House of Representatives
27 April 1960

23rd Parliament · 2nd Session

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.

page 1095


Returns to Writs - New Members Sworn


– I have received returns to the writs which I issued on 26th February last for the election of members to serve for the electoral divisions of Hunter, in the State of New South Wales, and La Trobe, in the State of Victoria, to fill the vacancies caused by the resignations of the Right Honorable Herbert Vere Evatt, Q.C., and the Right Honorable Richard Gardiner Casey, C.H., D.S.O., M.C., respectively. By the endorsement on the writs, it is certified that Albert William James had been elected as the member to serve for the division of Hunter, and that John David Jess had been elected to serve for the division of La Trobe.

Mr. James and Mr. Jess made and subscribed the oath of allegiance.

page 1095


Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Trade · Murray · CP

– As honorable members are aware, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) left Australia on 17th April to attend important discussions abroad, including the conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London. During his absence I shall act as Prime Minister and the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) will act as Minister for External Affairs. The Prime Minister will be joined in London by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). The Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) will act as Minister for Territories during the Minister’s absence.

page 1095




– I ask the Minister for Defence when he first learned that the British Government proposed to discontinue the development of the Blue Streak at Woomera. In particular, did he learn of this proposal before he made his defence statement to the House? Have any proposals been made by or to the British Government for alternative uses of Woo mera by the British and Australian Governments? Will the honorable gentleman make a statement on the position of Woomera and on the Blue Streak to the House?

Minister for Defence · DENISON, TASMANIA · LP

– The honorable member asks when I was first informed of the decision of the United Kingdom Government to discontinue work on the Blue Streak missile at Woomera. I cannot remember the precise date but it was a long time after I made my last statement on defence in this House. The second question was whether any proposals had been made by or to the British Government for alternative uses of Woomera by the British and Australian Governments. I remind the honorable member that the Blue Streak is not the only project that has been under development at Woomera. While it is true that it was of a major character, there are many more projects under development on the test range at Woomera. If the honorable gentleman would like a statement on this matter, I will discuss it with the Minister for Supply, under whose administration it falls, with a view to the preparation of such a statement.


– I should like to ask the Acting Prime Minister whether the Government was consulted about the statement made by the United Kingdom Minister for Defence in the House of Commons on 13th April about the future of the long range missile, Blue Streak. What will be the effect of the decision of the United Kingdom Government on the future of the Woomera rocket range?


– The statement to which the honorable member refers was discussed with the Australian Government which concurred in it. It was released to the press in Australia by the Prime Minister on 14th April. The Minister for Supply is at present making a re-assessment of the programme to determine what readjustments are necessary in it. However, a number of relevant questions still have to be decided. It is expected that the Prime Minister will clarify some aspects during his current visit to the United Kingdom. In those circumstances it is not possible, at this stage, to give a precise indication of the effect of the decision on the future of the range. Some adjustment of the effort of the Department of Works will be necessary, but the Government does not anticipate any reduction in technical and scientific staff at the range. I would remind the honorable member that the United Kingdom Minister for Defence in his statement clearly indicated that the decision does not mean that work at Woomera will be ended. On the contrary, there are many other projects for which the range is needed. We therefore expect that, for some years, at least, there will be a substantial programme of work for the range. No doubt my colleague, the Minister for Supply, will give consideration to the question and issue a statement, if this course should be necessary, when final conclusions have been reached.

page 1096




– Is the Acting Prime Minister prepared to meet a combined deputation this week from all Tasmanian Federal members in order to hear firsthand evidence in support of a special flood relief grant to Tasmania as asked for by the Premier of that State who requested a £2 for £1 Commonwealth contribution in view of the devastating losses that amount to approximately £4,000,000? If the Acting Prime Minister is not prepared to do this, will he send an officer of his department to Tasmania to see, in cooperation with the Tasmanian Premier, the extent of the devastation to property, homes, hop fields and communications, so that a personal “ on-the-spot “ report may be submitted to the Federal Government? Will the Federal Government immediately investigate the possibility of special assistance to hop-growers in the Derwent Valley in my electorate, whose hop fields, some of which are a hundred years old, have been destroyed, even to the total loss of the topsoil? I may add, Mr. Speaker-


– Order! I think the honorable gentleman had better ask his question.


– I may add, in conclusion


– Order! I call the Acting Prime Minister.


- Mr. Speaker, there is no lack of sympathy on the part of the

Government, and, I am sure I could say, on the part of the whole Parliament, in respect of the great disaster that has occurred in Tasmania. The Government had its first detailed information of the devastation there from our colleague, the Minister for Defence, who, of course, is member for the division of Denison, which includes the city of Hobart and adjoining areas. We have also received communications from the other Cabinet Minister who comes from Tasmania - Senator Henty - and from a number of federal members, all of whom, irrespective of party affiliations, have had a single thought - to ensure that the Commonwealth will contribute appropriately to the aid necessary to alleviate the distress that has occurred in Tasmania. Last night the Cabinet considered a request that was received yesterday from the Premier of Tasmania, Mr. Reece, and immediately I, acting on Cabinet’s decision, dispatched a telegram to the Premier expressing sympathy and indicating that the Commonwealth would act in accordance with the pattern in which Commonwealth governments have acted in cases of great disasters. We have intimated that the Commonwealth Government will contribute £1 for £1 with the Government of Tasmania to the alleviation of distress and personal hardship on the usual terms - terms which are now well established. Indeed, we have gone beyond that and said that, in addition, we would contribute £1 for £1 with the Government of Tasmania towards the cost of the rehabilitation of roads, bridges and such essential public structures which have been destroyed or damaged in the floods. In indicating that decision last night I told the Premier, on behalf of the Government, that we would be glad if, at his very earliest convenience, he would put appropriate Tasmanian Government officers in touch with the appropriate officers of the Commonwealth, with a view to discovering whether it is necessary and desirable that the Commonwealth make a very early advance in money against the losses of such public structures as bridges and roads.

I think, Mr. Speaker, that in the light of what I have been able to indicate, honorable members will agree that it is perhaps not necessary that I meet a deputation of members, since we are not only well aware of the devastation that has occurred but have already proffered this practical and almost instantaneous help. In addition, the Government has requested my colleagues who administer departments which might be able to give practical assistance in this matter to give, through their departments, such assistance as they can give. My colleagues, the Postmaster-General and the Minister for the Army, are cases in point.

page 1097




– My question is to the Postmaster-General. Can the Minister say how many technical statements have been presented to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board for consideration during its technical inquiry on television, which began yesterday? Will the papers, and/or transcripts of technical evidence, presented during the inquiry be generally available? In the event of publication not being proposed will the Minister give further consideration to publication? In view of the limited frequency allocation functions of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, and the probability that evidence submitted by the Postmaster-General’s Department may take the inquiry beyond the board’s functions, does the Minister consider the present machinery of inquiry to be adequate?

Postmaster-General · DAWSON, QUEENSLAND · CP

– As the honorable member has indicated in his question, the technical inquiry into the availability of frequencies for the extension of television into country areas commenced yesterday. The Australian Broadcasting Control Board had already requested certain interested bodies to submit statements to it for its consideration. I understand from information given lo me yesterday afternoon by the board that the statements received totalled nineteen. The honorable member for Paterson has asked whether these statements will be available for publication and for public investigation. This is a public inquiry, and any such statements would be available for survey by any one who was interested. I would not say that they will be published in detail, because they are very voluminous and highly technical. But, if the honorable member or any one else is interested in them, I shall see that they are made available. They are certainly not being kept a close preserve.

In this regard, too, I expect to receive, possibly this afternoon or some time tomorrow, a copy of the address which was made to the applicants at the commencement of the hearing yesterday by counsel assisting the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, who, I understand, briefly summarized the various proposals that had been put forward and the procedure which was to be adopted in conducting the inquiry. I shall be very glad to let the honorable member for Paterson have a look at that address, too, when it comes along.

The honorable member has asked also whether, in view of the nature of the inquiry, I consider that the board’s investigation could be regarded as adequate. I believe that it will be adequate for the present purposes. But I point out to the honorable member that, as previously announced in this chamber, a complete inquiry into the whole use of the frequencies available in the spectrum will be made later this year. That inquiry will cover far more than the requirements of either television or broadcasting, and if it should so transpire, as it quite likely will as a result of the present inquiry, that particular questions need to be referred to that wider investigation, I shall have no hesitation in so referring them.

page 1097




– I desire to ask the Attorney-General and Acting Minister for External Affairs the following question: Will- he indicate whether the Australian Government has been advised of the reported negotiations by Japanese interests with the Indonesian Government for the purchase as scrap material of the sunken vessel, H.M.A.S. “Perth”, which was lost in World War II. in an uneven encounter with a superior Japanese naval force in Sunda Strait? Can the Minister explain the rights of ownership of this former unit of the Royal Australian Navy? Will he take up the matter with either or both of the governments concerned and indicate Australia’s right to be consulted before any such transaction is undertaken, and also Australia’s claim to have this sunken vessel regarded as still Australian property?


– Naturally, the Government saw the reports in the press which suggested that H.M.A.S. “ Perth “ was included in negotiations between Japanese nationals and the Indonesian Government for the salvaging of some 200 or 300 vessels which were sunk during the last war. The Government was at once active in the matter, because it felt quite sure that all Australia would wish “ Perth “ and her gallant crew to remain undisturbed. We set inquiries in train immediately, and we made representations. We have on foot at this moment governmenttogovernment inquiries as to what is intended. They are not yet complete, but the information which we have so far received lends no support whatever to the suggestion that H.M.A.S. “Perth” was ever included in these negotiations. However, the Government will follow the matter up in order to secure the desired objective of which I spoke a moment ago.

page 1098




– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. In view of the irresponsible action of the Seamen’s Union in stopping work for 48 hours with a consequent damaging effect on transport costs in the shipping industry, will the Minister say whether any remedies are available under the conciliation and arbitration legislation to prevent this sort of action?

Minister for Labour and National Service · LOWE, NEW SOUTH WALES · LP

– Already the steamship owners have taken action under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act to enforce compliance with the award.

Mr Calwell:

– The matter is sub judice then.


– Order! Is the matter before the court?


– No, Mr. Speaker. The shipowners brought before the court under section 111 of the act the action of the Communist leaders of the Seamen’s Union in refusing to induce their members to offer for work in compliance with a decision of the court. The honorable gentleman will realize that already action has been taken by the steamship owners in order to get the Seamen’s Union to comply with the conditions of an award. I think it right to say that it now becomes obvious that the action has been inspired by the Communist leaders of the union and is intended-

Mr Ward:

– Rubbish! Why do you not deal with the matter fairly?


– Usually you get information about what the Communists are doing long before any one else in the House does-


– Order! The Minister is directing his remarks to the Chair.


– If you would stop the honorable gentleman from interjecting, Mr. Speaker, I would not have to divert my attention from you. It will become obvious to the honorable member for McPherson and other honorable members that this action is inspired by the Communist leaders and is intended to bring the arbitration system into disrepute. I can but add that remedies are open to the steamship owners to seek compliance with the court’s order should the steamship owners wish to pursue them. It is for them to decide whether they now wish to approach the tribunal itself and have additional penalties considered by it.

page 1098




– My question, which is addressed to the Treasurer, refers to reciprocal taxation agreements with the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Canada. Is the Treasurer in a position to state how this arrangement balances? Is it operating at a loss to Australia? Will he prepare a statement giving details of the number of taxpayers in these countries and the taxable amounts that they earn in Australia for which they pay taxes in their own countries, and the number of Australian taxpayers who earn assessable income in these countries and the amount of tax they pay in Australia?


– I will see whether I can get a statement somewhat along the lines sought by the honorable gentleman. I question whether it would be practicable to get it in quite the precise terms he has given. I would add that the test of the value of these agreements between Australia and the three countries he has mentioned cannot be measured simply by setting out in pounds, shillings and pence the result in one country or another. Part of the value of the agreements is in the broadening of trade between the countries and in the encouragement of investment from one country to another. Having made those general observations, I shall see how far I can go in supplying the details requested.

page 1099




– My question is addressed to the Minister for Air. Can he tell the House whether it is true, as has been suggested, that there was something defective about the ejection seats or the cockpit canopies of the Sabre fighters which caused the deaths of three pilots at Williamtown recently? Further, is it true that the Royal Australian Air Force knew of these defects as long ago as last February?

Minister for Air · EVANS, NEW SOUTH WALES · LP

– In answer to the honorable gentleman’s question, I am glad to say that both suggestions are quite incorrect. According to the best advice available to me, there is nothing defective about the ejection seats fitted in the Sabres, nor about the mechanism provided to jettison the cockpit canopy. In the three tragic accidents at Williamtown recently, which I am sure the whole House will join with me in regretting very deeply, the ejection seats were not in fact fired, because it appears that the pilots had been injured or rendered unconscious before they could fire the ejection seats, during the process of jettisoning the cockpit canopies.

I should emphasize that the careful investigations which, according to established practice in the Air Force, always follow an accident have not yet been completed. It takes time for the scientific examination and evaluation of wreckage, and so what I am saying now is based on tentative and preliminary reports. But in each of these three cases the pilot was engaged on exercises which involved flying at low altitude around the Williamtown base. In each case, for different reasons, the engine of the aircraft stopped while it was at low altitude and was travelling at low speed and, as the honorable member for Bowman would know from his own experience, engine failure in a single engine fighter aircraft at low altitude creates a condition of great peril to the pilot. In the first case we know that the pilot decided to leave his aircraft, because he reported that fact. He jettisoned the canopy and was struck on the head by part of it so that he was unconscious or killed before he could actuate the ejection seat.

I should explain to the House that in a Sabre aircraft the canopy is opened by sliding back over the pilot’s head, and in an emergency this is done by firing an explosive charge which moves it backward very rapidly. The technical advisers tell me that at low altitude when there is no pressure differential between the atmosphere within the cockpit and the atmosphere outside it, and at low speed when the aerodynamic forces of the wind at high speed do not operate to lift the cockpit canopy clear, there exists the possibility that the forward end of the canopy can dip and strike the pilot’s body. This possibility has always been known and the drills laid down and exercised by pilots for leaving aircraft in flight emphasize the need to lower the seat to the maximum possible and to bend the body forward as far as possible.

Mr Griffiths:

– Why were they not adjusted beforehand?


– It was thought at the beginning, after the first accident, that the pilot had been prevented from bending forward perhaps through having his cockpit harness locked. The drills were reemphasized throughout the service by special order; and the technical experts sought to find some means of lessening this hazard which had been known for a long time and had been emphasized by this accident. They sought to find means of lessening this hazard to pilots if their engines should fail at low altitude. A means was invented within the service which I have described at greater length elsewhere. It obviously could not be fitted until it had been fully tested and unhappily the tests were completed and found successful only on the day after the third accident.

I have been asked why the aircraft were not grounded after the first or second accident. After careful deliberation and much discussion, following the second accident, with those on whose advice I rely - the Chief of the Air Staff and others - I decided that such a course would not be warranted until a means of lessening this known and accepted risk was found. It would not have been practicable to ground the aircraft indefinitely. Indeed, this might have amounted to saying that we could not use this aircraft for the defence of the country. As soon as a method of lessening this risk was found, flying was suspended until the device had been incorporated in the aircraft. Fortunately, it happens very rarely that the engine on this aircraft fails at low altitude, and so the danger does not often arise.

Experience in America with seat and canopy ejection equipment identical with our own has shown that almost 500 attempts have been made to eject from aircraft in flight and a very high percentage of those attempts have been successful. Before this series of accidents, our experience was that only two attempts had been made to eject in flight, both of which had been successful. One was at high altitude; one was at low altitude.


– I ask a supplementary question of the Minister for Air. Were the engine failures, which he told me earlier were responsible for the crashes, caused by age and obsolescence of the aircraft? Is it not a fact that smashed perspex of the gauge used in canopies for Sabres is as- sharp and as tough as plate glass? If ejecting pilots are fired through this perspex, even though a hole has been made in it first, are they not facing death by being ripped to pieces on the way out just as certainly as if they had not been ejected?


– The answer to the honorable member’s first question as to whether the engine failures might have been due to age is, “No”. Most careful record’s are kept indicating the age of each engine and aircraft, and the periods for which they have been used between servicings. That information is most carefully documented. There is no suggestion in any of these cases that the accident was due to age or fatigue. In the first case it is believed - and I emphasize again that the final investigations are by no means complete - that the failure of the engine was due to the breaking of a tooth on a cog which drives the fuel pump. Inquiries have been made abroad and, so far as we know, this is the first recorded incident of this particular failure with a Rolls Royce Avon engine anywhere in the world.

The particular fault in the second aircraft is believed to have been the collapse of an air-cooling tube with resultant overheating and seizure of the engine. So far as we know, this is only the third time in the history of these engines that this particular defect has occurred. It has never occurred previously in the Royal Australian Air Force.

In the third case, the pilot reported that he had a fire in the instrument panel, and he reported immediately afterwards that there was a fire in the nose of the aircraft and that he was switching off his electrics. The accident occurred as- a result of the action that he took in the belief that his aircraft was on fire. There was no reason to suspect that age, fatigue or any ineptitude on’ the part of the maintenance staff was responsible for these engine failures.

As to the other question about whether ejecting through the canopy of the aircraft might be dangerous, I have told the House that a new device has been tested by ejecting a dummy in an ejection seat from the fuselage of a Sabre on the ground. Of course, that was one of the matters which was examined most closely, and it was found that not even the cloth of the light cotton flying suit in which the dummy was dressed was marked by the perspex. The honorable member might remember that the pilot in a fighter aircraft wears a crash helmet of great strength and1 a mask over his face, and that he is protected by his parachute harness on his shoulders.

page 1100




– My question to you, Mr. Speaker, raises a point of order in relation to a practice in dealing with questions as exemplified to-day by two Ministers. Two questions have been asked - one of the Acting Prime Minister and one directed to the Minister for Air - on matters obviously of importance and the Ministers read prepared replies to both of them. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether in cases of that sort the Ministers concerned should not undertake to make subsequent statements, not only to avoid taking up the time of honorable members at question time but also so that honorable members might debate the matters concerned, particularly matters such as that mentioned by the honorable member for Newcastle in his question.


– The matter of dealing with questions and asking for leave to make statements is the responsibility of the Ministers. Therefore, I play no part in such matters.

page 1101




– I direct a question to the Acting Prime Minister concerning United Kingdom and Australian trade. Is the Australian Government kept fully informed by the United Kingdom Government on the negotiations the United Kingdom is conducting with the six European countries as well as its talks, if any, with the Outer Seven, or are we going to wake up one morning and read in our newspapers that the United Kingdom Government has completed trade arrangements to join the European Common Market - an act which would have detrimental effects on many of the United Kingdom’s good trade customers, particularly Australia?


– I can assure the honorable member that the United Kingdom Government keeps the Australian Government and other governments within the British Commonwealth of Nations fully informed on the progress of discussions that the United Kingdom might have on matters to which the honorable member has referred. Quite frequently there are discussions in London at the official level and ad hoc discussions in committees which exist for that purpose. From time to time, there are discussions on the Ministerial level between the United Kingdom and individual British Commonwealth countries or, as in the case of the Montreal Conference and the Prime Ministers’ Conference, with collective groups of Commonwealth countries. So there is a story of pretty close and certainly constant consultation wherein we are not only informed on what the United Kingdom Government is doing and thinking, but also have full opportunity to express our own views. I have not the slightest doubt - and, in fact, it is intended - that while the Prime Minister is in London he, with the advisers who are with him, will acquaint the United Kingdom Government of our views on dif ferent matters and will see that his advisers are fully informed of the United Kingdom Government’s current thinking.

page 1101




– My question is directed to the Acting Prime Minister and is supplementary to the question that was asked by my colleague, the honorable member for Wilmot, in connexion with the Tasmanian flood disaster. Will the Minister give very serious consideration to making a departmental officer available to assess the full extent of the flood damage in southern Tasmania and the extent to which financial assistance should be provided by the Commonwealth, and whether it should be restricted to a £1 for £1 basis in view of Tasmania’s limited financial resources? Further, does not the Acting Prime Minister consider that a national disaster fund should be established now to meet these contingencies and to provide immediate relief should it be considered necessary?


– I acknowledge the great interest of the honorable member in this disastrous situation, but I remind him that, on the very question he has asked, I have just informed the House that last night the Government took the initiative in offering to the Premier of Tasmania the services of our officers - and that means either on the mainland or in Tasmania, whichever is most appropriate - to examine, with the officials of the Tasmanian Government, the degree of damage and loss of public utilities that has been sustained. In respect of personal hardship, we have just made a completely unqualified offer to provide assistance with the State Government on a £1 for £1 basis on the usual terms to supplement the aid given by the Tasmanian Government. Taking the honorable member’s question literally, I want to make the point that it is not proposed that the Commonwealth, unilaterally, will assess the damage. I think it is much more appropriate, and I think the honorable member will really regard it as much more appropriate, that we should never cease to bear in mind that the Government of Tasmania is the principal in this issue and we come in to aid and will work with the Government of Tasmania through our officials, and not on our own account.

page 1102




– Will the PostmasterGeneral make the postal exhibition now in King’s Hall, or similar exhibitions, available lor tours through rural towns in Australia?


– The Postal Department’s purpose in providing the demonstration at present in King’s Hall is to allow honorable members to obtain some knowledge of the advances which are being made in telecommunications and mechanical science by the Post Office and also of the objects for which it is striving in order to improve services throughout Australia. I have already found, from remarks made to me by many honorable members of the various parties, that this is regarded as an interesting demonstration and is appreciated by most of them. It is the intention of the department, when the time for this display has expired, to make it available in other centres. As yet I do not know the details of the department’s plans or what the extent of those tours will be but I shall certainly take into account, and ask the department to take into account, the request made by the honorable member. I have received several similar requests from other honorable members.

page 1102




– I ask the Minister for Social Services whether he will give consideration when framing the Budget, to making an increase of at least £1 a week in pensions. Will he also make such rises retrospective to 1st July, the beginning of the financial year? Will the Minister further consider raising the present burial allowance of £10 to £40? Finally, will he remember that the average rise in pensions over the past two years has been only 3s. 9d. a week?

Minister for Social Services · RIVERINA, NEW SOUTH WALES · CP

– It is my melancholy duty to point out to the honorable member that I do not frame the Budget. The Budget is prepared in the normal course of events and due consideration is given to the question of social service benefits of all kinds. I have no doubt that when the Budget is being prepared for the subsequent financial year, consideration will be given to all these questions. I remind the honorable member that consistently, year by year and Budget by Budget, there have been variations in social service payments until to-day health and social services are costing the taxpayers of this community a sum in excess of £300,000,000.

page 1102




– I ask the PostmasterGeneral: What has been the basis of establishing zones for the proposed extended local telephone service areas to be introduced on 1st May next? Has community of interest been taken into account in determining these zones? If it has, can the Minister say why there will be a considerable difference between charges in the township of Windsor and those at Riverstone, 6 miles away - centres that enjoy a common interest within the electorate of Mitchell, which I represent? If hardship is established, will the Postmaster-General consider some variation of the present suggested zones? Finally, what action has the Postal Department taken to explain the features of the new system?


