25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. HAYDEN presented a petition from certain electors of the Commonwealth praying that the Commonwealth Government (1) instruct its representative at the United Nations to condemn the French Government’s proposal to test nuclear weapons in the Pacific, (2) again protest directly to the French Government with a view to cancellation of the tests and (3) use all appropriate means at its disposal to obtain an extension of the treaty to cover underground tests.
Petition received and read.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether legislation to control monopolies and restrictive trade practices is to be brought down during the current parliamentary session? If the answer is in the affirmative, will the right honorable gentleman see that the legislation provides effective safeguards to protect the small people of this nation who are gravely concerned with the growth and power of monopolies in Australia? If the answer is in the negative, when does the right honorable gentleman intend to honour his numerous promises to outlaw monopoly control in our economy?
– I cannot give a date for the introduction of the legislation. This matter has reached almost the final stage. The legislation has yet to come to Cabinet for final shaping. I presume that the honorable member wishes to know whether the legislation will be introduced before the House adjourns for the winter recess. I would not know. I am in no doubt that delay cannot be indefinite in this matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. As the arbitration system has proved extremely satisfactory and has greatly benefited the unionists of this country, will the Minister say whether the responsible attitude expressed by the General Secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association towards the arbitration system has the support of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and of unions generally? Was the demonstration outside the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in Sydney by a small section of waterside workers an attempt to discredit the arbitration system?
– I think that the trade unionists of this country are the ones who have most benefited from our system of conciliation and industrial arbitration. It is obvious that the system is supported by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and by individual responsible trade unions. The reason for this opinion is that the major logs of claims prepared by the various unions are submitted to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for decision. Therefore I can say that the statement made by the General Secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association in fact sets out the policy of the A.C.T.U.
– And the Labour Party.
– No, not the Labour Party. On the contrary, the Labour Party does little to support industrial arbitration. As to the second part of the question, it is regrettable that a demonstration was conducted by members of the Sydney branch of the Waterside Workers Federation yesterday. This will have no effect at all on the judgment of the Commission, which will look at the facts and the arguments and will not be influenced by demonstrations by a few rowdy members of the Waterside Workers Federation. It is reported that counsel for the trade unions has referred the demonstration to the A.C.T.U. I hope that the A.C.T.U. will attempt to induce the members of the Federation to adopt a much more responsible attitude to industrial arbitration than they have done in the past.
Medical Treatment of Inmates
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Is it a fact that some doctors have been refused payment by the Department of Health for services rendered to inmates of old people’s homes, simply because those homes are adjuncts of public hospitals? Why does the Minister discriminate between sick bay patients in privately run aged persons’ homes homes and aged persons’ homes which hospital authorities control and to which they are able to send old and chronically ill patients on their discharge from hospital? Is the Minister aware that some doctors give more than three hours service daily to old people in these homes and travel many miles to see them, and that in recent months they have received no payment for these services? Will the Minister justify his refusal to make payments for these services, or will he reexamine the conditions under which doctors attend institutions such as those to which I have referred, taking into consideration the geography of the areas in which the homes are situated and the relationship between doctors and hospitals?
– I am not quite sure of the background to the conditions to which the honorable member refers. Members of the medical profession, as the honorable member probably knows, render very extensive services in an honorary capacity in public hospitals as well as in other hospitals. We should pay a tribute to members of the medical profession for continuing to give these services. If the honorable member is referring to a case in which a claim has been made through a medical benefits fund for some service that has been provided to an insured person, I will examine the case if the honorable member will let me have details of it. If he is referring to a case covered by the pensioner medical service, that, of course, would be a Commonwealth responsibility. To clarify the matter I would ask the honorable member to let me have the details. If he does I will certainly look into the case.
– Can the Minister for Primary Industry tell the House what arrangements have been made to protect the interests of the producers of fertile eggs for the broiler industry so that they will not be subject to the levy on hens bred for egg production which is involved in the poultry industry legislation now before the House?
– Actually there is no specific provision in the Bill before the
House for exemptions, but there is provision that exemptions may be made, on the recommendation of the Council of Egg Marketing Authorities by the Minister. I can inform the honorable member for Corangamite, who is interested in this matter, that the Chairman of C.E.M.A., Colonel McArthur, has already conferred with the president of the broiler industry organisation and has indicated that both organisations are in agreement on this matter. Whilst a levy will be collected in the first instance, a rebate, or something to that effect, will be made so that those engaged in the broiler industry will pay no more, in proportion, than they are entitled to compared with other poultry raisers.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. The honorable gentleman knows, and I believe he himself heard, the views of his colleague the Minister for Supply in an address to the Institution of Radio and Electronics Engineers in Canberra a few days ago in which that Minister expressed regret at the absence of amateur radio frequencies which would add significantly to our industrial and electronic skills, amazement at the closing of frequency modulation experimental services at a time when most technically advanced countries were extending them, and hope that we would seek reform in the administration of our telecommunications. I ask the Minister whether he agrees with the views of his colleague on these points. What steps have been taken to grant amateur frequencies, restore frequency modulation services and reform our telecommunications?
– I answered a question, I think last week, in relation to frequency modulation broadcasting, indicating that the Government had accepted the recommendations of the Huxley Committee in regard to this matter. I do not think I need add to that answer. Views which may be expressed by other persons concerning telecommunications in Australia can be something of a personal nature. So far as I am aware, and can judge, the telecommunications services in this country are at least equal to, and in many cases better than, those provided >n any other country.
– As it has been the custom for the Minister for Territories to arrange for a ‘parliamentary delegation to visit Papua and New Guinea for the commemoration of Anzac Day, I ask him: As this year is the 50th anniversary of Anzac, has the Minister arranged a suitable delegation for this special occasion?
– I am very pleased to inform Che honorable member for Indi that the Government has arranged for a delegation to visit Papua and New Guinea to represent the Parliament. It will comprise six members, three from the Government side and three from the Opposition side, and will be led by the honorable member for Wimmera. Obviously, the 50th anniversary of Anzac is a very important occasion.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. How can he sustain the smear, which he frequently pronounces, that every member of the Australian Labour Party is pro-Communist and anti-American, particularly when his judgment appears to be guided by the actions of a few demonstrators whose political affiliations would be unknown to him, as was the case in Sydney last Monday? If he is prepared to sustain this smear, will he inform the House why his Government is responsible for allowing the sale of huge quantities of wheat and wool to Russia and Red China, and why the Government is prepared to allow the sale of strategic materials to Indonesia? Is it because he is having “ Two Bobs “ each way to get votes for the Liberals by labelling Labour pro-Communist, and support from the Country Party in his coalition Government by turning a blind eye to wheat and wool sales to Communist countries?
– Unfortunately, the honorable member’s question is based on a complete error. I have never said that all the members of the Australian Labour Party were pro-Communist. Quite on the contrary, what I have said repeatedly is that there is an element in the Labour Party on the extreme Left. The honorable gentleman, is not a member of it-
– What about me?
– I do not know where the honorable gentleman is because he does not know either.
– Well, I know where you are.
– You are quite right. I think that is pretty good. Thank you very much indeed. I have never said that all members of the Labour Party are pro-Communist. On the contrary, I have said that there are members on the extreme Left in the Labour Party whose views get very close to those of the Communists.
– That is a bit of a smear.
– Is it a smear?
– The honorable gentleman, who has really made more offensive observations in the last six months than any other member in the House, is very sensitive about me saying to an extreme Left winger that he is so close to the Communists that he ought to be careful and that his party ought to be careful. I have never thought for one moment that the Australian Labour Party as a party was Communist. If I thought that, I would have to take steps to perpetuate the present Government forever.
– Is the Minister for Labour and National Service aware that there was a meeting of striking craft union members at Mount Isa this morning? Has the Minister any information as to the outcome of this most important meeting?
– Rank and file members of the craft unions did meet at Mount Isa this morning and decided by a large majority to go back to work. Prior to this decision, there were about 1,100 award workers working at the mine. Over 400 of them were working underground. -As a result of this, the company is raising about 5,900 tons of lead ore to the surface in each 24 hours and somewhat less than half of that quantity is now being milled. Also, the company, from its open cut, is milling about 1,600 tons of copper ore per day. About 1,100 tons of concentrate have been shipped to Townsville. The result of the decision by the craft unions to return to work is that the mine will now be permitted to get into large scale production. I am glad to say that, for some days past, the mine has been working at a profit.
– I refer the Minister for the Army to reports this week stating that the Government is considering whether national service trainees can use wet canteens in Army establishments. Can the Minister inform the House whether or not these conscripts will be treated otherwise than as Regular Army soldiers in this respect?
– Consideration is being given to this question, with quite a number of other matters which may involve the amendment of the Defence and National Service Acts. The decision will be made and announced before the first national service intake goes into camp.
– I wish to ask a question of the Minister for External Affairs. Is the Minister aware mat visiting Indonesian churchmen have been representing conditions in their homeland in such a way as to imply that there is freedom of the Press in the true sense of the word, and that newspapers are allowed to criticise the Government or its associated bodies? Can the Minister give the House some indication of the number of Indonesian newspapers which have been closed down by the present regime, and the reliability of reports that, in the first two months of this year, more than 30 leading journalists were deprived of their livelihoods for supporting the socalled Sukarnoist anti-Communist movement in Indonesia? Can the Minister give the House any information about the freedom of the Indonesian Press to print foreign news or to criticise the Government?
– I am unable to give chapter and verse of whatever statements may have been made by the visiting group of Indonesian churchmen. I think that basic to the question which the honorable member has asked is the fact that the way in which the Indonesian Government regards newspapers is entirely different from the way in which we customarily regard them in this country. I think it is quite fair to say that in Indonesia newspapers are regarded as having a mission to express the revolutionary idea, to use a term which the Indonesians use themselves. They do not fulfil their function unless they do express the revolutionary idea.
I could not possibly tell the honorable member the number of newspapers which might have been suppressed during the whole life of the present regime, but the honorable member will be aware that within the last few months the so-called Sukarnoist movement was suppressed. 1 am informed that following the suppression of that Party, under the influence of the Indonesian Communist Party, about 29 newspapers which were anti-Communist have been closed down. Of course, many of the newspapers there are quite small ones. They are not the great commercial organisations that exist in our country. I do not have the figures with relation to how many journalists may have been silenced in this way, but I am informed that 29 anti-Communist newspapers have been closed down.
– I address a question to the Minister for Health. Is the rise in contributions to medical benefits organisations related to high overhead costs, brought about by the large number of organisations and societies administering the medical benefits scheme? Would it not be more economical and more beneficial to contributors to replace the 81 societies now administering the scheme by one national body, preferably a branch within the structure of the Commonwealth Department of Social Services? Will the Minister advise the House as to the likely effect that the proposed increase of 10s. in the fee for a doctor’s visit will have on contributors and the scheme? Will he also advise the House of any action that the Government intends to take to prevent doctors from repeatedly increasing their fees and thus upsetting the stability of the scheme?
– The proposal put forward by the honorable member obviously is one which accords with the policy of the Australian Labour Party - that is, socialisation of the scheme. Carried to its logical conclusion, that is exactly what the honorable member’s proposal would mean. It is true that there are 81 medical benefits organisations operating, but they are operating on a basis which ls within the cost limits set down by the Act and overall costs are kept well within reasonable limits. This fs, first of all, because of the efficiency of the larger funds, and secondly, because a considerable number of the smaller funds, including friendly societies, are operated by a proportion of voluntary labour. I can assure the honorable member that the operating costs, which I quoted in this House only recently, compare more than favourably with those of other insurance organisations in the community.
The honorable member also asked whether the Australian Medical Association will shortly be giving consideration to the question of doctors’ fees and whether any increases would have an influence on the costs of this scheme. If there is any change in doctors’ fees, that must obviously affect the problem. However, that factor has been taken into consideration in the tables which have recently been introduced. There is no certainty at this stage that there will be any change in doctors’ fees. There is at present an assurance on stabilisation which the Australian Medical Association indicated would operate for two years. That period does not expire until November of this year. We consider that any decision made at the next Federal Congress of the Association will not affect the situation until after November next.
