usually are, four or five times as intensive as are complaints in respect of increases in other charges. Consequently, we expect criticism. But we should not be judged on that criticism alone, Sir.
What we have to decide here to-day is: What are the merits of the case put by the Opposition? I think that its argument can be summed up in this way: It has said that, because the Post Office, last financial year, showed a profit of more than £6,000,000 on its commercial accounts, although, overall, it incurred a deficit of something like £30,000,000, the additional fees imposed in the current financial year for the purpose of reducing the total deficit should be cancelled. First of all, the Opposition has mixed up last financial year with the current financial year, and it has not paid proper attention to the fact that the accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department are put to the Parliament in two separate compartments.
As I see it, there are two questions to be answered. First, was the Government’s action prudent? In other words, could it have done something different? Was the imposition of the additional charges necessary, or would some other method have been better? The second question is: What would the Opposition have done had it occupied the government benches in this Parliament? I think that, in answering this second question, we are perfectly entitled to go back to 1949 and ask what the Labour government then did when it was considering the overall accounts of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
My colleagues already have made in this House the point that, had it not been for the increased charges, which will raise £16,200,000 in a full year, the Treasury would have had to provide for the Post Office out of Consolidated Revenue a total of £44,600,000 in the current financial year. As a result of the increased charges, the Treasury will have to provide only £28,400,000 out of Consolidated Revenue - out of the Government’s general funds. The question that we have to face is: How could this amount of £44,600,000 have been provided except by raising fees and charges? I think that the answer is perfectly simple. First of all, the amount could have been found by increasing taxes. In that case, not the consumer or the person using the services, but the general taxpayer, who may not have been using the services, would have been asked to pay the increased charges and provide the money. Had this been done, the argument that inequitable and unjust measures were being taken could have been effectively brought forward. Another way of raising the money would have been to rely on treasury-bill finance, which, as every one in this House knows, most certainly is inflationary.
The honorable gentleman from Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has implored us not to stoke the fires of inflation if such a course can be avoided. But the very course of action that he would have adopted, if we can take his words literally, would have been inflationary in the extreme and would have stoked the fires of inflation which he has just begged us to avoid stoking if we can. There was no reasonable alternative. It was a matter of either imposing taxation, raising fees and charges, or failing to give the services that are so much needed in a rapidly developing economy.
So I answer the first question that I put here to-day: Was the Government’s action prudent, or was. there a sensible alternative? Frankly, I do not think there was a sensible alternative, and consequently I come down in favour of the proposition that it was prudent, and that it was in the best interests of the Australian people and of the taxpayers. Let me mention one other point which has already been made by my colleague, the. Postmaster-General. Between 1949 and. 1958 the total amount drawn from Consolidated Revenue Fund purely for capital works was £294,000,000, while the profits, so called, in the commercial accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department for that period amounted to £.7,000,000. All these facts bring one to the simple conclusion that the action of the Government was prudent. It was in accordance with normal commercial transactions. It will provide a large proportion of the funds to be used for the future development of the department. I make only one further point. I say that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports when speaking of interest rates was right off the beam, and that he obviously did1 not understand what the Treasurer had said.
I conclude with this question: What would the Opposition have done if it had been in power? In 1949 a proposal to increase charges in the Post Office was introduced by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). He put forward certain arguments justifying the increases. Sir, those arguments were exactly the same as the ones I have used this afternoon. We are perfectly justified1 in concluding, therefore, that if the Opposition had been in power, it would have done exactly the same as this Government has done. In other words, the Opposition has introduced this matter for political purposes and for no other reason. The Leader of the Opposition is endeavouring to interject, but I do not think he would disagree with me when I say that in 1949, when introducing a measure to increase postal charges, he said, “ We believe that the consumer should pay for what he gets”. In other words, “We believe that he should be making some contribution to current costs, and some contribution to the cost of providing additional facilities in the future”.
For the reasons I have mentioned, I answer in this way the questions that I have put: In the first place, the measure was a: prudent one; in the second place, the Labour Party would have done exactly the same if it had been in power.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– I suppose that at no time in the life of this Parliament have we seen so many Ministers so hard pressed in a debate as the Ministers we have heard to-day, who have tried to find an answer to the public criticism that has built up in Australia because of the action of the Government in increasing postal charges. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has been twitted by Ministers who have asked what we would have done if we had been in power. When we increased postal charges in 1949, we did so at a time when we were facing a deficit. This Government, on the other hand, increases postal charges at a time when the Postmaster-General’s Department shows a credit balance for the year of more than £4,000,000. It is of no use for the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) to come into this chamber and try to put over the story that the figure given for commerical profits does not represent the true picture. If this Govern-* ment wants to impose interest charges on capital funds taken from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, why does it not do so in respect of undertakings other than the PostmasterGeneral’s Department? Why does it not do so with respect to the Department of Civil Aviation? Is it because of Reg Ansett’s interest in civil aviation?
At a time when the Government professes to be concerned about increasing costs and prices, it is quite wrong for it to increase the charges of an organization already showing a profit. The PostmasterGeneral gave some interesting figures in his annual report for the year ended 30th June, 1959. He spoke of a financial turnover of £969,000,000, and of a commercial profit and loss surplus of £6,043,434, which represented an increase of £2,033,254 over the previous year.
The Government is building up, on a commercial level, the profits of an organization which represents a very important part of the national economy. If we are challenged - and I invite the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme), who is now at the table, to challenge us - and asked what we would do, we would say, first, that we would not increase charges, in such a way as to impose further costs upon the business and other sections of the community, in the case of an organization that is already showing a profit. Secondly, we would not do anything to increase the inflationary trend by increasing costs in this way. We would prefer to reduce costs than to approach the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission and attack the wage-earners in the way that this Government has done. That is the policy of this party, and it is a clearly defined policy.
The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has told us that the Government is collecting money in anticipation of future expenditure. That is so much rot. In the year ended 30th June, 1959, the Postmaster-General’s Department had a surplus of £4,000,000, which it could not spend with the manpower and materials that were available. Let the Minister for Supply refute that statement if he can. If he attempts to do so he must roundly condemn the PostmasterGeneral, because, throughout that year, there was a substantial waiting list for telephones, and the Minister to-day has the audacity to tell us that the waiting list for telephones is increasing.
When I look at this annual report I am reminded of another point that I want to make. I wonder whether New South Wales is getting its fair share of telephone installations. The report states that eight new automatic exchanges have been installed, three in Melbourne, one in Brisbane, two in Adelaide, one in Perth and one in Hobart - and not one in New South Wales.
– It is about time the other States had a go.
– I hear some voice over in the wilderness, belonging to some one who is not game to get up and take part in the debate, suggesting that it is about time the other States had a go. New South Wales is an industrial State. It is the industrial hub of Australia and provides, in very large measure, the finance that enables this Government to carry on. Let us hear what business people say about what the Postmaster-General’s Department is doing in a great city like Sydney. I shall refer, first, to Yagoona, a place sufficiently important to have had a post office for a time long enough to be counted in years. I shall read some extracts from a letter dated 15th February, 1960, which I received from a gentleman carrying on business in this important centre. The letter states -
My own business is being seriously affected by the failure of the Postmaster-General’s Department to provide me with a telephone service. More important, I am fully convined that the expansion of this town as a business centre is being retarded.
A further portion of the letter reads -
I arranged to take office space in the building, and as the owner….. had already applied for a service on behalf of his company, . . ., it was agreed that I could have the use of his phone until such time as I needed my own private line.
Businessmen are walking out of Yagoona. After new buildings have been completed, office equipment has been provided and the technicians have installed the necessary conduiting, people are told that nothing can be done for twelve months to provide them with telephones. We now have a situation in which a subscriber who had waited nine years for a telephone must accept a duplicated service. The department is telling businessmen, at this point of time that because of pressure it cannot provide individual services! The departmental letter to a taxi driver stated -
The service being connected with YX9038 is in a nearby residence and has an extremely low calling rate.
Of course, the taxi driver’s own service has an extremely low calling rate because the man is working around the clock and all the calls on his telephone are inward calls. That is the type of business which is having to accept a duplicated service. Not one new telephone exchange was constructed last year.
No doubt the Treasurer and those who advise him determined that they were going to take out of the community another slice of revenue that would be undisclosed. They gave taxation reductions to people who did not want them and who could well afford the existing rates of taxation, and then used this method to raise additional revenue. According to the reports in the last two years the Post Office has received more money from income than it could spend, having regard to the availability of manpower and material. The test of whether higher charges are justified is whether the organization into which the increased revenue is to be poured can make use of that increased revenue. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department cannot spend any more money now than it could two years ago. Otherwise, we would not be faced with the situation that I have described with respect to Yagoona and the department would not have a credit of £4,000,000 on its balance-sheet.
– That argument is worse than stupid.
– It is not. It is a realistic argument. The honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) was correct when he said that the Treasurer led the debate for the Government to-day because the matter concerns a Treasury decision. It was not the Postmaster-General’s decision. The Postmaster-General and everybody in the department would know that it is not capable, at this time, of spending any more money than it has been allocated for this financial year. I support the honorable member for Melbourne Ports because he has provided an avenue for censuring an incorrect procedure which has been followed by the Government. The honorable member has drawn attention to the undesirability, in the light of the profit of £6.000,000 disclosed in the annual report for last year, of continuing the present postal charges to provide an additional sum of £16,000.000 during this financial year. The Government is endeavouring to build up Treasury revenue at the expense of the cost structure of this nation. The money, in this instance, is going into a department which, because of the non-availability of man-power and materials, cannot spend it in service to the public.
– I do not quite understand the comments of the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) in this debate. He suggested that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department could not spend more money if it had it. If we look at the Estimates for this financial year we find provision for increased expenditure, overall, of £12,000,000 in this year as against last year. Similarly last year’s expenditure represented a substantia] increase over the previous year’s figure. I believe that if we gave another £20,000,000 to the Post Office this year, it would be able to spend the money.
The honorable member for Blaxland suggested that the Government had increased postal charges in an attempt to obtain hidden revenue. That is typical of many of the arguments of the Opposition in this debate. The honorable member knows quite well that, in order to increase these charges, it was necessary to bring a bill into this House and that the measure was keenly debated. Yet he claims that the Government tried to increase its revenue in a way that would not be disclosed!
The same type of argument came from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). He said that the Government was handing over to private industry the work of installing switchboards. There is no novelty about this. In fact, some two or three years ago the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) informed this House of the problem in relation to the installation of PABX systems and indicated the basis on which he had arranged for industry to make these PABX boxes and sell them or rent them to telephone subscribers. A rental concession was made by the Post Office because the subscribers concerned had to pay an additional rental for the equipment. The Leader of the Opposition said that as a result of this employment in the Post Office had been considerably reduced. That is completely untrue. There has not been one staff reduction because of this practice. I suggest that it was an appropriate innovation. Funds available to the department were made to go further because industry itself provided money for the manufacture of these exchanges.
I believe that, in this debate, there is confusion in the minds of Opposition members concerning the budget account and the commercial account because it is there that the greatest profit is shown. But when the Government considers what to include in the Budget, it looks merely at the cash which comes in by way of revenue, and the cash which goes out by way of expenditure.
We have only to look at the Estimates for the last few years to find out whether, in the budgetary situation, the Post Office had had a surplus or a deficit. For the year ended June, 1958, the commercial account revealed a profit of £4,000,000, but the budget account showed a deficit of just under £200,000. For the year ended June, 1959, there was in the commercial account a profit of £6,000,000. But the budget account showed a surplus of only £3,000,000.
No one will suggest that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), who introduced this debate, is not just as conversant with this side of the picture as I am. He knows the type of adjustments which are made between the commercial account of the Post Office and the budget account. These are all set out in the annual report for last year. Without dealing with the lot of them, I draw to the particular attention of honorable members the statement “ Treasury and Commercial Accounts “, which is found on pages 48 and 49. There, six items are especially referred to. One relates to superannuation, to which the Postmaster-General himself referred this afternoon. Another one is sundry debtors. Surely it must be obvious to every member of this House and the community that if the number of telephones installed increases year by year, the amounts outstanding for telephone calls and telephone rentals must be greater than they were in the year before. In this category there is an adjustment in the commercial account in relation to the financial year 1958-59 of about £2,500,000. Therefore, I believe that the Government is quite correct in taking notice of the budget account as against the commercial account, which, as we know, is not produced until some eight or nine months after the Budget is actually prepared.
What has been the performance in relation to telephones over the last couple of years? In 1957-58 the number of telephones installed increased by no less than 122,000. In the next year, 1958-59, there was an increase of 120,000. In the last eight months, as the Postmaster-General himself has said, there has been an increase in the installation of telephones in the Australian community which has approximated the increase for the full previous year.
When the honorable member for Blaxland suggests that we cannot spend the money, I direct his attention to the fact that at the end of February there were 46,579 deferred applications. That was an increase of 5,874 in a period of eight months. It is surely an indication that the increased capital expenditure is still insufficient to meet the needs of the Post
Office. Notwithstanding Labour’s lament during the last Budget debate that business in all sections of the Post Office would fall off, it is quite obvious that there was a considerable increase in every section of business for the Post Office in the ensuing six or eight months. The number of people still making application for telephones is surely proof of that particular fact.
I turn for a moment or two to the Financial and Statistical Bulletin issued by the Post Office and take Table 8. The increase in revenue last year, that is 1958-59, was approximately £9,000,000. That is almost the same amount as the increase from the new postal charges will be in this particular year. If I can reduce the actual increases in revenue of the Post Office last year as against the previous year and project them into this particular year in relation to this £10,000,000, the result will show that the average increase per head of population is approximately 12s. lOd. Having regard to the fact that Commonwealth Government business, State Government business, local authority business and all the business houses of the community are included, I suggest that at least 50 per cent, of the 12s. lOd. could be assessed as being in those categories and the other 50 per cent, in the private community. Reduced to a weekly increase that represents one penny, which is not equal to the cost of half a cigarette. The attempt of members of the Opposition to make a very big issue out of something of this magnitude is plain silly and wastes the time of the House.
When the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) opened this debate for the Government, he asked, “ What is Labour’s policy?” We believe, as a Government, that the user should pay. It is quite obvious that the Opposition does not believe that the user should pay for the service which he gets. The Australian Labour Party quite obviously believes that the non-user, the person who has not a telephone, should pay for the telephone of the person who has one. Surely that is inherent in the suggestion that there should be no contributions by the user to capital which is invested in the installation of his telephone.
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
.- It has been revealed during the course of this debate that the Government is no more in touch with public opinion with respect to increased postal and telephone charges than it was when the legislation providing for those charges was introduced in this Parliament. Those charges, which have been in operation for a period, have left the people aghast. They were appalled at the determination of the Government to juggle with the finances of the country in such a way as to take away a lot with one hand and grant a little with the other.
The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has been calling the tune which the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) has apparently no option but to sing. He has had to increase the charges. The Treasurer, in his initial Budget speech to this Parliament was hoping to secure some encomiums on being able to point to a £20,000,000 reduction in taxation - in minute amounts. That action represented a hurdle on which he seriously barked his political shins. It is quite reasonable to assume that his possible powers to rise to a more senior post in this Government were limited by virtue of his actions in this direction. To-day he was brought into the debate at an early stage so that, if possible, he might recover some of his status.
The important point to note is that he became the implement of the Treasury officials in regard to this form of financial jugglery which has affected the users of the postal services - the great mass of the people who are paying the piper. The debate to-day has revealed not only the financial results but also the approach of the department to this matter. This is clearly stated in the Annual Report of the Postmaster-General for the year ended 30th June, 1959. On page 6, under the heading “ Financial Results “ these statements appear -
The net surplus as recorded in the Commercial Accounts for 1958-59 was £6,043,434, an increase of £2,033,254 on 1957-58; the Telephone Branch profit of £6,935,514 was offset in part by losses recorded by the Postal and Telegraph Branches of £850,577 and £41,503 respectively.
This overall surplus of £6 million resulted after provision of £4,731,263 for Superannuation (an amount £2.5 million greater than cash payments to former employees), £812,730 for Interest (on Loan Funds) and a net credit of £2,814,346 to the Provision for Equalization.
That was the equation from the departmental point of view which the Government had to consider. It shows quite clearly that the Post Office is a vast financial undertaking that functions for the good of the nation as a whole and is essential in every sense. Its service was being maintained at the highest level of efficiency, and was producing a most handsome profit. I think it can be conceded beyond any doubt that there is a considerable segment in this government instrumentality which operates for the common good. Its principal concern is to provide means of communication for commercial and social requirements but at the same time it is doing its best to break even financially. This machine, however, is not intended to be a profit-making concern. Much less is it intended to be used as a tax-collecting agency. But that is a purpose to which it is being converted as a result of these new charges, which represent a double taxation. The increased charges are a form of indirect taxation levied to pay interest on money spent on capital works for the Post Office, but that money was itself provided out of revenue, much of it by direct taxation. That has always been the practice in regard to such capital works.
It was no wonder that all kinds of organizations - religious, commercial and social - and that people from all sections of the community protested vigorously against these increased charges. Country people in particular, as has been aptly pointed out by previous speakers from the Opposition side, have been slugged in a surreptitious fashion. Their representatives or so-called representatives in this House have failed to do battle in the interests of the man on the land and of the country people generally. That has been left to members of the Opposition - the Labour Party. We are not unmindful of the extra hardship that has been imposed upon these people. I feel that one of the factors which will bring about the defeat of the Government candidates in the La Trobe and Hunter byelections next Saturday will be the reaction of the people, by and large, to these increased postal charges.
In defence of the department I shall quote one paragraph from the section in the annual report dealing with charges for services. It reads as follows: -
The Government, therefore, considered it necessary to adjust certain charges for postal, telephone and telegraph services as from 1st October, 19S9, in order that Post Office earnings would be assured of meeting the cost of daytoday services and,, in particular, provide a return on the capital employed.
The situation bluntly was that the department at that stage was making a profit of £6,000,000 because the day-to-day services were paying handsomely. We are now asked to accept a suggestion that any capital required for further development of the Post Office should come from earnings. If that line is followed, then in many areas services will be discontinued or will not be expanded simply because a section of the department is not making a profit. Such a policy would strangle normal communication development in this great country.
Losses are inherent in the operations of this department, but with this handsome financial bonanza, one would imagine that the department was running at peak efficiency and that the postal services1 - I use the term in the broadest sense - were excellent in every way. That is not so. In many country districts, users of postal services are subject to most adverse conditions. In my own district of Wollongong, which has a population of more than 100,000, we have an antediluvian post office, and the post office at Corrimal is pre-historic. The Postal Department has railed to keep reasonably abreast of the expansion of this pulsating area, which is the second most rapidly advancing area in the world. This Government is lagging with shackled feet. The efficiency is not there. When I inquired why postal services had not been extended into new areas, I was informed that man-power was not available. This means that the Government is trying to run this great undertaking on the cheap, instead of paying adequate and competitive wages to get the necessary man-power. The other answer given is that the technical equipment is not available. But the technical equipment is available in other parts of the Commonwealth and is probably lying there still in the original package.
The Government is strangling an otherwise booming area. The situation with telegrams is absurd. A telegram cannot be sent in that district from mid-day on
Saturday until Monday morning, unless an extra charge is paid for a telephone call to Sydney. This department, which the Government pretends is running at high efficiency, cannot keep a telegram office open at week-ends and on public holidays in the second greatest city in New South Wales and potentially the most important city in the Commonwealth. This shows that the financial strength of the department is not being reflected in improved services.
-Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The Australian Labour Party has very obviously raised this matter in the hope that it will influence the electors of La Trobe next Saturday. I hope that the memories of the electors there will be refreshed so that they will recall that, when Labour was last in office, it made profits exceeding £40,000,000 out of the Post Office. When it looked as if it would lose £1,700,000 for the year ended 30th June, 1949, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), acting in this House for the PostmasterGeneral, brought in legislation to increase postal charges. He said that the increases amounted to only 16 per cent., and were necessary because of the impact of the 40-hour week and increases in wages. I remind the electors of La Trobe that wages had been pegged until about 1948, so there could have been no increase in the basic wage, at least.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I point out that the time allowed for the debate has now expired.
– Order! The time for the debate has not expired.
– Apparently, the honorable member for Grayndler does not like what I have to say, but I want to remind him of what his leader said. At page 1815 of volume 203 of “Hansard” for 30th June, 1949, the Leader of the Opposition said -
A Government enterprise ought to pay its way. No one would suggest that a commercial undertaking should be operated on unbusinesslike lines.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), who introduced this matter, was a member of the Public
Accounts Committee. According to the minutes of evidence in the twelfth report of the committee, the honorable member said, whilst evidence was being given to the committee -
I think the basic philosophy of government in Australia, both Labour and Liberal, has been, roughly, that the Post Office ought to pay on an overall basis.
Because a profit of £6,000,000 has been made, and despite the losses suffered during the war, honorable members opposite come along to-day with a sham fight in an effort to influence the electors of La Trobe. This is obviously a political stunt, and I hope that the electors will remember what they suffered when Labour was in office. Opposition members need not argue that they were in office during war-time; they seem to advance this argument at every opportunity. The Labour Party, the party which believes that it speaks for the people of Australia, made a profit on operations of the Post Office during 1947 and 1948 of approximately £14,000,000. Why do these honorable members not look at the statistics before they raise these matters? The honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) referred to some antediluvian post office at Wollongong. If his description is accurate, it is a reflection on the members who have represented the area over the years.
– Order! The time allotted for the discussion under Standing Order No. 92 has expired.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to repeal the Flax Industry Act 1953, and for purposes connected therewith.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In November, 1957, the Government decided to withdraw from the field of flax production. At that point seven flax mills were being operated by the Flax Commission - a statutory Commonwealth authority. The commission has since processed the stocks of flax straw then on hand and has disposed of all the mills. It actually ceased activities on 31st March, 1960, leaving only the winding up of its affairs to be done. The bill now before the House provides for the official termination of the commission.
The Flax Commission was established in 1953 under the Flax Industry Act. The legislation authorized the commission to maintain and develop the flax industry in Australia in order to ensure that sufficient supplies of flax would be available for the purposes of the defence of the Commonwealth in the event of war. At that time, the Government considered it was desirable to avoid a recurrence of the experience of the 1939-45 war when a shortage of flax and flax products proved an embarrassment until a flax industry was developed in Australia as a war-time measure.
However, in 1957 the Government decided to withdraw from the flax production field after consultation with its advisers on defence matters who considered that under foreseeable conditions the continuation of financial assistance to the flax industry in Australia would not be justified on defence grounds alone. The current legislation authorizing the existence and operations of the Flax Commission derives its constitutional authority from Commonwealth defence powers. The Flax Commission has always operated at a financial loss despite the best efforts of the members of the commission to make it a sound economic proposition.
Since taking the decision to discontinue flax production as a Government project the Government has made it clear that it would give full consideration to any offers which might be made by private enterprise for the purchase of any of the flax mills as going concerns. However, of the seven mills controlled by the commission only one at Myrtleford in Victoria has, in fact, been sold as a going concern. The Myrtleford mill was purchased by Australian spinners who indicated they were buying it as a nucleus for possible expansion and as some security for supplies of flax fibre in case of an emergency. The mills other than Myrtleford were sold at auction for purposes other than flax processing. Since the Commonwealth vacated the flax production field it is of interest that some of the previous growers of flax in Victoria have found an alternative crop in linseed.
The present bill covers the arrangements that are essential to the winding up of the affairs of the commission. The actual work of the commission has been completed but for some time yet there will be debts to collect and accounts to pay. There are also assets to be disposed of. The staff of the commission has already been dispersed but the miscellaneous tasks involved in bringing the commercial and financial affairs of the commission to finality will be handled by my department.
I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring on a bill for an act relating to whaling.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill has a dual purpose. First it contains provisions designed to ensure that Australia’s obligations under the International Whaling Convention of 1946 and the Protocol of 1956 are fulfilled by the Australian whaling industry. Secondly it provides for the repeal of the Whaling Act 1935-1948 and for new legislative requirements that will be more appropriate in relation to the administration of land-based whaling activities in Australia than the present legislation, which was framed to a great extent to cover the possible operations of factory ships and attendant catchers.
The Whaling Act of 1935 implemented the provisions of the International Whaling Agreement signed in Geneva in 1931, to which Australia was a party. That agreement was the first of a series of international agreements leading to the International Whaling Convention which was signed in Washington in 1946, and was ratified by the Australian Government in December, 1947.
The 1935 Act was amended in 1948 to cover the provisions of the International
Convention. This act as amended was also framed mainly to cover pelagic whaling, operations. Australia was not then engaged herself in whaling but the government of the day had been seriously considering the possible operation of a mother ship and attendant catcher boats in the Antarctic in competition with other nations, which send their fleets to Antarctic areas each year during the international open whaling: season in those waters. Since 1949, when a shore-based whaling industry became established in Australia, the old acts have not been entirely satisfactory as regards the administration of the land stations.
An amendment to the International Convention effected by the Protocol of 1956 provided for the inclusion of aircraft under the definition of whale catchers. It had previously been demonstrated that helicopters could be used for the taking of whales. Provision has been made in this bill to cover the use of helicopters in whaling. Furthermore, since 1949 a number of amendments relating to the conservation and utilization of whale resources have been made to the schedule to the International Convention. The present bill is intended to give effect to these amendments so far as Australia is concerned. It will also enable the Minister to provide for any future amendments to the schedule by means of notice in the Gazette. In this respect the bill follows the pattern of the Fisheries Act 1952-1959 and the Pearl Fisheries Act 1952-1953.
The Australian whaling industry has become an important industry. Since 1949, when only one Australian station was in operation and took 190 whales at Point Cloates in north-western Australia, a total of 16,884 humpback whales and 645 other whales have been taken. The sales of whale oil and by-products of these whales have realized over £18,000,000. At present four whaling stations are operating on the Australian coast. They are located at Carnarvon and Albany in Western Australia, at Byron Bay in New South Wales, and at Moreton Island in Queensland. There is also a station at Norfolk Island, and it is extremely important to the economy of that island.
While, as I have already mentioned, other species of whales have been taken in the past ten years, the Australian industry is dependent primarily on the humpback species which migrate annually from the Antarctic along the east and west coasts of Australia. Mating and breeding take place during this migration and the whale calves are born approximately a year later. The whale reproduction rate is very low and the stocks are susceptible to over-exploitation. The virtual annihilation of whales in the northern hemisphere, brought about by uncontrolled killing, has clearly demonstrated the necessity for proper conservation measures in relation to the Antarctic stocks. In fact the necessity for sound conservation measures by both the pelagic fleets in the Antarctic and by countries operating shorebased stations is the main reason for Australia’s adherence to the International Convention. It is also a major consideration in the administration of our own industry.
Under the present bill the Minister may prohibit the taking or killing of certain species of whales, immature whales, and females accompanied by calves. To support these prohibitions the bill provides that bonus payments shall not be made to masters, gunners or crews of factory ships or whale chasers on the basis of the number of whales taken only. Provision is made for the greatest possible utilization of the whale carcasses. In this connexion it is of interest that the Australian whaling industry has developed along most efficient lines. Processing results may vary somewhat from station to station and from season to season but in general they are satisfactory.
Unfortunately, the International Whaling Convention suffered a severe setback last year when Norway and the Netherlands withdrew from it. Japan had also given notice of withdrawal but cancelled this notice at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission in London in June, 1959. The withdrawal of Norway and the Netherlands was caused by the failure of the five countries, engaged in pelagic whaling in the Antarctic, namely, the United Kingdom, Norway, Japan, the Netherlands and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, to reach agreement on the division between themselves of the overall maximum quota of 15,000 blue whale units fixed by the International Whaling Commission for the Antarctic season. Although Norway and the Netherlands withdrew, both countries indicated that they would adhere to the provisions of the International Whaling Convention insofar as it did not prevent them from taking a fixed number of blue whale units to be determined by themselves during the present Antarctic season.
Notwithstanding this regrettable development in the international sphere, the Government considers that Australia should give full support to the International Whaling Convention, since a complete collapse of the convention would almost certainly be quickly followed by unrestricted exploitation of the whale stocks, and as a consequence, by the loss of a valuable primary industry to Australia. The proposed statutory backing in this bill of the provisions of the International Convention may be regarded as evidence on Australia’s part of the importance we place on international co-operation to preserve whaling as a long-term industry. The bill also ensures the sound administration of the industry in Australia.
I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Whitlam) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Opperman) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to repeal the acts relating to Colonial Light Dues.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, the United Kingdom Government is empowered to collect light dues from the owner or master of every ship which passes and derives benefit from any lighthouse, buoy or beacon on the coast of a British possession. Under arrangements made in 1932, the Australian Government has been collecting such dues on behalf of the United Kingdom Government from ships arriving at ports in Australia which have passed, or derived benefit from, lighthouses and buoys situated in the Bahamas and on Sombrero Island, one of the Leeward Islands, all being in the West Indies. These dues have been collected by Collectors of Customs in the various ports on behalf of the Department of Shipping and Transport, under the authority of the Colonial Light Dues Collection Act 1932- 1936 and the Colonial Light Dues (Rates) Act 1932-1936, and regulations thereunder.
The dues collected by the Commonwealth have been paid to the United Kingdom Government from the Consolidated Revenue Fund by authority of the Colonial Light Dues Appropriation Act 1932. The United Kingdom recently advised that it proposes to ratify the International Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone 1958, and that as Article 18 of that convention precludes the levying of charges on foreign ships by reason only of their passage through the territorial sea, it is necessary that the collection of such dues by and on behalf of the United Kingdom shall cease.
– Why do we not ratify the convention ourselves?
– At the present time, it is a matter of cleaning this matter up. As a result, the United Kingdom Government has requested all Commonwealth authorities to cease the collection of colonial light dues as from 25th March, 1960. This request has been complied with by Australia. It is therefore necessary that the Australian legislation relating to the rates of, and the collection of, such dues should cease to have effect as from 25th March, 1960, and the bill therefore seeks to repeal the Colonial Light Dues Collection Act 1932-1936 and the Colonial Light Dues (Rates) Act 1932-1936, with effect accordingly. The regulations under those acts will, of course, cease to have any effect when the acts are repealed.
As it will take a little time before all the final financial adjustments with the United Kingdom can be made from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, the bill provides, with the concurrence of the Treasurer, for the repeal of the Colonial Light Dues Appropriation Act 1932 with effect from 1st July, 1960. The measure is obviously necessary, for the reasons I have explained, and no doubt all honorable members will vote in its favour.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Whitlam) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 30th March (vide page 760), on motion by Mr. Adermann -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Every one who is interested in the cattle industry will, 1 feel sure, welcome this legislation. Not only does it make available for much needed research work a substantial sum of money, but it also brings the cattle industry into partnership with the Commonwealth Government in the planning of expenditure from the Beef Cattle Industry Research Fund. The legislation is, of course, very much overdue. There is ample precedent for it. We have, as the Minister has stated, similar arrangements with the wool, wheat, dairy produce and tobacco industries. On the other hand, there is a far better example of research within an industry. I refer to the sugar industry, which carries out extensive research, through all fields of its operation, wholly financed within the industry. Generally it has been found that the best results are obtained from investigations in which the producers concerned really feel they have an interest.
The Minister is to be congratulated on at long last getting the various interested bodies and organizations to agree on the composition of, or representation on, the board. With this now a reality, or very nearly so, it is my belief that it is very important for us - in fact, it is our definite duty and responsibility - to take a very close interest in the decisions of the board to ensure that we get good value for the money to be spent on research.
Taking the short-term view, we can make an immediate contribution to the industry by facing up to the problem of transport, the lack of which causes staggering losses almost every year, because cattle cannot be walked to relief areas in drought or got to market from many inland areas when they are ready for turnoff. The industry is hobbled and sidelined through this tragic transport situation. Our lack of trunk communications, road or rail, is highlighted by the growing interest in, and growing use of, sea transport. For some time now shipments have been made from Western Australia and the Northern Territory around to the eastern meatworks at Cairns and Townsville, and the barge “ Wewak “ has been operating along the peninsula to Cairns. Now we have news of another shipping company - the Clausen line, a Danish company - intending to open up and exploit cattle from the Gulf country and ship it round the peninsula to Cairns and Townsville. This is very good news. But the project needs every encouragement. It is only a small part of the answer to this problem because we need transport to these shipping points once they are established, and where we cannot provide finance for roads for conventional transport, we should encourage off-road transport or what is known as cross-country transport.
Our recent loss of about 100,000 cattle through drought in the Channel country has probably cost the industry at least £4,000,000. We have the situation almost every year of cattle leaving the more remote inland areas and being taken to market. In most cases they leave in a marketable condition and walk hundreds of miles. There is a tragic wasting of condition, so they are put on to fattening areas and have to repeat the whole process of fattening - a very wasteful process. Recently in the Channel country these cattle were almost entirely lost because there were not adequate transport facilities available to move them.
There are several other factors or longterm requirements on which we should be concentrating ever-increasing research and effort. They are plant research, the suitability of breeds of cattle, and disease control techniques. Other factors are also important, but the three to which I have referred are probably the most important and the first, plant research, is bv far of the greatest importance so I shall refer to it now. The major objective of research is to increase beef production. The most important factor which is limiting production is food supply for stock. Research in other fields, such as disease and animal breeding, although important, must be regarded as subsidiary. If an improved food supply can be made available great increases in production can be achieved by using the existing methods of disease control and the existing breeds of cattle.
Australia has a beef cattle population of about 12,000,000, of which 8,000,000 are in northern Australia - Queensland, the Northern Territory and the northern part of Western Australia. Queensland carries 6,000,000 of these cattle. About 20 per cent, of Australia’s beef production is exported, and 80 per cent, of those exports comes from Queensland. In addition, about 400,000 head of cattle move annually from the north to the south for fattening and slaughter for southern markets. Thus southern Australia is well supplied with beef from its own resources and from the northern areas, while the Queensland industry provides the main exportable surplus. It has been estimated that by 1975 - in about fifteeen years - Australia’s population will be about 14,000,000. To maintain the present volume of beef exports and the per capita domestic consumption, an increased production of about 250,000 tons of beef a year, representing an increase in the cattle population of 5,000,000 head, will have to take place. Undoubtedly, that increase in the cattle population will be essential.
Logically, most of this expansion should be encouraged in northern Australia where beef cattle raising is, in most regions, the sole form of land usage. By contrast, in the south beef cattle raising is, to a very large extent, a subsidiary activity associated with sheep, dairy and cereal farming. New research work in the north, although directly serving the Queensland industry, will have application to the whole of the northern area of Australia. Similar conditions apply to some extent in northern New South Wales, but the research work which has been done in Queensland, where we have the bulk of our population and where the main source of our exports lies, must be encouraged.
Two-thirds of Queensland is devoted to cattle-raising on lands that fall into two categories. The first category covers regions which are distant from markets and centres of population, and comprise the Channel country, the north-west and the Gulf and Cape York districts which contain about 70 per cent, of the beef cattle area but only about 40 per cent, of the cattle. The second category covers regions which are relatively close to markets and cities, and comprise the coastal flats, the eastern highlands, the coastal ranges and the hinterland which contain about 30 per cent, of the beef cattle area but support about 60 per cent, of the cattle. The production of beef cattle is now based almost exclusively on natural and induced pastures which, in the main, are characteristically composed of bunch type grasses with no significant legume component. The growing season is short and the feed value of these pastures falls off very rapidly with the onset of winter due, in part, to low temperatures and the general seasonal pattern. Moreover, the conservation of native pasture species is generally uneconomic because of the high cost per unit of feed conserved. Native pastures show a marked deficiency of protein and energy in the late winter and spring, and mineral deficiencies, particularly of phosphorous, are far more widespread than people realize. Consequently, there is an annual check in cattle growth which is usually accompanied by a weight loss. In some areas this is very considerable.
This fluctuation in seasonal conditions is reflected in the beef production of Queensland abattoirs. From May to September the average monthly production is 24,000 tons, compared with only 12,500 tons from October to April. The seasonal fluctuation in pasture quality makes it difficult to produce a high-quality carcass or to market animals below an average age of four to six years. Stocking rates and turnoff of finished cattle are, therefore, low in relation to cattle population by comparison with areas which use sown pastures.
These general problems are intensified in regions remote from population and market centres because of lack of transport, as I have mentioned. The standard of management in these regions also tends to be lower, very largely because of low returns on capital investment in property improvement. Moreover, they are less favoured climatically, having a generally lower annual rainfall, restricted to a shorter season, than the eastern coastal and sub-coastal districts.
It has been estimated that there are 190,000,000 acres in Queensland where the climate favours the growth of improved pastures, that is, regions with an annual rainfall of over 20 inches south of the tropic, and over 30 inches north of it. Most of this land is now devoted to raising beef cattle on a very extensive scale. The highest stocking rate found on native pastures is one beast to 7 or 8 acres in the more fertile brigalow zone, and one beast to 10 acres on the better spear grass country. By contrast, some of the larger grazing properties of poor land carry only a few beasts to the square mile. Experiments in sown pastures have shown that the carrying capacity can be raised considerably. Stock has been continuously grazed on sorghum almum in the brigalow country for several years at the rate of one beast to the acre, and sown pastures on spear grass country have carried one beast to 3 acres and have brought them to killing weight a year before those on native spear grasses.
These results show the excellent prospect of increasing three or four-fold the cattle population on the more favoured areas, with an even greater increase in beef production as a result of earlier maturity. These increases can only be brought about by intensive pasture research involving the introduction, selection and breeding of sown pasture, fodder plants and supplementary crops which are suited to the range of climatic environment found in tropical Australia, and by improving soil fertility in relation to both nutrient supply and physical condition, so that the climates which are favorable to increased production can be exploited. The task ahead of those who will undertake the research is tremendous. If they can achieve the results which are hoped for, vast developments will take place. Few people realize how vast these developments can be.
On several occasions, in this House, I have directed attention to the urgent need to develop quickly the high-rainfall or wet tropical coast of north-eastern Queensland by pasture improvement with tropical grasses and legumes which are already known.
– -Centro is a good legume.
– It is a splendid legume. This is something which can be proceeded with straight away. It is already being done on a limited scale, and the pattern is fairly well set. The object of this is to bring store cattle from inland - from the natural breeding country inland - and fatten them on the coast close to meatworks at Cairns and Townsville.
– And Rockhampton.
– And Rockhampton. That is the consistent pattern, and this could and should result in having a supply of fat cattle in what is now the slack season, from about October through to March. This is an urgent requirement, because employees in the meat industry in north Queensland are subject to very great hardship as the industry is seasonal. The provincial city of Townsville, for example, loses more than £1,000,000 a year as a result of the loss of wages when the meatworks close down annually. No provincial city should be asked to suffer this.
– It must be stopped.
– It certainly must be stopped.
– What do the men do in the meantime?
– They do nothing at all, because no secondary industries are yet sufficiently well established to take care of them. That is being looked into, but this pattern has been going on for years, and it is a very sad one.
