23rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I inform the House that the Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton) will be leaving Australia later to-day to represent me in my capacity as Minister for External Affairs at a meeting of Ministers of the Colombo Plan Consultative Committee in Tokyo. During the Minister’s absence, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) will act as Minister for the Navy.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: Is any provision being made for the establishment of a crematorium in Canberra? May I say to the Minister that f have no present or projected personal interest in this matter, but it is of interest to constituents who have made representations on the subject.
– I am not aware of any proposal at the present time, but I shall give consideration to the honorable member’s question.
– I ask the Treasurer whether, having in mind his declared intention to encourage the practice of bringing down the Budget as early as possible after the beginning of the financial year and also the policy of the Auditor-General of having his report available to the Parliament when the Estimates are presented, he will consider re-arranging parliamentary time to ensure that the Parliament and the Public Service may enjoy the advantage of early budgets instead of being frustrated by long protracted debates, as is the case this year when the Estimates and the various bills necessary to implement the Budget are still being discussed in another place.
– I appreciate the importance of the question raised by the honorable member for Warringah. I am sure he will know from his own experience in this place that it is not merely a question of the convenience or the practicability of passing these matters through the Treasury and, after subsequent discussions, through Cabinet in time for their earlier presentation to the Parliament. There is also to be considered the question of the normal parliamentary sitting times which affect the arrangements and convenience of members of all sections of the House. In those circumstances, I could not regard this as merely a matter for which the answer is to be found inside the Treasury. It is a matter which would require consultation with not only my colleagues of the Government, but also the Leader of the Opposition and other honorable gentlemen who might have a viewpoint that they believe should be considered. I shall consider the question raised by the honorable member and see what can be done along the lines he mentions.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral able to inform me whether the next phase in the provision of television services for the country areas of Australia will include the country areas of South Australia? Is he able to give any indication of when it is likely that such television services will be made available to country residents of South Australia?
– The position regarding the next phase of the extension of television services is as follows: - The Australian Broadcasting Control Board will be pretty heavily engaged for some months to come in finalizing the third stage of the development of television, concerning which I made a statement in the House yesterday. Such matters as frequency allocation, determination of sites, the checking of the articles of association of successful applicants and so forth will take up the time of the board for some months. Following that it is my intention to have discussions with the board - T have already had some preliminary discussions with it - about the fourth phase of television. I am not in a position at present to say when that will be put in hand, but it will not be unduly delayed. Nor am I in a position to say exactly what that will cover. The honorable member - and the many other honorable members who have asked questions similar to this one - may rest assured that it will be the Government’s intention to consider the claims of all areas in South Australia, Western Australia and the other States.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Has he noticed, following the release of the names of the successful applicants for television licences, that there has been a strong protest in the metropolitan press of New South Wales against what it deems to be the setting up of monopolies and the Government’s encouragement of them by its present policy of having only one commercial television station in each area? Having regard to the fact that the same interests are setting up a newspaper monopoly throughout the whole of Australia and are endeavouring to secure control of the provincial press as well, could the right honorable gentleman make some arrangement with them, or discuss with them the necessity for relieving their consciences by bringing down a bill, to protect them against their own kind of monopoly?
– I think that, by and large, I have a certain spiritual affinity with the honorable member on this matter, but he has one great advantage over me. He has read these newspapers to-day and I have not yet got around to doing so.
– My question is also addressed to the Prime Minister. Is it not a fact that the major shareholders in the successful application for a television licence in Canberra own Canberra’s only newspaper and commercial radio station? Does this not give these people a monopoly of all commercial media of mass communication in the Federal Capital? Does not this same situation apply in Newcastle, RichmondTweed Heads and Central Tablelands? Is it not a fact that the radio stations and newspapers referred to are strongly under the influence of the Country Party? If so, does the method under which licences were granted mean that the Government has granted to the Country Party a monopoly over country television?
– It is one of those strange dispensations of Providence but, as it happens, I did not think about this matter in the terms of political parties, as the honorable gentleman always does. He refers to the terrifying - as I imagine he believes it to be - monopoly of the “ Canberra Times “. It is true that a very distinguished citizen of this city, Mr. Shakespeare, is chairman of the company which got the television licence. If the Leader of the Opposition had pursued his researches more profoundly he would have discovered that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board - an independent body which investigated masses of applications at great length and with loving care - stated that the alternative to having one station, being the one that it nominated, was to have two stations each of which would have to be associated with a metropolitan television station. So the choice was between one purely local station in Canberra, and two stations, one controlled by one of the great television stations in Sydney and the other by the second. I am surprised that my distinguished friend, the Leader of the Opposition, in his hostility to monopolies, should appear to prefer these two to the one.
Although my colleague, the PostmasterGeneral, who is very familiar with these matters, could say this much better than I, I want to point out that we have made it clear that we are not giving a monopoly to any one. The board advanced the view, and after a good deal of discussion we agreed, that to say that there must be two commercial television licences in addition to the national one, in, for instance, Canberra, which is still a relatively small centre, although it will become much larger in due course, might very well be to over-weight this activity so that in the result it would fail and would have to struggle back from failure later on. If there is to be a commercial television station, we believe that it should have a decent opportunity to succeed. If it has a decent opportunity to succeed, and if it does succeed, the day will come when the advertisers who want access to the air will say, “ The time has arrived when we should have another television station “. To take Canberra as an example, if the population of this city continues to rise at the cumulative rate at which it has been rising, the circumstances that I have foreshadowed will arise.
We have made it clear that no monopoly is assured to any one who gets a single licence in one of these country areas. The licensee takes his chance with the wind and the weather, but at least he is given a chance in the first instance to establish the station, to create a genuine public utility, and to make the business economically sound.
– My question to the Postmaster-General relates to the provision of television in western Vittoria. As the initial impression seems to have been that the station to serve the Ballarat area would be situated on Mr Buninyong, will the Postmaster-General state whether it is correct that paragraph 149 of the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board indicates clearly that the board believes Mr Buangor would be a more favorable site? Would not a station on this site serve between 60,000 and 80,000 more people than would a station on Mr Buninyong?
– I know that in the section of the report dealing with sites there is the apparent mis-statement of the position to which the honorable member has directed attention. This arises from the fact that early in the consideration of the question of extending television the Australian Broadcasting Control Board drew up tentative assignment plans for the various areas in which it was considered the service would be established. At that time the idea was that a station would be placed on Mr Buninyong to serve the Ballarat area. That fact is mentioned in one paragraph of the report. Over the last few months investigations associated with the activities of my department and of the board have indicated that a better service is likely to be obtained from a station located on Mr Buangor. Therefore, it is stated in the report that the preference of the board now is for Mount Buangor. I understand that there is a similar preference for Mount Buangor in the Postmaster-General’s Department, but I qualify that statement by saying that the question of sites has not yet been finally determined. As I said in my statement yesterday, that is one of the matters which will be finally determined by a sub-committee of Cabinet within a very short space of time, when I have available all the technical reports of the departments concerned.
– My question is also directed to the Postmaster-General. Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a statement attributed to the proprietors of Channel 9, T.C.N. , in connexion with the current claim by musicians for extra pay for replays of shows in which they take part, in which the station says that “ the musicians’ move is doomed to failure for a very good reason - nobody really cares if they go on TV or not”? The statement adds, “TV programmes have included ‘ live ‘ shows which the public doesn’t really want and which are forced on TV stations and public alike by government policy “. Is it a fact that Australian artists are recognized, both at home and abroad, as equal to the world’s best in stage and television productions? If these are facts will the Minister undertake to correct this studied insult to Australian artists by this television station, and insist that television stations continue to provide opportunities for Australian artists in preference to the syndicated horror and crime films so often portrayed on television screens?
– I have seen and heard something of the matter referred to by the honorable member and I am afraid, from what I have seen and heard of it, that the honorable member has couched his question in his usual rather extravagant fashion. For instance, I know of nothing in what has happened which would justify the term “ studied insult “ which the honorable member used in reference to this television station. I know that there has been some discussion between the musicians and the station regarding replays of programmes, but just what the latest position is I do not know. So, Mr. Speaker, I do not propose to make any comment on a matter which is at present under discussion and intrusion into which on my part would, I think, be unwise.
– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport: Is it a fact that a new ship, the “ Troubridge “, is being built in Brisbane to cater for our coastal trade? Has this ship> special features which will enable all goods to be loaded and unloaded on wheels, through doors at the stern of the vessel? Have harbour facilities been organized to permit this form of loading and unloading?
– The vessel to which the honorable member refers, the “ Troubridge”, is not planned for use in interstate trade but will be used in South Australia to ply between Port Adelaide, Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island. It is a sternloading vessel of the roll-on, roll-off type. The harbour facilities at Port Lincoln and Port Adelaide, which are under the control of the South Australian Harbour Trust, are complete, and ] understand that those at Kingscote will shortly be completed.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I desire to know whether it is a fact that in the United Kingdom three senior officials have been appointed to hear appeals by public servants against their transfer, dismissal, or failure to secure promotion resulting from reports submitted by the British security service. In view of widespread distrust of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization in this country will the Prime Minister have the United Kingdom practice examined with a view to formulating some form of appeal in Australia against action taken based on the reports of these faceless informers?
– Omitting the rhetorical expressions, I shall be very happy to get a statement on the practice in the United Kingdom and make it available; but I cannot allow to pass without comment the observation that has been made about widespread distrust in this country of the security service. T venture to say that the people of Australia who are not either Communists or deeply associated with Communists have the greatest feeling of satisfaction that we have serving this country, to protect it against the ruthless activities of Communists in Australia, a service made up of men of such character and skill.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. As the silos in north-western New South Wales are now open to receive wheat, will the Minister inform the House what amount will be paid as a first advance and when it will be available? I ask the question as farmers who are now harvesting will require immediate finance for labour, cartage and costs of that sort, and this is not now obtainable from banking institutions as it was in the past.
– An advance to wheat-growers for the current crop is now under consideration. As soon as I get finality on it I will advise the honorable member and, of course, I shall also have to inform the industry generally.
– I direct a question to the Minister for External Affairs. Will the right honorable gentleman inform the House which Congolese delegation to the United Nations - that representing Kasavubu or Lumumba - the Australian delegations have been instructed to support or to recognize? Will the right honorable gentleman arrange for honorable members to receive promptly and accurately the texts of resolutions upon which the United Nations General Assembly or committees of the organization are asked to vote, and information on the way in which Australia, in particular, and other members of the Commonwealth of Nations and her allies vote, or whether they abstain from voting on those resolutions?
– The KasavubuLumumba argument, as the honorable member knows, is one which so far has not reached the point of decision. We will give instructions in that connexion when it becomes necessary to do so. As to the second part of the honorable member’s question, of course I will take every possible step to see that the text of resolutions and the lists of the votes on those matters are made available promptly. When the honorable member says “ accurately “. T hope he is not suggesting that the reports would be anything else but as accurate as we could possibly make them.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Services. In view of the fact that the burial allowance for pensioners is completely inadequate having regard to the present-day minimum cost of a decent burial, and as very great hardship is suffered by many .pensioners who may not have friends or relatives to come to their financial assistance to avoid the burial of a wife or husband as a pauper, will the Minister give serious consideration to increasing the allowance to bring it closer to present-day costs?
– I can assure the honorable member that the amount of the funeral benefit is considered every year when the Budget proposals are being drawn up; but from time to time the Government has to reach a decision on whether it is preferable to increase pensions, ease the means test or concede other social service benefits which are urgently required by the community. The Government reaches a decision on the merits of the question at the time. The funeral benefit, Mr. Speaker, has remained constant for a number of years. That does not preclude the question from being reviewed again at an appropriate time.
– 1 would like to know whether the Prime Minister intends to take any notice of the recommendations of the committee that investigated the proposed amendments to the Constitution. Does the Government propose to take any action in the matter or does it intend to disregard the report?
– At every convenient opportunity, I study the report with deep interest. I am in no position, yet, to say what the attitude of the Government would be.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. What has happened to the report on the dairy industry?
– The honorable member’s curiosity will be satisfied in about twenty minutes’ time.
– Is the Treasurer aware of the statement made by the New South Wales Minister for Local Government on Monday to the effect that councils in New South Wales had a backlag of £13,200,000 of works for which they wanted approval to raise loans? Since the backlag of works for which approval to borrow has not been given has increased by over £11,000,000 in the last four years-
– Order! I think the honorable member is now proceeding to give information. He may seek information and press for action.
– I ask the Treasurer to make every effort to encourage the Australian Loan Council to afford early consideration to this very pressing problem which at present is adversely affecting the activities of many municipal and shire councils.
– I do not question that the statement alleged by the honorable gentleman to have been made was made, but it has not come under my notice. I do know that, at recent meetings of the Australian Loan Council, the Commonwealth Government has concurred in arrangements which have enabled the provision of larger sums of money for local government purposes. At present, when the resources of the community, particularly in the honorable member’s own State of New South Wales, are so heavily engaged, particularly in the field of construction, and when we have reached a position of overfull employment, quite apart from any other consideration, I think it would be most injudicious to extend the activities of local government authorities. An appreciation of the problems of “local government authorities has been shown by spokesmen for the Commonwealth Government at recent Loan Council meetings.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he has given consideration to the report of the committee on decimal currency. If the Prime Minister has not given consideration to the report, I ask that he do so and make a statement as early as possible setting out the Government’s intentions respecting this matter because of the great interest in the commercial world and in government departments.
– This matter is at present .the subject of close technical investigation within the Treasury. Honorable members will realize that such an investigation is inevitable. One could not make an announcement about such a matter as the introduction of decimal currency without having isolated and inquired into the practical problems involved. A great deal of work is being done in this connexion, and we do not propose that there shall be any avoidable delay in saying what we have to say about the matter.
– I address a question to the Minister for External Affairs. On 21st October last the right honorable gentleman announced the donation by Australia of £5,000 to the Pakistan Government as a measure of relief following damage that had been caused in Pakistan by a cyclone. As another cyclone has caused disaster in that unfortunate country, can the right honorable gentleman say whether there is to be any further grant?
– As the honorable member has pointed out, we did, at an earlier stage, make a gift to Pakistan to afford some relief from the effects of cyclone damage. Our gift was one of the first to be made, and I have reason to believe that it was very well received as a gesture from this country. As to whether there will be a further gift, I am not in a position to answer the honorable member’s question.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. When the Minister releases the report of the Dairy Industry Committee of Inquiry later today, will he move that the paper be printed, so that honorable members may have an opportunity to debate the report during this sessional period?
– I can appreciate the ,-honora’ble member’s concern about this matter, because I know that he represents a great dairying district. I have no intention of moving that the paper be printed, since I have already taken action to have the report printed, anticipating a considerable demand for it. Honorable members and the organizations concerned will be able to obtain copies of the report, and there will be no need to make the motion suggested by the honorable member.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Interior. In view of the acute shortage of qualified school teachers in Australia, has he considered the establishment of a teachers’ college in Canberra?
– This question has been examined from time to time, and only recently a decision was made that it would not be appropriate at the present time to set up such an establishment.
– Has the Treasurer been informed of the considerable reduction in the outstanding hire-purchase debt in the United Kingdom, as a result of the credit policy followed by the government of that country? Does he feel that the Commonwealth Government has sufficient control over hire purchase to ensure that governmental financial policy will not be undermined? If not, will he seek a reference of the necessary powers from the State governments?
– We follow, as closely as we can, economic developments in the United Kingdom. They are, of course, of great interest to this country because of our trade relations with the United Kingdom, quite apart from our general association with it in the political sense and in the family sense. Conditions in the two countries are not completely similar, and sometimes it is misleading to try to draw a parallel between what happens in one country and what might be expected to occur in the other if similar action were taken. Our powers in respect of hire purchase are not, as the honorable member well knows, similar to those of the United Kingdom Government, which has untrammelled power in that field .because of the constitutional position that prevails. Whether we, as a government responsible to the Commonwealth Parliament, should seek by way of referendum to widen our powers is an important question of policy which it would not be appropriate for me to attempt to answer here.
– I should like to ask the Treasurer a question. Has the Government ever considered setting up a central lending authority, possibly as an adjunct of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, from which local government authorities in Australia may obtain their loan requirements? Would not such an agency be able to lend at lower interest on a long-term basis and so obviate the need for municipal councils to undertake a humiliating bank crawl for loan moneys, mostly on short-term and at 5i or 6 per cent, interest, and often with only limited success?
– The Government has not considered such a proposal, and having regard to the success with which local government authorities have been able to finance the full programmes approved by the Commonwealth and State governments in recent years, an agency of the kind mentioned does not appear to be necessary.
– I ask a question of the Minister for the Interior. Can he say whether the final selection of the site for the proposed observatory in Western Australia will depend on the accessibility of the proposed site and whether, because of this, the relevant local authorities would be well advised to spend money on access roads for the purpose of providing easy access to the sites under consideration for the technicians who are collecting the data needed for the selection of a site?
– The establishment of an observatory in Western Australia of the type that the honorable member has in mind, I think, properly comes within the province of the Australian National University. In any event, I am aware from my own knowledge of the proposal that the site which will ultimately be selected will be chosen because it provides the best conditions for the work of the observatory and not necessarily because of easy access.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral: Has he yet received from any representative of areas in which commercial television stations are to be established any favorable comment on the decisions and recommendations of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board? Will he record my view that the firm which has been granted the commercial television licence in Canberra will operate with fairness to all sections of the community and will give to this community generally service of the standard that its associated interests have already given through their newspaper and broadcasting station?
– I am glad to be able to inform the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, and also other honorable members, that I have already received about half a dozen messages from those applicants who received licences, expressing pleasure at having been chosen, stating that they appreciate the responsibility which our action has placed on them to ensure that they provide proper and satisfactory services, and assuring me that they intend to do all that they possibly can to prove themselves worthy of the privilege which has been given to them.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Trade. Can he inform me whether a grower representative on the Australian Wheat Board is reported to have criticized the statement made by the Minister in his recent address to the National Farmers Union of Australia to the effect that about 70 per cent, of all wheat and flour exports are made within the framework of government-negotiated trade agreements or other arrangements? Are the Government’s policies a good deal less important in selling wheat and flour than the Minister has claimed?
– I happen to know that Mr. Cliff Everett, of the Australian Wheat Board, has made a statement on this matter, because he was kind enough to send me a copy of it. He has challenged a figure that I cited in an address to the National Farmers Union of Australia when I said, as the honorable member has pointed out, that 70 per cent, of the wheat and flour that we are now selling is sold within the framework of arrangements negotiated by this Government. 1 have since had the figure checked carefully by departmental officers, and it is completely correct. The discrepancy apparent in Mr. Everett’s statement arises from the fact that he has missed one or two points. He has overlooked the fact that we should be selling no wheat at all to India and Pakistan at present but for the successful outcome of negotiations with the Wheat Utilization Committee consequent upon President Eisenhower’s “ Food for Peace “ proposals. From that committee has arisen a sale this year of about 400.000 tons of Australian wheat to India and a very substantial quantity to Pakistan. Mr. Everett included in the figures that he sent to me a minimum sale of flour to Ceylon every year of 127,000 tons. In fact, in one period of sixteen months just prior to the Ceylon flour agreement, no contract whatever had been made with Ceylon. Under that agreement, we are selling at a regular rate of 100,000 tons of flour a year. The agreement is at the point of expiry, but I am highly confident that negotiations in which I am at present engaged with the Ceylon Government will result in the agreement being continued and that we will continue to sell flour at the rate of 100,000 tons a year. 1 do not wish to criticize Mr. Everett; I want only to defend my own figures. He overlooks the fact that we have negotiated arrangements with West Germany and France which keep to a minimum the encroachment of subsidized flour from those countries on all of our natural markets in South-East Asia. Our markets in Malaya, Indonesia and other places are covered by negotiated arrangements under which these two European competitors of ours have been persuaded - and, I acknowledge, have been good enough to agree - to keep to a minimum the quantity of flour that they will sell in competition with us. In respect of the United Kingdom contract. Mr. Everette has overlooked the fact that the sale of wheat and flour on that market, which has been as high as 61,500,000 bushels in a year, fell at one point to 13,000,000 bushels because the United Kingdom was able to buy soft wheat at government-subsidized prices from France. The arrangement made by the Australian Government was that the United Kingdom Government would make every effort to ensure that United Kingdom millers bought not less than 28,000,000 bushels of wheat from us when we had it for sale and wanted to sell it, and would buy it at commercial prices. The important point in that agreement was not merely that a certain tonnage would be bought but that the price would be a commercial price.
Under the Japanese treaty, 30,000,000 bushels of f.a.q. wheat - that is soft wheat, technically - was sold over three years to Japan, but previously Japan was not a buyer of Australian wheat other than high quality wheat grown only in northern New South Wales and Queensland. That wheat, of course, could be sold anywhere. My figures were right.
– My question is addressed to the Postmaster-General. As the television licences which have been issued in country areas have enormous capital value, will the Postmaster-General consider amending the Broadcasting and Television Act to ensure that for a period of, say, 20 to 25 years, the control of these licences cannot be transferred to any other company, so as to make certain that no company or individual could within a very short period gain profit from a privilege granted by the Government?
– I certainly cannot give the honorable member for Lang the rather extravagant assurance for which he asks, but I can inform him that under the Broadcasting and Television Act, no major change in the shareholding of any licensee company can take place without the approval of the Minister. Therefore, without putting into effect the provision that he suggests, ample power exists at present to enable the Government to deal with any act which would not be in the interests of the licensees, the viewers or the Government.
– I direct to the Treasurer a question supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Hughes about the provision of local government funds. Is not this same Minister for Local Government in New South Wales engaged in plans for a vast increase in Sydney’s high-density housing, with a target of about 5,000,000 people? When the Treasurer is making a decision on this question of monetary policies, will he see that there is no unbalanced over-expansion of already swollen metropolitan areas with consequent decreases in the funds and services available for the great primary exporting industries of the Australian countryside?
– I understand that the gentleman in question is the Minisster to whom the honorable member has referred, and, in the general consideration which we shall be giving to this matter, I shall not overlook what he has put to me in this connexion.
– For the information of honorable members, I lay on the table the following paper: -
Dairy Industry Committee of Inquiry - Report on the Australian Dairy Industry.
It has been decided to table the report now in order to give honorable members an opportunity to study the issues involved. The Government is examining the recommendations, some ofwhich have wide ramifications and require very careful consideration.
– Even though I am slightly out of order, I should like to ask the Minister whether he proposes to give the House an opportunity to debate the report.
– There are plenty of rules of the House to enable that to be done.
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) proposed -
That Government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
.- The attitude of the
Minister and the Government to the right of private members is typical of that of a power-drunk government. There is a good deal of general business on the noticepaper. If this motion is carried there will be no further opportunity during this sessional period for a discussion of a motion in the name of the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) relating to automatic pension entitlements for exservicemen and members of the forces suffering from cancer. There will be no opportunity given to me to propose my motion which asks the House to express its opinion on the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee. There will be no opportunity given to the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) to have discussed the very long, very important and very far-reaching motion that stands in his name. No private member of the House will have any further opportunity this year to discuss general business at all. I think it is right to say that so far this year we have had only one opportunity to discuss general business.
– There may have been two. The Government is determined at all times to deprive honorable members of their rights. It yields only when it is under very strong pressure. It is not the policy of this Government to allow the House to function normally; its policy always is to deprive every honorable member of opportunity to put his point of view.
A moment ago, I asked the Minister for Primary Industtry (Mr. Adermann) whether he would provide an opportunity, or ask the Government to provide an opportunity - he is only a junior Minister - to debate the most important report of the Dairy Industry Inquiry Committee which he tabled to-day. He mumbled something without even rising to reply,It is certainly obviousthat unless somebody raises a matter for urgent discussion, the debate on which is limited to an hour and a half in any event, this Parliament will not have (he opportunity of discussing the position of the dairy industry of Australia before the House goes into recess. Everybody knows that the plight of the dairy farmers of Australia is growing desperate, and the longer this Government remains in office, the more desperate will it become. Members of the Australian Country Party who represent the dairying districts of Australia in the main ought to be the first to be making very strong protests against this denial of the right of private members to express the views of those whom they represent on a matter of such great national importance.
– That statement by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) is a very poor return for the consideration which the Government has shown him in connexion with matters before the House. He knows very well the reason why this motion is being proposed. He knows that the Opposition wanted to have all the time that could readily be made available to it on Tuesday and Thursday, when the proceedings of the House are broadcast, to debate the second reading of the Crimes Bill. I am not suggesting that the Opposition has agreed to any set time-table with respect to the Crimes Bill but I do say that it wanted spread over the two days when the proceedings of the House will be broadcast all the time that the Government had indicated would be available for the discussion of that measure. I readily agree to that arrangement, but, in order to make that possible, it is necessary that this motion be passed. That fact must have been in the minds of honorable members opposite when their proposal was put and discussed.
Dealing with the matter generally, 1 reject what the Leader of the Opposition has said about the way in which private members have been treated. I invite him to challenge my statement that at no tin that I can recall in the history of this Parliament since I have been a member of it has more time been made available in one form or another to private members than has been made available during the lifetime of this Parliament and indeed during this current year. The honorable gentleman talks about honorable members not being able to speak on particular topics. He must admit that not only on the Budget, not only the urgency discussions on matters raised by honorable members opposite, not only on the motion for the adjournment of the House at the end of the sitting day, and not only on Grievance Day, but generally an abnormal number of opportunities has been provided for discussion by private members.
– Abnormal by comparison with the practice of earlier years, and certainly abnormal by comparison with the situation which existed when honorable members opposite occupied the Treasury bench for eight years during the 1940’s.
The Government is mindful of the importance of giving opportunities to private members to discuss matters. Reference has just been made to our failure to move that a certain paper be printed. Honorable members opposite are adopting a curiously childish attitude towards matters of this kind. They ask that a Minister who comes forward and produces a factual statement in a paper which he has presented, or who makes a factual statement, should move that the paper or the statement be printed, thereby denying himself the opportunity - in practice, anyhow, although theoretically he might have some right to reply - to participate in an ensuing debate of the highly controversial kind which they would seek to promote. The Government’s position on that is quite clear. We say that when a Minister brings forward a factual statement or tables a paper and speaks a few words in explanation of it, the Opposition, if it wants a debate on the subject, can arrange for one of its members to move that the paper be printed, and debate can follow. The Minister whose policies are under challenge or attack - and certainly under investigation and analysis - will have reasonable opportunity to reply. What could be fairer than that? Yet when we move along those lines we are accused of depriving honorable gentlemen opposite of their rightful opportunities in this place! The objection is specious, flimsy and synthetic and should be rejected by the House.
.- It is sheer humbug to suggest that the Government has shown consideration for the Opposition in this matter. The Opposition was told last week that it would be given two days to debate the second reading of the Crimes Bill, and two days to consider the bill in committee. There was never any suggestion that we members of the Opposition were satisfied with either of those limitations. We wanted to have as long as was required to give a full opportunity to all honorable members who wanted to participate in that debate. We could, in fact, have taken at least another two weeks in debating the second-reading and committee stages of the Crimes Bill. The Government, which can control these matters, said, “ You will get two days and two days only for each of those stages of the debate “. That great democrat, the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme), says “Hear, hear” to that statement.
It is true that, given two days this week for the second-reading debate on the Crimes Bill, we said, “ We will choose Tuesday and Thursday”. We were given a choice between Tuesday and Wednesday and Tuesday and Thursday, and we took Tuesday and Thursday. It is not that we forwent Wednesday willingly. We had to give up one day this week and the reason for our choice was two-fold. The first reason was that only two days this week were made avilable for the debate on the second reading of the bill, and, secondly, the Government determined that one day this week would be taken up in this House to provide legislation for the other place.
The Government has so managed its affairs during the eleven weeks of this sessional period that there is not enough work at present to keep the other place going. Accordingly we have to truncate the debate on this very contentious measure, the Crimes Bill, in order to get some work for the other place. Consideration was sought from the Government in this matter, but no consideration was shown. It was never put to us that we should forgo General Business. It is true that if we are faced with the alternative of debating for a couple of hours General Business or the Crimes Bill, and if we are faced with the choice that if we debate General Business we will have two hours less in which to debate the Crimes Bill, then the order of priority must dictate that we spend that time on the Crimes Bill. We think there should be adequate debate both on the Crimes Bill - there will not be - and on General Business.