– I preface my question to the Treasurer by observing that the Reserve Bank of Australia, in its “ Statistical Bulletin “ for March, has published for the first time a detailed classification of major trading bank overdraft limits. This bulletin shows that agriculture, grazing and dairying - important industries earning oversea funds - accounted for only 17 per cent, of the overdraft limits. Does the Minister know that cereal growing industries in Western Australia have experienced two very bad years owing to excessive rainfall and flooding and that many people engaged in those industries are experiencing problems in arranging carry-on finance to enable them to plant this year’s crop? I ask: Will the Treasurer recommend to the Government immediate action to make adequate funds available, at reasonable interest rates through regular banking channels, to ensure that the maximum possible acreage is planted this year? Will he supply information revealing a breakup of the 17 per cent, of overdraft funds made available to primary producers by banks, showing how much was loaned direct by banks and how much was loaned to primary producers by banks through fringe banking organisations at increased and exorbitant interest rates?
– Order! The honorable member’s question is far too long.
– I am sure the honorable gentleman appreciates that it is beyond my immediate resources to give a detailed answer to the very involved question that he has put to me. His reference, at the outset, to the percentage of overdraft funds advanced to rural industries could, I think, be a little misleading unless we had before us a picture of the total requirements of industry in all its various forms, primary, secondary and tertiary, and their relationship to the national income. The importance of the primary industries in producing the export income that is so vital to the national economy is unquestioned. As I have said before in this place, the Government, in its relations with the banking system, has made it clear that we look to the banking system to give preference, wherever practicable, to primary industries, and at preferred rates, where that also is practicable. I shall see how far it is possible for me to go in supplying the more detailed answers called for by the question that the honorable gentleman has put to me. I shall study the text of his question closely with that objective in view.
– I also address a question to the Treasurer. I ask: Is he aware that the Governments of the United Kingdom, West Germany and many other countries have instituted taxes on both capital gains and excess profits to ensure that persons and companies reaping huge, untaxed profits shall make a just contribution to the wellbeing of their communities? Is he able to confirm that Australia’s increased defence effort, development in education and other vital measures will add considerably to the tax burdens of the Australian people? If so, will he ensure that persons or companies making substantial capital gains or excess profits in Australia - there are many of them - will be made to share the burdens by the institution of taxes on capital gains and excess profits?
– The honorable gentleman has raised policy questions that would more appropriately be examined at the time when Budget decisions are being made. Broadly, by way of reply to his question, I would just say that comparisons with other countries can be in themselves not very helpful, because each country has to decide on the pattern of taxation that is appropriate to its own circumstances. What is appropriate for a highly developed and closely settled country with a long history of development and exploitation of resources may be quite inappropriate to the circumstances of a developing country where strong incentive to risk taking must be given in order that resources shall be developed. We in Australia believe that we must keep incentives strong. We have a young community that looks to the incentive of reward for the application of extra effort and skill or the hazarding of capital savings.
This Government, over what is now a long experience in these matters, has looked closely at times at the merits of excess profits legislation. I can recall quite vividly that we did so during the war years when we investigated the desirability or otherwise of a capital gains tax.
– The Minister was not in office then.
– The honorable gentleman who now leads the Opposition may recall that the Government that he supported during the war years brought in excess profits legislation, if I could describe it with that phrase, but did not proceed with the bill when it was found that successful implementation was not practicable. We now have a capital gains tax. This is a tax which applies at the time of death and it makes a very substantial inroad into the estate which has been accumulated during a lifetime’s work. The taxation philosophy of this Government has been applied to the Australian circumstance and, I am glad to say, has resulted in not only the development of an economy of strength and steady growth but also a rising standard of living for our people.
– My question is directed to the Minister for External Affairs. Can the Minister give the House any information about an anthropologist who was called as a witness at the Petrov inquiry and who was recently interviewed by a journalist in Berlin and, in particular, whether statements attributed to this person regarding a spy ring, including an officer of the Department of External Affairs, are correct in fact?
– The honorable member’s question refers to one of the most curious stories that I think has been published in the last week or two in Australian newspapers. The story appeared first in the Melbourne “ Herald “ a few days ago under a Berlin dateline and I notice that it has been repeated in other newspapers since. It reported an interview with Mr. Frederick Rose, who was a witness called at the Petrov royal commission and who was referred to by the Royal Commissioner as a most unsatisfactory witness. Before that, Mr. Rose was an officer of the Department of Territories and was known to me in that capacity. I knew him also as an anthropologist.
The newspaper story was to the general effect that after the Petrov inquiry he disappeared - I think “disappeared” was the word that was used - and that just recently the journalist had located him - and I think “located” was the word used - in Berlin. It was no great feat of discovery because the whereabouts of Mr. Rose has been known to anyone interested in anthropology during the whole time. He took up a post in the Humboldt University. He has published in anthropological journals. He brought out a book which identified him as working in the Humboldt University.
Three or four years ago he came back to Australia. He had an interview with me in my office in Parliament House. He spent several days around Parliament House. It was quite an innocent interview. He came to present me with a complimentary copy of his latest work on anthropology, a book on marriage and kinship in Australia, to inform me that he had made an application for a grant from the Institute of Aboriginal Studies, and that he was also approaching me as Minister for Territories for permission to go on to some Aboriginal reserves to continue his researches. That matter was resolved. He stayed in Australia for a matter of a few months and then returned to his post in Berlin. He was then apparently located and discovered by this very smart journalist who had missed him passing through Canberra.
That is all very humorous, I think, but the disturbing feature about it is that this interview which purported to come from Mr. Rose had obviously not been checked by the person responsible against the evidence given at the Petrov commission because most of the references to the Petrov commission and the evidence given were most inexact - so inexact as to be false.
Perhaps the most disturbing feature of the matter is that in the story there was, by implication, an allegation that an officer of the Department of External Affairs, who is still employed in that Department, was a member of a spy ring. The newspaper report, in its references to the Petrov royal commission and the statement ascribed to Mr. Rose, was quite inexact. I do not know whether the statements made about the officer of the Department of External Affairs are actionable. That is not for me to say; it is a matter for the person concerned. But I think they were most unfair to a person of good reputation. This officer, like all officers of the Department of External Affairs, being a person who handles classified material, required a security clearance. The officer has a security clearance and is a person against whom there is no security blemish and whose standing in the Department is beyond question. I think something very unreasonable and very unfair has been done by this careless reporter.
– Has the Minister for Primary Industry been informed of the plight of the northern tobacco growers and that the tobacco sales at Mareeba have been suspended indefinitely? I ask the Minister whether, in the interests of the growers, it is proposed to form a tobacco marketing board. If so, when will the board be formed? If not, what action does the Minister intend to take to protect this very important northern industry?
– I have been kept acquainted with the results of the sales to date. They have not been entirely satisfactory. In fact, there are considerable teething troubles. Some of the sales that are made have to be determined by the arbitrator who has been appointed. The honorable member asks whether it is intended to appoint a tobacco board. The answer is “ Yes “. There is an interim committee, which I assume consists of the same personnel as the tobacco board eventually will consist of. That committee has been meeting this week at Mareeba. I am awaiting a report from the chairman. He will report as soon as he returns.
– Is the Minister for Supply aware of the publicity that is being given to reports that the aircraft factories at Fishermen’s Bend are so deeply committed to the Mirage fighter project, which is behind its programme, that there is no capacity for the Australian aircraft industry to manufacture the jet trainer required by the Royal Australian Air Force in 1968? Does the Minister agree with such reports? Can he say whether the Government intends to give serious consideration to local production, under licence, of the air frame and engine of the jet trainer which, it is understood, will be selected by the R.A.A.F. evaluation team which is now overseas? Will the Minister advise whether any capacity is available in aircraft factories in the Sydney area, which have built hundreds of jet aircraft and large quantities of aero engines for the R.A.A.F. and which therefore could be considered in any future manufacturing project?
– I am more than well aware of the criticism that is being levelled at the Mirage programme. Indeed, I make it my business to read and study rather carefully the contributions that are made. I am also well aware that it is an old fashioned newspaper technique to put up a few Aunt Sallys for the pleasure of knocking them down. But it seems to me that in recent times the “ Australian “ has been building up a campaign of criticism of the Mirage programme. Some weeks ago a letter to the editor was published. I thought so much of the letter, which was rather well written - only the facts in it were wrong - that I sought out the author of it. Unfortunately, we were not able to find the author of it, no matter how diligently we sought. Therefore, I am forced to the conclusion that there was no correspondent.
A couple of days ago - in fact on Monday - an article criticising the Mirage programme appeared in the same newspaper. Today there appeared an editorial which I read with much interest because I was completely unable to understand the inferences that were drawn in it.
– Which paper was this?
– The “ Australian “. I am glad to have the opportunity to deal with this matter in fairness to the people at all levels of production in the Government aircraft factory and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, who are unable to answer this type of criticism for themselves. I should like to bring out the facts.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be more appropriate for the Minister to make a statement?
– There is no substance in the point of order.
– I should be very happy to make a statement, too. The criticism in the editorial is that the aircraft industry at Fishermen’s Bend is so heavily occupied that it would be unable to complete the proposed trainer programme. It refers to the inability of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation to do this particular job and implies that the trainers would have to be brought from overseas at great cost. The fact is that nobody in Australia has been invited to look at this trainer project and nobody will be invited to do so until about mid year when the joint Royal Australian Air Force and Department of Supply team will return to Australia and make a decision as to what trainer is suitable. At that point of time we would expect to survey the productive capacity of the Australian industry. The honorable member asked whether there is capacity in Sydney. There is capacity in Sydney because about one third - -quite an important unit - of the Australian aircraft industry is located there. I believe that when the time comes to examine this productive capacity we will be able to produce the trainer in Australia and we will be able to initiate proposals to overcome the labour shortage.
– I refer to the practice of sending delegates from the Parliament to Anzac Day ceremonies in Papua and New Guinea and I ask the Prime Minister: Is it correct that a present member of this Parliament was at the actual landing at Gallipoli? Will the Prime Minister consider sending Senator Sandford to join the Anzac pilgrimage to Gallipoli as a representative of the Commonwealth Parliament on the 50th anniversary of Anzac.
– Some thought was given to this, because there are one or two members who might come into this category. However, I emphasise that this pilgrimage is an enterprise organised and conducted by the Returned Servicemen’s League and we have not thought it desirable to interfere with it in any political way either on behalf of somebody or at all. We have made a very substantial monetary contribution to it. We have given the League all the help in our power, but on the whole we decided that there ought not to be a representative of the Government or of the Parliament as such. We felt that this ought to be a purely returned soldiers’ enterprise assisted as far as possible by the Government.
– The Postmaster-General recently announced the postage rates which will apply when decimal currency is introduced. Can the Minister indicate how the new rates will compare with those charged in the United Kingdom? I am particularly interested in the rates which affect the ordinary citizen - the internal letter rate and the overseas aerogram rate.
– At the time I made a statement concerning postal charges in decimal currency I noticed some criticism about the difference between Australian rates and the United Kingdom rates. However, within two or three days of that announcement I received advice from the United Kingdom that the rates there were to be altered as from 17th May next. As from that date the ordinary letter rate in the United Kingdom will advance from 3d. to 4d. sterling, or 5d.
Australian compared with the 4 cents rate which will be charged in Australia. Having regard to the tremendous distances in Australia and the need for the Post Office to pay, in respect of some outback areas, as much as ls. to ls. 6d. for each article delivered by contractors, I believe it can be said that our charge is very reasonable compared with that in the United Kingdom. The Australian rate for aerograms will be 9 cents compared with a charge of 6d. in the United Kingdom. I think it will be appreciated that aerograms sent from Australia travel tremendous distances and that aerograms sent from England to other countries would not travel more than half as far as Australian aerograms. So in this connection I think Australian rates compare more than favourably with United Kingdom rates.
– by leave - Today is being observed throughout the 121 countries which are members of the World Health Organisation as World Health Day. There are, of course, many national and international “ days “ observed, or promoted, for a wide variety of reasons these days, but I would suggest that World Health Day deserves more than passing attention. It has been agreed that World Health Day this year should be used to focus attention on the dangers which smallpox poses to the world’s population. Within Australia nobody has contracted smallpox for 27 years but it would be irresponsible to think that for this reason we are in no danger from the disease. The only thing which keeps the disease out of Australia is the constant alert maintained against it, and other pestilent diseases, by our quarantine authorities. But, of course, merely keeping the disease out of Australia is no final answer to the problem. Apart from our moral obligations we have a vested interest in the World Health Organisation campaign against the disease because it is only by the complete eradication of smallpox that the last dangers from it will be removed.
The World Health Organisation campaign is directed particularly towards vaccinating every member of the population in those countries in Asia, Africa and South America where smallpox is endemic. It is tragic to think that the means of preventing smallpox has been known since the end of the eighteenth century and yet that as late as 1951 there were 500,000 cases of smallpox in a year. In 1963 there were about 100,000 cases of smallpox in the world and 25,000 people died from it. Last year the total number of cases fell to about 50,000 and there were about 10,000 deaths.