– The basis of determination of the zones which will operate under the new system of extended local service areas does include community of interest. As a matter of fact this is one of the major factors. The honorable member instances two exchanges in his own electorate and asks me to explain why, in view of the fact that the two centres have a community of interest, there is some disparity between the charges made in one town and those made in the other. I think the honorable member will realize that, not knowing the actual details of that particular area, I cannot answer offhand that part of his question, but I shall certainly have it looked into and have the reason therefor explained to him as soon as possible.

He then asks whether, in the event of hardship being imposed by the zoning system in particular areas, consideration will be given to some alteration of the zoning plan. I point out that this new system has entailed an amazing amount of work on the part of the department. It has been working on this scheme for at least twelve to eighteen months. Consequently, in a scheme of such magnitude, in which it expects that there will be some inequities in the original determination, the department will be quite prepared, when it finds evidence of any such inequities, to correct them where necessary.

The honorable member also asks what action has been taken to publicize this new system. The department realized that because of the size and somewhat complicated nature of this new venture into telecommunication, it was highly desirable that everything should be done by the department before the system came into operation to ensure that it was understood and so avoid some of the ridiculous criticism that has been levelled at the Post Office in regard to other matters. Therefore, the department has gone to great trouble, during the last six months or so, to explain as fully as possible the operation and the object of this new system. For example, a number of pamphlets have been published and distributed and a considerable amount of press publicity has been given to the system. We have placed big advertisements in the major newspapers and everything possible has been done, from the departmental point of view, to give general publicity to the facts of this matter. In addition, a statement is being sent to each subscriber in Australia in respect of the zone in which he lives or in which his service is installed. This statement will contain all relevant information regarding the new change.

Departmental officers have been instructed, for some time past, to make every effort to contact local authorities, chambers of commerce, and similar bodies with an offer to address them so that the subscribers generally and the people of Australia as a whole may have every opportunity to understand this new system. I know that the district telephone officer in the honorable member’s electorate has followed that departmental instruction and has made such an offer in his area. I inform the honorable member and any one else interested that that action has been taken at the direction of the department for the purpose of ensuring that every one may be given the widest possible information on this subject.

page 1103




– It is my impression that these donations are deductible for income tax purposes. However, I shall check that and make sure that my recollection is correct.

page 1103




– I ask the Treasurer whether the Australian Olympic Federation has yet approached the Government regarding a grant towards the expense of sending an Australian team to Rome. If so, is the Treasurer yet in a position to make an announcement as to the Government’s decision?


– As I told the House some time ago, the Government had indicated its willingness to receive sympathetically a request for assistance in sending our Australian team to the Rome Olympics. I pointed out at the time that the members of the Australian Olympic Federation were making commendable efforts to raise funds for themselves for this purpose, and I said that if the results of their efforts could be seen the Commonwealth would be in a better position to indicate the assistance that it would contribute. Recently, the honorary secretary-treasurer of the Australian Olympic Federation, Mr. Tanner, asked me to put to Cabinet a request for assistance of the order of £23,000, pointing out that funds raised in other directions, including grants from the various States of the Commonwealth had totalled £72,000 towards an estimated expenditure of £95,000. The Commonwealth Government, the Cabinet having considered the matter, has decided to make a grant of £20,000. This will leave only £3,000 for the federation to raise, and I am sure that with that added spur it will have no difficulty in making up the balance. The Commonwealth contribution will carry with it the best wishes of the Australian Government and the Australian people for another successful performance, bringing credit to Australia, on the part of our athletes at the Olympic Games.

page 1104




– My question is addressed to the Postmaster-General. In view of the fact that there are two daily air services to Cairns, will he investigate the reason why an airmail letter posted in Adelaide on 13th April took six days to reach Cairns and was delivered on 20th April; and also, why a registered express delivery airmail letter posted in Cairns on 14th April took five days to reach its destination, being delivered on 19th April? I have the envelopes and correspondence in my possession.


– I shall be glad to investigate the cases mentioned by the honorable member for Adelaide, and I “would be particularly glad to have the envelopes to enable a proper investigation to be made. As a result of inquiries I have made myself I have found that, with an odd exception, the new airmail system is operating very efficiently and satisfactorily. But I have also found in investigating some of the problems that the fault for any delay does not lie with the department.

Mr Galvin:

– Have you made personal investigations?


– Quite a number of them. I can give you particulars.

page 1104




– I wish to ask the Acting Prime Minister a question which is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Isaacs. I believe it is vital that Australian opinion should be put to the other countries in the European Common Market. Has Australia made representations to members of the Common Market and members of the Outer Seven and also the United States of America which is concerned in this matter?


– Yes. The Australian Government has been careful from the outset to endeavour to ensure that our interests, as embodied in the Gatt arrangement, are not impaired by any arrangement such as the so-called Common Market or even the larger Free Trade Area. Australia has been a leader in promoting discussion at conferences of Gatt designed to ensure that not only our interests but also those of all the Gatt countries outside the Common Market - and, if it eventuates, the

Free Trade Area - are protected. We have not been reticent in making our views on this matter known to the United States of America and Canada separately as well as taking’ full advantage of Gatt.

page 1104




– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport: What progress has been made with the South Australian Government regarding standardization of the railway gauge from Port Pirie to Broken Hill? If no further progress has been made with this national project, what is the precise reason for the apparent stalemate in the negotiations? Is it not possible for the Federal and State Governments to reach an agreement whereby an immediate start can be made on the line?

Minister for Shipping and Transport · CORIO, VICTORIA · LP

– As the honorable member for Grey will realize, a considerable amount of money is involved in this matter and decisions have to be reached between the States and the Commonwealth. As the honorable member knows also, the Premier of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford, has been in consultation with the Prime Minister. Therefore, the words, “ apparent stalemate “ v2rr. rightly used by the honorable member. There is not a stalemate. Progress is being made, and 1 can assure the honorable member that as quickly as possible in the circumstances which prevail a decision will be reached, although at’ the present time it is not possible to say when that will occur.

page 1104




– Has the attention of the Acting Prime Minister been drawn to a recent statement by the United Kingdom High Commissioner in which he advised Australia to advertise its goods more effectively in the United Kingdom? Can the right honorable gentleman inform the House what the present publicity arrangements in the United Kingdom are and whether it is possible to make any improvements in the next financial year?


– I speak for the Department of Trade and the Government in saying that we will always believe and hope that it is possible to make improvements on whatever level of activity we are engaged in. That is our approach. We never adopt the demeanour of condoning nor of believing that we are doing all that is possible. I appreciate the interest which the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom has displayed in the comments that he has made. I am glad that many people display an interest such as led them to suppose that we could do better in this regard. I would always hope that we could. But I would not like to leave the impression that we have been inactive or inadequate in this regard.

As a direct result of programming commenced and initial money provided by this Government, £1,250,000 will be spent on the promotion of Australian goods for sale in the United Kingdom, not including wool. In respect of wool, there is a special, overall and very much bigger programme. The amount of £1,250,000 is in respect of the sale of products such as Australian meat, butter, wine, dried fruits and canned fruits.

Mr Drury:

– How much is spent outside England?


– I would have to answer that separately; but the United Kingdom is our biggest market. Of this cost, about £400,000 is being borne by the Commonwealth Treasury, and perhaps a couple of hundred thousands pounds - or perhaps rather more - by Commonwealth statutory marketing boards. The balance is being borne by Australian private interests which have been instigated by the Department of Trade to contribute to collective and separate advertising in the United Kingdom. Finally, we have inspired United Kingdom importers and commercial interests which make their profits by handling Australian goods to come to this party very substantially indeed.

In order to clear up some misapprehension, I point out that Australia in some respects is not a major contributor to United Kingdom food requirements because our resources are not big enough. On the best advertising, commercial and technical advice, we have deliberately restricted the availability of certain of our goods in certain areas so that there may be a continuous supply of particular products for the twelve months of the year in those areas which we do supply and, therefore, in which concentrated advertising is war ranted. This results in the situation that in some other areas of the United Kingdom Australian goods are neither available nor advertised. On the advice of our own and United Kingdom experts, this is regarded as a system likely to get the best results for Australian interests.

page 1105




– I ask the Minister for the Interior: Has he completed his analysis of the enrolments for the various electoral divisions represented in this House? Is it correct that the Government intends to take action under section 25 (2.) (b) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act to redistribute electoral boundaries in at least one State prior to the next general election? Finally, has the 12 per cent, swing which was recorded against the Government in the La Trobe by-election been the cause of any projected redistribution?

Minister for the Interior · FORREST, WESTERN AUSTRALIA · LP

– The state of the enrolments in electorates is constantly under supervision, and the matter does receive the attention of the Government from time to time. At the present time it is not intended to have any redistribution before the next general election.

page 1105


Assent reported.

page 1105


Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) - by leave - agreed to -

That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act relating to matters connected with the agreements referred to in the International Monetary Agreements Act 1947.

Bill presented, and read a first time.

Second Reading

HigginsTreasurer · LP

, - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to obtain the approval of Parliament to an increase in Australia’s International Monetary Fund quota and International Bank subscription. The increase in fund quota is one-third - from 300,000,000 dollars to 400,000,000 dollars - and the increase in bank subscription is also one-third - from 400,000,000 dollars to 533,000,000 dollars.

Last year the approval of Parliament was obtained for an increase of 50 per cent, in Australia’s fund quota - from 200,000,000 dollars to 300,000,000 dollars - and an increase of 100 per cent, in Australia’s bank subscription - from 200,000,000 dollars to 400,000,000 dollars. Those increases were part of a general move, in which all fund and bank members were entitled to participate, to enlarge the resources of those two international institutions.

At the same time as the general increase in fund quotas took place, certain member countries obtained special increases in their quotas over and above the general increase of 50 per cent. These countries included Canada, Japan, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, Mexico, Turkey and a number of others, who sought increased quotas because of changed circumstances since their original quotas were determined.

In January of this year the Government decided to apply for a further increase in Australia’s quota. It was obvious that such an increase, if it could be obtained, would represent a considerable strengthening of Australia’s external financial position, and would enable the Government to move with greater confidence towards the freeing of imports from quantitative restrictions. Also it was felt that the fund board could be expected to receive sympathetically an application by Australia for an increase because of the exceptionally wide swings to which the Australian balance of payments is subject. This expectation was fulfilled. The fund board, after considering the case, recommended an increase in Australia’s quota by the full amount requested and, by vote of the governors of the fund, the increase was approved subject to the formal consent by Australia which is provided for in clause 3 of the bill.

The increase in Australia’s fund quota represents a sizeable addition to the country’s total international reserves. The amount of assistance a member country can obtain from the fund is directly related to the size of its fund quota. Under the articles of agreement of the fund a member may apply to the fund for drawings of foreign currencies up to an amount equal to its fund quota, plus that part of its subscription to the fund which it has paid in gold. The special increase in Australia’s quota to 400,000,000 dollars will increase Australia’s potential drawing rights on the fund to 473,000,000 dollars or £211,000,000.

Australia’s own holdings of gold and foreign exchange, which represent our first line of international reserves, stood at £547,000,000 at the end of December. With potential drawing rights in the fund of over £200,000,000, the total of our first and second line reserves will amount to some £750,000,000. We are therefore placed in a strong position to meet future fluctuations in our balance of payments.

The International Monetary Fund and the International Bank are twin institutions with a common membership. Fund members who seek an increase in their fund quotas are expected at the same time to make a proportionate increase in their subscriptions to the International Bank. Accordingly, when the Australian application to the fund was submitted a parallel application was made to the bank for an increase of one-third - from 400,000,000 dollars to 533,000,000 dollars in Australia’s holding of the capital stock of the bank. This increase was duly approved by vote - of the board of governors of the bank on 6th April - the same date as that on which the governors of the fund approved the fund quota increase.

The terms and conditions under which Australia can take up the special increases in its fund quota and subscription to the capital stock of the International Bank are contained in resolutions by the boards of governors of the two institutions. The texts of these resolutions are included as schedules to the bill. In the case of the fund it will be necessary for Australia to increase its subscription by 100,000,000 dollars. A gold payment of 25,000,000 dollars or about £11,000,000 will be required. The balance of Australia’s increased subscription is payable in Australian currency and, as in the case of our earlier fund subscriptions, this will be met by the lodgment of a non-negotiable noninterestbearing security with the Reserve

Bank as depository for the fund in Australia. Payment against this note would be required only if another member country were to draw Australian currency from the fund. In the twelve years for which Australia has been a fund member no Australian currency drawings have been made. Drawings by fund members have so far been made only in United States dollars, Canadian dollars, sterling, deutschmarks, Belgian francs and Dutch guilders.

In the case of the International Bank Australia’s increased subscription will be 133,000,000 dollars or about £60,000,000. A payment of 1,330,000 dollars, or about £600,000, will be required in gold or dollars. Ari amount equal to 11,970,000 dollars or about £5,000,000 will be subscribed in Australian currency by lodgment of a note similar to that lodged with the fund. Release of this portion to the bank for use in its lending operations will be a matter for discussion with the bank management in due course. The balance of the increased subscription 119,700,000 dollars or about £53,000,000- will remain uncalled.

The bill provides for all payments necessitated by the increase in Australia’s fund quota and International Bank subscription to be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Australia has already benefited greatly from its membership of these two important international institutions. It looks forward to continuing close and fruitful collaboration with both of them in their respective fields in the years ahead. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Crean) adjourned.

page 1107


Second Reading

Debate resumed from 6th April (vide page 951), on motion by Sir Garfield Barwick -

That the bill be now read a second time.


.- Mr. Speaker, this bill relates to an industry which, unfortunately, is dead. I say, with very great regret, that, to all intents and purposes, for Australia this industry is dead and buried. And it is dead and buried as a result of the actions of this Govern ment. Last week, the Government introduced this measure to provide for the cessation of the activities - in effect, the extermination - of the Flax Commission, an instrumentality which was established by the present Government in 1953. The Government did not say so in so many words, but it said, in effect, that this bill has been introduced in order to restore to the Government powers which it gave to the commission in 1953, and to allow the Government to bring to finality the whole of the activities of the flax-growing industry as we knew it, both under the control of the Flax Commission and under the control of the Flax Production Committee, which preceded the commission and operated from, I think, 1949 until 1953. That committee was empowered to supervise and assist in the growing of flax for the production of linen in Australia under war-time powers and regulations.

I suggest to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) that the Government committed an outrage by introducing in this Parliament a measure providing for the final act of burial of this industry without saying one word about how or to whom the flax mills and their plant and equipment were sold or disposed of. At one time, 39 flax mills were operating in Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia. We had an agreement with the United Kingdom Government, in war-time, to produce flax for its needs. As those needs fizzled out, as it were, steadily and surely, the number of mills was gradually reduced to, I think, seven, which were located at Strathkellar, Myrtleford and another centre which I cannot recall at the moment in Victoria, Boyup Brook, in Western Australia, and Mount Gambier and other centres in South Australia. These seven mills were sold by the Government without any announcement to the Parliament. Worse still, this bill has been introduced in order to enable the Government to wind up the affairs which the Flax Commission had been handling, without the Parliament being given any information about the proceeds. We are not told what the Strathkellar mill realized. We do not know whether it was sold piece by piece, who bought the buildings, who bought the valuable machinery installed therein, who bought the land or what was the total sum received by the Commonwealth. Surely, when a government introduces a measure to finalize activities such as those now in question, we are entitled to be told whether the mills have been sold. Surely we as a Parliament are entitled to know exactly what sum was realized by the sale of the property and equipment. 1 think it is well known that, in Australia, there are only about three firms which spin flax - James Miller & Company Proprietary Limited and George Kinnear & Sons Proprietary Limited, in Melbourne, and Frank <fc Bryce Bentley Proprietary Limited, in Sydney. Those are the main operators. Surely we are entitled to know whether those firms bought all the valuable machinery in the seven flax mills which have been sold. We should know whether those manufacturing concerns intend to store this valuable equipment or put it aside for future eventualities, perhaps to meet war needs by using it themselves or making it available to the Commonwealth Government again should the need arise. We are not told whether the machinery was scrapped and sold to the junk merchants. We do not know anything about it. All we are told is that seven mills have been sold and dismantled and will no longer function as going concerns. We have been told that one mill remains complete and that it has been bought by the spinning interests - in other words, by the Miller, Kinnear and Bentley companies or some of the other firms which process flax fibres in Australia.

These circumstances surround an industry that is vitally important to Australia and its people and, indeed, as was proved during the last war, to any allies that we may have in the future in an emergency. I admit that it is true that the flax industry in Australia has had a very hazardous existence. It was established in Victoria in 1 863, and was supported by Government guarantees and bounties from 1907 to 1935. I well remember a primitive form of linen mill which processed flax at Drouin, in Victoria, and eked out an existence over a long period. There were others. A report on flax fibre made by the Tariff Board in 1 957 noted that, except for the period from 1923 to 1930, the industry was never established on a firm footing, owing to lack of grower interest and lack of confidence in the crop. But, in 1936, Flax Fibres Proprietary

Limited, the main shareholders in which, I think, were the Miller, Kinnear and Bentley companies - the manufacturers and weavers - established two mills. One of these was at Colac and I think the other was at Camperdown, both in Victoria.

When war broke out, these two mills were quite inadequate and the acreage of crop grown in order to supply them with raw material was totally inadequate for war needs of flax fibre to enable the Australian spinners to manufacture the tarpaulins, tents, sewing thread and other requirements for which flax fibre is used. Furthermore, at a very early stage of hostilities, with the destruction of the industry in Belgium, Holland, Latvia, Estonia and other great flax producing countries of Europe, the United Kingdom Government was at its wits’ end to obtain supplies of flax for its essential war requirements. In this situation, the co-operation of the Australian government was sought and obtained. A committee was set up and it had assistance from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, all the Departments of Agriculture in the southern States and the technical officers of the Commonwealth department. It also had magnificent cooperation from a Victorian organization called the Flax Producers Association, whose president was a Mr. Weigall. I pay public tribute in this House to the great work that he and his committee did in establishing the industry on an emergency war-time basis and substantially expanding it. I think I mentioned previously that prior to this period two mills had been established, and we eventually had about 29 mills. However, these dwindled to seven, which have now been sold. A contract was entered into under which the United Kingdom government agreed to take the major portion of our supplies, and Australia was supplying the United Kingdom with flax that it formerly had obtained from Belgium, Holland, Russia, Estonia and other European countries.

The previous government and this Government, acting on the reports of experts and of the Tariff Board, supported the industry fairly substantially by the payment of bounties to enable it, since the cessation of hostilities, to compete with flax industries in other parts of the world. Flax produced overseas has been imported into

Australia at prices up to £100 a ton less than flax produced here. However, the preceding government and this Government until recently faced the situation and, over the whole period of post-war flax growing, advanced as justification for continuing to support the industry the reason that in the event of war flax was an essential defence element and Australia should be in a position to produce its requirements and, if necessary, to supply many of our allies, as we did in the last war. It now appears that, if the industry were to continue, further bounty payments would be necessary. It seems strange to me that the Government can, on the one hand, argue that defence is necessary and that we must be self-sufficient in essential materials - it still has a defer.ce policy, at least of a kind - and on the other hand determine that the flax industry of all industries is no longer necessary. If the world should unfortunately ever again be plunged into the holocaust of war, the very first countries in which the flax-growing industry would be destroyed are the countries upon whom we will in the future be dependent. I refer to Belgium, Holland, portions of Russia and the Baltic States.

T think it is fair to say that, with the Australian industry out of the way, the people from whom we now buy flax and who are now able to under-cut Australian flax producers will put their heads together and will substantially increase the price of flax fibre to Australia. There is nothing to stop them. Up to the present, they have been prevented from charging higher prices only by the knowledge that here in Australia we have available all the plant, all the equipment, all the buildings, all the land and all the technical knowledge acquired over the past ten or twelve years to substantially increase production and meet our requirements if their prices become excessive. However, all this plant is now being sold. In any event, from the point of view of our secondary industries, we would be in a more satisfactory position if we were to grow sufficient flax to meet our requirements and to have it spun in the mills that are available for that purpose.

T regret that the industry is now extinct, to all intents and purposes. I regret the introduction of this measure. I must confess that during the time of the Chifley

Administration, being unsure of our power to continue the industry in the post-war era, the suggestion was made that the mills be made available for sale. The spinners, through the former Flax Production Committee, intimated to the Government that they were not interested in the purchase of the flax mills or in the production of flax. They wanted the flax mills continued and the bounties paid at the expense of the Australian taxpayers. I have here a copy of the submissions made by the Australian Rope Cordage and Twine Association to the Flax Production Committee. The association said -

The Spinners are strongly opposed to the passing of the Industry back to private enterprise. At the present time we would not consider taking part in such private enterprise should it be passed back. Our reasons for this are as follows.

Without the Australian Spinners taking shares in a company promoted for the purpose of acquiring the Flax Industry, there would be a grave possibility that the Industry would again fall into disrepute in the hands of people without a background of knowledge of the Industry, and that past history would repeat itself in the form of slogans such as “ One Share One Acre “, &c. Unfortunately, in the past in some cases, great damage was done to the Industry by promotion stunts in the hands of unscrupulous company promoters.

The association then went on to say -

We feel that if they took over the industry at the present juncture, private enterprise would want to exploit the present world Flax position to build up its strength against a future slump in world Flax prices, which may result in very heavy loss. We feel also that private enterprise would not have the fortitude-

That is a strange comment for representatives of private enterprise to make - or the funds to sustain the industry, should the ensuing year or two become drought years in this country.

We feel that ultimately the Government may pass the industry back to private enterprise, but that having gone so far, the Government should see its establishment through to a point of undoubted economic success before doing so.

In other words, private enterprise did not want a bar of it until it was showing a profit. However, when an additional £1,000,000 of the taxpayers’ money had been spent on it and profits were being made, private enterprise would agree to take it back. That was the attitude of the Australian Rope Cordage and Twine Association. However, all we as an Opposition can say now is that we regret what has been done. We regret the passing of a mighty fine agricultural industry; one which undoubtedly in the future would have justified itself; one that provided an alternative crop to the producers in certain areas with suitable climatic conditions. It was an industry which certainly required, and was propped up a good deal by bounties, but with the passing of that industry a situation will be created in which the people of this country will have to pay a higher price for imported flax goods and will have to face the hazard of being cut off from supplies of flax again in the event of hostilities.

Enormous technical progress was made in Australia in the ten or twelve years during which this industry operated. The work of the Flax Growers Association, which cooperated actively with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, with implement manufacturers and with officers of the Departments of Agriculture and others, was of a magnificent character. In the days before the tanks were put in at the flax mills and the water was warmed and probably some chemicals were added - I am not sure of the technical process - and the flax straw was retted in the tanks at each mill, the flax straw had to be spread out evenly over the fields for the glutinous matter of the fibre to ret, and afterwards it had to be picked up and carted back into the mills. However, the designers of implements and others in Australia cooperated magnificently and produced machines to do the heavy and laborious work which was involved in picking up the fibre which was spread over many hundreds of acres of fields adjacent to the factories. Machines were invented for pulling the whole flax plant from the earth, to avoid the losses which inevitably occurred when the flax, as was the custom in this country, was cut off and harvested by the conventional reaper and binder.