There are several matters which come under the heading of General Business and which have been on the notice-paper for some weeks, but which apparently will not be debated this session. Since it is expected that the Parliament will be prorogued at the beginning of next year, those matters will not be debated at all. All of them are not matters brought up as General Business by members of the Opposition. They are not specious or factious. Several of them were brought up by honorable members on the Government side, and the Government is silencing its own members as well as those of the Opposition by shelving General Business now. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) submitted a motion concerning provision for automatic pension entitlement to exservicemen who may be afflicted by cancer just as entitlement is given to sufferers from tuberculosis. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) also moved, naturally enough, that we should debate the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee, which were presented to the Parliament two years ago and for which cogent reasons were given to the Parliament one year ago, but which the Parliament has not discussed. That was a parliamentary committee and these were recommendations on which the Government has refused to make up its mind. The honorable member Tor New England (Mr. Drummond) has had on the notice-paper for several weeks a motion concerning decentralization, or national development, according to whatever label you give it. That motion complains of the fact that 55 per cent, of Australia’s population is concentrated in the five mainland State capitals. That will not be debated this session. A ministerial statement on the National Library - the Prime Minister’s own statement - will not be debated. The matter of the Latrobe Valley incidents, which was brought up by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), and the question of the gold-mining industry brought forward by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Browne) will not be debated. There are two other questions brought up by members of the Opposition, concerning repatriation matters.
The Government’s action concerns private members on the Government side
Opposition side. It is plain that if General of the House as well as those on the Business is abandoned to-morrow there will be no further opportunity to debate items under that heading this session. Such matters on the notice-paper will go undebated. There is no consideration being shown in this way. If you are faced with a choice between two matters for debate, you accept the one which is more urgent, and that is all that we have done. But we are entitled to protest at the shelving of General Business, just as we are entitled to protest at the truncation of the debate on the Crimes Bill. The Government’s conduct gives colour to and illustrates very effectively the motives which are being attributed to it in connexion with the Crimes Bill, not only in this House but also among civil libertarians throughout the country.
– in reply - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) rose as a sort of watchdog of the liberties of this House, but it seems to me that he has been more interested in barking than in being exact about what he was barking about. It is accepted by, and well known to, all members on both sides of the House that it is the responsibility, of the Government to manage the business of Parliament in such a way as to get expedition in carrying out its business, maintaining orderliness in the presentation of bills and assuring adequate time for members to debate measures. It is also well known on both sides of the House that, in every respect, the Leader of the House (Mr. Harold Holt) has shown constant courtesy to the leader on the Opposition side in discussing arrangements with him. The fact that we discuss such arrangements does not mean that we abandon our responsibility, as a government, for managing the affairs of the House. We have always shown the Opposition the courtesy of discussing arrangements with it.
In this case, as the Leader of the House has clearly shown, the arrangement reached was one made by the Government, on its own responsibility, in order to meet the wish of the Opposition that it should have a debate on a particular piece of legislation on Tuesday and Thursday of this week. In meeting that wish of the Opposition, with the courtesy which I think is due to the Opposition, it was necessary to make an arrangement which is now proposed in this motion for the postponement of General Business to-morrow. Unless this motion is carried it will be impossible to meet the wish of the Opposition to debate the Crimes Bill to-morrow. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that if it came to a matter of priority, he would prefer to debate the Crimes Bill. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who is interjecting, is trying to put forward the thesis that the Opposition should have its wish not only in one matter, but in all other matters. That is sheer greediness.
– We want free speech.
– It is not a matter of free speech at all. We have met the wish of the Opposition that a certain amount of time and a certain place in the debating programme should be given to the Crimes Bill. We cannot keep that arrangement which we have made with the Opposition unless this motion which is before the House is carried.
As the Leader of the House has said, not only in debates on general business that have been allowed on different days during this session and in debates on motions to adjourn, but also during the Budget debate, private members have been accorded many opportunities to air the matters which they desire to raise. But the essence of the matter is that the Government has a responsibility for the orderly conduct of the business of this House, for the regular presentation of legislation, and for giving honorable, members adequate time to debate important pieces of legislation. The motion now before the House will secure those ends by a means of which the Opposition, with our customary courtesy, was given full notice.
Question put -
That Government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
NEW BUSINESS AFTER 11 p.m.
– I move -
That Standing Order No. 104 - eleven o’clock rule - be suspended for the remainder of the session.
So that there will be no misunderstanding of the effect of this motion, 1 shall read Standing Order No. 104, which is in these terms -
No ne.v business shall be taken alter eleven o’clock p.m. unless the House otherwise orders.
The passing of this motion will mean that it will be possible for the Government to introduce new business after 11 o’clock p.m. at any time in the remaining weeks of this period of sitting. It has been customary for this motion to be proposed in the closing stages of every sessional period in recent years. Whether the present Opposition or the present Government occupied the treasury bench, this motion has always been proposed at this stage of the sittings. The reason is clear. It is inevitable that towards the end of a sessional period a certain congestion of business occurs, lt is inevitable also that there arises occasionally a situation in which advantage is taken of an opportunity to sit late or to introduce new business late in the day to avoid holding back the House for a longer period than is necessary.
I do not think that any honorable member who has been in this place for more than one period of sitting is not familiar with this procedure and will not recognize that this procedure is essential for the orderly conduct of the business of the House. In the circumstances, it would be wrong for any one to represent this motion as being novel, unusual or in any way contrary to the genera] usage of this House.
I want to say further that it is not the intention of the Leader of the House (Mr. Harold Holt) on whose behalf I speak, to use the power that will be given by this motion invariably or rn a way which will be onerous to honorable members on either side of the House. But, because of our responsibility for managing the affairs of the House it is necessary to suspend the standing order in the way indicated, so that if the occasion arises the power can be used to introduce new business. It may be that we shall get through without having to use the power which the passage of the motion would give to the Leader of the House. We shall certainly try to conduct the business and the affairs of the House in a way which will be acceptable to members on both sides.
.- The Opposition rejects the explanation given on this occasion by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). The Government has already indicated that it will allow two days only for a debate on the second reading of a most important bill - the Crimes Bill, which is a bill that is full of the most obnoxious provisions. It is a bill which has been roundly condemned by people who ordinarily do not belong to the Labour Party and do not vote for Labour Party candidates. The Government is allowing only two days of debate this week on the second reading of this bill, and a further two days at the committee stage is the maximum time that the Government will allow for consideration of a number of amendments, which might easily be 50 amendments, that the Opposition may move in order to repair the deficiencies of the bill, in order to correct the bill’s mistakes, and in order to protect the legitimate rights of the people against arbitrary arrest and injustice.
Now, those are not fanciful phrases. They have the backing of eminent counsel in the capital cities of Australia and of professors of law in at least three Australian universities. The Government says that it will suspend the eleven o’clock rule, after forcing this most vital and important piece of legislation through, so that the House can deal with the minor bills of the session - the minor bills that have accumulated only because the Government has brought them in late. Yesterday, the Government brought down the Commonwealth Electoral Bill - a measure that was forecast in the Governor-General’s Speech in February of last year. It surely did not take that great period of time - nearly two years - to draft the simple amendments of the Commonwealth Electoral Act contained in this piece of legislation. All the other bills that are still awaiting decision by both Houses of the Parliament have been introduced only in the last month or so.
It is the custom of this Government to jam through important legislation. It did it with the social security legislation and it did it with the repatriation legislation. It did it with the seamen’s compensation legislation. The Government gave the minimum time for debate on these measures. It always has one excuse or another to justify its refusal to allow full and free debate. I know, as every other honorable member who has been here for a long time knows, that all governments make this particular move when the sessional period is nearing its close. But this year is a very important year. We have the Crimes Bill before us, and that is a matter of major importance. We have also got an economic situation, which is certainly not one of which the Government can be proud, which is fraught with grave difficulties for the Australian people. Nobody knows just how long this Parliament is going to continue sitting. There may be, or there may not be, a supplementary Budget introduced before we go into recess. It could well be that we would be sitting during December.
This motion to suspend the eleven o’clock rule will deprive honorable members of certain of their rights. It will deprive them of their right to consider impartially and dispassionately certain legislation which could be introduced to-day and passed through all stages to-night if the Government so wished. We think it is completely wrong, and that there is no justification for it at all. Our main objection to what the Government is doing to-day arises from the Government’s scandalous treatment of the House over its wretched, rotten Crimes Bill.
– It became perfectly obvious that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) was not speaking to the terms of the motion. We are debating, Sir, a motion to suspend Standing Order No. 104. I repeat what has already been said by my colleague, the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) - that the suspension of that standing order simply means that new business may be introduced after eleven o’clock at night. That is all that the motion seeks to do. The Leader of the Opposition has attempted, however, to argue that this in some way will cut down the authority of this House. On the contrary, Sir, it will increase the authority of this House. It will give an opportunity for urgent matters to be introduced after 11 o’clock at night and for the House to deal with them. So, Sir, far from cutting down the authority of the House this will make some slight, though very slight, extension to it.
It is also perfectly obvious that the Leader of the Opposition was not correct in his comments about the 11 o’clock rule. Indeed, he was trying to get in a little bit of political propaganda about the Crimes Bill. As is frequently ‘the case, his remarks were not relevant to ‘the motion before the House, but introduced some political propaganda relating to a totally different subject. I state quite definitely, Sir, that this has been a long and a very difficult session. I have been a member of this House for a long time and I cannot recall any period when members have worked quite so hard as they have done during this period. The Government has attempted to regulate the business of the House to permit a steady flow of business rather than a concentration of business at the end of the session.
Now, I come back specifically to the Crimes Bill itself. I venture to say that never did honorable members of the Opposition, when they were in office, give an opportunity for the free discussion of a bill in the same way as this Government has given an opportunity for the Crimes Bill to be discussed. This bill was introduced, and then the debate on it was stood over in order to permit the most full and free examination and discussion of the bill, both by the public and by members of the Parliament. It has been brought back into the House and honorable members now will have a total of two days this week to debate the second-reading stage and a further two days next week for the committee stage.
My colleague, the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), has forecast certain amendments which he will circulate. I venture to say that when he has circulated these amendments most of the opposition that has been expressed by people outside the Parliament will dissipate, and we will find the sole opposition comes from those not really interested in the bill and not having any great knowledge of the bill.
-Order! I ask the Minister not to canvass the Crimes Bill.
There is nothing about it in. the motion before the Chair.
– Before 1 conclude my remarks, Mr. Speaker, I say that the Government has given, and is giving, ample time for consideration of that bill both at the second-reading stage and at the committee stage. I believe also .that the suspension of the 11 o’clock rule will facilitate the discussion of measures by the House, and will permit the Government to regulate the business of the House in what I believe to be a satisfactory. way. For that reason, Sir, I am sure that we cannot take a great deal of notice of what the Leader of the Opposition has said. I support the remarks of my colleague, the Minister for Territories.
.- The Minister’s statement that the proposal to suspend the 11 o’clock rule is simply to allow the introduction of new business after 11 o’clock at night ignores the fact that historically, and on all the occasions that I have seen it used, this is a method of achieving legislation by exhaustion. The Minister knows that it also enables the Parliament to sit all night. In fact, it enabled this Parliament, on one celebrated occasion, to sit for 72 hours without stopping except for meals. This means breaking down discussion, and I feel that the Minister’s attempt actually to put pressure on the Opposition in discussing matters which it regards as important is a signal that the Ministry intends to finish the session probably by about 24th November, with the usual haste with which it ends these proceedings.
We therefore have to consider what are the subjects we are going to debate without a public audience in the small hours of the morning. Although the Crimes Bill is the major piece of legislation before the House, everybody knows that the other bills on the notice-paper are sufficiently important that they should be discussed by honorable members when their minds arc clear. Those bills should not be brought on at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning in the hope that, by that means, any member of the Opposition who feels strongly on a measure will be under pressure from exhausted fellow members not to say anything at all.
That is concretely what happens. Government supporters may jeer, but they know that if you rise to speak at 2 o’clock in the morning you hear groans from your opponents and groans from your colleagues. Thus an atmosphere is produced in which nobody wants to discuss a measure even although it is very important. Fromthe Ministry’s point of view, that is very commendable. If the Parliament were a complete rubber stamp and passed everything in five minutes, that would be good; but we members of the Opposition have something to say on this legislation to the nation, possibly through the press but also to anybody who wants to listen so long as the proceedings of the Parliament are being broadcast.
I always feel that what Ministers want to do when the motion for the suspension of the 11 o’clock rule is agreed to is to get as much debate as possible off the air and silence the Opposition if the subject-matter is embarrassing. The subject-matter of some of the measures on the notice-paper is embarrassing to the Government. Supporters of the Government are interjecting noisily, but I have been in this Parliament for fifteen years, I am not a complete fool andI know the motives that are behind these things. The Government wants the minimum discussion possible from the Opposition. After recent developments, I would net be surprised if thatwere not a particularly strong sentiment. In rural matters, at least, nobody can pretend that the Government is making much headway, especially the Liberal section of it. I am entitled to speak as a private member and I do not want to be held here at 4 o’clock in the morning for the Ministry’s convenience. But that is the effect of this motion.
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . 30
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That Standing Order No. 104 - 11 o’clock rulebe suspended for the remainder of the session.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . 29
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Davidson) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to repeal section twenty-one of the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1950, and to repeal the Post and Telegraph Rates (Defence Forces) Act 1939- 1940.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Mr. DAVIDSON Postmaster
General) [4.11]. - by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The Government has reviewed the present concessional postage, telephone and telegraph rates for members of the Australian armed forces and representatives of approved organizations providing amenities for the forces.
As honorable members will be aware, since early in the 1939-45 war, special postage, telephone and telegraph rates have been extended to members of the forces and to representatives of recognized organizations providing philanthropic, welfare and medical services at service establishments. Broadly, they originally represented 50 per cent. of the normal civil rates but only in one case, telephone trunk call charges, was the concession expressed as a percentage. The concessions have not been modified since they were introduced and consequently have, in the main, become greater as ordinary civil charges have risen in the post-war period. For instance, the1d. concession rate on letters to and from servicemen represented at least a 50 per cent. concession on civil rates when introduced, but the concession is now at least 80 per cent.
The Government has decided, on the recommendation of the Defence Committee, that concessions of this nature will be retained only for service personnel serving in defined areas overseas. At the present juncture, these areas comprise Malaya and Singapore and Royal Australian Navy ships of the Strategic Reserve outside Australian waters. The concession rates which the Government intends to apply are, broadly speaking, 50 per cent. of the normal civil rates to the areas concerned.
The bill which is now before the House is a short one of a machinery nature designed to carry into effect this intention. As part of the procedure to implement the new concessions, it is necessary to repeal the Post and Telegraph Rates (Defence Forces) Act 1939-1940. In addition, it is desirable to repeal an obsolete provision, section 21, of the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1950. This section has been ineffective owing to the operation of the Post and Telegraph Rates (Defence Forces) Act.
Mr. Speaker, I have had prepared for the information of honorable members two statements indicating the concessions operating at present and those which are now proposed. The new concessions will still provide a substantial benefit to Australian troops in the overseas areas concerned. It is the intention that, in accordance with Government policy, the difference between the earnings from the new special rates and those which would normally be derived will continue to be paid to the Post Office by the service departments, as at present.
The Post and Telegraph Rates (Defence Forces) Act was introduced in the early part of the last war with the intention that it would be repealed at the termination of hostilities. Its object was to provide specially low rates of postage on mail exchanged between members of the forces and their relatives and friends and to apply concessional telegraph rates in the same circumstances. Concessions were applied by means of telephone regulations to trunk calls from members of the forces, and by administrative machinery to airmail fees and rates for parcels. Approved organizations of the kind to which I have referred were also included in the scheme.
Section 21 of the Post and Telegraph Act has been in existence since federation, having been incorporated front an earlier Queensland acf. As I have already explained, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the rates and conditions quoted by it have not been applied for many years in view of the provisions of the Post and Telegraph Rates (Defence Forces) Act.
The Government intends to bring these proposed changes into effect on and from 1st February, 1961, if this bill is agreed to by the Parliament. Announcements will be made in the press and elsewhere to make the new rates clear to all those corresponding with service personnel in the defined areas involved.
The concessions enjoyed at present by servicemen located overseas when corresponding with their homes will not be affected by this bill, as the postage rates applying will continue to be a question for determination by the postal administrations in the countries concerned. In the past, with the co-operation of the overseas authorities, lower rates of postage have been extended to the forces in such countries, a process which has been facilitated by the granting of postal concessions to members of the forces of other countries serving in Australia. This reciprocal arrangement will continue, and the Government intends that if the Treasurer, the Minister for Defence and the PostmasterGeneral consider the action is justified, postal concessions may be extended at any time within Australia to visiting forces in relation to mail posted back to their homelands.
One benefit to servicemen and their dependants which will continue to Operate unchanged is the expeditionary force message (EFM) telegram. The concession is based on agreements with certain overseas countries and applies to telegrams to and from Australian service personnel serving in operational areas as fixed from time to time. Under this system, a low rate of tariff applies for the transmission of a selection from an approved list of up to three standard phrases which are transmitted as a numbered code. The service is at present operating in both directions between Malaya and Australia.
I have taken some pains, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to outline the full intention of the Government in this matter because the bill itself does not indicate the actual nature of the changes which it is proposed to make to the concessions. The bill is, as I have said already, largely of a machinery nature to make the necessary statutory changes prior to the introduction of the new concessional rates for postings to our forces abroad, as well as to the representatives of the approved welfare organizations serving with them.
The original purpose of the legislation which is being repealed was clearly stated by the then Postmaster-General, Mr. Eric Harrison, when introducing the bill in 1939. He stated - . . the bill is essentially a wartime measure and provision is therefore made in clause 7 for the withdrawal of the special facilities by proclamation at a suitable date after the termination of the war.
This action is in effect now being taken, but rather than repeal by proclamation the Government feels it more appropriate for the Post and Telegraphs Rates (Defence
Forces) Act 1939-40 to be repealed by a bill submitted to the Parliament.
I consider that there is little room for disagreement with the intention of the bill and that the proposed application, to mail addressed to our forces in Malaya, Singapore, and to Royal Australian Navy ships of the Strategic Reserve outside Australian waters of postage rates, which are generally 50 per cent, of the normal civil tariffs, Will give every opportunity for friends and relatives to correspond regularly and at a reasonable cost with our servicemen abroad.
I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Haylen) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Freeth) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the National Capital Development Commission Act 1957.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill proposes two small amendments to the National Capital Development Commission Act. When the commission was set up in 1957 it was intended that it should plan, develop and construct the National Capital in an active way. Although in this sense it had rather a wider scope than a mere town-planning authority as we know such authorities, it was desired to keep the commission as free as possible from the normal administrative duties associated with a government department.
Since the commission has been carrying out its functions it has been found- desirable that it should exercise some supervision over buildings that are being privately erected. Normally this is carried out under the Australian Capital Territory Building and Services Ordinance which, like similar legislation operating elsewhere in Australia, authorizes the making of regulations dealing with a host of detailed requirements relating to building. It has been thought proper that in at least one. aspect the commission should exercise authority, although the remaining matters should be left to be administered as they are at present. This aspect is the design and siting of buildings privately constructed. There may be others in course of time. The, existing act does not enable the commission to exercise this authority under the Building and Services Ordinance or any regulation made under it, and the first amendment simply empowers the commission to exercise such authority strictly within the limits of its- functions of planning, development and construction.
The second amendment authorizes the commission to carry out work on land which is the subject of a lease when the lessee requests it and the Minister approves. The existing act expressly forbids the carrying out of construction on land owned or held under lease by a person other than the Commonwealth. This prohibition could cause difficulty. The first instance that comes to mind is in the case of the Australian National University, which is a body which might find it desirable to have the guidance of the commission in the designing and planning of its buildings and in such cases the Government feels it is desirable that the commission should be free to give guidance and advice and, if necessary, to carry out construction as part of the development of Canberra.
Other semi-government instrumentalities could also be involved, such as the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Commonwealth Bank. In some cases it could; be found desirable for the commission to assist associations and organizations contributing to the amenities or culture of the community, such as youth clubs, orchestral societies, repertory theatres, sporting bodies and the like.
I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Haylen) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Opperman) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Seamen’s Compensation Act 1911-1959.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, since the Seamen’s Compensation Act originally came into operation in 1911 it has. been amended on six occasions. Most of the amending acts, including that passed towards the end of last year, have been primarily concerned with increases in the cash benefits payable. The purpose of this small bill, however, is to extend the application of the act to cover Australian seamen in a ship which is engaged on a delivery voyage to or from Australia, and, at the same time, to restate the general application provisions of the act.
– To restate them or to widen them?
– The bill will restate and widen them.
The disappearance, with all hands, of the ill-fated ship “ Ian Crouch “ when on a delivery voyage from Hong Kong to Australia brought to light for the first time the fact that in some circumstances Australian seamen serving in ships engaged on delivery voyages to or from Australia were not covered by the Seamen’s Compensation Act. The Government decided that these seamen were entitled to the benefits and cover afforded by the act and action was put in hand to have the necessary amending legislation drafted. Consideration of the actual wording by which the application of the act could be widened for this purpose, however, gave rise to drafting problems which were greatly intensified because, as it then became apparent, the existing provisions of the act relating to its application were in need of clarification. For the purposes of clarifying and restating the application of the act, section 4 is being repealed and replaced by a section which will give clear legal effect to the application of the act that is desirable and has in fact been followed in practice, and will clearly show its application in relation to the Territories of the Commonwealth.
The application of the act to seamen engaged on a delivery voyage to or from Australia is being effected by inserting a definition of “ delivery voyage “ in section 3, and by including in the new ,ect,on 4 a provision that the act applies in relation to the employment of seamen for the purposes of a delivery voyage of a ship, whether British or not and, if British, whether registered in Australia or not. Such seamen must have been engaged in Australia, whether or not under articles of agreement entered into in Australia, upon terms entitling them to, or to payment in respect of the cost of, transport from or to Australia for the purpose of joining the ship, or after leaving the ship.
By the addition of sub-section (6.) to section 3, the bill will make it clear that a person shall be regarded as a seamen to whom the act applies from the time of his engagement in Australia for a delivery voyage, and also that any employment in pursuance of the engagement before he joins the ship shall be regarded as employment for the purposes of the delivery voyage. Insofar as the period of travel to join the ship, or to return to Australia after leaving the ship, is concerned, the persons so travelling, being seamen for the purposes of the act, are covered in the usual way by the provisions of section 5aa of the act which covers travel to or from a seaman’s employment.
I feel sure that all honorable members will acknowledge the desirability of extending the application of the act for the benefit of those Australian seamen who, in the future, are engaged in the task of delivering ships to or from Australia, and their dependants, and that the bill will, on these grounds, receive the full support of all honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Whitlam) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 20lh October (vide page 2225), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, the passage of this bill is not contested by the Opposition, but before it is passed we should like to make certain general comments about the stevedoring industry. The debate on this measure affords us an opportunity to make those comments. The Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority receives about £3,750,000 a year from the levy which is made in order to collect funds for the payment of attendance money and for other purposes, and this bill is designed to remove the levy in respect of waterside workers who are permanently employed on weekly hire in what is really a casual industry. In respect of these waterside workers, the employers are paying twice for their employees’ annual leave, sick leave and holiday pay and are paying out to meet the cost of attendance money which these permanent employees never receive. In the words of the Minister foi Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) -
The Government has, therefore, decided to exempt the stevedoring employers from payment of the charge in respect of their permanent employees. . . .
That is all right, as far as it goes. There are only about 200 permanent employees out of a total of 22,000 registered waterside workers. I believe - and the Australian Labour Party has instructed me to direct the Government’s attention to this matter - that we should not lift a levy on an industry even to this small degree without giving further thought to pensions for waterside workers and to the penalties and conditions to which they are subject by their employment in this industry.
As the Minister knows, this was at one time described as a turbulent industry. Those who work in it make strong protests and assert their rights firmly, and despite their rugged approach to these things, the industry is really an important complement of the Australian scene. Those engaged in the stevedoring industry in Australia - the wharfies, as they are commonly known - make a great contribution to Australia’s trade, as do the wharfies in other countries to the trade of the world. As the Minister knows, the waterside workers have been struggling for a long time to obtain a pensions scheme in their industry.
– There are not many of the honorable member’s colleagues listening to his speech.
– They will rally. We believe that the need for a pensions scheme is urgent, and we should turn our attention to it if we want to maintain industrial quietness on the waterfront.
There is nothing very new about pensions in the stevedoring industry. They are provided in Britain, as the Minister knows, and in New Zealand and the United States of America. I point out that all these schemes provide for pensions on a contributory basis, except on the west coast of the United States, where the longshoremen, under the leadership of Harry Bridges, have obtained a non-contributory pensions scheme. But the thing that we have to look at - and it is highlighted by this bill - is that there is an ageing labour force on the waterfront. There are about 2,000 men at present engaged in the industry who should be on pensions now. We often hear in this House that there is a flood of people going on social services, but in the stevedoring industry we find rugged old men still working. Some of them have not a great deal of strength left, but they do their stint of labour because they like to feel independent. Many of them are almost 70 years of age. The Minister has seen some of these men at work on the waterfront and no doubt he has admired their toughness which has enabled them, in their spirit of ruggedness, to persist in working in the industry despite their age.
We have now come to the stage at which these men have to be cared for. I am informed by the union that there are about 2,000 who should be receiving some kind of pension now. I understand that the Minister has had talks on this matter with the Stevedoring Industry Authority on several occasions. The general feeling is that when a pensions scheme is introduced, it should be conditional or voluntary for men up to the age of 65 or 70, and that men over the age of 70 should be put on a pension even if they still desire to work. As a socialist, I think that this is the one industry which could be most easily nationalized without much trouble, because the Government already provides, through the collection of a levy, the money needed to meet some of the difficulties of this casual industry by paying stand-by or attendance money and by providing various amenities. We do not want to keep driving the union into direct action by way of stoppages of work and so on when it tries to get the things which most other unions have been able to obtain either by persuasion or by resort to the arbitration tribunals. One of the biting and carking problems on the waterfront is that there is not much new labour coming into the industry. The Minister has pointed out only recently that we ought to do something about this problem of those in the industry, including the burnt-out wharfies.
The question which comes to mind immediately is: How much will a scheme of this kind cost? According to estimates which have been made, a levy of 3d. a manhour would finance a scheme providing for a pension of about £7 a week. The onus of providing the money would be mainly on the employers, of course, because the Government is already providing considerable sums for other purposes. That is one point to which we wanted to direct the attention of the Minister before we approved of the bill. Other points concern the preservation of peace on the waterfront and the understanding of the psychology and the needs of the men on the waterfront.
Though you may not agree with what the waterfront workers sometimes do, they will get their own way because they are completely organized. In most instances, they eventually have their demands satisfied because they are common-sense demands. Certain of their activities may be overemphasized in certain quarters - perhaps in this House or even in newspaper headlines - but when we get down to the common factor we find that the men on the waterfront comprise a pretty considerable section of the community and are most admirable in many ways. They contribute generously to collections for the spastic centre and other charities and are willing blood donors. If some muscle is needed for the shifting of articles, charity workers ring the wharfs and men who are standing by quickly come to the rescue. But if we accept these docile qualities, we must also accept their ruggedness when their union makes demands. One thing they are trying to do, as the Minister is aware, is to keep the industry out of the doldrums, to pass completely from the old bull-run days and to prevent this from being a Cinderella industry. They do not want a rough and turbulent industry always; they want to raise it to decent Australian standards. That is why this question of pensions is most important.
I want to say something about amenities. The Minister, now that we have him here, should listen to this. I agree that amenities have improved considerably. But in the past stop-work meetings had to be held before amenities were provided. Their provision has been delayed and obstructed. For instance, not so long ago it was common for wharf labourers in Sydney to go behind a bale of wool to change into workaday clothes before joining their gangs. It was no uncommon sight, when walking along the wharfs, to see a man in wet clothing. He had perhaps been on a ship where conditions had been pretty tough and the only means he had of drying his working clothes was to use an impromptu clothes line; he had no change room. That state of affairs was ridiculous. However, conditions are improving slightly. Not only are change rooms being provided in some ports, particularly away from Sydney, but the old atmosphere is going. The provision of better facilities for dining is important and should be part of the welfare work of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority.
Another matter of importance affects the industry in Sydney, and the Minister is aware of this matter. A proper streamlined organization will not be built while the men are required to use two pick-up centres. The use of two centres means, first, a deployment of labour, and secondly, that proper on-the-spot amenities, which are so desirable, cannot be provided. These amenities should include not only change rooms but also a spot where men can meet and have, say, a cup of coffee in surroundings of some decency and cleanliness. The men should not be spread around these two centres, Sussex-street and Town Bond. The Minister should seek an investigation and a report on the use of the two centres and the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority should move to have a single pick-up centre in Sydney. If this is done, the authority will have advanced in providing improved conditions and will have done much to ameliorate the tougher side of wharf labouring.
There is no point in this legislation for the union to contest. Some 200 men are permanently employed and should not be considered for the purposes of this charge.
There is no opposition, therefore, from this side of the House. However, in passing, we would like the Minister to consider several points if he wants to develop the waterfront and to keep the industry as pacific, as friendly and as progressive as he can.