Since the World Health Organisation vaccination campaign began in 1958 hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated and given immunity from the disease and the number of cases has fallen. The most dramatic part of the whole campaign has been in India, where two thirds of all the cases of smallpox reported in 1963 occurred. In 1962 a gigantic vaccination programme was launched and by May of 1964, 53 per cent, of India’s 450 million population had been vaccinated. This is a tremendous achievement - along with the World Health Organisation’s campaign against malaria it is one of the greatest public health measures of all time. Through its membership of the World Health Organisation Australia has the honour of being involved in this wonderful work.
Meanwhile, on the home front we must maintain our constant alert against smallpox. Nobody can enter Australia by air without producing a current international certificate of vaccination or without undergoing a period of quarantine. Australians going overseas are strongly advised to be vaccinated against smallpox and those Australians who work in occupations which bring them into regular contact with overseas travellers are encouraged to be vaccinated. In addition the Commonwealth makes smallpox vaccine available, free of charge, for any voluntary vaccination campaigns run by the States and for vaccination of the staff of all public and private hospitals. This, of course, is a defensive attitude and it is very necessary. But we cannot ever expect to see smallpox defeated simply by retiring behind our isolation and our quarantine barricades, however good they are. Australia therefore must continue to support the World Health Organisation offensive against smallpox until the disease is finally eradicated.
– by leave - Honorable members are informed that 1st May 196S has been selected as the date for the change over to the metric system under which the majority of medicines prescribed and dispensed under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme will be measured in metric units. This date was recommended by the Metric System Committee for Pharmaceutical Benefits which was convened by the Director-General of Health to discuss and advise on aspects of the change over to the metric system. The Committee comprises representatives of the Australian Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Association of Australia, the Federated Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia and the Commonwealth Department of Health.
There has been a transition towards metric measuring in medicine in recent years, as it has long been recognised that in medicine the metric system is simpler and easier to use than the imperial system of avoirdupois and apothecary units. In addition, the practice of measuring imperial doses by teaspoons and tablespoons has encouraged the measuring of these doses in household spoons which of course sometimes vary in capacity from the intended volume. The metric system of weights and measures is used exclusively in the British Pharmacopoeia 1963, which is official for the purposes of the National Health Act and which has led the trend to metric usage in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. This lead was followed in the Australian Pharmaceutical Formulary 1964, in which the metric system is also used exclusively. The metric system of weights and measures has been used in many Australian hospitals for some time and is also used in the training of most medical graduates and pharmacists.
The Department of Health has, over the past year or so, encouraged manufacturers of ready-prepared pharmaceutical benefit items to present their products in a metric form and dosage and most are now so available. As a guide to doctors and chemists, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Prescribers’ List which is used mainly for prescribing of mixtures and other made-up medicines will be issued in metric dosages on and from 1st May 1965.
Among its many valuable recommendations the Metric System Committee suggested that the Department of Health should carry out a programme of publicity to acquaint the public of the change and to keep medical practitioners and pharmacists informed on the aspects which affect their professions. In accordance with this recommendation, articles on the change over to the metric system are being published in various professional journals for the information of medical practitioners and pharmacists and I have forwarded to every medical practitioner in Australia a copy of an article “ The Change to Metric Measuring “ which was published in the December 1964 issue of “ Health “, the journal of the Commonwealth Department of Health. Other avenues of publicity are also being utilised.
The change to metric usage means, of course, that medicines prescribed and dispensed in metric units will bear directions for the patient to measure out a dose in terms of metric units. In order to assist at this point, my Department is having printed a handy sized card which will carry an explanation of metric doses, advice on how to measure these doses and other information of assistance to the patient. These cards are being supplied to pharmacists for distribution to patients. The use of the metric system will mean that doses will need to be measured in a medicine measure graduated for metric doses. Suitable measures are already available on the market.
So that they should have adequate time to make any arrangements they might deem desirable to support the change, the State Premiers were earlier informed by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) that the change over to metric measuring in the pharmaceutical benefits scheme is taking place. My Department is proceeding with the change over along the lines recommended by the Metric System Committee. The spirit of co-operation between the various interested associations in the change over to the metric system has been most gratifying and is indicative that the change will be made with the minimum of inconvenience and to the advantage of the community as a whole.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1960, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to this House: - Construction of Barracks Blocks for Junior Ratings at H.M.A.S. “Cerberus”, Westernport, Victoria.
The proposal presented to the Committee involved the construction of four threestorey brick barrack blocks at an estimated total cost of £764,000. The Committee has reported favourably on the proposal and in addition has recommended the provision of the undermentioned items not in the original submission -
It is proposed to accept the Committee’s recommendation regarding floor coverings, type of window frames and provision of heated study rooms. It is not proposed to accept the Committee’s recommendation for general heating of the sleeping quarters as this would involve a departure from the standards for Services sleeping quarters. As stated, heated study space will be available in the barrack blocks. In addition heated recreation areas, canteen and the like are provided at the base.
Question resolved in the affimative.
Consideration resumed from 6th April (vide page 676).
Clauses 1 to 3 - by leave - taken together.
.- I would like the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) to give us a short explanation of a matter which is covered by clause 2, which makes the provisions of the legislation retrospective to 28th May 1964. In his second reading speech the Minister said that 25,000 applications had been received, that 17,700 had been determined and that 1,500 applicants had failed to qualify but that after this amending legislation was passed some of those would then qualify. I would like the Minister to tell us how many of the 5,800 applications that have not been determined, and decisions on which have been delayed pending the passing of this legislation, will now be rejected entirely.
This measure was announced in the 1963 Federal election campaign and it was undoubtedly announced at that stage without due consideration having been given to the details of it. It was an election gimmick pure and simple. When the present Minister for Housing was appointed to his position he had to work very diligently in order to be able to bring the Bill down in about May of last year. Because of the haste in which the legislation was prepared undoubtedly many details were overlooked, and I believe that at least some of the amendments now before us are designed to clear up difficulties that the Department has experienced with people who have applied for grants because their reading of the original Act convinced them they were entitled to apply. I believe that some of the 5,800 applications that have not been determined were made by people who, after the passing of this legislation, will have their applications entirely rejected.
As the Government was remiss in not framing the original legislation clearly so that its intention could not be misinterpreted, I believe that people who applied for a grant in good faith, believing that they satisfied the conditions set out in the legislation, should now be entitled to receive the benefits of the legislation and that their applications should not be rejected because the provisions of the Bill now before us are to be made retrospective to May of last year. I do not object to the amending legislation being enforced in respect of future applications, but I do not think it should be used to debar people who have applied in good faith and perhaps would have been entitled to a grant under the original Act. As the Bill stands, the Department will be in a position to tell those people that their applications will now be rejected because of the provisions of an amending Bill that is being passed almost 12 months after the passing of the original legislation.
I would like the Minister to say how many people of the 1,500 who have failed to qualify will now qualify as a result of the amendments we are discussing, and also how many of the 5,800 whose applications have not been determined will now have their applications rejected entirely because of the introduction of this measure, although they may have had a legal claim under the original Act.
– The vast majority of the 5,800 applications mentioned by the honorable member are the ones now in the course of processing in the sense that questions have to be asked about them. For example, an applicant may not have forwarded the required marriage certificate, or perhaps some other essential document. This is the normal process involved in handling these applications. Most of them are of the kind that would in any case be approved within a fairly short time.
The honorable member asked about applications rejected. Some of those which were rejected will now qualify. In addition, some of the applications which have been approved will now qualify for somewhat larger grants. There will be no need for any of these people to apply again. We will go through all the applications. Those people whose applications had been rejected on grounds on which they would now qualify will be notified and will receive grants. Those who might have received a somewhat larger grant will also be notified. Those in the course of processing will, of course, be covered by the proposed amendments in any case.
.- Although I have raised this question personally with the Minister during an interview in his office, and have also referred to it during the second reading debate, I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to deal with it again. I refer to paragraph (d) of Clause 3, which refers to the date of commencement of construction. It reads as follows -
This particular clause affects a number of my constituents who have been the subject of correspondence from me to the Minister and the Department of Housing. Whilst I readily concede that I have had the benefit of courteous and thoughtful replies from both the Minister and the Department, I am still not satisfied that sufficient effort has been made to cover the case of young people who, by virtue of certain local government requirements, are being deprived of benefit under the scheme.
The kind of case to which I am referring affects people who, by reason of their limited financial resources, choose to occupy temporary dwellings. That is to say, they provide a garage type of structure and live in this, usually, while both the husband and wife find employment and save as hard as they can against the day when they will be able to enter into a contract with a builder, and - probably through a building societyproceed with the construction of their home. Many people are in this situation, especially on the fringes of capital and large provincial cities. When they apply to occupy a temporary dwelling - as in many instances they did before the commencement of this scheme - the local government authority in many areas, especially around Sydney, requires them to lay the foundations of their proposed new home and submit a plan for the dwelling which is to be constructed some time in the future. As a result of having to meet those requirements these people are now being penalised. The Minister and the Department are saying that the building of the home was commenced prior to the operation of the scheme because the foundations were commenced prior to the scheme coming into being. 1 have before me at this very moment instances of people who are entering into a contract to build. They are just obtaining their finance from a building society, a bank or an insurance company - in the months of March or April 1965 - and the construction of their home proper is just being undertaken at this point. In every other respect they comply with the legislation. They have acceptable savings and have established their eligibility by virtue of age and so on; but the technicality which is preventing large numbers of these people from benefiting under the scheme arises from the fact that the local government authority required them to lay the foundations of their home before the scheme came into operation. In most cases they did not want to lay the foundations of their home then, but the local government authority takes the view that if the foundations are put down - and after all, the foundations of a timber framed house do not represent a large part of the capital outlay - that is an indication of good faith and ensures that at some time in the future the young couple will proceed with the construction of the home.
Surely there is some miscarriage of the principle and the spirit of this scheme if by virtue of this local government imposed technicality these most worthy applicants are to be deprived of the benefits of this legislation. I use the words “ most worthy applicants “ because I am talking about young couples who have saved, in the first place, to buy their block of land and then have saved ?50 or ?60 to put the foundations down as required by the local government authority. The husband and wife go to work until they are able to accumulate sufficient for a deposit to obtain a loan from a lending authority. Are there any people more worthy than a couple of this kind who demonstrate this enthusiasm and capacity for self help? Surely it is not beyond the legislative capacity of this Committee to encompass cases of this kind. I believe that this problem could be solved by amending sub-section (7.) of proposed new section 4, which is contained in clause 3 of this amending Bill. Honorable members will notice that there is provision in proposed sub section (7.) (b) of that section for tho Secretary to determine the construction date.
I should like to refer to a submission which I made to the Minister on behalf of one couple. I wrote -
Early in September, we discussed together tho difficulties being experienced by Mr. K. J. White, 62 Wollybutt Road, Engadine, in connection with his endeavour to establish eligibility for a grant under the Homes Savings Grant Act of 1964.
The main problem affecting this couple, who have since been formally denied eligibility for a grant, is that they were required by the Sutherland Shire Council to lay the foundations of their home as a condition to occupying a temporary dwelling. By complying with this requirement they have been deemed to have commenced their house prior to the commencement of the Home Savings Grant Act.
I am personally acquainted with this couple and am, therefore aware of the assiduous manner in which they applied themselves, through hard and consistent employment to the remittance of the cost of the piece of land upon which it is intended to build a home. After having paid off the land, this couple worked very hard to accumulate such assets as were necessary to facilitate the foundations of their home. It seems to me that they represent about the very best in the way of self help and it is most unfortunate that they have been adversely effected by what appears to be a mere technicality.
Mr. and Mrs. White have now asked me to seek an interview with you, in the hope that you might be encouraged to review their case. I have no doubt that if any discretionary authority rests with you in this matter, you would after hearing and meeting this young couple, readily concede their claim. Otherwise, I hope you might be obsessed with the idea to amend the legislation so that this couple, and others in similar circumstances, may not continue to be disadvantaged by some technicality but rather be afforded the assistance that is in keeping with the spirit of the Act.
I think that that was a reasonable submission to make. I thought that the Minister would be prepared to do something for this young couple since they are representative of so many others who have been the subject of my submissions. Unfortunately, a Department-style reply came back to the effect that the Secretary had received advice that the construction of the home was deemed to have commenced from the time of the laying of the foundation. We all know that. That is where we started from. That was why I made my representations in the first place. We are looking for a solution to the problem. I put it to the Minister: Does he consider, and does his Department consider, that people of this kind should be excluded from benefit under the legislation?
