23rd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. J. R. FRASER presented a petition from certain citizens of the Australian Capital Territory praying that the Government will take immediate action to defer the rental increases on government-owned dwellings in Canberra and will immediately promote an inquiry into rentals in relation to costs of living in Canberra and the need for the establishment of a Canberra basic wage.
Petition received and read.
– Is the Treasurer aware that the effective unemployment in the Australian textile industry now varies between 20 and 25 per cent.? I say the “ effective “ unemployment, Mr. Speaker, because in a very large number of instances textile mills are now working for four days a week instead of five, and where three shifts were being worked previously, only two are now being worked. Also is the Treasurer aware that this deplorable situation is, in the opinion of manufacturers, due mainly to the credit squeeze? For how much longer must the textile industry endure this artificiallycreated state of affairs?
– 1 think the honorable gentleman is aware that later this afternoon the question of employment will be raised for discussion as a matter of urgency by one of his colleagues. Apparently either he is trying to anticipate the debate or he has missed out on the batting list on his own side. It would be contrary to the Standing Orders for me to attempt to argue this matter with him at this stage. As the urgency discussion proceeds my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, will be able to inform him much more accurately than I can now.
– During the discussions that take place when the Budget is being framed will the Minister for Social Services raise the matter of increasing the present deduction from the income of widows in respect of dependent children from 10s. a week to 20s. a week? I am informed that such a concession, which would be of immense value to widows, could be achieved at a relatively moderate cost to the Government. I am aware that if this concession were granted it would have to be extended to the invalid pension field, but again the drain on revenue would be infinitesimal.
– I should be happy to consider the honorable member’s proposition, but I direct his attention to the fact that the financial circumstances of civilian widows have never been allowed to remain static during the eleven years that this Government has been in office. Every year has brought them improved conditions, not only through progressive increases of the basic rate of pension, which have raised the payment to class A widows from £2 7s. 6d. in 1949 to £5 5s. to-day, but also through liberalization of the means test in regard to both income and property. In addition, the merged means test has been introduced, special deductions from income have been allowed in respect of all dependent children in the family and special payments have been provided for all the children of class A widows after the first child. There have been other great changes, all designed to improve the circumstances of the civilian widows. I hope that these movements will continue, and to this end further consideraiton will be given to the honorable member’s suggestion.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Does the Australian Wheat Board reject wheat when delivered to grain elevators or receiving depots if it contains more than 5 per cent, of impurities? Has wheat containing up to 20 per cent, of impurities b”en accepted by the board? What is the Government’s policy in this matter?
– The quality of wheat that is accepted by the Australian Wheat Board is a matter for the board; it is not one of Government policy. If the honorable member will give me particulars of any case he has in mind I shall make inquiries from the board and let him know the result.
– My question to the Minister for Social Services relates to Commonwealth aid provided under the Aged Persons Homes Act. Could a financial grant be provided to an organization to assist in the purchase of an existing building and property for the purpose of establishing a hospital for aged persons? If such a proposal is outside the provisions laid down in the act, could a grant be provided if the organization registered the property as a home for aged persons which catered only for sick people?
– The matter of the construction and maintenance of hospitals for the sick is exclusively one for the departments of health, both State and Federal, and I regret to say that grants cannot be made for this purpose under the Aged Persons Homes Act. It is recognized, of course, that persons who are resident in homes which have attracted grants under the Aged Persons Homes Act do become sick, and to meet that eventuality, it is permissible for grants to be made for the provision of special accommodation for them so long as that accommodation does not exceed one-third of the total accommodation provided. I believe that where hospitals have been constructed to provide accommodation for the sick, hospital benefits may be granted in certain circumstances.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Trade concerning an advertisement which appeared in a daily newspaper on 19th April in this form -
Tenders are invited for an ALL Risks Warehouse to Warehouse Insurance Cover for Goods supplied by the Commonwealth of Australia under the Colombo Plan & S.E.A.T.O. Aid Programme.
As the Government has recently legislated to cover all risks in relation to exports, why is the Government handing out such profitable insurance business on these items? The goods are free gifts from the Commonwealth Government, and if they were lost, we would not be losing cash.
– I am not familiar with the advertisement to which the honorable member has referred, but I think his question can be answered by reminding him that the purposes of the Export Payments Insurance Corporation Bill 1961 - the amending legislation which was before the House last week - and the basic legislation which established the Export Payments Insurance Corporation were to provide insurance cover where commercial cover was not available to be taken out. The Export Payments Insurance Corporation is in no sense in competition with the ordinary commercial insurance companies. It exists to cover only those risks which cannot be covered commercially.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of any statement made on behalf of the Government that would, in any way, cast a doubt on the continuance of stabilization of the wheat industry? I ask this question because a rumour of such a statement has been circulated in the Mallee electorate.
– There should be no doubt in the minds of wheat-growers about the attitude of this Government towards stabilization. We have continually built up and improved stabilization schemes for branches of primary industry, and that applies particularly to the wheat stabilization scheme. I have heard of a statement by a so-called “ spokesman of the Government “ and I should like to know the identity of this spokesman who is reported to have said that there is some doubt about the future of the wheat stabilization scheme. No one has been given authority to speak for the Government on that matter, and perhaps this particular spokesman was the reporter concerned himself. I can assure the House that when this Government is re-elected at the next general election - as it certainly will be - it will be very sympathetically disposed to the continuation of all stabilization schemes.
– Is the Minister for Trade aware that most of this year’s crop of olives will be left on the trees and that very little crushing will take place? Also, is the Minister aware that the market for olive oil in Australia has been swamped by imported cheap olive oil far below the quality of the Australian product? Has Cabinet yet considered the report submitted by the Tariff Board which inquired into the olive oil industry? Is the right honorable gentleman able to inform the House when the report will be available?
– The report of the Tariff Board on vegetable oils, which include olive oil, has been submitted to the Government, and has been considered departmentally. I expect that the Government’s announcement on it will be made before the House adjourns at the end of this sessional period.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether any progress has been made in promoting a world conference on the disposal of dairy products, as advocated by the Committee of Inquiry into the dairy industry. Can he arrange discussions that could lead to agreement on butter price limits between the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, and planning for the disposal of surplus production in a way that would relieve distress, promote international goodwill and develop new outlets for dairy products?
– As to the recommendation of the Committee of Inquiry into the dairy industry that an international conference be convened, the Government decided that it would be advisable that the Minister for Trade and I first survey the implications of that recommendation and report back to the Government. I have had some discussions with the dairy industry itself on this matter.
As to the honorable member’s suggestion that a conference between the nations mentioned by him be convened, I can say that some discussions are going on at the moment between the members of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade organization, but as this matter really comes more under the jurisdiction of my colleague, the Minister for Trade, I think he would be more acquainted with what is happening in those discussions.
– I ask the Treasurer whether the present credit restrictions are designed to restrict the Commonwealth Bank from making housing loans available to members of the general public, thus forcing them into the hands of private financiers. If this is not the case, will the Treasurer tell the House who is and who is not eligible to receive loans from the Commonwealth Bank for housing purposes? Would a depositor with the Commonwealth Bank who has more than fourteen years’ service as an employee in the Commonwealth Public Service, who receives a salary of £1,700 a year, and who has £3,000 in hard cash, be a suitable applicant for a loan of £1,500 to complete the purchase of a house less than six years old? Will the Treasurer restore to the Commonwealth Bank its authority to make housing loans to suitable applicants, especially those who have substantial deposits?
– I think the position with relation to our general credit policy and its effect on housing has been made evident to honorable members by the references I have made from time to time to the directive from the Reserve Bank to the trading banks. From the time our credit policy was first announced, it was stressed that lending for such a social purpose as housing was not to be considered as being restricted by the operation of the selective credit policy. It is known that the trading banks generally - and this includes the Commonwealth Trading Bank - are not normally large lenders for housing purposes because they have liquidity problems which restrict their capacity to make long-term loans for housing purposes. But that does not mean that the trading banks have not made some loans over the years. Over more recent years, however, the greater portion of that lending through the banking system has been done through the savings banks.
As a Government, we have taken action to ensure that the rate of lending by savings banks - and this extends to State savings banks as well as the Commonwealth Savings Bank - should be increased at the present time. We recognize that the level of home building has been falling rather lower than we would have wished, although the figures recently conveyed to me for the March quarter of this year indicate that commencements during that period were at the rate of just under 20,000 units for the quarter which, if carried on, would still result in a high level of housing for this year.
Concluding what I wish to say generally on the matter, 1 can assure the honorable gentleman that the Government has this question of housing very much in its mind. We are making a periodic review of the overall economic situation in Cabinet this week and possibly next week, and housing will be one of the large questions to be closely examined by us on an uptotheminute basis. If the honorable gentleman cares to give me details of the particular case to which he referred-
– I wrote to you about it a week ago.
– I do not think the honorable gentleman told me a week ago about it. Perhaps he told my staff and it has not yet come through to me. I shall see that the inquiry is conveyed to the Commonwealth Trading Bank, if that is the bank involved, and ascertain what information I can get for the honorable gentleman.
– I direct to the Treasurer a question concerning the earlier proposal that legislation be introduced governing the limitation of interest which can be deducted on future borrowings by companies. Is the Treasurer aware of the uncertainty which has been caused in many key business quarters because of lack of knowledge of the future shape of the deductibility provisions, which in many cases involve plans for expenditure of large sums over many years? If the right honorable gentleman has not yet decided upon the detailed shape of the legislation, will he consider making some statement on the general principles to be applied, as he did in the cases of insurance companies and pension funds, so that the people responsible for planning the affairs of large companies in Australia may proceed with their plans with the general framework of the future proposals well in mind?
– I can assure the honorable gentleman and other honorable members who have raised this matter with me at various times that I am aware that some uncertainty does exist and I am conscious that this must be inconvenient for the interests affected. It is with that knowledge that I have tried to press on with the consideration of these matters as rapidly as possible, subject to the welter of other governmental items engaging our attention in recent times. Cabinet has quite recently had a further opportunity to study this problem in a great deal more detail than was possible earlier. It is by no means easy to find a long-term answer which does not become so involved in its detail that it would be outside the range of practical politics to do the necessary drafting in the course of this sessional period of the Parliament. On the other hand, the temporary legislation, as honorable members know, expires at the end of this financial year. I have been giving thought to the practicability of making a general statement, as recommended by the honorable gentleman, and I certainly hope to be able to remove these uncertainties, or most of them, before the House rises.
– I ask the Treasurer: What authority did the Statistician have to announce last Thursday that he had ceased to issue the C series retail price index? As the right honorable gentleman knows, the New South Wales Parliament requires the New South Wales Industrial Commission to vary the basic wage under State awards in February, May, August, and November, in accordance with movements of this index. Will the Treasurer give an assurance that the Statistician will continue to supply statistics required by States with which the Commonwealth has entered into arrangements to collect and publish statistics, and that he will not again, suddenly and unilaterally, cease or threaten to cease to collect and publish them?
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has raised a matter which I know is of great importance and considerable interest in commercial and industrial circles. Just before the House met this afternoon, the Statistician sent to mc a statement covering this matter. It is less than one page in length and, because of its importance, I think I should read it either now or at the end of question time.
– The matter is in your hands.
– I suggest that you read it at the end of question time.
– I will do it then.
– I preface a question to the Treasurer, on the timber industry, by saying that the Minister for Trade concluded an answer to a question last Thursday, by stating -
It was clear to the Cabinet that the problems of this industry are the result not of inadequate tariff protection, but of a fall-off in the overall demand.
I believe that portion of my question has been answered by the Treasurer in reply to the question asked to-day by the honorable member for Shortland. As I have made representations about the release of more money for home building, particularly from government sources, has the Treasurer any information that he can give to me and to the House in this regard? I ask that, in discussions on this matter, particular consideration be given to country areas, where increased home-building activity would help to take up the slack in the timber industry.
– The study which the Government has so far given this matter suggests that more is involved than simply the restoration of demand for home building to a rather higher level than obtains at the present time. There has clearly been a considerable accumulation of stock, as a result of both higher imports last year and a degree of over-expansion in the industry itself. An additional factor which, I think, had not occurred to most of us whose knowledge of this matter has increased over more recent times, is the influence which the decline in the manufacture of television sets has had. Rather curiously, a reduction in demand - quite unrelated to the general economic situation - for the plywood veneer which has been going into television sets, has had a bearing on the position in the plywood section of the timber industry. The Government’s economic review to which I referred earlier will, I know, include an examination of the situation in the timber industry, and what the honorable gentleman and others have put before the Government will be in our minds when we make that review.
– In addressing a question to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, I refer to the questions asked by the honorable member for Dalley on 11th April, the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith on 12th April, and the honorable member for Maribyrnong on 18th April, concerning the future of naval shipbuilding at Cockatoo Island, New South Wales, and Williamstown, Victoria, and the unsatisfactory replies which those honorable gentlemen received to their inquiries. I now ask the Minister whether the statement made by the Minister for the Navy, Senator Gorton, when speaking at a reception after the launching of Australia’s latest anti-submarine frigate, H.M.A.S. “ Derwent “, that no more naval vessels would be built in the near future, means that several thousand employees at the Cockatoo and Williamstown dockyards are in danger of dismissal or of being put on part-time employment. In view of such possible happenings will the Minister ascertain why the Department of Supply has ordered diesel engines worth £1,000,000 to replace engines in six Royal Australian Navy minesweepers, and to be installed in British shipyards, starting some time in June?
– I am not, of course, able to vouch for the accuracy of the quotation of the statement which the Leader of. the Opposition attributed to the Minister for the Navy. I will consult the Minister on this subject. I think it would be more satisfactory to the House, to the Leader of the Opposition, and to those whose interests are at stake, if the Minister for the Navy or some appropriate person in this chamber were able to make a statement on the matter raised by the Leader of the Opposition.
– I address a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport with reference to the Eyre Highway. Has the honorable gentleman been informed that the Government of Western Australia has recently given an assurance that the part of the Eyre Highway for which it is responsible will be put into the best possible condition for the 1962 Empire Games, to be held in Perth? The Commonwealth vote for the maintenance of the Eyre Highway is distributed between South Australia and Western Australia. Will the Minister do his best to have this vote increased for the ensuing financial year? Will he also encourage the Government of South Australia to adopt a programme of work on the highway similar to that of the Government of Western Australia? I also suggest that the Minister, as a renowned sportsman, encourage the games committee and promote overland travel to the games by a personal recommendation to “ Glide on Eyre and avoid repair”.
– I appreciate the honorable member’s interest in the Eyre Highway, having regard to the nature of the sports events that will take place in Perth in 1962. The allocation of finance under the Commonwealth aid roads scheme is a matter of Cabinet policy, and any variations of the allocations must accordingly be decided by Cabinet. But I assure the honorable member that I shall take note of his request. I should like to have further information on it. I have been made aware of this matter only by his question and what I have read in a newspaper. When I have obtained further information, I shall give the honorable member a detailed answer.
– I ask the
Acting Attorney-General: Is the Australian Broadcasting Commission a Commonwealth authority designated under the Crimes Act? Has his department conveyed such an opinion to the commission? Is the Australian National University such an authority, and has his department conveyed that opinion to the university? If so, does this mean that in future a completely unprecedented restriction of discussing and propounding will be placed upon members of the staffs of both those institutions? I direct the Minister’s attention to a staff memorandum issued by Mr. Talbot Duckmanton, assistant general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It is headed “ Unauthorized disclosure of information “, and warns members of the commission’s staff that they come within the provisions of section 70 of the Crimes Act and are liable to two years’ imprisonment if they disclose any information which comes into their possession in the course of the performance of their duties.
– It is very nice of the honorable gentleman to pay me the courtesy of asking me a question in my capacity as Acting Attorney-General. I have read the article on which the question was based, which appeared in, I think, “ Nation “, and I have also read a commentary on the article that was published recently. From my own knowledge, the article is highly imaginative and wrong. Apart from the technical and drafting changes listed by the Attorney-General, there has been no change in the law so far as the Australian Broadcasting Commission is concerned, with one exception. That exception, Sir, is that the law applies now to retired members of the staff of the Australian Broadcasting Commission as well as to present employees of the commission. In other words, the provisions of the Crimes Act relating to official secrets in their present form have applied to members of the staff of the commission since 1932 in the same way as they apply now. I repeat that there has been no change in the law; it is much the same as it was. The Attorney-General saw no necessity to explain that the law in relation to present employees was the same as it had been, but he did explain that the provisions of the Crimes Act dealing with official secrets would apply to retired or dismissed members of the staff of the commission in the same way as it applied to existing employees. Once again I must destroy this propaganda against the Crimes Act. The criticism is wrong in fact and always has been wrong. I am sorry that T do not know the position with regard to the Australian National University, but I will obtain details for the honorable gentleman and give them to him as soon as I can.
– I address the following questions to the Minister for Immigration: - Was a substantial number of persons of Asian birth naturalized within the past twelve months? Is it expected that many more will be naturalized in the future?
– I think I am right in saying that in the calendar year 1960 a total of 932 people of Asian origin was naturalized in Australia. Of that number, 416 were in New Guinea and the remaining 516 were in Australia itself. As to the second part of the honorable gentleman’s question, it would be purely conjectural on my part to anticipate what future naturalizations in this category would be. However, if I may hazard a guess of my own without committing myself in any way, I should imagine that they would be fewer rather than more.
– Will the Minister for Primary Industry arrange to have made available to honorable members who may desire to read it a copy of the report prepared by Personnel Administration Proprietary Limited for the Australian Wool Bureau in relation to wool promotion and marketing?
– I think that the report is a confidential document which belongs to the Australian Wool Bureau and that it cannot be made available. However, I shall examine the honorable gentleman’s question and let him know the result.
– I address to the Minister for Trade a question which is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for McMillan. Can the Minister say what negotiations have taken place with signatories to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the major butter-producing countries in relation to the price of butter in England with a view to devising some method to help to stabilize the British market?
– I am afraid that I cannot recount the negotiations in detail, but there have been discussions about the matter, which was raised originally by the New Zealand Government with the United Kingdom Government and later in the forum of Gatt. There has not been a conclusive decision, but I understand that a resolution which purported to provide a guide has been carried. The Australian representative at the meeting of Gatt reserved Australia’s position for further study. The situation is that over the critical period the increase in the supplies of butter to the United Kingdom was approximately 13,000 tons. But during that period Australia shipped to the United Kingdom 6,000 tons less than she had shipped in the previous year. So, the situation in the United Kingdom, which has depressed prices, is in no sense attributable to surplus supplies from Australia.
– Is the Treasurer aware that Courtaulds (Australia) Limited, which manufactures rayon at Tomago, has dismissed 258 employees over the past twelve months and that it announced last week that sections of the plant would be working a four-day week? Also, is he aware that the company spokesman said that “ only by re-imposing import licensing and easing credit restrictions could any relief be expected “ ? Will the Treasurer consider re-imposing selective import controls to protect this important decentralized industry? Was this industry, which makes rayon that is used in the manufacture of Australian motor tires, another of the many industries that were seriously affected by the increased sales tax on motor vehicles and increased imports of Japanese tires? Is the economic condition of this company typical of the condition of the textile industry as a whole as a result of the Government’s import policy?
– Coming from the great industrial centre of Newcastle, the honorable gentleman should be aware that that is not typical of the industrial picture as a whole.
– Of the textile industry, I said.
– I thought the honorable member referred to the industrial picture as a whole. Undoubtedly the textile industry is one of the industries that have experienced a sharp decline in activity over recent months, just as other sections of industry have shown substantially increased production over recent months, including industries very close to the honorable gentleman. He has just made his own quite brisk review of the state of the national economy. I have already said that the Government will be making its review this week and next week of issues of policy which may arise. Question time is not the time to state these matters of policy. We have already said what our general policy is on the matter raised by the honorable gentleman, and whether that general policy should be subject to any change is a matter which Cabinet will determine after the facts are carefully considered by it.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry, is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Lalor. Is it not correct that the Australian Wool Bureau is entirely grower controlled and financed and that it is entirely for the bureau to decide whether a document such, as that referred to by the honorable member for Lalor, which was produced by Personnel Administration Proprietary Limited, should be published?
– The Australian Wool Bureau, a body established by this Parliament, appointed Personnel Administration Proprietary Limited to investigate not only the domestic market but the whole market position throughout the world. The bureau has not been able to implement its own policy decisions yet, and I do not think that it should reveal the contents of the confidential report made to it until it can deal with the report. It would not be wise for the bureau to reveal all its guns to the opposition, which includes the synthetic fibre industry.
– Don’t be so silly!
– I could not imagine anything more silly than the policy suggested by the honorable member for Lalor, which, is to spend all this money on an investigation and then reveal all the information to the opposition.
– I direct a question to the Deputy Prime Minister in his capacity of Minister for Trade. Has the right honorable gentleman seen a report to the effect that questions directed to him by Government supporters are answered promptly for political reasons but that those asked by Opposition members are forgotten or delayed? Will he say whether this is the reason why questions Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 20, 21, 22 and 23 in my name, originally placed on the business paper on 29th November, 1960, still remain unanswered? If the allegations are not correct, will the Minister state the reasons for the delay in replying and when replies may be expected?
– There is no foundation for any suggestion of political discrimination in supplying answers to questions, either upon notice or without notice. The honorable member asked a quite lengthy series of intricate questions which involved the Department of Trade in a good deal of research before it was in a position to submit a draft reply to me. I can assure the honorable member that I have a draft reply before me at present. I hope that, before the House adjourns this week, I will have an opportunity to study the draft reply, and if I approve it, the answer will be given to the honorable member.
– by leave - During question time the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) asked me whether I could give him some information about the action of the Commonwealth Statistician in abandoning the C series retail price index in the latest statement issued by him concerning movements in consumer prices. As I told the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, shortly before the House met to-day I received from the Commonwealth Statistician a statement in connexion with this matter in which he said -
In accordance with practice established before my appointment to the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics in December, 1940, and consistently followed since that date in such cases, the Statistical Bulletin relating to the Retail Price Index for March Quarter 1961 was issued by me at 11.15 a.m. on Thursday, 20th April, 1961, direct and simultaneously to the Treasurer (as Minister administering the Census and Statistics Act), the Honorable the Prime Minister and the Honorable the Leader of the Opposition. Almost concurrently it was issued to the Industrial Registrars of Arbitration Tribunals in the respective States and other officers in States concerned.
It was made available in Canberra and State capitals at noon on 20th April, 1961, for publication by the Press, Radio, Television, etc.
Prior to this hour and date, its contents or likely contents were known only to myself, senior officers of the Bureau of Census and Statistics and official statistical colleagues in several States and to nobody else. This too follows long standing practice of successive Statisticians and successive Ministers and Governments. In forty years of statistical experience I have never known nor heard of any case where that practice was departed from. Governments of all parties have regarded it as an essential principle of Government to ensure impartiality and integrity in statistics.
The following note was supplied at about 1 1 a.m. to the office of yourself, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for delivery at approximately 11.15 a.m. on Thursday, 20th April, 1961.
