23rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER. (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Sir EARLE PAGE presented a petition from certain civilian widows praying that the House will pass legislation to ease the means test and increase social service benefits payable to civilian widow pensioners and their dependent children.
Petition received and read.
Mr. L. R. JOHNSON presented a petition from certain electors of New South Wales praying that the House will repeal the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act1960 on the grounds that it represents an intrusion into the privacy of telephonic communications, and establishes a precedent for the dissipation of other well established rights and freedoms.
Petition received and read.
Mr. LUCHETTI presented a petition from certain citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia praying that the House will (a) bring forward emergency legislation to grant an immediate £1 pension increase, provide free medical and pharmaceutical benefits and control prices, and (b) consider the granting of pensions at half the male basic wage.
Petition received and read.
Petitions in similar terms were presented as follows: -
By Mr. WHITLAM from certain citizens of the Commonwealth.
By Mr. COSTA from certain citizensof the Commonwealth.
By Mr. ASTON from certain citizens of the Commonwealth.
By Mr. STEWART from certain citizens of the Commonwealth.
By Mr. DALY from certain citizens of the Commonwealth.
By Mr. BURY from certain citizens of the Commonwealth.
By Mr. CLAY from certain citizens of the Commonwealth.
By Mr. REYNOLDS from certain citizens of the Commonwealth.
By Mr. COPE from certain citizens of the Commonwealth.
By Mr. CURTIN from certain citizens of the Commonwealth.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has his attention been directed to the increased unemployment in Tasmania, and particularly to the increased numbers of persons receiving the unemployment benefit in the Launceston area? If the Minister is aware of the increase in unemployment, will he undertake to do what he can, through his department, to improve the position?
– I have looked at the figures showing the numbers of applicants for employment in Australia, and I am very glad to say that the total has fallen to the low level of about 44,000. In one State the number of applicants foremployment is less than 1 per cent. of the work force, and in the two major States the number of job vacancies is greater than the number of persons registered for employment. 1 do not think the suggestion of the honorable member, that there is a large number of unemployed persons in Tasmania, is correct. Nonetheless I will have a look at the detailed figures, and if it is correct, as the honorable member suggests, that there are large numbers of unemployed, I will have discussions with my departmental officers about the matter.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral tell the House when decisions can be expected concerning television licences in country areas?
– On Friday last I received a report from the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, resulting from its investigations of applications for country television licences in phase 3 of our television development. It is a lengthy report. I have not yet had time to digest it thoroughly, but I intend to do so at the earliest opportunity. I hope then to present a paper to Cabinet for its consideration, so that it may make a determination concerning the recommendations of the board. 1 should think I would be in a position to present that paper to Cabinet in about a fortnight. Thereafter the matter will depend on the discussions that take place in the Cabinet.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Health. Is it a fact that Sydney dentists, faced with mounting unpaid dental bills, are urging patients to use a time-payment plan for dental treatment? Is it also a fact that this system is operated by a finance company, the amount of accommodation being limited to £50 and the interest rate being set at 5 per cent? Is it also a fact that because of the high cost of dentistry many people have been unable to afford treatment? If these are facts, will the Minister say whether this is the best plan the Government can produce, in this so-called golden age, for safeguarding the dental health of the people? Will he give an undertaking to introduce a national dental scheme available to all, particularly as a recent survey showed that nine out of ten persons needed dental treatment?
– I do not know whether any of these things are facts. A good many of them sound to melike flights of fancy.
– Notwithstanding the reply of the Minister for Primary Industry to a question which was asked yesterday, does the Minister agree that the beef research levy legislation is at fault in that, in most cases, people other than the producers of cattle pay the levy? If the Minister does agree that this is so, will he adopt a sympathetic attitude towards correcting this fault?
– The beef research levy legislation was adopted by Parliament on the basis that the owner of the beast at the time of slaughter should pay the levy. That means’, of course, that a man who raises cattle and himself has them killed at the slaughter-house, pays the levy. If the cattle go to an operator or a butcher he is responsible for the payment of the levy. The agent is not responsible. It was stated in discussions on the bill that the levy of 2s. per head might be passed on by the operator to the grower who was prepared to accept that responsibility. I go so far as to say that if that were not so it would be the first time, to my knowledge, that a charge was not passed on to the primary producer.
There are two things that the Government desired to avoid: We did not want a tax on sales because often beasts are sold five or six times before they are slaughtered. Secondly, we did not want big companies which kill thousands of their own cattle to be able to avoid paying the tax. So we made the decision embodied in the legislation which appeared to have the unanimous support of all interests up to the time of its enactment. It was agreed that the best procedure was to have a slaughter tax. I met all sections of the industry recently in Melbourne. I told them that I had quite an open mind on this, and that if they could propose a better way of collecting the levy fairly so that all who were duo to pay the tax paid it, I would sympathetically consider the proposition and discuss the matter again with Cabinet.
– My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. In view of the fact that it was stated in the Governor-General’s Speech at the opening of the session that the Government was concerned at the existence of restrictive trade practices and would consider introducing legislation to curb the activities of those responsible, I should like to know whether such consideration has yet been given. May we expect appropriate legislation in the near future?
– The honorable member can rest assured that very close consideration is being given to the various practices of which we are becoming aware. In due course, no doubt, there will be some legislation.
Mi-. FAILES. - I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether he has received a recent application from the Australian Wheat Board for a guarantee for finance to build additional wheat storage in New South Wales. If so, can the Minister say when consideration will be given to this request?
– I received a request from the Australian Wheat Board this week to consider again the application that it made to the Government at an earlier period. Since the application came from the board to the responsible Minister concerned, naturally I would prefer to send the answer to the Wheat Board before discussing the matter further. However, no new matter has been submitted by the Wheat Board in its application for re-consideration of the proposal upon which the Government has already made a determination.
– I would like to ask the Minister for Territories whether it is true that the maximum amount payable to the dependants of a native killed during or in the course of his employment in New Guinea is still only £100. Is it true that more than two years ago the local authorities in New Guinea recommended that this amount should be increased to a maximum of £600 and that the Government has not yet implemented that decision? Is it also true that the figure so recommended is only one-fifth of the amount payable to the relatives of European workers who are killed in similar circumstances?
– No. I am afraid the honorable member, on this subject as on others concerning the Territory, has been grossly misinformed.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Territories. Will the Minister inform the House what initiative has been taken either by the Commonwealth Government or by the governments of the States concerned, to secure uniformity of treatment, amongst the authorities concerned, of the Australian aboriginal and his problems?
– In 1951-, and again in 1952, a native welfare conference was held in Canberra arid attended by representatives of the Commonwealth and the States. At those two conferences, an agreement was reached on the policies and objectives to be followed in native welfare work. Since then-
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I submit that the Minister is not entitled to answer a question without notice when a question on the same subject is already on the noticepaper.
– If such a point of order is to be supported, it is necessary to show that the questions are identical. I am not sure that the questions to which the honorable member has referred are identical. The Minister may proceed.
– I rise to a point of order. Could I hear the questions read so that I might see whether you are right or wrong. Mr. Speaker?
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order. The Minister may proceed.
– Since the conferences in 1951 and 1952, there have been occasional references, mainly by letter from the Commonwealth Government and various State governments, to a number of matters that have arisen. Toward the end of last year, the Prime Minister addressed letters to each of the State Premiers proposing that another conference on native welfare should be held. The majority of the State Premiers replied saying that they would be pleased to take part in such a conference. At present, I am trying to find a suitable date which I could suggest to the State Ministers concerned for a meeting.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General. Is the honorable gentleman aware that the South Korean Government has taken action to eliminate the tapping of telephones and the opening of private mail? If so, is the AttorneyGeneral prepared to confer with that enlightened government with a view to taking similar action in this country?
– Mr. Speaker, of course I am not aware of what the South Korean Government is doing, nor am I aware of the conditions with which it has to deal. I do know that in this country we need the statutory protection which we enacted earlier this year.
– Will the Minister for Trade give the House some further information regarding the purpose of the Australian seminar in Lausanne, Switzerland, and what has been the reaction to it of businessmen in Europe?
– This great fair is to be held at Lausanne in Switzerland.
– I rise to order. If you examine the notice-paper, Mr. Speaker, you will see that I have asked a question which is identical with the one which has been asked by the honorable member for Indi.
– I direct the attention of the Minister to the fact that if there is an identical question on the notice-paper he may not reply to the question which has now been asked by the honorable member for Indi.
– I propose to reply to this question in a different way.
Mr.Calwell. - Mr. Speaker, in order that this situation may not become farcical, I ask you whether the question which has been asked by the honorable member for Indi is identical with the question standing on the notice-paper in the name of the honorable member for East Sydney. It is question No. 94.
-I ask the honorable member for Indi to repeat his question.
– My question was in two parts. I asked the Minister, first, to give some further information to the House about the seminar which is to be held in Switzerland, and secondly, whether the proposal had produced any reaction from businessmen in Europe and in other parts of the world.
– The Minister is entitled to answer the question.
– Already there has been a quite widespread reaction to the invitations which were issued by the Australian Government to people to attend the seminar to be held at Lausanne in conjunction with the great fair at which this year Australia is the sole guest exhibitor. Already more than 100 European businessmen from not only Switzerland but also France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries have accepted the invitation, and about 50 prominent Australian businessmen have also indicated to me, and to the Department of Trade, their intention to be present. There will be, therefore, a meeting of Australian and interested European businessmen.
The seminar will be addressed by my colleague, the Treasurer, who will go to Lausanne especially for this purpose. He will convey to this greatest aggregation of European businessmen ever to come together the story of Australia’s economic circumstances and commercial opportunities. The seminar will be addressed also by other distinguished Australians - Mr. Ian Potter, the very well-known stockbroker; Mr. Walter Priestman of Melbourne; Mr. J. D. H. Marks of Sydney; Sir John Crawford, and Dr. Walker the noted Australian economist who is at present Australian Ambassador in Paris. We in Government circles have no doubt that this seminar, although apparently a matter of amusement to my friends of the Opposition, will make an important contribution to the well-being of the Australian economy. If my friends of the Opposition do not realize that that is the basis of the employment of the people whom they claim to represent, it is time that they started to do so.
-I ask the Treasurer whether he can explain a little bit of Treasury mystique that insists on Australia’s dollar debt, which appears at page 85 of the Budget Papers for 1960-61, being shown as convertible in terms of dollars at the rate of 4.8665 dollars to the £1 when, as everybody knows, the ruling rate of exchange is 2.24 dollars to the £1. Printing the figures in this fashion has the effect of understating Australia’s dollar debt in terms of Australian money by some £150,000,000. 1 suggest that in the interests of clarity the figures ought to be expressed honestly in Australian currency at ther ate of exchange ruling in 1960.
– There is no question whatsoever of honesty in the matter.
– We realize that.
-I am glad the honorable member appreciates that the honesty of the Treasury is never in question. That is one of the fundamental assumptions in the business which comes before this Parliament, and I am glad to say that it has been so accepted not only by the people of this country but also by those overseas people who have dealings with us. I shall get a precise and full technical explanation for the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. My own recollection is that the figures are stated in terms of the currency as it stood at the time when the relevant loan was made. I do not know whether the honorable gentleman is trying to create the impression that Australia’s overseas indebtedness has increased materially. In point of fact, the total indebtedness of this country, nationally and internationally, has been reduced rather than increased during the term of office of this Government.
– I desire to ask the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization a question without notice. Will the Minister outline what investigations, if any, have been made by the organization into the technique known as accelerated freeze drying for the processing of food?
– I shall obtain a precise and detailed answer and let the honorable gentleman have it.
-I address my question to the Attorney-General. Is Australia’s signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights binding on the State parliaments? Will the Minister have examined the legislation applied to the aboriginal people of Australia by most of the State parliaments, particularly that applied in Queensland, in order to ascertain how it offends the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and perhaps submit a statement for the consideration of the House on the general legal conditions applying in respect of that declaration and the aboriginal people?
– I do not myself favour making to the House a statement about this matter, but I shall write to the honorable member and inform him precisely what the position is.
– I ask the Treasurer a question which is supplementary to that asked a few minutes ago by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. Will the Minister make the answer which he proposes to give to the honorable member available also to other honorable members?
-I shall have a look not only at the question raised by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports but also at the implications which seem to flow from the interjections and comments made by Opposition members, and I shall see whether I can prepare for the information of honorable members a statement showing the movements in Australia’s internal and external indebtedness. I am quite certain that such a statement would be highly informative and would reflect considerable credit on the financial housekeeping of this Government.
– In asking the Minister for Health a question I should like to direct his attention to what I am informed by constituents is a rather miserable practice in relation to the hospital contributions scheme, whereby the contributions of people of the age of 65 are put into a special account and special privileges are taken from them without their being informed. In fact, if they have been paying 3s. a week for years, when they reach the age of 65 the fund transfers them to special account. Thereafter, if they enter a private hospital which is not registered as a private hospital, they are mulct of the full charge and get no compensation. Is there any way in which the Minister can speak to the organizations about this and see whether he can answer the questions about this position that £ receive from my constituents?
– When the special account procedure was introduced in this House I gave a very full explanation of the way in which it worked, which made it quite plain that nobody was disadvantaged by it but that many people acquired additional advantage from it. What actually happens when people attain the age of 65 is that they are transferred to special account.
– But not so advised.
– It is quite common knowledge that they are transferred to special account. But if they are insured under any particular fund table withthe organization to which they are contributors and incur expenses of that order they are still paid those expenses.
– They are not!
– Order! The honorable member will refrain from interjecting.
– The honorable member for East Sydney says that they are not. That is quite untrue. If a contributor who is insured under any particular table enters hospital and receives a bill from the hospital, he is paid the full amount for which he is insured unless that amount is in excess of the hospital charge. Before the institution of the special account system it was frequently the lot of a contributor to be paid no fund benefit at all because the funds could, and did, refuse to recognize many hospitals. In fact, what has happened to the special account contributor is that he is better off and not worse off than he was before.
– I desire to ask the Minister for the Army a question without notice. When will the honorablegentleman be in a position to inform the House about the conditions of retirement of certain officers of the Permanent Army retired in accordance with the recently announced Army reorganization? Is it a fact that the Army is finding difficulty in obtaining the full quota of candidates for entry to the Royal Military College? Does the Minister feel that the present uncertainty about conditions of retirement is responsible for this lack of applications?
-I am not yet in a position to give details in connexion with these retirements. As for the second part of the honorable member’s question, we can do with more applicants for entry to the Royal Military College, but I may say that the Army is very careful in its selection from such applicants. However, I have no doubt that we will be able to fill our quota before the next session starts.
– My question is to the Minister for Trade. Is it a fact that, consequent upon the policy of the Government of permitting the free sale of Australian copper concentrates to Japan, there has occurred recently a serious deterioration in the earning capacity of employees of the copper smelting industry at Port Kembla, coupled with a real threat to their employment? If the Minister is not possessed of recent knowledge of this matter will he investigate the position as a matter of urgency? If the facts are as I have stated, will he seek to initiate a change in the Government’s policy aimed to ensure that the workers in this essential industry are protected along with the overall interests of the Australian copper industry?
– I do not pretend to be fully informed of this matter, although I have some knowledge of it. I understand that there is some problem in the Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Company of Australia Proprietary Limited, Port Kembla, of securing sufficient copper concentrates. There is a production of these surplus to Australia’s requirements. The problem seems to arise from the purchase price of copper concentrates. The producer of copper concentrates, who, I understand, is concerned in the issue that has been raised with me, is Peko (Tennant Creek) Gold Mines at Tennant Creek - one of the few mines in the very inland of Australia sustaining population and employment there. If the proposition is as it was put to me, that this mine should be compelled to sell its product to an Australian company at a lower price than it can get from some other source, then I am bound to say that that is the kind of proposition that could have very widespread application in Australia. It need not stop with the sale of a product. It could equally be argued, with the same kind of logic, that if some one were required to work for lower wages, it would add to the employment opportunities and profits of some one else. We believe that this is a free economy that is best allowed to operate on a free basis.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. When the committee of inquiry set up to investigate the crash of the Fokker Friendship aircraft in Queensland has furnished its report, will the report be tabled in both Houses of the Parliament?
– I know of the interest that the honorable member for Perth takes in these matters. I have not spoken on this point to the Minister for Civil Aviation, but my understanding of his intention is that, when the report is furnished, he will have it tabled in both Houses.
– I desire to ask the Treasurer a question in his capacity as Leader of the House. Will he undertake to arrange with the Ministers concerned to have the bills associated with the Budget presented to the House as soon as possible so that honorable members will know their contents before the vote on the first item of the Estimates is taken, thus avoiding the position that has arisen in other years when some of these bills have been produced a day or perhaps two days before the Parliament has had to pass them without adequate debate?
– I shall certainly examine the honorable gentleman’s suggestion. I do not want to interrupt unduly the normal course of debate on the Budget.
– I would like to see the bills introduced on Tuesday next.
– I will examine how far we can meet your wishes in that respect.
Mr.CLEAVER. - I address a question to the Minister for Health. Is the honorable gentleman aware that a recent large shipment of Ceylon coco-nut was withheld from sale on arrival at Fremantle? What is the responsibility of both the Commonwealth and the State governments in such an instance and what action, if any, has been taken to protect the public constantly from foodstuffs suspected of containing bacteria which could cause an outbreak of disease?
– I am not sure from the honorable gentleman’s question for what reason or by whom the shipment was withheld.
– It was suspected of carrying bacteria which could convey disease.
– In this specific instance, I do not know who withheld it. If a case of some infectious disease occurs within a State, it is the responsibility of the State Government to trace the disease to its source. If the source turns out to be some imported material, all the facilities of the Commonwealth Department of Health are at the disposal of the State department concerned to track down the source or to prevent the spread of the disease.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he was privileged to see any of the episodes of the recent presentation by the Australian Broadcasting Commissionon Channel 2, Sydney, of the. story of Governor Bligh entitled “ Stormy Petrel “. If he was, does he agree that it was an outstanding presentation in every respect and, in educational and entertainment value, equal to any programme that has been shown on Australian television? In view of the success of this presentation, will he do everything possible to encourage the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the commercial television stations to produce and present programmes of this type which assist Australian writers, actors, actresses, technicians and producers, have immense educational value, and do much to enliven interest in the history of our own country?
– I am very glad to hear the complimentary references of the honorable member for Lang to this production. Unfortunately, I did not see it. I say “ unfortunately “ because I have heard from others, besides the honorable member for Lang, similar comments which show that the production was very successful. I shall certainly pass his comments on to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and I agree that this production has considerable value in the spheres that he mentioned. The honorable member asked me whether I am prepared to encourage the further production by the commission and by commercial stations of programmes of this character, which give opportunity to Australian artists and producers. I remind the honorable member that that has been my announced policy for some considerable time. Either last year or early this year, I wrote to all the commercial licensees pointing out the desirability of increasing the amount of programme material derived from Australian sources. I have their undertaking that they will continue to do this, and the reports I have from time to time show that they are doing their best to carry out this undertaking. I point out that recently I received figures which show that the Australian television licensees are spending £2 in the production of Australian programmes for every £1 spent on American programmes.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Audit Act - Finance- Treasurer’s Statement of receipts and expenditure for year 1959-60, accompanied by the Report of the AuditorGeneral.
Ordered to be printed.
Mr. HAROLD HOLT (Higgins-
Treasurer). - I lay on the table the following paper: -
Statement for the year 1959-60 of Heads of Expenditure and the amounts charged thereto pursuant to Section 36a of the Audit Act 1901-1960 (Advance to the Treasurer).
That the statement be taken into consideration in Committee of the whole House at the next sitting.
Debate resumed from 19th May (vide page 2007, vol. H. of R. - No. 9), on motion by Sir Garfield Barwick-
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Mr. Speaker, when the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) made his second-reading speech on this bill, he announced that while the Government would take full responsibility for having made the proposals contained in the measure and would support them, as a government, the legislation would not be treated as a party measure, and honorable members would be free to adopt their own attitudes to it and express them freely by their votes. The Opposition has resolved to take the same course. The Opposition anticipates that this bill will be debated in more detail in the committee stage and that in the second-reading debate there will be comparatively little said.
There are two principal features of the bill upon which I wish to speak briefly. The first is the age of marriage and the second is the provision for legitimation. The bill produces a change in most of Australia concerning the age at which males and females can marry. Up till now, in the three eastern mainland States boys have been able to marry at fourteen years of age and girls at twelve years of age, as long as their parents or a magistrate permitted them to marry. That was also the position in the other three States until comparatively recent times. If this bill had been in operation during1959, in the three eastern States the marriages of 283 girls and of 220 boys would not have taken place, or would have been void if they had taken place.
– Except in special cases.
– Except in exceptional and unusual circumstances - stricter circumstances under this bill than apply in any State at the moment. In the cases I have mentioned, the parents or a magistrate must have approved the marriage. Under this bill it will not be possible for parents to permit a marriage to take place and a magistrate will be able to permit it only if he is satisfied that the circumstances of the case are so exceptional and unusual as to justify it.
– Pregnancy will not be a special circumstance.
– It is- not necessarily one, although the Attorney-General has promised, in the committee stages, to give instances of what he thinks may be exceptional or unusual circumstances justifying parties being permitted to marry under the age of eighteen years in the case of a boy or sixteen years in the case of a girl. But these new provisions will be more severe than those at which at present apply in the three least populous States. In Tasmania since 1942 the Registrar-General or a police magistrate has been able to permit the marriage of parties under those ages if satisfied that for some special reason it should be celebrated. That might not be so different from the provisions of this bill.
In Western Australia since 1956 a magistrate has had power to permit a marriage below those ages if the intended wife is pregnant, if the proper consents to the marriage have been given and if he believes that an order should be made in the interests of the parties to the intended marriage and of the unborn child. In South Australia since 1957 the Minister has had power to permit a marriage below those ages, as long as the boy is over fourteen years of age and the girl over twelve years of age, and if he is satisfied that it is desirable that they should marry. You will notice, Sir, that in all those States permission to contract a marriage under the prescribed ages will in future be more difficult to secure.
The Attorney-General stated that there was a general trend towards the raising of the permissible age at which persons may marry. He made that statement last May. In March and April last, however, a meeting in Buenos Aires of the Commission on the Status of Women adopted a convention and a recommendation on this very matter. Six votes were cast in favour of fifteen years being the permissible age for boys and girls to marry, five in favour of sixteen years and three in favour of fourteen years. In the end the commission adopted the age of fifteen years. The convention and the recommendation will be submitted to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and, if it approves of them, to the General Assembly.