Are they not worthy? Have they not saved? Have they not made an effort? If the answer is in favour of these people then I believe it is within the capacity of the Parliamentary Draftsman, the Department and the Minister to get over this problem and to do justice to people who are the very salt of the earth in the home building community in Australia.
I appeal to the Minister once again. I am starting to sound and feel a bit like an eccentric, but I hope that the Minister, even if not in the course of the consideration of the Bill we are now dealing with, will, as early as practicable, confer with the officers of his Department in an endeavour to bring these people within the ambit of the scheme.
.- I move -
That the clauses be postponed.
I do so as a direction to the Government to treat the voluntary savings scheme of the South Australian Superannuation Board as a savings bank. Clause 3 of the Bill seeks to amend section 4, the interpretation section, of the principal Act. In that section a savings bank is defined in six ways. The sixth definition is -
Any other bank determined by the Secretary, by notice published in the “ Gazette “, to be a savings bank for the purposes of this Act.
Last year the then Premier of South Australia asked that the voluntary savings scheme of the South Australian Superannuation Board be determined to be a bank. The Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury), presumably through the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), replied that savings of this sort could not be accepted, as the organisation did not hold the bulk of its money invested under mortgage.
The South Australian Superannuation Fund not only consists of contributions by public servants who qualify for superannuation but also embraces voluntary savings which public servants make to it. There are 10,000 contributors who have chosen to make voluntary savings contributions to the Fund. The voluntary savings in the Fund amount to £2 million. Forty five per cent of the moneys in that Fund - that is, the combined contributions and the voluntary savings - are lent out under mortgage mostly on houses. It would appear, therefore, that this is a considerable fund as far as voluntary savings are concerned. It is a fund to which many public servants have chosen to contribute voluntarily. It would appear to meet the objectives of the Government to promote home savings in proper institutions. This seems to be a substantial institution. We believe it is a proper institution. We believe that the Minister should accept it as such. To express our view and to enable the Committee to express its view on it, I have moved -
That the clauses be postponed.
I have done so as a direction to the Government to recognise the Fund.
– I would like to observe that the arguments used by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) could no doubt be extended to many organisations throughout Australia, which would fit in with what he has said. But I think this amendment bypasses the fundamental principles for the establishment of a homes saving account. We are inclined to get into an argument - we heard it last night and again today - that this account is purely a savings account in the normal sense. That is not so. The fundamental reason we must keep in mind all the time is that it is an account for saving in certain prescribed fashions for the purpose of home ownership. That is an important factor. I understand that other amendments will be moved. I do not know whether it is the intention of the Opposition to move amendments at a later stage in relation to certain other organisations. Is it the intention to move amendments in relation to savings organisations such as credit unions?
– I will move to postpone clause 7 of the Bill as an instruction to the Government that credit unions be given continuing status.
– The remarks I am making now may apply to that amendment. I will leave the matter until I hear the argument on that clause.
I would oppose the idea in relation to the South Australian Superannuation Fund. If that Fund were included, the door would be open to all sorts of investment funds. This is not fundamentally the aim of the Bill itself or of the Act, which is definitely for the purpose of encouraging young people - and they are young people because there is a limitation on age - to save a deposit for a home. Young people can start this saving at a very early age. Contributions or deposits in a superannuation fund of this character certainly do not, to my mind, meet the requirements of the Bill. It must become well established and well known to the young people of Australia where and how they create these savings accounts for the purpose of acquiring a home or establishing a deposit for a home in the future. Therefore, I do not think that any of the arguments used by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition are valid and can be sustained. If this amendment were accepted, the door would be opened to many other organisations of a similar kind. That would not be in accord with the principles of the Bill itself.
.- I cannot agree with the honorable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) that we should be considering only those who qualify under this scheme. I think we should take into consideration also people who normally would qualify if their savings were in an acceptable form. At the present time, the intention of this scheme is to encourage young people to save for a home. That is quite commendable in itself. But, there are people who have been saving for a number of years. Their savings have been in a certain form. That form is no longer acceptable to attract a homes savings grant. I feel that the people who will be covered in the amendment proposed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) do come within that category. It is possible that other organisations could be found similar to the one the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has referred to. But it does seem odd that the two organisations which have been mentioned are the main ones which have been interested in this matter. I recall that the previous Premier of South Australia was sufficiently interested in this scheme to suggest that the South Australian Public Service Superannuation Fund should be included in the operation of this measure.
I wish to speak in support of my friend, the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson). He referred to the date of the commencement of the laying of the foundation of the dwelling home and to the fact that many people who are actually putting their savings into the building of a home are paying false prices for the material which is being used because they do not qualify for business discounts and are paying cash in most instances for these materials. These people find that they are able to do a certain amount of work. They are required by the local authority to lay the foundations of their home. Those people would not qualify, as I understand it, according to the memorandum supplied by the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury). However, a person who purchased such a dwelling with the foundations laid or only partly completed would qualify for the loan as from the prescribed date which would not be the date on which the foundations were laid but the date on which he entered into a contract to build a dwelling.
.- I should like to support the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) and my colleague from Wide Bay (Mr. Hansen) when they seek to deal with part of clause 3 of the Bill which affects section 4 of the principal Act. I refer especially to that part of section 4 which defines the meaning of “ savings bank “. In the Act, this definition is clearly enunciated - “Savings bank” means -
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition had drawn attention to the South Australian Superannuation Fund. This is, in a sense, a test case. This organisation is typical of so many other mediums by which people save money for all kinds of purposes, including housing.
I have been in contact with members of this superannuation savings scheme in South Australia. Some of them have intimated to me as late as today that they are prepared to provide the Minister with statutory declarations to the effect that their savings are for the purpose of providing a home. Some of them have no motive in contributing to this scheme other than to accumulate sufficient deposit to obtain a home. As 1 have said, declarations can be obtained to substantiate this. In its last report, this Fund indicated that there were no fewer than 9,770 contributors to the scheme and that during the year under review the number increased by 293. I should like honorable members to appreciate that these people are substantial contributors to a superannuation fund in the first place, which indicates an attitude of thrift. In addition to that, they are prepared to participate voluntarily in the subsidiary savings arrangement which is associated with the Fund.
As 1 have mentioned, there are 9,770 people doing this. A great many more people contribute to the superannuation scheme, but 9,770 were saving by way of this ancilliary arrangement. The number taking part increased by 293 in the year under review. At 30th June 1963, the credit balance of the savings scheme was £1,917,488 and the average balance standing to the credit of each contributor was £196. I am sure that many had more than £250 to their credit. Nevertheless, if they took their money out of this Fund and deposited it in an approved savings account, they would receive recognition for only a maximum of £250. If they deposited £500 in one year, only £250 would be taken into account for the purpose of this legislation. If the Minister is prepared to say something different from this, it would be of some consolation to the people concerned. Deposits for the year amounted to £2,058,365. To indicate that it is a fairly live scheme, withdrawals amounted to £1,900,000.
This brings me back to the point that, in my view, the legislation is based on a very unsatisfactory concept. Whoever ordained that it is more virtuous to put money into a low interest savings account than to invest it in some other way? I mentioned during the second reading debate that many people invest their money in shares. These people are at a disadvantage. Even if they invest £1,000 in Commonwealth bonds and then, in order to qualify for a grant, sell the bonds and deposit the money in a homes savings account, only £250 is likely to be treated as approved savings for the year, as I understand the position.
Why is the honorable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) so dogmatic that it is a good thing to save money in the Cairns Co-operative Weekly Penny Savings Bank Limited but that there is something wrong with investing money in a superannuation scheme? He says that superannuation schemes should not come within the ambit of this legislation. Why does he say that? What has he got against public servants who are contributing to a savings arrangement attached to a superannuation fund? Has he any logical reason for his opinion or is he merely saying: “I do not think this is a good arrangement? “
We on this side who are raising the matter now have had very strong representations made to us by a considerable number of people who are adversely affected by the Government’s decision to exclude their savings from the provisions of this legislation. What good reason has the Minister or the Government for continuing to exclude them? This is a test case. We think we have put up a good case. It is probably better than some of the other cases that we could submit, but in order not to confuse the issue, in order to pinpoint the principle, we have mentioned the South Australian Superannuation Fund Savings Bank scheme. I ask the Minister, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) and the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Hansen) have done, to show a bit more rationality and a bit more reasonableness in this. The people who are saving in this scheme are largely young people. A great number of them are under 36 years of age. If some consideration were extended to them, a great deal of benefit would flow from it.
– The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) raised the question of foundations having been laid some time before a house was completed. The honorable member has been extremely assiduous in promoting the interests of a number of his constituents in this respect. I do not want him to get the idea that we have brushed him off. His representations have been the cause of our going into the principles involved quite thoroughly. His proposal involves two questions. One relates to people who actually laid the foundations of a home before 2nd December 1963. The second is whether people who have laid their foundations should he allowed a longer period in which to complete their savings afterwards, so that they can obtain a larger grant.
One of the basic principles of the Bill is that there must be a cut-off date. Basically, the cut-off date is the date when a person commits himself to go ahead with buying or constructing a house. Certainly the people who laid foundations before the date - 2nd December 1963 - decided upon in the legislation virtually committed themselves to completing a house, and I admit that they are unfortunate. One can understand their disappointment. But let me point out that those who committed themselves subsequent to the date decided are extremely fortunate that this scheme was introduced. The honorable member will appreciate that there must be a cut-off date. But this will not necessarily mean that people will be disadvantaged. For instance, if a person laid foundations just before he became 36 years of age and completed the house afterwards, he would gain an advantage. There must be a fixed point of intention. We have adopted the principle that the laying of the foundations constitutes the beginning of the deal, the date when the man commits himself-
– Cannot the scheme be re-arranged so as to apply to the date when the actual house was commenced rather than the date when the foundations were laid?
– That would be an extremely dubious proposal. One of the things we did in the course of our investigations was to check with the local authorities in the areas with which the honorable member for Hughes is concerned. They made it quite clear that once the foundations were laid the person concerned was expected to continue with the construction of the house. They may allow a temporary shack or garage to be built if the person concerned is an owner builder, or so that he may watch progress closely. The basic principle upon which they operate is the laying of the foundations. There must be a uniform rule as to when construction starts, and the prescribed date must be fixed on some principle. It is certainly not because we have not gone into the matter thoroughly or because we have no sympathy with the honorable member’s constituents, particularly those who laid foundations before the prescribed date, that I cannot accept the proposal. The honorable member for Wide Bay argued that if some one else bought the foundations and then proceeded with the building of a house he would qualify for a grant. That is quite true. That would also be the position if a house were sold when it was half finished, or even more than half finished, because the date of sale would be the time of commencement of the last man’s deal. That would be the date when he commits himself to acquiring the house and that would become his prescribed date. He would move in on that basis. That is the date when he makes his decision to go ahead. One may acquire a house at any time. The date when the commitment is made is taken as the prescribed date.
The other major issue, raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, related to the South Australian Superannuation Fund savings scheme. Under that arrangement, those who contribute to the superannuation scheme can, quite separately and outside the scheme, lodge moneys with the scheme in a separate account. They can draw that money on three months’ notice. Those funds are not invested separately. They are aggregated with the superannuation fund. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said, a large proportion of the superannuation fund is in fact invested in housing. In essence, the South Australian scheme does not differ from large numbers of employers’ schemes. This is just one example of numerous other schemes. Some superannuation schemes seem to have similar arrangements. Large numbers of employers have instituted savings schemes of this kind.
Once again, we come back to the question posed by the honorable member for Hughes: Should we acknowledge just savings as such or should we, as has been laid down under this scheme, direct savings towards those institutions that channel funds into housing? The scheme in South Australia provides for saving for a home.
It embodies a powerful motive also of providing more funds for long term housing loans, and this is an important aspect of it. The funds of those people who have accounts with the South Australian Superannuation Fund are not lost to them. They can choose to put their savings into one of the prescribed forms, and they have every opportunity to do so. Any savings that they had before the end of last year will be eligible for a grant provided those savings are put into one of the prescribed forms before their savings date in 1965. So the benefit of these savings, in terms of the grant, is not lost. Similarly, with other employers’ schemes, there will be the opportunity to convert the savings to a prescribed form. It was always intended that savings should be held in certain prescribed forms, such as land or accounts with building societies. This has been clear since the very beginning of the scheme. It is a very important point. As I have said, this is wrapped up with the objective of making savings available for housing. The legislation was drafted with the idea of giving everybody time to put his savings into one of these forms.