Anybody who has seen the country along the River Lys, where flax is grown in Belgium, will know that the industry there - from the point of view of processing the raw materials in the fields - is a fairly primitive one. I have seen people walk out into the River Lys with great baskets full of flax fibre and leave it there to ret before the flax could be brought back again into the factory.

The Australian stock-feed and paint industries will lose something as the result of the elimination of this industry. The seed of the linen flax has a very heavy oil content. It should not, of course, be confused with linseed, as such, which is an altogether different plant; but the seed of the linen flax is most valuable to the dairymen and others of this country. Its protein content, I think, is in the vicinity of 30 per cent, and the stock-feeding industries always appreciated its availability.

I say again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is regrettable that we were not given more information as to who did actually buy the mills or portions of mills with the plant and equipment therein. Is any of the specialized machinery, which is no good for anything else, being stored against possible emergency? What were the prices realized? Surely, above all things, members of this Parliament should know what the Strathkellar mill and the Colac mill realized, what the mill at Myrtleford brought, and so on!

The Minister, in his short second-reading speech, did not give us the’ information. 1 am not one who believes in long-winded second-reading speeches, but at least I think we should have been given, in precise form, some particulars about this important industry.

Mr Adermann:

– The bill provides for an audited report.


– That is true. The bill provides for an audited report to be submitted to Parliament, but that will be furnished long after this debate has ended and long after the Government has sold the mills. What, then, can we do about it? Nothing but lament! Surely the Minister should have come to Parliament and said “ The Government proposes to sell the flax mills - the people’s property - and we ask Parliament to express its opinion as to whether this very valuable and essential defence industry should be destroyed ir. this manner “. But no, we were told nothing until it was intimated to us that the remaining six mills had been sold for wreckage, spare parts, galvanized iron and so on, in job lots. One mill has been sold to people who apparently intend to keep it going. It is a sorry story and I think the Government is indictable in regard to its attitude.

We, as an Opposition, have no alternative but to support the measure. We would have been in a position to oppose a measure that sought the consent of Parliament to the sale of these properties, but we have not been given that opportunity. I say the Government is making a farce of Parliament. The Minister has come along and said. “ We have sold all these mills and now, by a piece of legislation, we want to abolish the commission. We wish to lake from it the powers given to it ir. 1953. We will get an audited report which will be presented to Parliament “. And we are as powerless as the babes in the woods! I make my protest against this sort of procedure.


– Like the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) I naturally regret the circumstances which have forced the Government to adopt this attitude with regard to the disposal of the assets of the Flax Commission. The bill before the House, in fact, rings down the curtain on the activities of that body. The honorable member for Lalor has given quite a voluminous history of the industry as set up, due to pressure of war-time needs, in 1939-45 and carried on in the post-war period under the defence provisions of the Constitution until a decision was made and fairly freely canvassed - as I think the honorable member will admit - to sell the mills. The decision to sell the flax mills was canvassed not only in this place, but also by public advertisement and the public was aware of the action to be taken.

I think the honorable member is stretching his imagination a little far when he says that this machinery bill, which in fact gives legislative authority to complete the formalities of this disposal of the assets of the commission and provide for a final balance-sheet, is something which should have been prepared before. He also said that no information has been provided for honorable members about the sales of the mills which have taken place. I think he unfairly attacked the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) on that count. If he refers to the record, he will find that the Minister made his second-reading speech - I think - on the 5th April, and that a number of these sales were not completed until about the end of March. I am so informed by those who know. I think if the honorable member will possess himself in patience he will find that when the bill is actually put into effect the necessary information will be provided; but I repeat that the decision in regard to these mills was taken a long time ago. This is not a decision about whether the Government is to get out of flax production. It is a decision to bring the industry to finality and give legislative effect to action which was decided on and taken previously. I remind the honorable member that the Government’s activity in regard to the Flax Commission was taken under the defence powers of the Constitution, and while we might deeply regret that this decision had to be taken, the Government must be guided by its defence chiefs. It cannot carry on a line of activity such as this when it is told definitely, by those who are in a position to know, that the activity is no longer considered a defence priority. The Government would be flying in the face of normal service advice if it were to disregard such advice. The flax mills have now been disposed of, I understand, but I think we have one slight ray of sunshine in the fact that the mill at Myrtleford will be able to carry on operations. The prices obtained for the mills already sold - I am informed - are larger than the break-up price which was the only possible valuation which could be put on them unless they were taken over by some concern which intended to run them as going concerns. Unfortunately, the Boyupbrook mill which was sold some years ago, and the Myrtleford mill, are the only two mills which the commission has been able to unload as going concerns. The remaining mills have had to be sold at break-up prices.

I have a particular interest in this problem because, probably more than any other division in the Commonwealth, the electorate which I have the privilege to represent in this Parliament has been very concerned not only with the production of flax but also with the activities of mills in the area. During the period of its operations the commission had within its control mills at Colac, Lake Bolac, Winchelsea, Lismore and Terang, although I think that the mill at Terang was disposed of before the commission commenced operations. I remind the honorable member for Lalor - I think that he half admitted it - that when he was a Minister in a previous government the decision was made to commence the disposal of mills, particularly those which relied on dry retting for the production of their fibre.

It might not be known that the economics of the production of flax fibre are concerned mainly with the cost of retting, which is a very large part of the process which rots the straw and produces the fibre which subsequently produces the thread. The process of dry retting, whereby straw is laid out on grass pastures and allowed to weather, and is then gathered up, carted and treated, is vastly too expensive for these days of expensive labour, and so only those mills which had water available for tank retting were allowed to continue. If I remember correctly, the mill at Terang was actually disposed of during the period of office of the previous government or, at least, its fate had been decided then.

Colac in particular has a very old association with the production of flax fibre in Australia. It goes back to the early thirties or late ‘twenties when a private enterprise company commenced operations in the Colac district. When World War II. broke out the mill was taken over by the flax production committee and the land on which it stood was finally purchased in 1945 after being compulsorily acquired from the Colac sewerage authority. Because this mill has been in continuous operation since its inception, it is a matter for regret that it must now be closed down.

Flax has been a very valuable addition to the diversified economies of the country towns and districts. It has also provided a source of employment and, in addition - this factor may escape the notice of honorable members - the methods of cultivation for the production of flax straw has been of immense value in the particular areas which are suited, by climate and rainfall, to the production of flax. I have in mind the division which I have the privilege to represent in this House. So, the production of flax served three very useful purposes. We regret the closing down of the mills, particularly having regard to the part which the industry has played in the economy of our country districts.

One of the unfair influences towards the Government’s decision is the implication that the Flax Commission has been asso ciated with the continuous losses which the industry suffered after the commission assumed control of it. When the commission was established in 1953, it took over from its predecessor large stocks of flax and straw at a certain price. Subsequently, with the fall in prices, there was a substantial loss on the writing down of these stocks, and that loss had to be written through the accounts of the Flax Commission. Those who do not realize the implications of this writing down of stocks would get a very wrong impression of the efficiency of the commission.

Naturally, the question of cost and the price that can be obtained for flax and fibre, both in Australia and overseas, must be taken into consideration. In November, 1956, the average price of fibre was about £300 Australian a ton. By August, 1957, it had1 dropped to approximately £257 a ton, and1 about six months ago it was just over £200 a ton. It is obvious that the industry in Australia could not compete with the low cost of imported fibre, and in addition the imported material was available at a price which did not parallel the cost of the manufactured material in Australia.

Many people have been associated with this industry in the time in which it has been in operation under Commonwealth authority and, having met some of them and knowing quite a number of them personally, I should like, on behalf of the Government, to express my thanks to the chairman, Mr. Stevenson, the deputy chairman, Mr. Dolling, and to Mr. Hogg, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Kentish for the part which they have played in controlling this industry. I should like also to pay tribute to the activities of Mr. Weigall, who was mentioned by the honorable member for Lalor. Mr. Weigall was an enthusiast in flax, and he had a firm grip of the economics of the industry. He was associated very closely with the operations of the flax production committee in its earlier days.


.- I have not a great deal to contribute to the debate on this bill except to correct the impression which was given by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). When one looks at the history of this legislation, one will see that it was war-time legislation which was introduced by a Labour government because of the need for flax and its byproducts for purposes of war - the manufacture of canvas, aircraft fabric, parachutes and so on. After the war the Chifley Government, of which the honorable member was the Minister responsible for the administration of this industry, tried very hard to sell the plant which the war-time committee had collected together to process the flax for purposes of war. In 1948, the Chifley Government issued a brochure to all State governments and sent it far and wide throughout Australia in an endeavour to interest private enterprise to take over the plant. The Chifley Government even sent the brochure to every country in the world in an attempt to attract foreign capital. The honorable member for Lalor, who, as I have said, was the Minister responsible for this industry, now attacks this Government for trying to sell it. Did the Chifley Government ask the permission of this House to sell the plant in 1948? If honorable members look at “ Hansard “ I am sure that they will not find any reference to the Chifley Government seeking such permission.

As the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon) has mentioned, the Government of Western Australia was the only government which had an interest in this matter. In that State the plant was leased to a co-operative society, and during the last season the flax farmers had a record production of about 275 tons of processed flax. When the present Government came into office it tried to sell its interest in the industry because there was some constitutional question as to whether it was justified in carrying on the industry under the emergency powers which had been obtained during the war. The Government followed the lead of the Chifley Government and tried to sell the flax mills, but did not succeed in so doing. The present Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) discussed the matter with the Victorian and South Australian governments. Both of those governments were interested in maintaining the plants for the processing of flax, but they were not prepared themselves to act as the principals in the industry. The Minister for Trade then discussed the matter with the Victorian Flax Growers Association and the Australian Flax Spinners Association. He asked them whether they could devise some means of taking over this industry from the Go vernment. They could not come to terms and, consequently, the act that we propose now to repeal was passed and a commission of five persons was appointed to conduct the flax industry.

The facts are that the industry was established as a war-time measure, and the Chifley Government then tried to sell the processing industry to private enterprise because the government’s authority to maintain the industry after the war was based on weak constitutional grounds. The Opposition, therefore, is not on sound ground when it tries to attack this Government for selling the plants without notifying the House. The fact is that the previous Labour Government tried to do exactly the same when it was in office, and there is no reason now why this Government should not try to dispose of these assets at the best possible price.

Minister for Primary Industry · Fisher · CP

– Not much comment is required from me in reply to honorable members who have spoken in this debate. I do want to say, however, that it is a matter of regret when experience shows that an industry established for defence purposes in time of war cannot be carried on profitably or in the best interests of the country in peace-time. That is exactly what has happened in this case. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has admitted that the Labour Government, of which he was a member, found that to be the case and considered selling the flax processing industry. This Government has considered the matter for a long time. It publicly called for tenders for each of the flax mills, indicating, of course, that the mills were offered for purposes other than the production of flax fibres. We did not want to sell the mills under false pretences and we did not want to suggest to possible buyers that these units could be conducted profitably or economically as flax mills. These facts were expressed quite clearly in each case when public tenders were called.

The points that have been mentioned by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon) do, in fact, enter into this matter, including the figure at which the Flax Commission itself took over much of the flax straw. Subsequently, prices fell and as a result there was a loss. That loss has been written into the total which covers the other losses incurred in the industry as a whole. It is not easy at this stage to dissect the figures but there is no intention to withhold any figures from the Parliament. I remind honorable members that as recently as last March we sold one of the mills. On 31st March we sold the Mount Gambier mill and about two days later I introduced this bill. We could not possibly have the relevant figures available at that time, but honorable members were told that all this information would be covered in the audited report that must be presented to the Parliament by the responsible Minister. I believe that must be done within fifteen sitting days of the report becoming available. Therefore, members of the Opposition will not be debarred from discussing this matter during the Budget debate or on any other suitable occasion that the Parliament might provide.

The Myrtleford mill which was sold is being continued as an operating mill. The purchase was negotiated by Mr. F. S. Vine, managing director of James Miller and Company Proprietary Limited, but not on behalf of that company. He acted on behalf of a syndicate comprised of the Miller company and George Kinnear and Sons Proprietary Limited. They are the joint purchasers.

I do not think there are any other queries which require an answer. I repeat that this was a war-time industry which was brought into being for strategic purposes. It has revealed itself as uneconomic in peace-time under Australian standards to which any Commonwealth Government must conform. The Government has offered the industry to private enterprise from time to time and, as the honorable member for Lalor has shown, private enterprise has indicated that the industry is uneconomic and not attractive to private interests. That was proved also by the fact that when tenders were called and purchasers actually came forward, the basis of negotiation was that the mills would be used for purposes other than flax spinning except in the case of the Myrtleford mill. Although it was made clear to the purchasers of the Myrtleford mill that they could not expect to run it as a commercial proposition for the spinning of flax they decided to use it for that purpose.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.

Message recommending appropriation reported.

In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message):

Motion (by Mr. Adermann) agreed to -

That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to repeal the Flax Industry Act 1953, and for purposes connected therewith.

Resolution reported and adopted.

In committee: Consideration resumed.

Clauses 1 and 2 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 3 (Definitions).


.- This clause refers to the Flax Commission which is to be abolished. Honorable members may have noticed that in my secondreading speech I paid tribute to Mr. Weigall, who is the president of the Flax Growers Association, for the good work which he did in connexion with that body. I think it would be an oversight on my part if, at this stage when we are considering the clause referring to the commission, I did not pay tribute to Mr. Stevenson, who was its chairman. He and his colleagues and the departmental officers connected with this commission over the long period that it was in operation, did a wonderful job. Mr. Stevenson naturally carried heavy responsibilities and, from my observations, both during my term as Minister and that of the present Minister, I formed the opinion that he did an excellent job not only for the growers and everybody associated with the undertaking but also for the people of the Commonwealth as a whole.

Minister for Primary Industry · Fisher · CP

– I endorse the tributes paid by the honorable member for Lalor.

Clause agreed to.

Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

page 1115


Second Reading

Debate resumed from 29th March (vide page 699), on motion by Mr. Freeth -

That the bill be now read a second time.


.- The bill before the House is of relatively minor importance compared with other measures which are brought down from time to time. Nevertheless it will make a distinct improvement in the working of one section of the parliamentary machine. For that reason the Australian Labour Party, which is the Opposition, supports the bill, although it could have been improved in parts.

Actually, what the bill does is to increase the power and range of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and this will make it a much more efficient and beneficial body. Although I am not at present a member of the Public Works Committee I served on it for seven and a half years and I have some knowledge of its working. All I can say is that if every other organ of parliamentary government throughout Australia was as efficient as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Public Works Committee, we would have better government throughout Australia.

The bill proposes to do a number of things but there are three main points which require some discussion. The first is the removal of the minimum limit of £25,000. In the principal act this provision has prevented the committee from examining any project which would cost less than an estimated amount of £25,000. The present measure provides, in effect, that any matter which is estimated to cost less than £25,000 can be referred to the committee for discussion._ It might be said that a proposal to erect a building which would cost only fi 0,000 - which is about what it costs now to build a five-roomed weatherboard house under this Government’s inflationary policy - hardly needed examination by the committee. But the Government might contemplate erecting a number of similar buildings throughout the Commonwealth each costing £10,000, £15,000 or £20,000. The Government would like to have them standardized and would therefore seek the last word on the design of the first one to be built. I think it is a move in the right direction. The Public Works Committee will be able to give its attention to a matter of this nature and direct its undoubted skill, knowledge, technique and knowhow to a project which may cost only £20,000 now, but which over a number of years, if duplicated in other parts, may cost the Commonwealth £500,000. For that reason, the proposed alteration is a very excellent one indeed.

The next proposal relates to a provision that the Public Works Committee was fighting to have restored to the act during the time that I was a member of it and has continued to seek since I left it in 1959. I refer to the restoration of the mandatory provision to the principal act. It is interesting to examine the history of the Public Works Committee in this respect. The committee was established in 1913 under an act which contained a mandatory provision that works estimated to cost more than a certain sum were automatically to be referred to the committee for consideration, unless Parliament directed otherwise. That mandatory provision worked satisfactorily and to the complete advantage of the country’s finances. The committee acted at all times as a watchdog upon all contemplated expenditure on public works.

When the depression came, all public works ceased because there was no money to devote to public works of any kind. In 1936, the government of the day decided to re-establish the Public Works Committee, but the mandatory provision in the act was deleted. I would say that that was definitely a step in the wrong direction. It was a retrograde move, indeed. From that time onwards, if the Minister or the department did not wish some project, irrespective of its cost, to come under the close scruitiny of the Public Works Committee - for a variety of reasons which I think most honorable members would appreciate - that work, from the drawing of the plans to the letting of the tenders and the erection of the building, could be undertaken without expert advice being sought as to whether the project was necessary or the contemplated building would be constructed of appropriate materials or be built safely and in accordance with the principles actually desired, and a number of other aspects, any of which ought to be considered when a large amount of Commonwealth revenue was to be expended.

It is interesting to relate that for many years the committee has pointed out that the letting of contracts without reference to the committee was a practice which was not in the interests of the taxpayers of the Commonwealth. For example, in 1958, within the space of about a month or so, four or five contracts were let for amounts ranging from £300 to £1,000,000, but not one of them was subjected to the close scrutiny of the Public Works Committee. I say quite definitely that that was a procedure to be deplored because from my experience as a member of that committee, I am satisfied that had an examination of the projects been made by it, better buildings would have been erected or, alternatively, the taxpayers’ money would have been saved.

The third alteration proposed by the bill is commendable as far as it goes, but in my opinion it does not go far enough. It gives the committee power to review its own reports so long as the actual work on which it is reporting has not been commenced. I consider that this is a most necessary clause. Frequently, the committee makes a report on a project about costs and design, but because of the lack of funds available at the time - a list of priorities is approved by the Treasurer of the day - the work may not be commenced until some years later. I recall that many years ago the Public Works Committee considered alterations to the Canberra Community Hospital, but nothing was ever done about the proposal. I understand that the committee is again looking at the proposition which has been referred to it by the Minister. It might not have looked at the matter again if it had not been referred to the committee by the Minister under the old legislation.

In view of changing methods of construction and changes in fundamental building materials it would be possible for the Public Works Committee, three or four years- after it had submitted a report to this House, to examine the project again and make an entirely different recommendation. Consequently, the committee should have the power provided for in the bill. Indeed, that power should be extended to enable the committee to review a project after its commencement up to the time that it has been completed, because it may become desirable to adopt alterations while a building is in course of construction.

I happen to be on the board of a hospital which is just outside my electorate. In 1943, the board decided to construct a building. The plans were made in 1946. The building was started in 1950. Because of the lack of finance made available by the State government construction has been proceeding only a little at a time. I regret to say that when it is opened by the Premier of Victoria this year it will be completely antiquated as far as modern hospital standardization and facilities are concerned, because the plans were made in 1945 and the conception of a modern hospital then was entirely different from the conception of a modern hospital in 1960.

Mr Freeth:

– It is a bit too late to do much after building has been started.


– This building was started, certainly. Nevertheless, since it was started, it has cost the State government tens of thousands of pounds because of alterations to the original plan. Walls have been knocked down here and there and the building extended in various ways. By preventing such an occurrence in the federal domain, the powers in the bill plus the additional powers which I recommend for the committee could save the Commonwealth Government millions of pounds over twenty or 30 years. The Government has gone only half way in this measure. I suppose a half a loaf is better than no bread. But it is to be regretted that when the Government has seen fit to improve the legislation regarding the Public Works Committee it has not done the job properly.

As the Government decided to alter, in some respects, the basic foundations of the legislation constituting the Public Works Committee, it should have afforded that committee an opportunity to review the legislation and to suggest powers over a much wider field than those included in the bill. I regret that the committee was not given a copy of the draft bill. It could then have examined it and made suggestions in the light of its own experience. I suggest that it is necessary to be a member of the Public Works Committee in order to know how it works. Such knowledge cannot be gained merely by listening to the reports submitted in Parliament from time to time and to the very brief survey of a project by the Minister, the chairman of the committee, or its vice-chairman. In order to know how the committee works it is necessary to be a member of the committee, travel round the various States with it, and listen to and sift expert evidence collected from a variety of sources. As a result of such experience the committee has a unique knowledge of what is required to make it a better committee. I deplore the failure of the Government to give the committee a copy of the draft bill and ask for its views on it.

I believe that this will be the last measure of this kind concerning the Public Works Committee which will be presented to the Parliament for many years to come. Consequently, a particular effort should have been made to make a proper job of legislation altering the powers of the committee. That has not been done. The bill is the poorer because of the Government’s neglect to secure the views of the Public Works Committee. T do not make that point with any party bias whatsoever. During the seven or eight years for which I was a member of the committee, never, on any occasion, did I see any approach to any project on party lines. Frequently, the committee was divided on anything but party lines. I frequently found myself allied to a member of the committee with whom, in this place, I frequently clashed. In the Public Works Committee, for some reason or other, our views coincided. Committee members from the party to which I belong were frequently divided as were members from the Government parties. That is how it should be. Because of that fact, the committee should have been given an opportunity to put its point of view to the Government. I know that that point of view would have been submitted in a non-party spirit and solely for the purpose of making the bill better than it is.

This committee, although its powers have been somewhat curtailed, has played a very positive part in the development of the Commonwealth. It is impossible to assess, in terms of £ s. d., how much it has saved our governments over the years, but the amount has certainly been considerable. This is not to be wondered at when its duties are realized. It was originally established for the purpose of ensuring that full and detailed information on major projects should be given to the Parliament which has to find the funds necessary for public works. At all times, while I was a member, and before and since that time, the committee has sought to ensure the efficient spending of public money, and it has obtained expert advice on projects before reporting to the Parliament. It is not always possible for the departmental mind alone to make an unbiassed approach to these projects. That is understandable. The committee probes all proposed works thoroughly. It has an insatiable desire to examine all sorts of expert witnesses and get different points of view. When you get all shades of thought, it is remarkable how a case presented by the department can be shattered after hearing an expert witness for 20 minutes. That was frequently my experience, because there are many points of view on a project.

Tt is regrettable that the Government has not given the committee the full powers that T have suggested. The committee has saved the Government millions of pounds. On one occasion when I was a member of the committee we went to Brisbane to examine a proposal for a building to be constructed for the Taxation Branch. After hearing evidence from a number of sources and after finding out the requirements of Government departments throughout Brisbane, we were able to make suggestions which, in the long run, will save the people of the Commonwealth £1,750,000. That is only one instance of many. In another case the committee went to Perth where it had been suggested that a building should be erected for one of the departments. The committee discovered that if the proposed building were constructed as the first stage of a number of buildings to be erected on the same site for other Government departments, a great saving would be effected for the Commonwealth over twenty years. The committee’s suggestion required only a little extra expenditure in the first place. There is no comparison between the amounts saved by the committee for the

Commonwealth and the cost of maintaining the committee. As was stated when the bill was introduced, travelling expenses and fees for members of the committee amount to about £3,000 a year. Of course, the salaries of a secretary and a typist, and the cost of incidentals such as stationery, are also involved but, taken all in all, the amount represented in these expenditures is only a minute fraction of the amount of taxpayers’ money that is saved by the committee.