It is therefore exaggerating to say that there is any general support for an age of eighteen years for boys and sixteen years for girls. The general feeling in the world seems to be for a permissible age at somewhat lower figures. This is, of course, a matter upon which members can1 speak and vote according to their consciences. I do not think that the Attorney-General will be able to bear out the figures which he has chosen. If I may be pardoned for saying so, it appears that he takes, in social matters, a paternal attitude, as was illustrated in many features of the Matrimonial Causes Bill, in striking contrast to the laisser faire attitude he takes in economic matters.
The other feature that I want to mention concerns legitimation. The bill will undoubtedly effect a very great improvement in the position which at present obtains in Australia. There is no certainty that a legitimation acknowledged in one State will be acknowledged in every other State and Territory of Australia and, in fact, there are some States where legitimation is not granted unless the parents were free to marry at the time when the child was born. There is a thoroughly rational and humane amendment of the law here. As long as the parents of a child later marry, even if they were not able to marry at the time the child was born or conceived, that child is to be treated as legitimate throughout the Commonwealth. This is not an academic position. A situation can arise where a child is regarded as legitimate in one State and not in another and parents leave property in different States and no will. In those circumstances the property can go to different persons on the death of the parents. This is a thoroughly reasonable and overdue reform.
It is somewhat problematical whether the Commonwealth’s legislative powers extend to matters of legitimation. I congratulate the Attorney-General on having taken the bold course of assuming that this Parliament can legislate on legitimation. One always approaches these matters from two points. First of all, is the legislation likely to be challenged and, secondly, is it likely to be challenged promptly? Let us hope that the Commonwealth’s power as exercised in this legislation will not be challenged, or, if it is challenged, that it will not be for many years to come, by which time we shall have established a precedent which the courts will not feel disposed to upset.
The Commonwealth’s power In the matter before us and in respect of divorce is set out in two placita of section 51 of the Constitution, placitum (xxi.) dealing with marriage, and placitum (xxii.), which is phrased in the following terms: -
Divorce and matrimonial causes, and in relation thereto parental rights and the custody and guardianship of infants.
With placitum (xxii.) we have the same trouble that we have with regard to every other exception and qualification stated in section 51 of the Constitution concerning the Commonwealth’s powers, for example, bounties, fisheries, State banking, medical services and aborigines. I should certainly hope that those words “ in relation thereto “ could be omitted. It appears that this Parliament can legislate with regard to parental rights and the custody and guardianship of infants only if there is a divorce pending or if there is a matrimonial quarrel. If the parties are not proposing to take civil steps to dissolve their marriage there is nothing that this Parliament can do about those matters. There is, it follows, nothing that this Parliament can do about parental rights and the custody and guardianship of children who are born out of wedlock unless and until the parents marry. There have been several cases in recent years in which illegitimate children have been taken from one State to another in order to remove them from the jurisdiction of the Child Welfare Department of a State or from the custody of their mothers. The Constitutional Review Committee took evidence on this matter. The Institute of Public Affairs proposed that placitum (xxii.) should be re-phrased in the following terms: -
Domestic relations including divorce and matrimonial causes, parental rights and the maintenance, custody and guardianship of infants.
The learned counsel who appeared for the institute before the committee mentioned cases in which there had been litigation between husbands and wives, resident in different States, concerning custody of children. He told of particular instances in which proceedings by way of habeas corpus had been taken on three different occasions before three separate justices of the High Court. Mr. Justice Fullagar gave a decision one way; Mr. Justice Taylor gave a decision another way, and Mr. Justice Webbs after consultation with the Chief Justice, gave a decision a third way, It is obviously unsatisfactory that the issue of custody of children should be so uncertain that High Court justices, who can hear, in original jurisdiction, habeas corpus applications involving residents of different States, can arrive at various conclusions. There should be no uncertainty as to the law which is to apply, but it would seem that this Parliament cannot pass laws covering these matters unless they are incidental to divorce and matrimonial causes. I compliment the Attorney-General in regard to the provisions concerning legitimation, which may have some connexion with marriage, even if it is subsequent marriage, and on having taken this bold course of assuming that we have power in that connexion under placitum (xxi.).
There is an incidental matter to which I should direct attention, concerning the enforcement of maintenance orders. A question was asked on 29th May, 1956, by the former honorable and learned member for Balaclava, concerning the Commonwealth’s acceding to the 1956 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement Abroad of Maintenance Obligations. The Minister for External Affairs at that time said that Australia would not be acceding to that convention for two reasons. The first was that maintenance laws were a matter of State jurisdiction, and the second was that until that time there had always been bilateral instead of multilateral treaties dealing with the subject, between the Australian States and between particular States and other countries or provinces of other federations such as Canada. More recently, on 24th November, 1959, the Minister told me that bilateral agreements were considered more appropriate than multilateral ones. I ask the AttorneyGeneral, now that we have passed a Matrimonial Causes Act, and now that we have a Marriage Bill which will apply to the whole of the Commonwealth, whether the time has not come for us to accede to this 1956 convention on the recognition and enforcement abroad of maintenance obligations. The Commonwealth Parliament will no longer have the excuse that these are matters of State jurisdiction when we have occupied the field completely. It would also appear that we could accede to the convention under the External Affairs power. I suggest that such action will help to round out, simplify and cheapen proceedings in respect of maintenance applications.
There is another incidental matter. The Marriage Bill defines a great number of things, but not marriage itself. It may be that marriage, so far as the bill is concerned, does not even have to be monogamous. It certainly would not have to be Christian, in the terms of this bill. I would like the Attorney-General to state specifically whether aboriginal marriages are covered by the bill. The bill covers the whole of the Commonwealth, the mainland and Tasmania, and Norfolk Island, and many honorable members have shown, by their questions on the notice-paper in this and previous sessional periods, that they are interested in this subject. We should know for certain whether aboriginal marriages are valid as far as the various features of this legislation are concerned. I refer to formalities, to consent, to permissible ages and to legitimation. 1 conclude, Sir, by saying that whatever views may be taken on individual provisions of this legislation, it is gratifying that this Parliament is now legislating on a subject which concerns all Australians. There are very few differences between Australians resulting from the fact that they live on different sides of State borders. I have been unable to discern any economic differences between Australians based solely on residence in different States, however much the Englishmen who laid down our State boundaries 100 years ago might have thought such differences existed. Nobody has asserted that there are differences between Australians on social matters resulting from their situations on different sides of State borders. This is a field in which the founding fathers themselves, with their very narrow and timid conceptions of the Commonwealth’s powers, were agreed that this Parliament should be able to pass laws. In that respect our Commonwealth is different from the other English-speaking federations, the United States of America and Canada. We have power to pass laws on these subjects. I believe that everyone, whatever he may ‘ think of individual features of the bill, would agree that we should pass laws on this subject. As a result of this bill, Australian men and women and their children, wherever they live, will be able more readily and certainly to ascertain and establish their rights to marriage and arising from it.
.- One can warmly agree with the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) that this bill is one that can be better considered in committee. I have refrained from styling him “ Deputy Leader of the Opposition “ so as to relieve him of any suggestion that, on this occasion, he spoke with the authority of and for the Opposition in this Parliament. This measure is one upon which all members are free to make up their minds and to vote according to their own feelings and convictions. At first blush it may appear as though there is nothing in the bill that would spark the slightest sign of controversy. While I would not go quite so far as to say that that is so, I would be prepared, at least, to concede that this bill by no means promotes the same measure of controversy as did the Matrimonial Causes Bill when it was before this House. Nevertheless, it is a very important and far-reaching measure and the House, if I may presume to issue a warning, would do very well to look earnestly at its provisions.
Having said that, may I also join with the honorable member for Werriwa in recognizing the fact that legislation by this Commonwealth Parliament with respect to marriage is long overdue. What I am about to say may reflect a cynical point of view but I detected the undertones of a unificationist when the honorable member for Werriwa was speaking. It seemed that his attitude to the bill was a manifestation, however slight, of the unificationist doctrine that he supports. I may be doing the honorable gentleman an injustice and I would be the last person in this Parliament to want to do that. However, my impression was that it was the unificationist speaking rather than the person with genuine love of the concept of uniform marriage laws throughout Australia.
He made what I regard as a singularly ungenerous observation on the founding fathers of the Australian Constitution. I hope that it is not intolerable impertinence on my part to say that they were great men who gave to this country the means whereby a nation has been brought, not only to full adulthood, but to a position in which its role in world affairs can be played quite effectively. That is my point of view and I know that the unificationist holds a contrary opinion.
There are some who have a very ready flair for flattery. I confess unhesitatingly that I am not one of those by temperament nor by disposition, and I hope it will have some significance when I say to the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) that I admire very greatly indeed the patience and great skill that has gone into this measure - the patience and skill, not only of himself, but also of the officers of his department. It is a very long and technical measure and I trust that my humble tribute to the patience and human endeavour that it reveals will be treated with a measure of goodwill. 1 want to refer to some of the major provisions of the bill and to state briefly my own point of view. The dominant matter, of course, is the question of uniformity. Are you for uniformity in marriage laws or are you against it? I say briefly that I am very much for uniformity in marriage laws. This was one of the very few things in the Australian Constitution upon which there was no argument some 60 years ago. Recapitulating, I say it is high time that this Parliament legislated with respect to marriage.
The next major provision that I wish to raise concerns marriageable age. This bill lays down that the minimum age at which a male may contract a marriage is eighteen years and, for a female, the age is sixteen years. There are some who would have it that both those ages are a little on the high side. Despite the observations of the honorable member for Werriwa, I thought the Attorney-General put a very realistic point of view when he said that there is general tendency to lift the marriageable age throughout the world. I think that, with the progress of mankind - if one can genuinely style it progress - there has come a recognition that in dealing with the family and with marriage laws you are dealing with the very basis of a civilized society. As a consequence, those who have the responsibility to trigger off legislation and to provide laws for marriage should give the basic question of age a great deal of consideration. I am bound to say that it is extraordinary, to my mind, that three States in Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, have been content with a minimum age for marriage of fourteen years for a boy and twelve for a girl. I feel quite sure that the great majority of the people of this country would hardly credit that to be the case. So I put it to the House that the provision in the bill concerning a minimum age for marriage is eminently desirable and I feel that it will be generously supported in this Parliament.
That brings me to clause 12 of the bill which provides that under exceptional and unusual circumstances a male who has attained the age of sixteen years but has not attained the age of eighteen years, and a female who has attained the age of fourteen years but has not attained the age of sixteen years may apply to a judge of the Supreme Court for permission to get married. During the course of his second-reading speech the Attorney-General said that the mere expectancy of a child would not be a sufficient ground to bring a case within the category of “ exceptional and unusual circumstances “. My imagination has been wandering a little and I have been trying to imagine circumstances that would fall within this definition. I hope that the Attorney-General will not keep every one in a state of undue suspense before he tells the House of the sort of circumstances that he has in mind. I asked my colleague, the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden), whether it was possible that the sort of thing that the AttorneyGeneral had in mind was, for instance a death pact between a girl of fourteen and a lad of fifteen who said bluntly to a judge, “ If you do not allow us to get married we will commit suicide “. The judge, after considering all the relevant facts, might say, “ These people appear to be serious about this. I must give them permission.” The honorable member for Bruce expressed the view that that was not the kind of circumstance that the Attorney-General had in mind. Then I thought perhaps there would be the odd circumstance in which a person who had already been married and had been divorced was still under the prescribed marriageable age. I invite the Attorney-General to put me out of my misery in that sense and tell me what he has in mind.
I come, now, to what I regard as possibly one of the most controversial aspects of this bill. I refer the House to clause 16 and clause 17. Clause 16 provides that where the parents or guardian refuse to give consent to the marriage of a minor, the minor may apply to a magistrate for permission to get married. As I understand the various State acts, that is approximately the position at present. Having said that, I think it remains open to quite valid argument as to whether or not that unfettered power is completely right.
Clause 17 of the bill raises in my mind a formidable objection, and I am bound to state it. The clause provides that when a magistrate says, in effect, “ I agree with your parent and I refuse to give you consent to be married “, the minor may apply in his or her own name to a judge of the Supreme Court and secure, in effect, an appeal by way of re-hearing. But 1 hope the House will notice that there is not a similar right available to the parent. The Attorney-General may say that the Commonwealth legislation, as it applies to the States, must take the magistrates as they find them. Under the Queensland Justices Act, there is the right of appeal from a magistrate to a judge of the Supreme Court; but it would be only a limited appeal and not an appeal by way of re-hearing. All the facts and all the circumstances could not be unfolded and could not be heard - if I might say so with due respect to the magistrates - by a more robust and experienced, yet nevertheless sensitive, judicial mind.
There is a great principle involved in this matter. At what point does the State come along and assume the role of a parent and take over from the physical parent the responsibilities of that parent? Far be it from me to want to pursue the path of philosophy, but I say to the House with candour that the substitution of State, authority for individual responsibility is the great curse of this century. The substitution could be made in various ways. It could be made violently and hurriedly with the accoutrement of force or subtly and slowly, with charm and persuasion as the vehicles. Yet the end result will be the same. State authority, no matter how benevolent it may be in its intention, is not to be reconciled with individual liberty.
To my mind, spiritual and moral emancipation should be the first quest of all men, and that is not to be satisfied within the shaded confines of paternal State authority. I say that here there is no trifling, narrow, constricted, pinched principle involved. We are dealing with something that, by its very nature, is quite fundamental. State authority, in my view, means a moral levelling and brings with it a lot of servile and degenerating influences. It should be challenged. In clause 17 of this bill as I read it - though my judgment might be quite imperfect - there is a completely unwarranted and completely unjustifiable assumption of State authority over legitimate parental authority.
Again, the House would do well to bear this in mind: Magistrates and judges are not free from sociological influences. They may be conscious of them or unconscious of them, but they are not completely free from sociological influences. One can readily understand the circumstances where the parents of a child instinctively do not want their daughter to marry a fellow. If you asked the woman why, she could not give an intelligible reason; but her instinct would be against him. Again, we are not going to despise the considerations of the parents regarding the marriage of one of their children in a case where it might be a mixed marriage in a religious sense, lt may be the marriage of a daughter to a person whom the parents consider undesirable. These things are not narrow.
– They are unreasonable.
– I say to the honorable member that this is not unreasonable. If he thinks it is unreasonable, obviously he had not read the bill till he took a copy from the table five minutes ago. Clause 17 of this bill contains a completely unreasonable proposal. I invite the Attorney-General and the member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) to point to any other sector of civil jurisdiction in which the right of appeal is available to one person and not to another. There is the invitation; I hope it will be accepted in due time.
I go back now to the point where the magistrate says to the minor making an application, “ I agree with your parent. I do not believe you should be given permission to marry “. That is the status quo at the moment. But where the minor then says, Be blowed to that; I will appeal to secure a rehearing of the case “ - that is an appeal, in fact, to the judge of the Supreme Court. What is the position of the parents or guardian? Admittedly, there is provision for them to go along to the hearing, and the judge or magistrate can invite the views of the parents or guardian. But the parents might be of the opinion that the magistrate is dead wrong on his facts. What right of appeal have they? Under this provision, they have no appeal.
Quite apart from the various merits of this particular form of legislation, I seriously invite every honorable gentleman to ask himself this one simple question: Do you think it fair that there should be a right of appeal by way of re-hearing open to one party and not to another? 1 move on to mention some other aspects of the bill. The next one I want to mention, and of which I approve, is the provision for notice of a marriage. What the bill lays down regarding the notice of marriage is eminently desirable. The time can be abbreviated by the marriage registrar and not by a minister of religion. I have known cases in the past when persons have gone to a minister of religion and given him an overwhelming story and he has cut short the time with unhappy consequences. Under the bill, a person possibly a little more removed from the scope of emotional appeal is charged with the responsibility of abbreviating the time involved. I think it is a very desirable principle to be enshrined in legislation of this character.
Regarding the legitimation of children, again I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. For my part I think the bill deals with the matter with lively understanding and warm sympathy and I hope that these provisions will be generously supported by the House.
I come now to the definition of marriage. In his second-reading speech, the AttorneyGeneral said -
It will be observed that there is no attempt to define marriage in this bill. None of the marriage laws to which I have referred contains any such definition. But insistence on its monogamous quality is indicated by, on the one hand, the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act, which render a marriage void where one of the parties is already married, and by a provision, in this bill making bigamy an offence.
I hope that the House, during the committee stage of this bill, will consider the question of defining marriage and will lay down something which will indicate clearly what this Parliament regards as the definition of marriage.
It is appropriate to recall that nearly 100 years ago in the celebrated case of Hyde v. Hyde, Lord Penzance said that English law knows only one kind of marriage, and that is -
The voluntary union for life of one man with one woman to the exclusion of all others.
That definition is repeated in the Hailsham edition of Halsbury’s “ Laws of England “ which states that the only sense in which the word “ marriage “ is recognized in English law is -
The voluntary union of one man with one woman to the exclusion of all others.
It may be validly argued from a legal point of view, as distinct from an ecclesiastical point of view, that people who marry themselves on a desert island are married in the sight of God, but so far as the State is concerned such marriages are not recognized as legal unless they are performed and registered in the proper way and the appropriate forms completed. I have no quarrel with that.
Some very difficult questions can be raised by many sections of the Christian church regarding intention in marriage. I hope that no one will despise the point of view of the churches. The secular law is not affected in any sense al all. It would not be unreasonable for the House to provide in this bill some measure which would overcome the objections of some sections of the Christian church. This point did emerge some years ago in the United Kingdom. In 1944 the Committee on Procedure in Matrimonial Causes in the United Kingdom, known as the Denning committee, recommended in its final report as follows -
The form of marriage in register offices should be revised so as to emphasize the solemnity of the action, and clearly to express the principle that marriage is the personal union, for better for worse, of one man with one woman, exclusive of all others on either side, so long as both shall live … the obligations (of this principle) should be expressly brought home.
Clause 43 (2) of the bill lays down part of the procedure in register offices in these terms -
T> call upon the persons here present to witness that I, A.B. (or CD.), take thee, CD. (or A.B.), to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband). or words to that effect.
I say bluntly that that is pathetic. The question of intention, as viewed by a very large section of the Christian community is not represented in this clause of the bill. I hope that the Attorney-General will incorporate in the legislation something along the lines of the recommendation of the Denning committee which was adopted in the U.K. in 1947. One of the effects of this recommendation was that in November of that year the Registrar-General issued instructions that, as a preliminary to the ceremony, all couples duly presenting themselves for marriage in a register office, should be addressed in this way -
This place in which you are now met has been duly sanctioned according to law for the celebration of marriages. Before you are joined in matrimony it is my duty to remind you of the solemn and binding character of the vows you are about to make. Marriage according to the law of this country is the union of one man with one woman, voluntarily entered into for life, to the exclusion of all others. ls there any reasonable objection to the inclusion of a similar provision in our legislation? It is of the utmost importance to impress upon couples who, of their own choosing, go to a register office to be married, that marriage is not something that they can get out of to-morrow but that it is a very serious business which, from the State point of view, is a contract and, from the church point of view, a sacrament. It is not enough to have the words contained in clause 43 (2) of the bill-
I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, A.B. (or CD.), take thee, CD. (or A.B.), to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband).
They are quite pathetic words and to my mind do not impress sufficiently upon the parties to the marriage the significance of the occasion.
I have stated my views on what I regard as the major issues involved in this legislation. Broadly speaking, I think that the Bill is essential and will meet a very great need. I shall seek, during the committee stage, to have two major amendments made to the Bill if there is no indication from the Attorney-General that he will sponsor amendments along the lines that I have indicated. I recapitulate: I shall seek a provision that where a magistrate overrules the parents in the matter of consent, the parents shall have the right of securing a re-hearing of the case. In other words we shall give them a right of appeal to balance the right of appeal of the minor. I shall seek also to make it mandatory for a marriage registrar to include in the form of ceremony a statement of the serious nature of marriage.
This is a terribly cynical kind of world. I hope that the cynicism is not so impenetrable as to prevent people realizing that marriage, and things that touch upon marriage and the home, touch upon the very basis of our civilization. If I may presume to say why so much of the Western civilization has crumbled during the last generation, it is because people have despised marriage, the home and the family life. None of our laws is more important than those which touch upon marriage, the home and1, if the case regrettably should arise, the dissolution of marriage.
– At the commencement of his contribution to this debate the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), in expressing admiration for the manner in which the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labour Party (Mr. Whitlam) presented his case, said that he would like to feel that my Deputy Leader presented his case with a warmth of feeling rather than with the underlying motive of unification. It would be hard for a unificationist to do other than support this bill with the warmest admiration for the principles which underlies it subject, of course, to certain alterations which may be necessary but which would not interfere with the underlying principles of the legislation. If I needed support for my proposition, the honorable member for Moreton supported me in his final remarks when he said that he believed that most of our problems in the Western world stem from the fact that there has been a general tendency to despise marriage and its responsibilities and not to honour the home and family life in the way that they should be, and were intended to be, honoured. If the honorable member believes that, how can he fail to support a bill which provides for a step towards unification of the kind proposed in this measure? If one believes in what has been put by the honorable member for Moreton, one must believe in carrying through all those unification measures that will protect the home and family life and ensure reasonable conditions in the home. If the honorable member believes in those things, he comes down on our side and becomes a unificationist. I suggest that he cannot have it both ways. If one believes that marriage embraces the things that he mentioned at the conclusion of his speech, one must take the next step and acknowledge that marriage is the basis of the home and proper family life. If one does that, one joins us and becomes a unificationist.
I offer no apology for being a unificationist. For the reasons that I have given, I support this bill with all the warmth at my command, subject to reservations on certain features of it. The measure is really one more step along the road of uniformity in laws throughout the Commonwealth of Australia. Let me repeat that that in itself is good. In my view, uniformity in marriage laws is desirable in a country such as ours, where State boundaries are gradually losing their importance, at least in the public mind. That, too, is all to the good. I believe that every time we introduce this kind of legislation which lowers the barriers between people living in different States, we take one more step in the building of a great nation. The Matrimonial Causes Bill of last year, which dealt with the more sordid side of life represented by divorce, and this bill, which deals with marriage - something that is the basis of family life and the home - will have a tremendous effect on the public mind in the long run. After a while, people will no longer feel that there is any difference between family life in Queensland and in Victoria, and husband and wives will not feel that if their marriage partners skip over a State border they will be virtually in another country with respect to marriage laws. In my view, that in itself is all to the good.