Mr. Carver then sets out certain details, but I do not propose to delay the House by quoting those details now. I will let the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell; have a copy of this information. The information consists of a copy of the consumer price index bulletin for the March quarter of 1961. Mr. Carver sets out details in that bulletin and gives some background data to assist the press. That background data was included in the bulletin issued by Mr. Carver on 20th April. As ail this material is available to honorable members, I will not delay the House by reading it now. In his statement to me, Mr. Carver refers to a letter delivered at approximately 11.30 a.m., on Thursday, 20th April, to industrial registrars or industrial tribunals in four States, and in substance, with local variation, to the industrial registrars in the other two States and to the Commonwealth Industrial Registrar. That letter is in these terms - Dear Sir,
“C” SERIES RETAIL PRICE INDEX.
My letter of 19th January indicated that the “ C “ Series Retail Price Index had become an unreliable measure of retail price changes in recent quarters, and that it had been replaced by the Consumer Price Index.
For the Commission’s information I enclosed therewith a statement showing indexes compiled on the old formula for December Quarter, 1960, as well as a statement showing the new Consumer Price Index Numbers.
It is not possible to compile reliable retail price indexes on the “ C “ Series formula for March Quarter, 1961.
As that formula has now outlived its capacity to serve as a reliable measure of retail price changes, the “ C “ Series Retail Price Index will not be published for March Quarter, 1961, nor ensuing periods.
The Consumer Price Index for March Quarter, 1961, and preceding periods is shown in Statistical Bulletin (S.B. 927), copy of which is enclosed herewith. This Index replaces the “ C “ Scries Retail Price Index as indicated in paragraph 5 of that Bulletin.
If you should need any further document from me for the purposes of your official functions. I should be glad if you would advise me immediately of your requirements.
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, 20th April, 1961, the Commonwealth Statistician, by arrange ment, called on the Honorable J. J. Maloney, the New South Wales Minister for Labour and Industry, at his office in Sydney to discuss problems arising under the Industrial Arbitration Act 1940-1961 of New South Wales. On Friday, 21st April, 1961, the Industrial Registrar of New South Wales wrote to the Commonwealth Statistician setting out the relevant terms of the act with which the registrar was required to comply and indicating the nature of the information and procedure specified by the act. The Commonwealth Statistician has informed me that a reply to that letter is being prepared as a matter of urgency.
At the request of the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, then meeting in Sydney, the Commonwealth Statistician conferred with seven representatives of the council at the Trades Hall, Sydney, at 9.30 a.m. on Friday, 21st April, 1961. With the concurrence of the Commonwealth Statistician following that interview, the president of the A.C.T.U. issued the following statement to the press at about 12 noon: -
The A.C.T.U. has requested the Commonwealth Statistician to supply details of available price changes of components of the “ C “ Series Index.
This material is required by the A.C.T.U. for Industrial Arbitration or other relevant purposes.
Mr. Carver indicated he had requested Industrial Registrars on Thursday, 20th, to contact him on any problems that may arise concerning the application of Price Index Numbers to Wage adjustments, and also was now arranging to supply the A.C.T.U. with available information required for Industrial Arbitration purposes.
Mr. Carver’s statement continues
On the same day (21st April, 1961) the Secretary of the A.C.T.U. sent to the Commonwealth Statistician two letters: -
Arrangements are being made to comply to-day (26th April, 1961) with request (1) above in appropriate form and through appropriate channels.
It is understood that the matter will be mentioned to-day in proceedings before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Requisite information has been supplied or is being supplied to appropriate authorities in industrial proceedings in Western Australia and Queensland.
Consideration is being given to the request (2) above, it being established practice that the Commonwealth Statistician will supply index numbers or other data required for arbitration proceedings.
– by leaveLeave was granted to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) to make his statement following a question that I asked him without notice earlier to-day. The Treasurer’s statement does not answer my question. I asked the Treasurer what authority the Commonwealth Statistician had for announcing that he had ceased to issue the C series index. This is an important administrative and constitutional matter. In accordance with arrangements made between the Commonwealth and New South Wales Governments under section 5 of the Statistics (Arrangements with States) Act it has been the practice for the Commonwealth Statistician to collect and publish statistics required by the New South Wales Government. 1 do not propose to make any reference to the validity of the index and the propriety of Mr. Carver’s action. What I do seek is an assurance that a change in the procedure will not be so suddenly and unilaterally made in the future.
– Mr. Carver has already pointed out in the statement that he is supplying the information which has been requested of him.
– That is so. It is true that this information will now be supplied, but I think a very important principle was breached last Thursday. The first pay period next month is the one when the New South Wales aribitration authorities are required, under a New South Wales statute, to take into account the movements in this index, and last Thursday the Statistician announced that he had ceased to issue the index. The difficulty of New South Wales, or in fact any State with which the Commonwealth has made statistical arrangements is that the State statistical officers and machinery have been absorbed by the Commonwealth, with the consent of the State. The cessation of statistics could put any State in an intolerable situation. In this case there was a statutory requirement that the State’s tribunals and officers have to follow. They would have been unable to follow that requirement or obey the law in their State because the Commonwealth had ceased to carry out the arrangement. I therefore hope that the Treasurer will be able to clarify this situation and give an assurance that in future the State governments will continue to receive from the Commonwealth Statistician any statistics which they seek from him, in accordance with the arrangements which have been made between the Commonwealth and the States.
– I have received a letter from the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) proposing that a definite matter of urgent public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely -
The serious effects of the high level of unemployment throughout Australia.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places) -
.- Mr. Speaker, the Opposition does not lightly take this course of action to remind the Government of its responsibility, its obligations and, indeed, its promises in respect of the serious increase in the high level of unemployment which now applies throughout Australia. I hope it does so with a proper sense of responsibility and a full knowledge of the seriousness of the situation which now applies in respect of unemployment in this country. I give the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), who is now at the table, full credit for having sufficient intelligence to appreciate the significance of the problem which, I believe, the Government has created. I use the term “ created “ deliberately, because I believe that unemployment in this country has been deliberately created by this Government.
In recent weeks we have heard assurances and propaganda, from the Minister particularly, in respect of unemployment, in which he has endeavoured to assure this House that all is well within the Australian community in the matter of employment. We were told1 that last month more than 40,000 persons in Australia transferred from one type of employment to another. That may have been the position. There may have been some changes. In point of fact, I believe there were, but what concerns the Opposition is the heavy wastage that has occurred during this transitional period because, on the Minister’s own admitted figures, more than 81,000 Australians are now registered with the Department of Labour and National Service for employment in this country. How serious that situation is can be seen if a comparison is made between the figures at the end of March last and those of only a few months previously, when unemployment had fallen from its previous high level in 1959. lt is, Sir, appalling that there should be unemployment in the community at all, but it is far worse when it is directly the result of the Government’s deliberate policy. Undoubtedly, the present serious situation is a direct result of the Government’s economic policy that was announced in the little Budget of November, 1960. It is quite clear, from the policy that was then advanced, and which was unanimously supported by members of the Government, that that policy was deliberately designed to attack various sections of the Australian industry. I put it to the Minister that the whole purpose of that exercise was to bring about the situation in respect of employment and unemployment which now exists in this country. If that were not the situation, obviously the Government’s economic policy, from its own point of view, would not have been successful. The Minister is well aware of that situation and so, too, are those members who sit behind him. To be successful, the Government’s policy had to reduce output and sales, for example, in the motor industry, with consequent unemployment, It was expected, further, that the credit squeeze would have serious consequences in the building and allied industries. How successful that policy actually was can now be seen if an examination is made of the high level of unemployment which applies in this country. Even the most optimistic supporter of the Government could not have anticipated so much success.
I am sure that members of the Government were well aware at that stage that hundreds of small businesses throughout Australia would be requested - and no doubt they are still being requested - to reduce their bank overdrafts and that they would be refused the credit which is so necessary to maintain industry in full production in Australia. Now, five months later, it can be seen, as I have said, how successful that policy actually was, if, from the Government’s point of view, we measure success in the terms of the present high level of unemployment.
On the Minister’s own figures, we are told that the present level of unemployment in this country represents only 2 per cent, of Australia’s work force of 4,200,000 - that is the figure now quoted by the Minister. I suggest at once that this is a completely ‘fictitious figure which has been coined by the Minister in recent months for the sole purpose of showing a smaller percentage of unemployed in our community than actually exists. I shall take an opportunity, at a later stage in my address, to dispute the Minister’s figure of 4,200,000 which, I say at once, is at complete variance with that provided to the Parliament by the Commonwealth Statistician.
I have already referred to some of the causes of the present high level of unemployment in Australia. I believe that the Minister is well aware of them, but there are, of course, other causes which in my opinion are closely related to the reluctance of private industry, . semi-government organizations and government organizations to continue their building programmes and to place orders for new machinery and other essential equipment. In the final analysis, this is having an effect on builders and engineers and probably, which is more important, on the many thousands of men who depend upon them for employment. My criticism of the Government’s actions in this regard is not confined merely to those people who are compelled to exist on the miserable Commonwealth sustenance, at a time when prices have never been higher, when the cost of maintaining the average family has reached fantastic proportions, and when price rises and rent factors are proving difficult even to those who have continuity of employment. As the Minister is well aware, the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures is one organization that has been most critical of the Government and its economic policies in this respect. It has never supported the Australian Labour Party. It has traditionally supported the
Liberal Party. It has supported it at the polls and, of course, assisted in having it elected to the treasury bench in 1949. So, criticism has not been confined to those sections of the Australian community to which I have just referred1.
The Minister has refused to accept assurances from this side of the House that the present level of unemployment is substantially greater than the figures that have been supplied by the Department of Labour and National Service. Whatever remarks may be made from this side of the House on this question, no criticism is directed at that department or its officers. I have had the privilege of working with these people and I am in a position to know that had it not been for the efforts of officers of that department the unemployment figures certainly would be far greater than they are to-day. That is particularly so in Tasmania. I have the greatest respect for the officers of the department in that State. I have no doubt that the position in the other States is the same.
It should be remembered, Mr. Speaker, that slightly less than eleven years ago members of the Liberal and Country Parties were telling the Australian people that they were determined that there would be full employment in this country; but even the most optimistic Government supporter would now have doubts about how that promise has been put into effect by the Government, because during its period of office unemployment has increased substantially, while employment available to the average Australian citizen has decreased substantially.
As late as November last year the Minister for Labour and National Service was telling this House that there was overfull employment in Australia. On that occasion, in answer to a question asked by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn), the Minister said -
I think the House will be aware that the motor vehicle industry as a whole is over-extended. I can state to the honorable gentleman that there are about 50,000 jobs vacant throughout industry. In other words, some 50,000 jobs cannot be filled. I have not precise figures but there are about 1,000 vacancies for motor mechanics and at least 400 for panel beaters. So I think we are entitled to say that a considerable amount of excess demand would have to be wiped off before any difficulties about employment in the motor vehicle industry could be thought of. As to industry in general, I think it ought to be known that we are suffering from overfull employment.
I repeat, the Minister referred to “ overfull employment” as late as November, 1960. He continued -
The action taken by the Government is intended to correct the position, but a person would take a very great risk if he were to say that we could actually foretell the date on which overfull employment would be reduced.
The fact remains that less than five months later there is not overfull employment; but, on the Minister’s own figures, there are now more than 81,000 persons registered with his department for employment. It is true that there was an improvement in the employment position during 1960, although even during that year the number of persons registered for unemployment benefit did not fall below 10,000 at any time.
Now let me deal with the unemployment figures during the term of office of the present Government. At the end of January, 1957, there were 52,629 persons registered for employment. At the end of January, 1959, the figure had climbed to 81,901. By March, 1959, there had been a slight improvement and 69,344 persons were registered. By March, 1960, the figure had dropped still further to 54.165; but at the end of March, 1961, the figure was up to 81,865. That is the latest figure available to this Parliament.
Let me put the position another way by quoting round figures to show that the number of persons registered for employment with the Department of Labour and National Service has increased in each year of the term of office of this Government. In 1956 the average number of persons registered was approximately 31,000; in 1957 it was 52,000; in 1958 at was 64,000; in 1959 it was 69,000; and at this early stage in 1961 the number is almost 83,000. Knowing all the risks of making a prophecy in this Parliament, I can assure the Minister that the figures for April will be substantially higher than those released by his department at the end of March.
I turn now to the figures for persons registered for unemployment benefit, which is commonly known as the dole, for the years to which I have already referred. In March. 1957, 13,077 persons were registered for unemployment benefit; in March, 1958, the figure was 24,485; by
March, 1959, it had climbed as high as 27,669. In 1960 there was the improvement to which I have already referred, and the figure dropped to 18,177; but again, at that early stage of the year, in March, 1961, the figure was 29,718.
So, it can be seen, both from the number of persons registered with the Department of Labour and National Service as requiring employment and the number of persons registered for unemployment benefit, that unemployment in Australia has increased substantially during each year of the term of office of this Government. Unemployment increased by 107 per cent, in January and February of this year, compared with an increase of only 41 per cent, in the corresponding period last year. The March, 1961, figure represents an increase of more than 33 per cent, on the March, 1960, figure. It should be pointed out that in all the other years unemployment has shown a substantial fall in March, but this year the position has been the opposite. Instead of falling, as in other years, unemployment has climbed dramatically.
The Opposition is not satisfied that the Government intends to correct this situation. To date it has taken practically no action to release substantial credit, as it should do. That would materially assist the building and allied industries, lt has taken no action to assist the textile industries of Australia. It has taken no action at all to assist the timber industry, which to-day is greatly depressed in all States. I believe that the Government has an obligation, not only to this Parliament but also to the Commonwealth of Australia, to maintain full employment. It is not sufficient for the Government merely to aim at high levels of employment in very prosperous conditions, although admittedly that might be better than the situation that has obtained during the great crises of past depressions. It should be the right of every man and woman in this country to have full employment. If there is unemployment or a threat of unemployment in the community, whether those affected are old Australians or new Australians, that is injurious not only to those people and their families, but also to every one else in the community.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– In my remarks to the House on the employment situation I will deal with the substance of what the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) has said. I think I should direct attention in a preliminary way to two of his statements. The first one is in relation to the work force figure of 4,200,000. He claimed that that figure is a completely fictitious figure coined by me, as Minister, in recent months. He then went on to state that he believed that the Department of Labour and National Service itself would not publish false figures and that I had coined the figure. In effect, he implied that I had acted independently of the department. I take no part in the preparation of these documents and the collection of the facts. The honorable gentleman wanted to have it both ways. He wanted to praise the department, but to criticize me. If he himself looks at the document issued by the department, at the end of it he will see these words -
There are no precise statistics of the work force available, except at census dates, and the estimate of about 4,200,000 is based upon certain assumptions.
I have not made any change in the basis of those assumptions since I became the Minister. Neither did my predecessor, the present Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). The figures have been computed in exactly the same way ever since this Government came to office.
– Those are the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures.
– You did not say that. You said I had coined the figure, and you implied that I had acted on my own, without reference to the department.
The second point I wish to make clear is that there has been what can be regarded only as a deliberate misrepresentation of an answer that T gave in this House, to the effect that the Government had taken action to cure a position of over-full employment and to bring employment into balance. The honorable member distorted my answer. He misinterpreted it and suggested that it meant that the Government had deliberately intended to create largescale unemployment. Either he did not know the meaning of the conclusions he was drawing or he misunderstood the answer that I gave to the question that an honorable member had asked me.
That is all I wish to say about the honorable member’s speech. I think my remarks in this debate can be grouped under three headings. First, what has been done and what has been achieved; secondly, what is happening to-day; and thirdly, the important question of what is likely to happen in the future. As to what has happened and what has been achieved, I think the House remembers our diagnosis of the economic problems that existed in October and November of last year. The Opposition agrees with that diagnosis and, I think, so do most other honorable members of this Parliament. I think it can be summarized in this way: We had a rising rate of inflation, we had balance-of-payments problems, and we had a problem of over-full employment. The economic and financial reforms adopted by the Government represented an attempt to improve that state of affairs and - this is of enormous importance - to bring about a set of economic conditions in which Australia could progress, and in which job opportunities would continue to increase. Far from having any intention to create unemployment, the Government was desirous of ensuring increasing employment opportunities in the future. It is against that background that we have to look at the problem.
I made it clear to this House on an earlier occasion, Mr. Speaker, that during each of the last two months the Department of Labour and National Service itself has effected transfers of at least 40,000 individuals from industry to industry and within industries. There have been, of course, many such transfers apart from those for which the department is responsible, and the total number of transfers is much greater than 40,000 in these months. The result of this activity has been that personnel have been transferred from important industries, in some cases quite important ones, to industries that are essential to our future progress. People went from industries such as the motor vehicle industry and certain other manufacturing industries into others engaged in carrying out public works programmes, or into heavy industries such as the metal trades industries, or into the transport industries. These transfers were on such a scale and were so successful that although there was a fall in employment in manufacturing industry to the extent of 13,700 employees, the number of public works employees increased by 14,000, and the number of those employed in other avenues of private employment increased by 11,700. In other words, something that we regarded as essential for our future progress has largely been achieved.
We knew that it was essential, in the interest of this country, that transfers of employees should take place to essential industries, and I, personally, think that the economy of the country is in a sounder position than it has been for some years past.
If you ask what proof there is of this contention, I shall refer you to the production statistics for March, 1961, as compared with March, 1960. If you consider the figures for essential industries such as those concerned with pig iron, steel, tin plate, electricity and sulphuric acid, you will find that these essential industries now have the manpower that they need, and that their production is increasing at a significant rate. The Government is entitled to claim credit for its part in the re-deployment of labour from admittedly important industries to other industries which, in our present circumstances, are much more important and even essential. In other words, we are justified in claiming that, economically and industrially, the country is stronger than it has been for some time past.
The second section of my remarks is concerned with what is happening to-day. As I have said, we have been passing through a transition stage. The Government has been criticized in various quarters, but I would point out that while the critics have highlighted the problems, few of them have said anything about the success that has been achieved as a consequence of government action. I want to state quite clearly, Sir, that it is much too early to be able to say in positive terms when the transition period will come to an end. So far as employment is concerned, I believe that the position relating to the transfer of labour has by now just about straightened itself out. As to the economy as a whole, I think it would have been fatal to make any major change before now in the policies we announced in August and November. In other words the policies are working out much as they were expected to work out. They have achieved good results. To have changed them prematurely would, 1 believe, have been hazardous. This does not mean that in particular circumstances, affecting particular States or particular industries, the Government has not taken special action.
The honorable gentleman who led the debate for the Opposition made the amazing statement that we had done nothing. Let us look at the matter from the point of view of particular industries and particular States. Take the case of Queensland. Because of seasonal conditions in that State, the Government felt that special action should be taken, and action was taken to give assistance, by way of the provision of special finance, in the building of roads and the provision of housing. 1 personally have received a letter from the Queensland Treasurer thanking the Government for what it has done to help Queensland in the difficult circumstances in which it found itself. I believe the Queensland position will correct itself fairly quickly, because it is expected that as the meat season gets under way about 3,500 persons will obtain employment in that industry. As the cutting and milling season for sugar cane commences and builds up, an additional 1 1 ,000 persons will be given employment in the industry.
It can be seen, therefore, that in special circumstances the Government acts on a State basis. It acts on an industry basis in exactly the same way. A good deal has been said about the housing industry and the textile industry. A thorough review has been made of the housing situation, and the Government has taken preliminary action to increase the number of units commenced. We believe that the Government’s action will, over a period, have a quite decisive effect. There is before the Government at the present time a paper giving a review of the textile industries. If it is thought necessary and it is practicable, action can be taken to help those industries to increase the numbers of their employees.
I have given examples of special action taken by the Government, whether for the benefit of a particular State or of a particular industry, in order to sustain a high level of employment and to ensure that the economic foundations of the country remain sound. Let me now turn to what is likely to happen in the future. As I have said, we are going through a period of transition, and it would have been hazardous in the extreme to have changed major policies during that period. But again I say that action is taken on a special basis when we consider it to be necessary.
Now let me mention one or two other matters that ought to be kept in mind when we are considering the problem of the future. The honorable gentleman who led the debate for the Opposition dealt with figures showing the total numbers of unemployed, and the numbers of registrants for employment, year by year. I think his comparison was incorrect, for this reason, that between December, 1949, and December, 1960, the population of this country increased steadily from something like 7,900,000 to 10,400,000. So to compare the greater unemployment figures of 1960 with 1949 figures in that way is to make a quite illogical comparison.
Secondly, Sir, I think that when looking at the percentages we should remember the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This is a transition period in which the basic industry of the economy is being strengthened. We have had seasonal problems in Queensland, problems of mechanization and, I believe, in a sense problems caused by bad commercial judgments made by certain sections of industry. We have had all these problems in this period. For these special reasons, we should look at the figure of something like 2 per cent, as being not unacceptably large in these circumstances. In this proportion of about 2 per cent. - I leave out seasonal unemployment, which some people put as high as li per cent. - there are perhaps between 20,000 and 30,000 people who are not permanently employable. No one who takes these figures into consideration can honestly say that in the circumstances in which we find ourselves unemployment has reached a dangerous level. I do not think that in fact the position is dangerous.
Events have turned out much as was expected by the Government. What will happen in the future is now the important question, and there are some figures which should be mentioned. Since October, the numbers in civilian employment have increased by well over 12,000. This means that job oppportunities continue to increase. The number of people in civilian employment - this is not total employment - has risen to 3,077,000 - a quite substantial increase compared with the figure for October. So we are entitled to say that all this propaganda and argument by the Opposition ignores the fact that the work force is expanding and job opportunities are increasing.
I finish on this note, Sir: Those who do the greatest evil to this country are those who are attempting to destroy confidence. Those who cry fear usually die of heart failure. I suggest that over the months ahead of us the Opposition will regret, although it has not attempted to make exact forecasts on this occasion, that it has so consistently and mischievously raised the subject of unemployment in this House.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– Mr. Speaker, I hoped that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) would give us something better to-day than we have heard from him for some time about th? Government’s planning for the purpose of taking up the slack represented by those who have now joined the dole queues of this country. I can interpret only in one way his remark that we have been in a stage of transition. During March, 2,521 more people were added to the dole queues in Sydney, and I suggest that apparently the transition is from full employment to large-scale unemployment and that the Minister is not very much concerned about the people in the dole queues and does not care whether their number grows without limit. I am not unmindful of the fact that the same Minister, on the last occasion on which he addressed the House on this subject, stated that we have not yet learned to live in comfort with full employment. He has demonstrated by his contribution to the discussion this afternoon that he is quite content for the people to live in discomfort with unemployment so long as he is comfortable.
The level of unemployment rises every day. I shall not predict what will happen in the future, because my concern is for the present. I noticed a while ago that the
Minister made a fleeting reference to unemployment of H per cent, being due to seasonal occupations. He was referring to something which was alleged to have been said by the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and which was mentioned in this House last week by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), who, according to “ Hansard “ quoted the president of that council as having said that we do not panic over a small percentage of unemployment and that unemployment of 1.5 per cent, is seasonal. Such a statement was r.ever made by the president of the organization. The Minister and later the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) agreed with the honorable member for Chisholm and made similar statements suggesting that this remark about unemployment of 1.5 per cent, being due to seasonal circumstances had been made by the president of the Australia:: Council of Trade Unions, but both the Minister for Labour and National Service and the Treasurer should have understood that the truth about what was said was contained in the official records of the Department of Immigration. These Ministers were not sufficiently interested in the truth. They preferred to live with an untruth instead of looking up the records to see exactly what had been said.