I shall mention one problem which the men believe is serious and very acute. It should not be brushed aside because the suggestions come tumbling hot and fast. I refer to pensions and the problem of looking after the old hands on the waterfront. The waterfront has a vigorous history and a dozen or more novels should be written about it. Many interesting and exciting events have occurred in Sydney and Melbourne. I do not know about the northern and other ports, but no doubt their history is just as colourful. Many things were done in the past, when we were a young country, and we still have some of the pioneers around the waterfront. There is, of course, a standing joke about the amount of time that the wharf labourer does not work, but that is a libel. These old men had a sense of dedication and worked hard. The Minister has visited the waterfront and would know that these old men are now doing light jobs. The union takes care of them and ensures that they are not thrown on the scrap-heap. They are not put off the waterfront until the union says so, and the union does not say so even when they are 70 years of age. Whether an- honorable member sits on this side of the House or on the other side, he should agree that a pension scheme should be provided in part by the employers in this industry, supported by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. We commend such a scheme to the Minister and ask him to consider the suggestion.
The second point that I have mentioned concerns the provision of amenities. Do not let us have the slander and the slur that the stevedoring industry will not provide amenities. A good deal of money is being expended in this industry, and it does not take much imagination to reveal that in a little time the standard of the industry and the esprit de corps of the men would be lifted if proper amenities were provided. Decent amenities- do not cost much. I understand that the situation is vastly improved in some of the northern and western ports, including Fremantle, but this is not so in Sydney. There, huge masses of men are called upon suddenly to do their work when there is a rush of ships from all parts of the world into beautiful Sydney Harbour, ready to take our goods away or bringing us goods from abroad. When such a rush occurs and all manpower available is in use, the abundant need for amenities is clear. I ask the Minister, after considering a pensions scheme, to look at the amenities question.
The final point I make is that the efficiency of the industry would be improved if a single pick-up centre were used to distribute men to the various gangs and the various ships along the waterfront. The men should come to one central distributing point to receive their orders. Again I say that at that one centre, amenities appropriate to the twentieth century and not the nineteenth century should be provided. The men should be able to get a cup of tea or coffee to see them on their way. They should have change rooms and special clothing should be provided when special cargo is being handled. If all these matters are centralized, the industry will take on a workmanlike appearance. We believe that this should be done and we believe, also, that in presenting these points to the Minister we will receive a sympathetic hearing. All the points that I have raised are sound. They have been tried out; they are part of the general plan of the union and, in many instances, part of the plan of the authority.
.- I am glad to learn that the Opposition supports the bill. Although this is just a short bill and not very important, I am sorry to see that only a few Opposition members are taking an interest in the affairs of the waterfront. After all that has been said in the past, one would have thought that this was a matter in which the Opposition would have been tremendously interested, but not more than two members of the Opposition have been present during the whole of the time that this bill has been debated.
I am pleased to be able to support the bill because for the first time the importance of permanent employment on the waterfront is recognized. I believe that conditions on the waterfront will be greatly improved only when we move to a position of permanent employment. Many honorable members will recall that this was one of the recommendations contained in the Basten report in 1952. At present only about 200 out of 22,000 people on the waterfront are permanently employed and, therefore, affected by this bill. But I hope that the number of permanent employees will increase and that in time we will move to a position of permanent employment on the waterfront. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) spoke about pensions, amenities on the waterfront, and what is going on overseas, but I suggest that he should look at the whole position on the waterfront, and not merely one or two facets of it. As he mentioned what is happening on the waterfront in the United Kingdom, let us look at some of the great changes that have taken place in this industry overseas and that are taking place in it in Australia. Many big changes have taken place in London. For instance, before the war, a large proportion - over 60 per cent. - of the goods despatched to the waterfront arrived by rail and only 40 per cent, by road. To-day the position has changed to such an extent that only 8 per cent, of the goods arrives at the waterfront by rail and 92 per cent, by road. This, of course, makes necessary great changes in the layout of the wharfs, the sheds and the roads and railways leading to them. Again, there has been a great changeover to the carriage of goods in containers, and this method of carriage will increase considerably in the next few years. The third great change has been the tremendous increase in the rate of mechanization of the industry. I know that in the port of London over £40,000,000 has been spent on mechanization in the last five years.
This means that a great change in the attitude of people working in the industry is necessary, and it is a pity that honorable members opposite do not lift their sights a little higher than did the honorable member for Parkes this afternoon when discussing the changes that are necessary. As a result of mechanization, work on the waterfront is becoming a skilled occupation, and it is important that it should be regarded as such. As the general manager of the Port of London Authority said, because work on the waterfront must be regarded as a skilled occupation, we must introduce apprenticeship and training schemes into the industry in order to train people to use the new forms of mechanization that are being introduced into it. Further, it is important that we recognize that permanent employment will be a necessity in years to come. It is also important, after due recognition is given to all the changes that are taking place in the industry, that we give consideration to the introduction of pension or superannuation schemes for those workers who are retiring from the industry.
I agree that the changes which are taking place in London and other ports overseas are also taking place slowly in Australia. I hope that these changes here will be accelerated in the next few years. Because of these changes, 1 think the time has arrived when further consideration should be given to all the points I have mentioned. We should not consider only amenities and pension plans, as was suggested by the honorable member for Parkes. Admittedly they are important, but they must be considered in the light of all the changes taking place on the waterfront. They should not be considered in isolation. For instance, we should do our utmost to ensure that the rate of mechanization on the waterfront is increased as rapidly as possible. This in turn means that the rate of investment in the industry must be increased, and, in order to ensure greater investment, there must be sufficient attraction to employers and companies operating on the waterfront. They must be ensured of a decent return on their investment in ‘the industry.
If there is an increase in the rate of mechanization, there will also have to be a simultaneous increase in the skill of the operatives working in the industry. Therefore it is essential that waterfront employment be recognized as a skilled occupation. There is a great need for general agreement that all facets of this industry - apprenticeship, the attitude of unions towards mechanization, the attitude of both employers and the unions towards the issue of permanent employment and pension schemes - must be considered at the one time. There will have to be a completely now approach to all these problems.
In conclusion let me say that the attitude towards mechanization is a part of the general problem which I do not think has been recognized sufficiently by the Opposition. In my opinion, there are two evils in the industry to-day. One is the evil of unemployment and the other the evil of drudgery Both the Government and the Minister are to be congratulated for having done so much during the past few years to cope with the evil of unemployment because, at no time in our history, has the level of unemployment in Australia been lower than it is to-day. Again, I do not think that the Opposition has realized what a great job this Government has done towards eliminating the evil of drudgery. Speaking of drudgery, I should like to quote that well-known Liberal, Professor John Kenneth Galbraith, who said in an article published in the London “ Observer “ on 7th August, 1960 -
Though we have tackled unemployment with some success, wc have made little progress in dealing with drudgery. Of the two, it is not clear that drudgery is the lesser evil.
He goes on to recommend the appointment of a commission in the United Kingdom to prepare a schedule of those industries and occupations in which drudgery exists at the present time and from which it could be eliminated. I suggest that the time has arrived when we should recognize that one of the industries in which there is a great deal of drudgery is the waterfront industry. A great deal could be done to eliminate much of this drudgery, and I hope the Opposition will come to appreciate that in this industry there are not only the evils to which it refers, such as unemployment, but also other industrial evils which we can do a great deal to eliminate, and which this Government in particular has done much to eliminate in the last few years.
In recognizing the importance of permanent employment by this bill we are taking the first step towards the elimination of some of the difficulties confronting this important industry. Let us hope that wc shall continue to recognize this point in the next few months and that, amongst other things, we aim at eliminating much of the drudgery that still exists on the waterfront in Australia. I commend the bill.
.- As honorable members know, this bill relates to the major part of the waterfront area of the city of Melbourne. Some hundreds of my constituents derive their living from employment on the waterfront there. Recently, there was tabled in this House the annual report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority for the year ended 30th June, 1960. At the end of that report is to be found a comprehensive set of statistics relating to the main points connected with waterfront employment. But one set of statistics is missing, and perhaps the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), who is sitting at the table, will consider incorporating it in the reports of future years. I refer to the statistics relating to accidents on the waterfront. There are detailed statistics of hours of work, attendance money paid, sick pay and that sort of thing, but there seem to be no other statistics in this document. Whether they exist elsewhere, I do not know. Nevertheless, the stevedoring industry is still one in which there is a comparatively high incidence of accidents. When one meets employees in this industry it is surprising to see how many have lost perhaps the top of a finger or even several fingers from one hand, or are maimed in some way by accidents that have occurred in the course of their employment. Any one employed in this industry for a number of years has a fairly high chance, relative to the number of people employed in it, of being subject to some kind of permanent maiming.
While I commend the suggestion of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) that drudgery should be removed from the industry, I think equal attention should be paid to safety on the waterfront. There is a chapter in the annual report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority dealing with safety measures that have been taken. The whole of the industrial movement now has an industrial committee, in which employees and employers confer on ways of removing the danger of accident from industrial occupations. This is to the mutual benefit of all concerned, because injuries constitute a cost to industry, through the workers’ compensation legislation. That is the economic side of the question, but then there is the human side. People are often killed or maimed in the course of their employment. Sometimes families are bereaved by industrii! accidents or the breadwinner is permanently incapacitated. The stevedoring industry is one in which the incidence of accidents is still higher than that in most other channels of employment. This is due to the fact that there is still a certain amount of risk attached to the industry, in spite of all the modern equipment which is available.
I think the trade union movement as a whole appreciates that it would be a good thing if drudgery were removed from industry. Removing the drudgery means putting in more machines relative to the number of men employed, and at present the impulse for that change is found mainly in the economics of the industry concerned. If, on a costed basis, a machine is cheaper than the man-power it replaces, it will be installed. If it is not cheaper, men continue to work in that capacity, irrespective of whether or not the work involves drudgery.
Some years ago, in my reading on this matter, I came across an example which I think could be copied by a number of industries. It referred to a plant belonging to Imperial Chemical Industries, at Paisley, in Scotland. Certain plant which had been installed had replaced some man-power, although it was more expensive, on a costed basis, than the man-power it replaced. In spite of that, the installation was made by the company in the interests of safety. The company said that although the plant installed was not more economical, it was safer. That principle could well be more widely applied in industry.
But I suggest that it will be the economics of industry which in the end will prevent a large amount of drudgery from being abolished. Those who employ labour and use machinery in association with it install machines where, on a costed basis, they are found to be cheaper than the men they replace. That is not a very good social test to apply. If machinery will remove drudgery from an industry, the emphasis should be on that factor rather than on sheer economics. But because industry is run on a private profit basis it is extremely unlikely that that kind of test will be applied to the question of removal of drudgery from industry.
I revert to the statistics contained in the annual report of the Stevedoring Industry Authority. One of the illusions that people seem to wish to perpetuate is that water side workers earn fantastic sums of money. For a day or two, if they work a sufficient number of hours, they may appear to get a lot of money. What is not realized is that there are sometimes long periods during which no work is available for these men.
The statistics show that for what are known as A class ports - the major ports in the metropolitan areas of Australia - the average number of hours worked weekly by waterside workers is 27i. Taking into account the B class and seasonal ports, I find that the average number of weekly hours worked is much lower, but I am dealing with the A class ports where the major part of the waterfront activity is conducted and where the majority of those in the industry are employed. As I say, the average number of hours worked is 271 and the average gross earnings of the employees in A class ports - including not only the wage as such but also attendance money, sick pay and payment for public holidays - is £21 8s. 3d. per week. That is not an excessive sum of money by to-day’s living standards. I do not think it differs greatly at the moment from what is referred to as the average weekly wage, which I believe is in the vicinity of £21 per week. The average waterfront employee is in no better position, economically, than any other employee. He may have to work fewer hours, but in the hours that he does work he must earn sufficient to give him a reasonable income. At present the average wage, apart from special benefits such as attendance money, which the waterside worker is paid if he presents himself and is not called for a job, and sick pay and holiday pay, is £19 5s. 3d. per week.
I would have thought there would be a case for not introducing this measure and for allowing the additional £40,000 to continue to go into the fund for the purposes which the honorable member for Fawkner mentioned - the provision of more amenities and a superannuation scheme for the industry. The waterfront unions want a pension or superannuation scheme. I understand that negotiations about it are in hand, but so far little success has attended those endeavours. Figures published either to-day or yesterday indicate that what is called the productivity of labour on the waterfront increased by something like 6 per cent, in the last twelve months. That was due to the greater use of machines - as the honorable member for Fawkner said - but I believe there is a case for the benefits of that greater productivity to be shared by the employees and the employers. There is a good case for a higher levy in this form and for refinements in the benefits that are paid out of the stevedoring industry fund. There would not need to be any particular levy basis. Perhaps the authorities could be charged according to the number of ships worked, or on some similar basis, and then be required to pay additional amounts into the fund.
The scope of the fund has been extended following the recent decision by, I think, Mr. Justice Ashburner, that annual leave benefits now have to be paid out out of the fund. I think that the payment of these benefits is on a different basis from the 2s. 6d. levy which now applies. An additional amount is paid by the shipowners direct into the fund to provide for the annual leave of the waterfront employees because these employees work for perhaps ten or twelve different organizations during the year and it would be hard to assess who is actually responsible for an employee’s holiday pay. I think that the proposal in relation to the payment by the shipowners is a sensible way to achieve the desired objective. Every employee who works a certain number of weeks during the year is entitled to an annual holiday and to be paid at a rate which represents the average weekly rate during the year.
Although it is appreciated that there has been some increase in mechanization and in amenities for employees on the waterfront, nevertheless there is still a long way to go in relation to safety and wages. The average income of the man who works in this hazardous and skilful occupation - dexterity, agility and physical strength are required to perform stevedoring work - is nowhere near what it should be. It is illuminating to study the statistics showing the ages of employees on the waterfront and to find the number of men who are still working even though they have reached the age of 65 years. Of a total of 22,045 men who were registered as at 30th June, 1960, 842 were between 65 and 69 years of age; 451 were between 70 and 74 years; 116 were between 75 and 79 years, and 20 were over 80 years of age. They must be remarkable men physically to be able to maintain at 80 years of age their working capacity in an industry of this kind. I do not suggest that waterfront employees should be retired compulsorily when they reach a certain age. I believe that one of the reasons why a lot of them continue to work after they have reached 65 years is because they cannot live on the pension. They have no superannuation scheme, and many of them have experienced lengthy periods when work was scarce, so they have not been able to save very much during their working life.
The average waterfront employee is a married man with a wife and children to keep. His earnings are only about £21 a week. On that wage he has very little capacity to save, and that may be why about 1,400 people, or over 6 per cent, of the waterfront work force, are over 65 years of age. There is no compulsory retiring age, and some people prefer to work on. I hope that nothing ever will be done to lift the retiring age. I believe that people ought to retire at 65 years, because there is more in life than continuing in one job while you are able to work. At 65 we should be able to enjoy a contemplative and leisurely kind of life. Many people would like to have that kind of life, but they cannot because when they retire their incomes immediately vanish altogether or are reduced to very small dimensions. It is a kind of economic conscription rather than anything else that makes many of these people work on beyond the age of 65 years. I do not mean to suggest that people are useless at 65 years, but it is a good thing socially that people should work for only a certain number of years. Society should adapt itself to provide greater facilities for leisure for people enjoying a well-earned retirement after an honest working life in whatever occupation they have chosen to follow.
I endorse to some extent the remarks that were made by the honorable member for Fawkner, but I believe that a lot still remains to be done. The waterfront employee is entitled to a much better deal than he has received to date.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 20th October (vide page 2227), on motion by Mr. Adermann -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This bill seeks lo approve an agreement relating to sugar made between the Commonwealth, on the one hand, and the State of Queensland on the other hand. Its purpose is to fix the price at which sugar will be sold in Australia. All honorable members know that the sugar industry is the major industry in Queensland, and that the greater part of that State’s economic prosperity is linked with it. I was not aware that I would lead the debate on this bill for the Opposition or I would have armed myself with comprehensive statistics relating to the industry.
Australia prides itself on being the one country in the world where the sugar industry is carried on in a tropical area with the use of white labour. In other parts of the world, because of the climatic conditions required to grow it, sugar is mostly produced in plantations with a labour force that is very poorly paid, in conditions that often amount to little better than a modified kind of slavery. In Australia, however, the employees in the sugar industry are all paid proper union rates, and the basis of ownership is not the large plantation but the relatively small farm which supports, comfortably for the most part, one family, which calls in assistance from outside for the harvesting of the crop.
Associated with the sugar industry are refineries, which are built close to the various sugar-producing centres. For the most part sugar refining in Australia is carried out by the organization known as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, and most of the crushing mills, or at least a fair number of them, which are links in the chain between the grower and the company I have mentioned, are co-operatively owned.
All in all, in the 60 years or so that the sugar industry in Australia has been under way it has been very important to Australia. Its total production is greater than Australia can consume, although T believe that this country has the highest per capita consumption in the world of sugar. Whether that is good from the dietary point of view I do not know, and I do not intend to enter into a controversy or suggest that it would be better if we consumed less sugar, because I know that some ot my colleagues would regard that as a rather dubious approach. Nevertheless, a significant part of our total sugar production - not quite one half, but somewhere about that - is exported.
The sugar industry is one of those industries in which the price paid for the product by the local consumer differs from that which the product is able to command on the world market. We have to sell sugar overseas at a lower price than is economically sound for the industry, and we also have to comply with the terms of the International Sugar Agreement, which limit the quantity which Australia may export at the guaranteed price. If we export more than that quantity we have to take for the excess such prices as we are able to command. The home price for sugar is artificial, in a sense, because it has to cover not only the cost of producing the sugar sold at home but also has to make up for some of the loss occasioned by sales overseas at a lower price than is actually economic to the industry.
Recently the interested parties - and the negotiations take place between the Commonwealth on the one hand and the Queensland Government on the other - negotiated for a new retail price in Australia. This bill seeks the ratification of the agreement then reached and, since May I think, the new price has been operative. The agreement raised the price from lOd. per lb. to lid. per lb. retail.
Let us consider this increase of Id. per lb. in relation to Australia’s consumption of sugar. I think that Australia consumes about 300 lb. of sugar per head of population each year. That rate of consumption, of course, covers not only sugar used domestically, as such, but also the sugar used in jam, confectionery and other manufactured products.
– That is nearly 1 lb. per person a day.
– I am not sure of the figure, but it is a pretty high figure. If the honorable member counts the number of spoonfuls of sugar he puts in tea every day, and takes into consideration the sugar used in the manufacture of various products that he, along with other members of the public, consumes, he might not think the figure so outrageously high. My recollection of the actual figure is that it is abou-‘ 300 lb. per head of population each yea, Even if one takes the average family as being a man, wife and two children, an increase of Id. per lb., although it may not sound very much, is quite a lot, when reflected right through the consumption by the ordinary family, of hundreds of pounds of sugar, in various forms, in the course of a year. This increase then becomes just another of those little imposts which make the weekly budgeting for the housewife a bit more difficult. The increase may mean only an extra ls. a week in the expenditure of a household, but if the wage coming into that household is not adjusted to offset that increase of expenditure on sugar consumed either directly or indirectly, then expenditure on something else by that family must be adjusted accordingly. The sugar industry is able to isolate and insulate itself against some of the rising costs to which it is subject, but the wage-earner has to pay the new charge for sugar without being able to offset the increase, and that means a deterioration in the rest of his standards.
The sugar industry is significant for the Australian economy. If we did not produce sugar for ourselves we would have to import it at heavy cost. At the moment not only do we avoid the cost of importing sugar, but sugar itself is an important earner of export income for Australia. Despite the fact that the price we obtain for sugar overseas is not truly economic, those export earnings provide us with some millions of pounds’ worth of valuable exchange.
Because this industry is of such economic consequence to Australia the Labour Party does not oppose the bill, but it does point out the kinds of difficulties that are involved here. It is an interesting little study in household economics, when all is said and done. The measure has some significance not only to those who produce sugar but also to those who consume sugar - and that means every family in the community.
Over the years there have been several amendments to the principal act. I can remember when sugar cost only 4d. or 5d. per lb. retail. I do not know how long one would have to go back to those days.
The retail price is now lid. I think thai the sugar people maintain that the retail price of sugar has not risen in ratio with the rise in the general cost of living. The argument is that if the value of money has halved in ten years the price of sugar has not doubled in the same period, as it would have done to keep pace, but I think that in fact the price must very nearly have doubled.
At one time the body which refines sugar in Australia - the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited - was a prime example of a monopoly. Since then this company has mushroomed out into all kinds of activities apart from sugar refining. I think that nowadays its refining activities are scarcely a major part of its empire. The company also has activities in the sugar field in Fiji. In Australia it is also engaged in such activities as the manufacture of wallboard and building materials, and it is now quite a gigantic concern making considerable profits, apart from the profits it derives from sugar. I understand that the actual refining costs are only a very small part of the retail price of sugar - something less than Id. per lb. - but nevertheless, in terms of the millions of pounds of sugar that are refined in Australia every year, refining provides no mean source of income, and is still quite a good profit-maker for the company. Perhaps some day we will have a better method of adjudication between production and refining, but at present I do not think the sugar-growers generally get an unduly high return for their product. Most of them are in fairly humble circumstances. Wages, planting, mechanical equipment and fuel account for most of the costs of sugar production. The actual return that the grower gets ultimately is small, but in my opinion the refineries get an inordinate share of the profits from the industry.
The Opposition has no objection to the bill but we point out that while an increase of Id. per lb. for sugar does not seem to be much, the increase, which has been in operation since May, will have an adverse effect on the average household budget. After all, the increase in the price of sugar is bound up with the general problem of inflation with which this Government has not grappled actively. It is easy in this case to pass on the increase of a penny but nothing is being done by the Government to get at the causes of the increase.
.- Although this is not an annual debate, it seems to have occurred six or seven times since I have been a member of this Parliament. I have spoken on this matter before and I do not intend to traverse the arguments I have advanced previously, but I wish to refer to several points directly involved in the bill. First, I warmly commend the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) for making an alteration in the rebate to the sugar industry itself for the first time since 1933. In that year, when the price of sugar was £32 a ton, the sugar rebate was £2 4s. The price of sugar is now £88 to £90 a ton and the rebate payable on sugar in manufactured fruit products is being increased to £5 a ton. The increase is, in its own way, substantial but the ratio of the rebate to the price of sugar is much the same as the ratio of rebate to the price in 1933. Although I commend the Minister for his action in this matter, I wish to direct attention to the tremendous disparity that still exists between the rebate and the price of sugar per ton.
In his second-reading speech, the Minister announced the appointment of a committee to inquire into the sugar industry itself and I commend the Minister for that practical step forward. Some years ago, an attempt was made to set up such a committee but it did not come to fruition. I am sure that the sugar industry itself, the processors and the growers of small fruits will be very pleased with the Minister’s action. I was glad to note that the Minister stated in his secondreading speech that the increase in the sugar rebate was to be passed on to the growers. The Minister said -
On the question of rebates, I may explain that the Agreement provides that the sugar industry shall provide a fund from which a rebate shall be paid on sugar used in processing fruit products. The payment of the rebate is subject to certain conditions, the principal of which is that processors shall pay not less than prescribed minimum prices for fresh fruit.
I am heartened by that announcement because the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee has more or less set a minimum price. There has been no price but the minimum price. I am glad that the Minister has emphasized that very important principle - that the increase in the rebate shall be passed on to growers of small fruits. The electorate I represent contains the largest area of small fruits in Australia. The growers of these small fruits are virtually a vanishing race. They hacked out small plots from the hillsides over the years. They cannot make a living from these areas alone and they do other work - on the roads or in orchards. Now they are substantially going out of production. The acreage under small fruits has diminished by about 50 per cent, since 1949. The new rebate will encourage the growers to continue to produce small fruits. Tasmanian raspberries, strawberries, black currants and other small fruits have a good reputation not only in Australia but also overseas. Unless these people get some encouragement, they will go out of production almost entirely.
I do not wish to speak at length, as I have referred to these matters previously, but after all the years that I have pleaded in this House for an increase in the sugar rebate. I am very pleased to see that a substantial increase is proposed now. I hope it is not the last increase and that there will be bigger increases in the future.
.- I do not intend to speak at length on this bill because, as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has stated, the Opposition supports the measure. The Australian Labour Party has supported similar measures since the original sugar agreement was entered into in 1920. In the past 40 years, various agreements have been entered into between the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government. Under this measure, a supplemental agreement to the sugar agreement reached between the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments in 1956 is to be approved. As the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) stated in his second-reading speech, the 1956 agreement expires at the end of August, 1961. The Minister also announced in his speech that a sugar inquiry committee was to be set up to take evidence and present a report on the sugar industry. That report must be made before the end of August, 1961, because the new agreement will come into operation on 1st September.
I do not propose to develop the theme of the value of the sugar industry for defence and also for the development of northern Australia which we want to develop. All those matters can be referred to when the agreement is being ratified.
The current sugar agreement requires the Queensland Government to enter into a supplemental agreement if it proposes to increase the price of sugar. The current agreement came into operation in 1956. Subsequently, overtures were made to the Commonwealth Government by the Queensland Government for a supplemental agreement to increase the price of sugar. As a result the retail price in the capital cities has been increased from lOd. per lb., the amount provided in the 1956 agreement, to lid. In effect, this is a ratifying bill because it merely ratifies what was done last June following an agreement between the two governments. The negotiations for an agreement were supported by the various branches of the industry.
The present wholesale price of sugar under the Sugar Agreement came into effect in 1956. When this legislation goes through, the price of sugar will be lid. per lb. to the consumer. It has been estimated that the average family consumes 6 lb. of sugar a week, in which case the increased price will increase family costs by 6d. a week. Since 1956, inflation has devalued the currency to the extent of at least 3 per cent, per annum. It is not because of the inefficiency of the farmer, nor of the miller, that it has been necessary to ask the Government to increase the retail price of sugar to lid. per lb.
I have some figures relating to wages In the industry earlier in the year. I do not know whether they have since been amended. About May of this year, when the sugar inquiry was going on and representations were being made to this Government, the weekly wage of field workers had increased by 23 per cent, since 1956. The scheduled rate for a cane-cutter had been increased by 17 per cent., the general mill worker’s wage had been increased by 22 per cent., and those of the locomotive drivers by 22 per cent. So there had been an average increase in wages of about 22 per cent. The industry is asking for a 10 per cent, increase in price.
The sugar industry is not asking the general community to subsidize inefficiency. From 1950 to 1955, a period prior to the 1956 agreement, 24.32 tons of cane were produced per acre. This was the equivalent of 3.29 tons of sugar per acre. Between 1954 and 1959, which includes the period of the current agreement, cane production increased to 25.88 tons per acre, a rise of about H tons per acre. In other words, there was increased efficiency in the growing of cane. The number of tons of sugar produced per acre rose from 3.29 in the period 1950 to 1955 to 3.53 in the period from 1954 to 1959. This indicates that the growers are endeavouring to make their industry efficient. They are asking the consumer to pay lid. per lb., or 10 per cent., more for sugar, but, in addition to the increased wages that I have mentioned, there have been increases in the costs of machinery, petrol and oil, which also have to be borne by the industry. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) indicated in his second-reading speech that the rebate payable on sugar used in the manufacture of fruit products had increased from £2 4s. per ton to £5 per ton as from 1st June, 1960. The sugar industry’s contribution to the fruit industry through the Sugar Concession Committee has more than doubled, rising from £120,000 per annum to £264,000 per annum. It is quite obvious that the industry has not asked the Governmen for anything that was unreasonable. There may have been a rumble or two, but, speaking generally, even the consumer has not objected, because, I suppose, the increase in the price of this commodity has been less than most other price increases.
Here is an instance in which the price of a commodity is not fixed by a manufacturer, a cartel, or a monopoly, but by this Parliament which, under the terms of the agreement, must approve the price to the consumer. One of the outstanding features of the industry is the way in which wages are pegged and the return to the grower and to the mill is fixed, as is the price that the consumer has to pay for a commodity. Because of the world supply position, the industry is forced to improve its efficiency.
To-day, we talk about the difficulties in regard to balance of payments. In the year 1958-59, the value of sugar exports was £32,200,000. If I remember correctly, only about 45 per cent, of the sugar produced in this country is consumed here. The rest is exported. International agreements between various countries fix the world price of the commodity. So this is an industry which is forced, by financial considerations, to make itself efficient. At the same time, it earns for this country £32,200,000 in export income. It is with the greatest of pleasure that I support this bill. I am pleased to see that the House is adopting the attitude that it has previously adopted to the sugar agreement and that both sides of the Parliament are unanimous on this measure.
.- In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) summed up his remarks by saying that sugar agreements between the two Governments, along the lines of the present agreement, have been supported by both sides of the House over a long period of years. I would like to add that I think the House has acted wisely in doing so. The Minister said, too, that he was certain that the agreements had done much to establish and stabilize the very efficient Australian sugar industry, and, at the same time, had protected the interests of domestic consumers and those manufacturing industries that use sugar. I should like to speak for a few moments on the importance of the sugar industry to Australia, and particularly to Queensland.