In passing, may I say that I disapprove these rather derogatory remarks about that excellent institution, the Cairns Cooperative Weekly Penny Savings Bank Ltd.
– We on this side made no derogatory remarks about it.
– I do not accuse the honorable member of having done so, but I did detect a certain lightness in references to the word “ penny “ and the like. However, be that as it may, this is a well managed institution. There are other well managed and decentralised institutions also.
– How much has this one lent for housing?
– I cannot say offhand, but I shall supply the Deputy Leader of the Opposition with information on that point at some suitable time. The forms of investment of savings laid down are not just adventitious. They are designed to make savings available for housing.
Question put -
That the motion (Mr. Whitlam’s) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 20
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clauses agreed to.
Clauses 4 to 6 - by leave - taken together.
.- Clause 6 contains a very important provision. It seeks to amend section 14 of the Act which determines that a person, to qualify for a grant, must be married. It determines also that a person, to be eligible for this scheme, shall be under the age of 36 years and that a person must be resident in Australia for a period of three years in order to qualify. I want to deal with the first aspect and to take the opportunity to say that honorable members on this side of the chamber feel that the Government is drawing a very thin line when it decides to set up an age barrier in regard to this legislation.
As is known, the age barrier is 36 years. There is no need for me to labour the point because it has been mentioned before, but there are many people in the community who, because of the nature of their profession, are not able to settle down in one place and acquire a home before they are 36 years of age. This applies to public servants in many instances. It could apply to members of the Forces. A member of the Royal Australian Navy who has signed up for a long period of service may be discharged after he has turned 36 years of age. He finds that, when he finally wants to settle down, he is not eligible for the benefit. One honorable member said that this could happen to Pat Mackie who has been involved in international travel. Love can strike at any time and there is no doubt that a person of 37 years of age is just as entitled to assistance from the proceeds of taxation as a person who is 35 years of age. It is quite amazing that this line should be drawn, particularly when we bear in mind that the husband of an applicant may be of any age. Provided he marries a woman under 36 years of age his and his wife’s application for assistance under the provisions of this Bill can be conceded. This is a further example of the mumbo-jumbo that occurs under this legislation.
Section 14 provides also that a person must be married in order to be eligible for the benefit. I believe that the Minister has an obligation to make clear to the Committee the reason why he has deliberately excluded widows from the benefits of this legislation. I understand that there is no other clause under which I can discuss this matter. Let us take as an example the situa tion where a woman has been married and has children. I have mentioned to the Minister a precise example of the kind of anomaly involved here. I refer to a woman who has received compensation resulting from her husband’s death in industry and whose principal aim has been to provide security for her children in a home. If she is not under 36 years of age, although she probably has a greater need for assistance than anybody else in the community, she is excluded from the grant.
Does the Minister deliberately exclude widows, or is this some kind of indifference or some kind of accidental oversight? If the ground for the exclusion is the two latter considerations that I have mentioned I believe it is reasonable to expect him to do something about the situation. If the exclusion is because of the first reason that I mentioned, that is, it is a deliberate exclusion, I believe that the Minister should be indicted. Widows in these days do not receive much by way of a pension and, as I have mentioned, their need is probably greater than the need of many affluent young couples who can benefit and many of whom may not have children. On the other hand, widows often are left with children.
Many matters could be dealt with under this provision. I have been concerned to know that Government supporters do not seem to care about any of these matters. I am concerned, for example, about aliens or British migrants coming to Australia. This is another subject dealt with specifically in section 14. As honorable members know, many of these people relinquish a home in the United Kingdom, for example, and come to Australia. On their arrival one of their first needs is a home, yet under this legislation they cannot obtain assistance to acquire a home until they have been here for three years.
Nobody would like to feel that aliens will come from Europe or some other part of the world, receive the £250 at the expense of the taxpayer and suddenly pack up and become permanently domiciled in some other country. No-one would like that, but I think it is reasonable that aliens who have migrated to Australia - anyone living in Australia who qualifies in other respects - should be eligible to receive this assistance. In the event of their failure to take Australian citizenship within a prescribed period they could be required to refund the grant. If they decide to leave Australia and return to their own country the amount could be refunded. But surely we should start from the fundamental premise that migrants who arrive in this country, regardless of where they come from, almost invariably have a housing problem and inevitably need a home or some form of accommodation. We must also start from the premise that many of them are now being forced into migrant camps, the best of which are unsatisfactory. Most of them have no private cooking or dining facilities, and the tariffs are comparatively high, making it very difficult for them to save. These are people who have a need, and I cannot see any reason why the provisions of this legislation should not be extended to them.
I ask the Minister to deal with the matters that I have raised on this basis: Widows - why are they excluded? Is it because of indifference or deliberate intent? If it is indifference, will he cease being indifferent and indicate his preparedness to bring them within the orbit of the scheme? Next is the age barrier. Will he readily concede the point that I have made that many people, because of the nature of their employment, are denied the opportunity to settle down until later than others? In regard to the provision requiring three years’ residence in Australia, will he not consider the possibility of saying that everyone should be brought into the orbit of this scheme, provided that ways and means can be innovated to ensure that if they leave the country within a prescribed period they will be required to refund any grant that has been made to them? I believe that section 14 is one of the most anomalous provisions of the Act as it stands at the present time. I am disappointed that the Bill does not seek to overcome the apparent anomalies. I ask the Minister to give sympathetic consideration to my proposals.
.- The Homes Savings Grant Act has been well received all over Australia. As I pointed out last night, 17,400 applications have been approved and grants totalling about £4 million have been made. The legislation has met with favourable comment and favourable action all over Australia. The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) always wants to extend legislation. The Government, seeing that it could help young people to get started in a home, brought forward this legislation which provides for a grant of £250 if £750 is saved. No matter what age limit was set, the honorable member for Hughes would want it raised. If the age limit was set at 45 years, he would want it set at 48 years. What he really said was that everybody should be given a grant. It could not be made wider than he suggested. If the grant was given to everybody, he would be quite happy.
That is the technique that is used by the Opposition on many occasions. It is never satisfied. When the Government puts forward a really good bill which will be of great benefit to young people, the Labour Party wants to extend it. If we refer to “ Hansard “, we will see that the honorable member for Hughes has used this technique ever since he came into this Parliament. Labour wants more and more and more.
– He is like Oliver Twist.
– Yes, he is; and sometimes he twists things pretty well in more ways than the honorable member for Maribyrnong means. This legislation has been appreciated. We cannot take seriously what the honorable member for Hughes has been saying, because Labour has always said: “We want more and more”. But when the Labour Party is in office it does not do anything along those lines. For instance it does not make housing grants to young people. Recently an honorable member asked this question: After the Second World War, when people who had not ‘been able to go overseas, but who worked in Australia, decided to marry, what did Labour do to help them?
– NothingMr. TURNBULL. - It did what it usually does. The honorable member who has interjected is quite right. Labour did absolutely nothing. But when a government with the welfare of the young people of Australia at heart comes forward with legislation such as the Bill that is now before us, Labour says: “ This is restrictive legislation. We want more and more.” Such statements cannot be taken seriously.
Definite amendments to the Act are before the Committee. I certainly am in favour of them. I believe that the Bill is in the best interests of the people whom it fs Intended to serve. It cannot be extended to people who are outside its ambit by raising the age limit or reducing the qualifying period. If the Government does that, Labour will still not be satisfied. At this stage the Government is only prepared to enter into certain financial obligations in connection with this legislation.
.- First let me reply to the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). It is difficult to understand what difference there is between being married at 37 years of age and at 36 years of age. To the honorable member, apparently, people who marry at 36 years of age are completely different from people who marry at 45 years of age. I suppose that, being a bachelor, the honorable member’s attitude is not surprising. I can assure him that the problems of married people are much the same regardless of at what age they commence their married life.
If we are to talk about the virtues of this scheme, which provides a housing grant of £250 to young married people, we must admit that the scheme is narrow and selective in its contribution to members of the community. The grants are made only to people who have been able to save. If we are realistic and honest with ourselves we will readily admit that not many young people are able to save in our community today. In fact, they are discouraged from saving. The whole of our economic structure is built on hire purchase and on encouraging single boys and girls to spend as much money as they can on all sorts of commodities. If the honorable member for Mallee cared to follow consumer behaviour reports, he would discover that one of the most lucrative markets is the young peoples’ market for clothing and other commodities which only young people want. So. when our young people come to be married, because of the pressures and the conditioning to which they have been subjected in their single years, they have been able to save very little or no money. After they are married and when their children arrive, it is tremendously difficult for them to accumulate some capital. It is tremendously difficult for any family with an income of up to about £25 a week to save money. We do not need to reflect very much to appreciate how the problem is compounded when children arrive on the scene and costs, including medical costs and the cost of maintaining the family, increase.
The honorable member for Mallee criticised the Labour Party for asking for more and more in respect of social legislation such as the legislation we are considering. He made his criticism on a fairly broad basis. I do not see why we should be criticised for asking for more and more in the form of social and economic improvements. There is plenty of room for improvement in our economic structure, by cutting down some of the heights of economic power and redistributing the great concentrations of wealth among the people at the lower end of the economic structure who, as workers, make a very valuable contribution to the development of the country. The benefits to be derived from making homes much more easily accessible than they have been in the past under this Government far outweigh any arguments that the honorable member for Mallee may care to put forward. The very fact of people being able to move out of depressed or sub-standard living accommodation in slum areas, including houses that have been condemned, is an argument in favour of that concept.
The main reason why I rose to speak is to raise a matter with the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury). As I understand the provisions relating to this housing grant, the savings must be accumulated over a three year period and the Government makes a grant of £1 for every £3 saved, up to a maximum of £250 in each of the three years. I believe that that is correct. I pose a question to the Minister. It relates particularly to people in the low income group who are struggling to save money and who make their savings over a fairly lengthy period. As an illustration, let us say that a person saves over a period of seven years. In the first six years he saves £100 each year. That is pretty fair saving for a young family man in a low income group. But in the seventh year he saves £1 50. So, in the seven years the total amount saved is £750. But the period that is considered for the payment of the housing grant is that covering the fifth, sixth and seventh years.
In the fifth year the person saves £100, but taking into consideration his previous savings, he has a credit balance of £500 in his bank account. In the sixth year he saves another £100 and he then has a credit balance of £600. In the seventh year he saves £150 and he then has a credit balance of £750. How will his savings be calculated for the purposes of payment of the housing grant? Will the Department say that this person saved only £100 in the fifth year, which is the first of the three years which are taken into account, or will he be deemed to have saved £250 in that year, although he has a credit balance of £500? In the sixth year - the second year of the three year period - will the Department say that he has saved only £100, or will he be given credit for the money he saved previously? Likewise in relation to the seventh year.
If such a person is to be given credit only for the money that he saves in the three years, young people who are able to save only over a lengthy period should be advised to do a bit of judicious juggling of their bank accounts - withdrawing and re-depositing - in order to accumulate in the three year period the amount that will attract the maximum grant. As I see it, this type of situation could definitely arise and it would preclude a person from attracting the maximum grant. I should be grateful if the Minister would explain the situation to me and indicate whether, indeed, this is a problem.
– One has to be careful about particular cases, but in general, money saved over the period mentioned would be recognised as acceptable savings. During the period there may have been years when withdrawals were made, but there must have been some savings throughout the last three years. Any savings which occurred before the three year period will be taken into account. Generally what a person has at the end of the three year period will qualify. The £250 limit comes into play this year. It was recognised that up to the end of last year people could not have understood the situation, so there may be included in any one year a maximum of £560, which is three quarters of the total savings. This is to cover the miscellaneous cases where people have not a good record of savings. The £250 limit will apply from the beginning of this year onwards.
The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) referred to aliens. As far as possible we are treating aliens on the same basis as Australians - neither better nor worse, lt was pointed out that aliens could have owned houses in Europe or other parts of the world and that their houses in Australia would be their second homes. Of course they will need homes in Australia, and obviously they could not bring their homes with them. On the whole, an alien has to save in Australia for three years and has to be resident in Australia for that period. On that basis he can participate in the scheme the same as can a native Australian. Other migrants have special housing problems which this Bill is not designed to meet. Many kinds of housing problems are not covered by this legislation. The honorable member for Hughes mentioned also the limits prescribed in the legislation. This is a scheme designed for young married persons, so it does not include all people. I have been asked why people in various categories are excluded. I thought the honorable member was going to ask why it was restricted to married people. I have received representations about de facto wives. Of course in legislation such as this lines must be drawn. If de facto wives are to be included the question arises regarding the period for which they have been de facto wives. They may have been de facto wives for a short period during which a child has been bom. If all the representations I have received were agreed to this legislation would serve purposes for which it was not intended. The scheme is limited. It is aimed at one category of persons - young married people acquiring their first homes. You could go on indefinitely raising questions about other people on other grounds.