There is a tendency on the part of some people - and, unfortunately, I have detected a note of levity among members of this Parliament in this respect - to refer to such committees as the Public Works Committee as “ bunce “ committees because the members of parliamentary committees are paid a small amount for attending committee meetings outside parliamentary sitting hours. My experience has shown me that members of parliamentary committees more than earn the small amount that they receive in sitting fees. They have to be away from home a great deal, travelling interstate in order to hear evidence. There is no great advantage to be derived by a member of such a committee as the Public Works Committee from travelling to Sydney or any other capital city twenty or thirty times. Members of committees like the Public Works Committee suffer quite a lot of personal hardship as a result of separation from their families, because all the travelling done by the Public Works Committee and other committees is done during the parliamentary recess. So members of parliamentary committees generally do not have the opportunity to spend as much time with their families as other members of the Parliament have.

I believe that the kind of work done for this nation by the Public Works Committee is parliamentary work in its best and most detailed sense, because the pros and cons of every public works project which comes before the committee are discussed at length. Everything is done to ensure that members of the Public Works Committee have placed before them the most comprehensive evidence on a project that it is possible to obtain, and1 at all times the decision on a project is given on the evidence submitted. The committee has always tried to get the most expert evi dence. It has even gone to a lot of trouble, and its members have caused a great deal of inconvenience to themselves, to defer a decision on a project so that the committee might visit a capital city for even only a one-day sitting so as to hear some evidence considered essential.

Another reason I am in favour of the extension of the powers of the Public Works Committee is that parliamentary committee work is one aspect of parliamentary life in which private members can play a most important part. In this chamber private members are just very little cogs in a big, soulless parliamentary machine. But a member of the Parliament who is also a member of a committee like the Public Works Committee feels that he is making a positive contribution to the parliamentary life and the public life of this Commonwealth, because the members of the Public Works Committee are helping to build the Commonwealth in a variety of ways. One member of the Public Works Committee may not be able to do much by himself, but he gets a glow of pride when he knows that with his fellow members of the committee he has played some positive part in the erection of a particular building or the construction of a particular project.

I had hoped that the success of the Public Works Committee and the Public Accounts Committee would encourage the Government to extend the committee system in this Parliament. I am a great believer in the committee system, and I regret that this Parliament has not seen fit to adopt the procedure of the United States Congress and the United Kingdom Parliament, both of which have a much more comprehensive committee system than operates here. I still hope that, because of the success achieved by the two committees that I have mentioned, the Government will in the near future consider extending the committee system, because the use of that system often means that a non-party approach can be made to a bill or a project, which can be discussed and brought to a final form without any of the rancour and heat that is often associated with the deliberations of this Parliament under our present system.

An unfortunate tendency of governments in recent years is the unyielding and invariable refusal to accept any suggestions, or any amendments to measures, when these suggestions or amendments emanate from the Opposition. It seems to be unthinkable for the Government to accept an Opposition amendment. It is just not done! A study of the Victorian “ Hansard “ will show that the Victorian Government often accepts Opposition amendments. For some reason or other this Commonwealth Government does not do so. The Public Works Committee has a majority of Government nominees, but those members of the committee do not reject suggestions simply because they come from Opposition members. No such principle enters into the deliberations and decisions of the committee. A suggestion made to that committee by any member of it, or an amendment to a motion before the committee, is dealt with entirely on its merits, and accepted or rejected accordingly. But in this House the majority - the Government - takes not the slightest notice of amendments moved by the Opposition.

It is for that reason that I express the hope that the committee system, as it operates in the United States of America and Great Britain, will be introduced into this Parliament. I am satisfied that as a result we would have better legislation brought before the Parliament. In the United Kingdom, bills coming before either House are in many respects prepared by a committee before their submission to the House. The committee is responsible for the drafting of the bill. Of course, the Government, having a majority of members on the committee, has the final say; but the use of that system does give the Opposition in the United Kingdom Parliament, irrespective of what party may be in power, a chance to make suggestions regarding legislation, and at least an opportunity to have some of its ideas embodied in legislation. I repeat that I should like to see a similar committee system in use here, because I am satisfied that it would mean that this Parliament would have brought before it better and much more all-embracing legislation, which would be for the benefit of the Australian people as a whole.

I point out also that the committee system would give many honorable members an opportunity to play a more active part than they have at present in the conduct of government. The membership of the Public Works Committee, for instance, is limited. Only a relatively few members of the Parliament can serve on such committees. The extension of the committee system in the way I have suggested would give a greater number of private members, who now feel frustrated, more opportunity to engage in some positive parliamentary work. In fact, because of the limited time available in comparison with the number of members of this House, some honorable members have the opportunity to speak only rarely. They would appreciate the chance to play some more direct role in the government of the Commonwealth. I am sure that the committee system would produce beneficial results for Australia. Already, insofar as it applies to the Public Accounts Committee, and the Public Works Committee in particular, it has produced such results.

There are many subjects which come up for discussion in this House in relation to which there is no great gulf between the two sides of the House. Examples are social services, transport, primary production and national development. However, there are other matters in connexion with which political differences lead to very heated discussions in the Parliament which make a reasoned judgment impossible. It is regrettable that when we have before us a measure dealing with a subject like transport or social services, in which the gulf between the two sides of the Parliament is not great, any suggestion coming from this side of the Parliament is cast aside because the Government’s policy is that no good can come out of natterers - in other words, that no good can come from the Opposition.

I say again that I hope that in view of the great success of the Public Works Committee the Government will see its way clear to extend the committee system, so that the views of the Opposition on legislation coming before the Parliament will have more weight than is the case at present.

The mandatory clause in the present bill is certainly a good one. It will mean that every project estimated to cost more than £250,000, other than defence projects, will automatically be referred to the Public Works Committee unless the House, by resolution, decides otherwise. I am at a loss to understand why a blanket is put on all defence projects in this way, because I am satisfied that, had the Public Works Committee had an opportunity to get its teeth into quite a number of the defence projects that have been undertaken in this country, millions of pounds would have been saved. For example, if the Public Works Committee had had an opportunity to examine and report upon the St. Mary’s filling factory project that project would not have cost the country £27,000,000 or £28,000,000. There are many defence projects about which I could make the same kind of statement.

I do not see any security risk in submitting defence projects to a parliamentary committee for examination. It seems to be begging the question to provide that no defence project shall be subjected to examination by the Public Works Committee, because I am satisfied that over the years many millions of pounds have been wasted on defence projects in this country and the Government has sheltered itself behind the defence character of these projects. So I say it is regrettable that the Government has not seen fit to embody in the legislation provision that at least some classes of defence projects shall be examined by the Public Works Committee. I am sure that such examinations by the committee would result in the saving of money. This would be a good thing at a time when the Commonwealth is under sustained and regular criticism about the gross waste of public money. I am certain that the submission of defence projects to the Public Works Committee for examination would meet with approbation in the Australian press, because such a system would definitely mean the saving of money provided by the taxpayers.

Proposed new section 15a of the principal act is a provision that I take exception to, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It does not go far enough, because it will not allow the Public Works Committee to investigate the construction of a building after work has commenced. I cannot understand the point of view which has prompted this restriction. We had an example in Canberra many years ago of a project which could have been investigated with great advantage by the committee after construction had begun. I refer to the original Administrative Building which was begun, I think, about 1928 or 1929. More sand than was provided for in the specifications was put into the foundations, and I am satisfied that an investiga tion by the committee would have revealed this in time. We were, at that time, fast heading towards a depression, and every £1 spent by the Commonwealth counted very heavily. If the Public Works Committee had possessed power, in 1928 or 1929, to investigate a project after it had begun, a great deal of money would have been saved and the Commonwealth would not have been made a joke of as it was when people heard what had happened. This became quite a joke among visitors to Canberra. For many years, the large blocks of concrete put into the foundations of the original building lay about, visible to visitors, and when they found out what the blocks represented and the cause of the trouble the Commonwealth was joked at and subjected to severe criticism for allowing such a thing to happen.

This sort of thing could not happen with the Public Works Committee acting as a watch-dog. I cannot stress too greatly the fact that it is a watch-dog committee, the purpose of which is to investigate projects and to conserve the taxpayers’ funds which have been made available to the Commonwealth. It has been constituted in order to ensure that the taxpayers receive value for their money in the undertaking of works by the Department of Works on behalf of client departments. I suggest that when the Department of Works and client departments know that a project in which they are interested has to go before the Public Works Committee for investigation they will tend to be far more careful in the statement of their requirements and the preparation of plans by the Department of Works. They will not ask for too much when they think that what they propose could be whittled down as the result of a close scrutiny by a body of experts. And, after all, the members of the committee become experts. There is no doubt about that. It is regrettable that the services of this group of experts have not been fully utilized in the past and that, even when this bill becomes law. the services of the members of the Public Works Committee as agroup of experts will not be fully utilized in the future.


– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.


.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, this bill is designed to improve the machinery for the supervision by the Parliament of expenditure on public works, and thereby to save public money. As 1 understand it, the bill has three features. The first is that it will give discretion to the Minister for Works to refer to the Public Works Committee any public work that is estimated to cost up to £250,000. At the present time, the Minister has complete discretion to refer a work that is estimated to cost more than £25,000, but he is not bound to refer any work, no matter what its estimated cost may be. The provision in this bill is an improvement on that in the existing act, Sir. Secondly, the bill will make it mandatory for the Minister to refer to the committee any work that is estimated to cost more than £250,000. Thirdly, the bill will give the Public Works Committee power to review any report that it has made. That is a power that the committee does not possess at the present time.

So far as the bill has been controversial, the controversy, I think, has concerned the exclusion from reference to the committee of certain public works - for example, works in the Territories of the Commonwealth, including the Australian Capital Territory, and, as was remarked by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), defence works. There may be some argument as to whether those works, for special reasons, should or should not be within the ambit of the committee.

I was most interested, Sir, in the reference by the honorable member for Batman to the need for additional committees that would have the effect of providing for better supervision by the Parliament of Commonwealth expenditure. I hope that I shall not be out of order if I pursue this matter into a somewhat more distant field. What we are concerned with here is that public money shall not be wasted. That is the fundamental purpose of this legislation, and I want to say something more on that matter. I find no fault with the details of this bill, and I do not feel that I am sufficiently qualified to argue about the more controversial aspects of it. But one cannot fail to observe that, in the post-war years, there has been an enormous concentration of financial resources at Canberra and a tremendous increase in the number of decisions that the Commonwealth Government has to make regarding the expenditure of public money.

I shall very briefly recall to the minds of honorable members the nature and extent of these trends. To begin with, the present Commonwealth Government commands resources that are immensely greater than were those possessed by any previous Commonwealth government. During the war, the people became accustomed to paying heavy taxes, and, they having become habituated to this, the process continues. And so enormous fund’s are poured into the Commonwealth Treasury. I have mentioned more than once in this House the fact that the Treasury is deriving less and less by way of loan moneys raised from the public and more and more from the taxpayers by way of compulsory exactions. So the Commonwealth commands these immense resources, which are drawn more and more from the pockets of the taxpayers.

Secondly, the Commonwealth’s functions have greatly expanded. I need deal with this only very briefly and in passing having regard to the nature of this bill. We all know, for example, that, as a result of the war, expenditure on various repatriation payments has vastly increased. I include in this category expenditure on war service homes, which has increased very much because it is difficult for people to obtain from other sources finance for homebuilding. Expenditure on defence has enormously increased in the period since the war. The vast establishment at Salisbury, in South Australia, and the Woomera rocket range, for example, are things that result from the nature of modern warfare. They are immensely expensive and they involve great public works, as the honorable member for Batman, I think, had in mind. The planes, ships and weapons that we buy today are vastly more expensive than were those of the period before the war. Our external affairs commitments have increased tremendously as a result of our growing nationhood in the post-war world. We have commitments under the Colombo Plan and in Antarctica in support of our claims to that Territory as a strategic area. We have great commitments in New Guinea, not only at the administrative level, but also on public works of one kind or another.

Furthermore, the Commonwealth has entered into what formerly were regarded as State fields. One of these fields is education, where the Commonwealth has taken a very responsible part at the university level. One can foresee that, with current scientific development, the Commonwealth Government may well have to extend its activities into the sphere of technical education. We all know how the work of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has been expanded for various research purposes. Whether in respect of wool because wool is under threat from artificial fibres, in respect of the expansion of knowledge of atomic energy, or for the purpose of developing new weapons, in the field of science, as we all know, this Government has had to increase its expenditure enormously. This has involved public works as well as the maintenance of the various services provided. The Government has gone into the field of transport in giving aid to the States for roads. It has gone into the field of aviation, which has entered upon a new phase in the post-war world involving vast expenditure of public money on capital equipment in the form of aircraft. It has had to carry the Snowy Mountains scheme, with its heavy expenditure; and the Postmaster-General’s Department, as a result of scientific development, has now to spend more and more money in bringing its services up to date technically.

I have merely been saying that the Government commands immense resources and that its functions have immensely increased. These functions, in large measure, involve public works in one direction or another that were never contemplated in the prewar world. It has taken a great deal of responsibility for this expenditure from the States. It is perhaps not fully recognized by most people that the States to-day are entirely dependent for their public works on the taxing policy of the Government at Canberra. Less and less are State public works carried out from the proceeds of loans raised in Australia or outside Australia; more and more, the expenditure on public works in the States is determined by the amount of money that the Government in Canberra is prepared to raise through taxation. Whether it be for education, hospitals, roads or other State functions, again the responsibility comes back to this

Parliament. The Australian Loan Council has in a sense become a farce, because it is concerned not so much with the amount of money that can be raised by loans as with the amount of money that the Commonwealth will provide to supplement the relatively small sum that can be raised by loans from the public. Not only do the States look to the Commonwealth to finance their public works; local government bodies too are seeking to muscle in on the funds that the Commonwealth can provide if it chooses to tax heavily enough for the purpose. Simply to sum up what I have said up to this moment, the Government has immensely increased revenues at its command; it has tremendously expanded functions, and decisions in regard to expenditure on public works which were formerly made in the States and by local government bodies must to-day be made basically at Canberra.

What is the result? I believe, first, that as a result of so much money available for public works being derived from taxation, the money is being spent far more lightly and far more irresponsibly than it was spent when it was raised by way of loan. There was a feeling that, if you borrowed money, the time came when you had to pay it back. Therefore, these resources had to be employed so that they increased production. However, the view seems to be that if the money is taken compulsorily from the taxpayers, the necessity to consider its employment in a productive way disappears. I believe, therefore, that the financial system under which we have operated since the war has encouraged irresponsibility in the expenditure of public money.

The second feature of this post-war scene is that the Commonwealth seems to be relatively glutted with money for its public works and various purposes, and the States seem to be relatively starved. Having regard to the limited objectives of the bill, it would not be proper for me, nor would you permit me, Sir, to enter into a discussion of the extent to which the States lack funds and to which the Commonwealth has superfluity. However, any honorable member who walks about any capital city with his eyes open can observe that State buildings tend to be in a quite dilapidated condition whilst Commonwealth buildings tend to be new, fresh, expensive and everything that one would wish. If we look at, say, the very famous Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, we will see that it lacks paint, that windows are broken and so on; but ny Commonwealth building that one cares to observe will be found to be in a particularly good state. From these straws in the wind, one can come to the conclusion that there has been a lack of balance between expenditure on the public works of the Commonwealth and on those of the States.

I am considering now how we can keep better control over the expenditure of money on public works. I am not limiting myself to Commonwealth works or to State works, or even to municipal works; but I am considering how we can improve the machinery so that the taxpayers will be saved the cost of this wastage and lack of balance which I believe is apparent to anybody who moves about the country with his eyes open.

During the war, when it was necessary to conserve funds, man-power and material to ensure that nothing was wasted, there existed what was called the Allied Works Council. That body consisted of Commonwealth and State representatives, and every public work proposed, particularly by the States, was scrutinized by it to see how essential the work was and whether the man-power and the material, which is only another way of saying money, could be provided to carry it into effect. Of course, the economy of war-time is unduly simplified. Everybody knows that war purposes come first and all other purposes come last, and that all the other purposes must be fulfilled with as much economy as possible. The war-time situation then was a simple one, and I do not for one moment suggest that to-day, having regard to the much greater complexity of the whole situation, such an instrumentality could be re-established to proceed upon the same lines and to apply the same criteria. That would be quite inappropriate. However, I believe that a lesson can be learned from the Allied Works Council.

In these times, of course, there are different kinds of works. First, to-day, governments carry into effect works connected with business enterprise conducted by the Government or by government instrumentalities. The Government, for example, becomes responsible for the purchase of aeroplanes costing millions of pounds, of ships costing millions of pounds and of railway equipment costing millions of pounds. It becomes responsible for irrigation and electricity, which after all are business undertakings; and for these purposes it has been paying tens of millions of pounds for the Snowy Mountains scheme alone. All these are business enterprises, and surely they could be subjected to a proper analysis just as any business enterprise is subjected to an analysis to establish how profitable the expenditure of the money is likely to be and whether it could be more profitably expended in other directions, considered purely from the business point of view. I can see no reason why all expenditure on public works for business undertakings should not be subjected to the kind of scrutiny that is perfectly common in the commercial world and to which no objection can be taken.

Secondly, governments also must carry out works of a non-revenue producing character, although they are works that have economic implications or economic results. I refer to such works as roads. It may not be possible to say to what extent roads improve the productive assets or the productivity of the nation, in the way that this can be determined when ships are purchased and employed in earning income from freights. Nevertheless I am sure that there are some criteria which can be applied to roads and by means of which we can come to the conclusion that certain roads are worthwhile from an economic point of view, while certain other roads are not. I am sure that the study of these things would be worthwhile and could produce information of value to those who have to make decisions as to whether particular roads, or roads generally, require certain expenditure.

Thirdly, we come to social projects - things such as schools and hospitals. Nobody suggests that those are business enterprises in either the first or the second sense in which I have spoken, but at least there are some data about schools and hospitals which are of value to those who have to decide whether public money should be expended upon them. At least we can come to certain conclusions as to the number of children in the community in the future who will have to be educated and some conclusions as to the requirements in regard to laboratories, or classes that schools and universities may have. We can arrive at some opinion as to the type of equipment we will need, the standards of accommodation, and so on. This is all data which should be before those who have to decide how we are to carve up the public revenue for the purpose of public works of various kinds.

Fourthly, we have political projects, in regard to which we cannot claim that there are any criteria at all. We are, for example, spending millions of pounds on the Colombo Plan projects and on pegging out our claims, for strategic and possibly economic reasons, in the Antarctic. These are political projects and we cannot very easily frame any criteria which should be applied to them when we come to consider how much public money they deserve to have expended upon them. What is needed is a critical study of all public works, whether Commonwealth or State, upon which tens of millions of pounds are spent, the determination of the expenditure being in the post-war world a responsibility of the government at Canberra - a responsibility which in pre-war days was shared by State governments and municipalities and was controlled in some measure by the necessity to borrow money and therefore to consider the productivity of the expenditure.

The need, then, is for something like a works council, consisting of Commonwealth and State Ministers, with a report placed before it by a co-ordinator-general or some officer - call him what you will - who has at his command staff appointed jointly by the Commonwealth and State governments. Emerging from that, I think, would be a classification of the different kinds of public works. Such a staff would work not only towards a classification of the works but also with regard to the kind of uniform data which could be related to those works so as to compare the desirability and the essentiality of one with another. I think it would be greatly to the advantage of the health of the economy if such a council could be set up. Of course, one may speak in this House with the strong feeling that nothing said will be heard or heeded by anybody, even though one feels absolutely certain that the thing one advocates is right!

Because Commonwealth public servants sit at the elbows of Ministers it is not surprising that Commonwealth public works are put in a higher category than are any State public works. There are in existence Commonwealth public servants who may be called empire builders, and who have the ears of Ministers. Clearly, what is needed is that all these instrumentalities of the Commonwealth and State governments which have to spend money on public works should have equal access to the people who have to decide the allocation of public funds. I suggest that if the States understood their business - I fear they do not - they would press for the setting up of an instrumentality such as I suggest.

I believe the States would have nothing to lose through a critical examination of all public works, both Commonwealth and State, and I believe that they would be able to have an open discussion on those matters much to their advantage. I think that what I suggest would result in a much better balance of expenditure, after a critical examination of all proposed works, without which you cannot come to any valid conclusion.

What is happening at the present time? I believe that in respect of public works undertaken by the States and the Commonwealth and their instrumentalities we are pursuing a time-worn pattern. Because we spent so much in a particular direction last year, we are apt to spend just about as much this year, making allowances, of course, for the decline in the value of money and the inflation which takes place, unless there is some special reason for departing from that pattern. Special reasons could be either the vigour of some political group or the activities of an empire-builder in some department or government instrumentality. There is nothing sacrosanct in the pattern of last year or the year before, and we have not arrived at any criteria whereby we can consider how better we could expend public money in the interests of the taxpayer or the community as a whole.

This is a matter which might well have the consideration not only of the State governments, but also of the universities, because I believe that it would be a great field for research as to how we could devise criteria by which to determine whether one public work was more desirable than another. It would help us to decide how we were to classify public works and attain uniformity and place ourselves in a position to judge when we should spend £1,000,000 here or there, or £100,000,000, which is nearer to the figure which the States spend each year, while the Commonwealth spends about half that much again. We are dealing with huge sums of money extracted from the pockets of the taxpayers and we are doing so without having given thought to the institutional means whereby we examine this vastly important question. And so, while I commend the bill which is designed to save money on a small scale, I do not think we are really touching the fringes of the problem. I hope that some research on this matter will be done in the universities, and I hope that what I say here, even though it falls on deaf ears, may be heard in some of the State capitals.


.- Some years ago, Sir, I was participating in a budget debate and I think I was the one-hundredth speaker to do so. At that stage I had reached a position where I found it almost impossible to say anything new. In view of what has already been said during the course of this debate, I am making my contribution with the knowledge that what I say will be repetitive, but I am participating because I believe in the principle of standing statutory committees in this Parliament and because, as a member of such a committee, I feel it incumbent upon me to say something.

First of all, I believe in the principle of standing statutory committees, and I think it is to be deplored that there are only three committees of this kind in .this Commonwealth Parliament. It has been rightly pointed out that in this respect we compare very badly with other parliaments of the world.

In Australia we have a classic example of centralized government gathering unto itself all authority, and hiding behind it is a form of bureaucracy. It has been a characteristic of all governments since federation that none has shown any inclination to get away from the system which centres all authority in the Cabinet and gives the Parliament very little or no say in affairs. It would be all to the good if we were able to extend the principle of standing statutory committees. Honorable members who have preceded me in this debate have, I think, pointed out that the Public Works Committee has more than justified its existence since its inception in 1913, and the cost to the taxpayer has been very small. The Estimates provide an allocation of about £5,000 a year to the Public Works Committee, but in the nine years during which I have been a member of the committee it has never spent its allocation. In fact, I think that the average annual expenditure is about £3,000.