In the first place, I think it is safe to say that without the sugar industry most of the coastal areas of Queensland would be rather sparsely populated. The very fact, therefore, that an efficient sugar industry exists in Queensland means that the industry has done a great deal towards decentralization and towards the development of the coastal areas of the State. I am informed that about 97 per cent, of the sugar produced in Australia is produced in Queensland. In addition to the fact that the sugar industry has played such an important part in developing Queensland, there is a further important aspect of it that should not be overlooked. I refer to the fact that it is an industry which is able to run its own affairs completely. It does not seek any form of financial assistance in running its affairs. All that it seeks is a fair price for its product, and I would suggest that the retail price paid for sugar by consumers in Australia is very fair. When price increases for other commodities are compared with rises that have occurred in the price of sugar, it can be seen that the price of sugar has increased to a lesser extent than the price of most other Australian primary products. It is obvious, therefore, that the present price of sugar is very fair.
The sugar industry is important to Australia as a whole, and particularly to Queensland, because it is responsible for making a good deal of revenue available. Two years ago the industry reached the position at which it could claim that its product was worth more than any other single primary commodity produced in Queensland. That was a very fine achievement for an industry which was once believed to be impracticable without the use of Kanaka labour. That brings me to another noteworthy feature of the industry. It is run and staffed by Australians. It is not necessary to import natives and pay them low wages in order to produce our sugar.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) pointed out the importance of sugar when he mentioned the fact, inadvertently, that 300 lb. of sugar per person was used annually. T think he said “ per person “, but it would be more correct to say “ per family “. Sugar is important not only for its capacity to produce revenue; it is an important article of diet. Although many people have made disparaging remarks about the dietary value of sugar, the fact is that it is a very pure and a very good product, and that it will be used increasingly as the years go by.
I should like to commend the Minister and the Government for readily acquiescing in a price increase. As has already been pointed out, the request for an increase was very reasonable. An increase of only 10 per cent, in the retail price was sought, although the industry snowed, in a very carefully compiled statement, that its costs had increased by a considerably greater proportion. We know that the industry is efficient. There is no doubt about that. Any one who goes into the sugar areas and sees the producers operating on their farms is immediately struck by their evident efficiency. Not only are the farmers efficient in their use of machinery and in their methods of production of cane; there are also efficient and capable scientists who are continually conducting research and producing better types of cane to give greater production.
We know that the industry has now reached a stage at which, because of various conditions operating throughout the world, it is not possible for the Queensland producers ‘to sell all the cane they produce all the time. Because of dry weather and other factors that have recently operated, some producers have been able to sell all their cane, but quite a number of them have considerably over-produced. It is not my intention at this stage to go into the reasons for that over-production, or to meet any arguments that have been put forward regarding what should be done with the surplus sugar cane.
– Why? Tell us about it.
– The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith asks me to tell him about it. I must do so only briefly. I will answer him by saying that it would be possible within two years to grow 50 per cent, more sugar cane in Queensland than is grown there at the present time.
– And on the same land.
– Possibly on the same land, but there is certainly plenty of other land on which excellent sugar could be grown. But if we did not have proper sugar marketing arrangements in Australia and elsewhere in the world, the price of sugar for export would possibly be only a quarter or a fifth of what the producer is now receiving. The reason is that as soon as you over-supply an overseas market you immediately depress the price of all the sugar sold overseas, and that is a very large quantity. If you allow the over-supply of a product the producer does no good. Let us bear in mind that it was not so very long ago when the producer was getting only about £5 a ton for his sugar. It has been proved in the sugar industry, and in other industries such as the peanut industry, that if you want to ensure a fair return to the producer and fair wages for the people who work in the industry, you must not over-produce for sale. Our sugar arrangements have been so devised that overselling does not occur. Consequently the men who produce the sugar receive a reasonable price for their product - and what could be fairer?
If the present surplus sugar cane had to be dealt with by giving away sugar over seas, we would have to face the fact that it would cost a great deal of money to dispose of it, quite apart from the cost of growing it, which, of course, the farmer has incurred in any case. It would cost a great deal to cut the cane, to transport it to the mill, to process it and transport the raw sugar from the mill to the refinery, to deal with it at the refinery and then to take it overseas and distribute it to the people who could not afford to buy it, and also to ensure that it did not get on to the black market. Some one would have to foot the bill, and I am wondering whether my friend, the honorable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr. Curtin), who is continually seeking to interject, would be prepared to share in meeting the cost. The honorable member’s attempts to interject incline me to think that he would be perfectly willing to come into a philanthropic scheme to provide all the money required for the processing of this excess cane so that sugar could be handed out to people overseas who could not afford to buy it otherwise. I think I have spent enough time on that point, Mr. Speaker, because time is running on.
The point that I wish to make is that the price now paid for sugar is fair. It has been based on a formula which was applied in 1952 and was considered fair. The formula was applied again in 1956 and was still considered fair. The same formula has been applied again this year. As I have pointed out, although the industry’s costs have increased by more than 10 per cent., it is still prepared to ask for a price increase of only 10 per cent. The Government has agreed that that is fair under the formula.
I pay tribute to the industry for embracing the best means of marketing its sugar. We have efficient farmers, as I have said. We have efficient cutters to cut the cane, and we certainly have efficient millers. Efficiency is increasing all the time. Those engaged in the industry have done one important thing : They have saved the industry a great deal of cost - and, incidentally, the consumers - because they have been able to bulk load the sugar into ships at greatly reduced cost. If the man-handling of bags of sugar had had to continue, the cost of sugar to the retailers would possibly have been higher than it is.
– What is the present retail price of sugar?
– The present price of sugar to the consumer is lid. per lb.
In addition to granting the fair request by the sugar industry for a fair increase in the price of sugar, the Government, in my opinion, has also done a wise thing in deciding to appoint a committee to inquire into the sugar and fruit industries and their relationship. I have no doubt that the inquiries of this committee will prove fruitful. As the Minister for Primary Industry said in his second-reading speech, the Australian market has always been assured of ample supplies of sugar at reasonable and stable prices. May I say, too, that the Australian sugar industry has always been assured of a fair reception for all the reasonable requests that it puts to the Government. For that reason, I consider that the Government deserves all possible commendation.
Question resolved in affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
Consideration resumed from 20th October (vide page 2228), on motion by Dr. Donald Cameron -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 27th October (vide page 2493), on motion by Mr. Hulme -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill provides for the grant of £37,200,000 to the States under the Commonwealth and
States Housing Agreement. This is approximately £1,000,000 more than the amount provided last year, but it cannot be said that this altogether inadequate amount will alleviate the housing difficulties. This bill will do no more than accentuate the difficulties facing the States in providing homes for the lower income groups.
This is an appropriate time for honorable members to discuss the Commonwealth and State. Housing Agreement and to suggest improvements to it, because the present agreement expires on 30th June next. During the past four years of its existence, this agreement has been shown to have many faults and imperfections. I hope that the new agreement, which will no doubt be embodied in legislation to be introduced during the autumn sessional period next year, will effect many changes. Recently, the State Ministers for Housing met to discuss matters of mutual interest, and they reached the conclusion that many improvements to the present agreement were necessary. These Ministers included four Liberal and two Labour Ministers.
They were unanimous in saying that the amount to be allocated to co-operative building societies should not be mandatory, as it is now, but should be left to the discretion of the respective State governments. It was pointed out that in one State the 30 per cent, now required to be allocated to co-operative societies may not be enough but in another State it may be too much. The housing difficulties differ somewhat from State to State. In the eastern industrial States, the difficulties are far more pronounced than they are in Western Australia and South Australia, although the problem in South Australia is serious enough. The Ministers for Housing were of the opinion that the percentage of the funds to be allocated to co-operative societies should be left to the discretion of the State governments, and I would say that that suggestion has much to commend it. The suggestion was made by Ministers who constantly deal with housing problems in the States, and some notice should be taken of their views. Perhaps I should mention that the Victorian Minister for Housing favoured the suggestion.
Another suggestion that arose from this meeting was that the Commonwealth should consider providing more money for homes for elderly people. Fortunately, the trend in recent years has been for the community as a whole to accept some responsibility for the housing of elderly people. Advances in medical science have resulted in a greater life expectancy and there are now more elderly people in the community than ever before. Naturally, this poses a problem of accommodation. The Government has made some slight effort to alleviate the problem by introducing the Aged Persons Homes Act, which provides for grants to special organizations in certain circumstances on the basis of £2 for £1. This money is used for the housing of elderly people.
However, the State Ministers for Housing were of the opinion that money should be made available for this purpose to the Housing Commissions by a special Commonwealth grant or Commonwealth loan. This suggestion also has much to commend it. At present, the Victorian Housing Commission is building a number of “ Darby and Joan “ flats for elderly persons, and is receiving the support of municipalities throughout Victoria. The municipalities make land available to the Housing Commission free of charge, the commission builds the flats, and the municipality is given the right to nominate the first tenants for the flats. Recently, flats to accommodate 62 elderly people were completed in the municipality in which I live. I know the scheme has brought a lot of joy to elderly people who were living in primitive conditions and were often paying exorbitant rentals. The Ministers for Housing were of opinion that this scheme should be extended and that the Commonwealth Government should, through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, make money available for this specific purpose. I can see nothing at all wrong with that proposition.
I stress that money is made available under this legislation for housing commissions. Unfortunately, the housing commissions have a very sorry story to tell. We find, particularly in the industrial States of New South Wales and Victoria, that the commissions have terrifically long lists of people who eagerly desire accommodation. But the Victorian Housing Commission is now receiving £3,000,000 a year less than it did four years ago and is unable to keep up with the demands made upon it. The legislation requires that 30 per cent, of the money made available shall be allocated to co-operative societies. The Victorian Housing Commission, because it has been receiving less money than formerly, is unable to build the houses that are required, and the number of people on its books waiting for accommodation has risen from 11,500 to 17,500. Naturally, with £7,000,000, the commission is unable to build as many homes as it could with £10,000,000. But, in addition to this, the Commonwealth has not taken cognizance of the fact that building costs have increased considerably over the last four years. The Housing Commission, apparently, is expected to build the same number of houses with a smaller amount than it received four years ago. It is obvious that future bills should contain a provision that as the cost of building goes up the maximum amount of loan available should be increased, for only in this way can we prevent the number of houses built each year from declining. In Victoria, unfortunately, a very sorry position obtains. For instance, recently, Sir Herbert Hyland, the Leader of the Country Party in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, asked the Victorian Minister for Housing, Mr. Petty, what was the present housing deficiency in Victoria and when it was estimated that the deficiency would be eliminated. Mr. Petty replied that it appeared that the deficiency in housing in Victoria was between 35,000 and 40,000 homes. Mr. Petty also said that to meet the needs of an increasing population and to eliminate the housing lag in Victoria by June, 1963, it was estimated that the number of houses that would be required to be built during the next four years was 30,000 in 1960, 31,000 in 1961, 32,000 in 1962 and 33,000 in 1963. Mr. Petty also stated that the number of dwellings built in Victoria in the last twelve months was approximately 24,000. It is obvious, therefore, that on the present rate of building in Victoria the lag will never be overtaken. In those circumstances, I suggest that it is incumbent upon the Federal Government to see that more money is made available to State instrumentalities for the provision of essential housing commission homes for people in the lower income groups.
Honorable members on the Government side do not seem to be able to get into their heads that the main function of housing commissions is to provide accommodation for people in the lower income groups. It is of no use talking about the luxury homes, the brick veneer homes and others costing between £5,000 and £6,000 which are being built, here, there and everywhere. We need homes for persons who cannot pay a deposit or can provide only £200 or £300 as deposit, the people who are not catered for in the scheme of things at all. The only way by which they can hope to obtain a home is through the State housing commissions and, because the Commonwealth Government is providing inadequate finance to the States, these people have become the forgotten race. They are completely disregarded by the Commonwealth Government, and until we have a progressive Commonwealth housing act which recognizes the plight of these people, their position will become worse and worse.
A fortnight after asking his first questions, Sir Herbert Hyland asked the Minister for Housing what action the Victorian Government proposed to take to alleviate the housing shortage in Victoria. Mr. Petty replied that the shortage of houses in Victoria was due to the shortage of finance, particularly for long-term loans. He went on to say further that his Government was making every effort to encourage investment in home building by banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions but that investors generally would not make money available for investment in home building at the ruling rate of from 5 per cent, to 5i per cent, because they could obtain higher interest returns from investing in other directions. That is perfectly understandable. It is obvious that the investor who has £20,000 to invest will want to obtain as big a return as he can get on his money. That is human nature. Under those circumstances, investors certainly will not provide adequate funds for home building under the present scheme of things, and the Government is forced to step into the breach and make funds available. No mere sophistry or recital of statistics showing that the greatest number of houses built in the history of Australia was built last year will answer the problem of providing essential housing for people in the lower income groups. It is for -that reason that I suggest that the amount to be allocated under the agreement next year should be increased substantially.
Whenever we tax the Commonwealth Government with its neglect in this direction, we are told that the provision of housing is a matter for the States themselves. The Commonwealth Government tells us that the Australian Loan Council makes money available to the States and that it is a matter then for the States to devote a certain proportion of that money to the building of homes. Let me remind the Government that on numerous occasions the States have asked for far more than they have received from the Loan Council. Everybody knows that another name for the Loan Council is the Commonwealth Government. Anybody who thinks that the States can dominate the Loan Council must believe in Father Christmas, because everybody knows that the Commonwealth Government controls the purse strings and what it says goes at all meetings of the Loan Council. As proof of that I point to subclause (3.) of clause 5 of the schedule to the Housing Agreement Act, which reads -
The amount to be advanced to a State under this clause in respect of a financial year referred to in sub-clause (I.) of this clause shall be such amount as may be agreed upon between the Commonwealth and that State, or, failing agreement, as may be allocated by the Commonwealth from the loan funds made available to the Commonwealth by the Loan Council in the approved borrowing programme in respect of that financial year.
In other words, whenever there is a conflict between the States and the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth is supreme and the States must accept the amount ultimately fixed by the Commonwealth Government. It must be apparent to anybody who understands plain English that in the event of disagreement between the Commonwealth and a State, the Commonwealth has the final say. That being so, the Commonwealth should see to it that the States are given sufficient money to enable them to cater for the distressing cases which come before them. And the distressing cases do come before the States because the State housing commissions are the only authorities that cater for people in the lower income groups.
I suggest also that when the agreement is next under review the Commonwealth
Government should give very serious consideration to an organized attempt to eradicate the slum areas in our capital cities, for it is quite beyond the financial capacity of the State governments to do this work. We all know that the State governments are forced to depend upon the Commonwealth Government for finance and in those circumstances any major works of this type must be carried out with Commonwealth finance under Commonwealth legislation. The State governments have made some attempt out of their own all too meagre resources to eradicate slum areas. In Victoria, for example, the State Government provides £500,000 a year out of its own resources for the purchase of slum areas. After buying these areas, it hands them over to the Housing Commission which then arranges for the slum buildings to be pulled down and other buildings to be erected in their place, financing the work with moneys provided under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The Victorian Government is making a very courageous effort in purchasing slum areas but it cannot do much because, as everybody knows, it is virtually living from hand to mouth because it is not able to raise sufficient money to carry on other essential services.
Let me give honorable members some idea of the problem confronting the Victorian Government in the eradication of slum areas. Recently the Victorian Minister for Housing received a report which indicated that in Melbourne there are 1,000 acres of run-down and depressed houses but only 100 acres have been proclaimed as slum areas by the Housing Commission. I should point out to honorable members that when the Housing Commission proclaims an area as a slum area, it is brought into the slum abolition scheme. The Government has bought 100 acres but has not as yet re-built houses on that area because it lacks the necessary finance. According to this report - and it is an authoritative report - it is estimated that there are between 40,000 and 50,000 people, representing between 10,000 and 15,000 family units, living in this area. The Housing Commission is doing what it can to help the State Government. For instance, last year, out of its own funds, the Housing Commission spent £520,000 on erecting homes on areas which had been purchased by the State Government and on which the old buildings had been razed. The difficulty there is that whilst helping the State Government in this way, the Housing Commission is neglecting to provide accommodation in other directions. The number of applicants for Housing Commission homes is increasing continually. As I stated earlier, the number of applicants for Housing Commission homes in Victoria increased from 11,500 to 17,500 in four years, and if something is not done in the very near future this problem will become so great that it will be beyond the financial capacity of any government to cope with it. We have here a social problem of the highest magnitude, and the longer it remains the worse it will become. In this report which Mr. Petty submitted to the public of Victoria, it is estimated that the cost of reclaiming the areas classed as slums in Melbourne will be £50,000,000. That is a lot of money, but the Housing Commission and the Government are the only authorities that have the power of acquisition and can acquire the land in order to do large-scale improvements of this kind. At the present rate of expenditure it will take 50 years to complete the rehabilitation of the Melbourne slum areas. By that time, the authorities will have another batch of slums on their hands, because, as properties become older, they very often fall into the slum category. For those reasons something has to be done about this problem shortly.
I suggest that the present Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement should be amended in order to provide for slum reclamation on a wider basis. The Housing Commission of Victoria has special authority and it is a ready-made organization, with all the techniques and know-how for this work. It knows the plague spots and what is required in that regard. It also knows who want homes. I therefore suggest that when the next housing agreement is before this House, it will be incomplete if it does not provide for the tackling of the slum problem on a very broad basis.
Another reason why we should encourage the granting of much more money to the Housing Commission when the next agreement is made is that under the present agreement the commission is encouraging what is one of the Labour Party’s cardinal planks - and I think one of the Liberal Party’s planks also - home ownership. Fifty per cent, of the houses erected by the Housing Commission in Victoria are sold to people desirous of becoming home owners, and 50 per cent, are rented. That is the policy with respect to houses that are made available now. Under the present policy of the commission, 50 per cent, of the houses built are disposed of in each way. This policy has been responsible for the pride of home ownership in the minds and hearts of a great number of people who otherwise would never have had houses of their own.
One of the features of the purchase of homes from the Housing Commission in Victoria is the very low deposits required. One can get a house for a deposit from as low as £100 and up to £350, according to the value of the house. Under no other housing scheme in Victoria can a home be obtained for such a low deposit. The Labour Party is all for encouraging home ownership. We have always believed in it, despite what Government members say. Throughout its political existence the Labour Party has endorsed the principle of home ownership. It therefore wants to see much more money made available to the Housing Commission, because that will mean that more houses will be available for purchase by the lower-income group, on deposits of from £100 to, perhaps, £300. This is the only scheme in existence in Australia under which one can get a house for such a low deposit. For us, the sky is the limit. The more money that is made available by the Commonwealth Government, the more houses can be built by the Housing Commission for people who want their own homes. No other scheme in the Commonwealth offers such favorable terms for the purchase of a home. Therefore, we of the Labour Party are keen that more money should be made available to promote home ownership under the Housing Commission scheme.
In addition to that, we say that more money should be made available to the co-operative housing societies, which have done a first-class job. They have operated in my own electorate and I hope that I have been of use to them from time to time. However, the deposits on homes asked by those societies are much larger than the deposits asked by the Housing
Commission. Certainly the more you pay by way of deposit the quicker you pay the house off, and these co-operative housing societies have provided for a section of the people who can pay a reasonable deposit of from £800 to £1,000 or £1,200. Ample provision should therefore be made for funds for the co-operative housing societies, although not at the expense of the Housing Commission.
Many of the private banks have not played their part in this regard. When we examine details of the sums of money made available to the co-operative housing societies we find that the private banks suffer badly by comparison with the public banks. Only this morning I received the 23rd annual report of the Association of Cooperative Building Societies of New South Wales. On the centre page there is a summary of lending institutions. In New South Wales the number of societies assisted by the banks is 904 and between them they have borrowed just on £98,000,000. However, we find that of that sum £74,000,000 was supplied by the Commonwealth Trading Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank. The private banks are more concerned with the larger profits that they can obtain elsewhere and have grossly neglected the questions of home ownership and home building. They have left such matters to the Commonwealth Banks.
Members on the Government side of the House, who are for ever prating about the virtues of the private banking system should persuade the private banks to lend more money to the co-operative housing societies. Unfortunately, the societies had a very sad experience two or three years ago. When this agreement was promulgated in 1956, providing for money for the co-operative housing societies, the private banks cut down their loans to those societies because they said the societies were getting money from the Commonwealth Government. However, a hullabaloo was created in many quarters, and from this side of the House; and last year the co-operative housing societies received from the private banks the amount of money which they got before they received assistance under the present agreement. This shows that the private banks are more concerned with profits than with anything else. If the private banks were genuinely interested in the welfare of people who wanted homes of their own, the best thing they could do would be to make available much more money to the societies. It is ridiculous that the Commonwealth Savings Bank and the Commonwealth Trading Bank should make available £74,000,000 and the private banks only £24,000,000. However, figures speak louder than words and it is obvious that the co-operative housing societies have had no greater friend than the Commonwealth Bank.
There are a number of obstacles which preclude many very worthy people from owning homes of their own. Because the Labour Party wishes to see as many people as possible own their homes, we have given this matter very serious consideration in recent years. The Labour Party has come to certain conclusions. The reasons why many people who desire to buy their homes are unable to get them are as follows: First, deposits are beyond the reach of many wage-earners. The only deposit within their reach is that under the Housing Commission scheme. However, the Housing Commission’s finances are so limited that the number of houses it can make available is also limited and therefore very few people can take the opportunity to buy houses from that source. Secondly, the actual amounts available as loans for the purchase of dwellings are out of touch with current values, being too small to meet present-day costs and needs. In recent years the cost of building a house has gone up by leaps and bounds, while the amount of housing loans has remained the same. The Returned Sailors’. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, at its national conference about a fortnight ago, decided to ask the Commonwealth Government to provide an additional £5,000,000 for war service homes, because the league wanted the maximum loan increased from £2,750 to £3,500, owing to the increase in the cost of building homes. What the league knows is known to everybody. Until we see that larger loans are made available there will be a widening gap between the amount of the deposit that people have available and the maximum sum that they can borrow from a lending institution. Thirdly, we find that interest rates generally are too high. That is to be deplored. Every effort should be made to make special funds available for housing at low interest rates so that people can acquire homes as cheaply as is possible. Fourthly, when people buy homes from private sources and with money which has been advanced by private lending institutions, the repayment periods are far too short. The people are expected to pay £8 or £9 a week. They just cannot do it. Buying a home in this way cannot be compared with buying a home from a housing commission which requires a deposit of only £200 or £300 and repayments of from £3 to £5 a week. Can any one wonder that the housing commissions are being swamped by applications from people who know of these extraordinarily generous conditions under which they can obtain a home?
While the conditions that I have mentioned prevail, it is futile to expect that all would-be purchasers of homes will be satisfied. Members of the Opposition can talk about this matter until they are blue in the face, but Government supporters cannot understand that the housing problem is confined largely to the middle and lower income groups. The advertisements one sees in the daily press offering homes for sale at £5,000 or £6,000 do not attract the man who earns only £17 or £18 a week. He cannot afford to pay off such a home. The solution to the problem lies in the provision of homes, either by the Government or by any organization, at a deposit and at a weekly repayment rate that the men in the middle and lower income groups can afford. Any scheme that requires a deposit beyond the reasonable reach of the great majority of people in these groups is doomed to failure. If the Government wants to do a first-class job of providing homes for these people it must make a great deal more money available to the housing commissions which, in turn, will be able to sell homes for a deposit of £200 or £300 and at a weekly repayment rate of from £3 to £5. That is the only way in which these people can secure a home that they can call their own.
The maximum loan of £2,750 - or £2,500 in the case of some savings banks - on a home valued at £5,000 is completely unrealistic because the would-be purchaser cannot find the deposit. The Government should give very serious consideration to the suggestion that I have advanced - it originated, in the main, from the State Ministers for Housing who are members of all political parties - before deciding to reenact the present housing agreement. If the agreement is re-enacted in its present form, tens of thousands of good Australians will be doomed in the future to live in hovels and to pay exorbitant rents.
.- The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) who led the debate for the Opposition has stated that his party does not oppose this bill, but he was very critical of the Government’s housing policy. I have read very carefully his speech and that of the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) who followed him on the Opposition side. Although they both said a lot with which I can agree, I cannot agree that all of their criticisms were in accordance with the facts. It is obvious that the Opposition would like to see a larger proportion of the amount which has been allotted to housing this year - incidentally it is £1,120,000 more than it was last year - go to the various State housing commissions, and a smaller proportion to the building societies even though both honorable members to whom I have referred paid tribute to the work of the co-operative building societies.
I do not agree with their ideas, as it is a well-known fact that housing societies build more homes with a given amount of money than do housing commissions. This is largely because the members of the housing societies provide larger deposits than do purchasers of housing commission homes, and also because the housing societies lend for shorter periods than do housing commissions, with the result that the money which is returned by way of repayment is re-lent. This process does not apply to housing commission loans.
The various State Ministers for Housing agree with this statement, contrary to what the Labour Party may think. When the conference of State Ministers was held in Adelaide in May of this year five of the six Ministers approved the extension of the scheme in its present form - that is, providing 30 per cent, of the money to the housing societies-
– Who did not approve it?
– The New South Wales Minister. It was unanimously agreed at this meeting that co-operative housing societies, aided by the money provided by their depositors, have produced more homes than have State housing authorities for any stated amount of money. In Victoria, a comparison of returns submitted by the Housing Commission and the Registrar of Cooperative Housing Societies shows that cooperatives have produced seven homes for every four that have been produced by the commission for any stated amount of money.
Let me turn to some of the remarks that were made by the honorable member for Bass. He said -
I believe that every member of this House who represents a city electorate is aware of the extent to which evictions are taking place in the cities. Obviously circumstances in respect of housing have continued to deteriorate.
I took the trouble to contact the Crown Law Department in Melbourne to ascertain whether evictions were increasing, as one naturally would expect them to do when one takes into account the fact that over the past few years rent controls have been eased considerably in Victoria and early this year were lifted entirely. In addition, our population is increasing steadily. The figures that I obtained are very interesting. In Victoria for the year ended 31st December, 1958, there were 2,261 evictions. For the year ended 31st December, 1959, there were only 1,991 evictions, and for the nine months to 30th September this year there were 1,306 evictions, or a yearly average of 1,741. These figures do not indicate that the housing position, in Victoria at least, is deteriorating as was claimed by the honorable member for Bass.
My next criticism of the honorable member’s statement is in relation to the housing statistics which appear on page 2480 of “Hansard”, of 27th October, 1960. The honorable member is reported in this way -
I find myself in complete disagreement with the annual target set by the responsible Minister, the Minister for National Development, as far back as 1956. We on this side of the House have never maintained that the back-lag of homes in Australia totalled only 150,000- the figure set by the Minister in the report on the housing situation that he made in December, 1956. I have always held the opinion - I believe it is shared by the Opposition generally - that there was in the immediate post-war years a back-lag of at least 300,000 homes in this country.
All I can say about that is that the figures which were given by the Minister were prepared by officers of the Department of
National Development - the same officers who provided figures for the last Labour Government, and the same officers who, if they live long enough, will produce figures for the next Labour Government, if there ever is one. These figures are accepted by the housing societies and housing authorities. The honorable member for Bass cannot produce any authoritative figures to support his argument. He has stated only his personal opinion, or perhaps the opinion of members of his own party, which is not based on statistical records.
The honorable member stated also that the Minister’s 1956 report on which he based the annual target of home construction -
Let me read now from the official publication of the Federation of Co-operative Housing Societies of Victoria. In the 1959 summer issue of this journal the editorial states -
Whereas the back-lag in 19S6 was estimated at 1 15,000 homes, to-day it is stated as 50,000. The Department of National Development is the eventual source of both sets of figures, and we can assume that the same basis of calculation was used in each case and, therefore, the figures are relative. Likewise the figures are relative which the department quoted in 1956 in relation to the increased demand for housing from 1960 onwards due to the increase in young people attaining their twenty-first birthday ana thus approaching marriageable age. Very prudently the department made a close analysis of this increase and we quote the Minister for National Development speaking in 1957 at our Eleventh Annual Convention: - “ Tt is estimated that in .1 957, 120,747 people will turn 21 years of age; in 1960, 127,575 people will turn 21 years of age; in 1964, 141,670 people will turn 21 years of age, and in 1968, 206,890 people will turn 21 years of age.”
So, actually the figures quoted by the honorable member for Bass were provided by the Minister for National Development, and were those on which he based his target.