As I have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this bill, following as it does on the Matrimonial Causes Bill of last year, alerts the public mind to the desirability of uniformity in life in Australia. When this measure becomes law, we shall have uniform marriage laws which will have a considerable impact on family life at all levels. As a unificationist, I say that we have gone a very long way along the road towards uniformity, and not many more barriers remain to be pulled down. When this bill becomes law, we shall have established uniformity in the laws relating to marriage, divorce and the legitimacy of children.
We already have uniformity in respect of maternity allowances and child endowment. My thought at this moment is: What a pity it is that we have not bridged the gap in family life between the stage at which child endowment terminates and the later stages of family life when social service benefits become important! We have uniformity in sickness and accident benefits, and uniformity at all levels in social service and repatriation benefits. We have uniform laws on employment and unemployment. An outsider looking at our national planning and progress will find it strange that only now are we providing for uniformity in the laws of marriage throughout a country which has only one language and in which the population now exceeds 10,000,000.
Earlier, Sir, I said that the importance of State boundaries was diminishing in the public mind. I believe that this bill represents one more important step in the process of tearing down the barriers of State boundaries and of diminishing their importance in the public mind, and for that reason, even if for no other, I should support it. We are coming more and more to accept the importance of regarding ourselves as Australians rather than looking on ourselves with a somewhat false air as Queenslanders, Victorians, South Australians or New South Wales citizens. The adoption of more Australian sentiment is all to the good.
This bill is Australian in character and in application. It will forge one more important link in the Australianism that, in my view, is so important a feature of our nationhood. When one looks at the world and thinks of the divisions taking place at all levels on the basis of race, colour or something else, it is good to think that in this country we are still moving towards uniformity and a more Australian sentiment in our thinking.
I said earlier that it seemed to me a pity that we in this Federal Parliament had not bridged the gap in family life between the stage at which child endowment ended and the later stages at which social service benefits became more generally applicable. Here I go back to what was said by the honorable member for Moreton in conclusion. The honorable member stated that he believed that some of the problems of the Western world were due to the fact that family life was being neglected. It is important to a young country like this, which is developing swiftly and which in its geographic situation needs to build its strength, to have uniformity in all the things that I have mentioned. I know that the achievement of this uniformity would require an alteration in the legislative powers of this Parliament, and we should take the next step and bring within the legislative scope of this Parliament, with the object of achieving uniformity within the Commonwealth framework, the remaining matters that affect family life in Australia.
The honorable member for Moreton believes that neglect of the home is destroying some of the great strength of the Western world. If we are to strengthen home and family life, we must first have the home. If we believe in uniformity in marriage laws and in the laws relating to divorce, and to marriage guidance, which is designed to protect family life and p-event divorce from taking place, how much more important is it for this Parliament to take up the challenge implicit in the remarks of the honorable member for Moreton and seek legislative power to deal with the next two factors that are so important in family life in Australia - housing and the education of children? If we take the next step and give to this Parliament responsibility for providing homes and for education, we should develop a strong Australian outlook and sentiment which are essential if we are to play the part that we should play in the southern hemisphere.
When we consider comments such as those made by the honorable member for Moreton, we ought to think in terms of what follows marriage and of what family life involves. What is the point of having uniformity in marriage laws unless we take the next step and provide for uniformity of opportunity for married couples and their children? If one is the responsibility of this Parliament the other is even more so, in view of the fact that this Parliament controls the purse strings of the nation.
I believe that if we turned our minds to these matters now we would, in a very short space of time, have the people of this country clamouring for uniform Australian laws and willing to tear down State boundaries so that we could provide all people in the community with equal opportunity as Australians, wherever they may be, and educate them all in Australian sentiment and in the Australian way of life. That, of course, would bring to this Parliament the responsibility regarding education. We will hear debates during this session on the question of who fixes that responsibility, and where it rests; but all that becomes tragic and farcical when we are handling a measure of this description, if we do not follow through and discharge our responsibility for providing conditions to govern family life in Australia.
Having said that, 1 want now to turn to some features of the bill which, I think, warrant attention. First, I think it is good that the Government has indicated its intention of treating the measure as a non-party bill. There may be some political differences of opinion as to whether any matter concerning human relations should be dealt with on that level; but when we are dealing with uniform legislation touching human relations we should do so without any thought of party politics. So, I welcome this opportunity of supporting the Government’s desire to have the bill dealt with as a non-party measure. It is right that honorable members, in dealing with a humanitarian matter like this, should be free to adopt their own attitudes and to arrive at their own decisions when the measure comes to a vote.
I will refer, before I conclude, to a few of the matters discussed by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), because I have some doubt as to the wisdom of at least one feature of this measure. Strong differences may arise in respect of the particular subject that I raise, but when we are dealing with human problems we should not allow political considerations to enter into the debate in the way that they enter into debates on other legislation that comes before us. In respect of legislation dealing with human relations we should be guided by our consciences, and if we are guided by our consciences in relation to this measure party politics will not be allowed to intrude.
I think that one of the very important features of the legislation is the provision that every Australian marriage will be evidenced by documents which will be common in form throughout the whole country. This will streamline the legal machinery where the law becomes involved at various levels, in the problems that arise from the breaking up of families.
The measure seems to me to be vital when we think in terms of the Matrimonial Causes Act and when we think of the marriage guidance councils and so on. It is important that all the marriage laws in Australia be common, and the AttorneyGeneral did not lose very much time in introducing this measure to produce uniformity which, after all, flows from the uniform divorce legislation already passed by this Parliament. It seems to me almost unbelievable, Sir, that in the year 1960 we still have in the Australian States different types of registration for ministers of religion as persons authorized to celebrate marriages. It is true to say that all States do not recognize all religious denominations in the Australian community, and that the registration of one authority in one State may not be accepted in another State. We have found in ordinary life that that has been another factor that has created difficulties in the application of State laws when it comes to rendering assistance in the maintenance of deserted wives and families and so on. So, if this measure did nothing else but correct that situation, it would be worthy to be placed on the statute-book.
The Attorney-General is to be complimented for the way in which he has described the religious bodies and organizations. As a result of its immigration programme this country is receiving people of a wide range of thought and religious beliefs, and I think that, in view of this, the bill provides broadly for whatever may happen in the future as well as for what is needed to-day.
Now I come to the problem that concerns me most. State laws in regard to the marriageable age vary. The eastern and more heavily populated States of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have a minimum marriageable age for males of fourteen years and for females of twelve years. In 1942 Tasmania, in 1956 Western Australia, and in 1957 South Australia adopted a minimum age similar to that provided in the bill. But, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this aspect should not be passed over lightly. This provision in the bill necessarily calls for the closest of scrutiny at the committee stage. The Attorney-General advised us in his second-reading speech that the Commonwealth Statistician had supplied figures for the year 1959 which showed that in the three eastern States combined two girls aged thirteen, 36 girls aged fourteen and 245 girls aged fifteen were married, whilst 36 boys aged sixteen and 184 boys aged seventeen were married. The totals in that one year were 283 females and 220 males. The fact that this measure to produce uniformity will mean that in the future the three major States will deny, though certainly with some exceptions, the freedom of the subject to marry in all these cases, should cause every member of this House to pause before making a decision on this feature of the bill. It may quite easily be that the great majority of those marriages - perhaps 90 per cent, of them - were for a purpose that we can accept as being important in these young lives. Of course, the bill does provide special conditions to cover the extreme case where only one of the couple is below the marriageable age. One of the things that we cannot gather from the figures supplied by the Attorney-General is how many of the young people with whom the figures deal were both under age. It was this statement by the AttorneyGeneral on behalf of the Government that most attracted my attention-
The bill adopts the view that a marriage of immature people solely to ensure that an expectant child is born within wedlock is not in the real interests of the child or of the parents or, for that matter, of the community. Consequently, it has been felt that to render a marriage under the marriageable age invalid would remove what might be an instrument of pressure to enter what is commonly called a forced marriage, which, on what T have been able to glean, the social workers would say is unlikely to be permanent and more likely to cause misery and to wreck more lives than one.
That causes me grave concern. Who are we to make this decision? Is it our right to say that in the future these young people shall not marry? Is it our right to say that, because the legitimacy provision will be altered to take care of the worst feature, happiness may be provided for two of the three parties but the third, the child, should be left to take a risk? That is legislative action that I am unhappy to adopt. Unless I am provided with facts to establish beyond reasonable doubt that a substantial percentage of these marriages were not successful or fitted the description given by the Attorney-General, I will find myself continuing to believe that many happy marriages could be made between a boy of or below the age of eighteen years and a girl of or below the age of sixteen years.
To be perfectly blunt about it, this legislation presents the view that nature should be allowed to take its course. It says that if these young people still think sufficiently of each other and are still attached to each other when they reach the permitted age, they can then give the child all the rights that it would have had if the marriage had taken place at- an earlier time. That raises a question that every honorable member, in all conscience, must answer for himself, for this one provision makes the bill a matter of conscience and not of party. Unless I hear very sound reasons for interfering with the present standards in the eastern States, I shall find it difficult to come down on the side of legislative action which brings illegitimacy within the law rather than allowing the latitude that is necessary to avoid it, although it provides a way in which the child can be regarded as legitimate at a later time. Very strong argument will need to be adduced to convince me that the present position should be altered, and I hope that, in the committee stage, we will be given the information that is available from trained social workers.
I doubt whether information to support the argument that the position should be altered is available. In my experience, when young people in these circumstances marry, they invariably do so with the knowledge and support of their parents, who know the significance of parenthood and are well experienced in family life. It is generally accepted that the scallawag runs away rather than accept the responsibility of a marriage. But in the main, these marriages are organized by the parents of the children concerned and are accepted as a social requirement, with the future of the little one yet to be born well in mind. I would not be happy if I had to tell the parents of a lad under eighteen years or a girl under sixteen years that they, could not give their consent to a marriage, except in special circumstances. I do not know of anything more important than this in the lives of young people who are attached to each other. I disregard the suggestion of broken marriages, because in the main these are caused by scallawags who move to another centre rather than accept their responsibilities.
– Not at that age, though.
– Yes, at that age, in modern times. That is dealt with in clause 84. This bill provides a good framework, and I agree with the Deputy Leader of my party, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), that the Attorney-General is to be complimented on the way in which it has been drawn. I do not propose to touch on the legal aspects, because only the Attorney-General and people like my friend, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, would be able to analyse them. But, after all, in family life the common-sense aspect is an important feature, and common sense requires that we should go as far along the road as we can to give legitimacy where now illegitimacy obtains.
With that one exception, I believe that the measure deserves support. Last year, I supported the legislation dealing with divorce and those matters that lead to divorce. . I believe that this bill is needed to go hand in hand with the divorce legislation. However, I doubt whether we should interfere with the freedom of young people in the eastern States, to the extent that this bill does, having in mind the numbers that are involved. Before I could happily accept this interference, I would need to be convinced that I am not correct in saying that, in the eastern States, the majority of these marriages have been organized properly, that the parents have been fully aware of the position and that, in the main, they have supported the marriage and given their aid to the young couple about to undertake married life at an earlier age than normal. In most instances, the parents are fully aware of all the circumstances and give their approval to the marriage. I would not be happy if I had to tell parents that in the future they could not do that and that they could not give their consent to a young couple linking family names, with all the honour that goes with it. I have seen young people make a success of these marriages when they have had the assistance of their parents.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), like my colleague, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), earlier this afternoon, has made a very thoughtful contribution to the debate and has stressed in eloquent terms the importance of family life in the fabric of the Australian nation. With that sentiment I am sure every honorable member is fully in agreement. I am very glad indeed that the Government decided to make this a non-party measure, as it did in the case of the earlier matrimonial bill, now the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959. I think it is most desirable that on a highly consequential and technical social measure such as this every member should be able to exercise his conscience when speaking and voting. Although some doubts have already been raised in the course of this debate as to the wisdom of a point here or a point there, indicating a very careful consideration of this bill, I am nevertheless confident, Sir, that the great majority of members of this House will find that the bill measures up to what they expect of it and I believe that it will, on the whole, find acceptance here.
If I may attempt at the outset to summarize very briefly what I conceive to be the principal purport of this bill, I would say that it is designed not only to make the marriage laws uniform throughout this country, but also to strengthen the institution of marriage, to simplify and streamline the present legal position, to eliminate anomalies and injustices that arise at the present time through our having six separate sets of State laws and to discourage marriages between those who are too young or too immature to live up to and be able to accept fully the responsibilities of married life. This, Sir, is the second major reform in the field of matrimonial law which has been undertaken by the present AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) since he assumed that office not much more than eighteen months ago, and I join with other speakers in commending him for his industry, for his untiring energy, for his patience, for his consummate skill and for his devotion to duty as evidenced in this measure. I believe that it is a fine, thoughtful and constructive bill and that he and his officers, the Parliamentary Draftsman and all who have been concerned in its preparation, should be warmly congratulated.
The Attorney-General foreshadowed this bill last year when he introduced what is now the Matrimonial Causes Act and it is, to use his own words, the natural complement of the earlier measure. Not only has the measure been prepared with great skill and care, but the Attorney-General has also gone to great pains to ensure that it has wide support outside of this Parliament, by conferring with church leaders, law reformers, social welfare organizers and others who are interested in this work and in what this bill purports to do.
I think we are all agreed that the family unit is the whole basis of our social structure, and any move to strengthen it must surely find support with all right-thinking people in the community. The degree of support for the measure which has already been indicated both inside and outside of this Parliament is, in itself, a tribute to the carefulness and thoroughness with which the measure has been prepared. One of its outstanding features is the proposed alteration in regard to the age for marriage. I think each of the earlier speakers in this debate has expressed his own viewpoint on this aspect. Clause 17, as the House knows, provides that for males eighteen years and for females sixteen years shall be the marriageable age, but there is the very important qualification in clause 12 that a male of sixteen years or a female of fourteen years may apply to a judge of a Supreme Court of a State or Territory for an order authorizing him or her to marry a particular person of marriageable age; and it is at the discretion of the judge whether such an order should be made. It is particularly laid down that he must be satisfied that the circumstances warrant such an order and that they are so exceptional and unusual - to use the words contained in the bill - as to justify such a step.
The honorable member for Moreton has posed one or two very interesting points and has raised one or two interesting queries in relation to clause 12. I am sure we will all be interested to hear what the AttorneyGeneral has to say in reply to the points which the honorable member for Moreton has raised. But it seems to me that, on the whole, the wording of the clause provides an adequate safeguard against illadvised and hasty marriages; and the fact that the order is operative for only three months appears to me to be an additional protection against such marriages.
Clauses 13 to 21 and the First Schedule, Sir, contain very full provisions with regard to the consent to the marriage of a minor, and every possible circumstance appears to have been considered in the drafting of this legislation. Only in certain clearly defined cases can consent be dispensed with by a prescribed authority. As has been pointed out, the minimum age proposed - eighteen years for males and sixteen years for females - applies at present in only three States of the Commonwealth, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. The minimum age in the other States, including my own State, Queensland, is fourteen years for boys, and twelve years for girls. For a very long time it has appeared to me that those ages are ridiculously low. Perhaps I should say they are dangerously low. I, for one, will heartily support the proposal for a marriageable age of eighteen years for boys and sixteen years for girls because, in all conscience, that seems to be young enough anywhere. If this bill becomes law the minimum age in Queensland and in the other two States where the minimum age is at present only fourteen years for boys and twelve years for girls, respectively, will go up by four years. In my opinion, that is quite an important social advance.
It should be pointed out, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the present low minimum age in several States has been availed of by a number of migrant families to apply the southern European custom of fixed marriages for minors. I think the House will agree that this practice is obviously not in the best interests of our Australian com munity and can well be the fount of much misery and family discord. With the proposal to raise the marriageable age it appears, from the statement which is attached to the roneoed copy of the secondreading speech of the Attorney-General, that we are following, if not a world-wide trend, at least a trend which is discernible in the most enlightened countries of the world. The whole emphasis in this bill is on the promotion of soundly based and happy marriages within the Commonwealth and at least within some of its Territories, iri accordance with the power which has been vested in this Parliament by section 51 of the Commonwealth Constitution.
Clause 4 of the bill repeals the Marriage (Overseas) Act 1955-1958, although the provisions of certain sections of it continue to apply in relation to marriages and purported marriages referred to in that act.
Part III. of the bill deals in great detail with the solemnization of marriages in Australia under various headings. The only clause to which I wish to make particular reference is clause 41 which appears in Division 2 of Part III. under the heading of “ Marriages by Authorized Celebrants “. I think it is worthy of note that the AttorneyGeneral has seen fit to provide that if this bill becomes law a marriage may be solemnized on any day, at any time, in any place. This, too, is quite a radical change from the present law, which provides that marriages may take place only between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
I should also make reference to clause 76. which appears in Division 4 of Part IV. of the bill. It deals with the solemnization of marriages by duly appointed marriage officers or chaplains. Under this clause a marriage officer or chaplain may refuse to solemnize a marriage under Part IV. on any grounds which appear to him to be sufficient, and in particular on the ground that, in his opinion, the solemnization of the marriage would be inconsistent with international law or the comity of nations.
Part V. of the bill, containing clauses 84 to 88, is concerned with legitimation. It has already been referred to at considerable length by previous speakers. I believe that these provisions demonstrate the great humanitarianism and wise approach of the
Attorney-General and his officers and of the Cabinet which, of course, has fully considered and approved all the details of this measure. These clauses, as the AttorneyGeneral himself has pointed out, seek to replace the present ‘diverse collection of statute laws in the various States and Territories, and, if I may borrow the words used by the Minister in his second-reading speech, “ render unnecessary any resort to the rules of private international law to determine … the efficacy and validity of a marriage solemnized or a legitimation effected within the Commonwealth and the Territories to which the bill applies “. Clause 84 seeks to legitimate a child whose parents were not married to each other at the time of the child’s birth, but who have subsequently married, whether or not there was a legal impediment to the marriage at the time of the birth, and whether or not the child was still living at the time of the marriage, provided that the father was at that time domiciled in Australia, or the marriage took place either in Australia or outside Australia in accordance with legal requirements. In my view the important change effected by this provision is that in future the existence of a legal impediment to marriage at the time of the child’s birth shall not be considered a bar to a subsequent legitimation. The offspring of an unmarried couple who are under the marriageable age may he legitimated by the marriage of the couple when the father reaches the age of eighteen years and the mother sixteen years.
Under clause 86, the child of a void marriage will be legitimate if one of the parents, although under marriageable age, believed on reasonable grounds that the marriage was valid, provided that one of the parents was domiciled in Australia at the time of the birth. The proposals I have referred to in Part V. of the bill represent a major social advance. For this reason I have referred to them in detail.
Another notable alteration is proposed in clause 89, Part VI., which provides for a term of five years’ imprisonment for the offence of bigamy. It is proposed that it shall be a defence to a prosecution for bigamy if the defendant proves that he did not know at any time during the seven years immediately preceding the alleged offence that his spouse was living, or that he believed on reasonable grounds, at the time of the alleged offence, that his spouse was dead. These provisions, if they become law, will operate to the exclusion of any law of a State or Territory covering the offence of bigamy. As the Attorney-General has said, this is to facilitate the prosecution for such an offence, and to obviate difficulties which might arise if existing State laws were relied upon.
This bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is a social measure of first-class importance. It introduces some very desirable reforms, and I have great pleasure in supporting it.
.- This bill deals with one of the most significant sacraments of all, that of marriage, which, of course, is basic to our family life, home life and national life. This Parliament is considering it according to its importance in the scheme of things. It is a good thing that we can vote on the matter each according to his conscience, just as we did when we dealt with the Matrimonial Causes Bill in November of last year. Until that occasion it had been a long time since we enjoyed such an experience in this Parliament. I repeat that it is a good thing that we can, in considering a matter of this kind, get away from rigid party lines and vote purely and simply on the merits of the matter.
This bill is complementary to the bill that we considered in November last, during the debate on which I referred to the need for just such a measure as the one now before us. I said, as reported at page 2736 of “ Hansard “ for 17th November, 1959:-
Marriage laws also should be brought up to date because marriage laws are complementary to divorce laws. In fact, in actual practice marriage laws should be considered before divorce laws.
I feel, then, that this measure will have the almost unanimous support of members of this Parliament, even greater support than was given to the Matrimonial Causes Bill of last year. 1 deal now with the virtue of uniformity in marriage laws. I do not believe in uniformity simply for its own sake, but I do think that a measure designed to bring the marriage laws of all States into conformity with each other, in one piece of legislation, is a major act of statesmanship, similar to the major act of statesmanship which last year resulted in uniform divorce laws throughout the Commonwealth.
As an ex-minister of religion, having married neary 200 couples in eight years’ experience as a minister, I can say that this bill represents a great advance. I first became a minister in Victoria and had experience of the laws of that State. 1 later transferred to Tasmania, and I hardly realized that I was in the same Church and in the same country, so widely did marriage laws differ between the two States. One thing that I noticed specifically was that whereas the payment for a marriage in Victoria was three guineas, in Tasmania it was only two guineas.
Speaking from personal experience, 1 would say that this is a sound and statesmanlike piece of legislation which will be greatly welcomed by all ministers of religion and all churches throughout Australia. Some denominations have itinerant ministers who may be invited interstate, or transferred interstate, and this uniformity will be a great help to them. At present, if a minister moves from one State to another he has, in effect, to reregister if he is to perform marriages. A minister who is travelling throughout Australia cannot just perform marriage services anywhere at any time, as he wishes. A minister of religion who has been registered in Tasmania, for example, and who moves to Queensland, will automatically be able to marry couples in Queensland. Why not? Why should we have this fantastic, unreal division between Tasmania and Queensland on this matter even though there may be great differences on other points? After all, people are people everywhere. Marriage is the same everywhere. These geographical divisions, all through the years, have seemed utterly fantastic and unreal to me. Thank goodness, with the passing of this measure, we will at last grow up in Australia as far as marriage laws are concerned!
– Abolish the States altogether!
– I assume that the honorable member for Banks is suggesting that we should abolish the State parliaments. Perhaps by the year 2000 A.D. we will be a bit nearer to that objective, but I do not envisage it happening quickly. However, we have gone above State rightism in this measure and that is a very good thing for a responsible nation which is taking its place in the Commonwealth of Nations and in international affairs generally.