What the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions had said was on record in a ministerial file in the House at the very time when these incorrect statements were made by the honorable member for Chisholm, the Treasurer and the Minister for Labour and National Service. In my view, Ministers do not observe proper parliamentary standards of conduct when they agree with a statement that is completely untrue although the truth can be ascertained merely by little more than the lifting of a finger in this House. The president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions was referring to the 1.5 per cent, of the work force which is floating and which meets the demand for the kind of employment that he was dealing with at the time - employment on undertakings such as the Snowy Mountains scheme and the Eildon Weir, and other public works as well as all the rest of the projects associated with national development. The Minister’s argument suggests to me that he has lost touch with what is really happening.
I am glad to see that the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) is now in the chamber. I was privileged to visit his electorate earlier this week. The official records show that an additional 120 people joined the dole queues in Rockhampton during March. Only one more would have made a total of 1,300 people in the dole queues in that important city in central Queensland. In these circumstances, the honorable member ought to be on his feet saying the sort of thing that we are saying. Let me remind him and the House that although the Minister says that we have reached the limit in the transfer of staff, in the last fortnight or a little more, a further 75 people have been put out of work in Rockhampton as a result of several more establishments closing down. Surely nobody knows better than does the honorable member for Capricornia that the meat industry will provide employment only until about the end of August. Does he suggest that 1,300 unemployed should join the dole queues again immediately the meat season finishes at the end of August?
This Government is clever and pays the dole by cheque so that the workers who are on the dole are not seen lining up to be paid. At 31st March, 4,655 people were in the dole queues in Sydney. The Minister says that we are finished with the transferring of staff. Does he suggest that these 4,655 unemployed workers and their families who now get nothing but the dole should be thrown to the wolves by the Government? His attitude in saying that the transfer of staff is finished seems to suggest that this is what he thinks should happen. The figures for March show an increase in the rate at which people are joining the dole queues in Queensland. The increase was 1,152 in Brisbane, 120 in Rockhampton, as T have already stated, and 122 in Townsville, and the dole queues lengthened also in Mackay. Bundaberg, Toowoomba, Ingham, Innisfail and Ipswich. In all these important towns, more people are joining the dole queues. And I remind honorable members that the dole is only about £6 a week for a family.
I repeat that 1,152 more people went on lae dole in Brisbane during March and ore than double that number in Sydney. Yet the Minister has just told us that we have been passing through a transition stage and that he believes the Government has achieved something. It has achieved something, Mr. Speaker! The Minister said that since October the number of people in civilian employment has increased by more than 12,000. This represents an increase in jobs available of about 12,000 over a period of about six months, although approximately 80,000 people a year are being added to the work force from within this country, quite apart from the workers brought here by our immigration programme. If the Minister is happy about an additional 12,000 jobs having been found, it shows quite emphatically, Mr. Speaker, that he has lost touch with the developmental needs of this country.
Let us consider the dole queues. Unemployment in the city of Sydney increased by 2,561 between 1st March and 1st April. Those 2,561 people were working on 1st March, but none of them was working on 1st April. Surely the Minister will not attempt to place them in the category of persons who were unemployable. I have looked at the figures for as far back as 1929. I did not find one month, not even in 1929, in which the number of people joining the dole queues had doubled. 1 have examined the employment position in the town of Orange, from which I came originally. Incidentally, the Orange figures were dropped from the March employment statistics. In February last, there were 132 people on the dole in Orange. There were only 600 on the dole there at the height of the depression.
If the Minister for Labour and National Service and the Government are not alive to the present position they will have to answer for the consequences.
– Calamity howling!
– The honorable member for Capricornia, who represents the Rockhampton district, says that I am calamity howling. Is it calamity howling to come to this Parliament and direct attention to the fact that an additional 30 people each week have been joining the dole queues in Rockhampton? If that is the honorable member’s view, he is entitled to it, but I suggest that he cannot expect to be here after the next genera] election. Does he want to see employees in the furnituremanufacturing industry and other industries in
Rockhampton join the dole queues because no employment is being found by this Government? I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that the Australian Labour Party is to be commended for bringing to the attention of the House the continued existence of an unsatisfactory employment position, although the Minister says it has already settled down.
The Government has done greater damage to the economy than has yet been revealed. There is a lack of confidence throughout the economic structure because of maladministration. Unless somebody takes a hand and alters the present policies, the Government will continue to make one bad decision after another. As 1 have said, the number joining the dole queues in Rockhampton increased by 120 in March. I remind the honorable member for Capricornia that in the Rockhampton area not one new building project has been commenced, in a city of 43,000 people. The only building under construction there will be completed in about a fortnight’s time. Not even a home has been commenced. When an approach was made to the State Government about the construction of housing commission homes it had nothing to say.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The purpose of the proposal before the House, Mr. Speaker, is to attempt to convince us that there is in this country an unusual employment situation. Unfortunately, there is no unanimity amongst honorable members opposite in relation to the matter. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) was in Queensland at the week-end. Last Thursday night, he served notice on this House that he intended to go to Brisbane for a monster rally on unemployment. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) confined himself in the debate to the position in Queensland, so one might expect to learn that the monster rally in Brisbane had been well attended. In fact, 120 people attended. There was a riot in the place where the rally was held, and police had to be called in to eject some of those present. The monster unemployment rally just did not come off. The Leader of the Opposition was forced to change his ground. He went on to Ipswich, and he is reported as having said there that unemployment in Queensland was the sole responsibility of the State Government, and not that of the Commonwealth Government at all. There is no unanimity in the matter. Indeed, there is no unanimity between honorable members opposite and the trade unions.
Mr. Monk, the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, recently made a statement in regard to employment. The honorable member for Blaxland said that what Mr. Monk is reported to have said is not what he in fact said. The honorable member proceeded to put Mr. Monk’s statement in what he regards as the correct perspective. He said that Mr. Monk’s statement was to the effect that there had to be a floating pool in the work force of 1 .5 per cent, for the purpose of undertaking national projects. If that does not mean that there must be 1.5 per cent, of unemployment, I should like to know what it does mean. That is the precise interpretation that was given to Mr. Monk’s statement, and that is the only interpretation that it will bear.
It is not new for the Opposition to be in disagreement with the Australian Council of Trade Unions on this issue. Two years ago, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) asked the House to discuss the subject of unemployment as a matter of urgency. A week or two before that time, Mr. Monk had said that there was no serious unemployment situation in Australia. The statement was denied. Then Mr. Evans, the vice-president of the A.C.T.U., said that he agreed with Mr. Monk that there was not a serious unemployment position. Mr. Souter, the secretary of the A.C.T.U., said the same thing. When the matter came before the House, the honorable member for Bass said, in effect, “ Well, I must confess that the situation is not as serious now as it was before “.
Back in 1959, the honorable member for Bass gave us some figures in the course of his speech. He said that, at that time, 27,500 persons were in receipt of unemployment benefit. If the number in receipt of the benefit was so large, one might have expected that there- would have been a similar proposal to discuss the matter as one of urgency in 1960. But not a bit of it! The honorable member contented himself by speaking on unemployment during the Address-in-Reply debate. There was no attempt to discuss the matter as one of urgency in that part of 1959, although the honorable member had alleged that it was serious in March, 1959.
What is the number of people in receipt of unemployment benefit to-day? It is 29,000, or approximately 2,000 more than the 1959 figure. Let us make some interesting comparisons, using figures that were given by the honorable member for Bass during the Address-in-Reply debate in 1959. In December, 1958, there were 27,565 persons in receipt of unemployment benefit, while the number registered for employment was 64,678. In March, 1961, the figures were: 29,718 in receipt of unemployment benefit, and 81,000 registered for employment. It will be seen that while the number in receipt of unemployment benefit had increased by approximately 2,200, the number of registrations for employment had increased by more than 16,000. Therefore, the statement of the Minister for Labour and National Service that we are in a better position to-day to fill vacancies as people become unemployed is precisely right. If that does not constitute an improvement in our economic position, I should like to know what does.
Let us examine some of the other statements made by the honorable member for Bass. He said that he had1 not lightly undertaken to initiate a discussion of the employment position. He said that unemployment had been deliberately created. Why did the employment position of a couple of years ago not become the subject of discussion as a matter of urgency? In fact, in 1959 the honorable member was concerned with inflation. He said at that time that the Government ought to take action to arrest the harmful effects of inflation. He invited the Government to adopt economic measures. He referred to some of the steps which the Government had taken and contended that they had been ineffective. Although he has said to-day that the Government should do something to relieve unemployment, he has not suggested a single thing that the Government ought to do. In 1959, he took the precaution of telling everybody that import licensing was a completely ineffective means of improving the economic situa tion. Of course, he was on very dangerous ground to-day. He could not suggest that import licensing be used to cure the ill, because he had already put it aside as being completely ineffective. As one of my colleagues says, he is discredited. There are other aspects of the speeches that have been made by the honorable member for Bass to which I could refer, but perhaps it would be better not to dwell on them because they may be far too embarrassing for him to hear repeated.
The late Mr. Clarey, the former very respected honorable member for Bendigo, complained in January, 1959, that 80,000 people were registered for employment, but the matter was not then raised as one of urgent public importance. He simply made the statement during the course of the Address-in-Reply debate. At present there are 81,000 people registered for employment, a difference of only 1,000 from the position that existed in 1959; but to-day the Opposition has raised the question as one warranting urgent discussion. The position in 1959 did not so alarm the then honorable member for Bendigo and the honorable member for Bass as to warrant a request for an urgency discussion. What has happened now to prompt this request? The honorable member for Bass said to-day that he has no doubt that the present position is referable exclusively to the economic measures that were taken by the Government last November. . If this is so, to what was the position in 1959 referable - a position which caused very little concern at that time to the Opposition?
The fundamental problem which faces Australia to-day, and will face Australia in the future, is our capacity to provide job opportunities for the people who are coming forward seeking jobs - the children leaving school and the immigrants. It is interesting to remember that in 1959 the honorable member for Bass stated that he did not believe that children leaving school and seasonal workers had any effect on the employment position, but to-day we must ensure that we are able to meet the demands for job opportunities as they confront us. The economic measures that were taken last November have put us in a stronger position to provide these job opportunities. We must continue our present rate of national development. The die is already cast in relation to children leaving school because of the population bulge and the people within the various age groups who will be looking for work. How are we to meet the position? That is the problem. In proposing this urgency discussion the Opposition referred to the serious effects of unemployment in Australia to-day, but we were not given any information about it. We were told merely that there was unemployment.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I support the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) in this most important matter. During the debate on the recent want of confidence motion that was proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) I directed attention to the serious unemployment in Queensland and cited many figures to substantiate my statements in relation to unemployment in various centres along the coastal strip. Since then the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) has been questioned in the House on many occasions about this matter, but he has tried to hide behind the statement that seasonal conditions are responsible for the present position in Queensland. All I can say in reply to that statement is that 3,000 children who left school at the end of last year are still walking the streets in that State looking for work. I have been informed that the position will worsen because the number of persons in the fifteen to nineteen years age group will increase from 315,000 in 1960 to 452,000 in 1970. So, from the point of view of the employment of youths in Queensland the position is pretty serious: but it is pretty serious also from the point of view of the employment of their fathers. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) has stated what he learned when he visited Rockhampton, one of the principal centres of Queensland, last week-end.
The Minister for Labour and National Service has talked about seasonal unemployment, but let. me reply to some of his airyfairy statements. The meatworks at Gladstone have commenced operations but only 200 men are engaged there. In addition, only about 300 are employed at the meatworks at Rockhampton. Some of the meat works in Townsville do not commence operations until 2nd May, and the Merinda meatworks do not start until 8th May. Some sugar mills start work towards the end of June and others in early July. The meat industry faces one of the shortest seasons on record and it expects to cease operations about August. The men engaged in the industry have been unemployed for eight months. Yet the Minister talks about seasonal unemployment, and claims that everything in the garden soon will be lovely.
As honorable members know, the Brisbane “ Telegraph “ is not a Labour publication, but 1 should like to read from the leading article - “ Telegraph Opinion “ - which appeared in the issue of 19th April, one week ago to-day, to reply to some of the statements that have been made by the Minister for Labour and National Service. The article is headed “A Bad Let-down for Queensland “ and reads -
It is becoming increasingly clear that the people of Queensland have been the victims of a political confidence trick.
The workless who have been buoyed up by Canberra’s slick talk now face the great let-down.
From all the assurances of Commonwealth measures to help this State ride out the present uncertain economic conditions not a single concrete plan of immediate assistance has emerged.
It is obvious that not an extra penny will be available from the Federal Treasury until the next Budget is brought down in August - four months away.
Meanwhile Queensland remains the Cinderella State.
Here is the record rich in promises but poor in performance: On the eve of his departure for overseas on February 20th the Prime Minister outlined a scheme of road-building in Queensland’s north and west. A month later the National Development Minister declared that construction work would begin in a few months, and that up to £10,000,000 would be spent. The Federal Treasurer foreshadowed an easing of credit restrictions.
But the fact is that the excellent road construction plan envisaged by the Commonwealth is a long-range project: the first “ exploratory conference “ between State and Federal officials has not yet begun.
What is the meaning of all this airy-fairy talk about a £10,000,000 project? The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said that there would be an easing of credit restrictions. He was in Queensland last week-end and claims to have explained the position to the people there; but he is as much confounded in relation to their fears as he is to the continuation of the credit squeeze. The article goes on in this way -
And there apparently is no money in Canberra’s coffers for any works to stimulate employment in Queensland now.
Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank has made it clear that there will be no relaxation of the credit squeeze.
All this adds up to a shocking let-down for Queenslanders, and that is why the State Government again is surveying its finances in an effort to provide more jobs while Canberra banks on the normal seasonal upswing in activity to resolve the problem.
This is a situation that can no longer be tolerated. The Federal members of Parliament who represent this forgotten State must prod Canberra into an urgent realization that the north will never be developed on a foundation of words and piecrust promises.
Those are not my words; they are the words of the person who wrote the editorial.
That comment was published by the Brisbane “ Telegraph “, an evening newspaper, a week ago in answer to the Minister for Labour and National Service. In February, the Government announced a £10,000,000 project of road construction. Roads are vital to the future development of Queensland because we must have roads to open up the State. Airy-fairy speeches by Government supporters about the potentialities of Queensland are all very well, but I read in the press recently that the Government proposes to make a gesture by advancing £500,000 for roads in 1961-62. Apparently, that is the extent of its implementation of the £10,000,000 project announced last February. We are to get £500,000! One of the beef roads projected by the Queensland Government will cost nearly that much.
If this Government wants to do something to help the unemployed, it should plan assistance for seasonal workers now so that something will be available for them when they cease work in August. Workers in the sugar industry will be involved a few weeks later. We should have a road from Townsville to Mr Isa to link up with a bitumen road from Mr lsa to Darwin. Such roads would be of value not only for general transport and development but also for defence. A road should be constructed from Rockhampton to Longreach to tap the great central west of Queensland. Then, and only then, will something tangible be done to assist in the development of that State. Never mind about speeches! The Government should make money available to the Queensland Government, which should then decide the priorities. A road construction programme in Queensland is a matter for the Queensland Government. The Commonwealth controls the purse strings. It should provide the money and lay aside the question of priorities.
Never mind long-range plans! The position will be very difficult by the time the Budget is presented unless the Government is prepared to do something now. The Queensland seasonal workers will want other work within a matter of months. It should be planned now so that when their present employment is terminated other work will be available to them. We do not want to see men on the dole. Good Lord, the first money that kids of 16 will get this year will be the dole! I support the article that has been published in the Brisbane “ Telegraph “. I appeal to the Government to wake up to the position in that State. The meeting that was attended by the honorable member for Blaxland at Rockhampton was not held for fun. Its purpose was to direct the attention of the Government in particular to the unemployment in Queensland. People of Queensland want to know whether the Commonwealth Government is planning something for the immediate future.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It is interesting to note that of the three speakers who have spoken on the Opposition side in this debate, two have chosen Queensland as the State worst affected by unemployment. It is interesting because Queensland has the longest history of control by a Labour government of any State in the Commonwealth. Labour governments were in office in Queensland for 40 years and in that time not one single great industry was brought to Queensland. To-day, Queensland relies on a rural economy which has been brought about by Labour administration over a period of 40 years. We might ask, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why no great industry was established in Queensland in that time. The answer is this: During that period, it was the policy of the Labour Government in Queensland - as it has been the policy of all socialist governments - to increase the taxes of all those who contribute something to the wealth of the country. In the period before the introduction of uniform taxation, Queensland had the highest incidence of income tax of any State in Australia. The company tax was 2s. higher than any other rate of company tax in Australia. Is it any wonder that industries have not come to Queensland? 1 remind the House also that Queensland is the only Australian State that has abolished its Upper House of legislature. With only one house in the State Parliament, there is no security for industry. A Cabinet can decide to alter any law or make any law. With a docile party following its leaders - as is the case with the Labour Party - the decision of Cabinet can become law the next day. Do the people realize that with a one-house parliament such as we have in Queensland, the Government can take away the franchise of the people affected overnight? That is something the people should ponder. We believe in one. man one vote but that right can be lost overnight. The judiciary is in a most uneasy position also because any judge can be sacked overnight under a one-house system.
Industry does not like to face up to such a situation. If an industry is established in a State, those responsible for it like to know that their investment, possibly amounting to millions of pounds, has some security. It is amazing to compare Queensland, the richest State in Australia in natural resources, with the other States. As I have said, not one industry was brought to Queensland by the Labour governments that were in office for 40 years. Let us compare Queensland with South Australia - a State poor in natural resources as some honorable members have said. South Australia has the greatest development in proportion to its natural resources of any State in Australia. It also has probably the greatest history of anti-socialist government of any Australian State; yet nobody in this House, and certainly nobody in the Opposition, has mentioned unemployment in South Australia. The people should ponder this situation.
Unfortunately, it is true that we have unemployment in Queensland, but that is simply because we have a rural economy with resultant seasonal unemployment. The situation has been adversely affected by the drought. Meat works in Queensland would have started earlier but for the drought. As the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) has said, the meat season will prob ably be short because the monsoon failed us. We did not get the heavy rains which normally fall in the north in the monsoon season, and so we will not have the usual flow of cattle to the meat works.
– What about the timber industry?
– Three industries were affected by the Government’s economic measures, and they were industries which had over-expanded. The answer is contained in the report of the Tariff Board o:i the timber industry. In the building industry, there were widespread complaints about workmanship. There was terrific overexpansion in the industry. Workmanship was bad and inefficient and the cost to the community was considerable. It is easy for the Australian Labour Party to criticize the amount of unemployment in Australia. There is no unemployment in a totalitarian economy because, under that system, no one has the. choice of a job. Here it does no harm to repeat that when the Labour Government was in office eleven years ago one of its Ministers said that the time was fast approaching when a man would no longer be able to choose his own job. Of course there would be full employment in such an economy, but the individual would have no choice of the calling he would follow. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) said that 40,000 workers had changed their employment.
– They were compulsorily transferred.
– That is the honorable member’s version. I point out to him that under a Labour government the decision as to where a man worked would be made by the government. As to seasonal employment, it should be noted that the awards of seasonal workers provide a loading to cover the period between the end of one season and the beginning of the next. Since the present Government has been in office these seasonal workers have enjoyed continual employment between seasons. It is only now that things are becoming harder for them, but the remedy is fast coming to Queensland in that industries are being encouraged by the anti-socialist government there to set up operations in that State.
The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) criticized the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) because no industries were being set up at Rockhampton. 1 should say that the honorable member for Capricornia has done more than any other person to encourage the establishment of new industries in his electorate. I mention, for example, the coal industry at Kianga and the new oil refinery at Port Alma. Undoubtedly there will be further development in that State because of the confidence industries have in its present anti-socialist government.
In this debate initiated by the Opposition - and we have had quite a number of them recently - we are criticized for the overall unemployment of 2 per cent, in Australia. But honorable gentlemen opposite have put forward a very weak case. With our delicately balanced economy, when we depend on our primary industries for 80 per cent, of our overseas income, we are in a particularly vulnerable position, in that we have no control over the prices we receive for the primary products we export.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Mcpherson (Mr. Barnes) stated that the unemployment existing in Queensland at the moment is due to the fact that Queensland’s economy is a rural economy, that there are no secondary industries there. In effect, he implied that the other parts of Australia where the economy is not rural are not affected by unemployment. I have before me a statement which appeared in the “ Sydney Morning Herald” of 5th April, 1961. lt is a statement made by the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures to the effect that factory employment in Victoria fell by 3.1 per cent, between 30th June and 17th March. In that same statement the general manager of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures, Mr. A. N. Curphey, is reported as having said that the fall in takehome pay was about 25s. a week per factory employee. He also said that had the comparison been made with last October instead of last June the fall in employment would have been greater. Mr. Curphey also said that the fall in take-home pay was beginning to show in a fall in retail sales, and that a true picture of the economic problems facing Australia was needed for the appropriate remedies to be applied quickly. He said that stocks were building up because of noticeable buyer resistance, and that the position would deteriorate further in April, May and June, when the Government might find a balance of payments conservation policy necessary.
On the same date the director of the Australian Industries Development Association, Mr. C. P. Puzey, is reported as having said that the obvious way to stop the flood of unnecessary imports without major dislocation to the economy was by adequate tariffs. He also said that the manufacturing industries would be called upon to absorb 400,000 extra workers in the 1960’s.
The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman), who is sitting at the table, said that between October last and the present time there had been an increase of 12,000 in our employment force, yet Mr. Puzey points out that 400,000 people would have to be provided for in our employment force during this decade. I remind honorable members that in the Scullin electorate there is unemployment in the clothing trade, in the textile trade, in the rope and cordage industry, in the brick, tile and pottery manufacturing industry, and in the building trades. And that unemployment is increasing!
This indictment of the Government comes not from the Labour Party - not from the. socialists, as the honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Barnes) likes to call us - but from the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures and those big industries in Australia in which employment is decreasing considerably because of the flood of goods from overseas and because of the effects of the credit squeeze which, with other things, was introduced by this Government. Those people say that the Government should reverse its policy. They say also that the 81,000 people who are at present registered as unemployed do not represent the total number of unemployed in Australia. If we take, into consideration those who are in part-time employment, those whose overtime has been stopped, and others, the number of unemployed would probably be 160,000. This state of affairs has had such an effect on both retail sales and manufacturing industries that unemployment, instead of diminishing, is increasing considerably. 1 do not wish to take up all my time in pointing out what everybody knows. Everybody does know that unemployment exists, and that it is increasing. I wish to point out some of the causes of this increasing unemployment. First, it is due to the fact that imports have flooded into the country, and are still flowing in at flood level. For instance, in six months we have bought from the United Kingdom goods worth £74,000,000 more than the goods we have sold to the United Kingdom. When the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), who has been castigated by others outside this chamber as the leader of a party that believes in free trade, found that Japan had an adverse trade balance with us amounting to many millions of pounds each year, he entered into a trade treaty with Japan which had for its object, not the sale of more goods to, but the purchase of more goods from, Japan. But he has taken no such action in reverse to remedy the adverse position that has existed down through the years in Australia’s trade with the United Kingdom. In 1957-58 the adverse trade balance with the United Kingdom was £104,000,000; in 1959-60 it was £93,000,000. For the first six months of this financial year our adverse trade balance with the United Kingdom was £74,000,000, and by the end of the year it will be £140,000,000 or £150,000,000. Why did not this Government say to the United Kingdom Government, “ There must be some equalization of our sales to you and your sales to us “?