I have carried out extensive investigations into this matter, and I am convinced that it is quite conservative to think in terms of 200,000 head of cattle being fattened on this wet tropical coast each year on improved pastures. The Queensland Government is now taking an interest in this matter. This development, together with the normal turn-off during the wet season from the big areas inland, would provide sufficient extra cattle every year to ensure killing all the year round. Many hundreds of men who are now only seasonal workers would have permanent employment, and this is vitally important - we could have continuity of supply for our export trade in chilled beef by the short route round Cape York Peninsula and through Torres Strait to the United Kingdom. We have never had continuity of supply to enable us to build up a proper permanent export trade.
Until we have safe all-year-round fattening areas - and the wet tropical coast is completely safe in this regard - with a sound system of transport between these areas and the breeding districts, we shall never have stability in our beef industry and our export trade. Any one who knows anything about stock realizes the value of having safe fattening areas close to killing and shipping facilities. We hear a tremendous amount about the Channel country and its ability to fatten cattle. After flooding, it is probably one of the richest areas in the world. But it is seriously affected by bad seasons, and it is probably true to say that it is good for only three years in every five. We can never have stability in our beef cattle industry while we rely solely on areas such as the Channel country. The turn-off from this area of Queensland is purely supplementary to that from other fattening schemes which we must put into effect.
The Cunningham laboratory has been established in Brisbane by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization for plant research. It was opened late last year by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). This laboratory is carrying out very important work on tropical plant research. But this work needs expanding. The laboratory needs teams of agrostologists to take its work into the field in the north, and small research centres are needed throughout the north for extension work in getting the findings of the laboratory quickly to the men in the cattle industry.
There are many other problems. I mention only disease control and animal breeding, the problems of which are being tackled, though not fast enough by any means. On the animal breeding side, we certainly have to realize that large areas of northern Australia may be better served by cattle environmentally suited to the tropics. From the time when we began to populate our north with cattle, we have used British or northern European breeds, which have done a remarkably good job. They have been the whole base of our cattle industry. But I think that present trends show that we can do better in certain areas by using cattle more suited to the tropics. Cattle of the Santa Gertrudis breed or cattle with Brahmin blood or other blood which we may ultimately get from overseas may be the answer. They certainly offer very promising prospects.
– There are some pests.
– On the disease side, we need far more work on the problems of reproductive diseases. We are losing a tremendous number of cattle every year because this problem has not been faced up to. We need research into the artificial insemination of beef cattle. What is being done with dairy cattle is well known, but the conception rates in dairy cattle and beef cattle differ by something like 40 per cent. It is tragic that many beef cattle producers who want to improve their beef herds by artificial insemination cannot find the answer to the relatively low conception rate, because sufficient research on this problem has not been done anywhere.
These and many other problems can be tackled* Mr. Deputy Speaker. Proper plant research and the raising of the level of nutrition throughout northern Australia, where most of our beef cattle are bred, are, I believe, the most important requirements of all.
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
. I welcome this legislation, because I believe that the development of any industry, whether primary or secondary, depends on its ability to finance institutions for conducting research into its problems. I agree heartily with the principle that the industry must make its fair contribution towards the solution of problems associated with it.
There are some aspects of the bill about which I feel uneasy, and perhaps- my mind can be set at rest by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann), or by the Minister who is representing him, when replying at the conclusion of the debate. I believe that because of illness the Minister for Primary Industry is not in his place to-night. We regret this circumstance very much, because we had hoped that some of the points that will be raised in the debate would be clarified by him. It will now,, of course, be left to the Minister representing him to attempt to clarify those points. It is regrettable that the Minister is not here, but we understand, the circumstances.
I am concerned, first, regarding the type of research institution to be set up to handle the various aspects of investigation that will be undertaken. I would like to know whether the committee that is to be established under the act intends to set up an independent research institution concerned with the industry and its related problems. Is it intended to establish bodies to inquire into aspects of research that are already the subject of investigation by institutions such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization? I would like to be assured that there will be no overlapping of research or effort, and no duplication of work. 1 feel that if an organization is set up to undertake work that is or has been the subject of investigation by the C.S.I.R.O., much energy and effort will be wasted, and the money provided by the producers and taxpayers will not be used to the best possible advantage. I feel that the moneys raised by levies and by contributions of taxpayers should be used to further the work that has already been carried out by that great institution, the C.S.I.R.O., which has already demonstrated its ability to acheve valuable results in other fields of industry. It would be wrong not to use the facilities of that organization to the full in investigating problems associated with beef cattle production. I realize, of course, that, there are matters dealt with in this measure, which are not, and have not been, the subject of investigation by the C.S.I. R.O. In connexion with such matters it will be necessary to provide additional research facilities.
I am not happy with the provisions for representation on the committee, and I will move, in the committee stage, for an additional member to represent the pastoral industry in the Northern Territory. I do not feel that the producer representatives as proposed can adequately look after the interests of the cattle-producing industry in the north.
What is the present state of the cattle industry? First, we see an industry showing an all-time high level of production of beef, while at the same time showing a decline in numbers of cattle over recent years. In his second-reading speech the Minister indicated’ the extent of increased production, but he did not point out certain other important aspects. He said: -
The output of beef has risen considerably in recent years. Total beef and veal production increased from 606,000 tons in 1949-50 to 908,000 tons in 19S8-S9, with a consequent increase in the surplus available for export.
The Minister suggested that these figures should give rise to satisfaction, but he said nothing of the concern that is felt in many quarters at the present trends in the industry. I shall give some figures from the Quarterly Review issued by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to illustrate my point, I may say that in other directions also the Government has created the false impression that all is well with the industry. In the 30th March, 1960, issue of “ Overseas Trading” we find an article which illustrates the strength of our present shortterm position, while failing to point out the weakness in the overall long-term situation. In an article dealing with the work of the Commonwealth Economic Committee Review of Meat, the journal says -
Beef and veal: The slight decline in world production in 1958 was due mainly to a reduction in output in the United States. However, as Australian output was at a record level, the Comonwealth total increased and represented nearly IS per cent, of the world total.
That is a very impressive statement, but it does not reveal why this increase has taken place. I shall demonstrate what I mean by referring to the “ Quarterly Review of Agricultural Economics “, Volume XIII., No. 1. On page 45 of that journal we find figures showing the numbers of cattle in Australia and giving the trends with regard to beef production over recent years. Under the heading of “ Beef Cattle “ we find that in 1957 we had 5,600,000 cows, while in 1959 the number had dropped to 5.400,000. This represents a decline of about 3 per cent. Then we look at the figures for calves - and it is in this section that we get most of our replacement stock and stock for expansion - and we find that whereas there were 2,430,000 in 1956, there are now only 2,330,000, revealing a drop of about 4 pcT cent. Looking at the total herd figures, we find that in 1956 there were 11,400,000 beef cattle, while the figure for 1959 is 11,430,000, showing a virtually static position.
Those figures relate only to numbers ot cattle, of course, and have no connexion with beef production. The figures for this year, I venture to suggest, will show an even worse position, because they will reveal the effects of drought and of overselling. If we deal with production tonnage during that period, we find that in 1955-56 the production was 751,000 tons. A total of 751,000 tons came from a herd oi 11,400,000 head. The total production of beef in 1958-59 was 909,000 tons from a herd of 11,430,000. Thus although herd numbers were virtually the same as in 1955-56, production had increased by 158,000 tons.
It is obvious that present production figures are not an indication of true normal production of beef in Australia. We have arrived at a record beef production, not by a normal increase in the number of cattle, but by drawing heavily on our capital - in other words, on our basic herds.
How did this come about? I would say that two factors had an influence - drought or semi-drought conditions over most of the beef-producing areas of Australia coupled with the demand and high prices paid for second-grade, boneless, meat in America. Graziers seized the opportunity of cleaning up their herds and also insured themselves against possible losses by accepting the high price offering for all station types. As well as male cattle, many females have been disposed of. We see, as a result of this state of affairs, thousands of breeders slaughtered. Had the seasons been more favorable and beef prices lower, these could have been producing calves to increase our herd numbers or at least replace normal losses. The tragedy is that, because of the continuing dry conditions over much of the beefproducing areas of Australia, the slaughter is still going on although the numbers being disposed of are not now as great.
In regard to male cattle the position is bad enough because, owing to overselling and dry conditions, a short market must exist for some time to come, with the result, of course, that the prices that consumers will have to pay for beef will remain at their present high level. When we look at the breeder situation, we find the position even worse because it is obvious that, without breeders, no replacement of slaughtered cattle can take place and certainly no herd expansion can take place. I would say that, when this year’s figures for breeder cattle are available, they will reveal that numbers have dropped back to near the 1954 level of 4.880.000. The latest figure we have is 5,400,000, but the up-to-date figure will not be available until later m the year. I feel that it will also show the same trend over the whole of the cattle population.
It is to this aspect that the Government will have to direct its attention urgently. Somehow, we must ensure that breeders which have to be disposed of in dry areas are diverted to more favorable areas so that they can continue to be used, replacing and building up herds. At present they are sold on the markets regardless of whether they are to go into bully beef tins or are to be used for their rightful purpose - to replace depleted herds and to expand the beef cattle population. This is an urgent national matter and the necessary steps must be taken without delay. Statements by the Minister concerned in regard to the overall beef position are not good enough. They do not reveal the true state of affairs of the industry. Positive steps must be taken in conjunction with the various bodies throughout the grazing industry to rectify - or at least to attempt to rectify - this state of affairs.
What are the problems which the committee newly created under this legislation will have to deal with? I say that the number one problem is herd replacement and expansion. I underline “ replacement “ because, without replacement, there can be no expansion. I know that the problems of tick control and pleuro-pneumonia are serious but, I feel, not as serious as the ones I have mentioned. Work should go on, certainly, to find a solution to them, but no stone must be left unturned, even at the expense of some other aspects of research, in our endeavours to find a solution to the problem of herd replacement. That can only be done by conserving the existing breeder herds and utilizing their breeding capacity to the maximum. This is a national issue and it affects our local consumption price and the industry’s contribution to our export balances.
How can this best be accomplished? After the committee has first solved the problem of conserving our breeder herds, I feel that the next step - the one of getting the maximum breeding output from those breeders still in existence - will only be solved by the extensive use of artificial insemination.It is impossible for the industry to muster the number of bulls of the quality required at a price the industry can pay satisfactorily to solve the problem.
I know that strong protests will be made by stud breeding interests at this assertion. Nevertheless, I feel that a bold approacha fresh approach - will have to be made. To show how the industry feels about breeder herd depletion I shall quote what the Sydney “ Sun “ had to say about the sale of a famous Australian herd in New South Wales to-day. It said -
NOTED STUD SALE “TRAGIC”.
One of the most renowned Poll Hereford cattle studs in the world - Milton Park, Bowral - will be sold by auction to-day.
The “ Sun “ had this to say, in commenting on the sale -
Disposal of the stud is regarded by beef cattle authorities as a tragedy. A noted authority, Mr. Frank O’Loghlen, said, “The dispersal is a national loss - a calamity “.
It is obvious that the alternative to the use of stud and herd bulls is artificial insemination. The existing stud breeding facilities will not, on their own, provide the answer. I realize that this method is not easy to handle when dealing with large herds or with herds running on the open range, but it can be used and it is well worth the time and trouble involved.
There are two approaches: One is artificial insemination of all breeders; the other is artificial insemination of a select herd of cows of a required standard on every property which, in turn, will provide the bulls in the necessary numbers. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray) touched on this problem and the necessity for research into it. I realize the first approach that I mentioned to be more difficult to accomplish than the second, but where it can be applied it should be applied.
That it is possible, of course, is demonstrated by the Texas King Ranch interests of America, which have acquired large pastoral interests in the Northern Territory in conjunction with Australian interests, and which have announced that they will use large-scale artificial insemination in their Brunette Downs herd. That herd numbers over 25,000 and the number of breeders in it could total 10,000. These people are experienced in this practice and if they consider it a practical proposition for use on such a scale I see no reason why the practice should not be more widely employed. Therefore, I trust that the first work of the committee will be to investigate the possibility of setting up stations throughout the cattle breeding areas, and in the Northern Territory in particular, for this purpose.
Then we come to another related problem - transport. There is at present considerable agitation aimed at securing allweather roads throughout the cattle areas. While I welcome the construction of allweather roads throughout these areas and I do not underestimate the part they will play in the development of the industry, I feel that it would be shortsighted and foolish to overlook the tremendous benefit that the construction of railways would provide for the industry, especially in the Northern Territory. This would benefit not only the pastoral industry but also the mining and agricultural industries and overall development.
I contend that there is still no substitute for railways when the hauling of large numbers of cattle or other live-stock over great distances is involved. I feel that before the Government commits itself to programmes of road construction it should have another look at railway proposals that have been made from time to time. I know that when one mentions railways Ministers immediately throw their hands in the air and say, ‘“What about the cost? “ If funds cannot be provided from within our own economy - and -I challenge that contention - then this is a proper proposal to take to the World Bank for its consideration. After all, an approach was made .to that bank recently for the purpose of financing the construction of the Mount Isa:Townsville railway. That railway was primarily needed to cater for the developmental needs of one firm, Mount Isa Mines Limited.
Mr. (Bandidt. - And to .carry some most valuable metal.
– That is so; that was the primary concern in the approach to the World Bank. Surely, it would be proper to take a proposal to the World Bank which would hove as its objective the substantial assistance of the development of Australia. Roads can, and must, play their part, but I feel that they cannot provide a solution to many of the transport problems of the outback.
We cannot think only in terms of fat or store cattle. We have to ensure, as far as humanly possible, the safety of the breeding herds. This may mean the shifting of them from .one part of Australia to another in times of drought. Only railways can fulfil this function economically. Cattle losses in the past, we all know, could have .paid for all the railways that were required for the transport of stock in outback areas. If adequate transport is not provided, losses in the future will cost the nation many more millions of pounds.
Another problem related to that of transport was touched on by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray) - the provision of large transports to facilitate the movement of cattle from many remote coastal areas. Here again investigations should be made, but not exclusively with regard to road transport. I point out these factors because they affect the industry as a whole, and they are vitally important to the Northern Territory.
Other problems of water and pasture research have been touched on by previous speakers, and I feel that if action can be taken along the lines I suggest the industry will benefit and the national economy, in terms of increased beef production, will be greatly .enriched. All this will play an important part in the general national development.
In connexion with the point I raised earlier as to the inadequacy of representation of the Northern Territory on the proposed committee, I will move, at the committee stage, an amendment which will have as its objective the appointment of an additional person to represent producer interests in the Northern Territory.
In the meantime, if the suggestions 1 have made, and which I am sure will be supported by following speakers, are implemented, the industry will greatly benefit. This is an industry worth fostering. It has a terrific potential in the Northern Territory - greater than anywhere else in Australia. Research along the lines I have suggested will help the industry and foster development in that part of Australia. For those reasons, I support the bill.
.- First, I commend the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) for the exceedingly constructive and wise speech that he has made on this particular matter. He has given the House much valuable information. Everything that he has said underlines the necessity for _this bill which has been brought in by the Government, and makes its implemenation more and more urgent.
It is absolutely necessary that the proposed research should be carried out and that the money should be found to have this done in the best and quickest’ possible way. The manner in which the Government suggests the money should be obtained is, first, by a levy on the various industries concerned and, secondly, by way of a subsidy on a £1 for £1 basis or even a little more generous than than. This gives an assurance that no time will be lost in carrying out the proposals contained in this measure.
The important thing is that there should be active co-operation between the industry and the Government. I am sure in my own mind that we must have 30,000,000 people in this country within the next twenty or 30 years if we want to hold it.
– You have done nothing about it.
– I have done a great deal for many years and have urged Labour governments to do something. If the Migration and Development Commission had not been wiped out by the Labour Government in 1929 the population of Australia would be far greater now. But if we get 30,000,000 people here we will need 30,000,000 head of cattle to feed them, apart from the exports that we will be trying to maintain to enable our balance of payments to be kept in a healthy condition.
Every one can appreciate the difficulties involved in increasing beef cattle herds under present conditions. The tick menace has to be faced, for example. It is doing tremendous damage throughout Queensland. Pleuro-pneumonia has spread throughout the northern parts of Queensland, the Northern Territory and the north of Western Australia. We can be thankful that it has not come down south yet. Various parasites and pests hamper the growth and health of the cattle and the only way in which they can be effectively dealt with is by means of constant research.
I am very glad that the Government has brought into being this organization to deal with these matters in a co-operative manner. I. am particularly pleased to see in the bill the proposed research committee and I would support the recommendation of the honorable member for the Northern Territory that a representative of the cattlemen of the Northern Territory should beadded to it.
– Finish on that note.
– Throughout my political life I have been trying to get unanimity in this House with regard to matters of this kind so that they might be dealt with on a national basis. The proposed research committee to be set up by the Government will cover a wide field of interests. Honorable members will see that the- chairman of the committee is also the chairman of the Australian Meat Board. Already he has served almost twenty years as head of that organization and has given very great service to Australia both inside this continent and outside it. There are to be also four, representatives from the Graziers Federal Council of Australia, two representatives from the Australian Wool and Meat Producers. Federation and one representative from the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation. There are something like 5,000,000 dairy cattle in Australia which have to be looked after. There is to be one representative of the Australian Agricultural Council which means that there will always be a representative of the States on the committee. There will be one representative of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and one representative of Australian universities engaged in beef research. At the present time practically all Australian universities are carrying out a very active campaign in this subject. They could do very much more if they could get some more money. Finally there will be one representative of the Department of Primary Industry. I am very pleased that all these people will be appointed for thre~e years. They will be able to settle down to their work and gam a fair amount of experience in that time. I hope that the same thing will happen to them as has happened to the members of other industry boards, and that is that the first men appointed have been found to be so efficient that they have been retained for many years, both by election and by Government appointment.
I have not very much doubt that the money to be made available will be spent in the best way. I am sure that the results that will be obtained in the almost immediate future will more than repay the public for the money that will be contributed, either through the Government or various organizations. 1 believe that this organization will be a fine, young, strapping brother of the C.S.I.R.O., which, during the past 40 years, has done much to guard Australia against many pitfalls and has saved us many millions of pounds that would have been lost if the advice of the scientists had not been available when dealing with the causes of disease. [Quorum formed.] This committee of research will deal with many matters that have already been mentioned by other honorable members and it will carry on an active fight against parasites and pests.
However, it seems to me that the most important contribution we could make to the beef industry would be to ensure that the number of cattle is continually increasing. As the honorable member for the Northern Territory said, this can be done by artificial insemination, particularly if the quality of the bulls is constantly improving. The numbers will not be maintained unless we can keep the female cattle alive. We find that in droughts, the female cattle, especially those in calf, die in greater numbers than do the male cattle. They really must find enough feed for two lives. When I looked at the problem of how to build up the dairy cow population, I found to my dismay that for 30 years or more the cow population had not increased. The cow apparently has a short life, and with the long gestation period and the frequent troubles that arise during gestation, it is most difficult to get an increase of even 3 per cent, or 4 per cent, in the cow population. It is essential that we should do something to reduce the tremendous cost that is imposed upon us by drought.
The figures given me by the C.S.f.R.O. show that, in the eight years from 1894 to 1902, the numbers of livestock in Queensland fell from 6.600,000 to 2,000,000; that is to say, 4.600.000 head or 70 per cent, of the total died. Of that 70 per cent., probably 50 per cent, would be females. Again, in the period from 1921 to 1928, we suffered another loss of 2,200,000 head.
I have no doubt that in the past three or four years we have had substantial losses. The number of cattle is not increasing, and we should do something to overcome this serious problem. Whilst our scientists are examining the causes of various diseases in cattle, an examination should be made of our water and fodder supplies to ensure that cattle remain alive and so keep on steadily increasing the numbers. This is very important. To-day, we had the opportunity to meet a man who is very keen to have a road built through the heart of Australia. This would enable fodder to be carried quickly to starving stock or the cattle transported to places where the fodder is grown.