All State acts relating to marriage will become void when this measure becomes law. Some such uniformity as this bill encompasses was foreseen by the constitutional fathers. I admire greatly the constitutional fathers for having envisaged, 60 years ago, the need for uniformity in divorce and marriage laws and for having provided for such uniformity in the Constitution which came into operation in 1901. We are only just catching up with their ideas now - 60 years later. Sometimes the Constitution is called a “ horse and buggy “ Constitution, but, in this instance, the constitutional fathers were in the jet age and until now we have been in the horse and buggy age. They envisaged legislation which it has taken us 60 years to introduce. We are an adult nation and this is a sign of adulthood.
A multiplicity of laws is a weakness, not a strength, in a nation. We know what State divisions have done to weaken Australia. We have six sets of laws throughout the Commonwealth - six sets of traffic laws, licensing laws, and laws of many other kinds. Is that a sign of strength, or of confusion and weakness? Marriage is a universal experience in human relations and only differs in procedures and forms of service. Geography should not be a vital factor in such an important human matter as marriage, yet, up to date, geography has decided the form of marriage in Australia.
I would like, at this stage, to mention that the Tasmanian marriage legislation played a very important part in the drafting of this bill. In the correspondence that I have seen from the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) he has paid tribute to the Tasmanian law. He has said that it helped him greatly in framing the provisions of this bill. In this connexion, I pay a great tribute to our Registrar-General in Tasmania who is now nearing his retiring age. When I was a minister on King Island in 1938 and 1939 and at Latrobe from 1944 to 1946, I always found him to be a human being in every sense of the term. He was of tremendous help to ministers in checking on facts about people who wished to gel married. 1 think it was in 1942 that he introduced a complete new set of marriage laws for Tasmania. They are mentioned in the speech of the Attorney-General. It is a striking tribute to this man that, near the end of his public career, the laws which he introduced in Tasmania should be almost entirely incorporated in a federal act. That is not to say that Tasmania is more civilized than any other State, but it means that we have had a Registrar-General who has had humanity, common sense, and down-to-earthness which deserve commendation. I pay that tribute to him to-day in this Parliament.
There are matters in the measure before us that deserve some comment. I have already said that it is complementary to the Matrimonial Causes Act. These are two excellent pieces of federal legislation. If, at any time in the future, we find weaknesses in these two big federal laws, either can be amended in this Parliament and the amendments will apply over the entire Commonwealth. When this bill is passed we will have a marriage law which can be amended from time to time as circumstances warrant it. Consequently, we shall not have discharged our entire responsibility merely by passing this measure. Undoubtedly we will have the legislation before us from time to time and will be able to improve on it and remove whatever weaknesses may exist at this stage through sheer lack of knowledge of how it will work out.
The next matter that I wish to mention is the provision relating to marriageable age. All speakers in the debate have agreed on this point. From now on the legal age for marriage will be eighteen years for a male and sixteen years for a female. According to the facts given to us by the AttorneyGeneral, in the three eastern States combined, two girls aged thirteen, 36 girls aged fourteen and 245 girls aged fifteen were married last year. In those States, 36 boys of sixteen and 184 of seventeen years were married last year. A higher marriage age has applied since 1942 in Tasmania, since 1956 in Western Australia, and since 1957 in South Australia.
All of us are agreed that fourteen or even fifteen years is a very young and immature age to enter marriage. This bill is on the right lines in lifting the permissible age for marriage in Australia to the average age recognized in the countries that were mentioned by the Attorney-General in his second-reading speech. I have studied the list of twenty countries mentioned by the Minister and only one or two allow fourteenyearold females to marry. All the rest stipulate ages up to eighteen years for males and sixteen for females. So we are bringing ourselves into line with world opinion and experience in this matter. I believe this is an excellent trend.
I wish to refer now to the laws in Australia and Great Britain which provide for marriages with religious ceremony and observance, and marriages before officials without any such observance or ceremonies. Under the bill, this principle will still be recognized in Australia. In this connexion, the figures that were given to the House by the Attorney-General are interesting and encouraging. Of 74,360 marriages solemnized in Australia last year, 65,885 or 88.6 per cent, were celebrated according to a religious faith in a church, and 8,474 or 11.4 per cent, were celebrated before an official without a religious ceremony. I would like to see the latter group of figures decline even more. It is welcome, indeed, to find that folk are recognizing the place of the church in the experience of marriage, and that recognition should be encouraged more and more.
I wish to mention now the legitimation of children who are born out of wedlock. The bill provides that a child shall be considered legitimate whether or not there was a legal impediment to the marriage of his parents at the time of his birth. We are far in advance of the views of the House of Lords on this matter. It astounds me that in England not so long ago, the relevant act was changed back to the provisions of the dark ages in some ways to provide that a child born out of wedlock was still illegitimate in law on the marriage of the parents. One very important church dignitary, I believe, had quite a lot to do with that provision and I am very disappointed with him, but the House of Lords concurred and in England, the child is made to suffer for the mistake of its parents.
This bill will provide that in Australia a child may become legitimate by act of
Parliament irrespective of whether the child was born in or out of wedlock. However, there is a query in my mind on this matter. Young parents will have to wait until they are of marriageable age. The child will be legitimate during that period on the confirmation of its status by a marriage at a later date. What concerns me is the situation during the waiting period before the marriage of the parents which could be as long as two years. During that time, the child has to be cared for by one of them, or both of them if they really love each other and intend to be married. It could be tragic if the father deserted the young mother and baby as so many do. Perhaps the mother or child or both of them could go to a home until the marriage was possible. I would like the Attorney-General to give us some help in explaining this point when he replies to honorable members because I believe the provisions of the bill would create difficulties since it provides that only in exceptionable and unusual cases will an earlier marriage be approved by a judge when both parties are minors.
Pregnancy is not to be regarded by the judge as a legitimate reason for agreeing to an early marriage. I do not know what other reason the Attorney-General could advance. He has said that he will explain this point in committee and this matter is so important that I am anxious to hear what he has to say. I believe difficulties are created when pregnancy in itself is not to be regarded as a reason for permitting a marriage between young persons. The idea behind the provision is to stop forced marriages. We have one in this House - a shotgun marriage between the Australian Country Party and the Liberal Party.
– It is not a fruitful marriage. There is nothing to legitimate there.
– I leave the query there. I hope the Attorney-General will give the explanation I have sought. What is an unusual reason to legitimize a marriage and make it possible? I turn now” to the celebration of marriage itself. All religious denominations have slightly varying methods of observance in the marriage service. The words spoken are essentially the same in the actual union of a couple, but certain forms are different and it is difficult for the Attorney-General to work out what one might call a common denominator. He has called all churches religious bodies or religious organizations. I think the definition is as good as one could find in seeking a common denominator. In his second-reading speech, the Attorney-General said -
Ministers of religion nominated by a denomination, scheduled or proclaimed as the case may be, will be registered as celebrants. The existing State lists of registered celebrants will become the foundation of the Commonwealth register of ministers of religion and additions to the list will be made in the State of residence of the minister by the State officials acting for the Commonwealth in this respect.
I think the idea of a federal roll is excellent. In one place we will have the names of ministers of religion and celebrants. The Attorney-General also said -
A registered celebrant will be able to celebrate a marriage in any part of Australia, but will be required, if he changes his address, to notify such change so that his name may be removed from one State list and placed on the list of another State, but a failure to do so will not invalidate his registration.
That is a kindly act and will be helpful to forgetful ministers of religion of whom there are a few. I shall say more about registration at the committee stage. I turn now to the alternative ceremonies of marriage to which the Attorney-General referred. In his second-reading speech he said -
The celebrant is placed under an obligation to satisfy himself as to the identity of the parties and to refrain from solemnizing the marriage if he has reason to believe that the relevant documents contain false statements or contain an error or are defective.
The only, real criticism that I have heard by ministers of religion is in relation to that clause of the bill which places the great responsibility on them to ascertain whether all the facts that have been given to them by the young people wishing to marry are true. The birth certificates of the parties now must be supplied. The celebrant will have to become a veritable Sherlock Holmes to find out the true story behind each party to the proposed marriage. [ had some trouble in this regard when I was practising as a minister. It is easy for young people to put it over a minister. For some reason, they may go from one State to another to be married and it is very difficult for the celebrant to find out from the State from which they have come whether their story is true. The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock), who is a minister of religion, has indicated that he agrees with me. No doubt, he has had experience similar to my own in this regard. This clause is perhaps a little hard on the minister of religion.
The Attorney-General has said that the Tasmanian ministers who have disagreed on this point have done so because in Tasmania there is an excellent degree of cooperation between ministers and the Registrar-General, and a ring on the telephone is all that is necessary to check on the facts about a party to a proposed marriage. It is interesting to note that there is nothing in this bill to prevent this cooperation continuing. Perhaps that factor will overcome the objections of some ministers. I am sure that every minister will continue to contact the Registrar-General to ascertain the facts necessary to fulfil the provisions of the bill. I am glad to have the Attorney-General’s assurance that nothing has been done to prevent a continuance of the co-operation that has existed to date. That will relieve the ministers of a good deal of worry.
Another aspect is the period of notice which is required before a marriage ceremony can take place. This period varies in each State, which is a source of concern to ministers who take up interstate appointments. In New South Wales and Queensland no notice is necessary, but the period in Victoria is three days, in Tasmania seven days, in South Australia ten days and in Western Australia, where a marriage is to be celebrated in a church under banns, the banns must be published on three Sundays or, if under notice, a notice must be affixed to the church door for fourteen days. If the marriage is to be performed by a district registrar, a minimum of seven days notice must be given. The Government has decided that seven days is the most satisfactory period. I heartily concur in the choice of time. Not only is it the period which applies in Tasmania but also, to my mind, it is the most sensible period having regard to all the facts.
I commend the Attorney-General for introducing this legislation which is comple mentary to that which we passed last year. Although I query a few points in the bill because one cannot see at this stage how it will work out, this is a monumental piece of legislation which is 60 years overdue. Its introduction is proof of our adulthood and a sign of statesmanship of the highest order. I, for one, am proud to be in this place to have the opportunity to vote sincerely and conscientiously for it.
.- The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) must be a very pleased man because during this debate he has received the approbation of most, if not all, honorable members in relation to this bill. He and his legal assistants must receive a great measure of praise for the excellent bill that they have presented to this House. The State acts in relation to marriage are generally short. This bill goes into great detail in order to deal comprehensively with all matters relating, and incidental, to marriage. One incidental question which has been raised by the Attorney-General is legitimation. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) has thrown a doubt on the validity of that portion of the bill dealing with legitimation, but one should not be quite as gloomy as is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Without attempting to forecast the fate of that provision of the bill, I suggest that the High Court, if approached at any time, will decide that legitimation is incidental to the main purpose of the bill and, therefore, validly included.
The legislation covers a wide field including marriageable age, the marriage of minors, the registration of ministers of religion as authorized celebrants, the celebration of marriage both in Australia and abroad, legitimation and offences under the act. All honorable members have agreed with the scope and wisdom of the bill, so it is unnecessary to deal with those aspects, but I should like to direct the attention of honorable members to several other points.
At the outset, let me mention that I agree with the trend towards strictness in the celebration of marriage. We know that the bill provides that, in general, not more than three months’ and not less than seven days’ notice of intended marriage can be given. There is a special provision that the period of seven days may be shortened in appropriate cases, but, generally speaking, the notice required and the form of marriage must be strictly adhered to. The form of marriage was not strict hundreds of years ago. In fact, the common law marriage was regarded as an ordinary everyday affair. No specific form was required other than that people would live together and recognize each other as mates. But now we regard marriage as something very vital which involves status and family responsibilities. These days it is essential that the form and celebration of marriage be regarded in a strict way. I believe that they are rightly regarded in that way. There is also a trend towards looking with favour upon those poor children who in the first instance were illegitimate.
In this connexion, I shall refer briefly to what has happened in Queensland. The trend has not gone quite so far in certain other States as in Queensland, where the Legitimation Act of 1899-1938 first of all provided for the legitimation of illegitimate children on registration after the marriage of their parents. But one section of the act provided that there was to be no legitimation if at the time of birth there had been an impediment to the marriage of the parents. That act was amended in 1938, and provision was made that after the passing of the amending measure any child, whether born before, at or after the passing of the act, might be legitimated under that act notwithstanding that at the date of the birth of such child there had existed a legal impediment to the marriage of the parents.
We find a curious thing when we compare that act with the provisions of this bill, because under that act it is still necessary to register the child, which is legitimated only after registration. Under the Queensland act, the father can register the illegitimate child and have it legitimated, provided that he had married the mother since the date of the child’s birth, and he has to produce to the registrar a statutory declaration. The mother can apply if the father has died and if she married the father after the birth of the child, and her application is transmitted by the registrar to the Clerk of Petty Sessions, who appoints a time for a private hearing by a court constituted by a police magistrate, an acting police magistrate or, if no such magistrate is available, by justices of the peace appointed in writing by the State AttorneyGeneral. If it is proved to the satisfaction of the court that the husband of the applicant is the father of the child, the registrar is obliged to register the child as legitimate regardless of whether it is dead or alive at the time. In short, under the Queensland: act, until such time as the father, if alive, after marriage, or the mother, following the death of the father after marriage, takes a positive formal step, the child is not regarded as legitimate, even though the parents have married.
This bill goes beyond that, and does not require the taking of any formal step by any one for a child to be regarded as legitimate following the marriage of its parents. The bill wisely provides, of course, that any person who considers it necessary to do so may apply to a court for a declaration that he is in fact a legitimate child of his mother and father. So the bill covers all questions of legitimation, and admirably so.
There are certain points, however, about which I express some doubts. In this regard, may I say first of all that I agree with my friend, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). If I may say so, he has stated two points very well, and it is not necessary for me to go into them in detail. The honorable member considers that if a minor who applies for consent to marriage and is refused may appeal against the refusal, a parent against whom an order has been made in favour of his child should himself have the right to appeal. In short, the honorable member considers that if it is open to an applicant minor to appeal against a magistrate’s decision, it should be open for a parent to appeal against a magistrate’s decision. I agree completely with that contention.
The other point raised by the honorable member for Moreton concerns the celebration of marriages in registry offices. 1 know that some people find it desirable to be married in registry offices, and I believe that they are entitled to do so if they wish. In order to put the matter in proper perspective, I direct the attention of honorable members to the situation that existed some years ago in respect of naturalization. Those were days when the naturalization ceremony was a very ordinary and abrupt one, which in some instances lasted for perhaps half a minute. I have attended a number of naturalization ceremonies, and years ago I attended one that lasted about half a minute. It took place before a magistrate who felt a little out of sorts and who, as a result, conducted the half-minute ceremony in a grumpy manner. 1 have no idea how the person who was naturalized in that way felt, but I say candidly that I was disgusted. That sort of thing happened in the bad old days, but the situation in respect of naturalization has now changed completely. The ceremony is dignified and is conducted in a proper and formal manner in most respects, and as a consequence people who are naturalized at these ceremonies now are happy about the procedure and think that they are well treated because the ceremony is so fitting.
I suggest that the form of ceremony for the celebration of marriages in registry offices as laid down in this bill is too brief, too formal and too cold. It will introduce certain overtones that have been well dealt with by the honorable member for Moreton. There is the question of solemnity and the making of a statement regarding the solemnity of the marriage. I believe that the ceremony of marriage in a registry office is too important to rate merely the cold and formal recitation of a few words in half a minute, and I suggest to the AttorneyGeneral that perhaps it would be desirable for him to accede to the suggestion that the ceremony be made more dignified and more fitting.
I should like now to discuss clause 12 of the bill, which provides for the authorization in exceptional circumstances of the marriage of a person under marriageable age. I realize that there is room for difference of opinion, but I think that the clause perhaps goes too far. Honorable members will recall that clause 1 1 provides that a male person is of marriageable age if he has attained the age of eighteen and a female is of marriageable age if she has attained the age of sixteen. Clause 12 provides that a male who has attained the age of sixteen but has not attained the age of eighteen or a female who has attained the age of fourteen but has not attained the age of sixteen may apply to a judge of the Supreme Court of a State or Territory for an order authorizing him or her to marry a particular person of marriageable age notwithstanding that the applicant has not attained the age of eighteen or sixteen, as the case may be. The clause goes on to give the judge certain powers with respect to the making of an order. That is the point to which I wish to direct attention
First, there is the question of age. In Queensland, for example, as the AttorneyGeneral has said, the marriageable age was previously much lower, but social workers to-day consider that eighteen for males and sixteen for females are reasonable marriageable ages. Until the matter is tested I have no personal quarrel with those ages, because I feel that they have been arrived at after careful consideration of what social workers have had to say on the subject. The particular feature of the clause with which I disagree is the fact that it permits an applicant under those ages only to apply for permission from a judge to marry another person who is over the prescribed marriageable age. My submission is that it should be equally competent for an applicant under age to apply for an order to marry if the person he or she wishes to marry is also under age. To give a specific case in point, if a boy aged seventeen and a girl aged fifteen wish to marry each other, and there is good reason for them to marry, why should an order be refused just because the boy is only seventeen? If the boy is seventeen and the girl is seventeen, they would come under this particular provision because the girl would be of marriageable age and the boy, not being of marriageable age, would be the applicant. The bill contemplates orders allowing the marriage where one of the parties is of marriageable age and the other is not. I suggest, for serious consideration, that if it is all right in special circumstances for a girl of fifteen years of age to marry a boy of eighteen, then in other special circumstances it should be all right for a girl of fifteen to marry a boy of seventeen; but this clause would not permit that, because it provides that an order may be made if only one of the parties is under marriageable age.
– It will not apply if both are under age?
– Under this clause, it both are under age they may not apply for an order. I suggest to the AttorneyGeneral that this is an anomaly that requires correction because surely if a bur of seventeen is permitted to marry a girl of eighteen, he should be permitted to marry a girl of fifteen in proper circumstances.
The other point that arises out of this provision, to which I wish to draw attention, is one about which 1 wish only to express some doubts. In the past, in most States, it has been possible for consent to marry to be obtained by a minor in certain circumstances - circumstances which need not be exceptional and unusual. Marriages in Queensland by parties under the age of, I think, fourteen for males and twelve for females were voidable, but there were very few such marriages and once the parties reached the necessary age, the marriage was valid. Under this clause to which I refer an applicant under age, in order to obtain an order to marry, has to prove that the circumstances of the case are so exceptional and unusual as to justify the making of the order. As the Attorney-General pointed out, that does not necessarily mean, for instance, that a girl has merely to prove she is pregnant in order to obtain an order. The case must be exceptional and unusual.
– May I interrupt the honorable gentleman to ask what he regards as exceptional and unusual cases?
– My answer to the honorable gentleman is that it would not be for me to decide what are exceptional and unusual cases. It would be for a judge to decide, and I am afraid that the circumstances might be such that not many orders would be made. I am afraid that not enough orders will be made. I will put it to the Attorney-General this way: After obtaining the best evidence from social workers in Australia, he has raised the marriageable ages above what they have been in many of the States, and thereby he will limit the right to marriage of many young people. In addition to that, he makes an extra limitation by providing that if one of them is under age and the other is above age, one may apply, but an order may not be obtained unless the circumstances are so exceptional and unusual as to justify the making of the order. I suggest that the combination of these two factors- first, the raising of the age and, secondly, making it necessary for the judge to consider that the circumstances are exceptional and unusual, makes it too diffi cult, or may make it too difficult, to obtain an order to marry. An honorable member has interjected that it would be a matter for the judge. May I point out to him that the decisions of a judge may of course, be made readily, but the judge has not unfettered discretion regarding what he does or does not do? Unless the judge carries out the law - and, of course, he would do so - there would be power to take certain steps against him in another court in regard to his order. The judge must carry out the law. We know the integrity of our judicial system is such that our judges do carry out the law. Therefore, we can expect that the judge will first have to be satisfied that t ie circumstances are so exceptional and unusual as to justify the making of the order. I merely make these suggestions to the Attorney-General.
Apart from these seeming anomalies that 1 have mentioned, I would say that the clergy will have to be careful. I would hate to see the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), for example, reposing behind bars because he had been forgetful. As he said, the members of the clergy sometimes are. I feel, however, that we need not be unduly afraid that the members of the clergy will be prejudiced. This bill will merely make them careful, as most of them are already. I would say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, without going into further detail regarding the bill that, generally, I approve of it, with the reservations that [ have mentioned specifically, which no doubt will be dealt with at the committee stage. Otherwise, I have nothing but praise for the Attorney-General for doing something that should have been done years ago.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Courtnay) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.49 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 16th August (vide page 17), on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Customs Tariff Bill (No. 2) are cognate measures. It would no doubt meet the wishes of honorable members if the House were to have a general second-reading debate covering the three bills. At the conclusion of the debate, a separate question would be put on each bill. I suggest that this course be followed.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Is it the wish of the House that the suggestion of the Minister be agreed to? As I have heard no dissentient voice, the Minister’s suggestion will be followed.
.- MayI say at the outset that 1 agree with the proposal of the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) to have a second-reading debate covering the three bills. After all, as the Minister has truly pointed out, they are inter-related. However, to my mind, the Minister in introducing the bills did not treat the House fairly. Although the measures are small and may appear outwardly to be unimportant, they in fact deal with problems of vast importance and introduce procedures in regard to tariff making and the protection of industry, which as far as I know, are original and are proposed for the first time in the history of tariff making in Australia.
The importance of the bills and the complications associated with them can best be gauged by the fact that the Minister’s second-reading speech on the Tariff Board Bill covered thirteen foolscap pages of typing. As it took the Minister thirteen pages of foolscap to outline these proposals, I think it unfair that the Government should expect the Opposition to deal with them on the day following the introduction of the bill. Every political party has its committees. It is not fair to expect the members of a committee to come together on the second day of a session to assimilate thoroughly all the ramifications of the proposals arising from this bill. It is the usual practice of a government to allow the Opposition at least one week’s adjournment of a debate so that it may give adequate consideration to legislation.
Stripped of all redundancy, the three bills that we are now considering propose to alter the method of fixing tariffs, ostensibly to overcome the long delays that have occurred from time to time in the presen tation by the Tariff Board of reports and recommendations on matters that have been referred to it. I agree that long delays are irritating to industry; they can be damaging. But I suggest that the Government cannot justify the methods it proposes to introduce to overcome these delays and to deal expeditiously with the problems of an industry that may not be able to wait very long for a decision of the Tariff Board. I think that some more sensible proposals should be adopted. The Minister said in his second-reading speech that these proposals were the prelude to a review of the Japanese Trade Agreement and, if I remember correctly, to trade negotiations with New Zealand.