The honorable member for Bass also accused the Minister of not taking into consideration the slum replacement that is required in every State. He said that the Minister’s target of 77,000 houses a year makes no allowance for solving this con tinuing problem. But that is not borne out by a further report of the Minister’s speech to the eleventh annual conference of these societies. I will quote from the editorial published by the societies in their publication. It stated -
The need for new homes (leaving aside the shortage and the need for replacing sub-standard dwellings) is at present estimated to be 51,500 a year. The aforegoing figures indicate that this annual need will increase by: - 3,500 or 7 per cent. 3 years hence in 1960; 11,000 or 21 per cent. 7 years hence in 1964.
Projection of figures for later years shows an even more startling increase in the demand for homes. But I resist the temptation to be too dramatic. Much may happen in Australia in so many ways during the next decade. But I have said enough, I hope, to make it clear that there should be a sustained demand for houses.
Obviously, the Minister admitted the need for new houses to be 51,500 a year, and when he fixed the target at 77,000 he endeavoured to set a figure which he considered would go a long way towards breaking the back of the shortage in five or six years. The honorable member for Bass, in referring to the fact that the Government had increased the percentage of the total funds available to building societies to 30 per cent, of the total allocation, said that more money had not been available through building societies, and that the simple fact was that money that was normally made available to building societies through such institutions as banks and insurance companies was no longer available to them. 1 have here the agenda of the annual council of the co-operative building and housing societies, held at Wrest Point, Hobart, on 17th and 18th August this year. The State report for New South Wales says that “finance for the year ended 30/6/60 was an all-time high “. The Victorian report from the same agenda says -
Over the past twelve months Victoria has received its highest amount of money for Cooperative Housing Societies since the inception of the scheme.
The year of inception was 1945. The honorable member for Bass has quoted figures, which were also quoted by the honorable member for Batman to-night, for guaranteed building societies in New South Wales, in relation to their total borrowing to 30th June, 1960. The figures which he quoted are taken from the twenty-third annual report and balance-sheet of the Association of Co-operative Building Societies of New South Wales. The honorable member for Bass, in referring to the same figures as were used by the honorable member for Batman tonight, stated that £74,000,000 provided by the Commonwealth Trading Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank represented 76 per cent, of the total amount raised by building societies in New South Wales. He probably just made a slip of the tongue, because actually it represents 76 per cent, of the amount provided by all banks.
– I said it was 76 per cent, of the amount provided by all banks.
– Yes, but the honorable member for Bass said that it was 76 per cent, of the total amount raised by building societies in New South Wales. Actually it is less than 50 per cent, of the total borrowing of £159,000,000.
During the course of his speech the honorable member for Bass quoted figures which showed a fluctuation in the number of homes built by approved building societies in New South Wales. They showed that whereas in 1952-53, 8,667 homes were built, in 1957-58 only 3,399 homes were built, and in 1960 the figure returned to 6,000. I endeavoured to obtain figures for the other States so that I could see whether the same position obtained over the whole of Australia. The Department of National Development was able to provide me with figures for only Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. The Victorian figures show that there has not been a great deal of fluctuation over this period. In the same years for which figures are available the number of such houses built in New South Wales did fluctuate. No figures are available for the year ended 30th June last, but the 1959 figures for Victoria are the second highest on record, being only 28 homes less than the peak year 1957 and 75 more than the 1958 figures. From the statement that I received from the Department of National Development it appears that there were no building societies operating in Queensland until 1957. From 1957 the Queensland figures showed a steady increase over the years, the increases being as follows:- 1957, 22; 1958, 145; 1959, 598; 1960, 693. The important thing is that the total 1959 figures were 1,049 greater than those for the previous year and, in the two States for which figures are available for 1960, there was an increase of 1,595 over the previous year.
I cannot agree with .the contention of the honorable member for Bass that “ the very fact that under the amended legislation of 1958 the Government has made more money available to building societies has resulted in less money being available to building societies now than was available before the legislation was amended “. I will agree that there is not enough cheap money available to home builders, and I intend to develop that theme a little later. However, as it is admitted that housing societies can build more homes with a given amount of money than can housing commissions, I am all for the continuation of the 30 per cent, of the total allocation to them.
The honorable member for Bass, in paying a tribute to the approved building societies, says that under the terms laid down by the Government a young man seeking to borrow money finds it almost impossible to provide the amount of security required, and is forced to turn to State housing authorities for assistance. That is not borne out by the facts. As a matter of fact, the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) who followed him later in the debate on the bill said, as reported at page 2488 of “Hansard”-
I support the honorable member for Bass when I say that we on this side of the House have no quarrel with co-operative building societies. In fact, we support them 100 per cent. Recently, I was instrumental in starting a new housing cooperative in my own electorate. If any honorable member had been at the initial meeting, he would have seen that we filled the No. 1 society with no difficulty and from the people who were present that night we could have filled four more societies. That would have indicated to any honorable member who was present just how pressing the need is and how desperate people are to get homes, particularly if they can get them by obtaining finance on easy terms.
That does not indicate to me that young men are finding it almost impossible to provide the security required by these housing societies. In Victoria alone there are 518 co-operative housing societies and during the last year 36 additional societies were registered. Up to 30th June, 1960, these co-operative societies in Victoria had built more than 34,000 homes and at that date they had 4,698 homes in the course of erection. The Labour Party claims that the number of homes available to people in the lower income group has declined substantially. 1 can find no figures that would substantiate this claim, although it is true that the various State housing commissions will finance sales on much lower deposits than do the housing societies. In September of this year the Department of National Development issued a list of Australian home finance institutions together with their lending terms and conditions. This shows that co-operative societies are lending up to 80 per cent, of the valuation of the house and the land, and in some cases up to 95 per cent, of the total purchase price in the case of State government indemnities. The only quarrel that I have with this arrangement is that the maximum amount fixed for these 95 per cent, indemnities - £3,025 in New South Wales and £2,850 in Victoriais out of touch with present-day costs. The number of persons able to avail themselves of this 95 per cent, advance is not great. Every one knows that it is almost impossible to build a home to-day for less than £3,000 to £3,500 apart from the cost of the land. I think the State governments should have another look at the limits they have set and see whether it is possible to increase this amount to bring advances into line with present-day costs.
Another scheme which might be examined and which I believe to be working satisfactorily at present in the United States of America is a plan under which the life insurance companies are indemnifying building societies on advances up to as much as 100 per cent. If the life companies of the United States can do this, why cannot our own companies do it? I feel that such a plan would not only provide an avenue for greater business for the companies but also help to overcome a human problem.
No co-operative society would be prepared to finance any borrower to a greater extent than his ability to pay, and the co-operative societies in Victoria have an ability-to-pay test under which the amount of weekly repayments - together with 10s. allowed to cover the cost of rates, taxes and insurance and also an amount of 3s. 6d. in £100 which builders may have to pay for sewerage or road building - do not exceed more than 25 per cent, of the borrower’s income. This means that the borrower must have an income of approximately £19 a week to obtain a loan of £3,000. Actually, the co-operative societies are entitled to lend up to £3,300 where the block of land is on a main road.
The honorable member for Bass said that the only way to overcome the big lag in housing was to make more money available to State housing instrumentalities which are in a position to make houses available to people who are not able to provide the deposits required by the building societies. Personally, I believe the Government would be better advised to encourage State governments or insurance companies to foster the scheme of indemnity guarantees and allow State housing commissions to revert to the purpose for which they were created - slum clearance. The honorable member for Batman said the purpose of the housing commissions was to provide accommodation for the lower income groups. In 1954, the Brotherhood of St. Laurence issued a booklet entitled “ What’s Wrong with Victoria’s Housing Programme “. These statements are published in the foreword to the booklet -
The Housing Commission was formed only after intense public agitation on the question of slums. It was realized that families living in sub-standard housing were unable to re-house themselves. In their interest and in the interests of public welfare, the State, through the Housing Commission, set out to re-house slum dwellers.
During the war years home building ceased and as soon as the war ended the Government diverted the Housing Commission from slum reclamation to the task of meeting the overwhelming general demand for houses.
Whether this was correct or not is now unimportant. What is important is that this diversion to general home building has caused the Government to lose sight of the fact that Government housing policy should be based on needs - that is to say it should aim to help those whose claim for help is greatest.
I agree with those sentiments and would like to see State housing commissions get on with the job for which they were formed and leave the problem of home construction to private enterprise. That does not mean that I am satisfied that private enterprise is doing all it could to provide necessary finance. It disturbs me greatly to know that a number of large finance companies are charging 8 per cent, flat as the rate of interest on first mortgage and even then will lend money for only short terms. I suppose that I cannot be too critical of these finance companies because they can argue that they do not seek that type of business and are not interested in long-term lending; but unfortunately nobody, including the banks, seems to be interested in long-term lending. It seems ridiculous to ask for 8 per cent, interest on first mortgage.
Some authorities are doing a fine job on housing finance, and although the State Savings Bank of Victoria has curtailed housing finance, its report for 1960 shows that in the past ten years, housing loans granted have risen from £2,600,000 in 1951 to £18,400,000 in I960. There was a drop during the years between 1956 and 1958 from £14,300,000 to £8,200,000 but in 1959 the total was £13,600,000 and the advances in 1960 totalling £18.400,000 were a record.
One aspect of housing which is overlooked when one considers the number of homes constructed in each financial year is the increasing proportion of flats being built. In 1951, flats accounted for only 2i per cent, of dwelling units constructed. This figure rose to 4i per cent, by 1957 and to 1 per cent, in 1959. In actual numbers of units to the nearest hundred, in 1952 there were 2,205 flats completed. This figure rose to 6,438 in 1959, and during the past financial year, a total of 91,300 new dwellings were commenced - an alltime high.
It is also interesting to note that 70 per cent, of families in Australia either own or are purchasing their own homes. This is the highest home-ownership rate in the world. It is 10 per cent, higher than the figure in the United States of America. The Governor of Victoria, Sir Dallas Brooks, in opening the twelfth annual meeting of the Federation of Co-operative Housing Societies of Victoria, stated that building standards in Australia were the highest in the world. These facts are often forgotten when we tend to become despondent about our housing problems.
Two housing organizations have recently come into the field of home finance. In 1958, the Netherlands Government negotiated a loan of £1.335,000 through the United States Development Loan Fund and this figure was matched by the Australian banks. This enabled the formation of 33
Dutch building societies, which are now operating in five States of Australia. Until June of this year, these societies had a joint capital of £4,000,000. One 9th June last, a further £2,500,000 was provided by the Netherlands Government and Australian banks, and the 33 societies are financing the construction of 1,450 homes. 1 understand that the Italian Government has since interested itself in the provision of homes for Italian immigrants to Australia and has provided finance for at least one housing society. 1 was able to obtain from the Parliamentary Library a book, by M. R. Hill, entitled “ Housing Finance in Australia 1945-1956 “. An analysis of one of the tables in the book proved very interesting. The particular table to which I refer deals with housing advances made by various institutions, and it shows the amounts provided by these institutions year by year from 1945 until 1956. I have taken out two sets of figures for the years 1949 and 1956, as these cover the last year prior to this Government coming into office, and the last year for which Mr. Hill published his figures. Unfortunately, he was unable to provide me with the figures for the years from 1956 to 1960. However, the two sets of figures do show an interesting trend in the movement of finance. I quote them only because when the Minister for National Development opened the 1958 conference of the Federation of Co-operative Housing Societies of Victoria he said that the decline then in house building was due primarily to the way in which finance had been moving. The comparative figures for 1949 and 1956 of the total amount provided for home finance are clearly presented in the following table: -
I think the most interesting figures are those relating to the major trading banks which fell from 30 per cent, in 1949 to 14 per cent, in 1956, and, as I have said, the figures extend only to 1956. I have obtained from the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics the January, 1960, “Monthly Bulletin of Australian Banking Statistics “. This gives details of bank advances as at December, 1959. An analysis shows that whereas, at the end of December, 1949, the banks had £73,702,000 invested in home building, or 16.9 per cent, of their total advances of over £450,000,000, at the end of December, they had £117,260,000 invested in home finance, or 12.5 per cent, of their total advances of approximately £940,000,000. 1 do not place all of the blame on the banks for this trend as the banks are not getting all of the money that they should from the lending public because there are too many more attractive avenues for investment available to the public and banks are permitted to lend only a certain percentage of their total deposits. If they are not getting the deposits that they should, they cannot provide all of the money that they would like to provide for housing. I have said many times in this House that there is far too great a margin between the rates of interest offered to the public by finance companies and that which the banks are permitted to offer to lenders. If the Government took steps to close this gap, I am sure that more cheap money would be available for housing. I support the bill. I compliment the Government on the improvement it has achieved in the rate of home building over the past two years but I urge it to take such action as will divert more investment money to the various savings banks and also to look into the proposition of insurance indemnities to the co-operative housing societies.
.- This bill provides money for the State governments for the final year of the 1956 housing agreement. According to an answer which the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) gave me yesterday, as recorded in “ Hansard “ at page 2606, there were, at 30th June last, 70,000 people waiting for housing commission and trust houses in Australia. According to an answer which the Minister gave me some little time before, last financial year 9,353 houses were provided by the housing commissions and trust in Australia compared with 9,430 in the year before. At the end of the last financial year, 70,000 people were waiting for housing commission accommodation. At this rate, it is quite obvious that it would take eight years to accommodate the present waiting applicants if no more were to apply and if allocations under the housing agreement or to the States were to be maintained at the present figure. Therefore, in view of the figures which the Minister himself has given, it is obvious that none of us can be quiet in our consciences concerning the operation of the housing arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States.
The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) has made valiant efforts to secure statistics on this subject. I hope that if another agreement is made between the Commonwealth and the States there will be provision for an annual report to be made to this Parliament on the housing position under that agreement and that cumulative and comparative statistics will be provided. The only way in which honorable members can secure those statistics is by seeking out the annual reports of the State housing commissions and trusts. They are, in general, more behind the times than are this Parliament’s annual reports. The only other way in which we can get the information is to put questions on the notice-paper to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development and it has taken me some ten weeks to secure the reply which I received yesterday on this point.
I mentioned that this is the last appropriation under the 1956 housing agreement. There is no certainty that there will be any agreement to replace it. In April, the housing ministers of the six States - one Australian Country Party, two Australian Labour Party and three Liberal Party - gathered and asked that they should receive, as early as possible, a draft of the new agreement. They also asked that, under the new agreement, there should be no increase in the 30 per cent, diversion of housing funds to co-operative building societies. A period of six and a half months has now elapsed and the housing Ministers of the States still have not received the draft of any housing agreement to replace the one which will expire at the end of next June.
It is pretty plain that the Government itself has not made a decision on this matter. Leaving the matter long in abeyance is not the way to go about securing co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. We do not want a repetition of the position which arose in 1956, when, just before the end of the 1945 agreement, the States were given the option of taking a proposal or leaving it. The proposal was called an agreement; it was nothing of the sort. The States were told, “You will get grants on these conditions or not at all “. Let us hope that the Minister does not delay much longer in making his proposals. If he does, the housing commissions, which depend wholly on Commonwealth funds, and the co-operative societies which are depending increasingly on Commonwealth funds, will be unable to secure that continuity of planning which is necessary for economic housing development.
While I mention the forthcoming agreement, might I hope that the Minister will also, at last, give a favorable decision to the unanimous request of the Premiers at the April conference and previous conferences that the 1945 housing agreement houses should be made available for sale on as favorable conditions as have the houses under the 1956 agreement? More houses have been sold under the 1956 agreement in these last four years than have been sold under the 1945 agreement - 18,000 under the more recent agreement and 15,000 under the earlier agreement. The reason for the disparity is not that the tenants or occupants of the 1945 housing agreement houses are not as eager to buy the houses as the occupants and tenants of the 1956 housing agreement houses, but that the earlier ones cannot afford it. They have to find too large a deposit before they can purchase the houses.
The honorable member for Henty referred, as did the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who commenced the debate on behalf of the Opposition, to the publication “ Housing Situation “, which was released by the Minister for National Development four years ago. It was estimated in that publication that if a certain housing production was achieved, then the housing lag would be overcome in Australia within five years - that is, within twelve months from now. It is true that that rate has been achieved this year, and if it is maintained the back-log which the Minister estimated four years ago will have been overcome at the end of the five-year period with which he dealt. - Mr. Thompson. - Does that allow for immigration, too?
– The estimate has not been completely borne out with respect to immigration. It was only an estimate there. It is surprising that the Minister or his department have not produced a subsequent report, or regular reports and estimates of the housing need. Similarly, the publication made no estimate of the need to replace over-age and sub-standard dwellings. It forecast that, at the end of this five-year period, there would be a terrific spurt in the housing need in Australia. In 1957, for instance, there were 121,000 persons who turned 21 years of age in Australia. It is estimated that in 1964 there will be 142,000 persons reaching the age of 21, and that in 1968 the number of persons turning 21 will be 200,000. It is quite clear that in the course of the decade upon which we are now embarked the number of persons who will be marrying in Australia in the course of a year will pretty well double. It is quite obvious that there will be a continuing need for housing to accommodate newly formed families.
In addition to this, there is an increasing need to replace over-age and sub-standard housing, and this is one of the functions of the housing commissions. These commissions perform two functions which no other instrumentalities in this country perform. The first is the provision of accommodation for people who cannot find a large deposit to purchase a house. There is very little housing being built by private persons for letting purposes, other than luxury or holiday letting.
– Chevron houses.
– Or, to take the example of the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, Wrest Point houses.
– The same thing.
– Much the same. Then there is the second function of the housing commissions. No authorities other than these commissions have replaced substandard or over-age housing. If we do not provide sufficient funds, by way of Commonwealth grants to the States, we will find that people will, in increasing numbers, be priced out of housing if they are of modest means or have many dependants, and overage housing will never be replaced. The honorable member for Henty very properly referred to the fact that the housing commissions should provide housing for people of modest means. In fact, they do so. The State Housing Commission of Western Australia acknowledged this fact in its annual report for 1958-59, when it said -
The Commission’s principal responsibility was the provision of low cost housing for persons of low and moderate means.
The Tasmanian Director of Housing said in his annual report for the year ended 30th June, 1959-
No one could be in more accord than I that much more loan monies should be available to assist private building, particularly assistance through co-operative building societies, but the fact is that private enterprise is not prepared to invest in house construction te rental or for sale on relatively low deposits. There is a substantial number of home-seekers with ability to provide a cash deposit to obtain an equity in a building if sources of finance were available to a greater extent; but there is also a proportion of the population in urgent need of housing and who, for various reasons, are unable to provide a deposit sufficient to finance the erection or purchase of a home.
The report of the Housing Commission of New South Wales of 30th June, 1959, makes a more detailed analysis of the financial situation of applicants. It is typical of the admittedly briefer analyses made by all the other housing commissions and the housing trust in recent years. The report stated -
Today, approximately 12 per cent, (of applicants) are ex-servicemen, 88 per cent, having been either too young or too old for war service. Approximately 67 per cent, are unskilled or semiskilled tradesmen and many others are in employment where they have little hope of securing an income much in excess of that at present received. Not less than 15 per cent, are aged or invalid pensioners or only part-time employed and receive incomes of under £12 per week, nearly 8 per cent, earn between £12 and £14 per week and 55 per cent, between £15 and £19 per week.
I make the interpolation that these figures show that not less than four-fifths or three-quarters of the applicants are in receipt of less than the average income, and, of course, applicants must have family responsibilities before they can succeed in obtaining housing. The report went on -
Approximately 87 per cent, are Australian born, 8 per cent. British migrants and 5 per cent, foreign migrants. It would seem that the great bulk of families applying to the Commission have little prospect of obtaining adequate housing unless assisted by the Housing Commission or some other instrumentality or organization in a position to make accommodation available at a rental or purchase price they can afford. The increase in outstanding applications over the year is due no doubt to the reduction in the Commission’s construction programme during recent years, the fact that because of inadequate family income applicants cannot obtain assistance elsewhere and apparently because other factors, particularly increasing land costs, are placing greater difficulties in the way of families with young children arranging the erection of their own homes.
Later in its report the commission said -
Examination of the applications for housing lodged with the Commission shows that the great proportion of applicants, because of low incomes and/or age, physical incapacity and other factors, have little hope of obtaining improved accommodation unless it be through the Commission or a similar organization in a position to make dwellings available on low deposit and easy instalments or at low rentals.
Now I deal with the conditions upon which applicants may purchase homes from the housing commissions. In New South Wales and Western Australia they can do so after making deposits of £50. In Victoria the deposit is £100, in South Australia £200, in Queensland £250, while in Tasmania no deposit at all is required.
– There is a Labour Government in Tasmania.
– That is so. In the two States in which either no deposit or the smallest of deposits is required there are Labour governments. In Western Australia, the other State in which a deposit of only £50 is required, there was a Labour government at the time when the arrangement was made under which houses could be bought on that small deposit. The interest rate is 4i per cent, in Victoria and Tasmania, 4* per cent, in New South Wales, 5 per cent, in South Australia and 5i per cent, in Western Australia and Queensland. The repayment period is 40 years in South Australia. 53 yeaTs in Tasmania and 45 years in the other States.
It is quite plain that apart from the War Service Homes Division one cannot secure accommodation at such low interest rates or over so long a period. Further, not even from the War Service Homes Division can one secure accommodation on such small deposits. It is obvious that a very large segment of our population can hope to rent or purchase premises only through the housing commissions and the housing trust, which the Commonwealth finances.
How are we meeting the need? I pointed out that 9,353 houses were made available last year, and that at the end of the year 70,000 people were waiting for housing commission or trust accommodation. The advances to the States for the purposes of the housing commissions and trust this year will be less than they were in 1951-52. In years subsequent to that year the amount of advances rose, but this year we will see the smallest amount, with the exception of that of last year, made available to the States for the erection of housing commission or trust houses since 1951-52. In all categories the numbers of houses erected last year by the housing commissions and trust were smaller than in the previous year, and the proportion of houses erected by the commissions and trusts showed an even steeper decline.
Last year 10,000 more houses and flats were erected in Australia as a whole, but the number of houses which were completed under the agreement by the housing commissions and trust fell from 9,430 to 9,353. The number commenced showed an even greater decline from 9,966 to 9,181. The position in each year was comparable. Of the funds made available under the Loan (Housing) Act of last year and that of the year before, 70 per cent, went to the housing commissions and trusts. The amount of money made available was practically the same. The number of houses erected and commenced fell significantly in total, and fell much more in proportion to the total housing activity in Australia.
– Would the increase in wages have had anything to do with it?
– Yes, and so would the increase in the cost of acquiring land and the increase in the cost of materials. The honorable member is quite correct.
The experience of every State housing commission and trust, the experience of the Commonwealth’s own War Service Homes Division, and the experience of the Commonwealth in its own Territories, where it carries out directly itself the construction of houses, is that wages have risen, the cost of materials has risen and, above all, the cost of land has risen. Inevitably, if you make available only the same number of pounds, you will get fewer houses. Accordingly, the two kinds of housing which this source of funds and no other source provides - housing for those on modest incomes and replacement housing - are becoming less and less available and therefore more and more difficult to obtain.
I now come to the second feature of the housing agreement funds - diversions to building societies. Here, I quote the New South Wales figures, because they are the only complete figures made available by building societies over the years. New South Wales was the first State in which cooperative building societies were founded, and it is the only State for which one can obtain cumulative and comparative figures with respect to construction and funds. In New South Wales in 1959-60, 6,000 houses were built or purchased by building societies. In 1953-54 and in previous years before building societies received Commonwealth assistance, there were always more houses than that constructed by building societies. In 1950-51, for instance, half as many again as were built last financial year were built in New South Wales by the building societies.
These societies are depending more and more on the Commonwealth’s grants for their funds. Last financial year was the first year in which the co-operative building societies in New South Wales had at their disposal more funds than they had before this Government came into office. Before this Government took office, they were receiving £12,015,000 a year from private sources, mainly the banks and the insurance companies. Before the present Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement came into force, the amount available to the building societies had dropped to about £6,627,000. The amount gradually rose as the 1956 agreement benefited the societies, and last financial year they received £13,545,000. But the amount which they received in 1959-60 from private sources was still only about two-thirds as much in terms of pounds - that is the nominal value, not the actual value - as was received from private sources before this Government came into office. As I have already said, in 1949-50, the building Societies in New South Wales received £12,015,000 from private sources.
– Under which government?
– The Chifley Government and the McGirr Government. Last financial year, the building societies received £8,085,000 from private sources. So the co-operative building societies are coming to depend more and more on government sources for their funds. They are spending government money instead of money provided out of bank deposits. In fact, if it were not for the government banks, the building societies would be receiving still less. At 30th June, 1960, the building societies in New South Wales had £98,000,000 on loan from the banks. Of this amount, £27,800,000 came from the Commonwealth Trading Bank and £46,200,000 from the Commonwealth Savings Bank. So 76 per cent, of the money which the building societies had borrowed from the banks came from the two Commonwealth banks. The Bank of New South Wales provided about £8,900,000 and the rest of the banks provided a negligible amount.
The claim is often made that if you divert money from the housing commissions to the co-operative building society movement you will obtain more houses, but that is not in fact the case. You will obtain more expensive houses, but you will not obtain more houses. Honorable members know that last financial year and the year before, 70 per cent, of the amount made available under the housing agreement in New South Wales was spent on housing commission houses and 30 per cent, on co-operative building society houses. But of the houses which were built by the two kinds of institutions which receive money under the agreement - the Housing Commission and the co-operative building societies - 74 per cent, were built by the commission and 26 per cent, by the building societies. We get better value, in the sense that we have less overhead, and we get more houses from the housing commissions than we get from the building societies. 1 am not to be understood to be criticizing the building societies in any way. They play a very valuable and necessary part in housing the community, but they house people who are better able to house themselves than are those people who are housed by the housing commissions. And the cooperative building societies are now spending government funds, because this Government - the Commonwealth Government - which has power under the Australian Constitution to guide the investment policies of insurance companies and banks, has allowed those organizations to divert their funds to other forms of more profitable investment. So, because the investment policy of those institutions has gone astray, with this Government’s acquiescence or encouragement, the Government has had to divert public funds - moneys raised by taxes - to cooperative building societies and away from housing commissions.
I come now to the third feature of the current Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which will expire next June; that is service housing. There is no need for the Commonwealth to provide money to enable the State housing commissions to provide service housing. The fact that the Commonwealth does so is an endorsement of the efficiency of the housing commissions of the States. If the Commonwealth did not think that the housing commissions were able to erect economically buildings of satisfactory standard it would not give them the funds to build houses for married members of the forces. In the first year of the current housing agreement, the money provided for service dwellings represented 3.7 per cent, of the total amount. In the current financial year, it will represent only 2.7 per cent, of the total. This is despite the fact that last financial year the number of servicemen seeking married quarters exceeded the number to whom married quarters were allocated. In the face of that deficiency, the allocation for service dwellings this financial year is smaller than that made last financial year.
In dealing with this matter, Sir, I quote figures which I received in answers to questions directed to the three service Ministers which I had put on notice. These figures are illuminating. Last financial year, 1,425
Army personnel were allotted married quarters. At the end of the financial year, 1,903 were still waiting. In respect of the Navy, the figures were 757 and 722, and in respect of the Air Force, they were 998 and 1,509. It is quite clear that with respect to a field in which the Commonwealth decides under this agreement how many houses will be built for people who are the Commonwealth’s responsibility, and the responsibility of nobody else, this Government is falling down on the job.
I would hope that not much longer will pass before the Government will announce its plans for continuing Commonwealth assistance for housing. The Commonwealth should accept in this country the same function as the United States Federal Government accepts in that country. It is significant that the policies of both retiring VicePresident Nixon and President-elect Kennedy advocated a continuance and an enlargement of federal responsibility for housing in the United States. We should accept it in Australia as well. The means are at our hand. In 1945, 1955 and 1956, the Commonwealth made what were called agreements with the States - to be more accurate, in 1956 it made grants to the States - for the purposes of housing. Under those grants, the only present means of housing people of modest means are provided. Under those grants, the only means hitherto provided in this country for replacing overage and sub-standard housing have been provided. The need for housing people of modest means and of replacing sub-standard housing has not diminished; it is increasing. The Australian Federal Government should accept the same responsibility as the United States Federal Government has accepted and will now increasingly accept.
.- The House has listened to a long and tiring recital of figures by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam), designed no doubt to further a very old ambition of the Australian Labour Party to drive the Commonwealth Government to the point of desperation where unification may be possible. He made this long speech on a bill which is simplicity itself. The bill authorizes the Treasurer to borrow £37,200,000 to be applied for the purposes of makins advances to the States in accordance with what is shortly known as the
Housing Agreement of 1956. In the course of his speech, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made certain statements with which I would like to deal now.
– I think he was only joking.
– It is an ill form of wit to joke about a serious matter such as housing. Housing is admittedly a very great problem in Australia to-day and has been for a number of years. There is nothing new about it. If I heard him correctly, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the number of houses commenced and finished fell last year. I can only assume that he has taken some figures which are not accurate, or which do not tell the true position or the full position. One would naturally expect to obtain authentic information from the “Treasury Information Bulletin”. The issue for October, 1960. which has just come to hand, states -
The number of new houses and flats commenced in the June quarter was 19.1 per cent, greater than the number commenced in the corresponding quarter of 1959.