We should remember, however, that the fodder will not be grown unless action is taken to prevent the country being devastated by drought. That can only be done if we store our water and irrigate our land. In addition, we must have transport for our cattle in times of drought so that they can be removed from the dry areas. In the twenties, I was able to secure the constrution of the central Australian railway to Alice Springs. Before that time, it was practically impossible to get fat cattle from central Australia down to Adelaide, but after that the cattle could be brought down in three or four days. This enabled good prices to be obtained for the cattle and the industry has been prosperous ever since. Similar action to build bitumen roads and rail connexions is needed so that cattle may be transported to sources of fodder or the fodder transported to the cattle in times of drought.
I urge this new research committee to examine the question as to whether it is possible to use the enormous quantities of water that fall in the northern part of the continent. We have some 500,000 square miles there with a rainfall of over 28 inches. This could be conserved where it falls and, in addition, some could be diverted to the centre to keep the Channel country going. Along the eastern coast, we have innumerable opportunities to construct dams. This would mean that water would be available to ensure a continuous growth of fodder, and we would always have enough fodder conserved to feed the stock and so prevent many deaths. Tn these droughts, we have lost 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 head of stock. Stock is now worth about £40 a head, so the loss is considerable. If this money were expended to provide the facilities I have mentioned, we would then have both the facilities and the stock, and we would derive profits from the sale of the stock overseas. In addition, we would be certain that the number of cattle would continually increase. If we become frightened to spend a few million pounds, we will find that we are without the stock, without the dams, without the water and without the fodder. In this situation, we would not be able to meet our overseas commitments and we would lose the markets for our beef. We would then have to build them up again, as we have had to do in the past when we have disappointed our overseas clients. We have been able to build up good reputations for our ability to supply meat and other products, and we must continue steadily to improve our reputation. We must do all we can to earn the goodwill that comes from the ability to keep up a continuous supply.
I am very glad that this committee has been set up. I am also very glad to know that several organizations, on a voluntary basis, have already come into existence and that they are anxious to help in every way. Some men from the Northern Territory recently suggested to the Government that a national committee be set up to examine the position of water supplies in the Territory, north-western Australia and northern Queensland in order to see whether it would be possible to use available water supplies not merely on the spot, but in other places as well. A new body is trying to secure the building of a bitumen road up through the heart of Queensland and to the edge of the Northern Territory and New South Wales, in order to ensure that the cattle will be taken to market and that fodder will be available to the cattle at all times. We will never do any good with that country unless we supplement all the activities there by making certain that there is ample fodder and water conservation to enable development to continue.
When one examines these big industries, one realizes how much they have brought to Australia, and yet, at present, the number of cattle in this country remains practically static in spite of the number of starving people in the world. We can see how provocative our position must be to those people, if we continue to do nothing to improve the production of cattle and other foodstuffs. Therefore, I make the plea that this committee will not merely investigate the question of parasites, such as tick, and pleuro-pneumonia, but will also examine the wider matter of transport necessary to shift the cattle to places where there is feed in times of drought. The provision of ample supplies of fodder and water is urgent so that the herds can be built up to meet the demand that will be made on us not merely by our own population but also by the starving populations of the countries to our north.
.- This is a good bill, and also a historic one, and that is why the Opposition supports it. It is in keeping with the research-mindedness of Australia in many fields of agriculture and industry in the last few years and it is bringing the fifth largest of our primary industries into line with the main primary industries. The object of the bill is research, first and foremost, and that research is to be undertaken by this committee in the following fields: - cattle tick, pleuro-pneumonia, pasture improvement, the improvement of feed quality through breeding and stock management, research into handling and transport problems in connexion with the industry and the development of the chilled beef export trade. The finance will be provided by a levy of 2s. on all slaughtered beasts over 220 lb. dressed weight or a 220 lb. carcass with the skin still on it. The finance will be collected at the abattoirs and the levy will apply from 1st July of this year. The money collected will be paid into the Cattle and Beef Research Trust Account and for every £1 raised by the industry £1 will be contributed by the Government.
The Government estimates that the industry will provide £320,000 in a full year, which, matched by £320,000 provided by the Government, makes a total of £640,000 per year available for this vital research into this most important Australian primary industry. That is a brief outline of what the bill is about. Twelve members will constitute the research committee and many relevant organizations will be represented. I agree with the amendment moved by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson), that one other member of the committee should come from the
Northern Territory, which is a growing .producer of beef cattle. Mr. Deputy Speaker, the need for research is recognized by many experts in Australia and I want to quote one in particular, as -recorded in the “ Weekly Times “ of 23rd March this year under the heading “More Scientific Knowledge Needed in Agriculture “. This gentleman, who is the retiring president of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, Mr. A. J. Mclntyre, urged a thorough inquiry into agricultural education, research and extension. He said -
Australian agriculture had to keep in the forefront of technological advances to ensure a place as a useful and economic contributor to world needs of food and clothing. This would seem to be a question not so much of producing more but producing more efficiently. Recent work by agricultural scientists has shown some of the pitfalls of pasture improvement.
He said further -
If we are to use more brain and less brawn in rural production it seems we will need more agricultural scientists and economists and more skilful rural producers to help organize and direct the coming technological explosion. Perhaps one of the most disturbing factors which could hinder the technological revolution in agriculture is the low priority given to scientific and economic research and extension.
That is the warning he issued. This bill will help to overcome his fears and anxieties.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is one of the most remarkable organizations in the world, I feel, in its studies of beef quality. It issued a publication, “ Studies of beef quality”, in 1958. This is a completely scientific document which states the influence of certain holding conditions on weight loss and the eating qualities of fresh and frozen beef carcasses. It is a most valuable and detailed piece of research and I feel that this committee will make use of the C.S.I.R.O. experts to the absolute maximum in carrying out its task. When I studied this document I realized what a wonderful band of men they have to start with in the C.S.I.R.O. and I have mentioned that document as an illustration of what is going on to-day, even before this committee has been established.
– Are there any cattle in Tasmania?
– Yes, and they all have four legs, too, just the same as they have on the mainland. I mention that in Tasmania we slaughtered 10,100 carcass cattle id November last year which was 2,000 head better >than the number in the corresponding month ‘in 1958. I have not time to go into all ;the details of the Tasmanian production of beef, sheep and so on, but I can assure the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) that iti my electorate, which covers ‘half ‘the island, .there are 21 different forms of agriculture, including fat cattle ot most of the known breeds.
The next point I wish to mention is the opinion or attitude of Mr. J. L. Shute, who is chairman of the Australian Meat Board. In “ Muster “ of Tuesday, 29th March, this year, under the heading, “ Changing Conditions Will Test the Beef Industry “, he said -
It therefore behoves the Australian meat industry leaders to do everything possible to ensure that the Australian market, which is definitely our best market, is provided with a full supply of the class of meat it requires at a just price. The United Kingdom market, which is our main export market, is short of beef - prices are good and promise to continue to be so. While the United Kingdom market can absorb a substantial quantity of frozen beef each week experience has proved that this demand can be over-supplied, which result in depressed prices. Chilled beef, on the other hand, is in short supply and Australia has been asked to increase the tonnage of beef shipped in the chilled form.
I pause here to say what a magnificent speech my colleague, the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan), made last Wednesday, when this bill was introduced, on this very point of chilled beef versus frozen beef. He had been to England and had seen the system there, and .as a result he realized, as he had not realized before, the great consumer demand in England for chilled beef as opposed to frozen beef. Indeed, it is on that very subject that Mr. Shute is hitting the nail on the head. We have to increase our exports of chilled beef, and we have to find shipping companies to get the meat to our markets as quickly as possible. One company that the honorable member for Kennedy told us about is taking exactly four weeks to get our meat to the United Kingdom. That is the quickest run made by any cargo vessel at the moment. I think it is a Blue Star line vessel, and it is doing a major job for our chilled beef trade.
– If we give them continuity of cargoes they can do it.
– Exactly! Mr. Shute continues in his article -
This presents real difficulties, but is a challenge to Australia. In my opinion, the surest way of consolidating the position of Australian beef on the United Kingdom market is to increase the percentage of beef shipped chilled.
The English butcher and housewife look for fresh and/or chilled beef - the bulk of frozen beef is used for purposes other than the domestic trade.
Much research has been undertaken, and is continuing, designed to determine the best methods of handling frozen and chilled beef.
He mentions the fact that the United Kingdom at present produces 64 per cent, of its total beef requirements, whereas before the war it produced only 49 per cent. He says that it is expected in London to increase the percentage to 80 per cent, before long. This will narrow still further our market in the United Kingdom, so quality becomes terribly important. Mr. Shute continues -
Post-war consumer demand for beef … is for beef derived from young animals, not too heavy, and carrying sufficient fat to make the meat palatable without being wasteful.
The ideal animal to meet these requirements is a beast not over three years, preferably between two and two and a half years, dressing between SOO lb. and 6S0 lb., and with only sufficient fat coverage to ensure its satisfactory transport to overseas destinations . . .
That is his opinion. I must also mention here another important gentleman, Mr. V. G. Cole, a bachelor of veterinary science who in “ Muster “ of the same date wrote an article on beef cattle research under the headline “ Overseas work in relation to home front ‘ “. He wrote -
Beef cattle research from other parts of the world of most interest to us in N.S.W. has two main objectives:
A 95 per cent, or higher calf drop.
A thrifty fast-growing calf capable of reaching 1,000 lb. liveweight at .sixteen months of age.
Up to the present the U.S. has made most progress towards attaining these objectives, but Great Britain is now beginning to produce results from research conducted along similar lines and Australia will soon increase her efforts when finance becomes available from the contributions soon to be made by beef producers and the Government.
He is referring to the bill that is before us now. He continues -
If we look at work being carried out in the U.S., particularly that most likely to be of value to us in N.S.W., now or in the near future, we find five things of particular interest. They are -
Results .of experiments concerned with the effects of nutrition on fertility.
Investigation of diseases affecting fertility.
Developments in methods of testing bulls for fertility.
Planning of sound selection and culling programmes.
He mentions, on the subject of the effects of nutrition on fertility, that the first cause of low fertility is under-feeding, the second is phosphorus deficiency, and the third is vitamin A deficiency. On the subject of phosphorus deficiencies, he says -
Even the supplying of a phosphate supplement such as bone meal has quite a dramatic effect on fertility.
This was shown very clearly in an experiment in South Texas carried out in the early 1950’s though the earliest work on phosphate deficiency was done in South Africa as long ago as 1924.
That was before the present Government took over. He continues -
Over a five-year period of four calf drops, the average drop of calves running on ordinary grazing was 64 per cent.
When given a supplement of bone meal, similar cows produced 88 per cent, and when given phosphate in their drinking water they produced 92 per cent. . . .
A limited amount of work has been done in Australia on phosphorus deficiency. It is well known as the cause of “ peg leg “ among cattle in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, even on highly improved pastures it has been shown that high-producing cows benefit from a phosphate supplement of two oz. a head a day of rock phosphate.
That is a mighty interesting comment he makes in respect of research into fertility. Another gentleman who visited Australia recently, Mr. L. G. Reid, of Angus, Scotland, who judged at last year’s Sydney Royal Show, and attended the 1960 Perth sales, also made some comments in an article in “ Muster “, under the headline “ A Judge’s Views on Australian Cattle “. He wrote -
To .what extent the public taste can be educated has been proved at home and in the U.S.A. during recent years. In London, ever famous for its steak houses, there has recently sprung up a chain of “ Aberdeen-Angus “ Steak Houses.
Specialising only in the best, they have now become so popular that, from the taxi driver to the stage .or film star, the name “AberdeenAngus “ really does mean “ Top Quality Beef “.
Of course, he has given a plug to the Aberdeen-Angus right through this article. Later in the article he stated -
One factor, however, which must surely help in the coming years is the great amount of grassland improvement work now in progress.
The application of superphosphates, now a simple matter on difficult country by using aircraft, the introduction of subterranean clover and the consequent eradication of inferior grasses must bring about conditions under which the breed should go from strength to strength.
To this visitor it was quite amazing to see such spectacular results arising from such light dressings of fertilizer.
He continues -
Large acreages can now be handled by two or three men and the time will come when self-feed silage pits spaced over the ranges can be used to provide good quality beef in times of drought in the same way as quality beef can be produced in Scotland when natural feeding has disappeared during the long spells of cold hard winter weather.
– How about a bit of “ Speed Gordon “?
– It is hard for a member from a city electorate to understand anything about beef, and I am sure that the subject is so beyond the honorable member for Perth that he cannot understand the point of what I am saying or reading. Now I come to the next point. A committee is to be established to deal with the improvement of our beef marketing. As the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) said in an excellent speech in which he led for the Opposition, the sugar and wheat industries are perfect examples of co-operative marketing methods in Australia. By the way, the marketing arrangements for these industries were pioneered by Labour governments and carried on by this Government. We also have the peanut industry in Queensland, which is handled in the same excellent and efficient manner. Where we have good methods of co-operative marketing for our primary products the industries concerned are successful. Industries which do not have proper marketing arrangements experience difficulty, uncertainty and even insecurity. The wool industry is an excellent example of this. When the Opposition attacked pies, rings and combines in wool buying during an urgency debate last week, we revealed the tremendous loss which the growers suffer as a result of the operations of these buyer alliances. The wool industry is not united and, therefore, the producers are at the mercy of the buyers. The wool-growers do not control their own industry. Even the Government has no say in its control. It is controlled by outside forces.
Where you have co-operative marketing, you have success. I hope that something along these lines in the meat industry will result from the committee’s work. We need legislation to put an end to restrictive trade practices in the primary industries and to stop the cornering of food for ruthless profits which result from artificially inflated prices - all contrary to the people’s interests.
It is in the primary producers’ own interests to unite. Acting individually, they are easy victims of the exploiter. Acting as a great united force, they can control their own industry and freeze out the exploiter. Let me cite one illustration of criminal profiteering which occurs when industries do not control the marketing of their product. A letter signed by “ Old Digger “ appears in to-day’s issue of the Sydney “ Daily Mirror “, in the section which is titled “What Our Readers Say”. The newspaper heading reads, “Criminal Profiteering - 500 per cent. Profit Claim “, and the letter is in these terms -
It should be a criminal offence to profiteer with the people’s food.
I was interested to read of a grazier complaining that butchers were trading on 100 per cent, profit.
He would be surprised if he had a chat with a master butcher I know.
This man told me that a GOOD butcher made 500 per cent, profit, while a POOR butcher made only a miserable 300 per cent.!
This sounds absurd. But this butcher had no axe to grind.
It is little wonder that workers on lower incomes have to make do with inferior, cheaper cuts of meat and offal dished up in skins.
Our Government treats all this with a “ see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing “ attitude.
That is a revelation of sheer exploitation of the public by the butchers in a certain area of Sydney. The same exploitation may be going on elsewhere.
In my own State of Tasmania we are experiencing the worst drought in 50 years. Sheep are dying everywhere for lack of water and feed. Baled hay has risen from 10s. to £1 a bale - if it can be procured at all. Butchers are paying only 2s. a head for some sheep, and 10s. a head for the better classes. But the price of meat in the butcher shops has not come down. This is where exploitation comes in and where a producer co-operative could be so helpful in protecting the consumer. I hope that the proposed committee will have a look at this aspect of home market operations.
Let me now deal with the shipping angle. The economics of the beef industry in Australia are bound up with shipping and freights. In fact, the export industry could be killed by freights which are too high, or by irregular shipping to England. At present, we are at the mercy of the conference line with its 22 companies monopolizing the shipping between Australia and Great Britain. I should like to refer now to the speech of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) on Wednesday, 30th March last. He said -
Let me quote from this year’s annual report of the Australian Meat Board. There is a reference to the fact that on 11th July, 1958, the Australian Overseas Transport Association made an agreement on shipping freights after the conference line shipping companies had asked for increases of the freight on chilled beef of lid. per lb., English currency; on frozen beef of1d. per lb., English currency; on mutton and lamb of one halfpenny per lb., English currency; on fruit of1s. English currency per box; and on egg pulp of 15 per cent. The Board stated -
After negotiations between shippers and shipowners, new freight rates finally were agreed to operate from November 1, 1959. The increases were less than those originally submitted by shipowners and the new freight rates for meat from Australia and comparisons from New Zealand and South America are shown in the following tables.
Let us see how freight rates press on the meat producers of this country. In 1953 the increase, as a percentage of the rates prevailing in the prewar period was 8.2 per cent. In 1956 the shipowners whacked the freights up by 7.6 per cent. In 1957 they shoved them up by another 14 per cent., in 1958 by 12.7 per cent, and in 1959 by 23.7 per cent. - a total increase since the pre-war period of 374 per cent.
That increase is scandalous. It is no wonder that our primary industries are being priced out of overseas markets when they have to contend with such steep rises in freights. From the figures which I have mentioned, I have worked out that since 1953 - in seven years - the shipping freights to England have risen by 66 per cent. How can our primary industries stand such rises?
This Government has resolutely refused to put its own ships on the overseas runs. The thirteen “ River “ class vessels that we own could have been used. They have a displacement of from 8,000 to 10,000 tons, and are only between fifteen and eighteen years of age. If the Government had had the will to do so, refrigeration space could have been provided in them. What is happening to those ships? Several are tied up in ports because of insufficient cargoes around our coast to keep them operating! These vessels were built during the war in our own shipyards. It is scandalous that the Government is not prepared to use its own idle ships in the overseas trade in competition with the conference line monopoly, and try to break the strangle hold which the conference line has on shipping. The Government’s action is all the more disgraceful when we see how our industries are being slugged by rising freights. At present, there is no competition in shipping between here and the United Kingdom. Is it any wonder that freights have risen by 66 per cent, since 1953? I hope that the committee which this bill proposes to set up will give its attention to trying to solve the problem of freights, even to the extent of recommending to the Government that a shipping line be established in an attempt to bring down freights on the AustraliaEngland run.
I commend the Minister for introducing this bill. Both the Labour Party and the beef industry have long felt the need for research into the industry. I am sure that the £640,000 which the industry will provide will not be sufficient to meet the cost of the great research which will be carried out, and I hope that the Government, in the next two or three years, will add another1s. to the price at the slaughter house levy, thus increasing it from 2s. to 3s., and will match this with a grant of1s. to bring the total amount available for the research to £1,000,000. When the research programme gets under way, I do not think that it will be able to operate for less than £1,000,000 a year because the problems which were outlined by the Minister, the problems to which I have referred, are tremendous. The field of research is very wide. It is a costly business, and if we spend £1,000,000 on research it will be money well spent because in the next few years we shall see a tremendous improvement in the quality of Australian beef and a solution of our marketing problems. I support the bill.
.- I am never amazed - although I should be - at the versatility of members of the Opposition who can take a bill of any kind and transform the debate on it into a debate on socialism. My counterpart, the Labour Party Whip, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), has seized on the three bills, the Cattle and Beef Research Bill, the Cattle Slaughter Levy Bill and the Cattle Slaughter Levy Collection Bill, as an excuse to outline a theory to socialize the steamships, not only of Australia but also of the world. According to him, we were going to equip eighteen River class vessels with refrigeration and put them on the sealanes of the world. This suggestion was tied up somehow or other - I do not know how - with the bill that is now before the House.
If Opposition members want to talk of socialism in the cattle and beef industry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, let me assure them that there is no need for them to experiment in this field. I remember that, in my lifetime, the Queensland branch of the socialist Australian Labour Party declared that it had the great answer to the problems of the meat industry and the beef cattle industry in Queensland. A Labour government in that State established State stations, State butcher shops and a State shipping line to enable it to run the beef cattle and meat industries in Queensland. All these enterprises went broke. Each project cost the taxpayers of Queensland many millions of pounds in the days before uniform taxation, and proved once again, if proof is necessary, that socialism is an abject failure and offers no solution to the problems that beset the nation.