– How do we stand with Japan?
– Whereas Japan is purchasing over £100,000,000 worth of goods from us in a year, we are purchasing from Japan goods to the value of about £50,000,000. That trade is adverse to Japan and to our advantage, to the extent of about £50,000,000. I agree that something could be done there. Something should be done with other countries, but the Government has not done it. It should immediately impose selective credit restrictions. It should also impose selective control of overseas capital coming to this country. I asked the Minister representing the
Minister for Customs and Excise what were the types, quantities and values of imported goods in bond, upon which customs duties had not been paid. The Minister replied, in effect, “ I do not know. The quantity is considerable and it is increasing.” I also asked what amount of overseas capital had come into this country since 1959. The Minister replied, in effect, “ I have not the slightest idea. I can tell you the figures for the period up to 1959, but from there onwards 1 cannot tell you.”
Those are fundamental matters which it is necessary for us to know if we are to gauge what is to happen to the industries and employment of our people in the years ahead. We should know something about the amount of goods in bond that can be released at any moment - as soon as selective import restrictions are imposed by the Government, or as soon as some kind of credit squeeze prevents similar goods from entering the country. That is the problem that faces Australia at the present time. No one in a position of authority in this Parliament can tell us what is the position in connexion with imports. No one can tell us the position in connexion with the flood of overseas capital or the purposes for which that capital is used in this country. Can the people place any reliance upon a government that does not know such things and does not care about the future of the country? The Government, of course, was horrified when the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures came out and attacked it openly.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) opened this debate by stating that unemployment in this country had been deliberately created by this Government. That, of course, is completely untrue. The honorable member for Bass has shown clearly that this debate has been brought on for political rather than for national purposes. I shall answer him in a similar vein, putting the blame for any recent increase in unemployment exactly where it belongs - at the feet of the Australian Labour Party. Sir, we know full well that the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr.
Ward) are close associates. No doubt they both agree that, as the honorable member for Parkes said, 5 per cent, of unemployment is a satisfactory situation. That is not good enough for Government supporters - it never was - and we are right behind our leaders, whose policies over the last decade or so have kept unemployment down to 2 per cent. It must be remembered that this very low figure takes account of many thousands of people who are not easily employable, for a variety of reasons, and that about 1.5 per cent, of the people who comprise the work force are continually moving from seasonal work to seasonal work and from one major construction development to another. Any recent increase in the number of unemployed has been caused mainly by the calamity howlers in the community, who have been agitated and led by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and other members of the Australian Labour Party.
In recent debates in this Parliament the Opposition has contributed no proposals or ideas to promote the best interests of the Australian people or in any way to help Australia in its present economic difficulties. Indeed, the Opposition has ventured nothing but gloomy prophecies of depression and calamity. In this time of trial for the people of Australia, the Opposition seeks to divide the country, and it does so purely for selfish political purposes. Opposition members, by their calamity cries, hope to influence other sections of the community to talk depression, because the Opposition is fully aware that depression talk can breed depression and the economic conditions in which socialism and communism thrive. The Opposition is prepared to run with any people who will agree with it, be they representatives of vested interests or not, and its latest running mate is the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures. For weeks the Opposition has been hammering the Government to re-introduce import controls. The same hammer has been used by the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures. But the true story did not come out until last Thursday night. It was only then that the Leader of the Opposition, right here in this chamber, forgoing all sense of political decency, put the Australian Labour Party, in effect, under offer to the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures. In the “ Hansard “ record of that day’s proceedings, the Leader of the Opposition is reported to have said -
I hope the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures will give us £100,000 towards our election campaign funds. I hope it will finance our appearances on television.
I do not suppose that any “ Hansard “ since 9th May, 1901, has recorded such a statement by any member of a party, let alone its leader, an alternative Prime Minister. Members of the Australian Labour Party run with Communists on unity tickets. They hobnob with Communist delegations representing mythical trade unions in Russia and red China, and now they offer themselves to the vested interests who seek to force the Government to take certain action which in the long term would be detrimental to the people of Australia.
The Opposition, by the urgency proposal that is before the House to-day, is trying to divert the minds of the Australian people from the good conditions that exist in this country, because nothing infuriates the socialists more than conditions of prosperity and progress. The socialists and the Communists - who can really explain the difference between them? - thrive like parasites on conditions of unemployment and depression, conditions which the Opposition tries to foster at every opportunity for debate in this Parliament. We know that the living conditions of the Australian are as good as those anywhere else in the world. His working conditions are good. To illustrate that point we need only compare his hours with those in other parts of the world. In the total number of hours not worked but paid for - in other words, paid holidays - Australia is pretty hard to beat. Switzerland has between 80 and 1 12 hours a year, the United States 96, the United Kingdom between 96 and 135, the Union of South Africa 132, Canada frorm 136 to 152, Russia 144, and New Zealand 152. In Australia we have the greatest number, varying from 168 to 192 in the different States.
When we look at the normal hours of work, calculated on a yearly basis and excluding overtime worked in excess of standard hours, we find that the figure for the Union of South Africa is 2,260; for Russia, 2,248; for the United Kingdom, from 2,152 to 2,192; for the United States of America, 1,984; for Canada, from 1,928 to 1,944; and for New Zealand, 1,928. Australia has the lowest number of working hours a year, varying from 1,912 to 1,888.
The conditions under which the Australian works, as to both hours and general conditions, are unequalled anywhere else in the world. The opportunities in this country are as good as those anywhere else. Our rate of employment is high, 98 per cent, of the work force being in employment, and it is obvious that the Liberal-Country Party policy of full employment has been vigorously pursued by this Government. Canada has had 11 per cent, of its work force unemployed, the United States 7 per cent., and the United Kingdom 6 per cent., while the figure in Australia is only 2 per cent. Surely that is a vindication of the policies of this Government.
Certainly there have been retrenchments recently in some industries. Government measures have been blamed in every case, but it has been the panic cries of the Opposition that have tumbled firms into retrenching men unnecessarily and thereby reducing purchasing power, which causes more unemployment. I believe that import restrictions are not the answer, because rising costs and prices are the direct causes of the weakness in our external balances.
Has the Opposition taken time to calculate the effects which the European Common Market and the European Free Trade Area will have on Australian employment in the future and on our trading with the countries in those two trade groups, particularly if the United Kingdom, in addition to being a member of the E.F.T.A., decides to join with the common market countries? Of course not. The Opposition is too busy bringing forward subjects for political purposes only, such as the one that is before the House to-day, or too busy dodging the unity ticket issue.
Sir, the commercial world, at least, has its eyes on these matters of overseas trade and its effect on Australia. Since 30th June, 1960, and certainly before November of last year, many firms have had top accountants examining their cost of production factor and1 their administrative costs, which have become top heavy in many of our leading firms. Those accountants have also been examining advertising budgets. One firm in Australia has an advertising budget of £1,000,000 a year. The accountants have also been examining that other factor which adds so much to the cost of goods before they reach the consumer - the padded expense account. Sir, these firms and their accountants realize that the age of devil-may-care business operations has gone. They realize that they are not catering for guaranteed fixed1 markets in Australia, but that they have to meet world competition. At long last, it has sunk home to many people in Australia that if we want to sell goods to other countries, and if we want always to have full employment, we must compete with overseas countries on their price levels and, at the same time, buy goods from them.
We must be efficient in our industries. The textile industry is one which could well review its methods and costs of operation. Sir, I seldom quote from columns written by economists but the points I have made in this speech about calamity howlers and the guilt of the Labour Party in this regard are confirmed by a statement made by John Eddy, one of Australia’s leading economists. Referring to the falling off in the demand for goods which in turn reduces the demand for labour he said -
This is not because of shortage of funds but because the working man and his wife are being careful about taking on new commitments with all the talk about unemployment.
There, Sir, is the simple fact. The whole process of calamity howling has a rolling effect, gathering trouble as it goes. I say that the blame for much of our trouble to-day can be laid fairly and squarely on the doorstep of Opposition members. They are the guilty men in any fear of unemployment in Australia. What we want at the moment, Sir, is the people’s confidence in the ability of this Government to handle the current economic situation, the people’s confidence in Australia itself, and the people’s confidence in their own ability to meet any economic challenge that may come before us. Opposing socialism and believing in the freedom of the individual, this Government has retained the confidence of the people at election after election. This Government can look back on its great record over the past eleven years, not as our ultimate achievement, but as the solid foundation upon which to build even greater accomplishments in the future.
Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Wight). Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I support the case put forward by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard). This is the Opposition’s method of drawing attention to the grim spectre of unemployment. I wish to deal, first, with the remarkable concluding sentence spoken by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) when he spoke after the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) this afternoon. He said that the Opposition would regret that it had consistently raised the question of unemployment in this House. For sheer audacity, that statement surely would take first prize! The Minister implied that the Opposition would regret drawing attention to the misery and human suffering caused by unemployment. I would not expect to hear such a remarkable andirresponsible statement even from a remote back-bencher on the Government side, let alone from a Minister of the Crown.
A recent conference of ministers of religion, held in Sydney, described 70,000 unemployed as a human tragedy. That was a very good description. If our Government could only regard unemployment as a human tragedy, it would be showing a different attitude to its present one. It continually takes the statistical approach to the subject. The percentage of unemployed to our total work force is one of the absurd smoke screens used by Government supporters. They try to excuse the Government’s failure to face up to the question of full employment by using this very convenient statistical smoke screen. To the man who has lost his job it does not matter a tinker’s curse whether the percentage of unemployed is 2 per cent., 3 per cent., or 4 per cent. Mere figures and percentages are quite meaningless to the person who is seeking employment in vain. He needs a pay envelope to take home in order to provide for himself and those who are dependent on him.
The honorable member for Bass has cited striking figures showing the ominous increase in unemployment since 1956. The number of registered unemployed has gradually crept from 31,000 to approxi mately 82.000. But even this figure does notindicate the true position. We know that for various reasons many unemployed do not register. Some prefer to seek a job on their own initiative. Others, after visiting an employment bureau, say, “ Well, what is the use? “ They see the queues in the capital cities and towns and say, “ It is quite useless registering here. I might as well go home and do what I can to find a job for myself.” Of course, there are others who have accumulated a few pounds while they have been in employment and who prefer to wait a few weeks and see whether anything will turn up. That section does not register for employment.
There is also another section of the community that is not reflected in official unemployment figures. Many thousands of men employed in industry are over 65 years of age. When conditions get tough, they are usually the first to be retrenched. Invariably, they become social service recipients. In the main, they become age pensioners and, consequently, they are debarred from registration as unemployed. Thisis another reason why the official figures do not reflect the true position. There are also married women in industry. When they are retrenched they do not register, nor are they entitled to unemployment relief. They are not included in the 29,000 people receiving unemployment relief. A true impression of the unemployment position may be obtained by visiting factories in various parts of Australia and seeing the idle machinery, the machinery that is working at half-pace and the machinery that is working at quarter-pace. That is a very eloquent testimony to the fact that we have unjustified unemployment in industry and commerce in Australia. The honorable member for Mcpherson (Mr. Barnes), in his spirited speech, said that no one had mentioned unemployment in South Australia. I intend to mention it. But I do not think that we should consider unemployment in terms of States. Unemployment is a national disease, not a StateversusState competition. In fact, unemployment could well be described as a crime against humanity, and not be regarded as a competition between one State and another.
For the sake of the record, I can tell the House that we have unemployment in
South Australia, particularly in the motor manufacturing industry and allied industries and in the building industry. Thousands are unemployed in those industries. A daily visit to the employment bureau in Adelaide would testify to that fact. We have the right to ask, “What is the Government’s reason for creating this unemployment situation? “ The prime purpose, we were told, when the Government’s economic policy was introduced, was to preserve our overseas balances. Everybody in Australia, bar the Government, knows that overseas balances could have been preserved by the ‘imposition of selective import controls. There is a mounting body of opinon imposing pressure on the Government by pointing out this fact. The Labour Oppositon was the first group in Australia to point this out. It was sneered at and jeered at for doing so. As in many cases of foresight in economic thinking the vast body of opinion in Australia to-day is beginning to agree with the policies advocated by the Opposition when the Government’s economic measures were first mentioned in the House. Before very long the Government will be forced to eat its words and be humble enough to agree that import licensing is vital if the adverse trade balance from the effects of which we are now suffering is to be corrected.
There is no question that the present economic depression is man made. More than that, it is a depression created by the Government that occupies the treasury bench to-day. If the Government had the interests of Australia at heart, as it claims to have, it would swallow its pride and realize that the vast majority of Australians are not in agreement with its policy. The Government must impose import restrictions if it is to correct the adverse overseas balance. By the release of credit it could also correct the unemployment situation that is developing to very alarming proportions. Here again, it is only a matter for the Treasurer to indicate to the banking structure the Government desires that credit be released in order to meet the present unemployment position in Australia.
As a result of the attention directed to this question, not only by the Opposition - which is playing its part- but also by the various organizations throughout Australia, I hope that the Government will do some thing to relieve the situation. I am glad that this subject has been introduced, and I hope that the discussion will have some measure of success by causing the Government to realize its responsibility in this very vital matter.
.- Last Thursday one of my colleagues said to me, “ You are leading with your chin, are you not? “. When I asked him what he meant he said: “ I see that you have your name down to speak on unemployment in the urgency debate next week. You cannot win with subjects like that.” I suppose that is true if one’s only purpose in speaking in a debate such as this is to try to defend a rising rate of unemployment. However, I believe there is more to the subject than that, although I must admit that I sometimes wonder whether these debates serve any purpose other than to become a vehicle for the dissemination of party propaganda.
During the comparatively short time I have been a member of this House the Opposition has raised the subject of unemployment on a number of occasions, the last time being about two years ago. I am not going to chide the Labour Party by saying that during its regime unemployment reached an all-time high in this country. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since those days. I hope we have all learned a lesson from the depression and will not allow the same thing to happen again. 1 am not even going to chide the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) for a remark he passed about a reasonable level of unemployment because, as he reminded us by way of interjection last week, he made that remark in 1943. But I am going to chide the Opposition for its present attitude, not only in this House but outside of it as well.
Only recently in a television interview the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) stated that in his opinion 150,000 persons would be unemployed in Australia by the end of March. As usual he was wrong, but this type of statement, coming from a reputedly responsible person, does nothing to engender confidence in either the employer or the employee. It is more likely to create panic and to cause some employers to believe that things are worse than they are, thereby causing them to dismiss more of their employees than is really necessary.
It is likely also to cause employees to believe likewise and to button up their pockets and so reduce the amount of money in actual circulation, thus accelerating the rate of unemployment. I direct the same criticism towards the Chamber of Manufactures which last week inserted an advertisement in the Melbourne newspapers worded in such a way that it could create unnecessary panic among both employers and employees.
As I have said previously in this House, Statistics will not fill empty stomachs and the fact that we have only 2 per cent, unemployed in Australia is little consolation to a person who wants work and cannot find it. I do wish to direct attention, however, to the fact that unemployment in Canada is currently between 11 per cent, and 12 per cent, and that in the United States it is in the vicinity of 8 per cent. I sincerely believe that the low 2 per cent, unemployment in Australia is due in no small measure to the policies adopted by this Government during the time it has been in office. It is not reasonable to say that our unprecedented prosperity and development has just happened, that it would have taken place under any government, and at the same time blame the Government for any temporary setback that we experience. Apparently governments just cannot win.
Surely any thinking person should realize - particularly in an election year - that the Government, apart altogether from its desire to achieve full employment, must know that its political future virtually hangs on the rate of unemployment. It is common sense to believe that the Government will take whatever action it believes best, consistent with the best interests of Australia, to relieve unemployment. However, I do not believe that anything said by the Opposition during the course of this debate has provided anything of a constructive nature. Probably nothing I have said up to the present has contributed anything towards solving the unemployment problem, but I now want to make a suggestion Which I hope sincerely will be both constructive and helpful.
Each month the Department of Labour and National Service prepares a review of the employment situation. This review runs into a number of pages, but I am afraid that persons reading the document look only for two figures, each of which appears on the first page. I refer to the total number of persons registered for employment, and the number of persons receiving the unemployment benefit. I suppose those figures can be regarded as vital statistics, but to me the most interesting figures contained in the. review released last week appeared at page 8. I refer to a survey conducted by the Government of 2,426 factories employing about 447,000 persons. This survey revealed that 27.3 per cent, of the employees in these factories and 60.3 per cent, of the factories worked overtime in the week ended 17th February. I use these figures because they happen to be the latest figures given in the review. The survey showed further that the average overtime worked by these 27.3 per cent, of employees was 7.4 hours a week, equivalent to two hours per person for all of the employees in the 2,426 factories. If my mathematics are correct, this represents a total of 894,000 hours of overtime in one week, or enough overtime to provide 40 hours’ work for 22,350 workers. As overtime rates are one and one-half times or twice normal wag3 rates, that amount of overtime must have been expensive to the employers. It must also have been expensive to the general public, because the cost of overtime is added to the cost of the manufactured goods. Moreover, the employer is obliged to pay additional pay-roll tax.
During the depression of the 1930’s I worked for a firm which rationed the work available, and each employee lost one week’s work in approximately every four. Some firms were less favorably placed than was the firm for which I worked and their employees lost one week’s work in two. Even then, the level of unemployment was 30 per cent. I am not suggesting that normal work should be rationed, but I believe that with a little effort some of the overtime could be given to persons who are without employment. I realize that all sorts of arguments will be advanced against that suggestion. For example, it is logical to assume that a person who has been used to a certain kind of work is more efficient that a newcomer would be. But would that loss of efficiency be more expensive than the payment of overtime rates? Again, some tasks require special skills which are not possessed by the majority of the unemployed. But I believe these are minor difficulties which could be overcome if there was a will to overcome them. In any case, to spread purchasing power over as many persons as possible is good business.
Advocacy of such a philosophy, by the way, does not make me a socialist; it indicates that I am a realist. It was of the essence of the Marshall Plan, which provided the less fortunate nations with the means to continue to trade with the United States of America and at the same time to uplift themselves. The adoption of that kind of policy would be just as sensible in the circumstances we are now considering. The suggestion I have made, if adopted by both the employers and the unions, would provide them with an opportunity to do something positive towards alleviating the current unemployment situation.
.- It is amusing to note just how tender and thinskinned the Government has become about the matter of unemployment in general and also the policies it has adopted since November last year. The last two speakers on the Government side, the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Cash) and the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox), went to some lengths to suggest measures whereby unemployment could be curbed. In parts of their speeches they actually set themselves up as defenders of unemployment, but in the remainder of their speeches they suggested that industry was inefficient and perhaps was to blame for some of the unemployment that is rampant in Australia at the present time. This Government, during its eleven years of office, has continually blamed high wages and conditions in industry for the high cost of production and never once has offered criticism of the management of industry generally. The proposed legislation to curb the growth of monopolies about which the Government has been talking for the last two years and proposed amendments of the Australian Industries Preservation Act, about which it has been talking for the last two or three years, should be introduced immediately. If that legislation were introduced, it would lead to increased efficiency and would make Australian industries confident about continued production. Because of this Government’s changing policies, Australian industries do not know where they stand.
In March, 81,865 persons in Australia were unemployed - an increase of 8,793 on the February figure. Undoubtedly the number will grow rapidly in the next two or three months. At present 2 per cent, of the Australian work force is out of employment. In New Zealand, which is our nearest neighbour and which also is faced with a balance of payments problem and boom conditions inside the country, only 1 ,000 persons - only . 1 per cent, of the work force - are unemployed. For the honorable member for Henty and the honorable member for Stirling to refer to countries in which conditions are worse than those in Australia and to fail to refer to countries where the level of employment is higher represents hypocrisy and dishonesty on their part. The Australian Labour Party will always raise the subject of unemployment in this House, because it is here to see that the work opportunities and the working conditions of Australians generally are preserved.
The two honorable gentlemen to whom I have referred have suggested that by discussing this matter openly and forthrightly in the Parliament we are creating a sense of fear in the community. But did supporters of this Government take any note of the fear complex that was fostered and developed by John Henry Austral and others during the campaign associated with the bank nationalization legislation? Were they then inclined to believe that because the propaganda of John Henry Austral created a fear complex in the Australian people it was not in the best interests of the community? Of course they were not. They were behind all the criticism and all the propaganda that was published at that time. But when the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures, which normally supports the Government, criticizes its policy and the rising rate of unemployment, not only the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) but also the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) insult the members of that organization. Those people are entitled to voice their criticism. They have their fingers on the pulse of industry and they know what is happening.
But we have not to rely solely upon the figures that have been furnished by Mr. More and Mr. Curphey of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures to show the decline in employment opportunities and of the take-home pay of employees. An example of what is happening in the community is provided by an industry which is situated in my electorate. This industry is run economically and the price of any item produced compares quite favorably with similar articles brought in from overseas. The industry has shown rapid development over the last two or three years. But those engaged in it have discovered that since November last activity has declined drastically. Firms in similar kinds of industry also complain about the effect of this Government’s policies. In the few minutes that are still at my disposal, let me cite some authentic figures that were given to me by the accountant of the firm in question only on Monday last.
– What does this firm do?
– This industry provides equipment for other manufacturing industries in Australia. It supplies only to industry and not to retail houses. In March, 1960, the value of incoming orders was £119,661, the value of production was £85,980, wages totalled £34,622, and the total number of employees was 340. In November last the value of incoming orders was £80,070, the value of production was £107,464, the wages bill totalled £38,937 and the number of employees was 381. In March, 1961, orders had declined to £46,803, production had declined to £58,478, the wage bill was down to £24,881 and the number of employees had dropped to 271. In April, the number of employees had dropped to 263.
I have given figures for March, 1960, November, 1960, and March, 1961. They show that between March, 1960, and March, 1961, orders declined by £72,858, production declined by £27,502, wages declined by £9,741 and the number of employees declined by 69. Between November, 1960, and March, 1961, there was a decline of orders of £33,267, a decline of production of £48,986, a decline of wages of £14,056 and a decline in the number of employees of 110. If we add the ten members of the staff who have been dismissed since March, 1961, we find that the number of employees has declined by 120. The management of the firm has told me that unless something is done about the credit squeeze and about import restrictions, there will be further dismissals of employees and that because this firm is a supplier to industry, the figures it gives can be duplicated in the industries that it supplies. This has been brought about because this Government is the tool of commerce and the retail houses throughout Australia. That is the only reason import restrictions were lifted. Myer Emporium Limited. David Jones Limited and other commerce and retail houses have more say with this Government than have the manufacturers. The policy being followed by the Treasurer is a short-sighted policy. It neglects the point that unless job opportunities are available to Australians, the money that can be spent in retail houses will decline.
Order! The time allowed for the discussion has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt). - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act relating to income tax.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In the statement which I made to the House on 23rd March, I set out the background to the Government’s decision to review the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act in the manner which is now provided in this bill. I also foreshadowed some of the principal features which would be included in the new legislation. Honorable members will recall that I outlined in that statement the difficulties we have faced in recent years in financing Commonwealth and State works programmes. I pointed out that, over the last ten years, more than 60 per cent of Commonwealth and State capital works expenditure has had to be financed ultimately from Commonwealth taxation revenue. For this financial year, the proportion looks like being nearly two-thirds.