That statement deals only with the position in the June quarter. Later in the bulletin, the following statement appears: -
During 1959-60 the number of new houses and flats commenced was 91,344 compared with 81,687 during 1958-59.
So, not only was the number commenced in the June quarter an increase but the number commenced for the whole year also was an increase. The bulletin also states -
In the three months to August, 1960, 29,397 new houses and flats for private and government ownership were approved by governmental authorities, an increase of 19.8 per cent, over the corresponding period of 1959.
The honorable gentleman would imply by his passing comment that our housing position is becoming worse, but the facts published in this “Treasury Information Bulletin “ show that the contrary is the true position.
Opposition members make the point that the Commonwealth has a responsibility for housing and that it is responsible for supplying the money not only for housing but also for many other activities. We are becoming rather tired of this parrot cry in and out of the House about the responsibility of the Commonwealth to the States for practically everything. In this instance, let us learn first what the Commonwealth responsibility for housing really is and let us consider the words of a responsible Minister as recorded in “ Hansard “. Not long after the war, this Minister said -
They are very true words and words with which, I am sure, Opposition members will agree. The honorable gentleman went on to say -
In this matter of housing the Commonwealth Government recognizes that it, as well as State governments, must play a part. But the Commonwealth Government is limited by the Australian Constitution. In peace-time the States exercise all powers over the physical side of housing, except in Commonwealth territories and for the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel and employees of the Commonwealth Government.
So that there will be no mistake, I repeat that the honorable gentleman said that in peace-time the States exercise all powers over the physical side of housing, except for matters which are directly the responsibility of the Commonwealth.
– Who said that?
– I know this is most interesting and I shall tell you who said it, but first I would like you to appreciate what was said without knowing who was the speaker. He continued -
The Commonwealth has no constitutional power in peace-time to control the production, allocation and distribution of materials.
– I learnt that at school.
– That is quite right. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith knows that because he learnt it at school. I am pleased that he learnt something at school. The honorable gentleman from whose speech I am reading continued -
It has no power to decide who shall first have a house. Therefore, it cannot provide directly that those in greatest need shall be the first accommodated. It has no power to enforce the correct placing of houses within towns-
The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith will know that, also - nor of towns within the Commonwealth, since it has no control over regional and town planning.
These remarks are taken from a secondreading speech of a former honorable member for Corio, Mr. Dedman, who was a Minister in the previous Labour Government. Here is a member of the Australian Labour Party defining the position of the Commonwealth with regard to housing, and correctly defining it. He said that the Commonwealth has no responsibility for housing and the Constitution provides that it has no responsibility for housing. He went on to say -
Despite the restrictions which I have mentioned, the Commonwealth can give considerable assistance and perform effective work. The Commonwealth, by the offer of financial assistance, can encourage the States to undertake certain activities.
– When was that said?
– It was said in 1945 when the first Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was entered into. The agreement was effected because the Commonwealth Government at that time realized that the States needed assistance in their housing problems. That was a gratuitous help to the States. We all know that during the war years the restriction of the supplies of building materials caused a serious deterioration of the housing position and created a great problem. In those days, a socialist Commonwealth Government said, “We will try to help the States out”. I have no quarrel with that, because it was the reasonable and sensible thing to do in the situation that existed then. I remind the House that the very first words in that provision were, “ Housing for Service personnel”. It also referred to migrants. It was recognized then that extra problems do occur as a result of war and that the Commonwealth should help the States to solve them. We in the country have an old saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth “. For the benefit of the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin), who would not understand that, let me explain what it means. One judges the value of a horse by his age, and his age by his teeth. Should the States look a gift horse in the mouth toy criticizing the amount of money the Commonwealth provides to help them meet their housing needs? Members of the Opposition rise every time this agreement is before the House and criticize the Commonwealth Government, saying, “ You do not give the States enough of this money. Give them more.” Like Oliver Twist, they ask for more.
What has this Government done in connexion with housing over the years? What is its record? If the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, who is interjecting, will keep quiet, I shall explain it to him. But I do not suppose he can keep quiet. This Government’s record covers more than the amount of money it has given the States by way of grants to meet their housing needs; it also covers the provision which was made through the private savings banks. I remind honorable members that when the private savings banks were registered a few years ago it was provided that a certain proportion of their money should be devoted to housing. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) tried to make out a short while ago that the Commonwealth Savings Bank and the Commonwealth Trading Bank supplied the bulk of the money made available by banks for housing. He knew full well when he made that statement that it was a misleading statement. He knew full well that it is only in the last few years that the other trading banks have opened savings bank sections and therefore they could not come into the field of loans for housing until that time. Again my colleague, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), can tell honorable members that over the last few years some £7,750,000 has been made available by the Commonwealth Government by way of subsidy, first at the rate of £1 for every £1 raised by the organization concerned, and later on the basis of £2 for £1, for the building of homes for the aged.
– Not enough.
– Possibly it is not enough, but I remind the honorable member that the Labour Government never thought of giving anything at all towards the provision of homes for the aged. For a start, we have two facts. The first is that the savings banks have been encouraged to lend money for housing and the second is that the Com monwealth has provided finance to assist in the establishment of homes for the aged.
Then we have the war service homes, which have been carefully overlooked by the Opposition during this debate. This Government had the record at one stage - I am not sure of the year, but I think it was either 1949-50 or 1951-52- of having provided more money for war service homes than had been provided during the whole of the rest of the period for which the scheme had been in operation. That was a very fine record indeed. As I look down the list of amounts provided each year by this Government for war service homes I see such sums as £20,000,000, £22,000,000, £26,000,000, £30,000,000, £35,000,000, and £36,000,000. I find that the total amount provided by this Government during its lifetime for war service homes, including the amount set aside for this year, is £338,000,000. When we add to that the sum of £358,000,000 made available to the States by way of grants under the agreement we are discussing to-night, we have a total of almost £700,000,000 provided by this Government during its lifetime for the housing of the people, for the honouring of a responsibility which does not rest with the Commonwealth at all. This Government has made that money available purely for the purpose of trying to assist the States to meet a problem which it realizes is very great. In those circumstances, it ill becomes members of the Opposition to criticize the Government for the work it has been doing and for the amount it has made available.
To-night we propose voting a further sum of £37,200,000 to carry on this good work, a work which is no responsibility of ours, but which we have faithfully carried out over the years. I ask the House: Has this money which has been lent to the States to meet the housing situation of the people been spent wisely and justifiably? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says that the States should report annually on how they have disposed of the money. I think it might be a very good idea to have some such report. I say that because it is provided that at least 30 per cent, of the money shall be devoted to building societies and I recall that when this requirement was first introduced into the 1946 bill it was strenuously objected to by honorable members opposite. Despite the eulogistic remarks passed by them about building societies to-night, they objected to money being set aside for the use of building societies. They wanted all the money handed over to the State housing commissions.
– That is not right.
– Then I should like to know what is right. I have a distinct recollection of being in the House when that objection was raised. I recollect honorable members opposite saying, “ We want all the available money handed over to the State housing commissions. If you want to give something to the building societies, give them something additional to what is provided for in the agreement.” They knew only too well when they said that that the only money that would be available would be that provided under the agreement. In the light of those circumstances, it is sheer humbug for them to suggest now that they are all for the building societies. They opposed it most strenuously when the Government proposed making money available to these societies. Even to-night the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that you get better value from housing commissions than from building societies because there is less overhead cost in the housing commission homes.
– That is true.
– It is not true by any measurement at all. Honorable members know full well that, because of all the foolery they have to put up with from the housing commissions, building contractors load the tender prices for their jobs. They load them also because of the many inspections and so on which go to make work costly. You get better values always from the home builder than you do from the housing commissions, and that has always been so. When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made his statement, he submitted no evidence to support it, and honorable members know in their own hearts that what he said was not correct.
There is another reason why I should like to see an annual report on how the State housing commissions work. The New South Wales Housing Commission has been held up as an example of one authority which has dealt with the housing problem correctly, yet in that State we find a most peculiar set of circumstances existing. Mr. C. B. Cutler - a member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, the leader of the Country Party there and a very knowledgeable gentleman - when quoting from the latest report of the New South Wales Housing Commission, said that the number of houses being built in the country areas was only one-quarter of that being built in Sydney. He went on to say that the report to which he referred stated that at 30th June last 1,708 houses were under construction in Sydney alone and that in all the country areas of the State only 448 were under construction. He said that in the whole of the Monaro and South Coast regions - I do not know whether the Labour representative of those areas is present in the House - only fourteen houses were under construction. This is the statement of Mr. C. B. Cutler, a member of the New South Wales Parliament.
– He does not know what he is talking about.
- Mr. Cutler happened to be quoting from the report of the New South Wales Housing Commission, issued by the New South Wales Government. I think it would bc a very fair thing indeed if we had an annual report on the activities of the States in respect of housing. The new agreement which comes up for consideration next year should contain some condition similar to that imposed under the Federal Aid Roads Agreement. That is another grant by the Commonwealth Government to the States to help them out of their difficulties. It became necessary to include in that agreement a condition that at least 40 per cent, of the money made available should be devoted to roads, other than main roads, in country areas. It is about time that a similar condition was applied to the money made available by the Commonwealth to the States for housing. It is about time, too, that people in country districts got some benefit from the money made available by the Commonwealth Government for housing.
I have no intention of quoting a lot of figures to-night, although some other honorable members may wish to do so. I think we all know that the responsibility for housing is not a Commonwealth responsibility. The Commonwealth has acted, in the matter of housing, in a manner which it considers befits its positron, by assisting the States in their housing problems to the tune of some £700,000,000 in various ways during the life of this Government. I believe that our record in this regard is excellent and does not merit any criticism at all. I suggest that, without further ado, we pass this bill so that the States can get the £37,200,000 which is to be advanced to them in order that they may carry on what is undoubtedly a very worthy project - the housing of the people of Australia.
.- I was interested to hear the attempts of the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) to establish that there is no housing problem in Australia.
– I never said that for one minute. I admitted that there was a housing problem.
– I think the honorable member has been endeavouring to discredit statements by members of the Opposition, who have attempted to direct some attention to the urgent situation which at present prevails in the matter of housing. Unfortunately, the honorable member has not been reasonable and he has not been fair in his statements. I have ascertained from the report of the Housing Commission of New South Wales that there has been fair and reasonable consideration extended to the country areas of New South Wales. I do not know whether the honorable member ever looks at any of those reports, but if he looks at the report of the Housing Commission of New South Wales for the year ended 30th June, 1959, he will find that 23 per cent, of the completed houses made available were in country areas.
There were other inaccuracies in the honorable member’s speech and I will refer to some of them. There is indeed a housing problem prevailing and thousands of people throughout Australia are living in sub-standard dwellings. That is the fact of the situation. If we go to the outlying areas of any of the capital cities in Australia, or to the large provincial cities, we find there young married couples living in temporary dwellings and garages. Often we find the municipal or shire councils becoming intolerant of these people and endeavouring to push them around. But where can they go, and what can they do? We know the sort of money that is necessary to attract the assistance that this Government is encouraging as an alternative to housing commission assistance. I refer to assistance ‘through the co-operative building societies. Most honorable members know that nearly all the building societies require a deposit of 30 per cent, on houses. That figure is sustained by the reports provided by the building societies in New South Wales and in Victoria. A deposit of 30 per cent, represents a considerable amount of money.
The honorable member for Lawson can talk in an airy-fairy manner about these things, but in the long run we must come back to practical and fundamental considerations. People are getting married and are needing homes. At the instance of this Government migrants are pouring into this country. They are coming here to live cheek by jowl under unsatisfactory conditions. We have to try to translate our consideration of this problem into a consideration of human factors. The fact is that young children are being denied the opportunity to be reared under decent conditions and under conditions which will insulate them adequately from the sun, the wind and rain. You can say what you like about the figures, but the fact is that many people are suffering those privations in Australia to-day. Many of them are people who have been enticed to come into this country and others are Australian-born. These are people who, together with its resources, represent the real wealth of this country. They are people who deserve consideration but who have not received adequate consideration under this government.
Of course, some money has been made available for housing. Tt looks good, in the terms of the inflated Menzies £1, but it has not the purchasing power or the working power to resolve this enormous problem. Young people come to me and ask, “ Where can we get a home? Can we get the money from the banks?” The answer is “No”. They say, “Can we get money from the building societies? “ The answer to that is that they can get assistance from these societies if they have 30 per cent, of the capital cost in the form of a deposit. They have not got that deposit, so they cannot get assistance from that quarter.
How about the Housing Commission? In some of the States only those people who applied to them before 1953 and 1954 have been satisfactorily placated. Where do we go from there? The test of what you have done is not how much money you have spent, but how the people who need houses fare? When all is said and done, are they getting houses or does the problem persist? Many of these people are desperately in need of houses, as figures which I will give in a moment demonstrate clearly enough. The honorable member for Lawson and other honorable members have talked about the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement and have compared it with that initiated by the Labour Government. I well remember the circumstances at that time. The principle as set down in the Commonwealth Housing Commission’s final report, of 25th August, 1944, made the position very clear. Remember that this commission was set up at the instance of the Labour Government. We wanted to ascertain the facts of the postwar problem and the manner in which it was going to be resolved. The commission said -
We consider that a dwelling of good standard and equipment is not only the need but the right of every citizen; whether the dwelling is to be rented or purchased no purchaser should be exploited by excessive profit.
Then we prepared the White Paper on the housing needs of the people. It was a declaration of the Labour point of view. It is the point of view of the mass of the people in regard to these things. We went on and made our points; firstly, governmentsponsored rental housing projects; secondly, the Commonwealth to provide money as required; thirdly, a rental rebate system and rent not to exceed one-fifth of the family income. That is what we set out as objectives - not houses at any price and houses that people cannot afford, or forcing people to resort to things beyond their financial capacity. We stood for a worth-while proposal in the suggestion that there should be a rental rebate system and that the rent should not exceed one-fifth of the family income. It is a fair enough proposition since it prevails in so many parts of the world and has come to be accepted as a standard. Indeed, one-fifth of the family income is the accepted United Nations figure in respect of the purchase of a house. I forget the name of the instrumentality which directs attention to this consideration in its annual report. In this White Paper we stated that we stand for lower interest rates. The Government has let down the people of this country because it has allowed interest rates to run riot. Financiers are not prepared these days to make money available on long-term loans for housing. Because the Government has allowed the situation in relation to interest rates to get out of hand, people cannot obtain money for homes, but they can obtain money for a dozen refrigerators, a dozen washing machines, three or four Holdens, a trip around the world or a fur coat. The Government has a responsibility in this matter, but obviously it has failed the Australian people.
I regret that the honorable member for Lawson, who preceded me in this debate, did not face up to the problem associated with interest rates - this usury which has developed over the last ten years and which is having such devastating effects not only in relation to houses but also in relation to so many matters pertaining to the welfare of the average farmer who needs farm machinery and a thousand and one other things. The honorable member for Lawson is a member of the Australian Country Party. He contended that the country people need homes, but he did not face up to the problems that I have mentioned.
The honorable member referred to homes for the aged as though the Government has done something wonderful in initiating a scheme whereby people who have some association with a church or a charitable organization ultimately can obtain accommodation. The Labour Party intended in 1944 and in 1946 to accommodate aged people under the housing commission scheme that I have outlined. This scheme would have eliminated the necessity for aged people to depend upon the spontaneous action of some charitable concern in the community. That is what is happening at present, and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) knows it full well. There is a premium on association with a charitable organization or a church. There is no coordination.
– The Minister claims that my statement is nonsense. He is accustomed to have the platform to himself when he presents cheques to the various organizations. He denies members of the Labour Party the opportunity to do so, and allows Liberal Party back-benchers to steal the thunder in his miserable technique of claiming kudos and political credit because the aged people so desperately need homes. My statement is not nonsense and the Minister knows that it is not nonsense. This evening for a change he has to listen to some one else making a speech.
Aged persons in many country areas are not obtaining the benefit of the Aged Persons Homes Act because the scheme does not provide any co-ordinating medium to ensure that in an area where a number of aged people need homes some one will be encouraged to take advantage of the Commonwealth subsidy. At present the scheme depends on a spontaneous movement in the community. Let me take Wagga as an example. I do not know whether I am right in selecting Wagga but I shall use it for the purposes of my argument. Wagga may have a large number of people who need assistance under the Aged Persons Homes Act. What happens? These elderly people have to wait for a church or a charitable organization to interest itself in this matter. Very often this does not happen. The Government does not care whether it happens or not, and so the elderly people languish for want of a little interest. That is not the way to approach a problem of this kind.
We have in Australia housing commissions, which can build homes for aged people, and if the Government has money available it should be allocated to the housing commissions, if necessary on the condition that they spend a certain amount on the provision of homes for the aged - a condition similar to that which now applies in relation to ex-servicemen. I believe this to be a very reasonable consideration and I hope that the Minister will give some thought to it instead of preening himself like a peacock and inflating the importance of the comparatively miserable job that is being done for the aged people who so desperately need homes. 1 am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have digressed slightly. I shall return now to a discussion of the bill, the purpose of which, as the honorable member for Lawson so properly stated, is to authorize the raising of loan monies totalling £37,200,000 which will be advanced to the States for housing in accordance with the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The bill provides that 30 per cent, of this money, or £11,160,000, will be allocated to building societies. This represents an increased allocation to the building societies of 10 per cent, because in the first two years of the agreement only 20 per cent, of the allocation was made available to those organizations. The remainder of the allocation, amounting to £26,040,000. will be made available to the States for the erection of dwellings for sale and rental. We hope that this amount will go some way towards solving the housing problem that now exists.
Last year £10,800,000 was allocated to co-operatives for private home building, and £25,200,000 went to housing commissions. This year New South Wales will receive £13,000,000, Victoria £10,300,000. Queensland £3,100,000, South Australia £5,800,000, Western Australia £3,000,000 and Tasmania £2,000,000. It is true that a total of £378,000,000 has been made available to the States by the agreements of 1945 and 1956, and that a reasonable amount of work has been done. This amount has financed the erection of 134,600 dwellings. I understand that an additional 14,000 homes have been provided with funds which have been transferred to the home builders’ accounts.
I have stated that the housing problem still exists. I do not think that any one could argue seriously about that. The report of the Housing Commission of New South Wales for the year ended 30th June, 1959, tends to clarify this statement. The number of unsatisfied applicants for homes increased from 21,174 at 1st July, 1958, to 25,413 at 30th June, 1959. I understand that the pressure on all State housing commissions has continued unabated. In New South Wales, applications are pouring in to the housing commission at the rate of 260 a week. In the year to which I have referred, 13,504 applications were received in that State. The tenancy advisory committee has established that 85 per cent, of the applicants have a very urgent housing need. The figures that I have cited do not include the 2,500 applicants at present housed in emergency centres.
It is interesting to learn that 12 per cent, of the applicants are ex-servicemen. One wonders why, when we have the War Service Homes Division operating in this field, but I think that the period that elapses between the time that an ex-serviceman applies for an advance and the time when the advance is approved is far too long. Ex-servicemen have not been prepared to wait for such a lengthy period and have been forced to accept temporary finance to tide them over the waiting period. Surely this is a problem that can be solved. If additional finance is made available to the War Service Homes Division, the pressure on the State housing commissions will be eased. If a war service loan is approved, the money should be made available to the applicant within a short period. The Government could direct the Commonwealth Bank, for instance, to give the ex-serviceman some priority so that the unnecessarily lengthy waiting period would be reduced. I believe, also, that the sum of £2,750, which is the maximum sum that the War Service Homes Division will advance to an applicant for a war service home loan, has proved to be not high enough, and that it should be increased. The fact that the maximum amount allowed is insufficient has encouraged many people who would otherwise wish to have war service homes to apply to the State housing commissions for homes. Tn any event, 12 per cent, of the total applicants for the New South Wales Housing Commission homes are exservicemen. T think we should try to ascertain the reason for that situation.
The income brackets in which the people concerned fall are interesting. It is apparent that low-rental homes and lowpriced homes are desperately needed in the community, and I do not know of any authority other than the State housing commissions which are offering low-rental homes. T also do not know of any one who is offering homes on long repayment terms of the kind being offered by housing commissions. We see that 67 per cent, of applications are lodged by people who receive low wages. The people who interview these applicants rate them as being unskilled or semi-skilled workmen. Many others are in employment which does not offer any great prospect of advancement in salary. Fifteen per cent, of the applicants to the New South Wales Housing Commission are age or invalid pensioners. I think that that is a matter which the Minister for Social Services, who left the chamber a little while ago, might well look at. His Aged Persons Homes Act has not been accommodating 15 per cent, of housing commission applicants who are age and invalid pensioners. Eight per cent, of the applicants earn from £12 to £14 a week and 55 per cent, earn from £15 to £19 a week. So 78 per cent, of the applicants receive under £19 a week. That is not a lot of money, and obviously the commission is catering for a predominance of people in the lower income brackets. It seems that the vast bulk of these people have little prospect of obtaining accommodation unless the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is re-committed. I hope it will be re-committed on a better basis than the form it has taken over the last five years.
Most of the applicants to the New South Wales Housing Commission have not sought assistance from other instrumentalities like the War Service Homes Division or cooperative societies. The reason is apparently that they have not the funds to give them a start in a co-operative society. In any event, a substantial number of these people are not eligible for a war service home.
It is interesting to look at the official figures provided by the New South Wales Housing Commission in respect of the housing shortage, in order to see whether the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement should be perpetuated and improved, and the money value involved increased or reduced. According to the New South Wales Housing Commission there are 42,000 sub-standard homes in the County of Cumberland area, for example, that need replacing. That is the first consideration. These homes require immediate replacement, and the number I have given does not include homes in the country areas of New South Wales. It refers only to the Cumberland County Council area, which is roughly the metropolitan area of Sydney. The New South Wales Housing Commission had this to say -
On the basis of figures set out in the Commonwealth publication “The Housing Situation”-
I think it was a publication issued by the Department of National Development in December, 1956 - and allowing for replacement of such sub-standard dwellings in the County of Cumberland only, the present shortage of adequate housing in N.S.W. would be approximately 80,000 dwellings.
– What type of Government have they got there?
– It does not matter very much, because a similar position, proportionate to population, prevails in most of the States. I will demonstrate that in just a moment. I have talked about the need to replace homes. In addition there is the estimated additional demand for homes in New South Wales, which is 25,000 dwellings for 1961, 27,350 for 1965 and 32,300 for 1970. So we shall have to go at a really rapid pace if we are going to overtake the back-lag and meet this everincreasing demand for homes.
The figures I have quoted are official figures based on population statistics, an analysis of age groups, immigration and deterioration of houses. In Victoria the position is that fewer houses are being built now by the Victorian Housing Commission than were built in previous years. No less money is being made available for housing, but it is a fact that the money which is made available is producing fewer houses. This is because of a situation which results from neglect by the Government, culminating in rising costs. It is therefore a matter for which honorable members on the Government side must take some responsibility. In 1951 the Victorian Housing Commission built 2,699 dwellings; in 1952, 2,970; in 1953, 3,238; in 1954, 3,590; in 1955, 3,960; in 1956, 4,152; in 1957, 2,580; in 1958, 2,414; and in 1959, 2,560. In other words, in every year except 1958 there have been more houses built than were built last year. So the Victorian Housing Commission has not met the situation in a very impressive way.
– How impressive has the New South Wales Housing Commission been?
– They are not making progress under your Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The Victorian Housing Commission, which operates under a Liberal government, is not able to increase the number of houses built. I do not know whether the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who is at the table, wants the Victorian Housing Commission not to be able to provide houses. In fact, I ask the Minister: Does he hope that the Victorian Housing Commission will produce fewer houses? Is he pleased with the situation that is producing fewer houses? I repeat that every year, except 1958, there have been more houses built by the Victorian Housing Commission than were built by it last year. To my way of thinking that is a very shocking situation. The situation regarding the New South Wales Housing Commission’s output is somewhat similar to the Victorian situation. I will not go right through the list, but it is sufficient to say that that commission’s output was at its lowest in 1957 and at its second lowest in 1959. So there we have a Labourgoverned State and a Liberal-governed State, both of which are in the same position.
I am not trying to make party political capital out of this matter. I am trying to show that at present, as a consequence of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement made by this Government, a Liberal State and a Labour State have a lower output of housing commission houses than they had previously. That is a serious state of affairs, about which the Government should be tremendously concerned, because it touches human beings who desperately need accommodation. The Minister for the Army, who liked to sell houses before he came to this place, should develop a more humane interest in the problem.
– Do you not believe in home ownership?
– Of course, 1 believe in home ownership, and I hope that the Minister will encourage home production at a much faster rate in the future. I think it is a sorry state of affairs that the Minister has to admit, in effect, that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement has caused a reduction in the number of housing commission homes built in both a Liberal-governed State and a Labour-governed State. I know that this realization has put my colleagues into a state of enthusiasm, which is quite understandable.
Now I want to talk about the Victorian building societies, because the impression has been given that they are running riot and producing a great crop of housing. The report of the Victorian housing societies says -
Over the past twelve months Victoria has received its highest amount of money for cooperative societies since the inception of the scheme. 1959-60 allocations totalled £7.9 million. This was £400,000 in excess of the previous twelve months.
You would think that that was a great increase, to listen to the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox). The report goes on -
The bulk of finance for Victoria-
That is, for Victorian building societies - came from the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement - £3.1 million.
That was at the expense of Housing Commission homes. That is the situation. You are taking money from Peter to pay Paul. You are creating a situation in which money is taken from the Housing Commission and given to the building societies. People on high incomes can get houses, but people on low incomes are deprived of the opportunity to get houses. The figures I am quoting are not mine but those of the Victorian building societies. These figures show that the bulk of the finance in Victoria comes from the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement at the expense of housing commission homes. Under that agreement, £3,100,000 is provided. The Commonwealth Bank makes a contribution of £2,100,000 to building societies at the expense of the people whom it would ordinarily finance at reasonable overdraft rates.
If honorable members look at the Commonwealth Bank content of contributions to building societies, they will find that it is the substantial contribution, and many people who are dependent on building societies would be languishing were it not for the public instrumentality - the Commonwealth Bank - and various other contributing organizations which also are State instrumentalities. The assistance which is being given by the great entrepreneurs of commercial activities - the insurance companies and organizations of that type - is declining because this Government has retreated substantially from a tremendous area of financial responsibility by failing to make any real efforts to ensure that huge sums of money in the banks and insurance companies, which belong to the people, are deployed in a way that would serve the best interests of the people.
In the few minutes remaining to me, let me make some mention of the fact that this Government has allowed the rebate scheme to deteriorate. Under the Chifley Government’s agreement, there was a rebate scheme which provided homes in some cases at a rental as low as 8s. a week. It was a joint arrangement between the Commonwealth and the States. The Commonwealth met three-fifths of the cost and the States met two-fifths. It was not a costly scheme. The overall cost was £1,735,834 in New South Wales over the period of its operation, but the scheme did at least ensure that those on low incomes and aged people, who are supposed to be the concern of the Government, were given an opportunity to have decent accommodation. The decline in this scheme is a matter of great regret.
I have not time to develop an explanation of the effect of increasing interest rates in connexion with housing commission homes. This Government has increased interest rates from 3 to 4 per cent, and this has resulted in a substantial increase in the rentals of housing commission homes and the purchase price of those homes. That also is a matter for serious regret.
In conclusion, I wish to direct attention to the failure of this Government to honour an election promise made some years ago by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The following statement was attributed to him in an advertisement over his signature: -
We give this firm promise to young couples - The Liberal Party, when returned to office, will regard as its permanent and most vital responsibility the speeding-up of the housing programme.
The Prime Minister has failed to honour that promise.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- In introducing this bill to authorize the raising of £37,200,000 to assist the States in housing, the Government has again demonstrated its active co-operation with the States to ensure not only increased housing for the people but also a better standard of housing. To-night we have heard from the Opposition, including the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) and the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson), a criticism of the Government’s policy. This criticism was the most illogical 1 have ever heard. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that, despite the fact that the amounts of money made available were similar year by year over recent years, we were building fewer houses with that money. He did not say why until I interjected. The Opposition wants it both ways. There has been an increase in wages which must have an impact on the price of materials and other costs. Recently - last December - there was an increase in wages of 28 per cent. All these factors mean that we can produce fewer homes with the same amount of money.
The honorable member for Hughes said grandly that we should make more money available for the housing commissions and less for the building societies. It is perfectly patent that the building societies which attract private deposits, are building many more houses with the money made available than arc the housing commissions with their low deposits to which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred.