.- I should like the Minister to explain whether there is any particular reason why widows have been excluded from the legislation.
– They are not married.
– But they have been married, and they probably have more responsibility than some people who are married. If a widow qualifies under the age of 36 years why, when she has been deprived of her husband, should she be deprived also of the assistance of the home savings grant?
– The milk of human kindness turned sour when her husband died.
– It seems to me that if she is down she is to be kept down. Another provision relates to money held in trust. Perhaps this is designed for cases where a minor is involved and where his money is held in trust by a parent or some other person. If moneys lodged prior to the prescribed date are withdrawn from approved savings accounts or trusts for use as a deposit on a home, and this can be proved, will that money be recognised as acceptable savings?
– If the trust is for the sole benefit of the beneficiary it will be treated as if the beneficiary himself carried out the transaction.
– That did not apply before.
– No, but these amendments cover money or land held in trust for the sole benefit of the applicant for the grant. This situation was not covered before.
.- I thought that the Minister might have answered the questions about widows. Literally thousands of women in the community who have been deprived of their husbands through early death and who are in the age group prescribed in this legislation find themselves with the responsibility of families on their hands. I know of one case in which an application was made for this grant. The lady concerned has been widowed for about ten years. She was married young and has a boy of 14. No-one can deny that her needs are greater than the needs of many young people who will receive the home savings grant. The position is that a young couple today may start saving when they are engaged and are in a good position to save. This legislation will be an increased facility to enable them to gain a home. Any activity of a social service nature should be directed initially at alleviating those in the greatest need. No-one in the community would be in a worse position generally speaking than the civilian widow with children. It would be simple to remove the discrimination against the widow or to insert a definition in the principal Act to include as a married person a person who has been married. The Minister suggests that if we widen this legislation it will not meet the situation for which it was intended. I believe that the widow with children should receive special consideration under the legislation. I appeal to the Minister to bring, as the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) asked him to do, more of the milk of human kindness into his study of this problem and see whether he can extend the benefits of the legislation to widows. I would like an adequate explanation of the reasons why widows cannot be considered under this legislation.
.- This oft repeated request of members of the Opposition is based more on humanitarian grounds than on logic and the arguments advanced in support of it should be dispelled.
– Does not the honorable member see any logic in the position of widows?
– If the honorable member for Oxley listens carefully and logically he may obtain a little knowledge. This scheme is based on the purchase of a home. The grant is made to assist in the purchase of a home. One of the conditions attaching to the grant is that the Department of Housing must be satisfied that the buyer has the ability to finance the operation. In most cases widows, particularly those with children, are not able to meet the payments necessary on a home. For this reason they are not considered good risks by most lenders. I do not know for sure the present position, but I do know that, in the past, most life assurance societies have refused to lend money to widows. They would lend only to a man or to a married couple. One case that came to my attention involved a woman who was a buyer for Myers. She was in receipt of a pretty substantial salary, but she could not obtain finance from lending authorities. This practice reflects not so much on the Government as on the lending authorities. They take into account the ability of the borrower to repay. Unfortunately in many cases a widow, particularly one with children, is not an acceptable risk to a lending authority. Even if she has some money she cannot obtain the finance to purchase a home. Thus few would be affected. As she is not purchasing a home she does not seek the grant provided under this legislation. I think those remarks should clear up the matter as to why widows do not qualify for the grant. There must be a male breadwinner in the set up to satisfy most lenders.
.- What an extraordinary statement we have just heard from the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes). In his view, when it comes to deciding whether this Parliament will help people we must consider first whether they are good risks. But the Government is happily paying out £250 to young people, many of whom are quite wealthy and have no responsibilities. The Government does not even ask them to spend the grant on a home. They may spend it on anything they wish - even a new sports car. But when it comes to helping a widow with dependent children we must ask whether she is a good risk. This legislation is not designed to inquire whether people are good risks. The important thing is whether the widow qualifies in terms of purchasing or building a home. That is the criterion that should determine her eligibility for a grant, provided she is under 36 years of age.
I want to raise the case of a couple, the husband having turned 36 years of age hut the wife being still under 36 years of age. Like so many other married couples they have a common bank account. Unfortunately the account is not in their joint names but in that of the husband only. The couple have been married for four years. I would have expected the Government, applying ordinary logic, to be prepared to accept that the wife was entitled to half of the joint savings, irrespective of whether the account was strictly a joint account. After their case had been submitted to the Department of Housing I was informed that in the Department’s view the wife was not entitled to claim as her own any of the joint savings made during the four years of marriage. I ask the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) to say whether a case such as this could be dealt with under the amendment relating to trusts. Could the husband be regarded as acting as trustee for his wife’s half share of their joint savings?
Another matter that I raise - it has been raised before - is the restriction of this grant to people under 36 years of age. Only today I received from a constituent yet another letter of complaint. My constituent wrote that he and his wife have been saving over many years. He has not been earning a high salary and has not been able in a matter of a few years to save enough for a deposit on a home. This fine couple have been saving diligently for many years in order to acquire a deposit on a home. It appears that this legislation, like so much of this Government’s legislation, is designed to help those who are best able to help themselves. Those who have the greatest need of help are the ones who least attract help. I suggest that the Government look further into this matter of the 36 years age barrier. Many young couples have not been able to save for a home. Many others, as was pointed out during the second reading stage of the debate, have not wanted to settle down and purchase a home during the early years of their marriage. Many of my former confreres in the teaching service and many other public servants, such as railway employees, are not able to say that they will stay in one place for any length of time. They must move around the country from time to time in order to meet departmental requirements and to obtain promotion. What is the point of their purchasing a home under those conditions? But when they reach 36 or 40 years of age many feel that they have reached the limit of promotional opportunities or they are prepared to sacrifice further opportunities in order to settle down and properly educate their children. The education of children in these circumstances presents problems. Many country towns still do not provide adequate secondary education, not to mention education at the tertiary level, such as universities, teachers’ colleges or higher technical institutes. For these reasons these people, at this stage of their lives, seek appointments in a large town or a city, where they hope to buy a home of their own. But these people, who may have saved diligently over the years, will be denied the benefits of this legislation if they do not apply for the grant before reaching 36 years of age.
I particularly seek the Minister’s advice in the matter of the married couple, the husband being over 36 years of age but the wife being under 36 years of age, whose joint savings during four years of married life were in a common account which was unfortunately in the name of the husband only.
– Dealing first with the last matter referred to by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds), the joint savings would be approved for purposes of the grant only if the husband were the trustee of an account of which the wife was the sole beneficiary. Naturally, for obvious reasons, savings in the accounts of other people cannot be accepted as savings under this Bill. If they were, the provision would be open to a great deal of abuse. For instance, take the case which was cited earlier today of a man advanced in years who married a relatively young woman who paid a small sum of money into her husband’s account. Should that qualify her for a grant? This is not a practical proposition. However, if the wife and her husband had a joint account, half of the savings would be considered as the wife’s savings for the purposes of the grant. If it were a trust account she would be all right.
.- 1 hope the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) will not completely ignore the many questions that have been directed to him in this Committee as to why widows have been debarred from benefiting from the provisions of this legislation. I hope he does not intend to rely on the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) to answer on his behalf. The Opposition is entitled to raise the more general question that is involved and is entitled to receive an answer from the Minister on behalf of the Government.
I do not expect the Government to adopt the principle upon which the Labour Party approaches legislation of this kind. I do not expect the Government to say: “If we are going to assist people in the community we will assist first those in the greatest need “, because that is not a principle espoused by the Government. The Government’s principle in presenting this legislation, and also, incidentally, in giving assistance in the field of education by way of scholarships, is not that it should assist those in greatest need, but that it should assist those halfway or more up the income scale who might be persuaded to vote for the Government as a result of their obtaining such assistance. It is not at all the practice of the Government to give a pound’s’ worth or a million pound’s worth of assistance to those who really need it, but rather to give such assistance to those who might be encouraged to vote for the Government when otherwise they might not be so encouraged.
This piece of legislation is a good example of the way in which the Government operates. As we know, most of the young people who are able to save £750 in three years will be young people who have pretty good incomes or will be young people who come from mothers and fathers with pretty good incomes and who are able to assist them quite materially to save the £750 in the prescribed period. These are the people who will be helped; these are the people, or some of them at least, who might otherwise have voted for the Labour Party but who will be encouraged by this kind of political gimmick to vote for the Liberal Party, as they were encouraged to vote for the Liberal Party at the last Federal election. I do not expect the Minister to say that he will adopt the Labour Party’s principle and provide a given amount of money to those who need it most, but I would like him to answer the questions that have been directed to him.
I wish to mention one other point which arises from something the honorable member for Maribyrnong said. The honorable member said that you cannot expect the Government to provide assistance for widows because those who are to be assisted must be good risks and must be able to repay the money that is lent to them.
– I did not say that.
– What you did say was that you would not expect the Government to provide £250 for the purpose of enabling the recipient then to obtain, in some way or other, assistance from a private lender who could not be expected to lend except to a borrower who was a good risk. I ask the honorable member for Maribyrnong to listen to me for a moment as I listened to him. If he does listen he will realise that his own argument was not very well founded. Before the Minister designed the homes savings grant legislation I wrote to him to tell him of two cases, in each of which a widow was involved, that had been brought to my attention by bank managers. These two widows had been to see their bank managers. Each of them wished to benefit from the grant of £250 which had been proposed by the Government, and both bank managers were satisfied that the widows were good risks and they were quite willing to lend money to them. But in order to qualify to receive the grant the widows would have to be specifically defined under the portion of the legislation that we are now discussing. What is wrong with the suggestion that the Government should define widows under this clause and allow them to qualify for the grant of £250? If this were done the judgment as to whether a particular widow was a good risk would then have to be exercised by the lender. The lender would be well able to make a considered decision, and no doubt there are quite a large number of widows who would be able to repay any loans they received, but who are excluded from the benefits of the legislation because it is the Government that has made the decision to exclude them and not the lender.
I think this is a question that the Minister should answer. I brought these two cases to his attention before he designed the legislation and he replied that widows were not going to come within the definitions in the clause that we are now considering. I do not think this matter should be allowed to pass and I ask the Minister whether he is going to consider including widows in the legislation. If he is not going to do this now 1 ask him whether he will consider the suggestion favourably in the future. After all, this scheme will not cost the Commonwealth a terrific amount. We have been told that there have been about 17,500 applications, and I am sure that not all of them would have been granted. It appears that they have cost the Government no more than about £3 million or £4 million, and this at a time when the Government is producing budgets involving expenditure of £2,000 million. The amount involved, having in mind that the purpose is very important according to Government standards, is very little, and I think that there has been very slow progress in the Department of Housing in this regard. When one considers the amount of money the Government is prepared to spend for purposes such as that of defence, without ever answering the question as to where the money is going to come from, I suggest that the Government has been pretty tardy and pretty mean in respect of housing assistance. I therefore ask the Minister to deal with the question of the exclusion of widows from the benefits of the legislation before this debate is concluded.
.- The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) and the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns) have effectively dealt with the speech made by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes). The honorable member for Yarra has quite clearly stated an effective case. He has told us of particular cases in which bankers have declared that widows have been good risks. Surely in such circumstances the Commonwealth should come to their assistance. It seems to me somewhat remarkable that widows should be excluded from the benefits of this legislation, and it is a most unfortunate situation.
However, the particular point I wanted to make is one that was adverted to by the honorable member for Barton. I refer to the situation of a married couple the husband being over 36 years of age and the wife under 36 years of age. I want to refer to a specific case which I put to the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) some months ago. The husband was over 36 and the wife was some years under 36. If the wife had had a bank account of her own or a joint banking account with her husband she would have qualified for the grant. But the situation was - and this is frequently the case with married couples - that the family savings were in the husband’s name in his savings bank account. Having in mind the spirit of the legislation I thought that the wife’s application would have been granted because she had been working and receiving about £11 a week which she paid into the husband’s savings account. This went on for a year or two until they bad built up considerable savings, and then she made her application.