The reduced support for public authority loans by the life companies, and the privately managed superannuation and1 provident funds, has been a major factor adding
A rather similar pattern is shown in the investments in public authority securities made by the privately managed superannuation and provident funds. Figures available for a number of the larger funds indicate that, whereas they held 50 per cent. of their assets in public authority securities in 1956, this proportion had dropped to 39 per cent. in 1959. In this case, too, the major portion of the decline was attributable to Commonwealth securities, as these funds actually reduced their holdings of Commonwealth securities by approximately one-quarter between 1956 and 1959.
My statement of 23rd March was necessarily couched in general terms when it referred to actual details of the proposed legislation. I think that honorable members would now appreciate a slightly more detailed account of the effect which this bill will have on the income tax arrangements for privately managed superannuation and provident funds on the one hand, and for life companies on the other hand. A memorandum is being circulated for the information of honorable members, which sets out with some precision the implications of each clause of the bill, and I shall therefore endeavour at this stage to give only a general outline of the bill as a whole. The new taxation arrangements for privately managed superannuation and provi
Privately managed funds which retain their 1st March, 1961, holdings of Commonwealth and other public authority securities, but which do not achieve the 30/20 per cent. ratio in relation to their new investments, will continue to be eligible for exemption from tax on an amount equal to the 1960-61 level of their investment income. While the present scale of income tax rates is in operation, it is proposed that the income of these funds in excess of the 1960-61 level will be taxed at the rate of 5s. in the £1 on the first £5,000, and 7s. in the £1 on the remainder - that is, the rates applicable to mutual life assurance companies. However, tax will not become payable on these funds until the 1961-62 income year and, according to established practice, the legislation to impose this tax will be incorporated in a separate bill which will be introduced during the Budget session.
It will be remembered that the Government’s original intention in relation to the privately managed superannuation funds, as set out in my statement of 15th November dealing with the proposed economic measures, was that these schemes would be required to maintain a 30/20 per cent. ratio in relation to their total assets. For reasons which I explained last month, we have now modified this provision so that the maximum requirement for the privately managed funds to retain full exemption from tax will be to achieve the 30/20 per cent, ratio in relation to increases in their total assets.
As I have indicated, our general intention in this bill is that, even if increases in assets are not invested in accordance with the 30/20 per cent, ratio, the funds will be exempt from tax on an amount equal to the level of their 1960-61 investment income. It has nevertheless proved desirable to include a provision that, unless holdings of Commonwealth securities and other public authority securities are maintained at least at the level of 1st March, 1961, or, of course, if the 30/20 per cent, ratio is maintained in relation to total assets, privately managed superannuation and provident funds which do not attain the 30/20 per cent, ratio in relation to increases in their assets will in normal circumstances be taxed on the full amount of their annual income. Unless we made a provision of this nature, existing schemes would be able to remain fully exempt from taxation even though they limited the amount of their assets to present levels and transferred all of their present holdings of public authority securities to newly set up funds to enable those funds to qualify for taxation exemption as well. lt is realized that some superannuation funds may fail to achieve the 30/20 per cent, ratio and the other investment requirements through force of circumstances more or less outside their control, while other funds may in special circumstances suffer temporary hardship in main.maining the prescribed ratios. For these reasons, the legislation provides that the Commissioner of Taxation may disregard any failure to maintain the 30/20 per cent, ratio if he is satisfied that the trustee of the superannuation fund concerned has made a genuine and bona fide attempt to achieve that ratio or if he is satisfied that the failure was by reason of a temporary delay in investment. Again, if the Commissioner of Taxation is satisfied that the maintenance of the 30/20 per cent, ratio would be likely to endanger the financial stability of a privately managed superannuation fund, he may inform the trustees that, notwithstanding the fact that the 30/20 per cent, ratio is not maintained, the fund will continue to be exempt from income tax for a period which he will determine in the circumstances of each case.
Life companies which wish to make themselves eligible for the taxation concessions which will be available under the new legislation will need to maintain a 30/20 per cent, ratio in relation to their total Australian life assets or, if they are now below the 30/20 per cent, ratio, they will need to enter into an undertaking to achieve it as soon as practicable, but not later than June, 1971.
The legislation places limitations on the extent of the investments which life companies may be required to make in order to fulfil this undertaking. Thus, unless a life company could otherwise not achieve the 30/20 per cent, ratio by 1971, it will not be required in any year to invest more than 40 per cent, of that increase in public authority securities nor more than 25 per cent, of that increase in Commonwealth securities.
As is the case with the privately managed funds, the Commissioner of Taxation will be authorized to disregard any failure on the part of a life company to maintain the 30/20 per cent, ratio, or to comply in any particular year with the undertaking it has given, if the Commissioner is satisfied that the company has made a genuine and bona fide attempt to do so, or that its failure was due to temporary investment delays. Life companies which conform to this investment pattern will be exempt from tax on approved superannnuation income, which will thus be on a similar footing to privately managed superannuation funds which also make the requisite investments in public authority securities.
These life companies will also be eligible for an important taxation concession by way of an increase in the deduction at present permitted under section 115 of the act. This is a deduction which has the effect of freeing from tax an amount ranging from 2i per cent, to 3 per cent, of each company’s Australian policy reserves. For companies which decide to set up separate statutory funds in relation to their Australian ordinary life business and to their Australian superannuation business, this section 115 deduction will be increased, for their ordinary life business, by 1 per cent, for every percentage point in excess of 30 per cent, in the proportion of their Australian ordinary life assets which is held in public authority securities. It will also be increased by one-half of 1 per cent, according to the excess over 20 per cent, of those assets held in Commonwealth securities.
However, the bonus for holding Commonwealth securities in excess of 20 per cent, will apply only if the holdings of public authority securities other than Commonwealth securities are at least maintained during the year concerned at the amount so held at 1st March, 1961. This bonus for holding Commonwealth securities will also be offset by a reduction of one-half of 1 per cent, for every percentage point below 10 per cent, in the proportion of the Australian ordinary life assets which is held in public authority securities other than Commonwealth securities.
An essential feature of the concessions I have just outlined is that they will be available only to a life company which is prepared to set up a separate statutory fund for its superannuation business. By setting up such a fund, the company will have a precisely identifiable group of superannuation assets, the income from which will be tax-free provided the 30/20 per cent, ratio is maintained in relation to those assets, and in relation to other Australian life assets, or an undertaking is given to achieve that ratio as soon as practicable.
After the 30/20 per cent, ratio had been attained for superannuation assets there could be no further taxation advantage in maintaining more than that ratio for those assets, as the superannuation income would already be tax-free. Any additional investments in public authority securities made by the company would no doubt be allocated to the ordinary life assets in order to increase the section 115 deductions.
After learning the general nature of these proposed1 amendments from the statement which I made on 23rd March, several companies made representations asking me to explore the possibility of introducing an alternative scheme which would achieve roughly the same results without necessitating the establishment of separate statutory funds in respect of their overseas business and their superannuation business This request by the companies seemed one which might reasonably be met to some extent, and a new section 115a has been included in the legislation to enable an approximate apportionment of assets to be made between overseas and Australian business, for the purpose of determining public authority security holdings as a percentage of total Australian assets.
While most of the possible benefits, including exemption from tax on their estimated income from superannuation business, will be available to such companies if they maintain the appropriate investment pattern, they will be at a slight disadvantage, compared with companies which set up separate statutory funds, if they exceed the 30/20 per cent, ratio in relation to their total assets. Because there will be no complete identification of the assets held in connexion with their superannuation business, the section 115 deductions for these companies will be calculated on the ratio of their total public authority securities to the estimated total amount of their assets referable to Australian life business, instead of the ratio of public authority securities in a separate ordinary life statutory fund to total assets in that fund. The latter ratio would often be higher for companies which set up separate funds, because their superannuation statutory fund would be unlikely to do more than maintain the 30/20 per cent, ratio.
In view of what I shall say later, I should mention here that resident life companies eligible for the benefits I have described will continue to receive section 46 rebates on dividends included in their taxable income in accordance with the provisions ruling from time to time under that section.
Companies which decide not to avail themselves of the tax concessions will not need to set up separate superannuation statutory funds, as their superannuation income will be assessed on the same basis as their other Australian life income. These companies will have adjustments made to their section 115 deductions, which will be based on the proportion of their total Australian assets held in public authority securities and in Commonwealth securities. Their section 115 deductions, which in this case will apply to their combined Australian ordinary life and superannuation business, will be no higher than they would otherwise have been, but not less than three-quarters of that amount. The deduction will be reduced by 1 per cent, for every percentage point below 30 per cent, in the proportion of their total Australian assets held in public authority securities, and by one-half of 1 per cent. for any deficiency below 20 per cent. in the proportion of those assets held in Commonwealth securities.
Honorable members may remember that, in the statement which I made on 23rd March,I pointed out that, as with all other resident companies, life companies are entitled to dividend rebates under section 46 of the Income Tax Act.I mentioned at the time that, whereas dividends received by other resident companies bear tax in the hands of shareholders when they are distributed in due course, dividends received by the life companies can be distributed to policy holders tax-free, since reversionary bonuses on life policies are not subject to tax. With the increased holdings of company shares by the life companies, this has become an increasingly valuable privilege. It produces a sort of in-built discrimination against government securities, the income from which is taxable, and it thereby tends to increase the attraction of company equity investment. This is a consequence certainly never intended when the provision was introduced, and the Government has now decided that the privilege of full section 46 dividend rebates will be limited in the future to those companies which conform with the investment pattern in public authority securities which I have outlined earlier.
For companies which decide not to conform with the prescribed investment pattern, the rebates payable on dividends included in their life insurance income will, in the future, be limited to the amount of rebate which would then be payable on the amount of dividends included in their life insurance income in 1960-61.
As with the proposed taxation arrangement for the privately managed funds the amendments relating to the life companies will have effect for the first time in assessments based on the 1961-62 income year, and the exemption from tax of the superannuation business of companies which follow an appropriate investment pattern will apply in respect of income derived on or after 1st July, 1961.
I readily recognize that the details will be difficult to follow, as I am presenting them now, but the memorandum that has been circulated will assist honorable members to follow the meaning of this speech when they have it in written form. What I have said, however, should be sufficient to give a general picture of the new legislation insofar as it relates to the revised tax arrangements for the life companies and the privately managed superannuation and provident funds.
There is one additional matter which I should bring to notice. Up to the present, the quite generous taxation concessions which have been allowed on life insurance business have been limited to companies whose principal operations have been in the field of life insurance. There are, however, several companies whose business is predominantly in other fields of insurance but which nevertheless transact a significant amount of life insurance business. These companies have heretofore been liable to pay tax on their life insurance business on the same basis as their other insurance business. The new legislation will, in effect, provide for similar tax arrangements for the life business of all insurance companies, whether or not life insurance constitutes their principal insurance business.
Several sections of the new bill will necessitate modifications of a machinery nature to the Life Insurance Act. These are at present being drafted and will be introduced as soon as practicable. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Crean) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.51 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 20th April (vide page 1108), on motion by Mr. Freeth -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The measure before the House, among other things, makes certain changes in the postal voting law. It is astonishing that some of the reforms that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) is introducing in this bill have been so long in coming. There is, for instance, the provision which enables members of enclosed religious orders to exercise postal votes, and the provision which enables people of the Jewish and Seventh Day Adventist faiths, who may have a conscientious objection to voting on Saturday, which is our normal election day, to exercise a postal vote instead of voting on Saturday. I should imagine that there have been people of those faiths in this country during its whole history, and it is interesting to reflect how long we have taken to meet their needs by this particular amendment to the postal voting law.
There are, however, many unsatisfactory features of postal voting and the whole subject needs very close examination. Honorable members who will take the trouble to go through all the constituencies of the Commonwealth and study the manner of voting in them at the last Federal election, or at any previous Federal election, will be impressed forcibly by the fact that alone in our voting the figures of postal votes reflect the efficiency of party organization. Absentee votes almost invariably follow the same percentage as the electorate as a whole, but postal votes reveal a most astonishing disparity. Some explanations of that can be given. For instance, where the postal votes favour the Liberal Party, it is always said that generally speaking well-to-do people tend to vote Liberal and because they are the ones who can afford to be abroad, consequently the postal votes in those constituencies show a Liberal trend. However, it is very doubtful whether the significant part of postal voting is postal voting from far afield.
In Western Australia the popular terminology of the postal vote is the sick vote. I believe that, very largely, the sick are the ones who exercise the right to cast postal votes. All of us, if we are honest and have had any part in election campaigns, know that where an eager-beaver organizer can get through a hospital, a nursing home or any other institution for the infirm there is an astonishing increase in the percentage of votes for the party which the eagerbeaver organizer serves. Affidavits have been sent to me by people in nursing homes who have complained about undue pressure being put on them, and I know of many cases in which the party organizers who have been taking up the postal votes know how the patients voted. It seems to me that the postal voting system is wide open to abuse. I myself, as a candidate for the seat of Fremantle, have been in a particular room and have seen a pile of postal votes from the Fremantle electorate done up in envelopes which I could have picked up. I believe that under our postal voting law there should not be any possibility of a candidate touching a ballot paper or of any people who are ardent partisans of a candidate being able to decide, knowing how votes have been cast, whether or not those votes will be put in.
I am not prepared to advocate a reform so drastic that people cannot cast a postal vote; but it appears to me to be not beyond the wit of the Commonwealth to devise a system of supplying officers at least to the large institutions which we know exist, such as the great hospitals in the capital cities, the great nursing homes and similar institutions which are permanent features of certain electorates. It should be the duty of a Commonwealth officer to go to institutions where we know there is a concentration of postal voters and collect the ballotpapers without any party organizers being involved in any way other than that in which they would normally be involved in soliciting votes in an electorate. I assume that candidates or organizers would be able only to distribute literature because they would not be able to go into hospitals and make speeches.
I believe that postal voting cannot be regulated absolutely satisfactorily without disenfranchising sick people who are in their own homes and depend upon the good offices of friends to help them cast a vote. But where there are great concentrations of sick and infirm people in known institutions, it should be the duty of Commonwealth electoral officers to ensure that those people can exercise the franchise without any possibility of abuse of the system by party organizations. That is a reform that we in this Parliament should consider, and, I believe, introduce.
The other omission from this revision of the electoral law is one which was recommended by the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review. Under the present system a quota is determined as the enrolment size of an electorate and provision is made that there may be a variation of 20 per cent, either way. Even that 20 per cent, is not being adhered to at the present time.
My colleague, the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden), is the representative of 80,000 Victorian electors at the moment and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), who is from the same State as the honorable member for Bruce, is the representative of 36,000 electors. Thus, the disparity which exists between electorates can be far more than 20 per cent, on either side of the fixed quota which is envisaged as a device for stopping what is known as gerrymandering.
– That was not the position when the new electorates were formed, was it?
– I agree with that. I want to make that point: The law allows a 20 per cent, variation either way, but we have not been able to adhere to that in the great distortion of the positioning of the Australian population which the rapid development of new suburbs in all Australian cities has produced. However, the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review considered that the variation allowed should be only 10 per cent, either way. We cannot prevent distortions beyond that percentage from taking place if our electorates are revised only every ten years, following the census. The thinking that led to the alteration of electorates only after a census was a thinking naturally produced in a much more slowly developing and much more stable community than that of to-day. I believe that the speed of Australian development, the speed of the increase in the Australian population from migration and other causes, and the movement of the Australian population have shown that the intercensal alteration of boundaries is not sufficient. Provision should be made for more frequent revisions.
– Apart from enrolments, it is hard to establish accurately where the population is unless a census is taken.
– But surely the enrolments that are continually taking place, and the frequent revisions of the rolls, result in an adequate alternative to the census from the point of view of the drawing of these boundaries. I do not believe that you would get as accurate a picture in this way as you would from a complete census, but you would get less distortion than you get at the moment, which results in the seat of Bruce having 80,000 electors, while the seat of Melbourne has 36,000, simply because we leave adjustments to be made at the time of the taking of the census.
One other matter I would like to refer to is that of voting rights for aborigines, which was mentioned by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) during a debate on another matter. The Minister referred to the different laws of the various States with regard to the aboriginal people. In the course of his statement he said -
Tt is estimated that there are already approximately 30,000 aborigines or people of aboriginal ancestry who do not come under any form of restrictive or protective legislation but live like other Australian citizens. . . . Where special legislation applies to aborigines only, it is solely because of a clear and temporary need . . . for this is in their own interests. Contrary to popular belief, the restrictions are of limited effect. For example, in three States that have protective legislation the persons who come under protection are fully eligible to vote at elections. In two States there are no restrictions of any kind. In all States and Territories restrictions are being lessened.
The Minister was clearly indicating that there are differences in the various States in the laws relating to aborigines. Those differences are unsatisfactory from the point of view of this Parliament.
This aspect of the laws governing aborigines is related to our electoral laws in a number of ways. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) pointed this out in the course of his statement. The Commonwealth Parliament has two restrictions on its power with regard to aborigines. The first prevents it from enumerating them in the census. This prohibition is contained in section 127 of the Constitution. The other restriction is embodied in placitum (xxvi.) of section 51 of the Constitution, which empowers the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws for the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in. any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws. If we trace the history of the section and placitum, it is very difficult to find what the founding fathers had in mind. Almost certainly, however, they did not have in mind anything to do with the aborigines as such. The section and placitum were proposed in the earliest conventions, and in their original expression they represented attempts to withhold from the Federal Parliament that was to come into being the power to legislate for the people of the Maori race and the people of the aboriginal race, it being envisaged at that time that New Zealand wouldbe part of the federation.
The debates on the section and placitum were very short, but apparently what was in mind was not aborigines but land. If the Commonwealth had power to make laws for aborigines it would, incidentally, have the power to acquire land for the purposes of aborigines, since it has the power to acquire land for any purpose for which it has the power to make laws. If the Commonwealth can legislate for posts and telegraphs, obviously it must be able to acquire land for post offices. If it can legislate for defence, it must be able to acquire land for defence purposes. The fear appears to have been that if it could legislate for aborigines it would have power to acquire land for aboriginal purposes, which might have involved the taking from the States of enormous tracts of lands for use as aboriginal reserves. What was in mind, apparently, was not some disqualification of the Federal Parliament for legislating for aborigines, but a fear that the States would lose their authority over land.
This section and placitum of the Constitution have been used in propaganda against Australia. When I was in India some six or seven years ago I found that there had been a number of Communist ladies going through the country, who had suggested to the Indian people that these sections of the Australian Constitution showed that the Australian people had never regarded the aborigines as human beings. I do not think this is the explanation at all. Section 127, which forbids the Commonwealth to enumerate aborigines in the census, appears to have been based on a State-righter’s fear that if aborigines were enumerated they would become a component of the quota for the fixing and determining of seats. Although the aborigines were very much more nomadic in those days and were not an important political or electoral element, it was feared that a disproportionate number of seats would be allotted to States having large aboriginal populations, and that the Australian political system would be distorted accordingly. But whatever the political reasons may have been, they are not ones that should count with us to-day.
What should be important to-day is the elimination of provisions which appear, in a race-sensitive world, to show racial discrimination.
I think the statement of the Constitutional Review Committee, in referring to our Electoral Act should be taken into account and made the basis of an amendment of that act, and I take it that in setting up a committee to examine the question of aboriginal franchise, this is what the Minister had in mind. But it is important that the Constitutional Review Committee’s findings, or its statements, should be widely known. On page 56 of its report, in paragraph 396, the committee said -
The Committee should point out that section 127 has no direct bearing on the question of the eligibility of aborigines to vote at Federal elections. The Commonwealth Parliament has, under section 30 of the Constitution, power to deal with the qualification of electors of members of the House of Representatives and under section 8 of the Constitution, the qualification of electors of senators is as prescribed by the Parliament for electors of members of the House of Representatives. The Parliament has exercised its powers under these sections in section 39 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1953. For all practical purposes, the section provides that no aboriginal native of Australia shall be entitled to vote at any Senate election or House of Representatives election unless -
he is entitled under section forty-one of the Constitution; (aa) he is an aboriginal native of Australia and -
is entitled under the law of the State in which he resides to be enrolled as an elector of that State and, upon enrolment, to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of that State (or, if there is only one House of the Parliament of that State, for that House); or
is or has been a member of the Defence Force;
Clearly, under sub-paragraph (aa) (i), the Commonwealth follows the States. If the State confers upon the aboriginal the right to vote, then the Commonwealth confers the same right on him. If the State does not, then the Commonwealth does not. But the provision is not a mandatory one for the Commonwealth. It can make exceptions, or it can alter the force of the provision altogether, as it does in sub-paragraph (aa) (ii), which provides that if an aboriginal has been a member of the Defence Force he may vote, irrespective of whether he is entitled to vote under the law of the State. The committee goes on to say -
Section 41 of the Constitution states that an adult person who acquires a right to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of a State cannot be prevented, while the right continues, by any law of the Commonwealth, from voting at elections for either House of the Federal Parliament. If aborigines are to become qualified as electors then, as a matter of principle, they should be recognized as forming part of the population of the State in which they live. The repeal of section 127 is consistent wish the idea that there should not be fundamental barriers to aborigines becoming qualified as Federal electors. The repeal does not, however, create entitlement.
There is only one other point that I wish to mention in connexion with the Commonwealth Electoral Act. I refer to the proposed changes in the amounts of money that candidates may spend in order to get themselves elected to Parliament. The present position, I believe, is unsatisfactory. To begin with, all of us know that the amount that each of us individually spends in his electorate is insignificant by comparison with what the party machines spend on behalf of candidates. There is no limit on the expenditure of parties. They may publish enormous advertisements, for instance, referring to every one of the candidates of the particular party and spend, say. £100,000, and we may presume that if this propaganda affects thinking it will influence the electors in the electorate of the individual candidate. In this way, he may have spent on his behalf by the party organization many thousands of pounds.
When the limitation of £250 on expenditure by a candidate in an election for the House of Representatives was originally imposed, the restriction must have been based on the idea that the deluging of an electorate with propaganda by some one who was able to afford to do this represented, perhaps, one way of swamping a just judgment. If the idea was that swamping a just judgment should be prohibited, the development of the party system under which the parties spend on behalf of candidates has long made obsolete this limitation of expenditure by candidates individually. A very distinguished member of this House who was a Minister - he did not sit on the Labour side as it happened - once said openly that he had spent more than £1,000 on his election campaign. No lies were told about it. He submitted to the Commonwealth Electoral Officer a return stating this, and nothing happened. Presumably, there were powers available to be used against a candidate who made excess expenditure, but no such powers were exercised. I think that the limitation of £250 on expenditure by a candidate has largely been made a dead letter. It is a provision that is not enforced. It is a provision which the development of the party system seems to me to have rendered obsolete. I wonder why it is retained with respect to election campaigns in which the expenditure by an individual candidate no longer has great significance.
This appears to me to be one more respect in which we need to examine our electoral laws and see what is enforceable and what should be enforced. We should take as our guiding principle in the determination of our electoral laws the maxim that justice should not only be done but also should appear to be done. It appears to me that in respect of the postal voting provisions at least, justice is not being done. Nor, when the figures are studied, does it appear to be done.
.- Mr. Speaker, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) has made a thoughtful and sound contribution to this debate. Those of us who have sat in this chamber wilh him for many years have come to expect such a contribution from him. On this occasion, the honorable member has brought before us a number of points. I think that we can say that, generally, this is a minor bill.