I want to deal with the criticism that has been aimed at this Government practically every year since it has been in office in relation to housing. I do not want to discredit the Opposition in comparing achievements in the housing field under the Labour Government’s administration with those of the present Government, having regard to the time and the conditions prevailing in the immediate post-war period when the Labour Government was in office; but I think that some of the members of the Opposition who have spoken need to be reminded of the remarkable advance in housing under this Government over the past ten years. Figures relating to the housing shortage can be only estimates. We have heard of shortages totalling 300,000 and 200,000, but they can be only approximations: and I do not intend to give exact figures but simply to indicate trends. In 1949, it was estimated that there was a shortage of approximately 250,000 homes in the Commonwealth. In that year, which was the last year of the Labour Government’s administration, only 52,634 homes were constructed. I do not want to weary the House with repetition, but I think honorable members should be reminded of the housing programme under this Government’s administration. The following table shows the number of houses constructed in successive years relevant to my argument: -
By 1958, this backlag of some 250,000 houses had been reduced to approximately 80,000. It is not possible to be specific. The annual incremental requirement over the period was approximately 54,000 homes. Thus, at the average rate of construction in the term of office of this Government, the shortage has been reduced by an approximate average of 20,000 a year. At this rate of construction, we can reasonably expect that we are approaching a position where there will not be any element of backlag or shortage.
I put this question to the House: If the Government had overtaken this backlag within one or two years - which was easily possible - what would have been the result? How could the building industry have adjusted itself if, after building 120,000 houses for one or two years, it had suddenly found the demand fall to 50,000 or 60,000 houses a year? Ramifications of the building industry are most widespread. This was evidenced in the 1930’s during the depression when this important industry was practically brought to a standstill. Surely it is evident to honorable members that if we had stepped up construction to more than 100,000 homes in one year and then dropped construction by nearly 50 per cent, in the following year, we would have brought the building industry to a standstill again.
Members of the Opposition always refer to the small men. Those engaged in homebuilding are not the large building organizations, which deal mainly with the erection of government offices, factories, multistoried buildings and similar constructions. The home-building firm usually consists of one or two men who build three, four or six houses a year. These are the people who would have folded up if the Government had followed the advice of the Opposition to put more money into the agreement and build more houses. Then we would have seen this effect on the building industry: We would have seen suppliers of building materials and hardware, brickmakers timber mills, painters, glaziers, manufacturers of roofing materials and all those who contribute towards this industry, including employees, sub-contractors, electricians, plumbers, painters, plasterers, carpenters and bricklayers having their activities and employment severely curtailed. That is what the Government has endeavoured to avoid.
It is no use the Opposition trying to advance in rebuttal of that argument the claim that slum clearance would have taken up this slack. I think it is undeniable that the majority of slum areas in Australia are within the walls of our capital cities which must expand if Australia is going to shape its own destiny. Many of these slum areas occupy land which has become exceedingly valuable for industrial development within city limits. It is far too expensive and completely uneconomic for home building. I realize that the erection of multi-story apartments or flats may be justified on valuable land, but the erection of such buildings does not assist the small builder. I will agree that if industrial buildings or multi-story flats were erected in slum areas, alternative land would be available for houses further from the centres of the cities, but we must realize that the factors which determine the usability of the slum clearance areas are both diverse and complex, and can only result in spasmodic efforts, depending upon the demand arising from developmental sources in each capital city.
I think it is evident that the gradual overtaking of the backlag has cushioned the effects which would have been felt in the building industry if we had followed the programme laid down by the Opposition. They, in their election programme, advocated, in 1958, building in excess of 120,000 houses per year. There would have been a sudden drop, once the backlag was overtaken. If it is argued that the major building companies could have absorbed the surplus of labour and materials resulting from a sharp decline in home building, let me quote from a report in the “ Architectural and Arts Journal “, of September, 1959, in which a leading Melbourne master builder, Mr. J. E. Langford, managing director of Clements Langford Proprietary Limited was reported as having told a Rotary Club audience that in the past two years the building industry had fallen flat on its face. The report stated, referring to Mr. Langford’s address -
He said a Master Builders Association Committee had conducted a thorough survey of the industry which showed an un-economic tendering had had a crippling effect on builders. Because of fantastic competition, some builders had been forced to deliberately tender on major industry projects for common profit margin, however, in some cases even for a small loss, just to stay in the competitive picture. At the same time figures supplied by the Building Industry Congress showed that bankruptcies in the industry were the highest in the past 12 months in any year since the depression year 1930.
Mr. Langford said, in the past two years volume of work has not increased, margins have been low and almost all builders whether large or small have been trying to obtain greater turnover in order to cover their fixed over-head costs, and to achieve perhaps a small profit for the year. When it is realized that in Melbourne up to twenty leading building companies compete on the open public tender market for the right to build some of our major undertakings, it is not hard to understand just how this situation of highly un-economic tendering has developed.
These are some of the factors which have influenced the Government in determining the amount of building work that should be carried out each year. However, there is another and major factor which affects the housing position. Several Government supporters have mentioned it from time to time but, quite conveniently I think, it finds no advocates on the Opposition benches. I refer to rent control. Honorable members on the Opposition front bench may laugh but this control was repealed about ten years ago in Western Australia and it was not very long before the accommodation shortage in that State completely disappeared. In other States where rent control has been discontinued the same thing is occurring. This has been happening in Victoria.
I should like to give an illustration of how rent control affects the housing position. Let us take a case in which a large family group occupied a house of six to eight rooms prior to 1930. The original rental was reduced during the depression and then fixed in 1940 by the rent control legislation. The sons and daughters get married and move out and perhaps one of the parents passes away. The parent remaining still pays only 35s. or 37s. 6d. a week for this six, seven or eight roomed brick house. It is quite economic for that person to stay there, even if the house cannot be sublet, which would render the tenancy invalid. That person stays there because he or she can afford it. But once rent control is removed it becomes uneconomic to pay a high rental and that person moves out to alternative accommodation more suited to his or her needs and the house is brought into full utility, perhaps being subdivided into two selfcontained flats and so providing accommodation for two families. That illustrates the way in which rent control affects housing.
I want to return now to the position in New South Wales, where about 50 per cent, of the total housing shortage exists. In that State there is still hard-and-fast rent control although its removal could have an immediate affect on the accommodation shortage.
There is no doubt the Government has had to watch that, if the backlag of housing were to disappear overnight, the absence of work would not force the building industry into a depression. All along the line, according to the Opposition, the panacea for the housing shortage is more finance. Opposition members believe that more houses should be built willy-nilly. This would be like stuffing a boy with ice-cream to stop his howling regardless of whether he gets a tummy-ache afterwards. I have given some of the factors which have affected the Government’s handling of accommodation.
There is another factor. In the ten-year period, 1950-60, a reduced annual demand occurred which was tied up with the reduction in the birth-rate due to the depression years when there was a deficiency in normal population growth of some 80,000 males and 77,000 females. Therefore there was not the demand over that ten-year period that there normally would have been.
It is no wonder, then, that this Government had to weigh the various factors involved and allow for the different pressures that might arise. I believe that its planned approach to the problem has cushioned the effect on the building industry over the slack period and will continue to do so until there is an upward trend in the annual incremental demand. Such an upward trend is now beginning to manifest itself, and it is due to a number of causes. Two of these have been mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. One is the continually rising marriage rate, and the other is the need for an increase in the rate of replacement of old buildings, due to the fact that in the coming ten years there will be an increasing degree of obsolescence in such buildings.
It is expected, I understand, by the Department of National Development that in 1961 the incremental demand will be for approximately 80,000 houses, and, providing no national emergency arises and that the intake of immigrants remains at the expected level, by 1971 the annual demand for houses will reach 125,000.
I have tried to show, Mr. Speaker, that this Government is dealing with the housing situation in the same balanced and sound fashion that has characterized the whole of its general administration. I have tried to point out the real dangers which would have arisen if we had adopted the Opposition’s “ open go “ policy. In conclusion, and by way of contrast to the gloomy picture painted by Opposition speakers during this debate, I would like to read portion of an article which appeared in the Sydney “ Daily Telegraph “ of 28th October last. The article was headed “ Australia ‘ One of Prosperous Nations ‘ “, and it referred to an address given by Mr. F. E. Lampe, president of the Institute of Public Affairs, at the annual meeting of that institute in Melbourne. The report was as follows: -
Australia’s standard of living was about 15 per cent, better than ten years ago, Mr. F. E. Lampe said to-day. . . . “ Under a combination of free enterprise and Government guidance of the economy, Australia has become one of the most prosperous nations in the world “, he said. “ Standards of living are high and improving and there is no unemployment. “The conditions which prevail in the Australia of 1960 are not those in which extremist ideas are likely to get a very wide or enthusiastic hearing.” . . .
He added the housing standards and laboursaving equipment in homes had improved out of recognition. Working conditions were first class and few, if any, countries enjoyed more leisure time.
In few countries was population increasing more rapidly or industrial development proceeding at a faster pace than in Australia.
I think, Mr. Speaker, that most Australians will endorse those remarks.
.- This bill provides for the allocation to the States, for housing purposes, of £37,200,000. This represents only a very slight increase, of £1,120,000, over the allocation last year of £36,080,000. I believe that the Government is not accepting its responsibility to ensure that adequate finance is made available for home building in Australia.
This Government has an immigration programme under which it is bringing great numbers of people into the country. Statistics contained in the “ Treasury Information Bulletin” for October, 1960, indicate that the Government brought 74,534 persons into this country in the six months ended 30th October, 1960, and no doubt the Government is very proud of this achievement. If we are to have an immigration programme - and the Opposition is in full agreement that such a programme is necessary - then we must also have a programme of home building adequate to suit the needs not only of the immigrants but also of our Australian-born population.
The Government does a lot of talking. To listen to its supporters speaking in this debate, one would be led to believe that the Government had a proud record in the provision of homes for the people. But let us look at the facts and figures presented by the Commonwealth Statistician from time to time. They show that in 1952 80,119 homes were built, and that in June of that year the population was 8,740,000 persons. In 1960, when we have a population of 10,280,000, we find that the Government is permitting the building of only about 90,000 homes. To my mind, this is nothing to be proud of. It indicates no grand achievement on the part of a govern ment which, at election after election, goes before the people and boasts of the prosperous state of the nation. It is well known that there is a serious housing shortage. All honorable members of this House have constituents coming to their offices day after day, asking them to do something about providing homes. They ask us whether we can get some one in the housing commission to get them homes, or whether we can persuade a building society or a bank to finance homes for them. Yet Government supporters have the audacity to stand up in this Parliament to-night and boast of what they have done in the field of housing.
As the figures I have given clearly show, more homes are being built to-day than were being built previously, but, on the other hand, there are many more people wanting to go into those homes. That is the real crux of the question. The rapid increase in the population has meant that many more people are demanding homes. This Government, by its economic policies, curtailed the building of homes at a time when there was a surplus of labour and of building materials. Only a few years ago, in 1957, there was widespread unemployment in the building industry. Building tradesmen were leaving the industry and seeking employment in other industries. In the Newcastle area, for instance, they were taking employment at the steelworks, because there was no work for them in the building industry. Brick kilns closed down. Timber mills closed down and timber was stockpiled. All these things happened because the Government was not prepared to make sufficient money available to meet the housing needs of the people.
This bill, which provides the paltry sum of £37,200,000 for housing, represents no real attempt on the part of the Government to solve the housing problem. It must be remembered that the amount provided has to be split between two groups of instrumentalities and institutions, the State housing commissions and the building societies. In his second-reading speech the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) made a special point of the fact that building societies build more homes with the money made available to them than the housing commissions do with equal amounts of money, but I would point out that there is a vast difference between the policies of the two organizations. Housing commissions provide homes for those people who unfortunately have not sufficient income to enable them to obtain the higher deposits required for purchasing homes through building societies. I feel, therefore, that this Government should make additional amounts of money available to the housing commissions so that they can get on with the job of providing homes for the people who need them.
Government supporters have asked what the attitude of the Opposition is towards people owning their own homes. For the information of those honorable members I would like to read portion of a report of the Housing Commission of New South Wales, which says -
The New South Wales State Government has authorized the sale of at least 80 per cent, of homes being erected under the 1956 Agreement, on a £50 deposit with repayments over a maximum period of 45 years, with interest at 4J per cent. Eligible applicants occupy these premises on a purchase basis from the outset and 8,897 homes have been sold under this scheme.
The New South Wales Housing Commission is making homes available to people who want to own their own homes but who have not £500 saved up for a deposit and who perhaps have no hope of saving that amount. Some people may have £50, but many people are not in a position to raise even that amount. The State housing commissions are spending funds allocated to them by the Federal Government and attempting to do the job of housing the people.
New South Wales received its largest allocation from the Commonwealth Government for housing - £12,450,000 - in the financial year 1953-54, and was able to build 5,106 homes with that money. We cannot say yet how many homes the State will build this financial year with its allocation of £13,000,000. But last financial year, with an allocation of £12,350,000, it was able to build only 3,396 homes because the cost of building has increased so much. So, although the Commonwealth Government is making more money available to-day than it provided in 1953-54 and in other years, the funds provided are not building as many homes as were built in earlier years. In fact, these funds are not enabling the States to build enough homes even to provide for the increase in the population, quite apart from making good the shortage.
I have here a report in the “ Harbour “ which I should like to read to the House. All honorable members know just what that publication is. It is one of the most vicious journals published to-day. Indeed, it is possibly the most one-eyed publication that I have ever read. Before I read this report, I suggest that the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), who is seated at the table, investigate the cartel with which it deals as well as the one about which I have made continual complaints with respect to the fixing of prices for motor tires and tubes. Under the heading “ Timber Cartel “, the issue of the “ Harbour “ of 1st September. 1960, Stated-
Forestry Officer of the Northern Colliery Proprietors’ Association, Mr. K. Wallin, reports that the new cartel for sawn timber distribution in the Newcastle district appears to be working effectively as evidenced by the Hunter District Water Board having to draw the name of their successful tenderer from a hat. Mr. Wallin has interviewed the secretary of the new association (N.A.M.C.A.S.) who stated that prices of sawn timber (i.e. building timber, waggon boards, etc.) to collieries will not be increased until December.
This cartel in the timber industry has increased the price of sawn timber by approximately 25 per cent. This price increase cannot be blamed on higher wages or the cost of long-service leave, annual leave or anything else that employees receive. I know of my own knowledge that this increase in the price of timber is the result of an agreement to fix the prices of the sawn timber disposed of by the members of this cartel. A particular friend of mine who was building his own home found this out to his sorrow. He had ordered his timber, and the supplier was subsequently pressurized into joining the cartel, with the result that my friend had to pay for the timber for his home 25 per cent, more than he had expected to pay.
So we see that when we are considering increased costs we have to think of something else besides wage increases. These monopoly interests and combines which get together to form cartels are responsible for increases in the cost of building materials. Furthermore, if we take the trouble to examine the profits of various companies associated with the building industry, we find that these companies are increasing their profits, and this has its effect on the cost of building. We on this side of the
House consider that two sides of the question ought to be examined when increases in the cost of materials are being discussed. Government supporters consider that wage increases are responsible for increased costs, and we say that high profits and the agreements and arrangements entered into by cartels are one of the major causes of increased building costs.
The figures published by the Commonwealth Statistician which I have already mentioned indicate that in the financial year 1953-54 the average cost of a cottage or flat was £2,570. In the financial year 1959-60, the average cost was £3,171. So I suggest to the Government that it should closely examine its policy with respect to the allocation of funds for housing. It should ensure that adequate funds are made available to the various housing instrumentalities, and especially to the housing commissions and building societies, which are the major constructing authorities. As other honorable members have pointed out, when the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was originally entered into, the building societies were allocated a set amount out of the grants made to the States. Secretaries and board members of various building societies have told me that when the New South Wales societies received their allocations from the State they found that they were no better off, because the banks then said, in effect, “ You are getting your money from the funds provided by the Commonwealth for the States and we do not propose to give you any “. Accordingly, the banks reduced their contributions of funds to the building societies.
The annual report presented to the twenty-third annual conference of the Association of Co-operative Building Societies of New South Wales shows how poor a part the private banks have played in housing the people of New South Wales. Out of a total of £97,987,325 provided for the building societies by banks, £74,033,000 came from the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia and the Commonwealth Savings Bank. The private banks were not greatly interested in housing. The latest figures available show that of £6,040,000 made available by the banking system in the financial year 1959-60. £4,000,000 came from the Commonwealth Trading Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank. We know that the private banks have their own hirepurchase companies. I took the trouble to make some inquiries, and I found that the National Bank of Australasia Limited has not provided any money for housing. The principal private banks that have made any contribution are the Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited and the Bank of New South Wales through their savings banks. After all, a condition of the registration of a private savings bank is the provision of certain funds for housing through building societies and local government authorities. So the banks are not providing these funds out of the kindness of their hearts. They are doing it because they are required to do so under the conditions governing the registration of their savings banks. Other banks which provided funds for housing were the C.B.C. Savings Bank Limited and, as I have said, the Commonwealth Trading Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank.
In my electorate, there is a shortage of funds for home building. Money for housing cannot be obtained from banks or building societies there. I have discussed the matter with the secretaries of the building societies, and they all told me the same story. They said that the societies have stopped taking the names of people who want to obtain society loans. They do not want to fool people into thinking that they will be able to get money for a home through a building society, because the societies cannot get funds to lend. Building societies in my electorate are now making loans only to people who already have their names on the list. They are not taking further names and leading people into a fool’s paradise in which they think they will be able to get a housing loan at an early date. Surely I have given the House sufficient evidence to demonstrate what the situation is. If Government supporters like to check what I have said with various building societies, they will find that the situation is as I have described it. Money is not available for housing.
Since the building societies are not taking any more names of people who want money for housing, the only alternative source of finance is the hire-purchase companies. Some of these companies are doing a great deal of business in the field of housing. I have told the House on previous occasions what these companies are doing and what is the result of people being forced to go to them for housing finance. Repayments at hire-purchase rates are so great that people who obtain finance from this source cannot build a house of decent size. As a result, dolls’ houses of six, eight, nine or ten squares are being built. Any honorable member who knows how big an area is covered by six squares knows that a house of this size would be only a doll’s house and little better than an imitation of a real house. Many of these houses are being built because people cannot afford the cost of decent homes.
On making inquiries about the activities of the hire-purchase companies, I found that Custom Credit Corporation Limited which is owned by the National Bank of Australasia Limited, is making money available, to a maximum of 75 per cent, of its valuation of the property, at a flat rate of interest of 6 per cent, for the full period of twenty years. No quarterly adjustments, monthly adjustments or annual adjustments are made, although these adjustments of interest payments are made when money is obtained from housing commissions, normal banking sources or building societies. People who cannot obtain finance through these channels must go to the hire-purchase companies, and these companies are doing a good deal of business. People who have had to do business with them have come to me from time to time and have asked what I could do to ease their burden. I have spoken to the secretaries of building societies to no avail, because they will not take over loans negotiated with hirepurchase companies.
Having received an advance of 75 per cent, of the company’s valuation, the borrower pays interest at the rate of 6 per cent, flat, and this is equivalent to 12 per cent. On a loan of £2,000- that is the amount the companies like to advance - the borrower must make monthly repayments of £21. In addition, the borrower must find the money with which to buy land and the remaining 25 per cent, of the housing finance; so the repayments of £21 a month impose a considerable burden. Much the same position obtains with Cambridge Credit Corporation Limited, which is another company owned by the banks. This company will advance up to 80 per cent, of its valuation at 8 per cent. flat. On a loan of £2,000, this means repayments of £24 9s. a month. Another big company engaged in this type of activitiy in the Newcastle district is Latec Finance Proprietary Limited. It will advance 75 per cent, of the valuation, repayable over 20 years at 7 per cent. flat. Despite this, the Government tells us that it is making ample money available for home building. The Government boasts of its generosity, but I have given the real position. If people cannot get homes through the housing commission or the building societies, they must resort to the uneconomical method of borrowing from hire-purchase companies. I ask the Minister to keep these facts in mind and to consider whether further money could be made available so that people could build homes without having to meet unreasonable repayments.
I should like to make another point on this matter of housing finance. A Government supporter earlier suggested that the Commonwealth should direct the States as to how grants should be allocated, in the same way as the Commonwealth requires 40 per cent, or 50 per cent, of money made available for roads to be spent in country districts. Government supporters have eulogized the building society system, but I would like to direct attention to one point which is not at all satisfactory. The building societies insist that the borrower insure his property with an insurance company that the society nominates. I have obtained some figures on this subject. An insurance cover of £800 can be obtained from the Queensland Insurance Company Limited for. a premium of £5 4s. The Government Insurance Office of New South Wales will give a cover of £1,400 for a premium of £5 0s. 8d. But the building societies insist that their members insure their property with private insurance companies at these exorbitant rates. For approximately £5, the Government Insurance Office of New South Wales will give a cover of £1,400, but the private companies will give only £800.
If any restriction is to be imposed, 1 suggest that the restriction should be so designed that it will prevent building societies from insisting upon insurance being taken with a nominated company. The borrower should have the right to insure his property with whatever company he chooses. This would give the borrower some relief from the high rates of insurance premiums. Hire-purchase companies also insist upon the borrower insuring his property with a nominated insurance company. This means that a further charge is imposed on top of the already exorbitant interest rates.
I support the measure before the House, but I believe that the Government should do better than it is doing in the allocation of housing finance. I believe that the housing commissions can provide the homes that are needed, if they are given the resources, at fair and reasonable interest rates. At the same time some assistance can be given to the co-operative building society movement.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- On a number of occasions of recent date, I have raised a matter which I regard as one of importance. I consider that it is sufficiently serious to warrant some investigation by the Government, but evidently the Government, for some reason, has not investigated it. It is not sufficient for the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to try to brush this matter aside by saying that, because of the source of the information, it should not be investigated. I refer to a publication known as “ Things I Hear”, for the dates 13th April, 28th April and 2nd June.
– I thought–
– The honorable member ought to keep silent, because he may be involved before I am finished. An article headed “ The Australian Diplomat in Action “ appears in the issue of 2nd June. I have not set myself up as the judge of whether these allegations are based on fact.
All I have asked the Government to do is to investigate the very serious allegations that were made against a senior Australian diplomat. It is of no use for the Prime Minister to try to brush the matter aside by saying, “ This journal is published by Mr. Frank Browne “. Of course it is, and Mr. Frank Browne was sent to gaol by this Parliament for an allegation that he made against a member of the Parliament which, the Parliament then decided, was without foundation. He and Mr. Fitzpatrick were sent to gaol for three months.
I want to know now how the Government can brush these allegations aside on the basis that Mr. Browne is a man of no substance. Mr. Browne is a newspaper columnist, a sporting writer and a radio broadcaster. Recently, action was taken by the Government against a Mr. Somerville Smith for libelling members of the Parliament, and he is now serving a term of twelve months’ imprisonment. Why does not the Government want to investigate these particular matters? I do not propose to mention the diplomat’s name to-night. I propose merely to read the statement and call him Mr. Blank wherever his name appears, but if the Government does not have it investigated I shall be compelled eventually to mention his name. Under the heading “The Australian Diplomat in Action “, this publication of 2nd June contained the following statement: -
From time to time recently, I have mentioned the conduct of an Australian diplomat. At first I did not name him but gave an outline of his conduct, in the hope that the External Affairs Department would take some steps to deal with the matter, without scandal. Nothing was done, and I did name him together with a number of further facts about his behaviour. As these evoked not the slightest action on the part of the Minister concerned, Sir Garfield Barwick, we now must take it that the man’s conduct is regarded as normal and admirable by the department and the Minister, that it is, in fact, the accepted standard of behaviour in the Australian External Affairs Department under the Menzies administration. So it now becomes necessary to see whether or not the people of Australia as a whole endorse this outlook. The following story can be documented by Blank’s letters, the original letters of the women concerned, cables, photographs, photostats and other evidence. Any member of the Government or Opposition with sufficient interest in the matter can get them from me.
That is, from Browne. Browne says that he has the evidence and that it is available to the Government if the Government requires it. Therefore, in my opinion, the Government is obliged to take this matter further. Browne’s article continues^ -
I have no interest in Blank whatever. I have never met him or have any desire to meet him. Had his case been one involving a single woman and merely been a case of a diplomat loving not wisely, too well, I would have had nothing to say. But you can judge for yourself from the story.
I’ll deal merely with the period beginning October, 1957. At that time Blank was seen constantly with a woman named Lucy M . . . and shortly before Christmas of that year, took her for a holiday to Bangkok with him. This girl had gone to Malaya on a promise of marriage, but Blank had given her some story that marriage was not practicable at this time from the viewpoint of his career. She left Singapore just before Christmas 1957. She returned to her home at Sutherland, outside Sydney, and corresponded with Blank in the most affectionate terms from then on, referring constantly to their coming marriage. Almost immediately she left, our hero became associated with another woman, a Dutch woman married to an Australian, with two children. Their association broke up this marriage, and divorce proceedings were instituted, Blank promising to marry her too, and constantly referred to this promise in letters, in his own handwriting, during the next two years. The department should have no difficulty in establishing this relationship. It might check calls made from his Kuala Lumpur residence and office to the following numbers in Singapore. . . . 44513 and 54547, between December and April, 1958. In that month Blank came to Australia, and brought this woman with him. They spent a week at Marton Hall, Sydney, beginning May 12th, and then set off for a trip to Queensland. They stopped at hotels at Taree, Port Macquarie, Yamba, Bilinga and Caloundra. The lady returned to Singapore on June 27th for the purpose of an abortion. Blank returned to Malaya on July 4th. What was not known to either the lady of the first or the second part was that there was a third lady in the picture-
– I rise to order. There is some limit to the depths which debate in this House may be allowed to reach, and I think the honorable member is out of order.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! No, I think the honorable member is acting within his rights.
– The article continues - a Eurasian girl, one Kay S. . . . who now resides at Blacktown. This liaison produced a child born on May 6th, 1959. A letter in my possession from the said girl asking Blank for financial help would wring the heart of a vandal. But it produced no result from Blank. In March, 1959. the Dutch girl, who was now installed in Blank’s home as a semi-official hostess (I have a photo of her greeting some distinguished guests with Blank beaming at her side) became pregnant again. This time, matters could not be adjusted. It was decided finally that the woman would come to Australia for the birth of the baby. The promise of marriage still held. But in July, something apparently went wrong, and she attempted suicide, being treated at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital for an overdose of sleeping pills.
Evidently the Blank charm re-asserted itself, and the relationship was resumed. This was the position late in July last year, when there arrived in Malaya two visiting Australian M.P.’s, Leslie Bury, Member for Wentworth (N.S.W.) and Frank Timson, from Victoria. The woman accompanied them and Blank on a trip to the East Coast, where apparently neither of them found anything strange about a five months pregnant woman who wasn’t his wife, being on such terms with the High Commissioner. Both should get the fiver for minding their own business, if not the Australian taxpayers. The quartet stayed with the Sultan of Palang. Had the Sultan known Blank’s form, there undoubtedly would have been double guards on the harem!
This woman left Malaya for Australia on August 7th. All this time the unfortunate Lucy M. . . . from Sutherland, was writing affectionate letters, one of which talked about the £700 she had saved “ until they needed it “. Blank came to Australia in late October, and was in fact in Sydney on November 26th when the baby was born. But before that he had not been idle. Between November 14th and 16th in Canberra, he established an entente cordiale with the wife of a French diplomat.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– in reply - I had some respect for the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), but I confess that from this moment I have none. It has been very interesting to hear the honorable member weeping crocodile tears about a provision in the Crimes Bill which states that when a man is on trial for selling the secrets of this country, or for damaging war materiel with an intent to harm this country, his known character may be put in the scales on the question of purpose. There would be a terrible noise if any member of the trade union movement was sacked because of something that he had done in his private life. Indeed, we are accustomed to a great deal of opposition when workmen who are thieving are sought to be searched when leaving their jobs.
Of course, nothing is too low for the honorable member for East Sydney. Yesterday he asked a question of the Prime Minister in relation to this matter. The
Prime Minister said in answer to him that he had personally investigated this matter and was satisfied with what he had learned.
– Go through “Hansard”. He said he saw the chap himself.
– What else do you do when you investigate something? What a dreadful thing it is to prefer the word of a very valuable officer of this country, who has given it great service, to the sort of stuff that Frank Browne writes! After the Prime Minister had given that assurance to the House, the honorable member for East Sydney got up to read, for no other purpose than the great pleasure it gives to a dirty mind, a dirty statement. It could have no other effect. He read the statement verbatim. I did not stop him. I was very pleased to see that honorable gentlemen on my side of the House felt that they needed, by some gesture, to dissociate themselves from this lowering of the dignity of this House to depths almost not before reached. It is a very great pity that we have no other means at our disposal to indicate fully and unequivocally what we think about such conduct as that of the honorable member. We see the element of blackmail that was in Mr. Browne. Mr. Browne said, “ I will not name him this week. I shall name him next week.” Why was that done? That is a form of blackmail. From the honorable member for East Sydney we have the same technique. He says, “ I shall not name him to-night. I will name him next week.” That is the action of the blackmailer. Of all the mentalities with which I have ever had to deal, there has never been any so low as that of the blackmailer.