The reproduction of the mandatory clause in the legislation is to be applauded, but I do not think that it goes far enough. A considerable amount of public money is being expended in Australia, but the Parliament has very little or no opportunity to examine this expenditure in the way in which it should. Under the proposed legislation defence projects, or any other projects which the Government sees fit to exempt, will be taken out of the ambit of the scrutiny of the Public Works Committee. The honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) referred to the money which is being spent on public works and defence projects, but if honorable members examine the figures they will find that a far greater amount of money is being spent on defence projects than is being spent on public works. Although the committee has been forbidden to examine expenditure on defence projects, a strong case exists for some form of scrutiny of these works. Millions of pounds have been spent on defence works in Australia, but it is questionable whether the money has been devoted to the proper purpose. This legislation will take us no further towards the stage at which a committee of this Parliament will be able to examine all expenditure, because the Government has the right to exempt certain projects from the committee’s scrutiny. This has always been the case.

I appreciate that some defence works should be exempted from examination by the Public Works Committee or any other committee of the Parliament, but I cannot accept that contention as a general principle. If many defence projects had been subjected to the scrutiny of the committee, at least we would have been able to satisfy ourselves that the millions of pounds which have been spent have not been wasted or used extravagantly, as we have been led to believe as a result of certain things which have happened in the past.

I cannot understand why the activities of the Public Works Committee are confined1 to the mainland. Following an interpretation of a document which was given some years ago by the then AttorneyGeneral, the Public Works Committee may not examine any work unless it is work in and of the Commonwealth. We have the contradictory situation that the committee may go to Darwin to inquire into a project there which will cost, say, £500,000, but it cannot go to New Guinea to examine a proposed project there which is estimated to cost a similar amount. After all, Commonwealth money is being spent.

Another factor has arisen in recent years as a result of the promotion of trade and other departmental activities overseas. Various departments are incurring and spending larger sums of public money than ever has been the case. I well remember that when the Public Accounts Committee was conducting an inquiry into certain expenditure by the Department of External Affairs, it was suggested that because of the amount of money which had been spent by this department in acquiring property overseas, it might be in the interests of all to have that expenditure investigated. But there again we ran up against the interpretation to which I have referred. Because the work was not in and of the Commonwealth it did not come within the ambit of the committee’s activities. It is contradictory that the committee may investigate the expenditure of the taxpayers’ money in a given territory, while public money may be spent elsewhere without it being subjected to any scrutiny.

Through the years the Public Works Committee has given an admirable example of efficiency and of the contribution that committees of this House can make on questions which are referred to them. This committee has justified its existence by the examples which have been cited by honorable members who have preceded me in this debate. As a member of the committee, I have taken part in this debate because, from my experience, I can say quite truthfully that the Public Works Committee has more than justified1 its existence. This Parliament would be better off if it had far more similar committees.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Dean) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 5.37 to 8 p.m.

page 1126


Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) - by leave - agreed to -

That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the law relating to income tax.

Bill presented, and read a first time.

Second Reading

Treasurer · Higgins · LP

– by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill is the first of three measures having as their main purpose the correlation of the Australian income tax laws with the Income Tax Ordinance of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. The provisions of the bill will be of particular interest to Australian residents deriving income from territorial sources on the one hand and, on the other, to residents of the Territory who derive income from sources in Australia.

Australian residents have for many years been liable for Australian tax on their territorial income. With the introduction of territorial tax, it is proposed to relieve the Australian residents of the effects of double taxation. Stated broadly, the relief proposed will ensure that Australian residents are not called upon to pay by way of Australian tax and territorial tax a greater amount than would have been due as Australian tax if there were no liability for tax in the Territory. It is proposed to achieve this result by allowing, against Australian tax on territorial income, a credit in respect of the tax paid under the Income Tax Ordinance of the Territory.

Turning to residents of the Territory, the bill gives effect to the principle that the measure of Australian tax imposed on Territory residents who derive Australian income should be no greater than in the past. Allowances that have been available to territorial residents - notably for the maintenance of dependants, medical expenses, educational expenses, life assurance premiums, superannuation contributions, &c. - will be continued. For many years, territorial residents have been exempt from Australian tax on income having its source in the Territory. That exemption is not being disturbed. The opportunity is being taken to remove from the Australian law discriminations that exist between the Territory of Papua and the Territory of New Guinea.

Perhaps the most important of these discriminations arises from the fact that the Territory of Papua has been treated as being part of Australia for income tax purposes. In consequence, an overseas resident who -received income from Papua would be liable for both Australian and territorial tax. If, on the other hand, he had derived this income from the Territory of New Guinea, there would be no liability for Australian tax. With the introduction of territorial tax, the Government feels that the time has come when Australia should withdraw from this field of taxation. Territory income will, therefore, be exempted from Australian tax except where the recipient is a resident of Australia.

The bill will also remove discriminations between the territories in the allowance of concessional deductions for dependants. Under the present law, the allowances for the maintenance of dependants, and for medical expenses incurred on behalf of dependants, are not available unless the dependants reside in Australia or Papua. It is proposed that these allowances should in future extend to dependants residing anywhere in the Territory of New Guinea, or in Norfolk Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island or the Island of Nauru. Other provisions that have previously applied in relation to Australia and Papua only will now have their operation extended to the Territory of New Guinea. Included in those provisions are the rights of primary producers to have their tax liability ascertained by reference to their average income over a period of years, to bring certain abnormal income to account by instalments over five years, and to obtain deductions for capital expenditure on the improvement of rural land.

In giving effect to the principles I have outlined, it has been found necessary to amend a considerable number of the sec- tions of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act. All of the proposed alterations are described in detail in an explanatory memorandum which is being made available for the information of honorable members. I do not propose, at this stage, to comment on the individual amendments. What I have said will, 1 think, suffice to explain to members the broad objectives by reference to which the bill has been prepared. The various amendments affecting assessments will apply from the beginning of the 1959-60 income year and their operation will accordingly coincide with the introduction of the territory income tax from 1st July, 1959.

Honorable members will observe that two other minor amendments, not directly related to the introduction of territory tax, are proposed in the bill. One of these is designed to clarify the operation of the provision that governs the allowance of deductions for capital expenditure on mining or prospecting for petroleum, while the other makes a formal alteration in the secrecy provisions, which is needed as a result of amendments to the Education Act, which were approved by this Parliament last year. These amendments are, of course, described in detail in the explanatory memorandum. I commend the bill to honorable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Crean) adjourned.

page 1127


Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) - by leave - agreed to -

That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Act 1959.

Bill presented, and read a first time.

Second Reading

Treasurer · Higgins · LP

– by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill also is part of the legislation designed to correlate the income tax laws of Australia with those of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. As explained in my speech on the assessment bill, it is proposed to remove from the income tax law discriminations as between the Territory of Papua and the Territory of New Guinea.

These discriminations arise principally because the present law defines “ Australia “ as including the Territory of Papua but not the Territory of New Guinea. The amendment proposed by this bill is designed to remove such a discrimination in relation to the age allowance as it applies to married couples. There is no corresponding discrimination in the case of single taxpayers. The age allowance is available to a married couple, both of whom reside in Australia or Papua, if the husband has attained 65 years of age and the wife is not under 60 years. The allowance provides complete exemption from tax if the combined incomes of the couple do not exceed £858. A reduction in the tax payable may also apply if the income exceeds £858 but is less than £1,181.

Whilst a resident of the Territory of New Guinea deriving income from Australia is accepted as an Australian resident for the purposes of assessing the tax payable, a dependent spouse residing in that Territory does not satisfy the test of residence in Australia unless she also derives income from Australian sources. In consequence, the age allowance is not available to a married couple if the dependent spouse resides in the Territory of New Guinea.

The bill is designed to remove this anomaly by causing the age allowance to be available to married couples residing anywhere in Papua or the Territory of New Guinea on the same basis as it at present applies to residents of mainland Australia.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Crean) adjourned.

page 1128


Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) - by leave - agreed to -

That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Income Tax (International Agreements) Act 1953-1959.

Bill presented, and read a first time.

Second Reading

Treasurer · Higgins · LP

– by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill will amend the Income Tax (International Agreements) Act, which contains the provisions governing the allowance of credits under the international agreements for the relief of double taxation between Australia and the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Canada.

A number of the provisions of this act are concerned with the administrative procedures for the determination of the credits allowable, the rights of a dissatisfied taxpayer to appeal against a determination, the application of credits in payment of outstanding taxes and related matters. An associated bill will insert provisions of this nature in the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act and, as the new provisions will govern the allowance of credits under the international agreements, as well as credits in respect of taxes payable in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, the corresponding provisions in the Income Tax (International Agreements) Act will become redundant. It is accordingly proposed that these provisions be repealed.

A provision imposing an upper limit on the amount of credit that may be allowed under the international agreements is also to be amended in consequence of the introduction, in the assessment act, of a system of credits in respect of territorial tax. The only other amendment proposed by this bill is a drafting adjustment, designed to clarify the operation of a section which lays down a formula for ascertaining the amount of Australian tax attributable to a dividend. The amendments are explained in the memorandum that has been circulated for the information of honorable members, and it is thought to be unnecessary for me to discuss them further at this stage. I commend the bill to honorable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Crean) adjourned.

page 1128


Second Reading

Debate resumed (vide page 1126).


.- As one of those members of the Public Works Committee who has taken some part in making a plea to the Government for the reinstatement of the mandatory clause in the Public Works Committee Act so as to give the committee some additional powers, I support this bill. I think one may say that in a world where the powers of some parliaments are being curtailed and others have had their powers almost entirely removed, it is good to have a bill before this House which seeks to increase the powers of the Parliament. I think I am almost the last speaker in this debate and owing to the fact that the discussion has been interrupted it may be wise - without going into great detail because most of it has been mentioned before - to summarize how this bill will increase those powers.

The bill proposes to increase the powers of this Parliament in three ways. If passed, it will remove the minimum limit of £25,000 as the cost of a proposed public work which the Minister may move in Parliament to be referred to the Public Works Committee. Secondly, it will provide that no proposed public work which is estimated to cost more than £250,000 shall be commenced unless it has been referred to the Public Works Committee for report. Thirdly, it will give to the Public Works Committee power to review its own reports, provided that work on the subject project has not commenced already.

I think it is true to say that those are amongst the main objectives which members of the committee placed before the Government in discussions which they had when seeking to increase the powers of the committee, thereby enabling this Parliament to have greater control over the amounts of money spent on public works. A number of my colleagues on the committee from both sides of the House have referred to the non-political approach in all matters that come before the committee. I just wish to substantiate what they have said in that regard. Early in my experience as a member of this committee I noticed that this was entirely the case and despite the change in personnel of the committee during the ensuing years, that spirit has been maintained.

I should like to add that on several occasions the committee has invited witnesses from interested bodies, apart from members of the Public Service or the department interested in any particular proposed works, to come before it. Sometimes the House has asked the committee to take this course. Not only have these outside witnesses come with eagerness to state their views but they have also expressed their appreciation of the work done by the committee. They have said that it has been in the nature of an experience to them to find committees such as the Public Works Committee and the Public Accounts Committee, both standing committees of this Parliament, whose work is to safeguard the taxpayers’ money. While I understand that members on both sides of the House support this present measure, I think the only criticism of it may be that in some respects it does not go quite far enough.

I should like to mention some particular matters under that heading. The first is in regard to some statutory bodies - to use just a general expression. Some works connected with them are brought before the Public Works Committee from time to time; some are not. To give an example, I mention that quite a number of proposed works connected with the PostmasterGeneral’s Department have always been brought before the Public Works Committee. That is natural because this is a department of the Commonwealth Government. But the Postmaster-General himself also has a ministerial responsibility in respect of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and under the present procedure which has been followed since the mandatory provision was suspended, some proposed works connected with the expansion of the Australian Broadcasting Commission have been referred to the Public Works Committee and some have not. With the entry of the Australian Broadcasting Commission into the television field there has obviously been a great expansion in its works. As an example I refer to the new radio and television studios in Perth. The construction of these premises was referred to the Public Works Committee but although in the following year similar works were proposed in South Australia, they were not referred to the committee. I think it would be of interest to the House if the Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth), in his reply, could indicate what influenced him to refer some of these works to the committee and not others.

The next matter I should like to mention is the amount of work being undertaken in Canberra at the present time and the work that we know will be undertaken in this capital city. I think it is true to say that it is a matter of great concern not only to the Public Works Committee but also to this House whether the works in Canberra under the control of the National Capital Development Commission will be referred to the Public Works Committee for report. I am not clear in my mind, on reading the bill, whether this will be done or not. Once again, I would be grateful to the Minister if he would make some comment on this important matter to the House when he replies to this debate. As I see the position, from the last White Paper, it would appear that some 40 per cent, of the national civil works programme is absorbed in Canberra. I believe it will be defeating the aim and spirit of the amendments proposed in this bill if the National Capital works are not referred to the committee for consideration and report.

While speaking of works in Canberra, it might be appropriate to comment on a matter introduced by some of my colleagues on both sides of the House in regard to the reserve which is maintained regarding defence works. I think we all agree that on security grounds it would not be wise to refer certain defence projects to the Public Works Committee. However, I believe that a number of defence projects could be referred with advantage. As it has not been the habit to refer these works in the past, I hope, by directing the attention of the Minister to this matter, to have some defence works referred to the committee after these amendments have been made to the existing legislation. Could I, once again, give an example? At present, honorable members are aware of large buildings being built for the several defence services in Canberra, not very far from the Australian-American war memorial. Perhaps, some parts of these buildings could come under the heading of “ security “ and should be treated accordingly. But, considering the size and nature of the project, I believe that the work as a whole could well have been referred to the Public Works Committee for report. In saying that, I am not suggesting that the committee believes that waste is taking place in any way, or that there is extravagance in having these buildings. However, we do not know whether this is so or not, because no information has been given to the Parliament and, through it, to the people, as to the nature of this work. Yet Parliament is responsible for voting the money necessary to make the buildings available. Therefore it would be wise for the Government, except where security is involved, to refer these buildings to the committee for investigation and report.

Another example would be the construction of aerodromes on the Australian mainland and outside Australia. As you know, Sir, construction squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force have been responsible in the last few years for the construction of air strips outside Australia as well as on the mainland. Except in one or two respects there is no necessity for security precautions in regard to such construction. Where the air fields are to be constructed is general knowledge as is the type and weight of aircraft that will use them. Therefore, the approximate size and type of the strip, its strength and depth become general knowledge. None of these particulars could come under the heading of security in these days of general knowledge of the requirements of the Royal Australian Air Force. Therefore, such projects could be referred with advantage to the Public Works Committee.

The third point I would like to mention is the interpretation of the term “ public work”. As you know, Sir, the works that have been referred to the committee have been on the Australian mainland including the Northern Territory. The fact remains that quite large sums of the Australian taxpayers’ money are being used for works in Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. For want of a complete definition in the Public Works Committee Act, I understand that recourse is had to the Acts Interpretation Act and that it has been held that within the meaning of that act the committee’s scope includes only works in and of the Commonwealth. Consideration should be given to the question of whether proposed works in Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea could be held to be in the Commonwealth, or, perhaps, of the Commonwealth. In most cases, the money for these works is found by the Australian taxpayer. In making that suggestion I do not imply that the powers of the Northern Territory Administration or of its Legislative Assembly should be interfered with in any way. But I think, for the reasons that I have given, that this suggestion at least should be considered. I believe there are reasons why some of the proposed works in these territories should be referred to the Public Works Committee.

That brings me to the fourth point on which I would like to seek advice from the Minister and obtain his opinion. The Department of External Affairs has found it necessary, in the complete representation of this country abroad, to provide suitable buildings in other countries. Once again, the money for these buildings is found by the Australian taxpayer. Would it not be reasonable to refer some of these works to the Public Works Committee? As our representation abroad increases, as we find it necessary - and I agree it is - to maintain the standard of our representation compared with that of other countries and maintain the dignity of Australia abroad, we need larger buildings in keeping with our overseas representation. If we are to have such buildings with necessary amenities and facilities for our overseas staffs, we will need to spend more money on them. That great expenditure should be referred to the Public Works Committee or, at least, it should be made possible to refer them to the Public Works Committee if the Minister so desires.

I now come to another part of the existing legislation to which no reference is made in this amending bill. This concerns the limit of the money provided in the Budget annually for the committee’s expenses. Several of my colleagues have pointed out in this debate that in no one year has the sum allocated - £5,000 - ever been exceeded and it has been so limited for a number of years. Rightly, they have pointed out that the average expenses of the committee have been of the order of £3,000. The point I would like to bring to the Minister’s attention is that with the increased work which the committee will be called upon to undertake as a result of the re-instatement of the mandatory clause and the other amendments Which the Minister has introduced, one visualizes that the work of, the committee will be increased. As a result the amount, of travelling that committee members will have to undertake will be increased, and the expenses of the committee will increase accordingly. I do not consider that the committee has been extravagant in any way nor do I suggest that it is likely to be extravagant; but it is possible that, in due course, the sum of £5,000, while not yet having been exceeded may not meet requirements in future years. It may be worth considering, therefore, at the committee stage, whether the clause imposing that limit should be eliminated or whether, perhaps; the limit should be increased.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I do not wish to traverse all that has been said in this debate. I am very glad to observe that both sides of the House give the. measure their approval and support. I am also glad to see that the only criticisms offered have been of a constructive nature, and that the members who have spoken have been more or less in agreement as to the direction in which the powers of the Public Works Committee should be increased. I say I am glad, because I believe that all members who have spoken in the debate, and others who have not spoken, but who take an interest in the standing committees of the Parliament believe that the true operation of such committees gives further power to the Parliament. That, in itself, is a good thing.

The only comment I wish to make regarding the speech made by the Minister in introducing the bill is on that point. The Minister may recall that at the end of his speech he directed attention to the fact that the officers of the Department of Works have to spend a considerable amount of time preparing cases for consideration by the committee. I immediately acknowledge that fact. I also say that I think that the officers of the Department of Works and the client departments do particularly well in preparing their briefs and the evidence that they present to the committee. The Minister pointed out that the committee’s consideration of a project takes several months as a rule, and that by the- time its report is prepared and tabled in the House, and examined by the House, sometimes six months or even more have elapsed. That is true, in some cases. In other cases it is not true. Where it has been indicated by the Department of Works or a client department that a matter before the committee is one of urgency the committee has worked regularly and put in its report in very quick time. On some occasions the work has been proceeded with promptly; on other occasions, despite the original urgency, and the fact that the committee has dealt with it promptly, the work has not been proceeded with for quite a time - sometimes not for two years. Be that as it may, while agreeing that some delay may occur through the reference of any particular proposed work to the committee, I do not think that that is a ground of criticism. We all realize that under a democratic form of government one of the prices we pay for having parliamentary control is perhaps not having things done as quickly as they could be done in a country where there is a dictatorial or other form of government. We are willing to make that sacrifice in order to maintain our true democratic and parliamentary form of government. I say, Sir, that it is not to be deplored that through reference to a committee such as this a work may be held up for some short time. Generally a work is not held up for a long time, and sometimes not at all. In any case, I say it is well worth while, because in the extension of the powers of the committee by the Parliament we see, in a true sense, democracy at work.

Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works · Forrest · LP

– in reply - I should like to reply briefly to some of the points made during the course of what I consider a very interesting and very constructive debate on this proposal to amend the Public Works Committee Act. In the first place, I should like to give an explanation, and make something of an apology, to the chairman of the Public Works Committee, who suggested that he understood that I would discuss this bill, if not with the whole committee, at least with him, before it was introduced. I have no recollection, Mr. Speaker, of ever having given him that understanding. It is quite possible that in the course of conversation I may have given him that impression and, if so, I do apologize for not having carried the understanding into effect. In actual fact, the suggestions which are incorporated in the bill came from the Public Works Committee itself. The committee wrote, in the first place, I think, to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and set out its suggestions briefly. In view of the fact that the Government had accepted these suggestions almost in toto, with one minor exception - the recommendation regarding the review ing of works at any time by the committee - 1 did not feel it was necessary to do anything further before the measure was introduced.

During the course of this debate many very interesting suggestions have been made, arising out of the bill itself, which, I admit, could well have been discussed with the committee at the time. However, had they been discussed at that time in connexion with the committee’s powers and authority, it is quite possible that this House would have been deprived of a lot of the very interesting information which has now come before it.

Another matter to which I should like to refer briefly is the suggestion made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) that the Government had been somewhat dilatory in its approach to this matter. It is quite true that from time to time suggestions have been made that the mandatory provision be re-introduced into the act. The matter first came before the Government as a suggestion from the Public Works Committee in 1953. The Government did not delay considering this proposal until 1957, as suggested by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The present proposal is an entirely new proposal. The 1957 proposals were not at that time acceptable to the Government.

I am happy to say that the new Public Works Committee, under the chairmanship of the former Minister for Works, the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall) tackled this job with renewed interest, and the Government on this occasion accepted the proposals. The first point that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition raised was the question of an unfettered power to review, at all stages, any proposed work. I should imagine that “ at all stages “ could mean even after the completion of a work, if the committee’s power to review were completely unfettered. The Government considered that suggestion very carefully and decided that it was not the function of the Public Works Committee to exercise such a power. The Public Works Committee is intended to be a watchdog over the major public works so far as their design and their general conception are concerned, and has the responsibility to ensure that works are in the general public interest. It is not intended to turn this committee into a building supervisory committee or anything of that sort. It was felt that the committee having been given the authority to review matters connected with design and general construction, and the general need for a major public work up to the point where construction itself was commenced, a work then became a purely administrative responsibility of the Government, which is answerable to Parliament in the long run for the carrying out of the work as approved by the committee. I think that the honorable member for Paterson dealt with that position fairly clearly.

An interesting point raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition concerned the question of what is a public work, and exactly how far the authority of the committee extends. The first instance he gave concerned buildings overseas. Now, it is quite true, as the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) also mentioned, that section 21 of the Acts Interpretation Act uses the words “ in and of the Commonwealth “ when referring to what are Commonwealth projects. This imposes a limit on the public works which the Public Works Committee may examine. It would be possible to overcome that by specifically amending that act. That, again, was given some consideration, and it was decided that it posed some special problems. In the first place, there are not many major Australian public works overseas - though, of course, in that context I exclude the Territory of Papua and New Guinea - which are carried out at a cost of over £250,000. Even if it were thought desirable to have the committee investigate overseas projects, it would be necessary either to send the committee overseas to examine a particular project or to bring to Australia the consulting architects and the other experts whom we engage overseas, as the men on the spot, to advise us on the buildings that we construct overseas. It was felt that this would be an expense which would hardly be justified in the circumstances.

I think the House will appreciate that that is a particular problem. The only alternative would be to allow the committee to examine in Australia an overseas project without seeing the site or having an opportunity to discuss the project with the overseas people engaged at first hand on the design and construction problems. Evidence obtained at such an examination would be, at best, second-hand evidence. It might be misleading to the committee and it could not be wholly reliable. The Government considered that, on general balance, it was not really necessary, in the interests of parliamentary control of these projects, to extend the work of the committee in that direction. With respect to the mere matter of the money spent on these projects, it is pointed out that the Department of External Affairs could just as easily buy as build, and, if the department decided to buy a building, there would be no more direct parliamentary control over the expenditure than there is now.