Eventually the Minister refused the application because the money was in the husband’s name. This was true, but I had provided the pay slips that the wife had received each week to show that she had been earning £1 1 >a week. In addition, the .husband’s bank account clearly indicated that she had quite regularly banked this amount of money. In my opinion there was conclusive proof that she had in fact saved the money although she had placed it in her husband’s savings bank account. Surely according to the spirit of the Act she should have been granted assistance. Technically the money was in her husband’s name and because of his age he was not eligible for the grant, but the fact was that she had gone to work and had saved the money. We had proof of the fact that she had received these amounts weekly over a period of time. We had her pay slips to show that this was so and we also had her income tax returns. In addition we had the husband’s savings bank account to show that these amounts had been regularly paid in. Clearly the money represented her savings and the woman was surely entitled to the grant. Quite frankly I fail to see how the Minister could rule otherwise in the face of such conclusive proof.
.- I am still disappointed that the Minister has not answered this question about widows. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) has raised the question of risk. Let us examine this. I brought a case to the Minister’s attention before the legislation was prepared or about the time when it was being prepared. It concerned a widow who was earning about £22 or £23 a week. She was paying about £4 a week rent for a Housing Commission flat. Under any circumstances she would be better off in her own home. On the basis of simple economics I think we can discard this instance, but the humanitarian aspect has to be considered. In public administration logic and the humanitarian approach should go together, but apparently the people on the opposite side do not think so.
From any point of view there is no reason, whether in logic or on humanitarian grounds, for the exclusion of widows. I agree with the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns) that it is a little too much to ask the Government to bring its mind to bear on this question on this occasion, but I impress upon the Minister at this stage that the needs of this important part of the community should be attended to. I am afraid I shall have to agree with the honorable member for Yarra again that this scheme was simply an electoral gimmick. It was not based on human needs but was only an attempt to get at people through their materialistic tendencies instead of attempting to solve the problem of a human need.
.- I wish to say only a few words. The Opposition has argued two matters, one in relation to the recognition of widows, and the other - which has been raised by at least two honorable members opposite - in relation to taking into consideration moneys that have been deposited by a wife in a husband’s account. Several honorable members have instanced cases from their own electorates. I do not know whether it is the same case that they are all using.
– There are a number of genuine people in the community.
– I dare say there would be. The arguments of the Opposition only beg the question. After all, if a man is over 36 and his wife is under 36, and an account in the husband’s name contains the wife’s savings, I guess that the husband owes her that money. He could pay it back and she could open a savings account. As I have said, the Opposition is merely begging the question. It is putting up an Aunt Sally that does not exist. There are many ways of getting round the problems that have been mentioned. They were raised merely for the sake of argument. Nothing fundamental, or even substantial, has been put forward.
I know that a case can be made for the inclusion of widows under the scheme. I presume that those who argue that widows should be included would also be prepared to include widowers with families to support.
– I suppose so.
– I am not putting up an argument for the inclusion of widowers, but why have not honorable members opposite done so?
– Why does not the honorable member put up a case for widows?
– It is honorable members opposite who are arguing for the inclusion of widows. In this matter we have to deal with fundamentals. This is a new scheme, the main principle of which is to encourage young people to save in anticipation of getting a home. The legislation envisages future help to young single women and young single men of 17, 18, 19 or 20 years of age who, at the moment, may have no intention of getting married. They are encouraged to establish accounts in the prescribed form for the purpose of saving £750 over a certain period, and thus qualifying for a gift from the Government of £250 when they do decide ultimately to build a home. The legislation encourages young couples to establish homes, and that is the point that has to be considered.
I have all the sympathy in the world for the widow. 1 am not speaking on behalf of the Minister. But the inclusion of widows ls right outside the original intention of the legislation. The Act could be extended to include a number of different classes. It could be extended to include the widower, the de facto wife and the de facto husband. We must consider the intention of the original Bill. The intention was to encourage young people to save money for the purpose, in the future, of establishing a home. So the Act applies particularly to single people. A widow may later remarry and if she is still under 36 years of age she will be eligible under the provisions.
I repeat that the Opposition is only trying to put up Aunt Sallies in order to knock them down. It is begging the question. It is departing from the fundamentals of the Bill and trying to create sympathy by asking that widows be included. I am all for the widows, but they do not come within the context of the present legislation.
.- It is regrettable that the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) has chosen to allow two estate agents to speak for the Government on this matter and has not himself risen to reply to comments which have been made on the questions which I posed to him when I initiated the discussion in this debate. Have widows simply been overlooked or has a deliberate decision been made with respect to them? I heard one interjection during the course of the debate to the effect that the Government does not care about widows in relation to this matter because they would represent only one vote in a family and not two. Heaven knows what the reason is for the Government’s exclusion of widows. If the honorable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) wants to put UP a case for widowers he will have the wholehearted support of honorable members on this side of the Chamber.
Let me give honorable members a case in point. This legislation covers people who benefit under the provisions of the War Service Homes Act. I am personally acquainted with a case where an ex-serviceman who was eligible for a war service home passed away as a result of war caused disabilities. His family could have been entitled to benefit under this legislation while he was alive. His widow is entitled to a war service home, but because she is a widow she is not entitled to the grant of £250 under the provisions of this legislation. The point the Opposition is making is that all this mumbo jumbo involving exclusions and anomalies is not necessary. The Minister has said that the Act was intended in the first place to apply to a restricted number of people. We believe that that is so, and the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns) has said that that was the gimmick in the Bill. The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) made an impetuous election promise because he was intent on attracting votes from a narrow section of the community rather than on ensuring that justice was done to people in real need of housing. I hope that before the conclusion of the debate on this clause the Minister will indicate what his attitude is on the question of widows.
I rose to speak particularly about clause 5, which refers to the Regional Directors in the various States, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. I want to pay a tribute to the Regional Director in New South Wales, whose tremendous capacity in working out the incredible complications and conglomerative provisions of this legislation has been very capably demonstrated.
– I hope he was not responsible for the drawing up of the application form.
– I do not think he drew up the forms. 1 hope he did not, because that would not have been a very creditable performance. I rose particularly to direct attention to the fact that the Regional Directors are not receiving the assistance from the Commonwealth Public Service Board to which they are entitled. My information has come from the Administrative and Clerical Officers* Association of the Commonwealth Public Service. I raise the matter at this moment because it was referred to during the debate at the second reading stage. I believe that the
Minister should be encouraged to explain some of the points of criticism raised by the public servants themselves. For example, the association has said -
In the history of the Public Service and the creation of new Departments there has never been such a blatant disregard of the rights of the staff and such a shocking delay in setting up a satisfactory organisation to carry into effect what was one of the Government’s major election policies.
That is very strong language when it comes from the representative body of the Commonwealth Public Service.
This is what the association has to say. From the commencement of the scheme, the Public Service Board refused to approve the recommendations of the Department of Housing regarding the number of staff required and the salary grades to be accorded to the duties of Grants Examiners. The Public Service Board went on no doubt denying the recommendations of the regional directors, who are competent men, and reduced the number of staff and the salaries requested by the Department. Apparently, this was a denial of the things for which the Minister himself stood. The Public Service Board has let the Minister down as it has let down the regional heads of the Department also. This needs some explanation, I believe. As a result of this action, a series of hold ups has occurred in the processing of claims for homes savings grants.
During the parliamentary recess, the Opposition’s housing committee conducted an inquiry into the housing needs of the Australian people. We had the benefit of an appearance by Mr. Don Thompson, the New South Wales secretary of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association, who said that these determinations by the Public Service Board concerning the number of staff, the salaries of staff and so on, were the main reasons why the processing of applications for grants was being delayed. He said that there were 2,700 applications outstanding at December 1964. He went on to say also that untrained people were involved in the processing of applications and in the Sydney office they were not doing much better than completing four applications a day. This was apparently typical of what was taking place in other regional offices throughout Australia.
This Association has complained that additional officers were taken off other important duties to perform this work. The people who were called in to assess the new claims came from the War Service Homes Division in an endeavour to overtake the arrears of applications for home grants. This procedure, of course, has placed a very heavy, extra burden of responsibility on those officers remaining in the War Service Homes Division. The matter is very complicated. The Administrative and Clerical Officers Association has made the point that over 50 per cent, of the applications received are defective in one way or another. The forms have to be returned or further information has to be sought. There is a great deal of correspondence. I believe it is a matter of great regret that the Public Service Board apparently has not conceded the staffing requirements recommended by the Minister for Housing himself. The Minister can best speak for himself, and I sincerely hope that he does so because these are very serious allegations.
At the administrative level, the Department of Housing and the Public Service Board have still failed to finalise the integration of the activities of the homes savings grant section and the War Services Homes Division. We are told by public servants involved in this Department that neither the central office nor the State branch establishments have been completed. Another one of the allegations that is important is that public servants are being forced to work through their lunchtime. They are being forced to work overtime whether they want to work overtime or not because of a deliberate and, I believe, contemptuous attitude on the part of the Public Service Board to the needs of this Department.
It is time the matter was brought forcibly to the attention of the Parliament and this Committee. This is quite appropriate since we are dealing with clause 5 which refers to the appointment of career officers - men of high calibre and competence, men of outstanding capacity and ability. It is necessary and appropriate for us to say that they are entitled to a fair go. The Government cannot get this scheme on the cheap as it is endeavouring to do. It has to ensure that officers are paid decent salaries and that sufficient staff is appointed to assist the very excellent officers who have been put at the head of the Department. I sympathise with the Secretary of the new Department, who must be inundated with complaints from his regional directors. I commend the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association which has put up such an effective submission on behalf of the members it represents. I sincerely hope that what I have said will occasion the Minister for Housing to rise to his feet and indicate that he is satisfied or otherwise with the state of the Department, especially in respect of the strength of the establishment and the salary classifications of those persons who have the job of sorting out the bona fides of the applications received.
– I do have something to say on this clause, and the question, particularly, of the extent to which it is appropriate for a responsible political party to scavenge in the Public Service for information about what goes on in detail-
– I rise to a point of order. The term used by the Minister is objectionable to me. He said that this political party is engaged in scavenging in the Public Service for information. This is contrary to the facts. It is completely untrue. The information which I have mentioned and which my colleague, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) has mentioned is contained in official correspondence with the union.
– The reference by the Minister, as I took it, was general and in the circumstances, therefore, was not directed to any particular person. The point of order is not upheld.
– On the point of order: If everybody who has spoken this afternoon on this Bill were to rise and object to the terms used by the Minister, would you then rule, Mr. Chairman, that the remarks were out of order and that we were entitled to have the Minister withdraw them?
– I would also rule in the circumstances that the remark was general and not particular - that is, it did not refer to any particular member of this House.
– On the point of order: I think the reference made by the Minister to political parties scavenging refers to the reference made by the honorable member for Hughes only. No honorable member other than the honorable member for Hughes had been talking about the staffing of the Department and the difficulties in the regional offices of the Department. He is the only one who spoke on that subject. He is a member of a political party. If he regards it as personally offensive to him to be described as scavenging, I suggest that the Minister should be asked to withdraw that remark.
– It is not the Chair’s place to assume that a member or a Minister is referring to anyone else in this Parliament unless there is a direct reference to a particular individual. May I say quite frankly that there have been certain instances even in this debate when things have been said and it might have been wiser if they had not been said. It is not the place of the Chair to assume that any reference in a speech or remarks made in the Committee or in the House is addressed to a particular member. In the circumstances, I still hold to the answer that I gave to the honorable member for Hughes.
– The substance of this question, which is a serious one, is the relationship between political parties and the Public Service. The vast majority of the members of the Public Service are loyal faithful citizens who ‘ conduct their work quite objectively for whatever political party is the government of the day. If the principle gained ground that members or groups of members or political parties should go searching - I use that word if “ scavenge “ offends; I would not have thought it a particularly inappropriate term to use in this exercise-
– The matter came in official correspondence from a union.
– This is not the whole story, and the honorable member is well aware of it. It is a vastly important principle that the Public Service performs equal and faithful service to both sides of politics, whatever the political colour of the government of the day might be. If a process is to be encouraged whereby members of a political party will ask people in government departments about various matters, or get people in a department to contact a union secretary who is not in the department and who is not a public servant, we shall have to consider where that process leads. The cable staff or the secretariat of the Department of External Affairs might be overworked. What would happen if this process were applied then? I do not wish to make accusations against any honorable members. All I ask is that honorable members consider this type of exercise and decide whether it is worthy of this House.