– Far from it.
– Well, it makes only some very small alterations in the law by allowing postal votes to members of certain religious groups. In the main, there are about five contentious points involved in this measure. Three or four of these were mentioned by the honorable member for Fremantle. The first is the question of postal voting. Then there are the question of votes for aborigines, the hours of polling, the position of the names of candidates on the ballot-paper and the expenditure of individual candidates on election campaigns. Let me take these matters in the order in which I have listed them.
The honorable member for Fremantle complained that there seems to be a disproportionate preponderance of postal votes cast for the Liberal Party of Australia compared with the overall proportion in votes placed in the ballot-boxes at polling booths, and in absentee votes. I do not agree with him that this is unusual. I think that there are at least three factors which tend to make postal votes favour the Liberal Party. The first is that a great many of these votes are cast by people who are travelling in Australia or abroad, and these people tend, as the honorable member said, to be Liberal voters. Undoubtedly, if one were to examine the votes cast in, say, the polling booth at Australia House in London, one would find that there were more Liberal than Labour votes. The second factor which tends to make postal votes favour the Liberal Party is that people tend to switch their allegiance to the Liberal Party as they get older. This is not just my idea; it is established by surveys. We on this side of the House would say that as people get older they get more sense. At any rate, there is a quite noticeable swing towards the Liberal Party as people grow older. 1 think that one survey showed that of every three people who began as Labour voters one finished up by voting for the Liberal Party as he became older. The older voters are those who are more likely to be infirm or in hospital and therefore are more likely to require postal votes because they cannot get to polling booths. Thirdly, as the honorable member for Fremantle has said, undoubtedly the Liberal Party concentrates more on getting postal votes. But do not blame us for doing what is open to any political party.
The honorable member has alleged that there are some irregularities in postal voting, but I think that these are very few in number. I do not quarrel in any way with his suggestion that electoral visitors should visit certain big hospitals and institutions of that kind and take round ballot-boxes in order to afford inmates an opportunity to vote just as if they were at a polling booth. But I say at the same time, “ For goodness sake, do not let us do anything which will disfranchise an Australian, wherever he may be, and prevent him from casting a vote “. We know that this has happened in New South Wales and that on the average something like 300 Australians who are entitled to a vote are disfranchised in every electorate in New South Wales in State elections. Although the law was altered with respect to voting for elections of the Legislative Assembly in New South Wales, it was not altered with respect to voting at referendums. Therefore, people will be able to get postal votes in the forthcoming referendum although the same people could not get postal votes in voting for elections of the lower house in New South Wales. This represents a gerrymandering of the vote, lt is really a sort of means test in reverse. A person who is out of the State on election day is not given a vote.
So much for postal voting. The honorable member for Fremantle went on to deal with the voting rights of aborigines, and on this matter also, I thought, he spoke with great moderation and great good sense. As he said, we move in a race-sensitive world and we should not do anything that would appear to amount to racial discrimination. I commend the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) on his motion for the appointment of a select committee to consider the voting rights of aborigines, and I find it very hard to understand the reasoning of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam), who, I believe, intends to propose an amendment to this bill designed to give the right to vote to aborigines straight away. I find it extraordinary that he appears to want aborigines to get the right to vote immediately and apparently wants the select committee subsequently to decide whether the aborigines should still have voting rights. Surely the best way to go about this is to appoint the select committee and let it examine the matter first. After all, the Opposition not only agreed to its appointment without one dissenting voice but also moved an amendment which was accepted immediately by the Minister. Therefore, the Opposition is just as much committed to the select committee as we are on this side of the House. How can the Opposition expect to propose an amendment to this bill to give aborigines a vote immediately and later subscribe to what we hope will be a sound report recommending which aborigines should have the right to vote and how they should get it?
– May I interrupt? The Opposition will not propose an amendment. It will merely vote against the re-enactment in this bill of the ban on voting by aborigines.
– That seems to me to be a very shallow and technical argument. The plain fact of the matter is that we have gone as far as we possibly can. There are many difficulties in the way of giving votes to aborigines. One difficulty is where to find the nomad aborigines to enrol them. Some of them may not even have a name.
– We could give them a postal vote.
– Yes, perhaps we might send it off by a woomera. Many aborigines certainly would not know for whom they were voting. There would be nothing unusual in that, of course, because many other Australians do not know whom they are voting for, either. There are all kinds of problems involved in this matter. We cannot simply decide, “Well, we are going to give the aborigines a vote “ and leave it at that. I agree with my colleague, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney), that undoubtedly practically all the aborigines in Australia will soon be given a vote. There may be some who, because of illiteracy or for some other reason, will not be able to vote, but I think that very soon the bulk of the aborigines will be granted the right to vote. I hope that the select committee which is to consider this subject will do good work.
Other matters related to the electoral laws of the Commonwealth have not so far been raised in this debate. There has been discussion as to whether the time allowed for polling should be reduced. Some people say, “ After all, the hours of polling were brought in in 1902, when it was prescribed that the poll would open, at 8 a.m. and would not close until all electors present in the polling booth at 7 p.m. and desiring to vote had voted; the closing hour was subsequently extended to 8 p.m. Those were the horse and buggy days. Nowadays, people can get to polling centres much more easily, and if voting were to finish at 6 o’clock, that should give everybody sufficient time to vote.” I think that in only one State of the Commonwealth does voting cease at 6 o’clock. Perhaps we who live in the south are harder workers than those in the north. We work till late in the afternoon. If people in the north are to vote before 6 o’clock, they must stop work before that time. In my electorate, if there is an election in the summer time, the farmers are likely to remain on the headers for as long as they can see. They probably finish up late in the evening and then drive to town to cast their vote. It is a fact that a great many votes are cast just before 8 o’clock. Sometimes, of course, people arrive just too late and miss the bus. If we were to alter the voting hours in the Commonwealth sphere while in five out of the six States the hours remained from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., we undoubtedly would cause a considerable degree of chaos. I think the Government is doing the right thing in adhering to the hours that apply at present.
Another controversial matter that was mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition concerned the placing of candidates’ names on ballot-papers. He said that instead of names being placed on ballot-papers in alphabetical order, a ballot should be held, or the names should be drawn out of a hat, the first name out being placed on top. He said that that is done with Senate elections and that it should1 naturally follow in elections for the House of Representatives. I say that the position of the Senate in this respect does not influence at all the position of the House of Representatives. A ballot is held in the case of Senate elections because it is almost impossible to decide how to place the names alphabetically. If there were a team of three candidates, should the names be placed alphabetically according to the first letter of each surname? Of course, if there were a group consisting of Ashley, Amour and Armstrong, as Jack Lang found, that group would then get number one position. But again, some of the smaller groups, such, as the Henry George Party, the Communists, the Republicans, and people of that kind, undoubtedly would pick a team of three and switch the names so that the candidate with the name highest in alphabetical order was placed first in the team, with the object of having their team given a higher place in the draw. lt is because of difficulties such as those that it has been necessary to have a ballot for the position of teams in Senate elections; but I cannot see any similarity between that position and that of the House of Representatives, where there may be only one person standing for a party. 1 think that the names should be listed in alphabetical order, as is done in every one of the States. I am not completely informed on this subject, but I do not know of any country in the world in which a ballot is held to decide the order of candidates on ballot-papers. I know that in some countries a circular card is used. The names are placed like the spokes of a wheel. The electors may spin the card in any way they wish, but no candidate has his name on top. That system undoubtedly leads to confusion and results in additional cost. I do not see that there is any advantage in it.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has claimed that 95 of the members of this House are in the A to M group of surnames, and that there are only 29 members in N to Z group. Even that is an inaccurate division, because I do not suppose there would be many candidates whose names began with X and Z. The interesting point is not whether a candidate is in the A to M group or the N to Z group, but the place that his name occupies on the ballot-paper. We find that a great many people whose names began with a letter which places them high in the alphabetical order, actually are placed second or third on the ballot-paper. My name begins with F, and of five elections my name has been on top in three and on the bottom in two; so that it does not naturally follow that because a candidate’s name is at the beginning of the alphabet, his name automatically will appear on the top of the ballot-paper.
The degree of advantage that is derived from having one’s name appear at the top of the ballot-paper is very much a matter for conjecture. The Minister for the Interior has given me some figures in this connexion in relation to the last general election. There were five electorates in which two candidates stood. The person whose name was on the top of the ballotpaper won in three of those electorates, while the person whose name was second won in two. There were 78 electorates in which there were three candidates, and in 29 instances the person whose name appeared at the top won. In 28 instances the person whose name appeared in second place won, and in 21 instances the person whose name appeared in third place won.
– To which parties did they belong?
– The figures have not been taken out for parties. I am discussing the question of whether there is any advantage for a candidate in having his name at the lop of the ballot-paper.
– Compare the figures for Communist candidates whose names were on top, with those for other candidates, and see what you get.
– I think all the Communists were eliminated. The figures thai 1 have mentioned show that there were 33 electorates in which there were four candidates; nine of those whose names appeared first on the ballot-paper won, while seven whose names appeared second, won. Eight of those whose names appeared third won., and nine whose names appeared fourth won. There were five electorates in which there were five candidates. The persons whose names appeared at the top of the ballot-paper did not win in any of those electorates. Two persons whose names appeared second won: in two instances, and in one instance the person whose name appeared last won. There was one electorate in which there were six candidates, and again, the person whose name appeared first did not win. The person whose name appeared second won.
The figures I have given indicate that if there is an advantage in having one’s name at the top of the ballot-paper it is a very slight one. I do not think that it would be worth while to amend the act under which we have operated for the whole time that the Federal Parliament has been in existence, in the hope of achieving such an advantage.
– You can win from any position on the ballot-paper if you are good enough.
– Yes. What we should aim at is not an amendment of the law to give the franchise to people who cannot cast a vote and would not know how to do so; what we want to do is to get an informed vote. I think I am right in saying that the honorable member for Perth advocated during his speech on Thursday night last that we should have voluntary instead of compulsory voting, and would then get a more informed vote. I think that is only a technical argument, because we have compulsory voting at present and the prospects are. that we shall have it for ever.
There should be some indication to the voter, when he goes into the polling booth, of the parly for which each candidate stands. Only to-day I was speaking to a ma:-, who sat on the Liberal Party side of this House for many years. He told me that on one occasion when he was serving in Brisbane he rushed into a polling booth to cast an absentee vote, without having the faintest idea for whom to vote. He recorded a vote for the candidate he thought belonged to the Liberal Party, only to find later that he had voted for the Labour candidate. If a person with some interest in politics can make a mistake of that kind, how many people who have no such interest would make a similar mistake? 1 cannot see why we cannot either show on the ballot-paper the party for which each candidate is standing or, as is done in England, place in a prominent position inside the polling booth a “ How to vote “ card from each party contesting the election.
– That would not solve the problem for a man who was in another State. There could hardly be cards for every electorate.
– In such a case the electoral officer would have a card in his possession, and the voter would be able to demand to see it. I cannot see any drawback in either of the proposals that I have made. I know that the present system of handing out “ How to vote “ cards works reasonably well in the metropolitan area, but in the large country electorates it is almost physically impossible to man all the polling booths all the time. There are 135 polling booths in my electorate, and some electorates would have many more. At some polling booths, because of the lack of information as to party affiliations, voters have the utmost difficulty in ascertaining which candidate is the candidate for whom they wish to vote. The position is even more confused with the Se- ate ballot-paper. There may be only two or three candidates standing in an electorate for election to the House of Representatives, and in any event the local member is known everywhere in the electorate; but unless a person is a very keen student of politics, or takes i:.to the polling booth with him a cutting from a newspaper, it is almost impossible for him to know how to vote as he wishes for Senate candidates. That is one reform that I should like to see introduced.
The second reform which I suggest emanates from the large number of candidates who stand for election to the Senate. There should be some way to cut down the frivolous, time-wasting no-hopers who enter an election campaign without any chance of winning, let alone of obtaining more than a few hundred votes. For example, the person who opposed the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn) at the recent by-election for that seat, lost his deposit, but that did not deter him, because he stood for another electorate - I think it was Higinbotham - and again lost his deposit. The deposit of £25 was set down in 1901. and it has remained unchanged. It is futile to say that a deposit of this size deters any one from entering an election. The Communist Party knows that an election campaign is a good means of propaganda, and does not worry about losing the money. The same remarks apply to candidates of the Republican Party and those of many of the small splinter parties.
No one wants to prevent anybody from standing as a candidate if he has any chance of winning. A candidate has to receive only one-fifth of the votes polled by the winning candidate in the first count to retain his deposit. In House of Commons elections the deposit is £150 sterling. This seems to keep down the number of candidates. Even if it does not, it ensures that the Communist Party, and a few others, make a reasonable contribution for the propaganda that they set out of an election.
The honorable member for Fremantle mentioned also the amount that one may spend in an election campaign, and stated that the present position is unsatisfactory. I think that that is a masterpiece of understatement. I would call the whole thing a complete farce. I do not know, but I have a pretty shrewd idea, that some honorable members receive on official forms several requests for information as to the amount that they have spent in an election campaign, but consign them to the wastepaper basket until eventually the official concerned becomes tired of the business and sends no more. Such forms are sent not only to candidates, but also to party organizations. There is nothing in the act to the effect that a party is liable to penalty if it spends more than a certain amount in a campaign. The whole thing is ludicrous in the extreme. Who is to know how much has been spent? Candidates know what they spend out of their own pocket. They probably get from their campaign directors a rough idea of what has been spent, but in some cases one cannot do even that. For campaign purposes my electorate is divided into four areas, in one of which I have a particularly good man. I say to him, “ You run the campaign in your own way “, and he does so. He raises the money and spends it, and we do not ask in what directions it has gone. How can one possibly limit the amount spent? Must one say to the campaign director: “ I am getting pretty close to the limit. I have spent £245, so do not put out any more advertisements or I may be disqualified.” The whole thing is futile.
The honorable member for Fremantle stated that the original idea behind this provision was that, by limiting the amount to be spent in a campaign, the wealthy man who could perhaps buy his way into Parliament would be prevented from doing so. The act also provided that a candidate who had announced himself as such within three months of an election could not make a donation to the funds of a club or association before the poll was closed. Some one stated recently that the period should be three years. I honestly believe that the whole of this section is futile, and that it should be repealed. The law should never be brought into contempt. We in this place make laws, and we should abide by them. If a law is unworkable, it should be altered.
.- In the opinion of very many people the time is ripe for a review of Commonwealth electoral procedures. The effluxion of time has demonstrated the need for many important alterations in the act. For example, there have been changes in the voting methods out of which have emerged serious faults. Realizing this, the Government should have used this bill to remedy a situation which is crying out for alteration but, unfortunately, for reasons best known to itself, the Government has not availed itself of this very timely opportunity. There is not much business on the notice-paper and a week or possibly a fortnight could have been devoted to bringing the Commonwealth Electoral Act up to date. It is to be regretted that the Government has not seized the opportunity that has been presented to it.
In 1956 the then Minister for the Interior, the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall) invited suggestions from members of all parties and from interested bodies outside the Parliament for amending the act. A number of suggestions were made both inside and outside the Parliament by people who thought that the act was far from perfect, but unfortunately the intention of the then Minister apparently was thwarted, because, despite the fact that he issued his invitation five years ago, the legislation now before us is the first of its kind to be presented by the Government since then.
The time is overdue for a conference of all electoral authorities - Commonwealth, State and local government - to discuss differences in electoral procedures and to agree on a uniform procedure. At present, each public body is responsible for the enactment of its own electoral procedures and, because of the differing natures of the various public bodies, the mind of the public is confused. I suggest that if the authorities concerned could thrash out between themselves what is required in the interests of simplicity, much good could result. Unfortunately, the proposals contained in this bill are relatively minor in character. Some of the proposals to alter certain procedures are overdue, but they are not of major consequence. It is a pity, as I have said, that the Government did not use this opportunity to make some major alterations of electoral procedures.
I think I state a truism when I say that all parties agree that, in the interests of democracy and for its proper functioning, voting methods should reflect the real views of the electorate. The only way to get the real views of the electorate is to ensure that voting is as free as possible from informality and invalidity. I believe I can prove that such is not the position at present. Unfortunately, a number of electoral procedures tend - not deliberately but by operation - to cut across the cherished principle that democracy, in the finest sense, is a wide expression of the views of all the electors. To achieve that end, the procedures at all times should be simple, not involved, as they are now. We should ensure that all types of people clearly understand the methods of voting. We should always remember that we must cater for the simplest type of intelligence. I have no doubt that if members of this Parliament voted for the Senate, there would not be an informal vote, but we must remember that, unfortunately, there are people outside the Parliament in all walks of life who do not possess the necessary knowledge to make a vote formal. However, they are citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia, paying taxes, and they should not be debarred from expressing their electoral ideas simply because they do not understand a rather involved voting procedure.
Many people, for various reasons, tend to become agitated and confused when they enter a polling booth. Elderly people become flustered, and so do many young people. Judging by the way that people rush out of the polling booths in my electorate, wanting to know what it is all about, many of them are not clear on what they should do. If democracy is to function at its best, it must not place any obstacles in the way of a true expression of opinion. The first thing we should do to make certain that the people understand the method of voting is to institute a uniform method of marking ballot-papers. What is the position in Australia to-day? In Queensland, the State elections are based on the principle of first past the post. In federal elections, we have preferential voting for this House, and for the Senate we have proportionate representation. In those examples, we have three methods of election, every one dissimilar from the other. Surely we can devise a uniform method that people will understand so that they will not be confused when they go from one State to another or turn from voting in a State election to voting in a federal election or perhaps in a municipal election.
I was very disappointed to find that the Government had not used this opportunity to alter the polling hours. Some years ago, I took part in a State election in Queensland, and I was impressed by the polling hours, which were from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. I am satisfied that those hours could be adopted without loss of efficiency and without inconvenience to anybody. If the hours for voting were from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. there would still be people coming in late to vote. If a train runs an hour late, there is always somebody running to catch it. With the advent of the motor-car - and one in every three and a half people in Australia owns a motor vehicle - people can get to the polling booths more quickly and easily than they did in the days of bullock drays and horse-drawn vehicles. I do not want to annoy members of the Australian Country Party, but I would point out that in the cities, since the abolition of Saturday morning work in many industries, a great many people who used to vote between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. now vote in the morning. That is what happens in myelectorate. Before we had Saturday morning closing, there was a terrific rush between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the booths. Now, however, you could fire a cannon down the street outside any booth in my electorate after 6 o’clock and you would not hit anybody. They would all have voted before 6 p.m.
The electoral officers work inordinately long hours on a job that entails a lot of mental work, and by 8 p.m. they have just about had it. If polling hours were reduced by two, the result would be greater efficiency on the part of the electoral offices and that would be all to the good. Country voters, who have motor cars, can get to the polling booths more quickly than they could when they had to ride a horse. The Government, in my opinion, should have used the opportunity presented by this bill to make the polling hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
There has been some controversy on how the position of a candidate’s name on the ballot-paper affects the result of an election. I took the opportunity to obtain some figures on this question. They show that there is not the slightest doubt that a candidate who is placed first on a ballotpaper has an electoral advantage. I am not saying that a candidate must win because he is placed first on the ballot-paper. The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) said he knew of a candidate who was placed first on the ballot-paper but finished last in the poll. To get a fair comparison, you should take candidates belonging to one political party, who face the electors with the same policy. I suggest that there is a difference of 3½ per cent. in the vote if a candidate is first on the ballotpaper, and I will prove it so far as Victoria is concerned.
I have studied the votes cast for the Democratic Labour Party candidates. This is not a large party, but it obtained quite a number of votes in Victoria at the last federal election. There are 33 federal electorates in Victoria, and Democratic Labour Party candidates had their names placed first on the ballot-paper in twelve of the electorates. The percentages of the total votes obtained by those candidates were as follows: -
Of a total of 538,879 primary votes cast, the D.L.P. candidates in first place on the ballot-paper secured 91,509, or 16.9 per cent. That is one side of the picture. Let us look at another side. In Victoria, D.L.P. candidates were not placed first on the ballot-paper in 21 electorates. The percentages of votes they obtained in those instances were -
In those 21 electorates, the D.L.P. candidates gained 117,481 primary votes out of a total of 866,520 - or 13.5 per cent. When the candidates of that party were at the top of the ballot-paper, they obtained, on an average, 16.9 per cent. of the total votes, but when they were in other positions they averaged only 13.5 per cent. of the total votes.
Honorable members might say that that is an isolated position. Let us look at the results in New South Wales. I am indebted to the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope), who made an extensive survey of the position in that State and is to be commended for exposing the position last year in the discussion of the Estimates. The honorable member for Watson has given me these figures. In New South Wales, at the last federal election, D.L.P. candidates were at the top of the ballotpaper in fifteen electorates. Of 612,000 votes cast, those candidates obtained about 55,000, or 9 per cent. Democratic Labour Party candidates were placed in other positions on the ballot-paper in 25 electorates, and of1,063,000 votes cast, they obtained about 51,000, or 4.83 per cent. The difference in New South Wales is 4 per cent. and in Victoria almost 3½ per cent. Surely after hearing those figures, the Government should recognize that being placed first on the ballot-paper does give a candidate some electoral advantage.
Now let us have a look at the votes polled by the Communist Party at the Senate elections. We cannot make a comparison of the voting for the House of Representatives because the Communist Party puts up very few candidates for election to this House. The only way to obtain a true assessment of the voting is to compare the votes polled by candidates who stand at every election on a uniform policy. That being so, the only way to obtain a true assessment of the votes polled by Communist candidates is to take figures relating to Senate elections. In Victoria, at the 1953 Senate election the Communists occupied first place on the ballot-paper and polled 3.48 per cent of the votes. In 1958, they occupied fourth place and polled 0.89 per cent. of the votes. So, in1958, they polled less than1 per cent. of the votes as against almost 3.5 per cent. in1953! The same position obtained in Queensland. There, the Communists held first place on the ballot-paper in the 1955 elections and polled 4.13 per cent, of the total votes cast. In 1958, when they occupied third place, they polled only .94 per cent, of the total votes cast. Surely, in view of those figures, honorable members opposite will not say that being first on the ballot-paper does not give a candidate some preferment or privilege! I am fortunate to have a name starting with the letter B. At five elections my name has appeared first on the ballot-paper and I have always looked upon this as giving me some advantage. I remember that in 1946, a metropolitan electorate not far from mine was held by a Labour candidate whose surname also started with the letter B. Another candidate changed his name by deed poll to the same name as the sitting member. As the sitting member’s christian name was Frank and that of his rival was Allan, the latter appeared first on the ballot paper. Despite the fact that he did not have one person handing out how-to-vote cards for him, he secured over 4,000 votes. I mention this to prove that many people are so indifferent about their voting that they merely place their votes in the order in which the candidates names appear on the ballot-paper.
– Did he get in?
– No. As a matter of fact, he lost his deposit, for which I was thankful. But the fact remains that that candidate was able to poll 4,000 votes without any organization simply because his name appeared first on the ballot-paper.