Another point, as to what constituted a public work, arose in connexion with Commonwealth instrumentalities, of which we have quite a number. Those that come first to mind are the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority, the National Capital Development Commission, the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and there are others of a similar nature. They fall broadly into two classes. In the first class, you have authorities such as the Snowy Mountains authority and the National Capital Development Commission which are specifically constituted by this Parliament to do a specific job with which they are entrusted, and which are each year allocated a lump sum with which to carry out the functions which have been delegated to them by the Parliament. On the interpretation of the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), and in the light of the general sense of the intention of the Parliament, it was felt that it was not necessary or desirable, the Parliament having once freed these bodies from the fetters of ordinary red tape arising from departmental control and having given them, as it were, a free hand to carry out a particular job, to subject them to some sort of administrative scrutiny by the Parliament, particularly as they are given by the Parliament a lump sum each year which is not directed to any particular project.

The position of other authorities such as the C.S.I.R.O. and the A.B.C. is somewhat different. They are not given a lump sum to spend each year. They have a detailed vote which is provided for in the Estimates. It may be said that they are not financially autonomous, and the Parliament does ,scrutinize more closely the detailed expenditure of those bodies. As I understand it, the legal position of those authorities is this: It is not what is done but the way it is done that is important. If the Parliament liked to vote those bodies a sum of money 1o allow them to carry out the public works -which they have authority to carry out under their own acts, they would not be subject to the scrutiny of the Public Works Committee. But, as the situation is at present, they engage the Department of Works to carry out works for them, and these are provided for in a separate vote granted by the Parliament under the Estimates for Capital Works and Services. Therefore, as a general rule, works for those two organizations are subject to the scrutiny of the committee. I think it is evidence of the Government’s good faith that there is no intention to evade in any way the Parliament’s scrutiny of that kind of work.

The question of the development of Canberra came up in a somewhat different way. As I said, as the situation is at present, legally the National Capital Development Commission is not subject to the authority of the Public Works Committee. It is quite true, as the honorable member for Paterson has said, that Canberra is very much in the public eye. But, also, Canberra is very much under the scrutiny of all kinds of committees and bodies. As I have said, the National Capital Development Commission is entrusted by this Parliament with the specific job of developing and planning the National Capital, and, for that purpose, the commission has been freed from the fetters of departmental control as it was exercised previously. Functioning alongside that body, and constantly in consultation with it, is the National Capital Planning Committee. .1 am quite well aware that that committee is not the Parliament, and is in no sense intended to be a substitute for the Parliament, but the fact is that it is widely representative of all the leading authorities on architecture, design and engineering in Australia. It is of the utmost value to this Parliament and to the

Government in guiding and advising the National Capital Development Commission.

In addition, of course, there are various other bodies which have a finger in the pie in some way, although, admittedly, they do not make a detailed and critical examination of the design of every project that the commission plans. There is, for example, the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, which one would expect to take, and which in fact does take, a very keen interest in all that goes on in Canberra. There is also the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council, which takes a very great interest in the major projects planned in this city. I think that, with the existence of all these bodies, it would hardly be fair to expect the National Capital Development Commission to run the gauntlet of another body - another group of experts. I feel that, if there were many more such bodies, nothing whatever would be achieved beyond the examination of plans by critical committees.

Several speakers in this debate have raised the question of the desirability of empowering the Public Works Committee to investigate major public works in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, Mr. Speaker. In the first place, there is some doubt as to whether New Guinea could be regarded as a Commonwealth Territory within the meaning of the Acts Interpretation Act. In the second place, it would be quite undesirable for this Parliament to interfere in what is an administrative matter for the government of the Territory of Papua and New ‘Guinea. That Territory is now in the process of achieving selfgovernment - at present, it is true, of a limited kind. It is not correct to say that this Parliament votes all the funds for public works in the Territory, and that it should therefore scrutinize expenditure on public works there. The Territory has its own -Legislative Council. It has its own Department of Works. It levies its own income taxes, and, although it does not raise the whole or even half of its revenues, it raises a considerable portion of the revenues out of which it constructs its own public works. It also, as of recent times, tries to raise its own loan funds, and it is hoped that increasingly the Territory will become -more self-supporting and will lean less heavily on this Parliament for its funds and less heavily off the Commonwealth Department of Works to carry out its work, including its design and architectural work.

The matter of defence projects was also raised. Although the bill gives power, simply by decision of the Executive Council, to exclude from the scrutiny of the Public Works Committee any defence project, I give the undertaking to the House that it is not intended to exclude all defence projects. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean), mentioned the Russell offices which are at present being built in Canberra. They are not a particularly good example, because they are actually being constructed by the National Capital Development Commission and would normally fall -

Mr Bryant:

– Are its works not under scrutiny?


– No.

Mr Bryant:

– Why?


– You were out of the House when I dealt with that matter for ten minutes or so. The Russell offices, if they were being constructed elsewhere, would come under the scrutiny of the committee. Airfields possibly would also come under the scrutiny of the committee, but I think we should have in mind that the committee may have quite a deal of work to do and I would not think it would be necessary, for the precise reasons given by the honorable member who raised the point, to refer them to the committee. The weight and size of aircraft using the airfields would be known, and the length of runways and so on are technical matters that should be known. The design and construction of them is a purely engineering and almost a routine job. Other than for the question of the site of an airfield, it would hardly seem that they would be worth powder and shot so far as the Public Works Committee is concerned.

Mr O’Connor:

– They have been referred to the committee in the past.


– That is quite so; but I suggest that if the committee is likely to be burdened with a considerable amount of work, routine airfield work is hardly the type of project to be referred to it. I am not dealing with civil airports, terminal buildings or matters of’ that kind. They have a special significance. I am referring: only, to defence airfields whichseem to me to be routine engineering projects. However, I do not say that they will necessarily be excluded from consideration by the Committee.

Perhaps I should say at this stage that the Government intends to use the committee as widely as possible. I was invited to comment on matters which have not been referred to the committee in the past. Such matters were major projects which for some special reason, which the Minister for Works and the Minister in charge of the client department agreed was a valid reason, were not referred. This usually involved a question of time. The Government has given considerable attention for some years now to perfecting a design list procedure which will give departments more time in which to prepare plans and details of their major projects. Therefore, in the future, some other factor than mere time, I should think, would be needed to persuade the House that a problem was so urgent that the Public Works Committee should not consider it. However, I suggest that it may be necessary in one or two instances in the early stages of the operation of this legislation, which has, as it were, caught some departments a little unprepared, to ask the House to resolve that certain projects be not referred, for scrutiny by the committee. I am merely anticipating that this may happen in one or two instances, but at any rate they will be brought before the House in due course.

Although the arguments of the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) were somewhat irrelevant, his plea that they should not fall on deaf ears has earned him the right to some answer. He was concerned with the lack of balance in expenditure on public works between the Commonwealth and the States, and he referred to the public buildings which one sees around our capitalcities. There may or may not be an explanation for the difference that he mentioned. It is quite true that in recent years we have tried to build our own Commonwealth offices, but as far as I am aware, for very many years the Commonwealth did not do so. To-day, in most capital cities, we still find it necessary to rent a good deal of accommodation, some of it of good standard, but some of it not so good.

Mr Whitlam:

– But all of it very well dispersed.


– lt is dispersed, and that fact does not lead to efficiency. The State departments for many years have had old buildings, but they have had their own offices. There is a difference there. If we have new and modern looking offices, it may be because we have just started to build our own offices. But by and large the honorable member for Bradfield should remember that whatever the Commonwealth spends on public works each year comes under some scrutiny and a deal of criticism from the Premiers when they meet each year in the Australian Loan Council. If our public works programme goes up by 10 per cent., the States demand - and they demand pretty effectively - that their public works programmes be increased by a similar amount. We must always have regard in our Commonwealth works programme to what the States are likely to require. It has been my experience - a fairly limited experience, it is true - that the States have expanded their public works programmes in much the same proportion as the Commonwealth has expanded its works programme.

The honorable member’s suggestion that there should be some sort of council to decide the priorities of public works, both State and Federal, is an ideal one; but like many ideal suggestions it does not seem as though it can be applied in practice. It involves, in the first place, the surrender by the States of their sovereign right to decide what work shall or shall not be done and submits them not to the authority of the Commonwealth, but to the authority of the Commonwealth and the other States. It involves the surrender by the Commonwealth of its control of revenues, and if it involves an increase in funds for the States, then obviously the Commonwealth would be surrendering control of its Budget to this kind of council and would itself be involved in some surrender of sovereignty. As I say, the proposition may be appealing, but it certainly does not seem to be a practical one. All in all, I think honorable members are to be congratulated on having delivered some very constructive ideas, but there is one point that I should like to raise at this stage. It was suggested by the honorable member for Robertson that the upper limit of £5,000 per year to expenditure by the Public Works Committee, as contained in the original act, would require examination. I am quite sympathetic to that idea, but it does not seem to be a matter which could appropriately be dealt with in the committee stages of this bill. The Public Works Committee has never spent more than £3,000 in any year, so that at the present time a fair margin still remains. The Government would be quite happy to consider bringing in a small amending bill if it seems to be necessary in the future, but the measure cannot be amended in the committee stage as suggested by the honorable member for Robertson, because that would involve an increased appropriation, which in turn would involve a message from the GovernorGeneral, and all the usual routine. 1 suggest that at this stage the House should be content to pass the bill, on the understanding that, if the committee looks like being short of money in the future, we will give the matter urgent consideration. I thank members for the way in which they have received the bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

The bill.


.- There is one matter, Sir, to which I wish to refer briefly, and that is the question of the Canberra works programme. I have had occasion in the past to point out that something like 40 per cent, of the Commonwealth works programme takes place in the National Capital. While 1 appreciate the fact that the work done here is under the control of the National Capital Development Commission, which is a statutory body that functions as a planning, developing and constructive authority for Canberra, nevertheless I think there is a difference between the National Capital Development Commission and those other statutory bodies to which the Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth) has referred, which puts the commission in a slightly different category.

I was one who had something to do with the setting up of the commission, and it was certainly not in my mind at that time that the major works of the commission should escape scrutiny by the Public Works Committee, and I am prepared to accept the responsibility for not having made that perfectly plain when the bill setting up the commission was before the House. I appeal to the Government to give this matter further consideration and if in its wisdom the Government feels it desirable to make some amendment - perhaps to another act - I think that would be an extraordinarily sound thing, for reasons which I will touch upon.

As 1 have said, the National Capital Development Commission is a statutory authority not quite in the same way as the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Australian National Airlines Commission, the Commonwealth Banking Corporation or the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority are statutory bodies. Those bodies, after all, have responsibilities which go past construction. They have responsibility for operating and administering the functions over which they have charge and the wisdom of their construction programmes will ultimately show in their trading results. It is unthinkable that any of those agencies would deliberately construct buildings which would ultimately reflect to the disadvantage of their trading results, yet there is no such discipline existing so far as the National Capital Development Commission is concerned, lt is, for this purpose, purely a spending agent and whether it spends efficiently or not nobody - certainly not this Parliament - will be able to tell.

The Public Works Committee in the normal course of its work examines the client’s need for the provision of certain accommodation or facilities, because it may well be that a client may overstate his needs and there could be over provision at public expense. This is one of the things which I believe the committee was established to avoid, yet at the present moment the National Capital Development Commission is building two blocks of offices in Canberra and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has looked at the question as to whether or not there is real need for that accommodation. That is something which I feel should be one of the first duties of the Public Works Committee.

Although it is true that the National Capital Development Commission was set up and was given its own act so that it would be free from these major frustrations, nevertheless I think there should be some agency representing Parliament which could look into the question of needs before the facilities for which the commission suggests there is need are provided. I am not making any charges against the commission - far from it - because I believe it is doing a good job and was set up to be free of these frustrations, but at the same time it may well be that the commission, in the construction of Canberra and in the provision of these offices and so on, could be less concerned with the convenience and the efficiency of the client department than with how the site and the layout and the general way in which the buildings to be constructed would complement the building of the Australian National Capital. For that reason 1 do not believe that the commission should be allowed to escape the scrutiny of the Public Works Committee. I think that will be appreciated by this Parliament, which, from what has been said in the course of this debate has some respect for its Public Works Committee, and I think that is a reasonable thing. I am sure the House will understand that the Public Works Committee would not want to frustrate or hamper the National Capital Development Commission in the conduct of its necessary and important work. Therefore, it could be expected that the committee would deal with these matters with expedition and would not pry too deeply into questions of architectural development which, as I understand it, belong almost exclusively to the field of the National Capital Development Commission. Nevertheless, I am obliged to go back to 1924 and quote section 14 (4.) of the Seat of Government (Administration) Act, which reads -

The provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1921 shall apply in relation to works and buildings proposed to be constructed by the Commission in like manner as they apply in relation to public works proposed to be constructed by the Commonwealth.

And in that context, of course, the commission referred to was the Federal Capital Commission of those days. Just as it was considered wise to bring the works programme of the then existing Federal Capital

Commission under the control of the Public Works Committee, so I believe we would be wise to amend, not this act but perhaps the National Capital Development Commission Act, which would oblige that body to submit its works programmes to the Public Works Committee. There is always provided, I believe, the let-out that if the Minister or the commission has particular reasons for not referring the work it would only be necessary for the Minister to submit to this House the reasons for not submitting the programme and the -House would readily acquiesce. I believe, for the reasons J have mentioned, that the Government would be wise to consider an amendment Cif the National Capital Development Commission Act to oblige the commission to submit its works programme to the Public Works Committee.

Bill agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

page 1138


Second Reading

Debate resumed from 6th April (vide page 952), on motion by Sir Garfield Barwick -

That the bill be now read a second time.


.- This bill seeks to repeal the Whaling Acts of 1935 and 1948, and affords more adequate opportunity to apply the .provisions of the International Whaling Convention of 1946 and the protocol thereto of 1956. The Opposition supports the bill. There has been a very great development in whaling in Australia and by Australians since the Whaling Act of 1948 was passed. Some disturbing features have appeared in the industry in Australia in the last couple of years. In particular, the whaling resources of the west coast appear to be declining, possibly because the humpback whales which are mainly caught there are being caught in excessive numbers. Possibly the International Whaling Convention is not proving adequate to safeguard the Antarctic whaling resources. I say no more on that aspect because my colleague, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), proposes to deal with it in detail. Whales in the Arctic have been practically eliminated. Whales in the Antarctic are in danger of being gravely depleted unless there is an international agreement to regulate whaling by all the countries which own whaling ships or have whaling stations. There is no other way to regulate the catching of whales.

In this Parliament in particular we have an incentive io support an international convention because otherwise the Parliament could only legislate with respect to fisheries in Australian waters beyond territorial limits as permitted by section 51 (x) of the ‘Constitution. As I have pointed out in this House on previous occasions when we have been dealing with fisheries and pearl fisheries acts, the denizens of the deep cannot distinguish between Australian waters within three miles of the coast and Australian waters beyond three miles of the coast. They cannot discriminate between waters which are within three miles of the coast of Commonwealth Territories, such as Norfolk Island, the Australian Capital Territory at Jervis Bay, or the Northern Territory, and waters which are within three miles of the coast of a State. They cannot differentiate between the territorial waters which are within three miles of any of the islands off the Australian coast, which are State territorial waters, or the waters more than three miles from those islands, which are Commonwealth territorial waters. Therefore, we must rely for most of the provisions of this bill on the fact that Australia is a signatory to an international convention and that this Parliament can thus legislate with respect to external affairs, as permitted by section 51 (xxix) of the Constitution. Most of the provisions of the bill would have no force if it were not for that international convention.

We know quite well the difficulty which exists in securing Commonwealth and State legislation to conserve our fisheries. This Parliament, and many State Parliaments, have passed acts which prescribe the size of fish which may be caught, the months of the year within which fish may be caught, and the areas of the sea within which fish may be caught. To give an illustration of the difficulty in getting agreement, I point out that New South Wales sets a legal minimum length for 44 species of fish,

Victoria for 3 1 of these species and Queensland for 34. Victoria, however, sets the same length for only nine species and Queensland for only eleven. There are 24 species for which all three States fix a length, but the same length is fixed in onlyfive cases. How is the Commonwealth to exercise its jurisdiction beyond the threemile limit to help in policing such laws? Should it set one length to apply to all areas within its jurisdiction? If it did so, in most cases it would set a different length from that which is prescribed in the neighbouring State waters. Or should the Commonwealth set different lengths to accord with the Jaw in the neighbouring State waters?

South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland have passed acts in relation to whaling, but the South Australian act has never been proclaimed. The remaining States have not -thought it necessary to pass any legislation in relation to whaling. Therefore, we have two sets of laws - Commonwealth and State - applying to the two whaling stations in Western Australia and the one whaling station in Queensland. The whaling station in New South Wales is covered by a Commonwealth act, which, under clause 8 of this bill, can be applied in New South Wales waters. So, one assumes that when a proclamation is made under this act the whaling station at Byron Bay will be covered by this act alone. There is one other whaling station at Norfolk Island, which, being a Commonwealth Territory, comes completely within the scope of this legislation both within and beyond the three-mile limit.

I have stated that State laws, in the absence of an international convention, can apply within three miles of every State coastline and within three miles of every island off the coast. The position is particularly involved in Bass Strait. All the islands in Bass Strait are owned by Tasmania, but many are more than six miles distant from each other. One, therefore, has the extraordinary .chequer-board pattern of Commonwealth laws applying beyond three miles from .the Victorian coast, the Tasmanian coast and the Tasmanian islands, Victorian laws applying within three miles of the Victorian coast, and Tasmanian laws applying elsewhere. It is not far distant thence to the coast of South Australia. Kangaroo ‘Island is more than six miles from the South Australian coast, and Common wealth laws apply in the seas beyond three miles from both the Island and the coast of the State. One could cite also the examples of the Abrolhos, Rottnest and other islands off the Western Australian coast. There is a further complication. The Gulf of Carpentaria covers some hundreds of miles between Cape Melville and Cape York, and it is still to be determined whether the Gulf of Carpentaria is regarded as a sea within the jurisdiction of Australia beyond three miles from the coast or if it is attached to the Northern Territory or the State of Queensland.

I think it emerges clearly from this very complicated pattern that the only way we can deal satisfactorily with fisheries - pelagic, demersal and sedentary fisheries - and with whaling, is to eliminate that phrase “ beyond territorial waters “ from section 51 (x.) of the Constitution. However, we do not have to do that as regards whaling so long as we have this International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. One cannot have an international convention to which the States are parties since the States arc not bodies known in international law. Only the Commonwealth can be party to an international treaty, agreement or convention. Once the Commonwealth is party to such a treaty, it can pass a law to implement that treaty - and strictly to implement that treaty. It cannot pass laws which are outside the treaty. It -still may be necessary for the States to complement them. -We on the -Opposition side support this bill. -We will encourage the -Government in every method it adopts to persuade -the other signatories to the international convention to preserve their adherence to the convention. We regret that Norway, one of the principal whaling countries, and ‘the Netherlands have withdrawn from the convention. We regret that Japan was contemplating withdrawal. But we wish the Government success in the efforts - which we are sure it is making - to have the convention apply to as many countries as possible, and to tighten the terms of the convention to ensure that stocks will not continue to be depleted in the Antarctic as they are now. We ‘will encourage the Government, -so ‘far -as it lies in our power, .to .conserve the ‘national and international asset which the human race has in the catching of whales and the processing of their proa nets.


– This bill is receiving the support of both sides of the House and calls for no long comment. I do not propose to follow the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) into the legal arguments as to powers and contradictory State and Federal laws. I do not disagree with the arguments he has put forward; I think it would be a good thing if this constitutional tangle were clarified. I do not think it is very germane to the argument relating to this bill because it would appear that, in relation to the whaling industry, we do have the necessary powers to enact although not to enforce, perhaps, the measure in front of us. I say “ not to enforce “ because the measure, in substance, is ratification of an international agreement which, has, in itself, no effective sanction.

Now, Sir, Australia has perhaps in the past failed properly to exploit its fisheries resources. We know very well that the fisheries resources along the coast are limited in most places where the coastal shelf itself is of only small extent. We do not know very much about the fisheries resources of certain portions of our conti mental shelf, particularly those more distant portions around the north of Australia and the west of Australia, and even in the portion immediately south of Western Australia. But the whaling industry has played a big part in the history of Australia. It has become of less importance as techniques have changed and shore whaling all over the world has given place to deepsea whaling conducted from factory ships. It is true - and I think the Deputy Leader of the Opposition mentioned this - that the taking of humpback whales in the Antarctic recently appears to have been partly responsible at least for the short tonnage in humpbacks coming along the coast of Western Australia. It is, therefore, to some extent a menace to the continuance of the prosperity of our shore-based whaling industry. But this shore-based industry, looked at as part of the world pattern, is only a comparatively small thing.

The main point I wanted to mention was one which has been touched upon in passing by both the Attorney-General (Sir

Garfield Barwick) and by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. That is the lack of any sanction in this International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling that is vital and goes to the root of the matter. It is true that Norway and the Netherlands, which have withdrawn from the convention, are apparently not at the present moment doing anything or contemplating anything grossly in violation of the conservation measures to which the convention is directed. lt does not follow that this state of affairs will obtain for the future.

Now, Sir, the resources of the world arc rapidly becoming expended by the increasing world population. It is certain that in the near future we should be looking to the oceans for a much greater proportion of our international sustenance. This is a great field in which man can extend his powers of producing sustenance for his kind. It is regrettable that only a few years ago the International Conference on the Law of the Sea appeared to have reached another impasse. It may well be - and I have mentioned this in the House before - that one of the great resources beyond deep-sea fishing is the possible utilization of the plankton of the Antarctic Ocean which is potentially the richest available source of foodstuffs in the entire world, but which has not yet been properly utilized. If these things are so - and I do not think the House will disagree that they are so - then we do need teeth in international conventions of this kind.

I pass on from that to the wider question: As the nations of the world expand and our frontiers come closer and closer together - and under pressure we have to live closer together - we need international sanction for these agreements. That is the fundamental problem of international politics. It comes up in this matter in a small way, but this sort of thing will come up not only in small matters. This is the sort of thing which is going to be at the root of the difficulties coming before the Summit conference, for example. We have to find some means of imposing some kind of international sanction, whether it be on whaling or on other moTe important matters.

I suggest that the first thing to do is to give further powers to some judicial body which at least can declare the law and find international acceptance for its declaration. Unless we do this, everything else that we do in the international sphere will ultimately fail and become futile. I do not know how this is to be done. 1 do not know whether the world court, as at present existing, is the judicial organ to which disputes in this whaling matter should ultimately be referred. But I do say that the nations that have goodwill in this regard should be selecting a judicial body to which they will give international obedience, whose decisions they will respect in advance. The world court, as it is at present constituted, is not adequate for this purpose because, as the House knows very well, the world court can decide only questions on which both litigants agree it has the capacity to decide. We have to do something to extend its powers or the powers of whatever judicial body we suggest.