– No, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
– The Minister mentioned two matters. The other was the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. After the Japanese Trade Agreement had been operating for a short time, the Government found, in certain circumstances, that the agreement greatly imperilled the welfare and prosperity of Australian industry and employees. In future trade negotiations, it wishes to appease the Japanese Government, in the first instance, and to secure a renewal of the agreement on favorable terms. Therefore, it wants these proposals adopted so that it will be able to say to the Japanese Government that, as a government representing the Australian people, it has abandoned quantitative restrictions and import licensing, which were the weapons that it used during the currency of the last agreement when Australian industry was threatened and adversely affected. The same argument will no doubt be used by the Government in negotiations that take place with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
There is a grave danger that the proposals now presented to the House will abrogate the right of Parliament, the right of the people’s representatives, to determine exactly the tariffs that shall be imposed on imports and the period for which they shall be imposed. A close examination will show that, in brief, the proposals run along these lines: It is found that long delays occur - not always, but sometimes - before the Tariff Board can present a report. In the interim, an Australian industry may be in difficulties. To overcome these difficulties, the Minister has, in the past, been faced with the necessity to impose, by executive action, import prohibitions or quantitative restrictions. It is now proposed that the Government should be able, by notice in the “ Commonwealth Gazette “, to impose a tariff pending the meeting of the Parliament. The imposition of a tariff is, in any event, the imposition of a tax. A tariff is a tax imposed, at the point of import, on goods coming into this country from overseas.
By tradition, this Parliament has followed, over a long period of years, the very good practice of ensuring that no executive government, whatever the circumstances, shall exercise the right to impose a tax on the people at any point, without consideration by the Parliament itself. It may be said that the position of an industry could become so critical during a parliamentary recess that if immediate action was not taken and an immediate power was not available to the government to deal with the situation the industry might suffer irreparable damage. If that is the case I suggest that there is an excellent reason for the government of the day to call the Parliament together and ask it to give its authority to the imposition of an additional tariff. I suggest to the Minister that the Government would never think of seeking power to impose in this way an additional excise on goods produced in this country. The principle is the same in respect of excise imposed on goods produced within this country. In the case of a tariff, a tax is imposed on goods from a foreign country at the point of entry. For as long asI can remember this Parliament has reserved to itself - under the law as it now stands it has not authority to do otherwise - the right to impose a tax on goods at the point of entry to the country. After all, a tax on goods at the point of entry, as the law stands at present, is a tax that is ultimately passed on to the consumers in Australia.
There is no more justification for vesting in the Government, the Cabinet or the Minister a right to impose a tax indirectly on the people of Australia under the guise of protecting an industry, than there is a moral right to impose additional income tax, probate duty, land tax or any of the other taxes with which we are familiar. That is a fundamental right of the Parliament. We all know that the great fight which occurred early in the history of British parliamentary institutions was a fight in regard to taxation; parliament against the king.
At one time the kings of England imposed taxes on imports into that country in their own right. They imposed other kinds of taxes also and the fight between parliament and the king was a fight to establish the right of parliament to be the sole authority to impose taxes in the United Kingdom. It is true that the Minister in the course of his second-reading speech mentioned that a position similar to that proposed under this measure already exists in the United Kingdom. It is true that the United Kingdom has for the time being departed from the principle that it has followed over the centuries, but that does not provide any justification for the Minister in seeking this particular power. Under this bill it is proposed, first of all, that the Government shall appoint an additional deputy chairman of the Tariff Board. When an industry is threatened - as it may be if there is a renewal of the Japanese Trade Agreement, and it has been threatened in the past - the Minister will proceed to satisfy himself that the industry is threatened. Then, instead of imposing a quantitative restriction or an import prohibition, he will put into operation the advisory machinery within his own department and make a request to the chairman of the Tariff Board. In effect, he is to say to the chairman, “I am satisfied, my departmental officers are satisfied and the panel associated with the industry concerned is satisfied that an Australian industry is threatened. I request you to make available a deputy chairman of your board to make an inquiry into the position and report to me.
Under the proposals contained in the bill the deputy chairman of the Tariff Board must report to the Minister within 30 days. The maximum delay that can occur before the Minister gets the recommendation or report from the deputy chairman cannot exceed 30 days if the Parliament is in recess. At the end of 30 days, if the deputy chairman makes a recommendation in favour of a tariff imposition the Minister, upon notice, may notify that collection of that tax shall commence. So, for the first time in the history of Australia, this Parliament abrogates its right to determine whether a tax shall be imposed on any goods at any time by a Minister or by the executive government. Surely it is an outrageous proposal! Surely there is justification, if the Parliament is in recess for too long, for the Minister to use the weapon already available to him. He will not deny that it is available. 1 refer to the imposition of quantitative restrictions, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade allows quantitative restrictions, or a prohibition of the import of a particular line of goods. Why resort to the practice of robbing the Parliament of its inherent and traditional right of being the only authority that can agree to the Executive, at a particular point of time, imposing a tax on the Australian people? I am sorry that the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) is not present, because he has spoken from time to time about the usurpation by the Executive of the powers of Parliament, government by regulation, and so on. If ever there was a case in point where that was going to operate, surely this is it.
It is true that if the House is in recess and the Minister declares that this tax collection must commence, the impost cannot operate any longer than seven days after the Parliament next meets without Parliament having an opportunity to deal with it; but that may be a matter of two or three months after the commencement of the levy, according to the will of the Minister.
Finally, when the Minister refers this question to a deputy chairman of the tariff board he is required by the proposed amendment to refer the question also to the Tariff Board itself. It is true that the tax may not operate for longer than three months after the Tariff Board submits its more thorough report on the question that has been dealt with. It may happen that within a day of Parliament adjourning for a recess - or within a week - the Tariff Board may submit its report to the Minister or the Government. That could happen, too, when Parliament is dissolved. If that report recommends an increase in tariff the Government may, by gazettal, have that tariff operate forthwith until such time as the Parliament meets. That, again, is an abrogation of the rights of this Parliament and this Parliament would be very foolish to give consent to it.
It is true that the measure provides that a deputy chairman of the Tariff Board who may adjudicate on any of these regulations shall not, under the terms of the act, be enabled to adjudicate on the general question when it is under consideration by the Tariff Board of which he is a member. That reservation immediately suggests to me that the Minister, the Government and those who advise them are aware of the fact that if the deputy chairman, who is charged with the responsibility of reporting to the Minister should also, at a later stage, adjudicate on the question when it was referred to the Tariff Board he might be confronted with an embarrassing situation. His colleagues might feel bound to dispute with him the wisdom of his decision and he, in turn, would have dispute with his colleagues of the wisdom of their possible decision.
While it is true that the safeguard I have mentioned is provided to prevent the deputy chairman being placed in such an invidious position, there may be in the mind of the deputy chairman, when he is considering whether an additional tariff is necessary, a prejudice, of which he may not even be aware - and there are such unconscious prejudices. He may subconsciously ask himself: “ What is likely to be the attitude of my colleagues in the inquiry that they will later have to make? Am I, as a deputy chairman and acting as an individual, going to make such a decision that my colleagues, with whom I associate and in whose decisions I participate, may later find themselves in the invidious position of having to differ materially from me and recommend a rate of tariff different from that which I have recommended and which would then be in operation? “ Surely that is a most invidious situation in which to place a deputy chairman of the Tariff Board.
Then let us consider the position of the Tariff Board itself, when it deals with the problem that has already been dealt with by the deputy chairman. Is it suggested that no unconscious prejudice could possibly arise in the minds of the members of the Tariff Board, so that they might be reluctant to recommend different action from that already taken by the deputy chairman? Surely this is a most undesirable state of affairs.
– The honorable member is building up an Aunt Sally, is he not?
– If I were looking for one you would do admirably. Surely this whole set-up is undesirable, unsuitable and inadequate. I suggest, further, that it robs this Parliament of the right to determine who shall be responsible for imposing, behind the Parliament itself, what is in effect a tax.
In his second-reading speech the Minister said, in effect, that traditionally this Parliament accepts the report of the Tariff Board. Invariably it does, but it is not compelled to do so. In fact, within recent years this Government itself has on occasions rejected, and rightly in my view, recommendations of the Tariff Board. I recall one occasion in particular when it rejected such a recommendation, and instead of imposing a tariff it provided assistance to an industry by way of a subsidy. Later, probably after further consideration of the matter by the Tariff Board, the Government decided to resort to the imposition of a tariff.
I ask honorable members to review the administration of the Minister for Trade and his attitude towards these questions. 1 suggest that the reason why the Minister has introduced this legislation is that he does not want to be bothered any further with the unpleasantness associated with import licensing and quantitative restrictions. In fact, when an honorable member in this House indicted him for refusing to give an interview to a manufacturer who wanted to put a case before him concerning the peril confronting his industry, the Minister admitted that he had said he would not grant such an interview. It was obvious that he did not intend to see these people who wanted to interview him, and that they could see the officers of his department instead. They could go to the executive officers of the Import Licensing Branch or some other piece of administrative machinery over which the Minister has control.
I do not normally use the word “ bureaucrat “ to refer to these officers, because I regard them as very competent officials. I do suggest, however, that when the Minister adopts this kind of attitude the only bar to injustice on the part of departmental officials is removed. After all, when an important matter is at stake people should have the right, if it is humanly possible to give it to them, to interview the Minister controlling the relevant department. But this Minister does not want to be bothered with these matters, so he has decided to pass them on to officials of his department. In such circumstances, of course, departmental officials are likely to feel that the protection afforded to members of the public by the Minister has been removed and that they can, in effect, do what they think is right, and that there will be no further appeal, the only redress then available being in this Parliament itself.
The Minister for Trade does not want to be worried with these irksome details. Instead, he prefers to be roaming round the world,, sometimes doing good, and sometimes doing not so good. Lest any false impression should be gained, let me say that I would be the last person to belittle the value of visits to nations with which we have valuable trade agreements. I do believe, however, that this legislation has been brought forward not because of any worries about delays that may take place in the imposition of tariffs, but rather for t.:ie purpose of getting rid of irksome duties connected with the administration of import licensing and the application of quantitative restrictions.
The clamour for protection that is heard from time to time from so many Australian industries arises from the fact that this Government has, during its term of office, so neglected Australia’s overseas balances that it finds itself in a most difficult position. I looked to-night at the figures contained in the Budget papers presented by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), and I found that during the last seven years our overseas balance of payments has gone to the bad to the extent of £1,032,000.000. That is a vast amount of money, and this deterioration has rendered necessary, of course, import licensing, quantitative restrictions and all sorts of other difficult administrative actions. It has now been decided to get rid of all that administrative machinery, but because it will still be necessary to protect Australian industry by means of tariffs, the Government proposes to provide for a deputy chairman of the Tariff Board to make reports to the Minister and kid the people of Australia that the Government does no harm by going into recess for two or three months, because during those two or three months this one man is left to protect Australian industry by reporting on the necessity for protection while the Parliament is in recess and the Ministers are gallivanting around the world. If that is all that Australian industry has to depend upon for protection when the Government goes into recess, sometimes for one month, sometimes for two months but more often for three, then it has a pretty rotten reed to lean on.
This proposal will, of course, have the result that industry will get out of the habit of asking for prohibitions and quantitative restrictions, lt may be said that I am inconsistent in advocating the use and the continuation of prohibitions of imports and of the application of quantitative restrictions while the Parliament is in recess. I do so reluctantly, knowing that the Parliament must go into recess for a certain time, although not for the prolonged periods during which the present Government has frequently hurried it into recess. However, I point out that the imposition of prohibitions on imports and the application of quantitative restrictions can be done effectively only by the Tariff Board, and that at least this system has not associated with it the objectionable features that attach to the practice of allowing the executive government to impose taxes on goods imported into this country, behind the backs of the people’s representatives. Such a practice is reprehensible in the extreme. It is contrary to all the preachings of this Government. We have all heard the criticism levelled by Government supporters at the procedures that the Labour Government found it necessary to adopt during wartime. Many things that were done at that time were condemned as reprehensible and objectionable, but the proposals now before us are even more objectionable. They cannot be reconciled with the Government’s condemnation of war-time procedures, nor can they be reconciled with the Government’s professed support of the right of the
Parliament, rather than of the executive government, to make decisions, particularly those concerning taxation.
Here is the next situation that arises: I have dealt with the question of urgency in connexion with the power of the deputy chairman. But it is proposed to do something else for which power is taken under this legislation. The Tariff Board itself - not the deputy chairman - might make a report to the Parliament after the Parliament had gone into recess or even after it had been dissolved. The Minister is empowered, by a mere gazettal of notice, in that case, to impose the tariff recommended by the board. That is pretty hot. A “ dead “ government can impose a tariff when no parliament exists! As I understand the situation, when Parliament is dissolved the government merely carries on the ordinary routine administration of the country. It does not impose new taxation. Yet it is now proposed that a government should be able to impose new taxes in the form of customs or excise duties under these circumstances! After all, even this Government does not arrange for Parliament to go into recess for more than three months, so that period would be the greatest delay that would be occasioned in the imposition of new duties if the present system were adhered to.
It is true, as the Minister has said, that invariably this Parliament accepts a recommendation by the Tariff Board. But a situation could arise in which, perhaps by a majority of one vote, the Tariff Board could make a bad decision. If it suited the government of the day, it could impose the recommended duty behind the back of the Parliament. At present, protection is afforded by the fact that when the Tariff Board makes a recommendation it must run the gauntlet of criticism by this Parliament before it can be implemented. That may be one of the reasons why the Tariff Board’s recommendations are so sound, but almost without exception, the Parliament as a whole accepts the board’s recommendations and implements them. There is no reason why we should depart from that very sound principle in favour of the course proposed in this legislation.
Representing the Opposition, I say that, in the history of the Commonwealth Parliament, from its inception to the present moment, no party has been more strongly protectionist than the Labour Party. In the twenty or more years during which I have handled tariff bills in this Parliament on behalf of the Labour Party, in and out of government, I may have found it necessary to criticize some proposals, but I do not think I have ever found it necessary to seek a rejection of a recommendation by the Australian Tariff Board. For goodness sake let us leave the position as it is lest there be some suspicion that in the absence of the existing safeguards the board may do something to disturb the unanimity of the Parliament on protection for Australian industry.
I am not worried about the policy in the corner party to which the Minister belongs. We know that the members of that party are opposed to protection. Traditionally, they are the Australian free trade party. In return for the plums of office as members of a Liberal-Country Party Government, their principles go overboard to some extent, but at heart they are free traders. So, the Government with which this free trade Country Party Minister finds himself associated is just a mixed grill - some are free traders and others are protectionists, lt obtains electoral support from two wealthy sections of the community, namely the Australian manufacturers and the chambers of commerce. It follows a middle course and tries to please both. The aim of the Australian Labour Party is to protect the Australian manufacturers and the employees in industry, and to safeguard the rights of the Australian consumers.
If there is any tendency to sneer at the need to guard the right of the Parliament to control the imposition of taxes let me quote no less an authority than Sir Winston Churchill. I am sure his opinion will make some impression on the Government. Talking about the rights of the Parliament, Sir Winston said -
The parliamentary form of government is the worst form of government except for every other form of government that has ever been found.
That sounds a bit strange but his point is, of course, that parliamentary government, despite its shortcomings, is better than any other form of government that has been devised.
The proposal of the Minister in this legislation is that the Government should usurp the power of the Parliament and go back to the bad old days when the king imposed customs duties and other taxation over the heads of members of parliament. Are we of this day and generation going to allow a return to that sort of thing without some protest? In his second-reading speech, the Minister referred to the proposed “ modification “ of our system of tariff making. Modification! It is a startling charge. He said -
The modifications to our system of tariff-making . . are procedural, not fundamental.
Since when has a decision to take taxation out of the hands of a parliament been a procedural matter? It is fundamental to parliamentary practice. To say that the British Parliament and other parliaments have adopted this practice does not justify it.
We can see behind the mind of the Minister. He got on very well with the Japanese. Certain benefits have accrued to this country from the Japanese Trade Agreement but certain substantial damage was done which had to be rectified by means of import licensing. The Minister said, in regard to Gatt -
In the near future there will occur one of the periodic re-negotiations of tariff concessions under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. In these important negotiations between the contracting parties to that agreement, we secure trading benefits and, in the jargon, pay for those benefits by entering into commitments ourselves.
We trade something and they trade something. Certain rates of duty are agreed upon. The Minister referred later on to the terms of Gatt under which, although we may have agreed with another nation to bind existing rates of duty on the products in which we trade, if the balance of payments problem becomes difficult on either side, quantitative restrictions which can amount almost to total prohibition can be imposed. What is wrong with exercising those powers until such time as the Tariff Board can submit a report to the Parliament and not merely to some public official? A public official might submit a report to the Minister after an inquiry by himself and on that report alone, the Government might impose a tax on the people.
There is nothing wrong with our proposal, but according to the Minister, it is irksome It would crea’te difficulty. It would arouse criticism. He has said, in effect, “ I am a policy man. I am not interested in intervening between the manufacturer and a public official. I am too busy. I do not want to see them”. That is his attitude. But is it right, or correct, or necessary? Does it not remove from the citizen a right that he ought to have when finally, on a recommendation from one individual which satisfies the Minister and the Cabinet after it has heard him, the Government takes upon itself the right to impose a tax on goods without consulting any one? This is a departure from responsible government in Australia that has never hitherto been heard of or even proposed.
The Australian Labour Party emphasizes its traditional belief in adequate and full protection for Australian industry which it has always been ready to provide, and it is not going to be involved in any measure of support for this proposal to set up some official, some Minister or some government behind the Parliament to impose a tariff which, after all, might be wholly inadequate. If it is wholly inadequate and ineffective, why does not the Government call the Parliament together and do the decent thing by getting the assent of Parliament to an increased tariff? Why leave it as the Government proposes? That is our attitude.
We hope that the Minister will see the fundamental principle in this suggestion of ours and that he will come to the Parliament with something more effective. There is plenty of time. There are fundamentalists among the supporters of the Government who do pot agree with this sort of thing and rail continuously against the evasion of the rights of Parliament. No Australian industry is likely to be faced with such a difficult and impossible situaion during the parliamentary recess that we need set up one individual to tell the Minister what to do so that a tax can be imposed behind the backs of the members of this Parliament.
I do not want to repeat myself. The Minister said in his second-reading speech that the difficult situation to which I have referred rarely occurs. If it is a rare occurrence, why does the Government want to introduce novel legislation to make a rare provision? In my opinion, the proposal is quite wrong*
.- The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) complained at the outset that the Opposition had not had sufficient time to consider this measure. In the course of his speech, the honorable member certainly seemed to indicate some familiarity with the issues. He may be misguided, but it is doubtful whether he would come to a different decision in a week’s time. Some measures are complicated by numerous clauses, but surely the essence of this measure is entirely simple. Its formulation has been necessitated by the substitution of the tariff for quantitative controls of imports into Australia.
Although the tariff, in the slower moving days before the Second World War, might have been adequately managed and controlled by dealing with recommendations of the Tariff Board, it is obvious that, in the changed conditions of to-day, if you are not -going to have quantitative restrictions imposed ultimately by officials, who are only very indirectly responsible to Parliament, you must have some substitute mechanism. Although the honorable member for Lalor deplored the particular mechanism that is proposed, he really did not propose any form of substitute other than suggesting that we should impose severe prohibitive quantitative restrictions until Parliament could deal with these matters.
The honorable member referred to the long delays which have occurred under the Tariff Board procedure before it has had time to pronounce on matters before it, but these long delays are natural and quite legitimate. Only if there is long delay and proper consideration can we be sure that the outcome of the tariff deliberations is such as we should apply to our tariff.
The honorable member referred in rather scathing terms to the Japanese Trade Agreement. He stated, as the Minister had said, that the proposal in the bill was, in some degree, a prelude to our forthcoming negotiations with J Japan and in the context of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The Japanese Trade Agreement is a very curious agreement which, according to the honorable member, imperils Australian industry. If honorable members will look at the trade figures for last financial year they will find that, following a very considerable increase in our exports to Japan over the past few years, in 1959-60 Japan took nearly £135,000,000 worth of our exports. In other words, of every £7 worth of exports from Australia, the Japanese took £1.
In the wool market, as everybody knows, the Japanese were a vital factor in sustaining a high level of prices. If there is one thing which ultimately would imperil the manufacturing and other secondary industries of this country, it is the fact that our exports will not earn our keep; because the OVerwhelming majority of imports into the country are machinery and raw materials to sustain Australian secondary industries. So an agreement which opens up this large market for Australian industries and, furthermore, has the effect of raising the price of our products in world markets to all our other customers, is curiously described by the honorable member as an agreement which imperils Australian industry!
As a matter of fact, the measures thai have been taken by the Government have been extremely successful in avoiding anything but minor injury to our export industries.
– Import restrictions.
– Import restrictions were applied and this is the logical substitute. There are two broad measures to protect Australian industry. One is the Tariff Board and the tariff mechanism by which our duties are known. Everybody can buy and sell according to decisions that are known beforehand. The other method is subject to ordinary arbitrary action of officials. There is no doubt among members on this side as to which of the two we prefer. We prefer the general rule by which every citizen can exercise his own rights, and not arbitrary action for which Parliament can be only at a very long degree responsible.
The honorable member said he did not want to repeat himself, but he kept harping on the point that Parliament had abrogate.! its rights in imposing taxation. That is a serious point which must cause concern to this House. It means that, perhaps for the first time, we have arranged a mechanism by which the Minister, on receiving certain advice, may impose a tax which has not been specifically approved by this Parlia ment. But surely we have to exercise a little common sense and discretion in this issue. After all, a tariff is a tax, but it is not only a tax. It is also, particularly in the Australian context, a mode of protection to Australian industry. Surely other parliaments, not least the United Kingdom Parliament which is particularly susceptible to this kind of question, would abrogate their right to tax only in very extreme circumstances. But the fact is that if we are practical and exercise our common sense we must realize that there will be many occasions on which duties cannot be imposed by the Parliament quickly enough to meet a swiftly developing situation. Apart from all Communist countries which determine prices arbitrarily and upset channels of trade, problems arise particularly in relation to low cost countries, and those problems have to be solved quickly by those in responsible positions in the Government.