– What about the butter subsidy?
– The honorable .member knows all about butter. He has been trying to butter up his leaders for the last three years and he has got nowhere with that idea.
Most of the speeches to which I have listened during this debate, broadly speaking, have been in favour of the bill. They have shown quite clearly the complexities of the problems that will beset the Australian Cattle and Beef Research Committee once it begins to function. We have heard the views of honorable members from all parts of Australia, and they have told us about the various complex problems that beset the industry - an industry which has its own particular problems in each part of Australia in which it is carried on.
There is no way in which, within the compass of a speech such as this, one can simplify the approach that the committee should make to the solution of these great problems that beset the Australian cattle and beef industry. It is quite safe to say that, unless we rapidly increase the growth of the cattle population of Australia, we shall not produce enough beef to feed our population by 1975 if we attain the population target that we have set for the growth of Australia by that year. So we are faced with the task not only of improving the quality of our beasts and building up our export trade, but also, within perhaps a decade and a half, of producing enough beef to feed ourselves. If we do not do this, we shall have none to send overseas. So we have an immediate problem of maintaining our overseas balances and another problem of feeding our own people and maintaining the present standard of our meat diet over a period immediately ahead.
I believe that the big problems may be grouped under four broad headings. The first covers pastures. The pasture problem exists almost everywhere in Australia. In some parts, it has been solved for particular forms of grazing, but it has not been solved everywhere for all forms of grazing. The second heading covers the problem of environment - which cattle we are to put in which environment, how they will react to that environment and, how they will react to the diseases and the indigenous pests which prevail in particular areas. The third heading covers the types of cattle which we must breed. The fourth heading covers the great problem of transport. The Australian Cattle and Beef Research Committee will have to work within those four broad headings, and it will have to work quickly if we are to reach our target in the years that lie ahead.
If I may say so, this committee could not do better, in its preliminary investigations into the cattle industry, than investigate the management of the property controlled by our colleague on this side of the House, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray). I remember hearing, some eight or nine years ago, of a young crank from New South Wales who was going to north Queensland to show us how to breed cattle. People with long experience in the cattle industry laughed their heads off about this young fellow Murray and his wild and silly ideas on cattle-raising and beef production. He went to an area where the very best of the land carried, perhaps, only one beast to about 4 acres, and where the average carrying capacity was a beast to 10 acres. It was an area where the condition of the cattle fell off severely during the winter months because the native grasses failed to supply the nutriment that the cattle needed in order even to maintain the condition that they had gained during the summer months. This was an area in which, as recently as only eight years ago, graziers were still obsessed with and wedded to the idea of sticking to the existing cattle types, which could be regarded as almost native to the area.
If the honorable member for Herbert will forgive me for doing so, I should like to say that his property, which, only eight years ago, had a carrying capacity varying from perhaps a beast to 4 acres to a beast to 10 acres, as I have said, now carries a beast to an acre. It now has all-year-round pastures, as a result of his pastureimprovement methods, and it has the capacity to enable him to turn off fat cattle at any time of the year. The honorable member has one of the only four pure herds of Santa Gertrudis cattle in Australia, and he was one of the first to introduce the Brahmin breed into Australia. By these methods, the honorable member has bred in the north of Queensland a beast that has rapidly accustomed itself to the local environment. This beast resists the tick and many of the diseases that occur in the area. The honorable member’s methods of pasture improvement have improved his land, which now yields rich pastures to provide adequate food for his beasts all the year round. I recommend the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) to suggest to the Australian Cattle and Beef Research Committee that it could do no better than investigate the methods of men like the honorable member for Herbert, who was game enough to allow people to label him as a crank, and who has done a great national job for Australia in north Queensland, without regard to the cost to himself.
From the experience of the honorable member and others in that area, we have learned that, if we are to maintain our overseas trade in beef, we must have our fat tening areas near our meatworks. And, just as important, we must have our meatworks close to the coast. Whatever one thinks about inland abattoirs or the airbeef scheme, the ideal solution to the problem of maintaining our overseas trade in beef is the use of killing centres right on the coast, as near as possible to good deepwater ports and adjacent to good fattening areas. This is where pasture improvement becomes so important. In tropical and subtropical areas of Australia, we have the great problem of a rainfall that ceases altogether for part of the year, with a consequent drying-off of grasses, which lose their nutriment. This causes a falling-off in the condition of the cattle. This problem can be overcome, as the honorable member for Herbert, other graziers and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization have shown. The C.S.I.R.O., by its experiments at places such as Rodd’s Bay and Belmont, has demonstrated to the people of Australia that these difficulties can be overcome by pasture improvement. I hope that, within the next ten years, the Australian Cattle and Beef Research Committee will have been able to demonstrate clearly to the graziers along the coastal fringes in the heavy-rainfall areas that pasture improvement, the growing of legumes and the proper cultivation of land not only make it possible to fatten cattle quickly but also eliminate most of the climatic difficulties at present experienced.
For the reasons which I have outlined, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I cannot see any great future for the cattle industry in the heart of Australia. I may be wrong in thinking that the industry has no future in the heart of Australia, but, no matter how far ahead one looks or with what eyes of prophecy one believes one looks, one cannot see how it will be possible to transport prime, fat beef to the coast for shipment overseas in so short a time as to ensure that it will retain its condition and that it will not be bruised on the journey. I am talking now of cattle raised in the deep inland.
– Who told you that?
– I hear the honorable member for Maranoa questioning my thesis. If the honorable member were able to transport his electorate to the coast, the land would be worth thousands of pounds an acre, but in its present situation millions of pounds an acre would be needed to develop it so that it could be of use.
As I was about to say before the honorable member interjected, every commission that has investigated the beef industry has laid the greatest stress on the problem of transport and the necessity to develop country so that store cattle or drought-stricken stock may be taken in quickly and easily, and so that beasts in prime condition may be brought at an early age and taken to the meatworks with the minimum of the bruising which must accompany any kind of travelling that we can foresee for the future. I can make an exception here, perhaps, when I refer to what is known as the Channel country, which is also in the electorate of the honorable member for Maranoa, and which has been described by men who have come from all over the world to see it as fabulous country. The grasses that grow there and the pastures it can produce make it equal to or better than the famous alfalfa country in the United States of America. But the Channel country is a long way away, and its proper use - it can be used for only three years out of five, and sometimes only three years out of seven - can be ensured only by providing an entry into it and an exit from it by the quickest possible means and the most comfortable means.
I have seen a scheme involving the construction of a road from Windorah, which is at the head of the Channel country, almost to the border of the Northern Territory and coming in to the railhead at Winton. Under this scheme the cattle would then be transported by rail over hundreds of miles to Townsville and Cairns. It is contrary to the advice of all the experts to transport cattle by road and rail over such distances and expect them to arrive at the killing centres in good condition. But a very different picture is seen if one looks at a map of the Channel country and sees the gateway to it through Yaraka, along a road of 115 miles that could be built down to Windorah. At the present time, although this route is by far the shortest into the Channel country, it is of such a stony nature that it is impossible to walk store cattle in, or to walk prime conditioned cattle out at an early age. As the honor able member for Maranoa pointed out to us in a speech in this House some little time ago, cattle fattened in the Channel country have feet 12 inches across. I believe him on that point, but I would add that those cattle have very soft feet, and they cannot manage the walk out over the stony country to get to the railhead. I understand that a road from Yaraka to Windorah could be provided at a cost of a little more than £220,000, and it would represent a great national asset which could be used for the development of our beef industry.
The provision of such a road in the central part of Queensland could also help towards ensuring continuity of employment for certain workers. At Rockhampton we have the greatest meat processing works in the Southern Hemisphere, and in Gladstone there is a meat export killing centre. At the present time it is possible, if a season falls off early, to find that the employees in those undertakings are out of work after five months. They may then remain away from what they regard as their normal employment for the remaining seven months of the year. If the Channel country were opened up, by the expenditure of about £220,000 for a good road, cattle could be moved in prime condition - in three years out of five anyway - from Windorah to Yaraka, and then transported 430 miles to Rockhampton and a further 70 miles to Gladstone. Work could be provided for employees in the meatworks at the end of what is now the normal killing season for, perhaps, an extra two, three or four months. This is very important, because in Gladstone, Rockhampton, Townsville, Queerah and Cairns a large proportion of the population depends on the meatworks for employment. For this reason we should think in terms of an all-year-round turn-off of cattle, in order to provide continuous employment for our meat workers.
– What you want is to travel those cattle 700 miles to your electorate.
– I would travel them to the best killing centres in the district. Of course, you, poor fellow, have cattle travelling 1,700 miles to your electorate, and you need the teeth of a bullock to chew the meat you get.
I have mentioned some of the problems that must be overcome, and this great problem of transport is one of the greatest of them. If the Government is considering the expenditure of money in the Channel country, it should look, first, to the building of a road which will enable cattle to be moved quickly to the killing centres. This can be done for the expenditure of some £220,000.
We must also consider the problem of environment and its effect upon cattle, both those being fattened and those being used for breeding purposes. This is a problem which is only now nearing some kind of solution. Only in the last decade have we come to realize that it is possible, and even highly probable, for beasts to be evolved which will be suitable for different environments. The Australian Meat Board, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, has set up outside Rockhampton a station known as Belmont Station, which has now become famous. A twenty-year programme was embarked upon to develop, by selective breeding, a type of cattle suitable for subtropical and tropical environments. Some nine or ten years of the twenty-year period have now elapsed, and the position has now been reached at which we can look for results in the future. I doubt whether any one connected with the project, or the critics who lean over the fence from time to time, can foresee the type of cattle that will eventuate as a result of this experiment, but this much is certain: After the twentyyear programme has been carried out, we will see a new type of cattle evolved, and it will be to the great advancement of the industry if the new type can be made tickresistant, drought resistant, and to supply a good quantity of beef within a short period of time. I believe that these results will be attained, because the project has been scientifically planned and managed by men who are truly devoted to it. I give them great credit for the work they have done so willingly, and without, at times, much hope of being able to meet their target. They are now far enough advanced to see the possibility of some reward in the future.
This work is of vital importance. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray) has demonstrated in his own way that it is possible to run cattle in heavily tick-infested areas in the tropics without having to dip them from one year’s end to another. It is possible to breed a beast which, as the honorable member has demonstrated, can be kept in those areas and needs to be dipped only a sixth of the number of times that ordinary cattle have to be dipped to get rid of ticks or keep them under control. If one man, working as the honorable member did in the north of Queensland, with a great deal of prejudice against him, can do as much as he did, then 1 have great hopes that the proposed committee, with the weight of governments and the support of private enterprise behind it, will be able to get on with the job and produce even better results than those achieved by the honorable member for Herbert. If the work of the committee results in the evolution of types of cattle suitable for the different environments under which beef is raised in Australia, then the committee will have done a great thing for Australia.
I do not know that too much can be said about the problem of transport. We have major problems which almost seem, in a young country, to be beyond solution - problems that will cost many millions of pounds to solve. I believe that many of them can be overcome if this committee will direct its attention to pasture improvement. Let farmers in the varying climates of Australia be shown that it is possible to grow good nutritious food in those areas all the year round so that there will be no fall-off in weight or condition of cattle. Then, wherever men are breeding and raising cattle, they will be able to produce for competitive sale on the markets of the world, a prime young beast of a quality that will enhance the already famous name of Australian beef.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Opposition is pleased to support the bill. The Australian Labour Party believes that there is a need for intensified research into the scientific, technical and economic problems of the beef industry. That is to be expected because the Labour Party is a planning party. It believes that if this nation is to go forward it cannot do so in a haphazard, higgeldy-piggeldy way. We must have clear objectives towards which to work, and we must organize the economy so that, in future, we will know precisely where we are going.
Nevertheless, I war.t to acknowledge the services of those people who have been engaged in the cattle industry. They, perhaps more than those in any other rural industry, have played a great part in the pioneering of this country. We should hasten slowly in passing judgment on the seeming shortcomings of those who are in the cattle industry, and we should spare a word of sentiment for those who have produced the present fine herds, for those who have produced better quality stock, and for those who have prepared their land for the development of this important industry. In the electorate that I have the honour to represent I know of many small areas in which the cattle industry is thriving and in which those engaged in it, not only are doing a grand job of work for themselves, but are playing a most important part in promoting the wealth and growth of this country. Consequently, I acknowledge the work of those who have been engaged in the cattle industry in the past and of those who to-day are continuing to strive to improve the quality of the herds and to rear the type of beast needed for the Australian and the export market.
A tribute ought to be paid also to the agricultural departments of the various States for the many services that they have rendered to the cattle industry through their agricultural colleges and universities. The States have played a most important part in educating the man on the land to an appreciation of what is required and to help him to meet problems as they occur from time to time.
I think it is necessary also, here in the National Capital, to acknowledge the work of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. We should pay a tribute to the government that was responsible for the establishment of the organization, and to the officers of that body for the important work they have performed on behalf of the rural industries of this country, particularly the cattle industry.
We are called upon to consider the matter of research into scientific, technical and economic problems of the .cattle industry. We realize that these cannot be easily solved. They are very complex. There are so many interlocking issues that, if this debate is to be of any value we have to look at the broad picture. It is a very interesting and important debate.
I believe that many millions of people in this world would be only too happy to eat beef produced in this country if it could be made available to them at a price that they were able to pay. That seems to me to bring to the attention of the Parliament an important question which is, perhaps, outside the realm of the Australian Government. I refer to the need to lift the living standards of the backward peoples of the world. If living standards were to be lifted so that people living in depressed conditions to the north of Australia could eat even 1 lb. of meat a week, there would be no economic problem facing our meat industry. The industry would be prosperous and able to meet the many problems facing it at the present time. Even in this country there are many people who would be delighted to have a juicy steak if they could afford it; there are many people who would like a sirloin of roast or some silverside. In large families these cuts are not always within reach of the purse.
I want to pass from this subject to a more detailed examination of the bill. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mt. Nelson) dealt with this matter in a most interesting fashion. With his deep understanding and knowledge of the cattle industry and of that vast area of land - 500,000 square miles - which he has the honour to represent in this place, he dealt with this measure in a manner that ought to engage the interest and sympathy of members generally. I was very pleased indeed to hear the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) support the honorable member for the Northern Territory when he indicated that he proposed to move an amendment at a later stage to provide that a representative of the Territory should be included in the proposed committee. I support that suggestion wholeheartedly. I think that such representation is necessary. It is entirely wrong that this great cattleproducing area of Australia, which turns off about 150,000 head of cattle a year, should be ignored in a matter of this kind.
This is not a question of developing our cattle industry, perhaps more scientifically, in some of the older, populated, and more closely settled areas of the Commonwealth in close proximity to this national Parliament, such as the Goulburn, Yass, Forbes or Parkes district. The industry in these localities has already reached a high degree of proficiency. The real challenge to this Parliament is to develop the Northern Territory and I believe that the proposal made by the honorable member for the Northern Territory should be supported.
What are the outstanding problems of northern Australia? As one who lives in New South Wales but has visited the Northern Territory on a number of occasions I know the problems are very great indeed. They are challenges to the most stout-hearted people. But I believe that one of the most urgent and necessary things to do is to open up the land for soldier settlement. The areas at the present time are much too big for proper management. It is not possible to have adequate management while there are great principalities. The size is too great for this to be done in a reasonable way. I put to the House that these large areas ought to be broken up for closer settlement. An exserviceman’s land settlement scheme should be started so as to enable ex-servicemen to play a part in the development of the north. With smaller areas, those engaged in the industry there would be able to fence them and carry out the necessary improvements for effective control.
Another important question is that of herd management. There can be no herd management unless the areas are controlled and fenced, supplied with water and an adequate amount of fodder for the stock. I can only hope that the proposed committee, in giving consideration to these matters, will have regard to these important questions. It will not be enough merely to examine them unless the Government is prepared to follow up the committee’s investigations and findings with positive action and support and carry the plans through to the end.
There is need also for better breeds of stock in the Northern Territory and in many other places throughout Australia. It is necessary also that some selectivity should be exercised so that the right type of beast is taken to the various parts of the Northern Territory. This would result in better strains being brought in. In turn, this would enhance our overseas trade, and increase our export earnings. It would be far more profitable to turn out 150,000 or 200,000 beasts a year weighing on an average 1,200 lb. rather than 800 or 900 lb. The question of breeding is all-important.
Pasture improvement is another important consideration. There seems to be a hazy idea somewhere down here in the south that the Northern Territory is a “ no-hoper “ type of country with which it is impossible to do anything and for that reason only vast, uncontrolled areas are of any use, and pasture improvement is out of the question. According to the experience I gained from visits in the Northern Territory I know that pasture improvement can be proceeded with. I saw examples of it near Katherine, Newcastle Waters and Tennant Creek where buffel grass and Townsville lucerne thrived under special conditions. Staff of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the Northern Territory Animal Husbandry Department have experimented and could go ahead and develop the countryside so as to provide the type of fodder required for stock there. This would open the way for more settlement assisted by the Government. Side by side with pasture improvement is the question of water supply. This would be a difficult matter for individual settlers because it involves planning on the national level. By this means the individual settler could be helped with a water supply. There is need also to provide water on the stock routes in the Northern Territory.
It is pleasing to note that in the proposed scientific investigation it will be possible to call upon the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization with its fund of information. The wide research in which it has already engaged has indicated1 quite clearly that it appreciates the problems involved. So long ;as the services of men like Mr. Christian are available, we can be assured of success. Already he has made soil surveys in different parts of the Northern Territory. He has investigated the areas of the Ord and Fitzroy Rivers and has laid foundations upon which future planners and researchers will be able to build. Such research gives the widest and broadest possible appreciation of the problem. The Department of Animal Husbandry in the
Northern Territory has played a most important part and in some respects, the Lands Department has made a contribution. I believe that it could do a great deal more.
Another important question is stock diseases in the northern parts of Australia. I have not the easy mind on this matter which the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) seems to have. He talks about turning out certain types of stock in the north without any regard to tick infection. I do not agree with the honorable member. I believe that eternal vigilence is the price of keeping a herd healthy in that area. This is where scientific research can come in to help owners of stock who are faced with the tick menace, pleuro-pneumonia and many diseases which affect the stock in those areas. Again the C.S.I.R.O., the Department of Animal Husbandry and1 other good men working in close collaboration with the universities of the various States can do a great deal to overcome these problems.
Other speakers have touched upon the important and significant question of transportation. Again I beg to differ from the honorable member for Capricornia who seemed to think of the north as a wasteland, useless, without profit to the nation and just a sort of outer frontier to be drawn upon to build up reserves of stock from time to time. The real challenge which the cattle industry makes to the Government is that the development of the north of Australia depends largely upon better transportation.
Before the Second World War broke out a conference was held at Coonamble in New South Wales at which it was advocated that an all-weather road should be built through the back country of Queensland along a safe rainfall area through to the Northern Territory. It was not built at that time. It was discussed by shire councillors, road users and graziers and people who were patriotic enough to appreciate the importance of a project of this kind. But nothing happened. Of course, we all remember, when the war broke out and there was urgent need for a road through to Darwin, the speed and scramble and haste to build the north-south road for the defence requirements of the country.
May I say that on 29th of this month at Bourke another conference will be held to deal with roads and transport from Bourke through to the Northern Territory. I can only hope that it will receive the sympathetic support of the Parliament. I know that the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) will be there to espouse and support the advantages of such a work.
I should like to go considerably further than that. I believe that the Clapp report dealing with the rail needs of this country ought to be implemented in this connexion. I do not think that any form of transport would trigger off development and serve the needs of the country better than rail transport would. If a rail link were provided between Bourke and the Northern Territory, it could play the most important part of all.