I think it would be a good thing if those nations which believe this were to enter into a treaty among themselves to abide by the decisions of the world court in any dispute among themselves and to make it possible for other nations subsequently to accede to this treaty. There would then be a little nucleus of judicial authority which could perhaps grow into some kind of effective world order. It would be able to decide questions such as might arise under this whaling convention which at the present moment are quite undecidable and cause confusion, to the disadvantage of us all.

I think those are major matters which do not arise from this bill but of which this bill might be seen to be one example, pointing to the deficiency in our present international structure. 1 support the bill and I am glad that both sides of the House are in favour of it.


.- I remember that in 1947, when an advisory committee was formed on the Japanese peace settlement, the late Sir Douglas Mawson expressed grave concern for the future of whales in the Antarctic. His concern was prophetic. He spoke at a time when the whale population of the Antarctic had had a chance of recovering because the war did much to prevent Antarctic whaling. In the period of hostilities, the stock of whales increased.

Before the war, Japan had been an irresponsible whaling power; she has not been irresponsible since the war. Sir Douglas Mawson was afraid of the incursion of many new powers into the Antarctic. On that advisory committee major criticism was directed at Japan, but it is the northern European powers that have a disastrous record in connexion with whaling. Historically, whaling has been an activity of what are called the adventurous - which very often means the irresponsible and ruthless.

The whaling industry of the Arctic has been destroyed, and the powers responsible for that destruction have now turned their attention to the Antarctic. It is clear from the diminution in numbers of humpback whales proceeding up the west coast of Western Australia that a depletion has begun in the numbers of a creature which is irreplaceable.

It appears also that this Government’s policy of free enterprise in whaling has contributed to irresponsibility in whaling on the part of nationals of this country. 1 propose, shortly, to read from one of the Government’s reports on this matter, for it makes it appear that we in Australia enter this as major violators of the spirit and letter of the whaling convention. Whether the increasing destruction of immature whales, and especially of immature female whales, which is a disgraceful feature of whaling on the west coast, is entirely coincidental with the passing over of this industry from government enterprise to private enterprise, I leave to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) to explain. But the appalling increase in the destruction of the immature whales is quite clear from the Government’s own reports.

What is taking place is that a rare, valuable and vulnerable creature, which has not a high rate of reproduction, is being destroyed. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has just spoken of the existence of an enormous quantity of protein in the Antarctic Ocean in the form of plankton. So far, the only way that this is made available to humans is through fish which feed on it. I do not know very much about the extent of the ordinary fisheries in the Antarctic, but the whale feeds on this substance and so provides it for humans.

One of the alarming- statistics in the “ Fisheries Newsletter “, which is published by the Commonwealth Director of Fisheries and authorized- by the Minister for’ Primary Industry, the Honorable C. F. Adermann, according to its front page, has been the doubling of the destruction of foetuses in whales over the last few years. The Government is concerned, according to the Minister’s statement, at the increase in Antarctic whaling; but’ new powers, including the Soviet Union, with a new and high degree of efficiency, are entering the Antarctic.

The Soviet Union has despatched to the Antarctic the largest factory ship that has ever been built. In fact, she is one of the largest ships in the world. She is the “Soviet Ukraine” of 44,000 tons. With her is an older ship of 15,000 tons - still quite a considerable vessel - which has been modernized and gone down there with- twelve chasers. The “ Soviet Ukraine” has a crew of 265. She is far larger than the Orient liners which so far have visited this country and is only slightly smaller than the 45.000 ton “ Canberra “ which is the fourth largest passenger ship in the world and which will shortly be visiting Australia. With a crew of 265 the “ Soviet Ukraine “ is a very considerable factory. She has storage for 1.800 tons of frozen whale meat and can freeze it at the rate of 100 tons a day. Her storage capacity for whale oil is undisclosed.

It is clear that the take of whales in the Antarctic will be greatly increased and this will deplete the number of whales migrating past Australian coasts. We have no ground of complaint about that and we should have no ground of complaint about violation of the convention if we, too, are violators of the convention. The withdrawal of Norway from the international convention is serious because Norway provides a great percentage of the world’s skilled personnel for whaling. The “Fisheries Newsletter” for March, 1960, at page 7. has this to say:

The percentage of females in the West Coast catch has increased from 47.4 in 1958 to 52.7 in 1959- At the same time, there has been a very sharp increase in the percentage of immature whales taken on this coast - from 6.80 in 1956 to 22.7 in 1959 - and the percentage of immature females in the catch has increased from 10.2 in 1956 to 36.4 in 1959.

I suggest to the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme), that those are very serious figures. As they are co-incident with the Government’s policy of handing over this west coast industry to private enterprise, the question arises whether the private industry is fully carrying out its responsibilities. If it is; how does one account for the fact that’ a few years ago the masters of the whalers and their gunners were so able to discern whether they were pursuing immature whales that only 10-2 per cent”, of the total catch were immature females whereas in 1959 the figure was 36 per cent., almost four times the former figure? That fact does suggest that’ coincident with the handing of this government industry over to private enterprise there has been a decline in responsibility and discernment on the part of the masters of the whaling vessels.

Mr Curtin:

– What is the name of the company concerned?


– It is the Nor-West Whaling Company Limited of Western Australia. As a country with- a very great interest in this industry and in the Antarctic generally, we must go- to an international convention with clean hands. This great rise in the take of immature female whales is destroying the future of the industry and destroying the replaceability of existing whales. It means that whoever is the Australian delegate at the international convene tion will go there from a country which itself is open to grave objection. If we are aviolator of the convention, we must expect to see others violate it. An industry which, for ten years, has yielded products worth £18,000,000, of which £12,500,00 has cot.c from exports, is in danger of destruction. We - by which I mean humanity - have shown in the past great irresponsibility in the Arctic where the industry has disappeared, and it is clear that we are now beginning to show the same irresponsibility in the Antarctic; and a creature which- took millions of years to evolve is in danger of destruction.

The Opposition welcomes all the safeguards which the Government has endeavoured to provide in this bill, such as the provision that the terms of employment of a person engaged in gunnery, or as the master of a whaling ship, shall not provide for the payment of “ a bonus or other remuneration in respect of the taking of a whale which is milk-filled or lactating or the taking of which is prohibited by or under this act “. There is an effort in this measure to interfere with what are the normal incentives of whale taking and the payments made to gunners per whale taken. There is an attempt to alter those incentives so that they do not apply to the destruction of the wrong sort of whales. That those sanctions are needed is shown in the Government’s report in this “ Fisheries Newsletter “ which reveals the great increase in the take of immature whales to which I have referred earlier.

I am glad that the Government has introduced this legislation. We support it, but we ask the Government again to look at its root policy of leaving to private enterprise an industry which, if it is run. on no other motive than profit, as all whaling has historically been conducted in the past, is clearly going to destroy its own basis, as private enterprise whaling in the Arctic destroyed the basis of the whole whaling industry in those oceans-.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.

Third Reading

Motion (by Mr. Hulme) - by leave - proposed -

That the bill be now read a third time.


.- I was very impressed by the speech of the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) on this important matter. I should like the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) to inform me whether any inspectors are allocated to the whaling fleets. Is a check made of the operations of whaling fleets off the coast of Australia only when they return to port, or does a representative of the Commonwealth Government accompany each fleet in order to make such a check?

Minister for Supply · Petrie · LP

– AsI am representing the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) only for the moment, I am afraid I have not an answer to the query raised by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie). I shall obtain an answer and make certain that the honorable member is provided with it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a third time.

page 1143


Address-in-Reply: Acknowledgment by Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr SPEAKER (the Hon John McLeay:

– I desire to inform the House that I have received from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral the following communication in connexion with the Address-in-Reply: -

Mr. Speaker,

I desire to acquaint you that the substance of the Address-in-Reply which you presented to me on 31st March, 1960, has been communicated to Her Majesty the Queen.

It is the Queen’s wish that I convey to you and to honorable members of the House of Representatives Her Majesty’s sincere thanks for the loyal message to which your Address gives expression.

Yours sincerely,

DUNROSSIL, Governor-General. 21st April, 1960.

page 1143


Shipping - Pensions and Annuities - Hail and Flood Damage in Tasmania.

Motion (by Mr. Hulme) proposed -

That the House do now adjourn.


.- I wish to bring to the attention of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) the gross discriminatory and restrictive practices against the Greek-Australian shipping line that are being indulged in by shipping companies which are members of the Australian and New Zealand Passenger Conference.

In November last,. I placed some questions on the notice-paper, and under date 26th November, 1959, I received a reply. I wish to refer to this reply in some detail. In the first place, I was told that the member companies of the Australian and New Zealand Passenger Conference are the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company Limited, the Orient Steam Navigation Company Limited, Shaw Savill and Albion Company Limited, Alfred Holt and Company (Blue Funnel Line), and New Zealand Shipping Company. I was further advised that “the nationality of all the ship owners on the conference at present is British”.

I request that the questions I asked of the Minister, and the answers he gave me, be incorporated in the “ Hansard “ report of my speech, for the purpose of clarification.

Mr Hulme:

– No. They are already in “ Hansard “. You have referred to them.


– If the honorable member asked a question and received a reply, they must be in “ Hansard “.


– But I ask, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the question and answer be incorporated in the report of my present speech.


-Is leave granted?

Mr Hulme:

– No.


– Leave is not granted.


– I have a good memory, and I warn the supporters of the Government that from now on I will object if they ask for anything to be incorporated in “ Hansard “, even if the request is made by a Minister.

It is obvious, from the answers given to my questions, that there are no conditions governing membership of this conference, which has no written constitution. The conference members themselves decide which shipping companies shall be members and, generally speaking, they are a law unto themselves on all matters of trade and administration. In other words, they represent a very powerful monopoly, dictating the terms on which ships shall trade between certain nations and Australia.

That brings me to the answer to my question No. 6, which listed the National Greek Australian Line as one of two companies which had been refused admission to the conference because, according to the Minister, “ the passenger service in which they wished to trade was already overtonnaged . . . “. So it can be seen that the members of this shipping conference are the sole authorities to decide who should trade. These conference lines, in fact, represent one of the monopolies against which the Government now proposes to introduce legislation. They are, as I shall show, guilty of the most blatant restrictive trade practices.

The Greek Australian Line has been refused admission to the conference for the reasons mentioned earlier. This company has been refused permission and cooperation in its efforts to obtain passengers and cargo. Booking agents have received instructions from the conference lines that they are not to take bookings for the Greek line until and unless all berths on conference line vessels have been filled. In addition, agents have been instructed that they are not to advertise or display any favorable publicity seeking passengers for the ships of the Greek line. As a matter of fact, by this pressure agents have been forced to “ black-list “ the Greek Australian Line at the behest of the conference monopoly, under threat of cancellation of their franchise.

It is also significant that the conference lines evidently fear competition from the Greek Australian Line. The company was refused admission because there was supposed to be enough tonnage operating, even though the conference lines were not, at that stage, calling at the same ports. A glance at the shipping news now indicates, however, that they have changed their minds, and a number of the conference lines are now following the same route as the Greek Australian Line to Europe. The change of mind, I would say, was caused by the introduction of a new service. Competition appears to have stimulated the conference to adopt the course of providing a service to Greece. In addition, whilst the conference lines do not want the Greek Australian Line to pick up passengers in Australia, they go to Greece to pick up passengers in direct competition with the Greek Australian Line.

There is another aspect of this matter which is very disturbing to me. The Minister in his reply stated that, “ the passenger conference takes no cognizance of freight rates in dealing with the application “. I find it very difficult to believe this statement, as it would appear that the policy of the conference is to maintain freight rates at the highest possible level, and the Greek line would interfere with the conference lines’ monopoly in this regard. If not, why do they go to such lengths to ensure that the Greek Australian Line cannot get any loadings in Australia? As a matter of fact, there is also, according to my information, an Australian-New Zealand Cargo Conference, comprising 22 companies and representing, apart from British companies, Italian, French, Dutch and German companies. I mention these companies in order to show that on the freight side they do precisely what the passenger conference does on the passenger side - prevent competition and retain monopoly control of freight rates to the detriment of the Australian community.

What I have said shows how this discrimination and monopoly control by the conference lines is being used, against the Greek Australian Shipping Line in particular. Contrary to what the Minister stated in his reply to me - that he had not received any complaint from any company which had been refused admission to the conference - let me say that my information is that the Greek Government officially complained through its Minister in Canberra about the treatment given to the Greek Australian Line. It appears to have every justification for this action.

The attitude of the conference lines has received world-wide attention, and I quote from the February issue of the “ Shipping Chronicle “, a journal that has a circulation throughout the world. This paper, in the course of a very critical article on the conference lines’ attitude, stated -

The Greek Government should make stronger protests in London and even bring up the matter with the O.E.E.C. in Paris and there expose the hypocritical tactics of the British.

On the one hand they pose as the champions of freedom in sea transport, strongly criticising those countries that exercise discrimination in favour of their own flags, and on the other, they shamelessly close ranks against any foreign vessel that tries to set up a regular link between its own country and a Commonwealth nation.

Such tactics simply cannot be tolerated in this day and age and British discrimination against the “ Patris “ must be brought to a speedy end.

On 1 4th April last the “ Australian Financial Review “, a journal published by the “ Sydney Morning Herald “, printed a lengthy and critical article on the same lines as that from which I have just quoted. The article appeared under the headline: “ Shipping lines use conference to protect their interests “. Among other things the article said -

When Napoleon stated his belief that God was on the side of the big battalions, he might have added that He also appears to favour the wellorganised ones.

The article goes on at great length, and those people opposite who say they are opposed to monopoly could with benefit read this telling condemnation of the attitude of the conference lines.

These facts should bring home to the Minister and the Government that the attitude of the conference lines is contrary to all principles of fair dealing and is bringing Australia into disrepute among the nations of the world. The policy of the Government is supposed to be in support of free enterprise. As a matter of fact, on 5th April, the Melbourne “ Sun “ reported the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) as saying -

Competition is the heart and soul of free enterprise. The business that has competition as its first aim will go on to national strength. That is a vital element of our life in Australia.

In these circumstances, I ask the Government to take appropriate action against the monopoly control of the Australia-New Zealand Passenger Conference in order to ensure that the Greek Australian Line, and any other company for that matter, will receive just and fair treatment. At the same time, I ask the Government to give effect to the policy for which the Prime Minister says it stands.


.- I do not propose to deal with the merits or demerits of the case put forward by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). You know, Mr. Speaker, that I always dislike humbug. Here is a trade union leader who is talking about monopolies. We know that if a member of some trade union other than the union covering wharf labourers tries to get employment on the wharfs of this country, the wharf labourers union will not allow him to work. There have been cases of demarcation disputes in Queensland between the wharf labourers union and the Australian Workers Union over who should handle the sugar crop. There was a fierce union battle over who had the right to work in that particular industry. I only wished to direct the attention of the House to the extraordinary humbug involved in this talk about monopolies by people who are supporters of compulsory trade unionism and who maintain a strict monopoly of employment in every calling.

East Sydney

.- Mr. Speaker, before I proceed to deal with the matter to which I desire to direct attention particularly, I want to make some comment about the Government’s action in calling this Parliament together when it has no business to transact. We have sat here all day, and J think every one will agree that the legislation that has been before us to-day “has been brought on for discussion by the Government merely in order to fill in time, because the Government has had no other business with which to proceed. It is unusual in my experience for the motion for the adjournment of the House to be proposed at so early an hour as 9.45 p.m. on the first day of sitting after a break.

Let me now turn to a matter of great importance. Honorable members will recollect that, on a number of occasions, the question of the eligibility of people for pensions after having paid for an annuity has arisen. I think it was the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) who first raised this matter in the Parliament. Recently, my attention was directed to an advertisement in the press - it is not the only case, because many others are being published - by an organization known as Security Units Proprietary Limited, of Sydney, which is appealing to people of pensionable age to invest money in that organization in order to obtain an annuity and to ensure that their capital is reduced to a level at which it will not affect their eligibility for pension.

I was interested to find out whether this procedure could do for people who were asked to contribute to the company all that was claimed, and so I wrote to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) about the matter. ‘I think that his letter is interesting enough to justify my reading it in full in order that it may go on record in “Hansard”. The Minister’s letter stated -

Thank you for your letter of 14th April lotwarding a newspaper advertisement inserted by Security Units Pty. -Ltd., Sydney, which purports to set out a scheme whereby persons of pension age can purchase a so-called “ annuity “ and Qualify for a pension.

The Social Services Act provides that an age or invalid pension shall not be granted to a person who has directly or indirectly deprived himself of property or income in order to qualify for a pension.

It is the view of the Department that deprivation of property does not take place where a person exchanges one form of property for another provided, in so doing, he does not diminish the value of property owned by him. In other words, a person is at liberty to re-arrange his affairs and change the nature of his assets provided he receives, as consideration, property of similar value, whether exempt or non-exempt, in place of it.

The scheme referred to in your letter has already come to the notice of the Department and the proposals put forward have been studied. These proposals are contained in a circluar letter which Security Units Pty. Ltd. issues to prospective clients. Cases in which amounts have been invested with Security Units ‘Pty. Ltd., along with other cases involving the purchase of an annuity are dealt with by the Department on their individual merits.

It appears that the purchaser of one of the so-called annuities is entitled to receive, as a result df his purchase, the .income earned by the investment of the purchase price in Security Units Pty. Ltd. In the example given in the circular the “ annuity “ is £2 10s. per week for a purchase price of £2,000. An annuity of this amount could be purchased by a man aged 65 years from an established insurance company for an investment of about £1,400. By the transaction therefore the purchaser would have deprived himself of property in that he would have acquired an asset which certainly has a value of less than the amount he paid for it.

Looked at in another light it appears that all a purchaser does is to exchange the absolute ownership of property (the purchase price) for a life interest (income) from that capital. The value of a life interest must necessarily be less than an interest of absolute ownership in the property involved. Therefore, a purchaser on this basis deprives himself of property and runs the risk of finding himself disqualified for pension under the Act.

So far only a few cases have been encountered where an “ annuity “ has been purchased under the scheme put forward by Security Units Pty. Ltd. In two cases under notice some little time ago, the benefit of the doubt was given as to the motive for deprivation of property but an amount, equivalent to the excess of the purchase price over the capital value of the life interest, was taken into account as property in the assessment of pension. The capital value of a life interest or annunity is, of course, disregarded in the assessment of pension.

The serious .part of it is this: First of all, if the Minister’s statement is correct, the unfortunate aged person who is trying to protect himself against poverty and want in his age pays away £2,000 to a private organization for a cover which, according to the ‘Minister’s letter, he could get ‘from an existing insurance company for £1,400. So he is immediately defrauded of £600, if the Minister’s statement is correct. The serious thing is that the investor can lose his whole right to a pension on the ground that he has deliberately deprived himself of property in order to qualify for a pension.

Mr. -Clyde -Cameron. - Is that so?


– Yes. I take it that the two cases in which on the Minister’s statement, the benefit of the doubt was given, the .Department of Social Services took into account the fact that these people had paid out £2,000 for something that was worth only £1,400 and that the unfortunate people concerned received pensions at lower rates than they would ordinarily have qualified for if they had had no assets at all. If this sort of thing has been going on to the Minister’s knowledge, what action has been taken by the Minister, the department or the Government to protect these people? The advertisements are still appearing in the newspapers. On the Minister’s letter to me. the department stands condemned for its action against these unfortunate people. There is no doubt, if the Minister’s statements are correct, that these advertisements constitute an act of defrauding or attempting to defraud members of the public. I want the Minister to tell the House not only whether, in his opinion, this practice could be declared to be fraudulent - I want him to tell me and the Parliament what action he has taken to protect the unfortunate people who have been and who may still be deluded into investing their money in response to advertisements of the kind to which I have referred.


Mr. Speaker, I want to say something on the question of annuities, too. There is a matter that I think ought to be cleared up with respect to the attitude that both the Department of Social Services and the Taxation Branch propose to take. For two or three years now, members of both the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Labour Party in South Australia have been assisting people who are of pensionable age, and1 who have too much capital to obtain a pension, to qualify for a pension by advising them to spend the surplus money on the purchase of a life annuity. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) was one of the originators of this scheme. Many people who have too much money to qualify for a pension were able to get the full pension by transferring their surplus cash to their relatives, and even to their friends, provided that they received in return an annuity the equivalent of that which they could have obtained from an insurance company.

It is not generally known in the community that a man and wife who are both of pensionable age may own a house, regardless of its value - it could be worth £ 10,000 or even £20,000- provided thaI they live in it. They may own a motor car, a caravan and a television set. They may have electrical appliances in every loom- -probably provided that they do not have two -the same - they may have walltowall carpets and the like in their home, and they may have £6,000 in cash, which they could convert to a life annuity of approximately £7 a week. They may have all those things and still receive the full pension. If the man was 65 and his wife no more than 60, all that they would be entitled to for £6,000 on the insurance companies’ ordinary scale of annuity rates, would be about £7 a week. They could then make an application to the Department of Social Services and obtain a total pension of £9 10s. a week between them, giving a total income of £16 10s. a week. They could transfer the £6,000 in cash to their children, who could be regarded legally as the .grantors and they, the annuitants, would be entitled to the benefit of the annuity only as long as they lived. Upon their death, their children would keep the residue of the £6,000, or whatever it may be. If the annuitant died within a year or a few years of the completion of the transaction, ‘the children who had become -the grantors -would not only receive the major part of the £6,000 in cash, but would also receive it free of probate or estate duty.

I do not complain about that; ‘I believe that it is right. Any person who believes in ‘the abolition df the means test would not see anything wrong in it. ‘But whether one sees anything wrong in ‘the proposal, one cannot justify the action of the Government in saying, “ We do not mind if you go to an insurance company, give the company the £6,000 and let it keep all that is left of the £6,000 upon the annuitant’s death a year later, but we object to the same person giving the money to his own kith and kin “. I have encouraged as many people as I can in South Australia, who have too much cash to qualify for a pension, to spend their money in buying an annuity in this manner from their children, a friend, a nephew or a niece, or as a last resort - it is always a last resort in my advice - from an insurance company. But lo and behold, we find that as soon as the Taxation Branch hears about a transaction of this kind it adopts the sort of attitude that I shall now outline.

I cite the case of a young woman who sold a life annuity to her mother for £2,000. She invested the £2,000 in Commonwealth bonds, from which she receives an income of about £100 a year. She has to pay her mother an annuity of £125 a year. The Taxation Branch held that the income from the bonds worth £2,000 was taxable. That is fair enough, but when the taxpayer sought to deduct from her income the £125 she pays to her mother as an annuity, the Taxation Branch held that she could not do so. The Commissioner of Taxation held that the income from the Commonwealth bonds which were purchased with the £2,000 given her by her mother was taxable, but she was not allowed to deduct from her gross income the amount that she paid to her mother. I said to the Commissioner of Taxation, “ Suppose the girl were to invest the £2,000 in a house instead of in bonds “. He said, “ That is different. Then she would not have to treat the income from the house as income for taxation purposes, especially if she lived in the house.”