I should like now to make some reference to the method of voting for the Senate. I am entirely dissatisfied with the present method because in my opinion the number of informal votes cast under this method absolutely negates the principle of democracy. For example, in New South Wales at the 1958 elections, the number of informal votes cast in all House of Representatives electorates was 55,041 while the number of informal votes cast in voting for the Senate was 244,828. In Victoria, the number of informal votes cast in connexion with the House of Representatives was 35,114 and for the Senate 142.416. In South Australia, the numbers were 15,619 for the House of Representatives and 36,677 for the Senate. In Queensland, there were 22,532 informal votes cast in connexion with the House of Representatives and 53,431 in connexion with the
Senate. In Western Australia, the number of informal votes cast in connexion with the House of Representatives was 12,305 as against 32,427 in connexion with the Senate and in Tasmania the figures were 7,005 for the House of Representatives and 19,271 for the Senate. The total number of informal votes cast throughout Australia was 147,616 in connexion with the House of Representatives and 529,050 in connexion with the Senate.
– Over half a million informal votes for the Senate!
– Yes, over half a million informal votes for the Senate. Surely no government could be satisfied with a position such as that. Certainly this Government should have seized the opportunity, when preparing this bill, to do something to simplify the method of voting for the Senate. But it has done nothing.
As one who has made a close examination of the position while acting as a scrutineer, I should say that most informal votes cast for the Senate are declared informal because the voters have failed to put numbers alongside the names of every candidate. There can be no doubt about that. Any person who has been a scrutineer at Senate elections knows that that is the main reason. Another reason for informal votes is that often elderly people become confused. They may put down eight numbers correctly, then become confused and put down two nines, so that, upon completion of the paper, they have voted for seventeen instead of eighteen candidates. Again, in many polling places, unfortunately, after dark the light is not the best. The booths are gloomy, people cannot see properly, and they unintentionally vote informally. Surely the Government can see that the present method is entirely unsatisfactory. It works all right for the House of Representatives, but it does not work all right for the Senate.
When examining the figures relating to Victoria, I was appalled at the difference between the number of informal votes cast for the House of Representatives and the number cast for the Senate. I shall not mention all the figures, but in the Balaclava electorate there were 960 informal votes for the House of Representatives and 3,500 for the Senate. In the electorate of
Ballaarat, the informal voting was 610 for the House of Representatives and 3,156 for the Senate. Strangely enough, in the electorate of Wannon, where the number of informal votes cast for the House of Representatives was the lowest of all electorates, the proportion of informal votes for the Senate was considerably higher. The figures were 534 for the House of Representatives and 3,750, or seven times as many, for the Senate. That pattern was followed in most of the country electorates in Victoria. For instance, in the Bendigo electorate, where the number of informal votes cast for the House of Representatives was 584, the number cast for the Senate was 3,843. In Gippsland, the figures were 810 for the House of Representatives and 4,853, or six times as many, for the Senate. In Mallee they were 818 for the House of Representatives and 4,864, or almost six times as many, for the Senate. In Murray, they were 1,066 for the House of Representatives and 5,260, or five times as many, for the Senate. In Wimmera they were 658 for the House of Representatives and 3,722, or five and a half times as many, for the Senate.
In the metropolitan electorates, where the number of informal votes for the House of Representatives was higher than in the country, the number of informal votes cast for the Senate was still four times greater. I should say that the main reason for the relatively high number of informal Senate votes in the country electorates is that how-to-vote cards are not distributed at many of the booths, with the result that electors make mistakes through lack of guidance. But when we look at the appalling number of informal Senate votes cast in Victoria - 142,416 compared with 35,114 for the House of Representatives - surely we are entitled to say that the Government should not be satisfied with a position such as that. I cannot understand why the Government makes no attempt to so improve the method of voting for the Sen;te that the average person will not make any more mistakes when voting for the donate than he does when voting for the House of Representatives. The amendment foreshadowed by the Labour Party would provide a solution to the problem. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) explained the Opposition will propose an amendment to provide that a vote for the Senate shall be valid if preference is indicated for the number of candidates required to be elected. That is, if there are five vacancies in the Senate - which is the usual happy position - an elector will cast a valid vote if he indicates preferences for five candidates. That means in effect that he would vote for the party by placing the figures 1, 2 and 3 alongside the names of the three candidates representing the party for which he wanted to vote and then place the remaining two numbers against the names of other candidates to whom he wished to give some preference. I am confident that if this system were adopted there would be a sharp decline in the present astronomical number of informal votes. Under the present system there will always be an excessive number of informal votes. The voters include people of all standards of intelligence, people with failing eyesight, elderly people, and people who have become sick at a time when it is too late to arrange for a postal vote. The result is that thousands of electors mark their ballot-papers correctly up to about ten or twelve, then make a mistake and so vote informally. I suggest that no amount of logic can be produced to justify the present u-pardonable position. And unpardonable it is! The Government knows the circumstances. It has had ample time during the past five years to prepare a bill to correct the position. This House has on the notice-paper only a couple of bills which are supposed to engage our attention for two weeks. I do not know what we shall be discussing. Here is a matter of major importance that has been by-passed or forgotten, whether conveniently or not I do not know. I am extremely sorry that the Government did not decide that this was a chance to bring in a bill for electoral reform. The Government must agree that the high percentage of informal votes for the Senate is most unsatisfactory. It means that many people are disfranchising themselves because of the complicated nature of the ballot-paper, as it appears to them.
The bill deals with a number of minor matters, but it does nothing to eliminate major faults. In some ways its provisions are satisfactory. The honorable member for Fremantle has pointed out the difficulties regarding postal votes. The bill attempts to clarify the situation where two canvassers are outside the gate of a block of land, in the middle of which a building stands. The bill requires canvassers to stay 20 or 30 feet away from the gate, whereas formerly it was possible to stand up against it. I have an idea that this provision will be honored more in the breach than in the observance. However, when it comes to important matters, the Government has discreetly forgotten about bringing them before the House. Surely Government supporters are cognizant of the fact that certain changes are well warranted. I am completely at a loss to understand the Government’s attitude. The Parliament has a duty to devise simple methods whereby electors can elect members. It has been amply demonstrated that present electoral practices appear complicated to very many thousands of people. Parliament’s job is to devise machinery which does not confuse the electors. This bill proposes to do nothing in that direction.
– I was intrigued and deeply moved by the pathetic disclosures that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) made regarding the differences between various sections of the Labour Party. It was very interesting indeed to hear what the honorable gentleman had to say. Having listened to his remarks, I am irresistibly reminded of an episode for the accuracy of which I can vouch. A very distinguished Apostolic delegate went to the city of Bathurst, where he was welcomed by the mayor to the “ queen city of the plains “. The mayor of Orange was present, and welcomed him on his arrival in that city to the “ queen city of the hills, the valleys, the plains and the rivers “. When replying to the welcome, the distinguished visitor said, “ Finally, Mr. Mayor, I wish you joy in your queen competition “. I leave my honorable friends to draw for themselves the moral from that perfectly true story and I shall proceed to deal with the measure that is before the House.
I should say that the principal requirement in any electoral act in any country that claims to be a democracy is to ensure that every elector has a reasonable chance of recording his vote in a clear and impartial manner and that he shall not be hindered by laws which prevent him from recording that vote. It is essential that he shall not be prevented from having the benefit of the principle of one vote, one value, by electoral subdivisions which have the effect of throwing into the hands of massed populations a very much greater power than rests with those who are not so conveniently situated in regard to contact with the Government, with departments, and with all the means of information. Such a system has regard to the features which are laid down in the electoral act. I hope to refer to them in the course of my address.
I should like to take up the story of voting for the Senate where the honorable member for Batman left off. Every one of us must have been more than impressed by the figures he cited which show how great is the difference between the number of informal votes cast for the House of Representatives, where two, three or five candidates are contesting an electorate, and the number of the informal votes cast for the Senate, where there may be up to 25 or 30 candidates. I am quite sure that there is a moral to be adduced in regard to the host of people who come forward for Senate election. I agree with the suggestion of the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) that it is high time something was done to curb the unnatural, almost insane desire of some people for publicity, by making candidates, particularly for the Senate, pay something to Consolidated Revenue for the trouble and expense to which they have put the country and for generally clouding the voting issue.
I should like to refer to the fact that there are certain features in the present set-up of the Senate which will reduce that great institution to an absurdity unless some effective action is taken, in the first instance not through an electoral act but through an amendment of the Constitution. Every honorable member knows that under the Constitution whenever the size of this House is increased the size of the Senate is increased proportionately. Members of the House of Representatives are to senators in the proportion of two to one. At present there are 60 senators. Having regard to all the circumstances, I do not think that the number is too many, but let us see where this observance of the proportion will land us. The size of this House will have to be increased in the not very distant future. There are now 60 senators for a little over 10,000,000 people. In the great republic of the United States of America, since the recent admission of two more States, there are 50 States, with a population of 200,000,000, and they return 100 senators.
If we are to increase the number of senators every time we increase the number of members of this House, the position will be so absurd that a great institution, which is of incalculable value to this country, may be just forced out of existence by the derision of the electors. The quicker we have an amendment to the Constitution which will break this nexus between the two Houses, while ensuring, as I think it was suggested by the Constitutional Review Committee, that no abuse results from that break and that a proper balance is preserved, the better it will be. 1 would say to my honorable friends, “ If you want to make the Senate effective and if you want to get over this tremendous difficulty of so many informal votes, then you have to go back to the original intention of the founders of this country “. They envisaged that there should be a much greater number of States than six. As Sir Henry Parkes said, if we had started this Commonwealth with double its number of States it would have been to its advantage. If the representation of the States in the Senate were to proceed as it has in the United States of America we would eventually have two senators to each State and we would not have an army of people presenting themselves for election for each State. That is a weakness at the present time. There may be ten, seven or five senators to be elected, according to the circumstances of the case. There are ten senators representing each State. If there is a double dissolution then ten senators have to be elected. If there are casual vacancies, instead of five senators having to be elected at the triennial period, an additional senator or two has to be elected. If we increased the number of States we could have a smaller number of senators for each State. Then, as this country grew, the number of senators could be proportionate to the population of the country.
Let me say this emphatically: If we are going to have a Senate, then the Senate representation of each State must be equal to the Senate representation of any other
State, irrespective of the number of people in each State; otherwise, with Sydney and Melbourne holding one-third of the total population of Australia, the needs of this vast country could be completely overlooked. At the present time, because of our unfortunate system, we are spending countless millions of pounds in trying to overcome the congestion in Sydney and Melbourne whilst there is a dire and pressing need for the development of the rich resources of our great continent. I will not pursue that line any longer. Let me pass on to the question of the House of Representatives.
With regard to the hours of voting, I would like those whose lot is mainly cast in pocket-handkerchief Sydney electorates to look at what can happen in rural districts in the midst of the harvest season. That is when we have had our general elections almost ever since I have been in this House - for some twelve years. If a man has a harvest to reap he must sometimes work day and night. He must work through the hours of daylight to make sure that his harvest is collected. A farmer may live twenty miles from a polling booth and it might be late in the day before he hastens in to record his vote. He is in a different position to the person who simply has to walk around the corner or, perhaps, go a mile, at the most, to get to a polling booth. I think the House would be well advised, in all the laws that it proposes, to have regard to the fact that this not a static country yet. People are constantly moving the frontiers out and should not be subject to handicaps in the exercise of their voting rights.
It has been suggested that the postal voting methods of New South Wales should be applied to the Commonwealth. I sincerely hope that no such action will be taken by members of this House. Let me point to some of the absurdities of the New South Wales system which would disfranchise many more people, if applied throughout the Commonwealth, than it affects in New South Wales. Here is a case in point: If you live more than five miles from a polling booth in New South Wales you can get a postal vote, wherever you may be. But if you have the misfortune to live. say four and nine-tenths miles from a polling booth you cannot get a postal vote even though you may be in another State or on the other side of the world at the time of an election.
The position in New South Wales is, to say the least, bad and unreasonable. At every election thousands of people are prevented from exercising their franchise simply because they do not live outside of the five-mile limit. Why should a person living outside the five-mile limit be able to get a postal vote if he happens to be in Victoria or Queensland at election time while a person who lives inside the five-mile limit cannot get one? The thing is so utterly incredible that I wonder that the people of New South Wales have not risen in anger against it. I say to honorable members, regardless of their policy, that every man in this country is entitled to a fair go. The electoral procedure in New South Wales does not give people a fair go.
If it should be suggested that the electoral system in New South Wales has been abused, two kinds of action could be taken: 1 ne first would be to tighten the electoral law. But that suggestion has never been made. No proof nas even been adduced that anything was crooked in New South Wales elections, and I do not believe that anything has been crooked. However, for a variety of reasons, perfectly healthy, normal men and women may be absent from their electorate on polling day. They may be on holidays or they may be absent for any reason at all. They may be on the omer side ot the world. Why should they be deprived of their right to say who will govern them. 1 would condemn root and branch any proposal to adopt the New South Wales system of postal voting. I hope that it never replaces the electoral law of the Commonwealth. 1 pass on to the application of a 10 per cent, or 20 per cent, margin in the allocation of the quota to electorates. My colleagues on the Constitutional Review Committee will recall the discussion that we had on that subject. If the section of the legislation which lays down the conditions upon which distribution shall be made were carried out there would be a great deal, indeed, to be said for retaining the present proportions. The Commonwealth Electoral Act says -
In making any proposed distribution of a State into Divisions the Distribution Commissioners shall give due consideration to-
Community or diversity of interest,
Means of communication,
Existing boundaries of Divisions and Sub divisions,
State Electoral boundaries; and subject thereto the quota of electors shall be the basis for the distribution, and the Distribution Commissioners may adopt a margin of allowance, to be used wherever necessary, but in no case shall the quota be departed from to a greater extent than one-fifth more or one-fifth less. 1 can conceive that that section could honestly be used for the purpose of maintaining a fair balance between the people who suffer the disability of living in a vast scattered region and those who are concentrated, as in the case of the metropolitan City of Sydney, within an area of about 300 square miles out of the 310,000 square miles of New South Wales. In the case of my own electorate, I was given the maximum quota of nearly 42,000 electors, but in other electorates, which I could walk around in perhaps half an hour or an hour, the average has worked the other way. My own electorate has an area which is not nearly as large as that of the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) or that of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe). The area of the electorate of the honorable member for Maranoa is equivalent to the combined areas of Holland, Belgium and Denmark. I cannot see that this margin of 20 per cent, in quotas is being used to remove population disparities between electorates having people scattered over wide areas and those in which people are concentrated in towns.
I quite realize that a great deal could be said in support of the contention that the 20 per cent, margin permits too great a lee-way bearing in mind the rapid growth of population in certain electorates. Without having any strong feelings on the matter, I decided that, on the balance of probabilities, I would support the suggestion to reduce the margin to 10 per cent. I know that many of my friends have looked upon the 20 per cent, margin in the way I have done, namely, as a means of balancing small electorates with huge electorates such as Leichhardt, Maranoa, Riverina, Darling and so on. However, if it is suggested that manipulation could occur, I contend that there could be worse manipulation with a margin of 20 per cent, than with a margin of 10 per cent.
I pass to the subject of the aboriginal race. I noted with interest the argument that was put forward very effectively by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) when dealing with this matter.I congratulate the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) on taking steps to have a select committee appointed to inquire into all aspects of the question of how to give the aboriginal race, in totality, a franchise. The aborigines are scattered over vast areas and some are primitive. That makes the problem a very difficult one. I do not think there would be the slightest difficulty in my own State of New South Wales. Just recently I saw in the showground of a town in my electorate a full-blooded aboriginal in police uniform directing traffic. He gave me the impression that he could hold his own anywhere. The honorable member for Fremantle advanced a theory as to why the Constitution was drafted in a way that appears to reflect upon the aboriginal race. He referred to the relevant portion of Section 51 of the Constitution, which reads -
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to - (xxvi.) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws;
My honorable friend adduced that the reason for the insertion of that provision was that the States, in their jealousy, feared that if unrestricted power were given to the Commonwealth it would be used by the Commonwealth to set aside vast reserves for the aborigines, to the detriment of the people of the States. I know enough of the crisscross of human motives to realize that that probably is one explanation, but I do not believe it to be the right one. There was, at the time the Constitution was framed, a feeling that laws might be enacted affecting the Asiatic people who had come to Australia, notably the Chinese. I believe that this provision was inserted to ensure that the aboriginal race would not be discriminated against. The Constitution therefore provides that, for the sake of the peace, order and good government of this country, the Commonwealth may pass laws having an adverse effect on any other race, but not laws to the detriment of our native people. That was fair and reasonable. I believe that the explanation I have given is sound. My research leads me to the belief that it is founded on fact. It would not be to the credit of Australia if the other explanation that has been given were the main determinant. It may have had an effect, but it was not the main determinant which was, as I have said, to make it quite clear that no adverse action should be pursued against the people who belong to this country.
I pass now to the question of whether the names of candidates should be drawn from a hat or, as at present, they should appear in alphabetical order. It may be said that as my own name commences with the letter “ D “ naturally I would be in favour of retaining the present system. However, plenty of people have names commencing with the letters “ A “ and “ B “. At the last election I was opposed by a gentleman whose name commenced with “ B “. He belonged to that section of the labour movementofwhich my friend, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), has shown such an eloquent dislike. The fact that his name commenced with” B “ did not have very much affect on my fortunes. Other people also whose names commenced with a letter before mine in the alphabet have stood against me. I think that honorable members should think seriously about this matter before monkeying with the natural order of things. I make the point that the average Australian will bet upon whether a red bull ant will beat a white bull ant in a scrap or one frog will jump further than another frog.
If the names are put in a hat and if, as a sitting member, you happen to draw the bottom position, irrespective of whether your name commences with a Z or an A a very considerable section of your constituents will say, “ He is out of luck. We will be on the winning horse “. I want honorable members opposite to think that over. That possibility is not a figment of the imagination. The luck is not necessarily on the side of the sitting member. On the other hand, let us suppose that the honorable member for Blaxland is opposed by a brilliant young union man who is standing for election for the first time and who draws the bottom position on the ballot-paper. The young man’s pals will say, “Obviously he has drawn the wrong number. We had better stick to the old horse “. I am afraid that I am mixing the serious business of politics with sporting phrases, but we must have regard to the facts of life. I say to my friends opposite, “ If you want to buy into that kind of gamble and draw names from the hat, I will have none of it. I know too many of my countrymen too well “.
I feel, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have covered quite a lot of the ground that my colleagues have not covered. I congratulate the Minister upon his effort to clarify the position in relation to the aborigines and to introduce a workable provision. I congratulate him upon having brought forward certain other proposals, and I hope that, perhaps with one minor exception, there will be no amendment of those proposals.
.- It is wonderful to sit here and hear the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) expressing democratic thoughts in their finest flowering - thoughts such as one vote having one value and every one having the right to vote. Those thoughts came from a member of the Australian Country Party behind whom sits the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who has persistently advocated a greater say for country voters and has contended that country electorates should have fewer voters. The Country Party persists in the perpetuation, in the States, of legislative councils elected on a restricted franchise, and, in Victoria, of plural voting in municipal elections. It is fine for supporters of the Government to rise and give expression to such high-minded philosophies about voting, knowing that, when they go back to their own States and take part in the counsels of their party, what they say here will not affect, by one whit or one jot, the actions of those parties.
What has been said, of course, applies in a way to the voting rights of the Australian aborigines. The honorable member for New England expressed fine sentiments about this matter, but when he is faced with the need to take action he is the first to back away and leave the whole matter in some dusty pigeonhole. Throughout his speech the honorable member mentioned very few points that were not extremely conservative. He gave some encouragement to the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) to do something more dramatic. The Minister, at this stage of his ministerial career, which I believe most Australians hope will be interrupted at the next election, could have brought forward some really constructive proposals to modernize the Australian electoral system, because it is the very vehicle by which democracy in Australia will survive. In the light of informal voting in Senate elections, and what happens in relation to postal voting there is no doubt that there is a lot to cause concern in the mind of any person who seriously considers Australia’s electoral law. Whilst every amendment of the law which is designed to improve the method of voting is to be commended, we feel a little disappointed at the fact that the Minister has not adopted a more experimental and adventurous attitude on this occasion.
I desire to refer particularly to the voting rights of aborigines. The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) chose to take to task the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) on this subject. The honorable member thought it was mean of the Opposition - that it was quibbling, that it was taking a mere technical point - in the face of the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the voting rights of aborigines, to press for the amendment that has been circulated. Psychologically, the appointment of this select committee represents a remarkable advance on the part of the Government. Its action in appointing the committee is a major breakthrough. It is an admission that an injustice exists and that it is time some action was taken to remove that injustice.
As I recall the terms of reference of the select committee, it is to submit its report to the House by 31st October. If the present Parliament runs for the full period of three years it will be dissolved towards the end of November, or early in December. What does that mean? It means that the report of the select committee is not due to be tabled until after the House will have ceased to meet. The previous Parliament was dissolved on 14th October, 1958, preparatory to the holding of an election on 22nd November. That Parliament last met on 2nd October of that year. So the date by which the report is to be submitted, which I hope was chosen more by accident than by design, will fall after the Parliament has ceased to exist. We know what well may happen. As 1 have said, the appointment of the committee is, psychologically, an admission that something ought to be done in relation to the voting rights of aborigines. So I hope the members of the committee will take steps to submit their recommendations early enough in the next sessional period for them to be implemented. Despite the fine sentiments that have been expressed by honorable members opposite, it is too much to hope that they will vote for the Opposition’s amendment.
Let me explain why the Opposition is submitting the amendment at this stage. Despite the remarks of the honorable member for Farrer, the Opposition is not indulging in a quibble. The fact is that we on this side of the House are faced with an amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act in the following terms: -
An aboriginal native of Australia is not entitled to enrolment under Part VII. unless he -
is entitled under the law of the State in which he resides to be enrolled as an elector of that State and, upon enrolment, to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of that State or, if there is only one House of the Parliament of that State, for that House; or
is or has been a member of the Defence
The Labour Party sincerely believes that the aborigines of Australia have been done down on their just rights, and that they are entitled to this simple, basic civil right. We will not be a party to supporting the perpetuation of this injustice. To deny aborigines the right to vote is an injustice. It is a racial law. It is not designed by people who have a racial complex but, in fact, that is how it works out.
We have in Australia at the moment a situation in which aborigines in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania - if any move to that State - and South Australia have the right to vote. What tests are we applying in this case? Are we saying that they are to be denied the right to vote because they are illiterate? No, we certainly are not. Recently in Western Australia I met a young aboriginal man who was a teacher. He had been through high school, had qualified for admission to teachers’ training college, had passed through the college and was qualified as a teacher. He was aged 23 years. But he had not the right to vote.
– Has he applied for citizenship rights?
– No other Australian has to apply for the right to vote if he is in that situation. This man refused to pay the fee of 10s. I do not necessarily support him in adopting that attitude, because I believe that one may as well accept the right to vote and use all the strength one can. But in fact the aboriginal people have a strong feeling against this kind of discrimination. That young man is deprived of his voting rights or of his citizenship rights in Western Australia because he is of aboriginal descent, not because he is illiterate or because he cannot manage his own affairs. He has been entrusted with most important duties, but he still may not vote. I am not charging the Minister, in particular, with being responsible for perpetuating this kind of thing.
– Could he vote if he lived in Adelaide?