Apart from the question of whether internal transport should be by road or rail, the important question of sea freights arises. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) dealt with this matter very effectively and pointed out that to a great extent Australia is being held to ransom by the excessive charges made by the conference line of ships on the export of our meat. Surely the time has arrived when we will be patriotic enough to establish our own shipping line to carry our meat to the world markets and to give us an even chance. But the difficulty created by the conference line is not the only difficulty besetting this country at present. Another problem hanging over the nation’s head arises from trade restrictions imposed by other countries. At present, we enjoy the goodwill of the United States of America, and we have been able to ship vast quantities of meat to the American market. However, we do not know from week to week when the doors of that market will be closed against us and this industry of ours, which I believe now ranks as fifth of our primary export industry, will be seriously affected by some action taken by the Government of the United States of America. That would be a most serious blow to us. I think the only way that we can meet such a challenge, over which we have no direct control, is to try to build up better quality, better packaging and better handling of our meat; and that brings us back to the question of transportation.
We should also pay more attention to country killings. Coming much nearer home, and with New South Wales particularly in mind, 1 think of the suffering of beasts and the damage to them as they are hauled great distances from the outback areas such as Bourke and Brewarrina, and from Albury in the south to Wallangarra in the north. The time has passed when action should have been taken to have exclusively country killing, so that beasts can be killed in their prime condition before they have had any anxiety, any suffering or occasioned any damage. Quite frankly, 1 think we should strive to produce better quality beef. The Homebush abattoir in Sydney is the main killing centre for that city and for many other places. I should like to see the vast area around Homebush converted into a garden suburb. If that were done and killings were taken to country districts, much would be done for the people of Sydney and the marketing of Australian beef would be improved, both internally and externally. Packaging would be improved, we would produce better meat and it would be sold in better condition. All that would add up to a much more satisfactory state of affairs generally.
The bill really sets out to deal with the problem. I have reservations and doubts about whether this small measure, which deals with scientific and technical matters, can really come to grips with the overall broad problems pressing on the industry. But we are prepared to support it because we believe in planning and we believe that these matters will make a positive contribution to the progress of one of our most important industries. The overall plan is something for the future. Let us have our plan and let us go forward to do those things that we believe to be right. However, I would regret very much our having inquiries, committees and plans if we did not have practical action by this and other governments to implement a scheme which can bring profit to those engaged in the industry and so enhance the wealth of the nation. Those engaged in the industry who have established themselves in far-flung areas really deserve a better deal, and 1 believe that this intelligent approach to the important cattle industry can bring a rich reward, if we mean business on this occasion.
.- I should like to congratulate the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) on a thoughtful and thorough address. I am glad to hear that the Opposition supports the measure. I congratulate the Government on introducing the bill. I think it is without doubt a landmark in the beef industry. Tremendous scope is available for research throughout the length and breadth of the industry, and unfortunately this has been delayed much longer than it should have been. The honorable member for Macquarie said that the beef industry was fifth in our list of export earners. However, the latest figures given to me by the department show that last year beef moved into second position, next to wool, as the earner of export income. It earned £54,000,000, while wheat and flour moved into third position with £51,000,000. Wool, of course, was way ahead, as it always has been, with £264,000,000.
Here is an industry that has grown and is continuing to grow. Without doubt, a great future lies ahead of the Australian beef industry. Wherever we look, almost every other primary commodity is facing difficulties. For instance, we know that synthetics are forming a cloud on the horizon of our great wool industry, and wool must do its utmost to match and beat synthetics at their own game. However, there is a beef shortage in most parts of the world, and as yet no real substitute for beef has been found. On the very distant horizon, there is perhaps some synthetic protein. But personally, I would always prefer a juicy steak to a pill, even though the pill gave me just as many proteins.
There is a tremendous demand for this legislation and for the finance that will be made available through it to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. I have had some close dealings with one of the top scientists of this organization. Dr. Franklin, who is regarded in his field of nutrition as one of the outstanding experts in the world. Only recently he told me that last year was the most frustrating of any of the 21 years that he had been with the organization. He said that he wanted to start tests on the drought feeding of cattle. He had everything ready but could not get enough money to put up a few fences, which were necessary to keep the cattle in the various pens where they were to be tested. Under this legislation, £320.000 has come from the beef producers. That will be matched by the grant of another £320,000 from the Government. In addition to that, as honorable members know, this House passed a bill last week to make some £400,000, which had been derived from wartime realization, available to this committee. So, it will have an amount of about £1,000,000 available in its first year of work. Undoubtedly, that will give a tremendous impetus to research throughout Australia.
I do not think that it should be necessary to tell the House of the need for research in beef. But just iri case there may beperhaps not in this House - some beef producers of the old school who would say that this 2s. per beast is just another Government tax, let me run, as briefly as I can, through the various aspects of beef production in order to show where we have a lot to learn and where we are only just skimming the surface of research.
I will deal more with beef production in the southern part of Australia. I think nearly every speaker on this bill this afternoon and this evening has spoken of the north, where undoubtedly beef production can be increased very considerably, but I believe that even in the south beef production will be increased. For one thing, we have in the south a tremendous increase in pasture improvement which, as we know, has in the past in some cases trebled production Another thing is that with the more consistent rainfall in the south it is possible to turn off the animals more quickly. There is a trend towards a switch from wool to beef, in the south, because the price of wool has receded in recent years and beef is considerably easier to produce.
Being one who has both sheep and cattle on my property I know that, with sheep, one is constantly drenching, innoculating and crutching and goodness knows what, whereas with cattle you probably do not see them from one year to the next and yet you turn out good beasts. So there is this economic trend - because the price of beef has gone up - towards greater beef production and a diminution in the production of wool.
I know that we in the south have just as much desire for research into our problems as have the people in the north. In fact, one of the great difficulties of *M Australian beef export trade is that the better beef produced in the south is mainly consumed locally, in Sydney and in Melbourne. Perhaps the honorable member for the Northern Territory will not agree when I say this, but when you have a beast that walks perhaps 500’ miles before it is put on the train for Townsville it will not be as good beef as we use in the south. I think we can sky that we eat what we can and can what we cannot.
I wish to deal with some of the problems which we have in the south and I think we can divide them as follows: - Problems of producing the beef, problems of disease and problems of marketing for export, and the sale of beef. There are two sides to production - breeding and feeding. As most of the old stud masters will tell us, half the breeding goes down the neck. It is still important that the best possible cattle should be bred and so I think there is considerable scope in this country for increasing the use of artificial insemination and that itself has great possibilities. Abroad breeders are much further ahead than we are in this direction. I think that in the United Kingdom, for example, something like 50 per cent, of the beef cattle slaughtered every year are bred by artificial insemination. In Australia it is a very small proportion, and is limited mainly to dairy cattle. We know that artificial insemination offers great scope for a quick increase in the quality of the cattle. I read not so long ago that in Denmark 10,000 animals had been obtained from one bull in one year, so undoubtedly there is considerable scope in this direction.
I know the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray) will agree with me in this matter because he has had experience on his own property of what can be achieved by the use of artificial insemination; and not only artificial insemination. There is the most interesting question of ovum transplantation. I had the good luck to study at Cambridge, under Dr. Hammond, who more than any one else, I think, has been responsible for this system, in which an ovum from a quality beast can be transplanted into a second quality cow. This cow acts really as a foster mother, yet calves and brings up a calf which is of superior quality to what that cow itself would have bred. So there is a great deal of scope for such development in Australia.
What we want to do in the breeding line is to produce animals that will convert protein into beef. As we know, there are certain lines of breeding which will show a good return in weight for the protein fed to them, and others which show a small return, so breeding and research into’ methods of breeding are essential. We must look not only into the breeding but also) into the feeding side. I was very interested last year to have opportunity to visit some farms in the United States where they go in for cattle production. I should say that we in this country are a long way behind them when it comes to feeding. I understand this is brought about probably more from an economic point of view than anything else because the American breeder has no difficulty in getting three times as much for his beef as we get in this country, and so he can go in for expensive feeding. The result is that in the United States the bulk of the cattle that are turned off are at least finished. If the cattle do not spend their entire life in a feed loft, they are brought in and are fed a certain ration and as they get practically no exercise they cannot walk the fat off themselves. They probably put on 3 lb. per day for the last three months of their lives if not for their entire lives.
There is almost no end to what the Americans do to put extra weight on their beef. In fact they include in the feed tranquilizer tablets. That, perhaps, is not unusual for Americans, because the human species there consumed some 49,000,000 tranquilizer tablets last year, but giving tranquilizers to cattle is perhaps taking it a bit far. However, the cattlemen say it settles them down when they first come in and that they are not as wild and fractious and consequently put on weight.
Another thing which the Americans have gone in for intensively and which so far has not been investigated in this country, to my way cf thinking, as thoroughly as it should be, is the use of hormones in fattening cattle. Stilboesterol is either fed to the cattle or injected into the ear, by way of a tablet. I would say that in the United States the great bulk of the cattle which find their way to market would be treated in one way or the other. The results of United States research in this line seem to indicate that an animal treated in the last three months of its life would put on 100 lb. more liveweight than an untreated animal will. Somewhat earlier cattlemen in the United States were worried about the effects this beef would .have on human beings, but I am told that they carried out extensive tests and are now quite certain that there will be no effect on human beings.
It appears that some time ago, in the early days of the use of these hormones, the tablets were being used on a poultry farm. The offal from this farm was fed to some minks, and the minks became sterile. There was a good deal of worry. It .appears that some of the tablets which were in the ears of the roosters had remained undissolved, and the moment the minks ate them they were infected. However, research in the United States shows that there is no danger of this being passed on, so we need have no worry of that sort. So far the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, I think, has been very slow to recommend the use of these methods. However, certain tests that they have carried out disclose that without doubt the use of hormones does increase, quite considerably, the liveweight of a steer during its last few months of fattening.
One problem that they have in the United States - and the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) touched on it to some extent when he said that the biggest problem is the problem of paying for the steak - is that the Americans are finding the greatest difficulty in producing their beef at a price which will compete with other forms of meat. Whereas in this country we have beef or mutton six times a week, and perhaps chicken on Sundays, the Americans have chicken six times a week and beef on Sundays, because they produce such a large quantity of chicken and other poultry meats that they are available cheap. It is one thing to be able to produce a magnificent quality beef, as the Americans do, but quite another thing to produce it at a competitive price.
The subject of lot feeding needs to be investigated in this country, and I hope that it is one of the things that will be looked at in the research programme which this bill will make possible. It appears that at the moment there is no great scope for lot feeding here unless there is some particular way in which people can obtain cheaper feed. I understand that there is in Sydney a good example of lot feeding. One of the butchers who is operating constantly in the market buys up an occasional animal which he sees wants topping off. He gets it a bit cheaper, and he has the refuse from one of the Kia-Ora factories that makes drinks. At the factory the rind and peels from oranges and lemons are thrown away, and he uses them. If there is something of that sort in the sugar industry that can be used, it might be possible for some types of feed to be made from sugar tops. However, in the normal run of things in this country 1 think it is hard to see that we will be able to produce beef by lot feeding in the foreseeable future in the same way as they do in the United States. But I think there is great scope for research into lot feeding.
At the present moment in this country we regard the feeding of beef cattle as mainly the last resort before the cattle die in a drought. One thing that the United States has developed which I think has great potential in this country is the pelleting machine. It has had some remarkable results. This is a machine in which lucerne or any of the other fodders is subjected to heat and pressure and chopped up into pellets which are easily handled and easily fed to the cattle. The remarkable thing is that so far it has been shown that cattle or any animals fed on pellets appear to put on more weight than they would have done if they were fed on the original materials used to make the pellets.
I mention these things because I think there is great scope for research in this country, and any one who believes that there is not is just shutting his eyes. Only recently a new method of drought feeding has been brought forward. We all know that in the south we have various periods in the summer and early autumn, before we get the rains, when we get long rani; grass which is almost inedible and has such a low protein content that such cattle as eat it do not thrive on it. Recently it has been shown that by spraying some of this growth with a substance known as “ urea “, cattle are able to eat a larger quantity and take in sufficient protein to maintain their weight, or even to increase their weight. This is just a further example of a C.S.I.R.O. finding which could be of great assistance to the beef producers.
I mentioned that the control of disease is. one of the great problems that we have in this country. I do not think that anybody would deny that we have been particularly lucky in Australia in that some of the major cattle diseases have been excluded from this country. 1 think, although I have no experience in the matter, that I would be right in saying that our greatest problem is tick eradication. Next to it there are other problems, and in the south we fear more than anything else the spread of pluropneumonia, which is no doubt brought in by cattle coming from the electorate of the honorable member for the Northern Territory. Cattle coming from the Northern Territory into New South Wales go into quarantine, but it is very difficult for the affected cattle to be picked up at that stage. From 250,000 to 300,000 animals a year come down from the Northern Territory and Queensland and the pleuro-pneumonia areas into New South Wales.
There is a law which requires them to remain for a certain time in a certain area of New South Wales before they can move on, but unfortunately this disease constantly breaks out, and it appears that we are no nearer to-day to its eradication than we were years ago. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has estimated that something like £2,000.000 a year is the cost to this country for this disease. For one thing, it prevents us from exporting live cattle to the United States, because that country is free of the disease and is not prepared to allow our cattle to be taken there.
There are other diseases which I will noi mention, but undoubtedly there is tremendous scope for research along these lines. Let us look at the marketing research which is needed. Our greatest problem in sending our beef abroad is to be able to market it in a similar condition to the beef sent by other countries which are very much closer to Great Britain, so that it will not be sold at a discount. We know that we can send frozen beef to the United Kingdom, but no British housewife wants to buy frozen meat if she can buy chilled meat. Unfortunately, chilled meat, normally speaking, will keep only something like 22 days in its chilled condition, and then starts to deteriorate. It has been found possible to extend this period quite considerably by various means. For example, if beef is chilled and then put in carbon dioxide it can be kept probably twice as long. But the carbon dioxide leaves some stains and marks on the outside of the beef, which again tends to reduce its value and to make the housewife refrain from buying it. They are now testing ultra-violet rays on the ships, lt has the same property of preventing mould, thus making the meat keep much longer. There is an anti-biotic produced in the United States, called Acromise, which shows great promise. It is possible to inject this into meat and1 keep the meat for some days in the open without any refrigeration. But again, that is another case for research in order to find whether it can be adopted for use on beef sent from Australia to the United Kingdom.
– They way they handle the meat at Smithfield does not help either, sometimes.
– I agree entirely with the honorable member. I may say that when I was in England about fifteen months ago 1 had the opportunity of visiting Harwell, and saw there some meat which had been treated with radio isotopes. It had been stored on a bench for six months and was in as good a condition as the day it was treated. Unfortunately, there again, the taste of the meat is altered very slightly by radio isotopes, and though we could keep it longer and it would be just as good in its essential properties, it would not sell well. Perhaps it small doses of radiation were given it might be possible to give it keeping qualities withOUt affecting its taste.
There are other sides to this legislation that I want to discuss very briefly in the last few minutes remaining to me. The honorable member for the Northern Territory, I understand, is going to move at the committee stage an amendment seeking to have a representative from the Northern Territory included in the Australian Cattle and Beef Research Committee. Without doubt there are many beef ‘breeders in the Northern Territory who would be able to contribute a great deal to the work of this committee. Perhaps the Minister may be able to tell me whether there is any reason now why a person from the Northern Territory could not be put on the committee, perhaps as one of the representatives of the Graziers Federation. I do not know whether he would be precluded from doing that, but in any case the Northern Territory interests would certainly be safeguarded. Undoubtedly, some of the graziers on the research committee will come from the big beef-producing areas in the northern and north-western parts of Queensland and their problems would be identical with, or very similar to, those of the graziers in the Northern Territory. In addition, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization will be represented on the committee. I am sure that the scientist who is nominated to represent the C.S.I.R.O. will be a man who has worked actively in the Northern Territory and, as the honorable member for Macquarie has said, perhaps a man like Dr. Christian will be nominated.
There is some merit in the suggestion of the honorable member for the Northern Territory, but if we seek to alter the constitution of the committee the proposal will have to be referred to the Australian Agricultural Council for consideration. We have already wasted three years in getting the council, and every one associated with it, to the stage of agreeing to the setting up of a committee. It is a tragedy that three years should have elapsed from the time when the graziers’ association first asked for a tax to be put upon itself until now when the Government has introduced the relevant legislation. The graziers must go down in history as the only people who have asked to be taxed and who have had to wait three years for the Government to do it. The delay has occurred because of the squabbling that goes on between the various organizations which represent the primary producers. Whenever one body asks for something, another body asks for something else. Each organization seems to be keener on building up prestige for itself than on looking after the welfare of Australia. The whole position is tragic. I hope that some day we might have a national farmers’ union - call it what you like - which will speak with one voice for- the primary producers as a whole. Then we will not have one organization fighting another in an attempt to gain some advantage and prestige for itself.
I am reminded of the old music hall joke. One person asked, “Why do you always need two people to guide you when you are trying to park a car? “ The other replied, “ One to say ‘ whoa ‘ and one to say ‘ go on ‘.” The two organizations which now represent the primary producers are in a similar position. One says “ whoa “ and the other says “go on”, and the Government does not know just what the primary producers really want. They must realize that the worst thing that they can possibly do is to leave themselves in this position because eventually the way will be open for the Government to say, “ We shall not consult the organizations because we know that they do not speak with one voice. We shall do as we wish whether the organizations like it or not.”
This Government has always said that it will assist any primary producer in marketing his commodities provided that he asks for assistance. But if the Government has to wait for years to give any assistance, it could well take matters into its own hands.
This is one of the most progressive and far-sighted bills which we have had before us for a long time. It can only do tremendous good for the beef industry.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Thompson) adjourned.
Prescription Fees - Wiluna Post Office1 - Pharmaceutical Benefits - Fencing Wire - Radio Frequencies - Civil Aviation: Training of Air Crews - Sales Tax on Motor Care - South Africa - Execution of Hungarian Youths.
Motion (by Mr. Osborne) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I wish to raise a matter relating to the so-called National Health Act which this Government introduced following the presentation of the last Budget. I refer to the prescription charge which has been imposed on the people as another form of indirect taxation. Approximately 21,000,000 prescriptions will be written this year and, at 5s. each, this represents £5,000,000 in indirect taxation which the people of Australia will have to pay. To-day we debated the new Post Office charges. The increased revenue from those new charges, together with the prescription tax, will help to fill the gap which was created by the 5 per cent, income tax hand-out. In other words, the Government is giving to the rich what it takes from the workers.
To illustrate the difficulties which confront doctors in applying the new prescription charge, let me read from the March, 1960 issue of a journal called “ Stethoscope “ the following article: -
WHAT CAN I, OR CAN’T I PRESCIBE7
The Doctor’s Dilemma - By Holt & Cameron.
The new “ List “ of Pharmaceutical Benefits issued on March 1st, has caused confusion, dismay and irritation to the majority of doctors. Patients have found that in a number of cases they are now paying more for their prescriptions than they did before. Retail pharmacists have had considerable difficulty in interpreting the Department of Health regulations, and many are in doubt as to what prescriptions they can or cannot dispense within the terms of the modified health service.
We know that the decision to impose a prescription fee was an eleventh hour decision by the Treasury which forced the Department of Health to introduce the legislation. But the department was not prepared for it, and consequently many irregularities in the free list have arisen. I wish to mention a few irregularities in the hope that the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) and the Government, will rectify them and at least bring a little sense into the matter.