How silly can this business become! The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) will realize that he is not the only one at fault. In fact, I do not say that he is at fault at all. I do not criticize the Government for insisting upon proper securities being given by the children to their parents, which is a provision that has been introduced. However, I do object to the practice that was mentioned by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) of these fly-by-night get-rich companies which spring up offering to give to these people certain benefits which, because they fall short of the annuities that an insurance company would be willing to give for the same amount of money, put them in the position of losing the difference between the £1,400 and the £2,000, which is £600, and a little over £1 a week in the annuity. In addition, they will be disqualified altogether from receiving the pension. I do not think the department should apply such a harsh penalty as that on people whoquite innocently enter into what they believe to be a genuine scheme in an effort to safeguard their future.


.- About two months ago, a section of the apple growers in the Lower Huon, which is in the electorate of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder), were subjected to a severe hail storm. In half an hour, 450 growers suffered tremendous losses of apples which would have been exported to the United Kingdom. Six weeks ago, the chairman of the State Fruit Board came to Canberra, at the expense of the board, to interview Tasmanian members. In a combined deputation to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), we sought financial assistance for these stricken apple growers. We met him in the Cabinet room. We had an authentic and a well documented case. All the details were given to us by Mr. W. Smith, the chairman of the State Fruit Board. All these facts were given to the Prime Minister. When I came to Canberra to-day, I found the reply from the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) to the combined deputation, and it is a very disappointing document indeed.

The fruit growers approached the Tasmanian Government first with a request for financial assistance. The State Government agreed to contribute £250,000 and requested that the Federal Government match that contribution with a further £250,000, making a total of £500,000. That is a very modest request in any language. We put the request to match this amount to the Prime Minister, and some six weeks after the deputation we received the reply through the Acting Prime Minister. In the meantime, the Prime Minister had gone to England without giving us the reply himself.

In refusing to grant the request, the Acting Prime Minister said -

After a careful examination of the position, the Government has come to the conclusion thai it must confirm the earlier decision not to approve any special assistance.

In reaching its present decision, the Government took account of the fact that to agree to the requests would be out of step with long established policy and would create a precedent which may require special Commonwealth assistance in similar occurrences in various parts of Australia in the future.

I should like to make a comment or two. First, 1 condemn the decision not to help these stricken growers. There is a precedent for granting assistance, and we pui the precedent before the Prime Minister. In 1947, the Labour Government granted £75,000 of Commonwealth money to fruit growers in the Huon who had been stricken with hail. One condition was attached to the grant, and that was that the Tasmanian fruit growers set up a hail insurance scheme. The growers promised to do so. The money was paid, and in 1948 the hail insurance scheme was introduced. Unfortunately, it has not been able to cope with the losses that have occurred in the intervening years and it is quite inadequate to cover the damage that these swift hail storms cause to fruit. That was the precedent, and a request was made for a modest £250,000.

It is granted that other places may strike sudden squalls, sudden storms or other sudden troubles. We have had them mentioned by honorable members from other States. That is natural; we cannot control the weather. But the Government should be prepared to stand up to its obligations in respect of these troubles wherever they may occur. In this instance 450 growers have practically had their livelihood wiped out in one fell swoop. They are filled with utter despair. Since 1952, the figures show that every second year a certain number of growers has suffered hail damage. The worst year in that regard was 1956; and it is a strange thing that in the “ even “ years- 1952, 1954, 1956, 1958 and 1960- hail damage was suffered by from 500 to 700 growers. It seems fantastic, but in every second year the figures for hail damage have been much higher than in the intervening year. The victims are filled with despair and do not know what to do in regard to rehabilitating their orchards or even whether to continue apple growing.

The apples to-day should be worth 28s. a case in London, but the damaged fruit is worth only about 5s. a case to the processors, although it costs from 14s. to 15s. a case to produce it. I think it is a tragedy that no assistance is being given by the Commonwealth to victims of this kind of disaster, when we are allocating hundreds of thousands of pounds to help stricken people in other parts of the world.

Some balance should be preserved in this sort of thing. It may be very satisfactory to hear or to read in the newspapers that we have sent thousands of pounds to help stricken people thousands of miles outside Australia, but what sort of country is this if we cannot look after our own people first? Our economy must be kept strong if we are to assist others overseas. If we do not assist our own people when they are victims of disasters, our economy cannot be kept strong, and we shall not be able to help others, even though it is a good Christian act to do so, and I do not condemn such aid.

I feel that the floods which occurred in Tasmania last week, the hail damage, and the cyclone in Queensland provide absolute evidence that a national disaster fund should be set up by the Commonwealth, as I advocated in this Parliament last month. It is essential to have a fund from which payments can be made to people in stricken areas, on investigation by a Commonwealth officer in co-operation with the Premier of the State concerned. Surely there is nothing wrong with that suggestion. It seems a common sense and businesslike way in which to approach the question, whereas the higgledy-piggledy way - the patchwork quilt way - in which we now proceed is fantastic. Why should Federal members have to come here in a body, cap in hand, to approach the Prime Minister for assistance?

Mr Daly:

– It is probably due to his ego.


– It should be possible immediately to pay money from the fund to the victims of a disaster. The flood disaster in Tasmania, to which I referred by question in this House to-day, is an instanc where the Commonwealth is to help & State on a £1 for £1 basis, but that assis ancc is completely inadequate in view of the losses suffered, because Tasmania is a small State, both geographically and financially.

How can we pay out. hundreds of thousands of pounds to relieve distress? We just have not the resources to do so. We need a direct grant to help the people in this, amount of trouble. Six hundred people are homeless in the Derwent Valleyin my electorate, in an area extending from New Norfolk to Bushy Park, a distance of about 15 miles. That area has been devastated. I went there yesterday, on a 300-mile trip from Launceston, down and back. In my gumboots I trudged through the hop fields which have been destroyed. I talked to a great many people and saw every aspect of the disaster personally. When I raise a matter in this House I like to speak from first-hand knowledge and not from hearsay, as I believe that is the only way in which Federal members should deal with such matters. In the Derwent area to which I have referred, twelve houses have been washed away leaving no trace, and an estimate of the damage to property in the New Norfolk-Bushy Park area runs into hundred’s of thousands of pounds. Telephone lines are down, four or five miles of line along the river are swept away, and it is estimated that £20,000 will be required to restore telephone communications in the Derwent Valley.

Apart from the damage to homes and property, miles of highways have been gashed and broken by the floods. Thirtyfive bridges have been washed away and 60 bridges have been damaged. The Minister for Lands and Works estimates that £1,000,000 will be needed to restore the bridges and roads in Tasmania. In the Shoobridge estate at Glenora which I visited yesterday 54 acres out of 75 acres of hops have been destroyed.

Mr SPEAKER (Hon John McLeay:

Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 10.25 p.m.

page 1150


The following answers to questions were circulated: -

Petition: Reference to Governor-General

Mr Reynolds:

s asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -

  1. Was a petition, addressed to Her Majesty The Queen and signed by members of the National Welfare Fund Association and others, which sought a withdrawal of the Royal’ Assent to legislation relating to Parliamentary salaries and referred to the National Welfare Trust Fund and other matters, referred by His Excellency the Governor-General to the Government?
  2. Is he able to say whether the petitioners were notified to this effect by the Official Secretary to the Governor-General on 21st August, 1959?
  3. Has the Government given consideration to the petition; if so, are the results to be communicated to the petitioners?
Mr McEwen:

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -

  1. Yes.
  2. Yes.
  3. Yes. The Government has advised His Excellency the Governor-General that it is not prepared to recommend to Her Majesty the disallowance of the legislation relating to Parliamentary salaries. Further, the Government cannot, support the petitioners’ requests relating to the National Welfare Trust Fund and has recommended to His Excellency that the petition be not granted. His Excellency has accepted this advice and the petitioners are being informed of his decision.

Railway Rolling Stock

Mr Ward:

rd asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -

  1. Have representatives of an organization known as the Railway Rolling Stock Manufacturers Association sought an interview with him to discuss the question of the placing of orders in Japan for rolling stock required by Commonwealth Railways?
  2. If so, has the discussion yet taken place, and what was the result?
Mr McEwen:

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -

  1. Yes.
  2. No. Ministerial responsibility for matters affecting the Commonwealth Railways rests with my colleague the Minister for Shipping and Transport.

Overseas Import Policies

Mr Ward:

d asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -

  1. Is it a fact that a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, France and Canada, have successfully adopted an import policy based on quotas?
  2. Has the adoption of a similar policy ever been considered by the Government; if so, what conclusions were reached?
Mr McEwen:

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -

  1. It is a fact that a number of countries, including the United Kingdom and France, but not Canada, have had an import policy based on quotas.
  2. Yes. The existing import controls are largely based on the quota principle.

Trade Unions

Mr Ian Allan:

n asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -

  1. What unions enjoy a monopoly in the supply of labour in particular occupations?
  2. Are these unions required to publish annual statements of their accounts for the information of their members and the public generally?
  3. Are these statements published promptly and regularly?
  4. If these unions are not required, or fail, to publish regular itemized statements of account, how are union members or the public protected from any abuse of privilege?
Mr McMahon:

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -

  1. Under the terms of the federal seamen’s award a particular obligation is imposed on the Seamen’s Union to supply labour. The Stevedoring Industry Act 1956 (section 31) gives to the Waterside Workers Federation and the North Australian Workers Union a qualified right to nominate persons for registration as waterside workers. However, it is the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority which actually supplies the labour required, and the authority may in certain circumstances recruit waterside workers direct and authorize the employment of unregistered waterside workers.
  2. Section 152 of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act requires organizations registered under the act (which include the Seamen’s, Waterside Workers and North Australian Workers Unions) to keep an account, in proper form, of the receipts, payments, funds and effects of .the organizations and to file with the Registrar of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission annually a copy of this account certified by statutory declaration of the secretary or other prescribed officer of the organization to be a correct statement of the information contained therein. This document is available for inspection at the Registrar’s Office. Regulation 115 made under the act states that union rules must provide (inter alia), for the mode in which the property of the organization is to be controlled and its funds invested, for the yearly or more frequent audit of its accounts and the conditions under which funds may be disbursed. See also section 154 requiring the appointment of a competent person as auditor and regulation 132 which requires the account to be filed within three months of the final audit. It is understood that the rules of the unions named above provide for the distribution of annual accounts statements to branches for the information of members.
  3. The annual statements of accounts have been filed regularly and promptly with the Registrar by the unions concerned.
  4. See answers to 2 and 3.

Papua and New Guinea

Mr Ward:

d asked the Acting Minister for Territories, upon notice -

  1. Did Mr. D. M. Cleland, Administrator of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, direct attention during the past year to what he described as unfair competition by powered native lakatois with privately owned shipping companies on the Rigo to Port Moresby route?
  2. Did the Administrator state that the introduction of some form of rationalization, including a system of licensing, would have to be considered?
  3. Has there been any change in this situation, and has any action been taken in the matter by the Administration?
Sir Garfield Barwick:

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -

  1. No. The Administrator reports that a Port Moresby shipping company made a complaint to him that while their ships were subject to rules and regulations relating to the carrying of passengers and safety precautions, powered canoes engaging in trade were not observing the same requirements of the law.
  2. The Administrator does not recall making any statement to this effect. He states that the complaint was referred to an inter-departmental commitee for examination and this committee recommended that the requirements of the law should be observed by powered canoes operating in organized commercial traffic for passengers and freight. Subsequently, an experienced senior officer conducted a full investigation and reached the conclusion that it was desirable that some form of licensing or control and safety measures should be introduced to apply to powered native canoes.
  3. Legislation is now under consideration by the Administration, but no action has yet been taken.


Mr Ward:

d asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -

  1. Did a number of young children die, and were the lives of many more endangered, during the heat wave conditions which existed earlier this year because many public hospitals are not airconditioned?
  2. Is this situation an annual experience in this country?
  3. Is it a fact that State governments are unable, owing to lack of adequate finance, to install airconditioning plant in all public hospitals?
  4. If so, does this place an obligation upon the Commonwealth Government to arrange for the installation of this plant?
  5. Does the Government provide millions of pounds for assisted migration to boost the Australian population?
  6. Would action by the Government to install air-conditioning equipment in all hospitals ensure that Australian-born children are afforded better opportunities for survival?
Dr Donald Cameron:

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. I am not aware of any particular cases where death has been due to the fact that any hospital was not air-conditioned.

  1. State Governments have substantial funds at their disposal from Commonwealth and other sources, and if these funds are insufficient to enable air-conditioning plant to be installed at all public hospitals, that is because State governments give priority to other projects.
  2. See 3.
  3. The amount provided by the Commonwealth Government for the year 1959-60 was £7,617,000.
  4. State governments, as the authorities responsible for public hospitals, would be in the best position to answer this question.

Medical Benefit Scheme

Mr Cope:

e asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -

How many recipients of age and invalid pensions are not entitled to a medical benefit card owing to the operation of the means test on medical and pharmaceutical benefits?

Dr Donald Cameron:

– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -

Separate figures are not available for age and invalid pensioners. However, at 31st December, 1959. out of a total of 703,569 age, invalid, widow, and service pensioners and tuberculosis allowees, 58,421 pensioners had not been issued with pensioner medical service entitlement cards.


Mr Reynolds:

s asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -

  1. . Why should a New South Wales ex-serviceman suffering from coronary occlusions have to wait six weeks between the initial departmental medical examination and the subsequent appointment for an electro-cardiograph and other investigations?
  2. Are delays of this nature commonplace?
  3. If so, are adequate specialized medical services available within the department?
Dr Donald Cameron:

– The Minister for Repatriation has furnished the following replies: -

  1. From the information provided it is assumed that the ex-serviceman in question lodged a claim with my department for the acceptance of an incapacity which he considered was due to his war service. In such a case he would be advised that if treatment was required, pending determination of his claim, he should make private arrangements for treatment at his own expense and that in the event of his claim being successful he could then apply for reimbursement of any reasonable medical expenses so incurred. Without the exserviceman’s details it is not possible to advise whether there was a delay of six weeks for an electro-cardiograph, and if so what the circumstances were in this instance.
  2. Normally a period of waiting, varying between four to ten working days may occur. In urgent cases immediate action is taken.
  3. Adequate facilities exist in the department. In the event of any unusual delay the services of private specialists are availed of.

Pensioners - Local Government Concessions

Mr Reynolds:

s asked the Minister tor Social Services, upon notice -

Would it be possible for pensioners who receive their pensions by cheque to be issued with official cards to identify them as pension recipients for the purpose of making application for local government rate rebates and other concessions?

Mr Roberton:

– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -

The majority of pensioners who are paid by cheque already have some form of ready identification by way of pensioner medical service entitlement cards, and concession fare vouchers. Where such means of identification as a pensioner are not available, the Department of Social Services will always issue a suitable letter or certificate on request. Because the various concessions in regard to rates, fares, &c, are not uniformly available, it would be too expensive to issue a form of identification to all cheque pensioners, many of whom would not require it.

Royal Military College Graduates

Mr Cairns:

s asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -

  1. Have graduates from the Royal Military College become substantive lieutenant-colonels at approximately 35 years of age?
  2. Is this rank in the British and United States armies normally reached at approximately 43 to 45 years of age?
  3. If so, can he state why these age differences occur in these three countries?
Mr Cramer:
Minister for the Army · BENNELONG, NEW SOUTH WALES · LP

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -

  1. Yes. Royal Military College graduates in the past have become substantive lieutenant-colonels at the age of 35, but so also have numerous officers who were not graduates. This was at a time when the extremely small pre-war army had to be expanded to meet post-war commitments. This led to a slightly faster promotion rate than now applies. The present pattern for promotion shows Royal Military College graduates becoming substantive lieutenant-colonels at approximately 38 to 40 years of age.
  2. No. There are no fixed age limits for promotion in the British and American armies. The normal ages for promotion to lieutenant-colonel in the British army are from 38 to 43 years of age. In the United States army the ages are from 35 to 40.
  3. The age difference has occurred in the past for the reason shown in the answer to question 1. In the United States during this period the same circumstances existed and promotions to this rank were generally made earlier. In the British army this did not apply as the Regular Army was reducing and not expanding.

Australian Military Forces

Mr Cairns:

s asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -

  1. ls it a fact that the office of master-general of the ordnance was abolished years ago in other armies, but has been retained in Australia?
  2. Does this necessitate the retention of an additional office of general in Australia?
  3. What is the reason for the retention of this office?
Mr Cramer:

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -

  1. Yes. However, in January, 1960, following the re-organization of the United Kingdom Ministry of Supply, the War Office re-activated the appointment of master-general of the ordnance. 2 and 3. A modern army requires extensive logistic support in peace and war. In this regard, the branch of the master-general of the ordnance is responsible for the provision, receipt, storage, issue, documentation, repair and maintenance, recovery and modification of all army ordnance stores. Further, the branch presents army requirements for research and development to the Department of Supply and provides the formal contacts with the department on all qualitative and quantitative matters relating to army stores. The nature and level of these functions warrant retention of the office of master-general of the ordnance.
Mr Cairns:

s asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -

  1. Has the number of General Staff brigadiers in the Australian Army been increased threefold in the past ten years?
  2. How does this compare with similar appointments in other armies?
  3. What is the reason for any differences which may exist?
Mr Cramer:

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -

  1. No. 2 and 3. Not applicable in view of answer to No. 1.

Commonwealth Offices, Sydney

Mr Griffiths:

s asked the Minister for Works, upon notice -

  1. What firms submitted tenders for contracts for the main building of the Commonwealth Offices, Sydney?
  2. What firms were requested by the Department of Works to tender for these contracts after firms had been requested by advertisement to register as prospective tenderers?
  3. Is it anticipated that the main building contract can be completed in the specified time of 104 weeks?
  4. Was opinion outside the department obtained regarding this time schedule; if so, what are the names of the firms or individuals who were asked for this advice or opinion?
  5. What consulting firms or individuals outside the department were employed to prepare tender documents, such as complete or part plans, specifications and bills of quantities?
  6. What fee was paid to each firm or individual for these documents?
  7. When did the department select these consulting firms or individuals?
  8. Were the provisions of the Re-establishment and Employment Act observed or considered in making these appointments?
  9. Was the closing date for tenders extended several times; if so, what was (a) the original closing date, (b) each extended closing date, and (c) the final closing date?
  10. Did the department bring forward two lists of amendments or addenda before tenders finally closed?
  11. If so, did this necessitate an extension of the tender date?
  12. Did the Director of Works, Sydney, interview any tenderers for the project prior to the closing date for tenders?
  13. If so, what firms or individuals were interviewed?
  14. When did these interviews occur, and what was discussed?
  15. Did the department, through the press, request firms submitting tenders to supply in writing all relevant details as to their capacity and ability?
  16. If so, what was the reason for the action of the Director of Works?
Mr Freeth:

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -

  1. Tenders, listed in order of price (lowest first), were received from the following firms: - Main building contract -

    1. S. Clementson (N.S.W.) Proprietary Limited and E. A. Watts Proprietary Limited.
    2. C. Whittle Proprietary Limited.
    3. T. Eastment and Sons Proprietary Limited.

Concrete Constructions Proprietary Limited

James S. Samson Proprietary Limited.

  1. W. Edwards Proprietary Limited.

Max Cooper and Sons Proprietary Limited.

  1. C. W. Powell and Sons Proprietary Limited.

The Fletcher Construction Company Proprietary Limited.

Hutcherson Brothers Proprietary Limited.

Arcos Industries Proprietary Limited.

Sub-contract for electric passenger lifts -

Elevators Proprietary Limited.

Otis Elevator Company Proprietary Limited.

Johns and Waygood Lifts Proprietary Limited.

Sub-contract for refrigeration plant -

  1. and E. Hall (Australasia) Proprietary Limited.

Carrier Air Conditioning Proprietary Limited.

  1. Werner and Company.
  2. Wildridge and Sinclair Proprietary Limited.

Frigrite Limited.

Wallace International Incorporated.

Sub-contract for electrical services -

  1. T. S. O’Donnell Griffin and Company Proprietary Limited.

Star T.V. Electrical Company Proprietary Limited.

  1. P. Johnson and Company.

Stowe Electric Proprietary Limited.

The English Electric Company of Australia Proprietary Limited.

Sub-contract for fire sprinklers -

Reliance Fire Sprinkler Company Proprietary Limited.

American Automatic Sprinkler Corporation (Australia) Proprietary Limited.

Automatic Fire Sprinklers Proprietary Limited.

Wormald Brothers (N.S.W.) Proprietary Limited.

Wallace International Incorporated.

Sub-contract for boiler plant -

J. Sainsbury and Company Proprietary Limited.

Mathieson and Waters Proprietary Limited.

Presha Engineering Limited.

G. H. and J. A. Watson Proprietary Limited.

Athertons (N.S.W.) Proprietary Limited.

John Thompson (Australia) Proprietary Limited.

J. and E. Hall (Australasia) Proprietary Limited.

Babcock- and Wilcox of Australia Proprietary Limited.

Wallace International Incorporated.

Sub-contract for air-conditioning plant -

J. and E. Hall (Australasia) Proprietary Limited:

Athertons (N.S.W.) Proprietary Limited.

Carrier Air Conditioning Proprietary Limited.

Aeron Ventilation Proprietary Limited.

Frigrite Limited.

Wallace International Incorporated.

  1. None.
  2. Yes.
  3. Yes. Opinion was sought from Messrs. Rider, Hunt and Partners, quantity surveyors, and also from the principals of T. C. Whittle Proprietary Limited and Concrete Constructions Proprietary Limited. 5, 6 and 7. -
  1. Not applicable.
  1. Yes. Addendum “A” to the specification was issued on 23rd December, 1959; addendum “ B “ to the specification was issued on 28th January, 1960; and addendum to the bill of quantities was issued on 4th February, 1960.
  2. Yes. The only extension of tender closing dates necessitated by amendments to the tender documents was the extension from 9th February, 1960, to 11th February, 1960, for tenders for the main building contract to allow tenderers sufficient time to take into account the addendum to the bill of quantities and the amendments to the detail drawings which were issued on 4th February, 1960. All other extensions were granted after requests had been received from prospective tenderers pointing out that because of the Christmas holiday close-down they were experiencing diffi culty and delays in obtaining sub-contract and other prices necessary for the compilation of their tenders and would not be able to meet the original closing date. 12 and 13. Yes. The principals of the following firms were interviewed: -

    1. S. Clementson (New South Wales) Proprietary Limited.

James S. Samson Proprietary Limited.

Arcos Industries Proprietary Limited.

The Fletcher Construction Company Pro prietary Limited.

Tarjan Construction Company Proprietary Limited.

Concrete Constructions Proprietary Limited.

A. W. Edwards Proprietary Limited.

T. C. Whittle Proprietary Limited.

Max Cooper and Sons Proprietary Limited.

  1. The interviews occurred between 2nd and 24th December, 1959, and the matters discussed related to the capacity, experience, equipment, organization and finance required for the satisfactory performance of a contract for a major project such as this.
  2. Yes, the advertisement in the press inviting contractors to register as prospective tenderers for the main building contract and the mechanical engineering services included a requirement that full particulars of works previously executed, organizational resources and financial status should be submitted at the time of registration.
  3. This action was necessary to impress on all concerned that the department would require to be fully satisfied that the tenderers had the resources necessary to satisfactorily complete a project of this size.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 April 1960, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.