As the Minister pointed out in his secondreading speech, United Kingdom tariffs are varied by order-in-council and are subject to subsequent disallowance by Parliament. lt was found necessary in the United States to give the President power to impose tariffs despite the very jealous attitude that Congress always takes towards the exercise of its own powers, particularly in matters of taxation. It was found that the only practical workable method was to give the initiative to the President whose decision subsequently could be reviewed by Congress. Our colleagues in New Zealand, who are not entirely stupid in these matters, have found also that they have had to resort to a similar device. It is notable that in the measure which has been brought forward the protection which has been devised by the Government is very much stronger, from the parliamentary point of view, than that which has been afforded elsewhere. Within seven days of the next sitting of Parliament these measures must be brought before it. Parliament then may veto them if it so wishes.
The honorable member for Lalor has referred very lightly and easily to the idea that Parliament could be recalled to handle these matters should they arise. The honorable member himself may be very enthusiastic about these things, but I have noticed that although he usually makes an interesting contribution to a tariff debate, he is often the only member of the Opposition to do so. When I look at honorable members opposite 1 wonder how they would welcome a sudden recall to Parliament. I wonder if they would be amused by being recalled summarily in the middle of a parliamentary recess to increase a tariff from say 5 per cent, to 25 per cent. If the honorable member’s ideas were to be implemented, he might well become a supporter of this legislation.
As to the reservations, it seems to me that the matter is very carefully hedged round. Provided you accept the idea of using a tariff instead of a quantitative restriction how else, other than by measures of this kind, can you possibly meet a situation which arises swiftly? Suppose that a flood of goods suddenly comes in from Japan or another low cost country and Australian industry is threatened. One solution to the problem is to prohibit the import of those goods, but that is a far worse infringement of the rights of the subject to do business and to trade than is an increase of duty.
The honorable member for Lalor referred also to people who have been refused import licences seeking an interview with the Minister. It is all right for the honorable member to state that manufacturers with whom he may be acquainted should be able to see the Minister, but some of his colleagues and some of us on this side of the chamber no doubt know people interested in imports who have an equal claim to an interview. I wonder how the Minister would fare if he tried to see individually the thousands of people who seek tariff protection. The honorable member has said that there is no redress for a person who feels he has b?en treated unjustly by the decision of a departmental official, because the Minister refuses to see him. That statement is a gross injustice to the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz), a stalwart and hard-working man who has borne the brunt of this work and has interviewed vast numbers of people. Probably in the course of his parliamentary life he has had the misfortune to say “ No “ to more people than has any other honorable member in the history of this Parliament. I am sure that he will support the proposed change.
When considering this legislation, one or two questions must occur to all of us. When the Japanese Trade Agreement was framed, we left our hands free to impose quantitative restrictions if goods from Japan entered Australia suddenly in such large quantities as to threaten materially a well-established Australian industry. On occasions we have applied this restriction specifically and openly against Japan. If we are to meet this situation, not by imposing quantitative restrictions, but by imposing a temporary duty after examination of the matter by a sector of the Tariff Board, we should know whether it can be applied to a single country and not necessarily over the whole field of our trade.
In our international negotiations we have undertaken to treat a large part of the trading world on a most-favoured-nation basis, but in essence the economies of the countries using this basis of trade should be closely akin. A serious problem arises in relation to both Communist countries and low-cost producers, such as Japan, where most-favoured-nation treatment may not, by any means, meet the situation. Naturally, Japan, in all forums, internationally and otherwise, continually presses for the extention of most-favoured-nation treatment to herself, but if we extended mostfavourednation treatment to Japan and other lowcost countries,’ and if we imposed this tariff on a temporary basis, we may seriously disrupt our trade with the remainder of the trading nations of the world. I hope that during the forthcoming negotiations Australia will explain again to Japan that we cannot extend most-favoured-nation treatment to it and that we reserve our right to impose these temporary duties on exports that are an immediate threat to our industry, without applying them right across the board. Most of us know a number of industries which import supplies. For example, the textile industry imports cotton pieces. If those industries have their own connexions with continental Europe, the United States of America and the United Kingdom, and import a certain line of goods, the situation may be reasonably stable, but if a sudden flood of goods comes from a low-cost country and we apply this temporary tariff right across the board, we could seriously disrupt the business and affairs of many Australian companies.
I hope that the Minister will speak in reply and make it clear that the subject of most-favoured-nation treatment is quite distinct from the Tariff Board Bill, and that where we normally have a general tariff, a British preferential tariff and a mostfavourednation tariff, we shall maintain the freedom that we had when we were applying quantitative restrictions and that we shall apply those restrictions against particular areas where there is a threat to Australian industry, without necessarily applying them right across the board.
This measure will be welcomed by all those who favour tariffs and indirect imposts - the open system of trading. Every one in the country will know where he stands and what duty he has to pay, and he can act accordingly and will not have to depend on an arbitrary decision of an official machine. Every one who favours tariffs and indirect imposts will surely welcome the abolition of quantitative restrictions in the peculiar circumstances of the world of to-day, which moves faster than did the world of the day when the Tariff Board was originated. People who hold those views will welcome this measure as one which provides necessary protection for Australian industries.
– Mr. Speaker, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) first of all stated that he could not understand the complaint by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who led for the Opposition, about the short time given to honorable members to study the Tariff Board Bill after it had been introduced by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), and the effect of the limited time on proper consideration of the measure. Having heard the remarks of the honorable member for Wentworth, I wonder just how closely he studied the bill and its impact on Australian industries in order to see whether it meets the situation with which it is required to deal. The honorable member occupied his time mainly in criticizing the honorable member for Lalor, and he spoke on the bill for only six minutes. Any honorable member who can deal in only six minutes with a measure that affects so closely the lives of Australian workers either does not understand the measure or does not comprehend the diffi culties that confront those who give particular study to this problem.
While the honorable member was criticizing the honorable member for Lalor, he asked what the honorable member for Lalor would do if a flood of goods into this country jeopardized Australian industries. The honorable member for Lalor made it distinctly clear to everybody in this chamber who listened that he would apply quantitative restrictions, even to the extent of total banning of imports if necessary, in order to stop the flood. As I go along, I want to analyse the situation in order to see whether the honorable member for Wentworth has assessed it correctly. If there is danger of happenings about which the honorable member for Wentworth talked, will this measure meet the needs of the situation? Does not the hasty method adopted by the Government in pushing this measure through so quickly savour of treating this House with disdain rather than with’ honesty, and does it not represent a failure to face up to something that could be a problem?
First of all, Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House recognize that there are really three bills under discussion at present. Let us analyse what has happened. These measures were brought into the House by the Government yesterday and are being pushed through, I suggest, in a manner that is quite unfitting in view of their importance. Introducing a measure one day and continuing the debate on the next day is bad enough if the measure is not one that will have far-reaching consequences, and I suggest that the pushing through in this fashion of legislation that affects the living standards of the people as a whole and the stability and continuity of employment of industrial workers is nothing less than shameful and is to be roundly condemned. For that reason and for others that I shall indicate I oppose this legislation.
First of all, why are these bills necessary? The Government, if it had been alive to its proper responsibilities as a government, must have known, when it abolished import licensing last February, that there would be an immediate need for wider powers for the Tariff Board in order to enable it to protect Australian industries and the livelihood of industrial workers in this country. Surely that is axiomatic. Babes in the wood would have realized that once the gates were thrown open to imports the profit motive would induce commercial magnates in this country to go flat out to make profits from a large flow of imports regardless of what might happen to Australian industries. I imagine that an almost untrained official in the office of the Minister for Trade would surely have recognized the likelihood of that. May we not in all sincerity ask when the Minister came alive to the thought that appeared in the speech that he made yesterday? This is what he said -
Our aspirations as a nation for a much greater population with high living standards are directly related to the development of industry and factory employment. Our migration policy and the necessity of preserving our employment base from which to absorb a greatly increased work force are fundamental to Australia’s national objectives.
Surely those things were just as important in February last as they are now.
I remind the House that during the last sessional period we had a lot of spare time in which this matter could have been discussed and analysed in order to afford those of us who represent industrial workers in this Parliament an opportunity to find out where the truth lies in relation to this problem. Is the need for the protection of Australian industries any more dominant now than it was last February? I ask this question because I have in mind particularly the spare time that we had available during the last sessional period for the discussion of this subject. That being so, why has the Government been so lax in preparing this legislation and why are we asked to put it through so hurriedly? I am sure that this Government will go down in history as one that was capable only of acting first and thinking afterwards. That is indicated by its whole approach to the problem in February. It acted first and it has taken six months to remember that its actions may have some repercussions. Accordingly, it decided to bring in yesterday a bill to deal with something that should have been apparent last February. Having introduced the measure, the Government required the debate to proceed on the following day. If this bill is not too late to prevent injury to Australian industries and devastating effects on workers in industry - if nothing of the kind has already occurred - why is there need for such haste now? Are we, in fact, considering measures that will prove in three months’ time to have been too little too late? The honorable member for Wentworth envisaged floods of imports into this country, and he asked the honorable member for Lalor what he would do about it. I seriously suggest that if that situation arises this legislation will not deal with it.
The Minister for Trade admitted the importance of the Tariff Board Bill when he made his second-reading speech yesterday, for he said -
It has become all the more important to remedy any inadequacies in the present tariff-making machinery now that import restrictions have been removed.
Those restrictions were not removed yesterday; they were removed last February. The Minister continued -
There is the possibility that some industries may have to meet sudden unforeseeable competition from overseas suppliers no longer held back from the Australian market by import restrictions.
If that is a possibility, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a government that had any thought for proper planning would have introduced legislation of this kind before it removed import restrictions in February last. This is the kind of legislation we should have had before us at that time. The Government should not have waited until the situation was as urgent as it is now said to be. Instead of the present hurried procedure, we should have had this legislation not later than last March. I remind the House of all the spare time we had then in which we could have dealt with it.
Before turning to the bill and examining the main provisions now under consideration, I think it is important that one should be quite clear about industry’s screen of protection. The Minister made reference to that particular problem in the following words: -
This is one of the hard facts of economic life in to-day’s conditions of rapid change in technology and international trading. It is a fact recognized by the major trading nations of the world who, as I have already indicated, have written into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade a special article which allows a member country to suspend its obligations to its trading partners temporarily
The Minister underlined that - if this is necessary to provide short-term protection to one of its industries in critical circumstances. Similar provisions were incorporated in a special article in our trade agreement with Japan.
On three or four occasions in the last few years we have had lo avail ourselves of our rights under these special provisions to give short-term protection to an Australian industry whilst the Tariff Board examined its case for increased tariff protection.
That, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the form of protection to which we have been accustomed. That is the form of protection that the honorable member for Lalor, in all seriousness, suggests should continue rather than that we should indulge in the breaking of a great principle governing the taxation responsibilities of the Parliament as against their assumption by the Executive. Before we are asked to approve the kind of legislation so clearly outlined by the honorable member for Lalor, and take away from this Parliament the supreme control of taxation in Australia, surely we should have some information from the Minister to show that the present system has been ineffective. I presume that during the period since February the panel system that has been mentioned by the Minister, and from which the Minister draws his information as to the protective screen for industry, has operated satisfactorily. It would be interesting to know the kind of recommendations, if any, that the Minister has had from these panels since February of this year. If the need for this legislation was not paramount in February, and something has happened since February which has made the present system ineffective, would it not have been the decent thing to have presented to the Parliament the reasons for the Minister’s decision that the panel system has not proved satisfactory? After all, surely you do not, without very good reasons, change something that up to now has proved effective.
It is not good enough for the honorable member for Wentworth to deal with this question in six minutes, as he did to-night, without touching the kernel of it. And it is not fair for the Minister to expect this House to deal with a measure of this character, which changes completely the system which has operated for the last six months, without his telling the House the reason for the change. Yet there was not one word in the Minister’s speech to indicate the dissatisfaction or the troubles that might have arisen over the last six months as a result of the plan we have followed. So we should pose this question in this House: If the system at present operating is not satisfactory, why is that so?
In to-day’s Australian press we find references to strong disagreement between manufacturers and commercial importing organizations about what is being done. On that ground alone, this Parliament should be taken into the confidence of the Minister and the department he controls. We should be told what the position is right now. We should be told whether any industry in Australia is endangered by the policy that has been followed by the Government since February. This House is being asked to agree to a measure to meet a situation about which there must be quite voluminous information now available to the department, after six months’ trial of the policy that has operated. Does not that cause this query to be posed: Is it that the facts not disclosed at this time would show the great weakness in- the present policy of the Government, or is it, maybe, that before February of this year, and perhaps since, some manufacturing industries in this country were, and may still be, making such a high rate of profit as to embarrass this Government if the disclosure were made?
With all these possibilities in mind, one pauses to analyse whether this bill is sufficient to protect Australian industry and Australian workers against the possible flood of imports that the honorable member for Wentworth talked about. I think it is important that we keep that factor in mind. After all, the honorable member for Wentworth was the first speaker on the Government side to rise on this measure. He is a man well trained in banking, and was obviously briefed by the Minister to present the Minister’s case in support of this bill. In the six minutes that the honorable member gave to it he did not attempt to touch the factor that I have mentioned. He did not show us that in his view the provisions of the bill would be able to deal with the situation caused by the flood of imports that he talked about.
Now let us look at clause 10. This, after all, is the important clause of the bill. Proposed new section 17a of the principal act reads, in part -
Where it appears to the Minister that urgent action may be necessary to protect an Australian industry, in relation to the importation of any goods, pending receipt and consideration of a report of the Board in relation to those goods, he may request the Chairman to arrange for a Deputy Chairman of the Board to undertake an inquiry, either in relation to the importation of those goods generally or in relation to the importation of those goods from a particular country or countries, and to report to the Minister. . . .
Let us analyse that and see the swiftness with which this type of legislation can move. If next week we have the flood of imports envisaged by the honorable member for Wentworth, this clause may become of direct importance. First of all, the Minister does not tell us where he is going to get the information on which to base his decision that urgent action is necessary. The only reference that the Minister makes to this problem is that the Government will continue the operation of the panel system. What does the panel system, as it relates to this matter, consist of? What is the break-up of the panels? How do they commence to operate, and how do they prepare their reports? When someone talks about a flood of imports into this country affecting the workers, I want to know, first, where the Minister would get the information that would actuate him in taking the first step to protect the workers in Australian industry. It is provided that, having gathered information - wherever he gets it from - which causes him to think it may be necessary, because some urgent matter has arisen, to take some action, the Minister may request the chairman to arrange for an inquiry. Should it not be mandatory for him to refer the matter to that authority? After all, if the matter is urgent - and that is the term used in the bill - I think it is playing with words and showing a weakness in the measure to say that the Minister may request the chairman to take certain action. What does the chairman do then? He has to be satisfied as to the urgency of the matter, but we do not know how the chairman will obtain the information on which to decide whether it is urgent. These are the machinery problems about which we should be told. The honorable member for Wentworth said that there may be a flood of imports and asked the honorable member for Lalor to suggest an alternative to the bill. This proposed new system is unwieldy, and the workers will be adversely affected if there is a flood of imports. I want to know more about the machinery procedures that lie behind the proposal, because I am tremendously concerned to ensure that the Australian manufacturer is protected and that the Australians he employs are protected.
Under the present system of quantitative restrictions, a responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the Minister and the Government to protect the Australian worker. The Minister will have only the information that was available to him under the system of quantitative restrictions, but he may refer the matter to the chairman, who will consider some factors and may take some action. I would not be so concerned about this matter if it were not for the suggestion of the honorable member for Wentworth. So little information has been supplied to honorable members, that the Opposition is justified in criticizing the manner in which this matter has been put before the House. This is not a problem that affects merely a small group; it is a problem that affects the whole of Australian industry and those employed in Australian industry, and is reflected in the economy. We should not be asked to approve of legislation dealing with such a far-reaching problem unless all available information is placed before us. Until we have that information, we would be well advised to keep the system that we know has worked successfully.
The honorable member for Wentworth foreshadowed that there may be a flood of imports. If this bill receives assent and there is a flood of imports into the warehouses, somebody will need to act, and we would like to know who that will be. The Minister said that he will continue the panel system. We are entitled to know what that system is. If it appears to the Minister that urgent action is necessary, he may request the chairman to arrange for a deputy chairman to undertake an inquiry, and the deputy chairman may spend 30 days on his inquiry. Nobody concerned with the protection of Australian industry will be satisfied that this legislation affords adequate protection against what may happen. 1 read an article recently which suggested that, as a result of the lifting of import restrictions, the second-hand car industry in the United States of America may try to capture the Australian market. I ask the
Minister to say how he would deal with that situation, if it arose. I suggest that the only way to deal with it is by the imposition of quantitative restrictions. If we open the gates to the second-hand car industry in the United States of America, other industries will watch and may flood Australia with their products. If that stage were reached, I am sure that even the honorable member for Wentworth would agree that only the present system would be effective.
We are entitled to know what type of inquiry will be undertaken by the deputy chairman in the 30 days allowed to him. Will he consider the report of the panel before he hears the captains of the industry concerned? Will the trade unions be asked for their opinions on the type of protective screen that may be needed? I have become very concerned about this matter, particularly as an important member on the Government side of the House has mentioned the possibility of a flood of imports. The study I have made of the bill has proved to me that it will be useless if there is a flood of imports. In such a situation, swift action would be needed. We could not afford to wait until three different groups had studied the problem. I do not want to criticize the operations of the Public Service, but we cannot close our eyes to the fact that this bill provides for three different sectors to inquire into a matter before a decision is reached. That would not be done in a day, and if more than one industry were involved, even more time would be needed.
I believe that we should be given the information that I have mentioned and that this bill should be put to one side until we get that information. If the Government is not prepared to follow that course, we will have no choice but to vote against the bill. We are entitled to have full information on the operation of the panel system. I repeat that this legislation affects not only industry but also the human beings employed in industry. When we are asked to consider legislation affecting the rights of human beings and the economy of Australia, we should be given the maximum amount of information, and the maximum amount of time should be allowed for honorable members to consider it. Government supporters should consider their posi tion in relation to this legislation, lt should be remembered that in February, 1960, the Government decided to remove import licensing, and during the sessional period in the first half of this year we had so much time that we did not know what to do with it. If this is to be a machine it should be operated in conjunction with the licensing of imports, but the Minister and the Government have failed to prepare this country for the dangers to which it was opened when the Government decided to lift import licensing.
.- In opening the case . for the Opposition the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) could be excused for giving the impression that he did not believe in protection for Australian industry under all conditions. He also said that Parliament was abrogating the right to apply taxation - in this case import duty. But it was clearly indicated by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), when introducing these measures, that Parliament is finally in control of any action taken in this regard. The normal action will be taken when the House is sitting. The conditions that will be operating when the House is not sitting have been clearly indicated and I am sure they are acceptable to the majority of members.
I think it should interest the honorable member for Lalor, who should know the situation, to be reminded of some of the history of the tariff amendments that have been introduced into this House. Never on any occasion have they been really challenged. They have never been rejected and rarely have they been debated in this House. I think that fact sufficiently indicates the significance of the point the honorable member raised. He also referred to the fact that my Minister found it difficult ‘in certain circumstances to interview all people in relation to the previous major import licensing controls which were in operation. I think all honorable members know that there has been no member of the House or of the public who has not had opportunity to interview either the Minister personally or his Parliamentary secretary, representing him. That situation applies equally to-day in any matters affecting the Department of Trade. The honorable member also referred to the fact that the Government desired to avoid import licensing. The Government is very proud to say that owing to the buoyant situation of the Australian economy to-day it has been able to lift import licensing to the degree that it has - 90 per cent, of the rate existing last February.
The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) made the kind of speech we are accustomed to hear from him, but there were in it a number of matters which I think warrant reply. He said that, given the opportunity, he would apply some form of quantitative restrictions instead of the proposals set out in this measure. But what power does he intend to use? Does he intend to apply the powers under the Australian Industries Preservation Act to individual consignments, or to re-introduce import licensing in its entirety, or to use his own powers under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade? He did not give any indication of that and, more significantly, he did not indicate whether he supported quantitative controls, or where he would get his advice. He did not specify whether it would come from the Tariff Board, the Department of Trade or some member of this House. When the honorable member makes a statement of that nature he should indicate what his intentions are. He also asked why it was considered necessary to hasten the passage of this measure. That was clearly indicated by the Minister when introducing the measure. He made reference to an industry likely to be affected by a flow of goods and pointed out that import licensing was lifted last February. The honorable member should realize that you do not lift import licensing one day and have a flow of goods the next. It may take three, four or up to six months before the effect of the lifting of the restrictions is experienced.
The honorable member also asked what was the panel system, and I hope, in the time available to me, to be able to explain that to the House. He also asked where were the trade figures on which we can assess the position. If he cares to come to my desk afterwards, he may see the weekly and monthly trade figures I have here, which give an accurate indication of our trade balance figures at the present time, and they are kept up to date by the Department of Trade.
The honorable member also referred to the publicity which has been given to a supposed flood of second-hand motor vehicles coming on to the Australian market, thereby affecting the Australian motor industry in the future. There are two points to be considered in relation to that story which, at the moment, is entirely incorrect. The first is that there is approximately an 83 per cent, duty, on Australian value, applied to vehicles of that nature coming into this country, and that is a reasonably good deterrent. Secondly, as the honorable member should know, this type of motor vehicle is still under import licensing restrictions and cannot be imported without a licence. If any policy change is made in relation to this type of vehicle in future, full consideration will be given by the Government to the Australian industry.
My remarks in relation to these measures are divided into two parts. I want to deal, first, with some general matters relating to the Australian economy and, secondly, with some specific references to the anticipated operation of these measures and to define the panel system mentioned by the honorable member for Blaxland. These three measures have been introduced to amend the tariff-making procedures and, as has been indicated, they are necessary to meet the changing world economy and trade conditions which affect Australian industry. The Australian tariff was associated with the early history of the Australian colonies before we became a Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth tariff was introduced at Federation in 1901.
The Australian Tariff Board was established in 1921, and has operated continuously since that date. Its functions have been varied a little and it assisted in pricefixing operations during World War II. Since that time, its operations have continued normally and have been expanded within the life of this Government. It is now the traditional policy of all Australian governments that protective tariff levels will not be determined until the matters have been considered and reported on by the board. That was the policy adopted by the honorable member for Lalor, just as it has been adopted by the present Government.
Looking at the Australian economic scene, we see that Australian economic policies are designed to maintain security and prosperity.