– He could vote if he lived in Adelaide or Melbourne, or -if he lived in New South Wales or Tasmania. This is a challenge to the Parliament. I do not think we ought to permit this sort of thing to continue. We do not propose to move an amendment simply as a quibble or an attempt to challenge the Government. We must decide whether we are prepared to vote for the continuation of this position in our electoral law, and I say I will not do so. My colleagues on this side of the House hold exactly the same view, and we have the support of the whole of the Australian Labour Party and the Labour movement. These are anomalies which no Australian ought to allow to continue. Any aboriginal with any sort of sophistication or sensitivity is offended by them, and he is justly offended.
What are the reasonable tests that may be applied? Honorable members on the other side of the House have said that an aboriginal, in order to be permitted to vote, must be informed. Do we apply that test to any one else? Of course we do not. It is a simple fact that a person may come to this country from Malta, may live here for six months and, although he may have only a token knowledge of the language, may enrol as a voter because of his rights as a British subject. This does not apply only to those who come from Malta. Any one who manages to be accepted under the immigration laws, even though he may have very little knowledge of our language and may have no knowledge at all of Australian politics - he may not be literate even in his own language - may enrol. No test is applied to him. Therefore, I say that we do not apply the test of literacy or political information to anybody else. Do we apply these tests to aborigines because they are nomadic? We know full well that many aborigines deprived of voting rights under these laws are not nomadic and are capable of handling their own affairs.
– The Minister should agree with that.
– Yes. I know that the Minister is well informed and is charged with the high responsibility of administering this legislation, but 1 am sure that this point has not been brought home forcefully enough to the consciousness of those who designed these laws. Therefore, I ask the Minister to-night to examine this proposition thoroughly before he finally decides to reject it out of hand.
– That is why we have appointed a select committee.
– The select committee will have its duties to perform. It could well consider how the electoral system should function and how the duties imposed on electoral officers should be carried out, if we passed a law to give voting rights to all aborigines. What are the difficulties? Do we refrain from giving voting rights to aborigines because they are primitive? Since 1902, I think, aborigines in South Australia have had the right to vote. In South Australia, there are some thousand or more fairly primitive aborigines. So the degree of primitiveness does not affect the position. The argument that aborigines should not have a vote is invalidated on that count.
We have allowed the dead hand of history to restrain us in these matters, and we have allowed the judgment as to whether aborigines may vote to rest with the State parliaments. However, this is a sovereign parliament. If the Queensland Parliament decided to-morrow that aborigines in Queensland could vote, those aborigines would be entitled to vote at the next federal election, select committee or no select committee. A bill was brought forward in the Western Australian Parliament some two years ago by the Labour Party there. It was a bill to give full citizenship rights to aborigines in that State. It was thrown out by the members of an Australian Country Party minority in the Legislative Council, because the time was not right in their view, but if the bill had been passed every aboriginal in Western Australia would have been entitled to vote. For 60 years we have allowed the initiative on electoral matters to rest with the State parliaments. As a sovereign parliament, we should not allow that state of affairs to continue nor should we allow the historical conservatism of State parliaments to be the deciding factor as regards laws that should be initiated in this Parliament.
Let us consider the position in Queensland, where a large number of sophisticated aborigines still come under the relevant act for various reasons. They live on Palm Island, where living conditions are idyllic. If they stay on Palm Island, they may not obtain exemption from the act. Unless they have exemption from the act, they may not vote. According to the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm), there are 1,500 aborigines on Palm Island. In the ordinary course of events, I suppose this means that there are 500 or 600 adults. Of those 500 or 600, many would have been educated in schools since 1919 and many of them would be literate. If the Queensland Parliament were to pass a law to-morrow to permit them to do so, they could vote.
The question of voting rights for aborigines is a simple straightforward one, and this Parliament should not hesitate to act. It could well then take steps, by regulation and otherwise, to protect the right of an aboriginal to cast a free and untrammelled vote. A resolution to this effect was passed at the last federal conference of the Australian Labour Party, which was held in Canberra only a few weeks ago.
Many anomalies are created by the present law. Recently I mentioned the position of a black-tracker from Cooktown, who took up residence in Melbourne. He can go on the electoral roll in Melbourne and he can vote there. If he had stayed in Queensland, he would not have been able to enrol. When the next federal election is held, if he is still in Victoria he will be able to vote, but the moment he returns to his reserve in Queensland, he will lose the right to vote. No Australian Government ought to allow these anomalies to continue. I make the plea to members of this Parliament to throw out their inhibitions on this question and really face up to it. Administrative action may be needed later, but surely the electoral law can be amended to ensure that the anomalies do not persist.
As the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) has pointed out, we live in a colour-conscious world and in a raceconscious world. If the test to be applied to a person is whether he is an aboriginal, we have a racial law. We in Australia have no reason to be ashamed of our aboriginal race. 1 am pleased to say that the great mass of the Australian public holds this view. The Parliament ought to be an initiator in these matters. It ought not to drag its feet behind public opinion, but should lay down principles on which the public can form opinions. I am sure I speak for my colleagues when I say that is the reason we will not be put in the position of voting for a perpetuation of the present state of affairs, no matter what the report of the select committee may be. I should like an assurance later from the Minister that he will jog the select committee along - I know three members of it hold the view that I have expressed - so that it will produce a report in ample time for this Parliament to consider it. After all, it is important that a select committee of this Parliament report to this Parliament and not to the next Parliament. As I have pointed out, 31st October may well be a date after that on which this Parliament has been dissolved. Certainly, if we can judge from the evidence of the past, the Parliament will have ceased to meet by that date.
I have dealt with the principal matter on which I wanted to speak to-night, but I should like to comment on several other points that have been raised by honorable members on this side of the House. We have circulated a number of amendments which we propose to move. One concerns the alteration of electoral boundaries. I believe, as the Constitutional Review Com mittee believed, that the provision initially included in the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which provided for the revision of electoral boundaries when the number of electors varied by one-fifth from the quota, is now out of date. With electorates of 40,000, one-fifth represents 8,000. So, it is possible for electorates to vary from 32,000 to 48,000. This, of course, is against democratic principles, and it is against the general principles on which this Parliament has operated from its very inception. Since federation, this Parliament has been much more democratic in its electoral system, its electoral laws and the drawing of electoral boundaries than have most of the State parliaments. We suggest that, in view of the availability of statistical information these days, one-tenth is quite adequate.
By interjection earlier, the Minister pointed out the difficulties that we face incarrying out a re-distribution without a census. But these days there is a very full documentation of people through municipalities and in other ways. Our electoral system is in some ways one of the world’s, most comprehensive and most effective. It should not be difficult to discover howmany people live in a particular districtIn my view the boundaries of electorates; on the fringes of Melbourne and Sydney should have been revised long ago. This matter of boundaries could be serious tothe member representing Wills, which isa small metropolitan electorate.
– And a very good one.
– Yes, a very good electorate and well represented, if I may say so. It has a long tradition of good representation. It is important to keep the principles to which I have referred before theParliament at all times. The electoral laws, are the machinery by which democracy ispassed on and upon which we rely for its operation. If we tolerate the continuanceof a principle which by no stretch of the imagination is one vote, one value, we stand against the very principle on whichthis Parliament has been based since its inception. We suggest that honorable members opposite give earnest consideration to the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee. To simplify matters we propose to move certain amendments during the committee stage.
It has been suggested that candidates for Parliament should ballot for position on the ballot-paper. All honorable members should study closely the figures cited tonight by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). Those figures showed that in the twelve electorates in which its candidates appeared in first position on the ballot-paper the Australian Democratic Labour Party - which is neither democratic nor Labour - polled 16.9 per cent, of votes, whereas in the 21 electorates in which its candidates were not in first position on the ballot-paper, it polled only 13.5 per cent, of votes. We should take all steps available to us to remove the possibility of chance deciding the result of an election. What I am suggesting will involve me in great sacrifice. Ordinarily my name is in first place on the ballot-paper, but I am prepared to concede, in the interests of democracy, that it is time a more scientific approach was made to the positioning of names on ballot-papers. There are many reasons why people should give their first vote to Bryant. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) is interjecting. I can well understand his addiction to the present system. We on this side of the chamber know where the Australian Country Party stands on matters such as this. It will fight to the last to retain any system that gives it an electoral advantage.
Some scientific consideration should be given of ways to overcome the problem to which I have referred. Many suggestions could be made. One is that names be placed at random on the ballot-paper so that in effect each candidate would have an opportunity to be on top of the same proportion of ballot-papers. As a means of overcoming this problem we suggest that candidates should ballot for positions on the ballot-paper. Plenty of historical precedents exist for balloting for positions of this kind. If we go back to the days of the Athenian democracy we find that many selections of people for public positions were made by balloting. It is not a case of bringing the chance of the race track into the selection of members of Parliament. What I have suggested involves using scientific methods to produce an overall Australian result.
We suggest that polling booths should close at 6 p.m. There is every evidence that this would not be a disadvantage to voters. The closing of polling booths at 6 p.m. has worked effectively in Queensland, where there has not been any significant diminution in the percentage of voters at State elections as compared with Federal elections. The passage of time has reduced Saturday work and increased the mobility of the voter. The benefit of a shorter polling day should be conferred upon the electoral office and all persons associated with it.
The number of informal votes cast in the Senate elections should cause great concern to every honorable member and to the community at large. At the last Federal election 142,000 voters out of a total of 1,400,000 in Victoria cast informal votes in the Senate elections. The informal votes represented approximately 10 per cent, of all votes cast.
– A candidate with the name “ Informal “ would have won a seat in the Senate.
– Yes. In fact, he would have done better than the Democratic Labour Party candidates. Of course, they are both informal in a way. The high proportion of informal votes is a matter of immediate concern to anybody who believes in the principle of one vote, one value. It is of concern to everybody who wishes to see that all votes are recorded properly. The amendment that the Opposition proposes to move will require electors to vote only for the number of people necessary to fill vacancies. If there are twenty candidates and five positions are to be filled, an elector will vote for the five persons of his choice. I have often been puzzled by the philosophy behind the present system. I walk into a polling booth and wish to vote for Senator Cameron, Senator Hendrickson and Senator Kennelly. I do so, but my ballot-paper may become informal because I have forgotten to put the number 18 against a candidate named McMullin or Freeth, who may represent the republican party. The situation is nonsensical. If electors indicate their preferences for the required number of senators to fill the number of vacancies, that should be sufficient to validate their votes. If we believe in the lofty phrases about the right of the people to cast their vote and the protection of that right, it is logical that we should make the operation inside the polling booth a simple one.
I represent one of Melbourne’s industrial areas. My electorate is one in which some polling booths are teeming with people throughout polling day. The largest booth in my electorate handles about 6,000 voters. That is about 500 voters an hour or eight or nine every minute throughout the day. Those voters return the present member by a substantial majority and they are to be congratulated upon their choice, but when they come to cast their votes for the Senate they make an extraordinary number of mistakes. Why they cannot produce the same result for the Senate as they do for the House of Representatives is beyond me, but I think that the mechanics of voting in Senate elections are difficult.
– It could be that the electors are not very interested.
– Yes. We have a policy about the Senate, too. A lot of voters enter the polling booths at dusk. They may be in a hurry. They are handed a thin complicated ballot-paper. My first plea is that more polling places be set up with facilities for people to sit and record their votes. In my opinion fewer informal votes would be cast if people could enter a polling booth and sit quietly at a table while they filled in their ballot-papers. If they make a mistake they should be able to obtain a second ballot-paper from the officer in charge of the booth. Printed in large type at the foot of the paper should be the words “ If you spoil this ballot-paper ask for another one “. That would not cost a lot of money. The ballot-paper should be printed on thin card instead of paper. It would then be easier to write on. Spaces on the ballot-paper for recording numbers should be enlarged. It would not matter how big they were. The ballot-paper should be easily read. Pencils used in the polling booths should be sharp and numerous. The voter should be able to sit quietly while he carries out the task which is one of his most important civil duties. The matters to which I have referred are machinery matters and I hope that the Minister, who has been very attentive to-night, will take steps to ensure that voting at the next Senate elections is simplified.
The matters that I have raised need no more than a practical application of com mon-sense procedures. What I have suggested are the things that we on this side of the House would want to see done if we had control of this matter. When I am working at my desk I like to have my papers in an orderly fashion. I like to be able to see clearly and to write clearly. I like my pencil to be sharp. I like the paper on which I am writing to be firm. I submit that the suggestions I have made to-night should be implemented at the next Senate elections. Let the Senate ballot-paper be a card that will not crumple easily. Let it be sufficiently large for names to be read easily. Let there be printed upon it the following words: “ If you spoil this ballot-paper ask for another one “. If these suggestions are adopted, and particularly if voters are required to vote only for sufficient candidates to fill existing vacancies, the number of informal Senate votes may well be reduced. Those are the principles of democracy, and I am sure this House could well turn its attention to these things. We on this side of the House say that we cannot possibly support the insertion in the act of an amendment which perpetuates the injustice against the aboriginal people of Australia. The select committee on the voting rights of aborigines has been given a date on which to submit its report to Parliament, but we say that may well be after this Parliament is dissolved. We believe that the polling hours ought to be reduced. We believe also that the question of informal votes in Senate elections ought to be tackled in a challenging way and every possible step taken to reduce the number of informal votes. Unless the Minister does these things, I do not believe he is carrying out the high duty with which he is charged as the Minister responsible for our electoral machinery, which is the basic part of our democratic system.
.- In the course of the debate this evening a number of different aspects of the bill before the House and the proposed amendments to it have been mentioned. These include some of the aspects of postal voting, the treatment of the aboriginal vote, an increase in the size of advertising posters at election time, the order of candidates’ names on ballot-papers for the House of Representatives, the hours of voting on election day and the document that a candidate has to sign showing the amount of money which he has expended during an election campaign. I should like to congratulate the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), who, I thought, made a very worthwhile contribution to the debate. He discussed some of the early reasons why the aboriginal vote tended to be excluded. He pointed out quite clearly that the exclusion in the minds of the fathers of federation was not made on the basis of colour, but has its origin in the question of land tenure, coupled with the fact that that could possibly interfere with State rights. I believe that was a very important point.
The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant), when dealing with the aboriginal vote or lack of aboriginal vote, was inclined to give the impression, to start with, that the aborigines have been, to use his own words, done down on their just rights, and that it was the intention of the Government to perpetuate a system which I am sure every honorable member in this House hopes will be rectified in the not far distant future. I feel very hopeful that the select committee on the voting rights of aborigines will come back to the House with recommendations which will enable us to put our own voting methods, in respect of the aborigines, on a proper or better footing than they are now. At the same time, we should realize that there are tremendous difficulties to be overcome. It would not be advisable, to my mind, to rush into any hasty or blanket alteration in this regard without the advice of the select committee, and triggered off to a large extent by what might be considered to be expressions of opinions by people in other countries.
I feel quite certain that this House will be reasonably satisfied with whatever decision the Government, having heard the report of the select committee, makes. I am certain, too, that every one in the House is pleased that at last various denominations which have objected to having to go to the polling booth on Saturday will now be able to take advantage of postal voting. There will be no disagreement about that arrangement. But it is an undoubted fact that at the approach of an election there is feverish activity. People go round collecting postal votes, and canvass to ascertain whether electors want them. Probably a large number of people have postal votes although they could not do so if the act was strictly applied. I hope that at some time in the future we will do something about that matter. I am not satisfied that the amendments proposed by the Opposition are necessarily the answer to the problem and I think it requires close examination. I am satisfied that the provisions of the act are being abused at present by a fairly large section of the community and that steps should be taken to prevent such a practice.
I come now to the order or arrangement of candidates’ names on the ballot-paper. For a number of years 1 have been advocating a number of things which have been under discussion during this debate and in the course of that time I have not heard any arguments which could cause me to change my views on some of them. Of course, I believe that they are in the interests of my electors. Some of them are in the interests of common sense and logic and none of them will hurt the people of the Commonwealth. For that reason 1 intend to support one or two of the amendments which the Opposition pro- “0s2s. I will go into that matter in some detail at the correct time - during the committee stage.
I should like to make brief mention of my personal views on the sandwiching of the name of one candidate between the names of others on the ballot-paper. It is an undoubted fact - I do not think any one would attempt to deny it - that the first position on the ballot-paper carries an advantage of something between 21 per cent, and 4 per cent. This principle is recognized in regard to voting for the Senate. In that instance, although we have only a grouping of the various parties standing for election we still ballot to see in what order they shall go, because it is well recognized that whoever is No. 1 on the ballot-paper is in a favoured position. It could be argued that this is not the right time to make changes of that nature, but that argument can be put forward at any time when a proposal for change is made. I believe that on the grounds of common sense, fairness and logic it would be a good idea if candidates decided by ballot the positions that their names would occupy on the ballot-papers for the House of Representatives. I support that idea. I may add that I do not think this would affect me personally at the next election, because I am satisfied that my present majority will stand anything that members of the Opposition can put up against me. Although it may be a matter of small interest to the House I am sure that my electors in the Bowman division are the best educated in Australia because they have the lowest percentage of informal votes in both the House of Representatives and Senate elections.
– Is it not true that during the last election they threw boiled eggs at you?
– That may well have been, but it also happened to Billy Hughes on one occasion.
Another question that has been raised is whether the hours of voting should be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. I unhesitatingly come down on the side of voting from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. We have had those hours for a long time in elections for the Queensland Parliament. The system has worked most satisfactorily. I have no hesitation in saying that the great majority of the electors - not only the people who work on polling day - are perfectly satisfied with that arrangement. In that remark I include the people in most of the country areas. The suggestion has been put forward that in some areas polling hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. could be to the detriment of the people on the land, but I cannot help bearing in mind that any person who lives outside a radius of 5 miles from the ballot-box can have a postal vote. So, the distance involved is 5 miles and the position is not as my friend, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond), stated earlier, that some people have to go 20 miles or more to cast their votes. If they are more than 5 miles from the ballot-box they do not have to go to the booth to vote. This system has been proved to work effectively in Queensland, and I am quite sure that the arguments about distances and the hard work that farmers have to do in gathering their crops at a particular time of the year, and most of the other arguments that could be raised in respect of any other part of Australia, are no different from the arguments that apply in Queensland. The fact that most of the other States, in their State elections, still maintain voting from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. does not cut any ice with me. Because something has been done for 50 years, it does not mean that it must necessarily continue to be done if something better can be suggested. I believe that voting from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. is better.
I come now to the return of electoral expenses which one has to fill in after an election. It is called “ Form, G “. I should like to read to the House part of that form. First, it has a number of sections which have to be filled in and it concludes with these words -
And I do solemnly and sincerely declare that this return is true in every particular, and that, except as appears by this return, I have not, and no person has with my knowledge or authority, paid any electoral expense incurred by me or on my behalf or in my interest at or in connexion with the said election, or incurred any such expense or any liability for any such expense or given or promised any reward office employment or valuable consideration on account or in respect of any such expense.
I do not know exactly what that means, other than that people are asked to sign a return; and in these days that action must invariably make them liars because no member of this Parliament could accurately say that £250 was the total amount of money that was spent by him, or on his behalf, or in his interest in the course of an election. I have not the slightest doubt that that return could be changed. But I do not agree with the suggestions made by honorable members opposite who say, “There is a figure of £250 here for the H-use of Representatives. Let us increase that to £500, and let us have £750 instead of- £500 for the Senate.” In my opinion, taking into consideration all electoral expenditure in these modern times, those figures would be equally astray as the existing £250 for the House of Representatives and £500 for the Senate. I hope that something will be done to remove that declaration altogether. If candidates do not have to sign a declaration of that nature, nobody will be advantaged and nobody will be disadvantaged.
That brings me to the matter of the size of advertising posters. The present maximum is 60 square inches. I understand that that was introduced as a war-time regulation in 1943 as a war-time economy, and put into the act by legislation in 1946. The present proposal is to increase the size from 60 square inches to 1,200 square inches. I believe that if we intend to limit the size of posters of this nature we may as well leave the limit as it is. There are quite a number of reasons for that. I will not go into them in detail at the present time. The limit should be left as it is, or if it is to be lifted in the interests of any candidate there should be no limit on the size of the posters. On those grounds, I propose to support the Opposition’s amendment that the Government’s proposal be negatived. By far the most important matter that arises under this bill and the amendments which have been foreshadowed is aboriginal voting. I have not the slightest doubt that when the select committee has reported and its report has been studied by the department and the Government, the action which the Government will take then will meet with the complete approval of the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Cope) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.26 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
m asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are: -
What has been (a) capital and (b) published profits of each of the shipping companies in the Australia-United Kingdom/ Continent Shipping Conference in each of the last ten years?
On the 23rd November, 1960, I replied to the honorable member that -
y asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
Will he supply the following information regarding the Board of Review established under the Territory of Papua and New Guinea Income Tax Ordinance: -
How many persons are attached to the board;
What is the annual salary of each person;
What vote was approved for the board for the current financial year;
For what term was each member appointed; and
When does the term of each member expire?
k. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
1961- 62, £1,000.
d asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. The honorable member asked me a similar question, without notice, on the 6th September, 1960. I have nothing to add to the reply given to him then.
m asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
What requests or suggestions were made at the meeting of the Commonwealth and State Ministers on native welfare in Canberra last January for legislative and administrative action by the (a) Commonwealth, (b) Territories, and (c) States?
– The answer to the honormember’s question is -
In keeping with the custom followed in respect of Federal-State ministerial conferences the records of the conference are confidential. Amongst subjects which it was suggested that the respective
Ministers might bring under the notice of their own governments for consideration were -
s. - On 12th April, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) asked me a question about proposals to build what is known as the Pioneer Highway from Bourke to the Northern Territory. I am now able to give the honorable member the following information: -
The Government has under particular and sympathetic consideration several large-scale developmental works including road development in the north which are designed to assist in the expansion of Australia’s exports. Although no substantial funds can be provided from the Commonwealth Treasury during 1961 to finance these projects, the Government has indicated its willingness to do what it can to facilitate prompt detailed planning of them in association with the relevant State governments.
Proposals for a Pioneer Highway have been submitted to the Commonwealth on a number of occasions, but as we have pointed out to the sponsors, the Commonwealth’s position is that it is, in the first instance, a matter for the States concerned to bring forward their proposals.
Discussions are now taking place between Commonwealth officials and officers of the States concerned on State recommendations about various road possibilities and for the purpose of exploring aspects of detailed planning. On the basis of these discussions reports will be furnished for the consideration of the State and Commonwealth Governments as to the particular roads which might be included in a mutually agreed programme of road development in the north.
s. - On11th April, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) asked whether consideration could be given to allowing British ex- servicemen the same benefits that apply to Australian ex-servicemen in relation to permanent appointment to the Commonwealth Public Service. I am now able to supply the following information: -
The preference provisions of the Public Service Act, to which the honorable member has referred, are part of a plan for the rehabilitation of Australian ex-servicemen, the main provisions of which were set out in the Re-establishment and Employment Act
The Government has, on a number of occasions, considered whether preference in employment should be extended to British and other exservicemen. It has decided that such preference is essentially a measure to assist in re-establishment of ex-servicemen who enlisted from Australia.
Accordingly, while certain other benefits have been extended to British ex-servicemen, they have not been granted an entitlement to preference in employment. In this regard, it is worth noting that an Australian ex-serviceman in the United Kingdom would enjoy no statutory preference for employment in that country.
z asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
z asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Use of Hormones in Cattle.
z asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 April 1961, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1961/19610426_reps_23_hor31/>.