– You are really a criminal.
– Fancy the honorable member for East Sydney complaining. He never likes to take it; he only likes to give it. Let me tell him that from this moment forth I shall never look at his face without thinking of the mentality of the blackmailer.
– by leave - I wish to refer to the conditions under which fettlers employed by the Commonwealth Railways have to live and carry out their work. These are men who, together with their wives and families, spend their lives living in what are probably the most inhospitable, uninteresting and most disagreeable localities to be found anywhere in the whole of Australia. Whether it be on the Nullarbor Plain of the TransAustralian line or the dry fly-ridden sandy waste that characterizes the majority of locations on the Central Australian line, it is true to say none of the lonely people who inhabit the fettlers camps receive the consideration they should for the sacrifices they make. Their wages are not high. Their district allowances are poor and inadequate compensation for the climatic conditions with which they and their families have to contend, to say nothing of their isolation, their lack of medical attention and the limited educational facilities and opportunities that are available to their children. One does not have to mention even the inconvenience that is caused by the hordes of flies and insects that pester these people 365 days of every year and the fact that the opportunity to have such a thing as a garden can never be more than a dream.
These are the people who primarily are responsible for maintaining the permanent way of the Commonwealth Railways. No matter how modern or efficient the rollingstock is, without a sound and properly maintained permanent way no railway system can succeed. So in this sense the fettler is the most important man in any railway system. But because of his isolation he generally becomes the forgotten man. It is a case of being out of sight and out of mind. He is inarticulate; he cannot speak for himself. Indeed, if it were not for the constant efforts of Mr. Jack Wright, the Australian Workers Union organizer at Port Augusta, the fettlers employed by the Commonwealth Railways would become a forgotten race. In spite of the earnest endeavours of Jack Wright to secure proper recognition of their needs, very little is being done to make their lives more bearable. I do not think it is the fault of the engineer at Port Augusta or of the Commissioner. Nor do I think it is the fault of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman). I am more inclined to think that the fault lies with some officials of the Department of the Treasury, and that it lies with them only because they have never properly understood the conditions under which these poor devils have to work and live.
Ever since Mr. Wright started duty as A.W.U. organizer at Port Augusta he has been striving to get the Commonwealth Railways to install electric lighting plants at the various fettlers’ camps along these lines. He has asked the department to begin by supplying this amenity to married men’s camps, of which there are some seven or so on the Central Australia line and about 35 on the Trans-Australian line. Engineers of the Commonwealth Railways agree that a contented married fettler is worth more than a discontented single fettler. But you cannot get contented married men until their womenfolk are made reasonably happy. The provision of electric light would go a long way towards arresting the tremendous turnover of fettlers in the Commonwealth Railways. If honorable members care to turn to page 27 of the report of the Railways Commissioner for the year 1959-60, they will see that he directs attention to the serious difficulties that are being created by labour shortages in track maintenance gangs. The Commissioner says that during the year 1959-60, 1,178 fettlers were engaged and 1,304 left the service, making a net loss of 126. He said that 65 per cent, stayed for less than two months, 17 per cent, for less than six months, 8 per cent, for less than twelve months, and that only 3 per cent, of the total number engaged during the period mentioned in the report stayed for more than three years.
I have interviewed the Minister for Shipping and Transport about this matter and I know that he is not unsympathetic to the requests that I have put forward. I now ask him to look into the request that the A.W.U. organizer, Mr. Jack Wright, has made to the local authorities at Port Augusta on behalf of these fettlers. The cost involved would not be great when measured against the profit of £1,172,890 which the Commonwealth Railways made for the financial year just ended.
Let me quote a further reference to this matter in the report of the Railways Commissioner for the last financial year. At page 14, the commissioner reports on the Trans-Australian line as follows -
The maintenance gangs were below strength for practically the whole year. The difficulties arising from shortage of staff were accentuated by the inexperience of a large proportion of the men. The majority of the men engaged left the work within two months of taking up duty. The work value obtained from these men was low. The average effective strength of fettling gangs over the year was 391 - standard strength is 477.
Referring to the Central Australia Railway, he said at page 15 of the report -
A serious shortage of labour for the track force continued on the Central Australia Railway also. The approved maintenance gang strength is 255 men - the average number employed throughout the year was 228, but at the close of the year the number had fallen to 213.
The Minister will agree with me when 1 say that discontented or inexperienced fettlers are not of the same worth as are contented and experienced fettlers. Married men are generally regarded as the most satisfactory for this class of work. One way of keeping good men with the Commonwealth Railways is to provide such facilities as electric light in the married men’s quarters. Eventually electric light should be provided in the single men’s camps also.
I have not the time to say anything further. I simply put it to the Minister that this is an important section of the staff employed by the Commonwealth Railways. It is imperative that the department should be able to get good men and to keep them. To provide electric light in married men’s quarters would be one way of retaining this type of employee, and I ask the Minister to give Mr. Wright’s request his sympathetic consideration.
– by leave - I listened with interest to the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) and his coverage of the conditions under which fettlers employed on the east-west line and other lines operated by the Commonwealth Railways live. I believe that such comments should be listened to with attention. However, there are certain factors associated with this matter which remove it from the category of being out of sight and out of mind, as he has asserted.
It is not just a matter of saying that electric lighting should be there and that the installation of the service is a simple operation. Perhaps the fact that the honorable member for Hindmarsh mentioned that it is required for house lighting only simplifies the problem to some degree. The provision of electricity to the extent necessary for the operation of refrigerators and other electrical appliances would involve a tremendously greater cost than the mere provision of lighting, because the service would have to be on a 24-hours a day basis. The provision of electric lighting alone, as I have said, is much simpler.
I should like to emphasize that this problem is not entirely out of sight. Over the years greater amenities have been provided for the fettlers. In the early days they lived in tents, which were later developed into a type of tent-house. Now they have modern houses with many conveniences in them. Admittedly some of the houses are short of sinks, baths and bath heaters, but those are items which are on the programme and are to be provided. At present Mr. Keith Smith, the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, is out on an inspection of the Commonwealth Railways and I am sure he is seeing these things for himself. It is not a case of his being in the office and not knowing anything about these problems. At Oodnadatta electric lighting is to be provided for the houses which have not yet got it.
I believe that many of the people who are living in isolated regions prefer conditions which are not the same as those enjoyed by residents of the cities and more closely settled areas. Many employees in the lighthouse service would regard their isolation as a challenge, because it is different from the normal routine. They appreciate that and are prepared to take that employment, feeling to some degree that it is a dedicated service.
– Do you reckon they like it?
– There are people who do not look for the comforts that others require and they accept the challenge offered by Nature. I am certain that in the lighthouse service one could find people who would not swap their isolation for the living conditions that the honorable member has in a suburb. Were that not so, those living in isolation and discomfort would want to change it for the comforts that are to be found in a city.
– Will you give sympathetic consideration to the case I have put forward?
– The fact that some people are prepared to accept the kind of life which the honorable member has described must not indicate that there is a lack of sympathetic consideration in these matters. I assure the honorable member that consideration will be given to what he has put forward. I assure him that if it is possible to install electric lighting which will not require excessive maintenance and overhead costs consideration will be given to the matter. Whatever is done might not represent a dramatic change immediately. It might have to be tested on some section at first, but the request will not be disregarded. At the first available opportunity I will let the honorable member know the decision on his representations.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the continuation of the debate.
– I should like to direct the attention of the House to something which will occur on Saturday week. It is of great importance to a certain area of western Victoria and South Australia and it is also symbolic of what is happening throughout Australia. Although it is of local significance it also has a significance of importance for Australia as a whole and for this National Parliament.
In passing, I would like to say that honorable members - particularly members of the Opposition - have often stated that decentralization is a myth and that nothing is done to encourage it. What has been done in the development, construction and building up of Portland Harbour gives the lie to those claims. The people of Portland, in getting a harbour trust established and attracting the money to make it possible to build a harbour costing over £6,000,000, have shown that local energy and initiative can succeed in overcoming problems when people wish to decentralize services throughout a State or the Commonwealth.
What has been done in a very short space of time at Portland is noteworthy. This harbour project involved the construction of two breakwaters, one over 4,000 feet in length and one just under 4,000 feet in length. They have been completed. The loading equipment installed is the most modern in Australia and a railway has been constructed connecting this port with the Victorian rail network. Fuel and bunkering racilities are available for any interstate or overseas ships. All this has been done in establishing the most modern and efficient deep-sea all-weather port in Australia on the southern Australian coast at a cost of just over £6,000,000.
In the last ten years, trade through this port has risen spectacularly. Ten years ago only seventeen overseas ships called there. No interstate vessels put in. No vessels called there to seek medical attention for their crews or anything of that kind. Last year 54 overseas and nine interstate vessels called at Portland. Twenty-five ships put in for medical attention for crew members and 31 interstate vessels called at this modern port. The tonnage passing through Portland has risen from 50,000 tons to 200,000 in the same period.
This is not the end of development in this area. The Victorian Government has given permission for a modern oil berth to be constructed on one of the breakwaters at Portland and it is expected that this year the trade through the port will rise to 250,000 tons or better. Every one connected with the construction of the harbour, the harbour trust commissioners, the people in the town and those working on the project deserve sincere congratulations on a noteworthy achievement and an addition to Australia’s general development and progress.
This port has some advantages compared with other ports around the Australian coast. It is not one hour’s sailing from the main shipping route. Labour relations on the wharfs there are good, leading to a quick turn-round of ships. The modern equipment helps ships to be moved quickly in and out of the port. Hospital facilities in the town are available should an accident occur at sea. The importance of what is going on at Portland has been emphasized in past years by the visit of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in 1958, and also by films dealing with the harbour construction, such as were shown in the Senate Opposition Party room in this building.
– How much of this was the work of a Labour Government?
– None of it. It is the work of the people in and around
Portland, who have worked and fought for this project over a number of years. The object of the people in establishing this port is to serve an area of Victoria reaching into the electorate of Mallee up to Mildura and an area in South Australia represented by my friend the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes). The port will serve these areas much more efficiently than the traditional centres of Melbourne, Geelong or Adelaide will be able to do in the future, although there need be no fear that these centres will lose trade, because increasing production from the surrounding country areas will mean that more trade will be passing through all of these ports.
In Portland recently a local co-operative purchased what was previously a government wool store. The object of this cooperative is to establish wool sales at Portland, which will do a great deal to build up trade through the port. I believe that this move will succeed if growers give it support and if the people operating the co-operative can attract the support of Wool Export (Goulburn) Limited at any sales conducted there. If this independent, grower-controlled company is operating at sales, growers in the hinterland will have confidence in sending their clips to the sales, knowing that there is in the market one buyer who has the interests of the growers at heart. It may well be that the Commonwealth Development Bank can be of some assistance also in this venture, making it possible for the co-operative to give advances to growers against the sale of their clips. It may also be found in the coming years - I believe it will - that the internal transport systems of South Australia, and to some extent Victoria, will have to be reoriented to make full use of this harbour, which will be of great benefit to the south-east of South Australia and to large areas of Victoria.
On Saturday week, Portland harbour will be opened by the Governor of Victoria. The national importance of this event will be emphasized by the presence of the Commonwealth Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) and the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty). I understand that there has been a report that the Premier of South Australia will also attend. Of course, there will be many Ministers and politicians of all parties from Victoria. The member for Wannon in this House will also be there. The Royal Australian Navy will be represented by H.M.A.S. “Wimmera” and the United States Navy by the ice-breaker “ Staten Island “, which is on its way to Antarctica, lt is worth noting that the development of the harbour has already convinced the Navy that the surrounding waters must be surveyed more adequately and thoroughly, and two ships, H.M.A.S. “Bass” and H.M.A.S. “Barcoo”, have been commissioned for this work.
The success or otherwise of Portland in building up trade, which must be done if the harbour is to be fully justified, will depend upon the measure of support received from the people of Victoria and South Australia. The opening of the harbour will underline for them the fact that the harbour is there waiting to be used and to be of advantage to them in reducing transport costs in a great many fields. If the people take advantage of the opportunity, these areas will benefit greatly. I should like to congratulate every person who has had anything to do with this great project, and to extend good wishes for the raising of the importance of Portland harbour to a really significant level.
– I should like to make a few remarks about Portland harbour, which was developed at the instigation of the Victoran Country Party Government led by Mr. Dunstan and supported by the Australian Labour Party, which was then led in Victoria by Mr. Cain. Despite the fact that over a considerable number of years there had been Liberal Party administrations m Victoria and that agitation had been going on for the development of a port at Portland, no action was taken until the Country Party Government, led by Mr. Dunstan and supported by the Labour Party, came into power in Victoria. That Government referred to the Public Works Committee of the Victorian Parliament the matter of the establishment of a port at Portland. I happened to be secretary of that committee at the time, so I know something about the initiation of the work and the decentralization that has resulted from the establishment of the port. The port was established, of course, mainly as a result of the activities of Labour members of the Victorian Parliament. That is absolutely undeniable. As was the case with the Snowy Mountains scheme, upon this project coming to fruition, those who did nothing to bring it into being and who, in reality, opposed it will, as my friend, the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) has pointed out, have a gala day on Saturday week when they will celebrate an achievement resulting from years of Labour activity in Victoria.
.- I rise to seek redress for about a score of my constituents and, I believe for people in other electorates as well. I do so at this hour because the session is drawing to a close, and this may be the last opportunity that I shall have. I raised this matter during the adjournment debate on 11th May, 1960. Since then, I have had a reply from the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who is the responsible Minister, and I shall refer to that to-night. I refer to the fact that the paint work on a certain number of war service homes has been of such inferior quality that it has peeled from the external walls within less than twelve months. This matter was raised originally by my colleague, the honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Jack) and subsequently it was raised by the State member for Gordon, Mr. Stewart Fraser, M.L.A., who is also the professional representative of the building industry in New South Wales and who, representing paint manufacturers and contractors, was in a rather awkward situation in regard to this matter. I should like, first, to read the Minister’s reply to me in the first instance, which was similar to the replies that he gave to the honorable member for North Sydney and the State member for Gordon. I shall read only the parts that are relevant. He wrote -
The Division’s Chief Architect is of the opinion that the failure of the paint is due to a combination of conditions, including the absence of red and white lead in priming paints now generally used, the presence of moisture in the timber and more than usual variations in climate and other atmospheric influences.
Previously, exterior priming paint was basically formulated on the use of red and* white lead.
However, this was changed about three years ago to a formulation of zinc and titanium oxides mixed in raw linseed oil and tinted with red oxide. . . .
It is generally accepted that the absence of red and white lead will reduce the exposed life of the priming paint. … It is significant that the painting failures are in respect of properties painted since the introduction of lead-free primers. . . .
Factors contributing to a break-down in the surface coating. . . include the moisture content of the timber and the effects of mist, fog and subsequent exposure to the sun, all of which tend to produce movement in timbers. This applies particularly to weatherboards, which under the Timber Marketing Act of New South Wales, may be marketed with a moisture content of up to 18%…..
The Division cannot give a complete guarantee against defects of this nature and is unable to accept responsibility unless there is evidence of negligence on the part of one of its officers, either in the preparation of the specifications or in taking reasonable precautions to ensure the specifications have been observed. . . There is no evidence of negligence on the part of any of the Division’s officers and. . . . the Division cannot accept reponsibility for. . . . repainting.
The Minister then went overseas, and it was not until 7th October that I received a reply to the speech that I made during the debate on the adjournment on 11th May of this year. In his final reply the Minister stated -
Despite exhaustive investigations made before and since your speech it has not been possible to establish, conclusively, the cause of the paint failures. … It is important to remember that these homes were not built for particular applicants and the Division’s responsibility is not the same as in a case where it builds a home specifically for an applicant and undertakes to supervise its construction on his behalf in return for a fee. The homes were built as a group and were sold to applicants without any obligation except that the homes would be built in accordance with good building practice having regard to the materials available at the time. In the opinion of the Crown Law authorities the Division has not been guilty of any breach of warranty and it is under no legal liability to the applicants concerned. . . The Division . . is unable to accept responsibility in such cases unless there is some evidence of negligence by its officers. . . . Moreover … the homes were made available to applicants at prices considerably below their real value at that time and, despite any deterioration in the paintwork, I think you will agree that the applicants concerned received very good value for their money. . . I am not prepared to depart from my previous decision.
As I said at the outset, the paint peeled off in less than twelve months. The reasons advanced for this are, first, that zinc and titanium oxide were used instead of red lead and white lead; secondly, the dampness of the timber which had over the 18 per cent, minimum of moisture; and, thirdly, that fogs and moisture in the atmosphere may have had an effect on the paint. But this paint peeled off the houses not only in West Pymble, to which I am referring, not only in North Ryde, about which my colleague, the honorable member for North Sydney, has spoken, but also, according to the Minister, in a number of group homes erected by the division. Was it always foggy when these homes were being painted? Did it always rain? Was the timber never in accordance with the laws of New South Wales, which requires that it contains not more than 18 per cent, of moisture? I dismiss the fog and rain as a reason, because this could not obtain in all cases. If the moisture content of the timber was in excess of the legal requirement this means a lack of supervision on the part of the division. Or was it the ingredients in the paint that were at fault? If it was, this applies to all paints so constituted. Are we asked to believe then that all modern paint can be expected to last for less than twelve months? If this is so, it is a public scandal and in the public interest the Commonwealth should have an investigation made into the matter. But of course it is not so! Then, is it true of particular brands of paint? If so, they should not have been specified or accepted. This, too, would be a failure of supervision.
The facts, on impeccable authority, are, first, that if timber contains not more than 18 per cent, of moisture, in accordance with the law, paint of normal quality will not peel off as a result of rain unless the timber was not even superficially dry. Supervision should see to this. Secondly, that modern paints containing zinc and titanium oxide instead of red lead and white lead will last for three or four years instead of four or five years. No paint authority will claim that less than a year’s wear is normal or acceptable. Thirdly, that some proprietary brands are better than others. The division has not mentioned another possible reason - the thinning of the paint either because of excessive dilution with turpentine, kerosene or some other ingredient - or still another - that the required number of coats was not applied. This, again, would be a matter faulty supervision.
I return to the exhaustive investigations by technical officers of the division, the Defence Standards Paint Research Laboratory, the Division of Wood Technology of the Forestry Commission of New South Wales, and paint manufacturers, mentioned in the letter. Ft will be observed that the final opinion expressed was not by these bodies, but by the division’s chief architect. I now challenge the Minister to obtain and table a report from the Defence Standards Paint Research Laboratory on the durability of modern paints and the conditions that could lead to paint failure within twelve months, including the degree of moisture in timber, and the rain and atmospheric conditions that could bring about a breakdown within twelve months. I should be prepared to accept such a report.
I dismiss with contempt the Minister’s two arguments in his final letter, first, that because these were group homes the standard of workmanship or supervision need not have been the same as it would have been if the homes had been built for individual applicants, and secondly, that because the homes were relatively cheap the occupants had no right to complain. This is rather like the grocer who agrees to supply eggs at a cheap price, and when the customer complains that some of them were bad, he says, “Well, what else could you expect? “ I understand that it is the policy of this Government to make a concession to ex-servicemen. They are entitled to find that the concession is real and not spurious. I conceive it to be the duty of the War Service Homes Division to seek advice from the Defence Standards Paint Research Laboratory in specifying paints, and to see that their application is carried out properly in accordance with ordinary practice.
I ask the Minister to say specifically whether this is now being done. It is not for me to give justice to these people. All I can do is to expose an injustice.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- No one can deny that we are being told continuously that the trade unions in Australia are completely united and correctly directed under the present leadership of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Indeed, we are assured that the present A.C.T.U. leadership is the only voice of the Australian trade unions. Recently this A.C.T.U. leadership, against the expressed views of at least nine trade unions with a combined membership of over 200,000, imposed a levy of 2d. a member to establish a fund to bring to Australia a so-called trade union delegation from red China. The Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia, the Federated Clerks Union of Australia, the Professional Radio Employees Institute of Australia, the Australasian Society of Engineers, the Motor Transport Union of Victoria, the Teachers Union of Victoria, the Hospital Employees Federation of Victoria, the Postal Telecommunications Technicians Association, and the Marine Stewards Association, opposed the levy.
Laurie Short told the annual national conference of the Federated Ironworkers Association in July of this year that the A.C.T.U. levy would be a direct subsidy to international communism. Tom Dougherty, representing the biggest single union in Australia - the Australian Workers Union - warned the A.C.T.U. that if it continued to allow a Communist minority to dictate A.C.T.U. policy, the A.W.U. would be forced to support a proposal to form an Australian federation of labour which would be free of Communist influence. Despite all this, the A.C.T.U. leadership went ahead with its plans and brought out the red delegation.
On Sunday last Jim Healy, the Communist general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia, officially announced on behalf of the A.C.T.U. that it would sponsor a visit of alleged free trade union leaders from Soviet Russia.
Last Monday night a member of a Brisbane trade union telephoned me and asked whether something could be done to expose to Australian trade unionists the real nature of these so-called red trade union delegations. I assured him that to-night I would bring to the notice of the House and of Australian trade unionists the considered views of a great American union body - the American Federation of LabourCongress of Industrial Organizations. In a letter dated 24th October - only last month - the Director of International Publications in the American Federation of LabourCongress of Industrial Organizations said inter alia -
We are, of course, in full accord with you in your firm condemnation of those who have arranged to bring the strike breakers’ delegation from Communist China to your country. It calls itself a trade Union delegation but it is not. It is a delegation of top officers of the Communist Chinese gangsters who are responsible for the murder of millions of Chinese and for the suppression of every human right on the Chinese mainland.
I am sending a statement by Mr. Meany, President of the AFL-CIO, on the question of delegations from totalitarian dictatorship countries. We, of course, are categorically against it. I am also sending you a special article I had written some months ago on the entire problem of Moscow’s maneuvers to exchange delegations.
Furthermore, in view of your interest, we are arranging for you to receive our monthly publication “ AFL-CIO Free Trade Union News “ regularly. Keep up your fine work for human freedom and free trade unionism.
Sincerely yours, (Sgd.) Jay Lovestone, Director International Publications.
If the information contained in that letter can be made known far and wide among the ordinary members of Australian trade unions, I think they will realize that in some directions they are not getting the best leadership and they are not getting the type of leadership which is conducive to the development of a free and harmonious trade union movement in this country. There is no shadow of doubt that the representatives who call themselves free trade union leaders from Communist China and Soviet Russia are doing everything possible to create the idea - aided and abetted by certain members of the Australian trade union movement who should know better - that in those countries trade unionism is free, good and sound.
Even in this House we have had the sorry spectacle of two honorable members saying what a wonderful country red China is, how free the trade union movement is. and so on. The answer is very simple. We have been told that one of the greatest treasures and one of the most precious rights of the Australian trade union movement is the right to strike.
– Hear, hear!
– I am glad to have the support of the honorable member for
Kingsford-Smith. Every one who knows and understands what goes on in red China and Soviet Russia realizes that the right to strike does not exist in those countries. I believe it is time that we did our best ti inform Australian trade unionists of what these Communist delegations stand for. I am very happy to stand here in this House to-night and be the mouthpiece of a very great movement which does stand for trade unionism in America - the American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organizations. While I am supplied with correct information, I will continue to present it for the information of this House and the nation.
Mr. HAYLEN (Parkes) [12.4 a.m.l.The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby) fills me with contempt and sorrow. How fantastic a spectacle it is to see a man standing where he stands, in the ranks of the Liberal Party, and pleading the case of trade unionism. Honorable members on this side of the House must laugh at him. the protagonist, weeping crocodile tears for the workers and unionists. I do not suppose that he has ever belonged to a union in his life. Nemesis - that black god which deals with all of us in this House and decides whether or not we return - comes closer to him. If I have ever set eyes on a oncer, he is a oncer. He will go out at the next election.
He falls for the most contemptible trick that is ever practised in this House. He becomes nothing but a red baiter; he has no other ability of any kind, as I told the House some weeks ago. I do not want to return to that sorry story. He has been a little, low-grade pamphleteer, paid by anybody who would employ him to besmirch the workers by calling them Communists. He sits in his place, grinning like a gargoyle, because he has neither conscience nor common sense in these matters of allegations about Chinese trade unions, the propaganda he gets from the United States of America, and his crocodile tears. He shows what he is by beating his breast and saying, “ As long as I get this rubbish to read, I will use the forum of the National Parliament in which to read it “.
The real issue in regard to visits to this country by Chinese trade unionists is something that this House should consider carefully. It is not to be found in the whinings of Laurie Short; nor is it to be found in the attitude of the Federated Clerks Union or any of the people who have reneged on their great responsibility as unionists. In my opinion, they have wandered off the track along which the workers’ future lies. A Minister of State, the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), has given vises to the Chinese trade unionists to enable them to travel through this country in safety, in the same way as I was given a vise to travel through the Republic of China in safety, which I deeply appreciated, and in the same way as the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren) was given a vise to travel in safety. That opportunity is open to honorable members opposite if they want to have their eyes opened. They may go there and see the conditions for themselves.
The point that I make to-night in regard to the speech by the honorable member for Griffith is that he stands up and condones the assaults made on these Chinese visitors. Whatever your politics, how can you have it both ways? How can members of the Australian Country Party sit there, checking over their cheque butts and looking at receipts for the £18,000,000 worth of wool sold to China in a year, and at the same time say, “ If any of their representatives come here, let us bash them “? How ridiculous it is! Why do not certain honorable members on the Government side of the House grow up in their attitude to this matter? Why do not they cease being the willing tools of the right-wing unions, which are only pulling their legs? Those unions have as much contempt for them as we have, particularly for a member like the honorable member for Griffith.
If the reports in the newspapers are correctthey have never been challenged - when these Chinese trade unionists got off the plane in the honorable member’s own State they were man-handled and the police are alleged to have turned their backs. The point I make is that when you have a guest, you have a guest. The decision as to whether to let them in or keep them out is the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration. If it is decided that they must stay out, nothing can be done about it; but if the Minister says that they may come here and visit unions in this country and exchange ideas about what goes on in China and Australia, why should they be in danger? Why should they be treated with contempt by people like the honorable member for Griffith, who chortles over it in his miserable little way, red baiter that he is, without any common sense in these matters? It is not the Chinese who have been shamed in the eyes of the world; it is us, because we have no international decency and no courtesy. If the Government wants to keep the Chinese, Russians, Cubans or any other people out of our little neck of the woods, it should do it by means of a veto upon their entry. But after the Department of Immigration has said that they may have entry into this country and stay in order to have a look at this country, it is not right to turn a pogrom on to them. What happened in Melbourne was nothing but a disgrace. Santamaria and his organization set out to create a diversion. They could not care less about the few Chinese trade unionists; they wanted to further the cause of Santamaria and his notorious disguised Liberal Party, the Australian Demicratic Labour Party. They got an ally like the honorable member for Griffith. It is a good thing that the tocsin is ringing to remove him from this House. All I say in conclusion - because there is no case to answer-
– Of course, you are thinking about those humped-back cattle up in your place. You do not know whether they are Tibetan cattle or Santa Gertrudis. You should wake up. Tibet is another story. The Minister has decided to allow these men to come into the country, and as courteous civilized people we must see that they have a proper entry into and exit from Australia. Are honorable members opposite going to persecute them? If so, as I said before, why let them come into the country?
The point about this matter is that it is not being genuinely debated at this time. It is a little idea of the gargoyle from Griffith to have another grin at us and say something about these things. He does not mean it. It all adds up to a paragraph in his local newspaper. He should send it to that queer American Who sent him this stuff and tell his friend what we on this side of the House think about it. The Government and its supporters cannot have it both ways. They are full of horror and pious prejudice when some visitors from China, who are unionists and are accepted as such, come to Australia. This is a terrible thing, they say. They are full of anger and make reports in the House. At the same time they gloat, with the greatest of glee, at the swollen proceeds from the sale of their wheal and wool to Russia and China.
If there is any parliamentary decency, honorable members on the Government side should apologize for the cavalier treatment that was handed out to the Chinese visitors. They should also apologize for the speech that has been made by the honorable member for Griffith, because we have an overriding job to do in this House no matter what we think. People think of me in one way and of the honorable member for Griffith in another- or I sincerely hope they do. As Australians, we should realize that we have an international standard to maintain. By the sorry way we treated our Chinese visitors, we have disgraced international standards.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.12 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Navy has supplied the following answers: -
m asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1 and 2. The report was not printed. Reports by the Defence Standards Laboratories on trade products are not published.
z asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 November 1960, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1960/19601109_reps_23_hor29/>.