The list is very lengthy and doctors would have to be walking encyclopaedias to understand the act and to prescribe from the list. Let me mention some drugs which were cited to me by a doctor from the list at random. Take carbrital, a sleeping drug. A doctor may prescribe twelve tablets with three repeats under the “ free “ scheme and therefore, it would cost £2 to obtain 96 tablets. But if the doctor wrote a prescription for 100 tablets it would cost 31s-. - a saving of 9s. Then there is pentobarbitone. A prescription for 25 tablets with three repeats, under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, means that 100 tablets would cost the patient £1, but a prescription for 100 tablets would cost 18s. 6d. - a saving of ls. 6d. Again, sodium pentobarbitone 25 li-grain tablets, with three repeats, would cost £1, but on the one prescription 100 tablets would cost only 12s. 6d. - a saving of 7s. 6d. If a doctor wrote a prescription for 25 ephedrobarbitone tablets, which are used in the treatment of asthma, and authorized three repeats, 100 tablets would cost £1, but a prescription for 100 tablets would cost only 12s. 3d. - a saving of 7s. 9d.
Many honorable members will ask, “ Why does not the doctor write only a single prescription? “ The fact is that the doctor has not the time, the inclination or the knowledge of the act to know just what drugs it would be cheaper to provide on a single prescription as distinct from a prescription written under the scheme. Only time and experience will teach him those things.
I believe that the Department of Health should face up to its responsibility in this matter. It has been rushed into this course of action by the Treasury officials. A decision has been taken at the eleventh hour, and this was a rush job. There has been no thought and no planning in this matter. An injustice has been done to the taxpayers of Australia, first of all, because they have been subjected, this financial year, to another indirect tax of £5,000,000 by the introduction of this prescription tax. Patients think that they are getting these drugs on the free list, but, as this journal, “ Stethoscope “, states, in many instances they are paying more under the so-called free scheme than they would pay if they paid the charges straightout.
There are other irregularities in the National Health Act. I may say that it is a very complicated act. Since 1st March there have been two lengthy amendments of the list of drugs, the amendments comprising 21 pages of closely printed material. Just imagine a doctor’s difficulty in trying to keep abreast of what he may or may not prescribe! Section 16 of “ Notes for Medical Practitioners “ states -
A medical practitioner may not direct in a prescription for a pharmaceutical benefit that the pharmaceutical benefit is to be administered in a manner other than a manner (if any) determined by the Minister and as set out in section 2 of this book.
Section 2 prescribes how, when and why a prescription may be made out.
The doctor whom I have mentioned informed me that antihistamines, which are prescribed for people suffering from asthma and hay fever, are available only in tablet form and may not be prescribed in mixtures or liquid form for children. At present, the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association is taking a poll to determine whether it will accept this scheme. My doctor informant told me that the present Government’s scheme is far more repugnant to the doctors than was the McKenna scheme which was introduced by the Chifley Administration. We know that the doctors, as a whole, are a political body and that they are to-day lined up with this Government. But this latest national health measure was brought in hastily, and the people are now paying for it. There are plenty of irregularities in it. The Government rushed into introducing it because it was forced to raise revenue by means of indirect taxes, as was pointed out by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) and other honorable members on this side of the House this afternoon. The hand-out of £20,000,000 represented by the 5 per cent, reduction of income tax had to be made up by means of indirect taxes, and this prescription tax and the increased indirect taxes represented by higher Post Office charges have been used to fill the gap.
I ask the Government to look at this problem and to make sure that the matter is straightened out. The Government should be practical and efficient. Above all, let it at least give the people of Australia a better deal than they are getting at the present time.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not keep the House very long. I understand that the Postmaster-General’s Department intends to close the official post office at Wiluna, which is in my electorate, and which is roughly in the middle of Western Australia. In response to representations which 1 have made to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) in this matter, he has explained to me that the business done by this post office is far below the volume normally required for the establishment or retention of a post office. However, there has arisen a situation which makes it imperative that the department postpone the closure of this post office until the future of the surrounding district is better known. I have received information to the effect that the Western Australian Government has decided to establish at Wiluna a research station which, it is hoped, will be staffed during the current financial year. In taking this step, the State Government recognizes the widely held belief that the Wiluna basin has a distinct and considerable potential as an irrigation area.
– Of course it has.
– I thank the honorable member for his support. The area in question comprises anything up to 1,000,000 acres, and there is a supply of underground water which is estimated to be sufficient rot intensive cultivation and which will enable the area to support a large and closely settled population.
In view of this, Sir, I suggest to the Postmaster-General that the present is not a very good time to close the Wiluna post office. If the Western Australian Government is prepared to go to the expense of establishing a research station, in effect, for the purpose of determining the future development of the area, would it not be wise for the Postmaster-General’s Department to defer the closure of this post office until the district’s future is determined? t strongly urge the Postmaster-General to defer the action that is proposed. If he does so, he will renew some of the confidence of the people living in the district. I point out that, twenty years ago, Wiluna was a town of some 14,000 people. It relied on a gold mine which found itself fresh out of gold. As a result, the town folded. A certain number of people, however, have steadfastly believed that something will happen to cause the town to regain some of its former splendour. The PostmasterGeneral now has an opportunity to justify some of the faith that those people have had in the town of Wiluna and to save the department the considerable expense of reopening a post office which had been closed.
– Where is the PostmasterGeneral? He will not know anything about -what the honorable member is saying.
– I suggest that the Minister has received from to-day’s discussions sufficient material to digest, and that, therefore, he may be excused from being present to hear my small contribution now.
I close this submission - in fact, this plea - to the Government by saying that once a post office is closed the re-opening of it is a difficult matter for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Furthermore, reopening a post office would be more expensive for the department than would be a decision to keep it open. Therefore, I strongly urge the Postmaster-General to await the outcome of the very serious and very determined efforts being made by the Western Australian Government to reestablish the Wiluna district by developing it as an irrigation area. I urge the Minister to do this rather than take drastic or rash action.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, first of all, let me say that it is refreshing to see five Ministers present in the chamber. I hope that they are prepared to answer questions affecting their administration. I regret, however, that the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) is not present. I can only pray that my remarks will be conveyed to him.
– Another one has just come out of his burrow.
– That is very gratifying.
The subject about which I wish to speak is the so-called pharmaceutical benefits measure recently approved by this Parliament. The people of Australia were led to believe that this recently passed massive measure would confer on them enormously greater benefits than they received under the previous legislation. We were told that the whole of the formulas for pills and potions contained in the British Pharmacopoeia would be available to patients if prescribed by doctors. We were told the life-saving drugs would be available. However, a practice has now developed to which I think attention should be directed, and with which the legislation does not adequately cope.
We find that at the present time there is a tendency for young doctors to band together and to establish clinics. The intention is to ensure that each of the associated doctors will get adequate recreation. But pressure of work is so great in Australia to-day that doctors simply do not have the time to consult the British Pharmacopoeia before writing prescriptions. On the other hand manufacturing chemists all over the world, including those in Australia, are now putting out pills and potions - what are called proprietary lines - which are adequate substitutes for medicines that might be prescribed, composed of drugs included in the British Pharmacopoeia. The doctor is familiar with these preparations, and he also realizes that there is less danger of his making a mistake if he prescribes the proprietary lines. Likewise, the chemist is saved the trouble of making up medicines with drugs taken from the British Pharmacopoeia. The result is that thousands of people consult doctors, who, being busy, write prescriptions for proprietary medicines instead of prescribing medicines made up of drugs included in the British Pharmacopoeia.
Two cases came to my notice this week to which I should like to direct attention. They are quite authentic, and I can produce all the relevant documents in connexion with them. One of my constituents went to a doctor, who gave her a prescription. Her husband took it to the chemist and said, “ How long will it be before I need to come back? “ The chemist said, “Twenty minutes”. The husband went back in half an hour, received the medicine and asked the chemist how much he had to pay. The chemist said that the charge was 17s. 6d. There was no mention of a 5s. charge. It was quite obvious that the prescription written by the doctor did not come within the ambit of the Government’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme. If the doctor had gone to work with the British Pharmacopoeia and had prescribed elements A, B, C, D and E, forming a mixture which would have been just as good as the proprietary line, the chemist would have made up the prescription and the citizen would have got his medicine for 5s.
The next case concerns a young fellow in a country town. Suffering from an infection, he consulted his local doctor. He was given a prescription which he took to a chemist. He was charged 18s. for the medicine. There was no mention of a 5s. fee. Again, apparently, a proprietary line had been prescribed. It was quite efficacious and cleared up the infection within 24 hours. This man later used it on one of his children, and again found it effective.
However, these are two cases of persons who contribute to hospital benefits funds and who pay their taxes to the Commonwealth of Australia, but who are charged 17s. 6d. and 18s. for prescriptions that should cost only 5s. There is something radically wrong. Is the Minister for Health so antiquated and out of date that he is unaware of modern practice among the busy doctors, or is some racket being worked between the manufacturers of proprietary medicines and somebody else? I am sure that other honorable members in this House have had similar experiences, and I say that if something is not done quickly the people of this country will make the ears of the Minister pretty hot and sore. I ask the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne), who is now at the table, to bring this matter to the notice of the Minister for Health.
There is a further matter I should like to mention. A few weeks ago, I asked the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) why the farmers of this country could not get No. 8 galvanized wire. During the debate, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) made some slighting reference to shortages that were experienced during the time of the Chifley Government. I simply remind the right honorable gentleman that at that time World War II. had only recently concluded. But to-day, fifteen years after the war, farmers cannot get supplies of No. & galvanized wire. The Minister for Trade said, the other day, in reply to my question,, that unfortunately the manufacturers had underestimated the demand and were somewhat short of galvanized wire. The plain’ fact of the matter is, however, that the manufacturers have over-exported galvanized wire or, alternatively, have used steel or zinc for the manufacture of other products for export at high prices, leaving insufficient of those materials for making: wire.
A farmer in my electorate recently ordered four coils of 8-gauge plain wire, and this is the reply he received from themost reputable large-scale supplier of farmers’ needs in Melbourne: -
We thank you for your letter of the 28th instant, but regret that we are not able to immediately consign the 4 coils of 8 gauge Plain Wire yom require.
Plain wire is in extremely short supply, and weunderstand from the manufacturers- the manufacturers being a subsidiary of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited - that a shortage is likely to exist for some 12 to 18 months.
We find the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited publishing its balance-sheets and boasting of its all-time record production of pig iron and steel. Good luck to the company; it shows great efficiency. We know, however, that it has been exporting heavily, and while that company itself does not draw No. 8 wire, its subsidiary, Rylands Brothers Australia Proprietary Limited, does. What is the Rylands company up to? What is the state of its managerial capacity when it cannot estimate the demand for and be in a position to supply such a frequently required commodity as No. 8 fencing wire, the standard wire used by farmers in this country? Farmers are fobbed off and told that they can have No. 9 wire if they like. What sensible farmer wants No. 9 wire if he can get No. 8? Any farmer in this House knows that a lamb will push itself through a plain wire fence made of No. 9 wire much more easily than through one made with No. 8.
There is another stunt that is being indulged in. Farmers are told that they can have No. 9 wire with double the amount of galvanizing. Does it pay the manufacturers better to supply the primary producers with No. 9 wire having a double quantity of galvanizing than to supply them with the standard gauge and quality they need, and which they know is best for their purpose?
The letter from which I have just read an extract continues -
We are however, to receive supplies from time to time– and, of course, favoured customers with plenty of capital will get some of those supplies from time to time, while the strugglers will get practically none - as production permits, but as we cannot obtain advance information concerning deliveries from Newcastle it is difficult to estimate the length of time which will elapse before any particular order could be despatched.
As all merchants will be similarly placed to ourselves and there appears little likelihood of any improvement in the supply position, we would be pleased to know whether we should record your order and arrange for despatch just as soon as supplies enable us to do so.
That is a nice state of affairs.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Some little time ago the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) felt obliged to remind the House that it might be some months before the voluminous proposals arising from the recent International Telecommunications Union conference would be available. He foreshadowed another Australian conference on this subject. I do not want to suggest what may be the contents of the report in question, or what may be the outcome of the proposed conference, but experience proves that there is not much reward to be gained for saying nothing on these important matters, when in time decisions may be made which are inimical to the interests that one is supporting. I make no apology, therefore, for raising again the matter of frequency allocations available to amateur radio transmitters in this country, particularly in the light of the recent conference of the International Telecommunications Union, and certain reservations made at that conference by the Australian delegation. There is sufficient information available from the Australian amateur representatives who accompanied the delegation, and confirmed by the delegates of other countries, to cause grave concern to the Australian amateur for his future existence. I have frequently referred to the fact that the views of departmental officers within the Postmaster-General’s Department have a strange habit of becoming the views of the Government. Since I believe that there are one or two officers within the PostmasterGeneral’s Department who have little concern for the future of amateurs in Australia, I believe it is desirable to draw the attention of the House to the present position and its possibilities. I would like to illustrate this situation by referring to some of the allocations to amateurs. If I use the term “ megacycles “ honorable members need not be worried about that because it is merely a measure of a frequency band.
First of all, at frequencies from 1.8 to 2 megacycles, there is an international reservation by the International Telecommunications Union, and it is available to amateurs throughout the world on a shared basis. It is used in New Zealand and, as far as I know, generally throughout the world but the amateurs of Australia have been denied access to the band by local decision of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I can see no reason why the amateurs of Australia should not enjoy that frequency band. In the field of 3.5 to 3.9 megacycles, available to zone 3 which is a geographical division of the world, including Australia and New Zealand, Australians heretofore have been allowed to use only the frequencies from 3.5 to 3.8. In other words, we have been denied, for some time, the use of 25 per cent, of that band.
The Australian delegation went to the recent international telecommunications conference with a proposal that the band should be still further reduced. This proposal, I am happy to say, the International Telecommunications Union rejected. Nevertheless, the Australian delegation added a footnote to the decision which reserved the right to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in Australia to go ahead with its proposed reduction so that in future it would be possible for the amateurs of Australia to find themselves confined to the band between 3.5 and 3.7 megacycles, or only half the area available to amateurs in the rest of the world. This footnote is the cause of the great concern that I now express. Last year, before the International Telecommunications Union conference a good deal was said on this subject, and I am happy to say that the Australian amateurs were supported from each side of the House in both Houses of Parliament. There were two results: One was that the Government, through the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen), agreed that before any changes were made it would reconsider the position. But no doubt it would reconsider the matter on recommendations once again made by officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department who have little concern for the Australian amateur. The second result was the visit to Canberra of two senior officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department - the Deputy Director of Telecommunications, and the Controller of Radio.
In meetings with members from both sides of the House, the Deputy Director of Telecommunications gave an undertaking, without any qualification, that there would be no reduction in the frequencies at present available to Australian amateurs unless it was by international agreement at the Geneva Conference. The fact is that the international meeting did not agree to any reduction in amateur reservations in the bands I have mentioned. Therefore, there was no point in the Australian delegation’s adding this footnote unless it was to prepare the way for a repudiation by the Postmaster-General’s Department of the undertaking given to members of this Parliament who were interested. I for one - and I am sure many other members of the House - would welcome a reassurance by the Postmaster-General that the temptation to cut the amateur bands will not override the undertaking that was given by the officers of his own department.
In addition, it is not impossible that amateurs will lose further ground in the frequency band of 7 to 7.3 megacycles, which is an international reservation, although we in Australia have been using only half that band - from 7 to 7.15 megacycles. The proposal now is that the Australian amateur should be reduced to the band, 7 to 7.1 megacycles exclusively and that the rest should be given over to international broadcasting.
Several countries at the international telecommunications conference served notice that they would not agree that this band be made available exclusively to the Australian amateurs. Therefore, the international broadcasting stations themselves have indicated that they can operate satisfactorily on a shared band with the amateurs. With this assurance, it would be not unreasonable for the amateurs of Australia to ask the PostmasterGeneral, as I now do, that he should make available the whole of the 7 to 7.3 megacycle band for the use of amateurs on a shared basis.
There is one other important point. The propagation characteristics of radio signals at 7 megacycles are such that they do not reach out of Australia during daylight hours. Therefore, there can be no interference during these hours to overseas broadcasting by Australian amateurs. Therefore, I would ask the Postmaster-General whether it is not possible to make available the whole of this 7 megacycle band to the amateurs of Australia, at least during daylight hours. If that is not done there will be a serious denial of facilities to amateurs with no gain whatsoever to any other party.
The Postmaster-General foreshadowed, as I have said, a later conference on this question of frequency allocations. Within the time available to me I cannot deal very extensively with that matter but I venture to voice the hope - preliminary at this stage - that when that conference meets it will give consideration to preserving the interest of Australian amateurs in frequencies above 200 megacycles. This area, at the moment, is of rather restricted use and value but it is destined to become extremely important as new equipment and new techniques are developed for its use. When these facilities are available and the band does become useful I hope that the amateurs will not find themselves squeezed out of it as they appear to be threatened with the squeeze of the other bands to which I have referred.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would not detain the House at this hour except that a matter has been represented to me by the Flight Engineers Association of Australia. This association of 200 members has raised a matter which seriously concerns the safety of the flying public of Australia. It is especially concerned1, at present, with an attempt to preserve the high standards in Australian civil aviation. I am sure that all Australians are proud of this country’s good record in civil aviation and particularly of the emphasis on public safety. It is a matter of great concern therefore when attempts are made to break down thosstandards. It is to such an attempt that I shall refer to-night.
This criticism concerns the Department of Civil Aviation and I regret to say that it concerns Trans-Australia Airlines. Let me say, at the outset, that in my view our high civil aviation standards are mainly attributable to the excellent example set by T.A.A. in placing public considerations before economy and profit. Similarly, the high standards set by the Department of Civil Aviation are a factor of no mean importance. Of course, we can never disregard the efficiency of pilots and engineers and other members of the crew. It has always been the policy of Australian airlines to operate Electra aircraft and, I believe DC6 aircraft, with the benefit of a specialist flight engineer. In recent times, the Department of Civil Aviation has contemplated the operation of these aircraft without including a qualified engineer in the crew. This is a very recent development and one which is likely to culminate in a short time.
Apparently when T.A.A. introduced Electras into its service fewer aircraft were needed and a surplus of pilots occurred in that organization. Ansett-A.N.A. was able to escape this dilemma through the benefit of an expansion programme. T.A.A., with a deficiency of operational aircraft engineers and a surplus of pilots, is already in the process of training junior pilots to take the place of flight engineers. I understand that six flight engineers are required by T.A.A. for service on the Electra and DC6 aircraft. To meet this problem the airline already has six junior pilots engaged in a very short and, to my way of thinking, deficient training course. To me it seems as if it could be the thin edge of the wedge and we do not want this sort of thing to develop.
It is very important to take into account the view of flight engineers. Air services up to date in Australia have been operated by highly qualified people with experience extending over many years. A specialist flight engineer must have completed an apprenticeship or its equivalent in the aviation industry or some allied engineering industry of five years. He must have as a minimum six months’ practical experience for each specific type for which a maintenance licence is held.
Ansett-A.N.A. has a DC6B endorsement; that is to say, one thousand hours on a DC6B is necessary before an engineer is eligible to be considered for service as a flight engineer on an Electra aircraft. The minimum time required of flight engineers to reach the standard of the present operating specialist flight engineer in Australia is seven and a half years’ training. It is an incredible circumstance that in this situation junior pilots can come in after a very short time and take their place. Experience is the thing which counts in this field, and we cannot afford to have any break-down in standards. I am surprised that this Government, through its Department of Civil Aviation, is permitting this kind of thing.
– What evidence have you of that?
– I will provide the honorable member with evidence. There are many things in respect of which an engineer’s long experience in the air can be of assistance. It contributes to operational efficiency. He has not only regard to the instruments on the instrument panel of an aeroplane; he actually knows what goes on behind those instruments. A junior air pilot may come, see that an instrument is not operating and detect something wrong, but he cannot effect running repairs. He cannot, when the plane lands, go immediately to the ground engineer and put him in the picture in order to correct trouble with a minimum of delay so that the plane can go into service within a short time and without any serious deficiencies.