They call for increased population and expanding economic and industrial strength. At the same time, this increased prosperity demands monetary stability and a full use of all our resources, both our physical and man-power resources. The plans which have been adopted by the present Government to develop our resources are also designed to serve a community with a high standard of living - one of the highest in the world to-day - and their application has quickly revealed that among the essential requirements of a stable economy is a continuing need for increasing import expenditure on commodities and services. Increased expenditure on imports obviously means increased export earnings. The Australian policy objectives relating to our economic situation can be broadly stated as follows: - First, a rapid population growth, with full employment; secondly, expansion in all sectors of the Australian economy; thirdly, a rising standard of living; and fourthly, the maintenance of a stable economy. These objectives produce problems of a contradictory nature, which require an intelligent appreciation and a steadfastness of character to be displayed by governments and by all sections of the community.
Let us examine the importance of the matter of Australian tariffs in the economic scene. We see that the Australian protective tariff is playing an increasingly important part in the maintenance of the policy objectives which 1 have just stated and which depend so much upon the expansion of Australian industry. If we look back at Australian history, we see that Australia has a remarkable record of achievement. Outstanding results have been achieved in a good deal less than two centuries and with a population which is even now only a little over 10,000,000. As I mentioned previously, we have one of the highest living standards in the world.
Australia is a country in which the people are confident enough to save and invest in their own development at a rate equal to that of any other country. Furthermore, we have the confidence of overseas investors, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, but also in many other countries, where people believe in the stability of the Australian economy. I also remind the House that in a relatively short period of time, in fact in the period since the war, Australia has become one of the world’s greatest trading nations. At the present time, in fact, it is among the first twelve trading nations of the world. I repeat that it is a country in which overseas investors are finding attractive and profitable opportunities for investment, and, as a result, they are bringing to us new skills and new industries, and in some cases new outlets to world markets.
Australia is also playing an important part in world councils concerned with international affairs. Let me say, finally, that farmers, manufacturers, the business community generally, the workers and the Government, have all combined well to give Australia the high standing that it enjoys at present in countries overseas.
But whilst we have this record of achievement, there are still many problems facing us in our efforts at economic expansion and the development of our export trade. Let us consider some of the new matters that are affecting international trade to-day, and which have particular relevance to our developing economy. First, there is the problem of the regional groupings of European nations. Secondly, there is the increasing economic strength of the Soviet bloc of nations. Thirdly, there are the serious effects on our trade of agricultural protectionism in the highly industrialized countries. Fourthly, there are continuing problems of disposals of surplus products and of subsidized exports. Then there are a number of other minor problems.
For the purpose of overcoming these difficulties the Australian Government has endeavoured to create an atmosphere in which the expansion of our trade may be made possible. I think some of the results that have been achieved should be b-ought to the attention of the House in this debate, because they have important relevance to the situation in which we presently find ourselves. Through international negotiation Australia has gained improved access to overseas markets for approximately 70 per cent, of our total exports. This has been done through formal trade agreements and informal trade arrangements. T’-~ Government has also secured, through its own intervention, concessions or special treatment in 34 countries in respect of about 120 export items, including all of our major export commodities. Furthermore, as the Minister mentioned in his speech, Australia will be engaging in the regular periodic round of tariff re-negotiations under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. These negotiations will take place at Geneva, commencing in the committee stage on 1st September next. They will continue for approximately ten months, and they will be most important from the point of view of Australia’s economic situation. At the same time Australia will conduct discussions with Japan with a view to renegotiating the important Japanese Trade Agreement in the near future.
Let me now turn to the second part of my remarks, dealing with the anticipated operation of this legislation, or the way in which it will operate in practice. shall refer, first, to the speed with which information about the real problems of Australian industries which face import competition can be obtained and acted1 on. In this regard I stress the word “ speed “. I shall also refer to the safeguards - and again I emphasize the word safeguards “ for the benefit of the honorable member for Lalor and the honorable member for Blaxland - against hasty or ill-considered action which have been incorporated in the legislation. These safeguards have been provided notwithstanding the important requirement of speed. I shall show how these safeguards can operate effectively under the legislation.
Let us consider, first, the requirement of speed of operation. Now that import licensing no longer covers the great bulk of Australian imports it is not possible, in the case of most goods, to obtain advanced statistical information on the likely level of imports of particular commodities. It is now necessary to rely on immediate past official statistics of actual imports as the best means of ascertaining likely future import developments. The Minister for Trade has referred to the preliminary records ot actual imports on a weekly basis which are being made specially available by the Commonwealth Statistician to the Department of Trade and other departments. These provide merely a basis for assessment of future import requirements. Industrial and commercial interests can, of course, obtain these figures from the Department of Trade. But it is important to stress that the value of these figures, in the context of the present legislation can be augmented by informed estimates from industry and commerce of likely future import movements, based on knowledge of trade in the goods concerned.
The legislation provides for the utmost expedition by the Tariff Board and by the Government itself, but again much will depend on how industry and commerce act to organize their own information on these matters. I do not suggest that industry and commerce should create an atmosphere of panic, but I do say that it is important to appreciate that the legislation provides the opportunity for rapid action if these sections of the community also play their part.
The panels which, it is envisaged, will be set up in connexion with preliminary inquiries into questions of temporary protection, will include panels of traders as well as panels of manufacturers. It will be to the benefit of both those sections of the community, and therefore, of course, of the community at large, for business interests of all kinds to co-operate in making prompt and informed estimates of likely conditions. These estimates, of course, would be made by such interests from their own intimate experience of the goods concerned.
The legislation requires that the Deputy Chairman of the Tariff Board shall submit his report to the Minister for Trade within 30 days of the board’s receiving the particular reference. It is envisaged that before the question goes to the deputy chairman the panels will have met and assembled a great deal of information relevant to the particular problem. It should be noted that the deputy chairman will be able to make much more efficient use of his name if he has access to well-assembled and documented information from the panels when he begins his inquiry. If all sections of the business community take advantage of the panel system to organize their representations before the matter is sent to the Tariff Board, then the legislation will permit quick handling of particular questions.
Let us now look at the safeguards that have been referred to. The legislation contains important safeguards in the interests of all concerned. There is, first, the safeguard of the panel system. This provides that all interested sections of the community, including trade unions as well as traders and manufacturers, can obtain and assess the facts of the situation as they may be shown by official statistics. As I have said, these various sections of the community should take the initative in augmenting the official information from their own records and experience.
Secondly, there is the safeguard provided by a responsible approach by the Government to references to the Tariff Board under this legislation. It is quite definite that the Government will not lightly take action in this matter but will require sound and factual representations before it does so.
Thirdly, there is the safeguard of the experience and status of the Tariff Board in conducting inquiries of this kind. The members of the board are rightly jealous of their reputation for the impartial conduct of their inquiries. I am quite sure that that statement will be supported by all members on the other side of the House. In this legislation, the deputy chairman has been explicitly guaranteed independence from the normal operations of the board and has been explicitly freed from any commitment on a further normal inquiry into the same case. The Government is quite confident that the advice that it will receive from the deputy chairman will be a fair and sound assessment of the situation. Fourthly, the reports of the deputy chairman will be made public in the Parliament. Thus the right of Parliament to assess the merits of the situation will be preserved.
Fifthly, there are safeguards both tor manufacturers and importers effected by the temporary duties. These will be clearly and separately identified in the tariff and clear directions are included in the legislation to restrict the life of such duties.
Finally, there is the safeguard of a full debate in this House on any action taken under this legislation. The Government has sought the power to impose duties by notice in the “ Gazette “ when Parliament is not sitting. This is a frank and realistic recognition of the damage that could occur when Parliament is not in session. My Minister has made it quite plain that this method of implementing duties may be used only when Parliament is not sitting and that the legislation explicitly provides for the tabling of such measures within seven days of the next meeting of the Parliament. So control over these measures is still brought back into the realm of Parliament. When the House is sitting at the time at which the Government wishes to introduce such temporary duties the normal parliamentary procedure will be followed. I am confident, therefore, that honorable members will appreciate that the Government has framed this legislation with full recognition of the realities of the situation for industry and commerce and with an appreciation of the need to preserve the traditional rights of Parliament and the independence and usefulness of the Australian Tariff Board.
.- The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz) has given an interesting dissertation upon the general trade practices and policy of the Commonwealth but at no stage did he justify the startling innovation contained in these bills. The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) apparently is of the opinion that these bills are only machinery measures because we were not given an opportunity to give them reasonable consideration prior to the resumption of the second-reading debate. As everybody knows, when bills of major importance are introduced, the Opposition is usually given at least a week to study their implications and if necessary to acquire information from various sources. On this occasion, the Minister said at the termination of his second-reading speech that the bills were in the nature of evolution in the system of tariff making. I do not think that he should have used the word “ evolution “. I would say that a far more apt word would be “ revolution “.
Implicit in this legislation is a form of tariff implementation that has never existed before in the history of the Australian Commonwealth. Therefore, I suggest that the Minister has shown the Opposition scant consideration in asking us to put our point of view on the day after he has submitted the bills to the House. Apparently, he wants to get the bills through as quickly as he can, possibly to dispose of them before the people realize their vast ramifications.
The attitude of the Opposition is not motivated by a desire to be obstructive. We want to preserve the right of Parliament to levy taxes at every level, particularly when they are first imposed.
On this occasion, the Minister is taking to himself the right, acting on the recommendation of the deputy chairman after a preliminary inquiry, to impose taxation. Certainly it can be called temporary taxation, but it could be effective for six, eight or even twelve weeks, and the Opposition considers that this provision cuts across the principle of confining to the Parliament itself the right to levy taxation. The Labour Party never will concede the right of the Executive to levy taxation, even temporarily. On that we pin our case in opposition to these bills. 1 am quite prepared to concede that there will be numerous occasions on which very urgent action will be suggested by the deputy chairman but this is not the only method by which palliative or remedial measures can be undertaken. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was quite explicit on this subject. He pointed to methods that could be adopted. He mentioned the quantitative system and the restoration of import licensing control. Those methods could do the job far more satisfactorily, in my opinion, because they preserve the taxing rights of the Parliament. This bill could be the thin edge of the wedge, lt relates to the tariff. To-morrow, similar legislation could relate to sales tax, then petrol tax and so on. Eventually, we might find the Government justifying its actions by saying that the Parliament had approved of this principle in August, 1960, when it gave the Executive the power to impose taxation. Certainly, duties imposed under this legislation will have to be approved ultimately by the Parliament. But the Government is seeking to incorporate in our statutes legislation such as we have never had before.
– There is no provision for a refund if Parliament does not approve of a duty.
– That is quite correct. The argument of the honorable member for Lalor is beyond refutation. As everybody knows, the Labour Party has, at all times, occupied the foremost place in the fight for protection of Australian industry. Labour has always been a protectionist party from the day of its birth in this Parliament.
We can be relied upon at all times and under all conditions to advocate adequate protective tariff for Australian industries. Nevertheless, we realize that the tariff system, in some respects, has not been satisfactory. In recent years, numerous complaints have been directed to the Tariff Board, mainly because of the length of time taken to arrive at its decisions. It is quite obvious that there is a need for greater speed and flexibility in the present system. The time that elapses between the board’s recommendations and Parliament’s decisions on them is often too great. This is the fault of the Government. For some reason or other recommendations of the board sometimes do not see the light of day for weeks or months after they reach the Government. Delays in the holding of inquiries were reduced some time ago when the Government provided for the inauguration of another board. There are now two boards operating and I understand that, as a result of their joint efforts, the backlog of tariff applications has been eased.
I would like now to make some comments upon the Minister’s speech. The Minister gave an extremely wordy dissertation - not that he lacks a reputation for wordy dissertations. But this is one of his best efforts. In it he endeavoured to prove the necessity for this legislation. I would suggest to the Minister, in all kindness, that all the arguments he put forward do not counter the main objection that this is an innovation in Australian parliamentary history. It would give members of the Executive the right to impose taxation without reference to Parliament. Parliament now has to endorse or amend such recommendations, but this is cutting across all conceptions of the taxation system. The Minister said -
The traditional policy of Government in Australia is that the levels of protective tariffs should not be determined without the issues involved having been examined and reported on by the Tariff Board.
Of course, nobody objects to that statement. It is a statement of fact. What the Minister omitted to say was that embodied in the traditional policy of tariffs is the understanding that the Parliament shall say whether the recommendations shall be adopted or not. Until the recommendations are introduced into the Parliament, the rates do not become operative. So this proposal is a deviation from the accepted principles of Australian tariff practices. The Minister also said -
The proposals . . . reveal the Government’s adherence to the principles which have governed our tariff policy for over a generation.
For the life of me, I cannot see how the Government is adhering to the policies that have governed our tariff policy for over a generation. The Government has wandered right away from those policies. It is incorporating in the statutes something that has never been proposed in the Australian Parliament since federation 59 years ago. It is because the Government is not adhering to the general principles of tariff policy and is introducing something that is revolutionary in its implications that the Opposition opposes the proposal in its present form. The Minister also made this remarkable statement -
The modifications to our system of tariff-making which the bills propose are procedural, not fundamental.
What an understatement! They are not fundamental! The whole basis of parliamentary government places on the Parliament itself the right to impose taxation. This bill gets right away from that inherent conception of parliamentary government at its best. The Minister cloaked his intention by saying his proposals were merely procedural. If that is his definition of procedural I would not like the Minister to be in charge of too much legislation in future. If he is in charge of it, some people are in for rude shocks. These proposals are something new in the Australian political scene and I would not like to see similar principles embodied in future legislation. If they are, Parliament will become merely a cipher.
– There are grave dangers inherent in the new principle.
– That is why the Opposition is opposing this legislation. This proposal is the antithesis of every conception of parliamentary control of finance that has been built up over hundreds of years in British countries. The Minister is begging the question completely when he suggests that the alteration is only procedural. The Australian people will say definitely that they want nothing whatever to do with this proposal because it is only the first step in a series of future actions that could be only inimical to Australia. The Minister also stated in his second-reading speech -
The potential consequences to all sections of the community of imposing standing tariffs on imports, whether at higher rates or at lower rates, are so important that it would be wrong to act hastily in these matters.
I would say that haste is going to be a predominant feature of the sequel to this measure. Under the normal procedure, inquiries into tariff matters might take months. Sometimes they have taken too long; but necessarily such inquiries must be of reasonably long duration because the ultimate decision involves serious consequences. Much information has to be obtained from various sources. Interested persons must be questioned and cross-examined.
– Three or four members of the Tariff Board are involved, too.
– That’ is so, and out of many mouths comes wisdom. But for all these reasons, we must, hasten slowly. Suppose a deputy chairman of the Tariff Board makes a recommendation and it is adopted. All sorts of dire consequences could follow if, upon ultimate investigation by the board, different recommendations are submitted. The effect on the industry concerned could be far more detrimental than the retention of the import licensing system as suggested by the Opposition. It is laughable for the Minister to say that it would be wrong to act hastily. This measure is hasty legislation and the Minister stands condemned by his own words and his own logic.
The Minister made another remarkable statement in a laudable endeavour to justify the legislation. 1 have never heard him at a greater disadvantage than he was on this occasion. I think he realized that he was trying to rush the measure through the Parliament and he hoped that, by an accumulation of verbiage, he would bamboozle the Parliament. He wanted honorable members to agree that this was only a procedural measure and then we could get on with the Budget. He hoped this measure would then be forgotten and when the proposal was actually in operation, the people would be told that the measure was now an integral part of the statutes and we must work on it. The Minister also said -
It should not be thought that the Government could at any time and on short notice introduce import licensing to protect industries with any likelihood that its licensing arrangements could operate with equity. Usually import licensing can only operate with equity with an elaborate background of records of imports by individual importers and it can only be administered by an existing organization set up for the purpose.
I would say that because of the vital issues confronting employers and employees in a tariff decision, such matters should receive the utmost consideration at all times. In that connexion, I point out that quick increases in tariffs could operate under this legislation. That is the whole purpose of the proposal. What will happen if increases are granted? Suppose the Tariff Board gives the matter some consideration and then decreases the tariff rates? The effect would be confusion in industry, chaos, dismissals and unemployment. There would be lack of confidence in the administration of the Government and all this would be to the ultimate disadvantage of the Australian economy.
This legislation gives a false feeling of security. The average industry, on receiving the green light following agreement on a tariff rate, will naturally go ahead on that basis. It will not wait for a final recommendation by the Tariff Board. The whole purpose of the legislation is to give the green light to industries; but there is no guarantee that the recommendations of the board will be adopted by Parliament on the lines of the original inquiry by a deputy chairman. Therefore, while it might appear on the surface that this legislation has something to commend it, a little serious thought soon makes the inherent dangers readily apparent.
If the Government feels that an industry is in a bad position because of dumping it can, as the honorable member for Lalor has pointed out, take speedy action under the existing legislation. That affects in no way the ultimate tariff rates because the total prohibition of imports does not affect the tariff rate. This legislation can, and undoubtedly will, fix two sets of tariff rates within, possibly, six or nine months. No one can say that that is desirable. From’ the point of view of the future prosperity and well-being of industry, it is much better to have a total or partial prohibition of imports and for the Tariff Board to fix the rate which industry knows will endure for some time. Industry, therefore, will be able to face the future with confidence.
The Minister’s reasons for saying that import restrictions cannot be used to accord temporary protection to an industry are not at all convincing. I think that I have proved that while there might be some apparent theoretical advantages, they are more than off-set by the practical disadvantages which will accrue overnight when this legislation becomes law. The Minister admitted this in his second-reading speech when he said -
It may be feasible and indeed it may be desirable to give short-term protection by restrictive licensing, rather than by a temporary duty increase.
An extension of the logic of that statement will be far more acceptable to the Australian economy when the results of the present proposal are seen in two or three years. The Minister also stated -
The measures now brought forward by the Government provide this supplementary means. They provide a mechanism, within our traditional tariff-making machinery, by which we can do those things ….
I fail to see the logic of that statement because the mechanism of our tariff-making machinery provides that in the end result the Parliament has the right to say whether a recommendation should be adopted or rejected. The Parliament will not have its right to speak until the tariffs have been in operation possibly for two or three months. Therefore, the legislation does not provide mechanism in accordance with the traditional tariff-making machinery. We of the Labour Party, while having every consideration and thought for the well-being and future of Australian industry, consider that such a vital principle is embodied in this legislation that we must oppose it. We believe that undoubtedly it will be used as a precedent for further similar legislation.
We have been told that the bill will give effect to recommendations of the Tariff Board when the Parliament is not sitting. That is a complete departure from the practice which has been accepted in this country for the last 60 years. Why has the Government suddenly decided to adopt this procedure? I think that the honorable member far Lalor and the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) hit the nail on the head when they said that the Government is appalled by the effect of its decision of February last practically to abolish import controls. Over the last six or seven years our balance of trade position has become well nigh catastrophic, and even Government supporters are not very happy about our future prospects. In its monthly summary the National Bank of Australasia had something to say about this. No one could ever accuse the National Bank of being anything but an ardent supporter of the Government by word and by deed, because it looks to the Government to preserve its interests in any legislation that comes before the House. The Government, since it has been in office, certainly has looked after the bank. In its summary the National Bank of Australasia said that the present outlook was for a very substantial run-down in Australia’s foreign exchange reserves during 1960-61, of the order of £100,000,000 to £150,000,000, even if there were some slackening in imports and capital inflow at about last year’s record could be obtained. That statement does not take account of, for example, shipping costs which would mean an increase on the figure of £150,000,000. It is apparent that the Government is very concerned about our adverse trade balance. It has attempted to correct the position suddenly when it should have been corrected years ago. The Government should not have lifted import controls until we could see daylight ahead.
In its endeavour to bolster its position the Government adopted an argument that it had rejected in the past. In his secondreading speech, the Minister said -
Provision for tariffs to be changed when the House is not in session is in conformity with normal tariff-making practice in other countries.
In other words, because other countries have adopted this policy, the Government thinks that it should be adopted here.
– What is wrong with that?
– I am glad that the honorable member for Barker has asked that question. I used that argument last year in relation to the Commonwealth aid roads legislation when I stated that all proceeds of the petrol tax in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and New Zealand - the three countries which were mentioned by the Minister when introducing these proposals - were devoted to the construction and maintenance of roads. I said last year that it was Labour Party policy that all the proceeds of the petrol tax in Australia should be spent on roads, but the Government brushed the suggestion aside. Now, twelve or fifteen months later, it has adopted my argument. It has said that because the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand have adopted this practice in relation to tariffs, Australia should follow suit. The Government does not know where it is. When introducing this bill the Minister filched an Opposition argument to bolster a pathetically weak Government case. If the Government now adopts the practice which is followed in the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand in relation to tariffs, let it be consistent and follow the lead of these countries in relation to the petrol tax. The Government cannot adopt one practice which is in operation in other countries which suits it and then repudiate another practice which is not palatable to it. I appeal to the Government to be consistent. By its actions on this occasion it is showing itself to be hypocritical. The Minister said that this bill contained safeguards. He stated -
The Government must, within seven days of the Parliament being in session, table the temporary duties as tariff proposals. This puts the Parliament in charge of the situation.
If the Government imposes a tax when the Parliament is in recess, how on earth can it justify its actions by saying that the Parliament has the right, when it meets, to accept or reject the tax. The safeguard just does not exist. This talk of a safeguard is mere fantasy. For the first time in the history of the Australian Parliament we have seen the introduction of legislation that cuts right across the accepted principles of the British democratic system which gives the Parliament the right, during its sitting periods, to impose taxes.
I close with the comment that the Government is asking the Parliament to abdicate its responsibility. Members of the Parliament are being asked to abdicate their responsibility and hand it over holus-bolus to the Executive. We have seen a whittlingdown of the powers of the Parliament over the last 20 or 30 years. The rights and responsibilities of members have been inexorably taken from them and transferred to the Executive. This bill is a further step in that process, and therefore the Opposition resolutely opposes it. But let no one think that Labour’s opposition to the bill results from resolute opposition to tariff protection. In the history of this National Parliament, no party has supported protection more strongly than has the Australian Labour Party, which has supported it at all times and in all circumstances, as a glance through the pages of “Hansard” since 1901 will indicate. The Labour Party has been the architect of protection, if I may use that term. Nevertheless we are not prepared to abandon the cherished traditions or give away a cherished right of the Parliament itself in order ostensibly to protect some industry. We claim that alternative methods are already available within the framework of parliamentary government - methods that the Government could adopt in order to protect Australian industries until the Tariff Board makes its recommendations. The two previous speakers on the Opposition side of the chamber amply demonstrated that.
The Government’s present proposal is a revolutionary one and is the complete antithesis of the concepts of democracy and true representation of the people. In the face of the attitude of the Executive, we say that this bill should be defeated and that the Government should use the methods at present available in order to serve the interests of Australian workers.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) made great play on the cherished rights of members of the Parliament and on the principles of the British democratic system. It is somewhat amusing to hear those fine phrases nourished by a member of the Australian Labour Party in this House, because we recall that members of that party are pledged to vote according to the dictates of a caucus which meets outside this chamber - a caucus which itself is supposed to be obedient to the dictates of some executive which is not elected by the people.
The tenor of the Australian Labour Party’s opposition to this bill is that in some way the procedures outlined in it will infringe the rights of this Parliament. Since the bill is designed to protect the jobs of Australians and to do nothing else, that sort of talk will not cut very much ice with the Australian public. To say that a system of tariffs should be replaced by a system of import licensing is merely to play about with the subject. Either system is designed to protect employment in Australia, and the choice between one and the other is the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. There is very little difference between them. I believe that this bill will prove to be extremely successful. It represents an innovation and I am sure that the procedures for which it provides will be a welcome addition to the Australian tariff system.
I am very pleased to see the last of the import-licensing system which, despite the praise bestowed on it by Opposition speakers to-night, was a most obnoxious method of controlling imports into this country and protecting Australian industries.
– Did the honorable member say that when import licensing was in force?
– I said it then, and I shall say it forever. That system was the crudest economic weapon that we have ever invented. I am very glad that its use has been reduced to the minimum, and I hope that the system will be eliminated entirely in time.
I am glad to be speaking at this stage of the debate, as I want to say something that is not directly involved in the bill, although the bill gives rise to it. The consideration of this measure gives us an opportunity to look at the principles which guided the framers of our tariff. The principles that have guided the tariff-makers have been very much the same over the 30 years since the Brigden committee completed its review of our tariff system in 1929. Broadly, the tariff-makers are motivated by a determination to protect any industry which can claim with justification to be economic and efficient. In practice, this has meant that our tariff system has been geared to a policy of expansion. We have been able to absorb a much greater population than we had in the 1920’s. We have been able to diversify industry and develop a very welcome measure of stability in the economy - a stability that was completely lacking in the days when we were predominantly a primary-producing nation. All that has been very good, but there are limits to the expansion that can take place under the protection of such a tariff system. We pay dearly for protection of any kind, and the costs of our protective-tariff system have been shouldered up to now by the export industries. Those costs have spread throughout the economy and eventually have been loaded on to the industries that export and thereby earn our overseas income and our foreign exchange.
Let me turn aside from that point for a moment and point out that the Tariff Board has other considerations in mind when it sets out to fix rates of duty. The first main consideration is the encouragement of industries which have a potential for export trade, whether or not it is realized, in order to guarantee them a satisfactory home market as a firm base from which to launch out into the world and sell Australian goods. That is a very important aspect of the matter. It is obvious that a small country like ours has not much opportunity to achieve economies by large-scale activities; so we must achieve our objectives by protective tariffs for industries which are capable of selling their products in the markets of the world and thereby earning wealth for Australia.
The other main consideration that the Tariff Board has in mind is the protection of highly productive industries - industries in which we have a particular cost advantage over other countries - a cost advantage which may be derived from the peculiar skills that we have in Australia or from the possession of cheap natural resources. The Tariff Board has been very conscious of the importance of encouraging industries which can call upon particular gifts, talents Or qualities of that kind, and it has recognized the need to give them the required protection. Unfortunately, although the Tariff Board has these other two matters in mind, to some extent they and the overall principle and policy of granting protection for sheer economic and efficient production are not compatible. They are mutually exclusive, because if you keep on granting protection to industries which put up a case for being economic and efficient you automatically load the economy with additional costs. And when you put on additional costs you cripple the industries that could sell competitively overseas. You put an additional burden on those industries which would otherwise have a cost advantage over industries in other countries. I am convinced that we have reached the limits of the application of the tariff under the present set of principles, and 1 am sure that we must set about, as a matter of urgency, reviewing our tariff and the principles under which it is established. There are three items of evidence to support my contention.
– Do you think that the tariff should be reduced?
– The honorable member has not had an opportunity to speak yet. I hope he will have the opportunity to-morrow. The three matters I bring forward in support of my contention that we have reached the limits of expansion in Australia under the protective shield of our tariff system are these: First, we know that our standard of living in Australia is very high; but, unfortunately, our real national income per head in relation to the national incomes per head of other Western countries has been falling quite substantially. I quote figures for the last decade provided by the National Bank of Australia. The United Kingdom’s real national income per head has risen by 19 per cent., that of the United States of America by 15 per cent, and Canada’s by 23 per cent., while Australia’s has risen by only 2 per cent. This indicates that we have been holding the line of standards of living here in Australia, but have not been doing very much else but holding the line.
Certainly it is very impressive to have an economy expanding; but we must remember that very much of this expansion is due simply to the multiplication of people in Australia. We have been pumping in a flood of migrants to Australia, and have been attracting industries to serve these people. It is very exciting to have vast expansion, but we must never forget that expansion and growth are two very different things. We have been expanding, but we have not been developing the wealth of Australia sufficiently to raise our real national income per head to the same level as has been attained in the other Western countries with which we match ourselves.
The second evidence I produce to support my belief that we must have a change of emphasis in our tariff policy and in our general economic thinking is that there has been a noticeable falling off in productive development works, particularly in the wool industry, our principal export income earner. It is too early to say, “ Here are the figures. There has been X amount of investment this year as against Y the previous year.” We cannot do that; but we do know that the income of farmers has risen by less than half as much again as it was twelve years ago. And we do know that farmers, principally wool-growers, do their development work traditionally out of the surplus that is left at the end of the year when they have sold their clips. If farm income has dropped in relation to the income of the rest of the community very substantially, then it is pretty obvious that the woolgrower is getting a smaller and smaller surplus to throw into the improvement pf his property every year. Do not let us be fooled by the fact that wool production has risen. It has risen all right, but we have had good seasons. Where we want wool production to rise is in the good sate rainfall areas, and that is where we want to see the development work take place. lt is not taking place at nearly the rate it should be taking place.
There is a time lag in rural investment and one has to be very watchful to see the shape of things to come. I am sure that there is now a distinct falling off in the rate of investment in that better-class country. It will be some years before we can say quite definitely that improvements that should have been made this year were not made and therefore we will not get the results we could have had in five years time. It is too soon to say that.
– Far too soon.
– Definitely. But 1 think that on the broad basis that farm income is steadily dropping, and on the evidence of our own eyes, we can say that we are not producing nearly as much wool as we should, and we are not pouring enough money back into the wool industry to guarantee a rise in wool income in future years. That, in itself, is one very good reason for altering our tariff structure to give more encouragement to the export industries.
I have cited wool, but the same cost problem affects all industries that hope to export - both those producing minerals and those producing manufactures.
The third point I should like to bring to the House to justify my argument i» that there was no evidence in the Budget brought down last night by the Treasurer that the Government has yet realized the extreme urgency of building up our export trade. We have an Export Development Council, established on the initiative of the Minister for Trade, who is now at the table, which is doing an excellent job with promotion work and with spreading the gospel of export consciousness throughout industry in Australia; but the Government itself has been very slow to realize that some positive action must be taken at government level. Only a couple of months ago we had a National Export Convention in Canberra. That convention reached some conclusions, one of which was that the Government - must shape Its thinking to give high priority to export expansion.
It said that “ the freely expressed view that the Government had been all too silent on this had been noted “. That was a couple of months ago. I listened very attentively to the Treasurer last night, and so far as I gathered the Government is still silent on the question of export expansion.
The National Export Convention says that unless we have an export explosion, unless we build up our exports by one-third in the next five years, we will suffer lower standards of living here in Australia. I believe that. I am sure that the Export Development Council has studied this matter and I am sure that it is not very far wide of the mark. I urge the Government to set up a committee to review the tariff system and to give the Tariff Board new principles to guide its operations. We must have principles which will steer the tariff system in a way that will foster exports and so bring more wealth into the country. We must have a tariff system which will favour those industries that show a high rate of productivity or which call upon some resources, human or material, in which we possess some peculiar advantage over the rest of the world. This in turn would develop wealth in Australia. We must persuade the Australian people by whatever means we can to abandon the old slogan, which served so very well in its time, of “ populate or perish “ and to adopt a new slogan, “ produce and prosper “.
We have been labouring for a long time under a delusion that we can, in some way or other, build the wealth of this country if we add sufficient people to our population. We neither build the wealth nor the security of Australia by bringing migrants here at the rate we have been. We can nevermatch the Asian countries, or our western neighbours, in terms of numbers. Our only way to build wealth and security is to go for quality. We must strive to improve skills - the technical know-how, to use an American expression. I am quite sure that we can do that if we re-arrange our thinking and our national objective away from the expansion of population and towards the growth of production and wealth. This would mean the curtailment of our migration programme. This is the limit that would be set to our tariff system, if we were geared to production. If the tariff system were geared to principles which encouraged the growth of production, the limits would not be, as they are now, the level that could be supported by our export industries. They would be set in a different fashion; the limits would be on the capacity of Australia to absorb newcomers and to provide them with employment.
In saying this, I do not believe that a tapering off of our migration programme would cause a great dislocation in industry. I am very conscious of the fact that, from next year the post-war generation of youngsters will be leaving school and looking for jobs. A great new wave of youngsters will be looking for good jobs, which require much more capital than jobs used to require in days gone by. It would be a very good thing if we had a period of consolidation between now and the time that these youngsters go out into the world seeking employment.
I urge the Government to take this opportunity to review the principles on which our tariffs are framed with the inten tion of using this principal instrument of administration to increase our wealth and to build our security, and at the same time to change its whole economic thinking on this matter of expansion. Expansion does not mean strength. Apart from the economic sense, expansion of numbers has brought us weakness in the social field. I remind the House that we have 4 per cent. of registered aliens in the country at present, and there are very good reasons for thinking that that number of registered aliens actually weakens the democratic system, which has been vaunted so highly by Labour members today. Over expansion in the economic field is dangerous; it is also dangerous in the social field. I hope that the Government will abandon its old objective and re-aline its thinking towards some new objective which has more reality and more sense in the 1960’s.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Peters) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I desire to refer briefly to a matter of some importance and of great interest. I understand that the Government has initiated proceedings against a person connected with a publication known as “ Top Secret Newsletter “. I do not want to canvass the matter which I understand will come before the court, but I want to question the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) on the methods adopted by the Government in cases of this nature. I realize that they do not frequently arise, but I have been given to understand that, although many members of the Parliament and private citizens have been libelled in this newsletter, only a very few have been linked with the proceedings being taken by the Government. It is this strange feature that has aroused some curiosity in me.
I went through some of these sheets briefly and noticed some of the people against whom libels had been published.
Amongst them was the Government Whip, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce). The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) received particular attention on a number of occasions, and I should have imagined that he would have been one of the first to be linked with proceedings of this kind. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) have been mentioned on a number of occasions, and even the Attorney-General himself received some attention in a few issues. Yet I have been informed that relatively few people have been linked with these proceedings. According to my advice, only four members of Parliament have been included. One is a member of the State Parliament of New South Wales, two are Labour members of this Parliament and one is a Minister - only one member of the Government parties. lt seems rather strange that although some most serious libels have been published against other members of the Parliament, they have not been linked with the proceedings. I was approached by a member of the staff of the Crown Law Office in New South Wales, and I signed an affidavit in respect of these proceedings. The same thing occurred in respect of one of my colleagues, but I was rather surprised when I heard - only in the last 24 hours - that only one member of the Government has been linked with these proceedings, despite the most serious libels made against other members of it. I hope that I have been inaccurately advised in regard .to what happened, but, if the information I have received is factual, surely there must be required from the Attorney-General and the Government some explanation as to why only one member of the Government is to be called upon in these proceedings to defend himself or to clear his reputation of the libels published in these sheets. As I said, these names include that of the Attorney-General himself. I await his explanation with great interest.
– Those who know nothing of legal procedure would usually do well to keep out of it. There is on foot at present a prosecution against this man and I do not wish for one moment to prejudice his trial.
– There is no suggestion on the part of the honorable member for East Sydney to prejudice his trial.
– I do not know what his motive was, but 1 am pretty sure it is not to help the accused. It is not customary when one files, as I did, an ex officio indictment, to issue a number of indictments at the one time and serve item. This man has been served with one indictment. There are other indictments yet to come. It suffices, at the moment, that be should be served in respect of one and brought before the court. What will be done after that is a question for me to decide in due course having regard to what has happened - when it has happened - in the court. I may tell the House that there was no endeavour, in the choice of whose name should be used, to advantage or disadvantage anybody. I was careful to ask any person whose name I used whether he wished it to be used; and I used no name until I had the authority of that person. I made no attempt to shield anybody, and, in particular, I made no attempt to shield myself. I had to pick cases where there were defamatory remarks made and, although remarks made about me were not pleasant, they were not defamatory, because not one of them reflected upon my reputation, and therefore I could not make myself a cause of complaint against this man. There have been, as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) says, several counts included in the indictment. The law only allows a certain number and I had to exercise my judgment-
– You say the remarks about you were not defamatory?
– They were not defamatory of me.
– Then I will take the opportunity soon to read them in this House.
– You can read them to your heart’s content, because I am not ashamed of any one of them. I just tell you, as a matter of law, that they were not defamatory nor were they to my discredit. Nobody who knows the story behind them would think for one moment that I was discredited. But it is not for me to stand up here and speak of these things in respect of which I do not Wish to take any personal advantage. I leave it to those who like scrubbing in the mud to bring them up.
As far as this prosecution is concerned, it will be advanced by me with very evenhandedness and never to the disadvantage of any one person nor to the advantage of any other.
– 1 desire, Sir, to seek some information concerning the stores at Portland known as the Portland Wool Stores. Who is in charge of the House? I do not wish to talk to fresh air?
– After the last issue we can do with some fresh air.
– 1 am raising a mattei of importance, on which 1 would like some information. I intend to ask for the information courteously from the Minister concerned or some other member of th? Government but apparently no one has the courtesy to listen to me.
– Can we all join in this?
– Order! The honorable member for Lalor has the call. I ask honorable members to refrain from interjecting.
– The matter upon which I would like some information from the Government concerns the stores at Portland known as the Portland Wool Stores. They were constructed by the Labour Government - in, I think, 1947 or 1948 - and they cost at that time in the vicinity of £80,000 or £100,000. I think their present day cost would be about £200,000. I am interested in them and the circumstances surrounding their construction and I understand that the Government - I have no authentic information whatsoever in this regard - ‘has put these stores on the market for sale, or intends to give people opportunity to lease them. I also believe that there is some co-operative group of wool-growers interested in leasing these stores or purchasing them.
I believe we are within measurable distance of the wool-growers of Australia indicating at a ballot - when this Government gives them an opportunity to do so - that they want to put into operation some form of organized marketing. Therefore, I consider that it would be very bad policy on the part of the Government to allow these stores to be bought or leased for any long period by private enterprise or any private concern whatsoever, either for use or for speculation. As we all know, the woolgrowing industry has problems enough. 1 suggest that if the stores are for sale or are available for long-term lease to anybody, the Government should give favorable consideration to withdrawing them from public sale or lease and vesting their ownership ;n the Australian Wool Bureau. This body already has vested in it the war-time wool disposal stores. If my suggestion were adopted, the bureau might be authorized, pending such time as the wool-growers’ organizations take them up for their use, to let them to growers’ co-operatives or anybody associated with the wool industry or even, on shortterm lease, to private enterprise for other purposes. In the meantime the revenue derived by the Australian Wool Bureau from the letting of the stores could be devoted to augmenting what are said to be the already inadequate funds at the disposal of that worthy, necessary, useful and efficiently managed organization.
The stores in question are in the electorate of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser), who, I hope, will support my proposition. I really believe that these stores should not be sold to some person who wants to buy them for speculative purposes. They are valuable buildings, and are becoming more valuable every day. They were originally built for the wool industry, and some temporary fortuitous situation should not operate to allow some unworthy person to get away with them, and then obtain a big rake-off, simply because the wool industry does not require them at present. I hope the Minister will give serious consideration to my representations.
– The honorable member for Lalor (Mr: Pollard) has raised a subject which is currently receiving attention in my department. The wool stores at Portland were erected, as the honorable member said, many years ago, at a cost somewhat greater than that which I think he put on them. I think the figure was well over £100,000. The buildings have never been used as wool stores. When the Department of Supply had no further use for them, they were declared surplus to my department and were listed for disposal. We had no alternative but to arrange for their disposal. After having sought the views of many persons on the possible use of these buildings for the purpose of establishing a wool-selling centre in Portland, we agreed that the only thing to do was to try to dispose of them.
I have received a great deal of assistance from the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser), and I must commend him for his activity in trying to further the interests of the area concerned, and particularly of the wool-growers in that area. It is largely because of his efforts that active negotiations are now going on with a wool-growers’ co-operative organization for the possible sale of those buildings. Whether we will be able to conclude the negotiations with an outright sale to the co-operative organization depends on a number of factors. I can assure the honorable member for Lalor, however, that we are well aware of the desirability of trying to help the wool-growers in the district. As I have said, I must commend the honorable member for Wannon for the very active part he has played. He has at all times stated very fairly the case of the woolgrowers, while realizing the difficulties the Government faces in trying to obtain a reasonable price for buildings which originally cost a great deal of taxpayers’ money to erect. I am hopeful that we will be able to arrive at a satisfactory solution in our negotiations with the wool-growers’ co-operative organization.
– I wish to refer briefly to the reply that the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) made this afternoon to a question I asked him about certain compensation payments made to natives. His reply was quite out of character. I have never previously known him to give anything but a courteous reply. On all previous occasions, if he has not had the necessary information, he has always said so and has undertaken to let me have it later. I was surprised and somewhat disappointed with his reply this afternoon. I thought he was quite terse and a little agitated when 1 asked him whether it was a fact that the maximum amount of compensation payable to the dependents of a native who was killed in the course of his employment was £100.
– Your insinuation was quite wrong, wasn’t it?
– If the honorable member will listen, he will hear the result of the insinuations in a moment. I further asked the Minister whether it was true that the local authorities in New Guinea had recommended that this amount of £100 be increased. I asked whether U was true that the amount now recommended was still only about one-fifth of the amount which would apply in the case of a European worker who was killed in similar circumstances.
The Minister said, as usual, that I was badly informed, and he then sat down. I have since taken the trouble to check the ordinances on this subject, and I have discovered that what was told to me by officers - and, incidentally, officers of the Administration under the control of the Minister - in Papua about the maximum of £100 payable to dependants of a native killed during the course of his employment is correct. I find that this is the maximum amount now available. I have also been informed that only three weeks ago a magistrate in New Guinea awarded as little as £30 in the case of a native who was killed felling timber. This man had a mother dependent upon him, and she received the princely sum of £30 as full compensation for the death of her son.
I have checked the position and discovered also that native labour ordinances and workers’ compensation ordinances made as long ago as 1958 have not yet been implemented.
– Is there not a question on the notice-paper on that matter?
– Not in those precise terms. I mention this to-night only to let the Minister know that I was not wrongly informed, and that what was told to me was precisely correct in every detail. I wonder whether the Minister will be good enough to have a look at this matter. I do not expect him to reply tonight, because he probably knows no more about the matter now than he did this afternoon. An honorable member opposite has interjected and asked me whether I want the Minister to apologize. I do not want him to apologize. It would be sufficient for my purposes if he. got up and said that what I had stated was in fact correct, that the present maximum is £100, that the local authorities had recommended as long ago as 1958 that the amount should be increased, that nothing has yet been done to implement that recommendation, and that the recommended amount is still only about one-fifth of the amount that would be paid to a European killed in similar circumstances.
– I am sorry that the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) feels that I did not give him the usual courteous reply to his question. However, the honorable member was wrongly informed on some points, and was incompletely informed on other points. Immediately after question time I asked officers of my department to obtain the correct information for me so that I could pass it on to him, and I will do that in due course.
There is one statement in which he persists which 1 should correct immediately. That is the Statement which implies that in some way or other the officers in the Territory have been asking for certain changes to be made and that the Government has been resisting. In fact, it is quite the other way round. This is a matter in which 1 have taken a close, personal interest. The initial action for an increase in the amount of compensation was taken by the Minister, not by any of his officers. There is a rather involved story behind the matter, but I may say that the dissatisfaction was expressed on the side of the Government, not on the side of the Administration.
– I would like to bring to the notice of the House a matter which is sorely trying the tempers of my constituents. They happen to be represented by a member who always has the welfare and comfort of his constituents at heart, and 1 think it is my duty to put this matter before the House. I refer to certain stores in an area known as Heffron Park in Maroubra. The park was named after our very worthy Premier. These stores were built during the war for the purpose of stock-piling materials necessary for war purposes. They are now under the control of the Minister for the Interior. They are eye-sores in a district in which many new homes have recently been built, and it is quite competent for the Minister to do something about these stores if he wants to. On an inspection that I made without notifying the Minister’s officers - I always believe in the surprise visit - I found in the store, not stockpiled materials which would be essential to the community, but disposals of General Motors-Holden’s Limited in the shape of Frigidaires left there when the Holden organization moved its factory to Dandenong in Victoria. I want to know how long all those vociferous members opposite will agree to the use of government stores for the purposes of private enterprise. Let them laugh that one off! Holden’s get preferential treatment in this district in particular, but I shall now press for the dismantling and removal of these stores. Having the comfort of the children of the district at heart, we propose to develop Heffron Park. Will honorable members opposite agree to that? We shall build a swimming pool for the comfort and use of the children. We shall build a hockey field for the girls of the district and a football ground for the boys of the district. Do honorable members opposite believe that General Motors-Holden’s Limited should get preferential treatment over Australian boys and girls and have stores built on parklands that are dedicated for the welfare, benefit and recreation of the people?
I shall use all my efforts to move the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) in this connexion. I ask the Minister to-night whether he will give me an answer to my protest, saying when he will remove these rat-infested stores and give the land back to the people. The park has been held against their wishes for twenty years. Homes worth £5,00i £6,000 and £7,000 are built on land bordering the park. The people paid high prices for the land and the homes because they thought that the parklands would be there for the benefit of their children. I make an appeal to the Minister. I know that he is very well served in the City of Canberra with a home for himself and parklands for his children. I ask him to listen to my plea for the children in my district, to move these rat-infested stores, and to hand the park back to the people of the district, to whom it belongs.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following answer to a question was circulated: -
House adjourned at 11.13 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 August 1960, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1960/19600817_reps_23_hor28_c1/>.