I believe that this is a serious, retrograde step, particularly having regard to the fact that only a short course is contemplated. In six or seven months’ time these pilots who will lake the place of the engineers will be absorbed back into the T.A.A. organization as junior pilots. In other words, this engineering activity in which they are engaged temporarily will not become their life work. This is naturally a very bad principle because they cannot devote themselves to an understanding of their particular profession. They will have no desire to do so. They should be saturating themselves in an understanding of the requirements of their positions.
In the United States of America this sort of thing would not be contemplated for a moment. I know that this is not a particularly good criterion and may not do my case much good but the fact is that any plane of a complex nature requires a specialist aircraft engineer. Any aircraft between 30,000 and 80,000 lb. is required to carry a fully-qualified engineer. An engineer is essential on planes over 80,000 lb. operating in the KLM Service, Air France, Swiss Airlines, Trans World Airlines, Pan American and Airlines of America. The qualifications for engineers in these companies are very well defined. Electras come within this category.
It is a matter of very serious regret and concern that we are to see Australian standards below the standards prevailing overseas. I understand that in Australia in very recent times - in fact within the last few weeks - two 800 series Viscounts, one operated by Ansett-A.N.A. and one by T.A.A. were involved in very near accidents as a consequence of inadequate specialist air crews.
I bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) who represents the Minister for Civil Aviation in another place (Senator Paltridge) and ask him to see that action be taken to tighten the air navigation orders. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) has asked for some evidence and in reply I shall read to him portion of a letter written by the Director-General of Civil Aviation to the Australasian Airline Flight Engineers Association. It is as follows: -
Crewing of the Electra has been the subject of much discussion. The Department has ruled that the crew shall consist of two pilots and a flight engineer. We do not intend at this time to vary this requirement although we are reviewing the background experience required for flight engineer licence issue. If the person can demonstrate both a theoretical and practical standard of competency, sufficient to undertake the duties of the engineer in the Electra, then we believe that he is entitled to the appropriate licence. We would be interested to have the opinion of your Association as to the extent of the technical background required for licence issue.
The view of the Australasian Airline Flight Engineers Association is that it did not want any breakdown in the standard that has been maintained over the years. I ask the Minister to look at Air Navigation Order part 43.8 of 1953 relating to aeronautical and engineering experience. I have it here. I suggest that he contemplate the possibility of tightening these air navigation orders because at the present time they are not nearly as binding as the regulations which prevailed before 1953. They provide all sorts of alternatives as qualifications.
I think it is sufficient to say that the Director of Civil Aviation may not be doing a wrong thing from the standpoint of air navigation orders if he does permit these pilots to undertake a very short period of service. But the weakness of this thing is that any one can come off the street with any sort of background and after such a short, insufficient period of training be placed in a responsible position which could possibly impair the safety of the Australian travelling public.
I want to make this final point: Within the next week the pilots concerned are to undergo a period of operational training. 1 understand that many aircraft engineers with a lifetime of service in this industry will not take very kindly to this procedure. I have no doubt that some among their ranks would advocate some sort of industrial action to avoid the possibilities which might follow. I hope that we may be able to avoid disruption, and I ask the Minister to consider this matter seriously.
.- I support the submission of the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall) about the position in which amateur radio operators in this country find themselves as a result of recent decisions. I think that other honorable members feel the same way. They may have received some very genuine protests from amateur radio operators pointing out that they will be put in a difficult situation by these new rules.
In making a plea for these men may I say that they have done a great deal of pioneering work in the radio industry in this country and they are still capable of doing more. In the research laboratories they are making a substantial contribution to the inventive part of radio work. As a hobby they spend many hours sending signals and receiving them and working out new gadgets for radio. They can still help.
May I remind honorable members that in time of great national disaster, such as floods and bush fires, amateur radio operators have been of great service. When floods occurred on the north coast of New South Wales within recent years, people were in very serious danger. If it were a Saturday afternoon all they could hear from the national stations would be broadcasts of races from Flemington or Randwick. They wanted to hear the latest developments of the flood and it was the amateur radio operators in the district who were able to help by giving this news to the local people. They deserve the highest commendation and their activities should be recognized by the Postmaster-General’s Department. May I add my protest to those of other honorable members against the restriction of frequency bands, available for use by amateur radio operators in this country.
I support the remarks of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Browne) with respect to the proposed closing down of the post office at Wiluna in Western Australia. There is no other post office within 100 miles of Wiluna at present. The honorable member pointed out that the Western Australian Government is undertaking research into the great Wiluna basin, where water is only a few feet below the surface. That water - this fact is not very wellknown to local graziers - is heavily impregnated with nitrates, and encourages tremendous growth in plants upon which it is used. If that water were used on fodder crops, heavy yields would be obtained. That would be a great boon in this arid area in the centre of Western Australia. It would be of great assistance if 1,000,000 acres of fodder crops could be grown and conserved for feeding sheep in times of drought. It is unthinkable that the post office at a place like Wiluna should be closed.
The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) spoke about pharmaceutical benefits and said that he knew of two people who had paid 15s. and 17s. 6d. respectively for prescriptions under the scheme. I direct the attention of the House to a practice that is growing in certain industrial areas in this country. In those areas, doctors lose their patients if the patients have to pay anything for a prescription. The practice has grown up of prescribing only drugs that are on the free list, because any doctor who prescribed a drug that had to be paid for would go out of business. Everybody in these places wants free drugs. They want antibiotics. If people were given too much of an antibiotic, their resistance would be lowered as a consequence. The legislature should act as a brake. I gather that the honorable member for Lalor thinks it is wrong for anybody to pay for a prescription. The inference to be drawn from his remarks is that every drug should be free, and that all medical services should be free. If that were the case, there would he a lack of responsibility on the part of the people, and a doctor would be well aware that if he gave to a patient a prescription for which the patient had to pay, his practice would suffer. Doctors would be forced to prescribe free drugs, whether they were the correct drugs or not. That is the other side to the story presented by the honorable member for Lalor.
The honorable member said that although No. 8 wire is the gauge principally used by farmers, they can obtain No. 9 wire, but not No. 8. He said that the manufacturers had been neglectful in not making No. 8 wire. In the first place, I inform the House that barbed wire, 121 gauge, is used in my area, and that plenty of it is available. In my area, we do not use No. 8 wire. In the electorate of the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes), No. 10 wire and No. 12 wire are used. If a manufacturer is drawing No. 9 wire and there is a demand for No. 8 wire, the change-over to No. 8 could be made with very little difficulty, because both gauges come from the same press. I imagine that a simple request to the manufacturer would result in a sufficient supply of No. 8 wire. As far as my electorate is concerned, the fencing wire that we are using is in plentiful supply.
.- I wish to refer to a matter that has already been raised in the form of questions in this House by the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) and in another place by an honorable senator. I refer to a request that is now before the Government on behalf of the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association for the remission of sales tax on motor cars purchased by civilians who are disabled to the extent that it is impracticable for them to get about without the use of a motor car. This request has been continuously before the Government for the past ten years, but the association seems to be as far away as ever from obtaining any satisfaction.
It is interesting to contrast the attitude of the Commonwealth Government in this matter with the attitudes adopted by governments of other countries. In the United Kingdom, under the national health scheme, motor cars and motorized chairs are available to severely handicapped persons free of sales tax, and 75 per cent, of severely handicapped persons who obtain those cars and chairs in the United Kingdom use them to get to work. In America, I believe that car manufacturers contribute 10 cents for every car produced to a fund to enable civilian maimed and limbless people to purchase cars. In Australia, the treatment of these, people is appalling. The Government makes provision - rightly so - for ex-service amputees to receive consideration in this matter, but disabled civilians do not receive any consideration. I cannot follow the Government’s line of reasoning with respect to these unfortunate people.
Some of the figures that this association has produced in support of its case are very illuminating. The association claims that if sales tax were removed on motor cars, a saving of £240 would be effected in the purchase of a car which now costs £1,000. About four years ago, the organization commenced what is known as a closed workshop, and to-day 210 people are taking advantage of it. I think that at any given time the highest number of people employed in the workshop is 70. They work under award conditions and are paid award wages for the hours that they work. When this venture started four years ago, six people were employed, but the number has grown to 210. The organization has attempted during the past ten years to obtain favorable and sympathetic attention from the Government, but on every occasion that it has approached the Government it has been told that the matter of the remission of sales tax is one of economics. It is also interesting to note the changing attitude of the Government in connexion with the approaches that have been made to it by the association. On 22nd September, 1954, in a letter to the association, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said -
The granting of exemptions from sales tax in respect of these cases would not only be a heavy cost to revenue but would create difficulties in determining the degrees of disability.
That was the Prime Minister’s attitude in 1954. He changed his ground in 1956, when, in reply to a request by the association, he said -
You will, of course, appreciate the necessity for effective limitation and control of exemptions of this kind. It is most difficult, if not impossible, to draw a satisfactory line of demarcation between those who should obtain the concession and those who should not, having regard to the very wide variety of disabilities involved and the varying degrees of disability in different cases. Apart from the necessity to exclude persons with slight disability, there is a not inconsiderable danger of abuse by re-selling, at a substantial profit, motor vehicles obtained free of tax.
Such practical difficulties are well controlled in regard to the existing exemption in favour of ex-servicemen. The Repatriation Department works well in co-operation with the Taxation Department to ensure that the exemption is not abused. There is no similar organization available’ to assist in policing any new exemption in favour of disabled civilians.
That is a classic example of a politician’s English run to nonsense. As a result of the attitude adopted by the Government in this matter, the association went to certain legal men in Sydney, presented their claim and asked whether it was possible to draw up some amendment to the sales tax legislation which would meet the difficulties suggested in the Prime Minister’s letter. The association has pointed out that it is not asking for any relief from income tax; all that it is asking for is relief from sales tax on motor vehicles purchased by these people. I understand that legal opinion is that the suggested amendment, which has been presented to the Government and which I shall read in a moment, will cover the case put by the association. The proposed amendment is to exclude from tax -
Motor vehicles (and parts therefor) for use in his personal transportation and not for sale by a person who has lost a leg or a major part thereof or such proportion of the efficient use of one or both legs as, in the opinion of a medical officer of the Department of Health or of a medical practitioner appointed by the Director-General of Social Services for the purpose of examining payments for invalid pensions under the Social Ser-vi.es Consolidation Act 1947-1959, renders him unable to use public transport.
If honorable members visit this closed workshop of the association in Camperdown, I am sure that they will be as impressed as I was on my visit some weeks ago. There are amputees, sufferers from osteomyelitis and poliomyelitis, and paraplegics, who would not.be employed in industry if it were not for the efforts of this association. It is interesting to point out that the association has brought about rehabilitation in cases which the Commonwealth rehabilitation centre at Mr Wilga has stated to be hopeless.
The position of maimed and limbless civilians seems to arouse very little sympathy in the Government. I do not know whether this is because it is not a pressure group, but is an organization that is trying to do and is doing a marvellous job without Government assistance. If assist ance such as it is seeking is forthcoming, it will be able to do much more for the rehabilitation of the civilian maimed and limbless. This is a deserving cause and it is worthy of the most favorable consideration by the Government. When one considers what has been done in other countries, it is hard to understand why we have not progressed further here. I hope that when the Government is preparing the next Budget, provision will be made for the exemption from sales tax of vehicles that come within the classification given in the amendment which the association has submitted to the Government.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- This morning, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his usual dictatorial manner rejected a request by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) that we have a further opportunity to discuss later developments in the South African affair. I hope that, despite the late hour, we will now have an opportunity to say something about this matter. This seems to me to be a scandalous state of affairs. The Prime Minister is leaving for overseas almost immediately and will not be in attendance when we resume after Easter. He will be abroad, claiming to represent the Australian viewpoint; but, as a matter of fact, I feel that he is not only out of step with Australian opinion but is also out of step with world-wide opinion on this matter.
The Prime Minister misled the House, in my opinion, the other day. When it was suggested that this matter should be on the agenda for the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers, he said that there was no agenda at these conferences. But evidently, to say the least, there is a difference of opinion on this point. The British Home Secretary, Mr. Butler, in replying recently to a question asked by Mr. Gaitskill, the Leader of the British Labour Party, said that it was not usual for the agenda of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conferences to be published or for the subjects discussed to be revealed. Clearly he admitted that there was an agenda, because obviously if it is not to be revealed, it must exist. It is quite evident that what the Prime Minister is hoping to do is to prevent any discussion of this important matter at the forthcoming conference of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers.
I wonder .how Government members and the Prime Minister can continue to talk of democratic government when on every occasion they support the actions of the South African Government, giving as their reason that this is purely a domestic matter. How can any member of this Parliament believe that any colour clash - a clash between white and black - can be regarded as a purely domestic matter? Is there one thinking person, here or anywhere else, who does not recognize and fear that eventually, if some saner approach is not made to these problems, a great conflict will arise between the coloured races and the white races? We are all involved in this and it becomes a serious and important matter for all of us. We have heard the suggestion here that slavery exists in some parts of the world and we have heard honorable members call for action and condemn slavery. They do not regard that as a purely domestic matter of some other country. I agree that that is the proper approach; but why are honorable members opposite so silent on the slavery that exists to-day in South Africa?
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is the honorable member for East Sydney in order in reviving a debate relating to South Africa? I draw attention to page 72 of the notice-paper, general business, Order of the Day No. 1.
-Order! I think the honorable member for East Sydney is in order to-night.
– Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether honorable members appreciate the state of affairs that exists in South Africa. It has been forcibly brought to our notice in the past few weeks only because of particular happenings. But what has caused those happenings? Are honorable members aware that the natives in South Africa and only the natives, the indigenous inhabitants of the country, are obliged to carry a passbook? The passbook contains the native’s name, his photograph, the name of his birth place, and a record of the language that he speaks. The native must also carry a permit to live in a particular town. The passbook contains his permit to work, and also his receipt for the poll tax of 35s. a year which the South African Government obliges him to pay. He must produce his passbook on request. He may be requested to produce it quite frequently, even in the course of one day. If he does not carry the passbook with him, or has forgotten it or left it at home, or if it has been destroyed, he is subject to arrest and a fine of £2, or two weeks in gaol. While he is in gaol he may be hired out to a white farmer, on the payment of a fee to the South African Government. If he wants to visit another town he must obtain a fresh permit. He has to get a permit to leave his job, to take his wife on a holiday, or to buy a railway ticket. All these things are necessary in his own country.
I am given to understand that a native cannot even have a relative or friend to stay with him unless he gets a further permit. These permits are now compulsory, not only for male natives but also for the womenfolk. Natives are not entitled to a trial, and no explanation is accepted, for failure to produce their passbooks. If they are without their permits, into gaol they go; otherwise, a fine of £2 is imposed, and of course, on the wages that the natives receive, it is impossible for them to pay that amount. These matters are the cause of the great upset in South Africa.
It is quite evident that the Prime Minister, in refusing to comment on the policy of apartheid or racial segregation being pursued in South Africa, is out of step with world opinion. In the editorial of to-day’s “ Daily Mirror” newspaper, the statement is made that -
The South African Government and all who support its policy on apartheid or racial segregation apparently fail to realize that the modern world no longer condones brutality as an instrument of official policy.
This is a most serious matter. I believe that the Prime Minister has deliberately avoided making a forthright statement in regard to the attitude of the Government to the policies that are being pursued in South Africa. I know that, generally speaking, it is not a bad thing for governments to mind their own business, but this is not merely the business of South Africa. It is the business of the whole of the human race. If this policy is permitted to continue it will have very serious repercussions, not only in South Africa, but throughout the world.
The Labour Opposition has been pressing for something to happen in regard to this matter, so that we might have the opportunity to do something more than merely record a pious protest. I regret that in the South African Parliament both the Government and the Opposition have adopted a common front in resenting outside interference in what they regard as domestic policy. In South Africa, there is not a democratically elected government. There is a minority government imposing its will on the native population. I am pleased to say that even the white people in South Africa are not united behind the policy of the Government. Some men have been vigorously endeavouring to have the policy of their Government altered. A religious gentleman, Bishop Reeves, has had to leave South Africa because he fears for his life and liberty as a result of his condemnation of the Government’s policy. A doctor has been suspended because he issued a report in which he stated that a great number of the natives who were shot down outside Johannesburg recently, had been shot in the back.
How long is the Commonwealth Government to remain silent on these matters? The Prime Minister speaks of the possible break-up of the British Commonwealth of Nations. What a ridiculous attitude to adopt! If the British Commonwealth of Nations can continue to exist only by supporting slavery in any country, then the sooner it breaks up the better. The South Africans have been talking of creating a republic in their country. If the South African Government continues its present policy in regard to the native population, I think that South Africa ought to be asked to withdraw from the British Commonwealth of Nations.
In the last moment at my disposal, 1 ask that the supporters of the Government try to persuade the Prime Minister, before he leaves for overseas, to make a forthright statement regarding the policy that he will advance at the conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. I conclude by saying that I protest at the manner in which the Prime Minister this morning gagged the Opposition and refused us the opportunity that we sought to discuss this matter.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I feel that the ill-considered remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) deserve to go completely unnoticed. I imagine that the great majority of honorable members are surprised that the honorable member should be disposed, at half-past eleven at night, to raise a matter that is not only of international moment but also one of great delicacy, and has chosen to speak in his usual ebullient manner. It is a rather striking fact to be noted by this Parliament and, I hope, by the people of this country, that the zeal, the synthetic zeal, that the honorable member has displayed this evening, in the role of humanitarian, has not always been displayed by him.
I invite your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to a far more sombre and solemn incident than the one to which the honorable member has referred this evening. I direct the attention of the honorable member and that of the House to the execution, in November or December of last year, of 150 Hungarian boys aged eighteen years. Those lads were kept in gaol for the last four or five years of their lives, until they had attained the age of eighteen years, the age at which the law of Hungary permitted them to be shot. But was there any protest from the honorable member for East Sydney? Of course, not! Yet, that incident involved the same kind of moral argument that is involved in the matter raised by him to-night. If the protest of the honorable member regarding South Africa is to be heard with respect, then he must also be prepared to leap into protesting form regarding the execution of 150 boys in Hungary.
So far as South Africa is concerned, unfortunately we do not know all the facts. I imagine that what the Prime Minister said in this House, either to-day or yesterday, was the essence of good sense; but unlike a great many other people, he admits that he does not know all the facts. It is very easy to work ourselves into a frame of mind where we stand up as exemplars of all knowledge and of all information regarding South African events. But can we honestly say that we know all the circumstances? For sheer, vulgar, political purposes, if I might say so with respect, to pretend to know all the facts, and simply to gather what has come out of the cables and prepare an argument on that; to wipe to one side all the great considerations that are involved in this matter; to despise considerations of national sovereignty; to pretend that such considerations do not exist, and to raise this matter at half-past eleven at night, is, I think, absolutely fantastic.
If the honorable member for East Sydney wants to be consistent, let him make some endeavour to be so. He had an opportunity to protest about the Hungarian executions, but he was silent. In point of fact, he adopted, if I may say so, the orthodox “ Tribune “, line that the revolt in Hungary had been a fascist uprising that had to be ruthlessly crushed. So far as debate of the matter was concerned, he was as silent as the Sphinx. In regard to the recent executions of 150 Hungarian boys, there was not one peep of protest out of him. So, I say to the honorable gentleman that if he wants to try to cash in on this matter of South Africa and to raise it for very vulgar political reasons, he must at least try to give some semblance of consistency to his arguments.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker–
Motion (by Mr. Hulme) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
Majority . . . . 27
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.46 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
z asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
s asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n 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, 6 April 1960, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1960/19600406_reps_23_hor26/>.