I do not think the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. Cairns) was in the House when I spoke before, but he is here now. He dealt particularly with the question of widows. I explained before that I do not propose to refer to all the people who may be excluded under this legislation or to give the reasons why they are excluded. This legislation has a limited purpose. It is designed to cater for young married couples. We are now dealing with the Bill in Committee, and the clauses under discussion relate to that purpose.
.- Mr. Chairman, I wish to address myself to the only subject on which the Minister has spoken. He has not spoken on any of the matters of substance which my colleagues have raised. His last remarks were confined entirely to the complaints which members of the Public Service have made to us concerning the Government’s failure to devise an administrative structure for a department which was set up 14 months ago.
– I answered that last night during the second reading debate, following upon its being raised by the Deputy Leader.
– Yes. The complaints which have been made concern understaffing and the consequent overworking in this new department, particularly those in the branches in the eastern State capitals.
The Minister used unfortunate terms such as “ scavenging “. The fact is that the secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association of the Commonwealth Public Service, which is registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, wrote to me on 2nd April, giving the facts which I partly quoted and which others of my colleagues - the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) and the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) - have quoted since then, and asking that we ventilate them in the House. I had not spoken to the State secretary of this registered association. I do not think that any of my colleagues had spoken to him. We had not scavenged for information; we had not sought information. We received it. It is information which is of public moment. Thousands of applications made under the Act which was passed last May have been delayed through the Government’s fault. That is a matter of interest to thousands of applicants. The public is entitled to know why it has taken so long to determine applications made under the Act, and why the provisions of the Act are so complicated.
This information was sent to me. As appears from a footnote to the letter, a copy was sent to the honorable member for Hughes. We thought the information was of public importance, and we used it. We have no reason to dispute its accuracy. The Minister has not said that the information is inaccurate. He merely deplores that the information came to us. Public servants do not cease to be citizens. Public servants are no different from other employees in industrial matters. There is no question that public servants are diligent, devoted and loyal. But the Government is sponging on their devotion, loyalty and diligence. It is imposing on them. The Commonwealth should not be the worst employer; it should try to be the best of employers.
The Minister should not use inflammatory terms and should not deprecate this conduct. It is embarrassing to him and to the Government, but it is not improper. This is perfectly legitimate information for members of Parliament to receive. We received it through official channels. It is our duty, having received the information, to ventilate it. We make no apologies for doing so. We will not be deterred by the Minister’s inflammatory remarks. We will not be shamed by his mock heroics and morality in this matter. The public is entitled to have some explanation from the Minister, not merely deprecating remarks. The public is entitled to know whether this legislation is capable of prompt implementation and whether applications made under it will, in the future, be promptly decided. The Minister has shown, if one likes to use moral terms, that he has a guilty conscience in this matter. He is trying to cover up. He is engendering heat, but little light.
– Perhaps he was not, but I thought the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) was in the House last night when I referred to this matter. If he was not, I shall repeat my remarks because he introduced part of this topic. I have no particular quarrel with the conduct of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition at any stage.
– The Minister did not use terms like “ scavenging “ or “ seeking “ last night?
– I explained last night that there have been difficulties in getting this Department going. We started off with a certain establishment laid down by the Public Service Board. Then, when applications increased and staff numbers were found to be inadequate, an application was made to the Public Service Board, which agreed to increase the staff. There was a period of particular difficulty in December and January, when most of the complaints referred to in this letter arose. This was natural. There was a terrific rush of applications when we had a machine geared to deal with far fewer, and some time elapsed before we could recruit and train new officers.
But the position has been put right progressively. As we have had more traffic, so we have applied to the Public Service Board and the Board has increased our establishment. As I explained, unfortunately we did have a bank-up of work, with almost 3,000 unprocessed applications, in the Sydney office earlier this year. By last week, that number had been reduced to about 100 and the machine is now quite adequate to cope with the work.
In the process of setting up a new department and meeting unprecedented situations, it is quite natural, unfortunately, for some people to be called upon to work harder than they normally would be required to do. The officers of this Department have responded to the situation very well. As soon as we have been in a position to meet requirements, we have done so. I explained that the situation did arise, but perhaps the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was not here when I mentioned it last night.
.- I can appreciate the difficulties which might have confronted the Minister in setting up a new department, but I certainly do not appreciate, nor will I accept the attitude that the Minister adopted when information was given out by a member of the Opposition in this Parliament on a matter of important public interest. In this Parliament there is too much Executive and Ministerial control. Members of the Opposition are not in a position to obtain information. Questions are put on notice but are allowed to remain on the notice paper day after day and month after month.
I will interview in my office at any time any member of the Commonwealth Public Service who comes to me with any complaint that deals with the administration of the Commonwealth Public Service or with the policy that is being followed by this Government. We cannot get the information that we ought to have. All the public servants are sworn to secrecy. For the Minister, before this Committee, to accuse Opposition members of scavenging for information to enable them to discuss important public matters in this chamber is certainly well beneath the dignity of the position that he holds. I am most surprised at the attitude that the Minister has adopted on this occasion. I believe that we would be remiss in the discharge of our duty if we let his assertions go without a violent protest.
The Opposition has far too little attention paid to it in this place. We cannot get the information that we need. We have no means of research. We are almost a neglected force. Government backbenchers are virtually in the same position. They are told nothing about legislation that is to be introduced and they know nothing about it before it is presented here. Bills are shown to Government supporters in their party rooms just before the introduction of the measures in the Parliament. If the Opposition finds it necessary to scavenge, to use the word adopted by the Minister, it is well entitled to do so, I suggest, because honorable members on this side of the chamber cannot get necessary information from Ministers or departments. If we on this side are to play our parts in this Parliament, we must get the necessary information from whatever source we can. In the circumstances, I consider that the Minister owes an apology not only to the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) but also to the Parliament.
Clauses agreed to.
Clause 7 (Acceptable savings where prescribed date is later than 31st December 1964).
.- Mr. Chairman, I move -
That the clause be postponed.
I do so as an instruction to the Government to give permanent instead of temporary recognition to deposits with credit unions as acceptable savings. When the Bill for the principal Act was being debated last May, several honorable members on both sides of the chamber sought this permanent recognition for credit unions. The Minister dismissed their arguments in these terms -
Because of the nature of the purchases to be made with them, most loans are small, and because of the community of interest, most loans are unsecured. Because of the short term nature of the deposits, most lending is short term. The management of a credit union usually requires skills quite different from those needed in lending for housing. So far, the credit union movement has not set out specifically to encourage personal saving for the purposes of acquiring a home, and has not contributed significant funds for new home construction. The function of credit unions has been rather that of providing finance to members on a co-operative basis for purposes similar to those for which loans are made by hire purchase companies.
Representatives of the New South Wales Credit Union League Co-operative Ltd. saw the Minister in subsequent months and, on 29th October last, they set out for him the steps which they had taken to comply with the qualifications laid down by him, and asked him to consider the matter when he introduced any amendments to the Act. I hasten to assure you, Mr. Chairman, that I received a copy of the letter sent to the Minister, which was forwarded to me on 28 th October with a letter from the President of the League.
– Did the honorable member solicit it or scavenge for it?
– I believe that a copy of the letter sent to the Minister by the League was forwarded to all members of the Parliament. I shall not quote it in full, but I shall venture to read extracts from it. The President of the League quoted two instances of credit unions which were making considerable advances for housing. The first was the University of New South Wales Staff Credit Union Ltd., which, at the time when the letter was written, had been operating for only 10 J months. In that time, it had advanced more than £100,000 to its members, over £22,000 being for housing purposes.
– For housing purposes or on long term loans?
– I have told the honorable member what the letter stated. Did he not read it?
– Then he should know its terms. This lending was defined as having been made for long term housing purposes, in the same way in which loans are made by savings banks, building societies and life assurance societies. The other instance was that of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Staff Association, which, in 1964, lent for purely housing purposes £86,000, or 40 per cent, of the total loans made by it.
The President of the New South Wales Credit Union League, in his letter to the Minister, continued -
However, as your Government was adamant that all moneys should be spent on long term housing the Credit Union League now lends money from Credit Unions for this purpose. To enable this to be done the Credit Union League has formed a Central Credit Union which is used to drain off surplus moneys from Credit Unions and to lend to those Credit Unions requiring short term accommodation for liquidity purposes.
The League Board has decided that all surplus moneys in the Central Credit Union will be invested in long term housing and a deposit of almost £50,000 has already been lodged with a permanent building society in Sydney. Deposits in amounts of £50,000 will be made as surpluses arise. We believe that in doing this we have demonstrated that we are trying to interpret the wishes of Cabinet with regard to long term housing for the purpose of this Act. The threat of lack of eligibility has not affected the rate of savings in the Credit Unions, but what it will do is to debar from the benefits of the Act the young people who find it more convenient to save for their home in a Credit Union than a bank.
Last night, in the second reading debate several honorable members foreshadowed that they would support the case for permanent recognition of credit unions. The
Minister dealt with this in his speech summing up the debate. His final words on the subject were these - . . credit unions do not turn in sizable sums of money for long term housing at reasonable rates of interest, which is one of the major purposes of this scheme.
The Minister seems to have two objections remaining. One is that substantial sums are not being put into housing by credit unions. If one had looked at the funds that credit unions were providing for any credit purpose five years ago, one would have made the same claim. However, one has only to look at the experience in North America to realise to what size and at what speed credit unions can develop. In the United States of America, credit unions are accepted by the Housing and Home Finance Agency. In that country and also, I believe, in Canada, there has been no difficulty in encouraging credit unions to enter the housing field.
If the Minister’s first objection is that only large or long established bodies can be recognised, permanent building societies would scarcely qualify. They provide a most significant sector of housing finance in the United Kingdom, but they do not yet do so in this country. By means of the Housing Loans Insurance Bill passed in this chamber last week and the Homes Savings Grant Act 1964, the Minister has very properly sought to promote the permanent building societies. If similar encouragement were given to credit unions-
– A change in State laws would be needed to bring them into line with the position of credit unions in the United States.
– Then we could frame our provision in such a way that it would come into operation when the States also acted. In 1956 the Commonwealth made a provision for Housing Agreement moneys to be diverted to building societies, although at that time many of the States had no legislation concerning building societies. The Commonwealth did not wait until every State had passed those laws; it passed the laws so that they could become effective when the States had passed complementary legislation. This is what could be done with regard to credit unions. Credit unions can grow rapidly and they can grow to a great size, as they have done in the United States of America, if the Minister will only give them this encouragement. The Minister’s other objection to credit unions seems to be that they charge 6 per cent. interest.
– No, I have no objection to that.
– The Minister mentioned “reasonable rates of interest”, and elsewhere he said that they pay 5 to 7 per cent. on investment and reward saving. I have been told that the average charge on loans that they make is, in effect, 6 per cent. I do not regard 6 per cent. as a low rate of interest, but it certainly is no higher than most people now pay on loans from life assurance societies, building societies and even from the private savings banks.
– It is reasonable. I did not say that it was unreasonable.
– In that case the Minister has only one objection.
– I did not say that 6 per cent. was unreasonable.
– The Minister could not very well say that 6 per cent. is unreasonable without repudiating his colleagues for having increased housing interest rates for the fourth time in the last month. So the Minister’s only objection, I take it, is that credit unions are not yet big lenders for housing. This could be said about permanent building societies.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The arguments which were advanced by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) in his discussion on the omission of credit unions in a practical form were the same as he mentioned in the discussion on supernnuation funds. Credit unions, which are very prominent in New South Wales, are very good organisations. However, when all is said and done, they were never established for the purpose of housing. They were established for an entirely different purpose. I can well understand the attitude of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and those who support the credit unions. Credit unions are good and I would support them myself, but they want as much deposit as they can get. Naturally they would like to be considered to be authorised bodies to receive deposits of savings under this legislation, but, as I have said before, that would not be consistent with the whole purpose of the Act.
The purpose of the Act is to encourage savings for a deposit for a house. The greater part of credit union money is certainly not used for this purpose. Although the Deputy Leader of the Opposition cited figures in respect of the money lent by credit unions for housing, I venture to suggest that the greater part of that has been in short term loans for repairs and work on houses rather than for the long term purchase of a house. Although credit unions may now like, because of this legislation, to come into that field, they are not bodies which have been set up or which are experienced in the field. At present the Act provides that savings banks, trading banks and building societies are acceptable institutions.
I want to say to the Minister and to all other honorable members that I believe from vast experience in this field that building societies, both permanent and terminating, are the natural places for people to deposit their savings for housing. These organisations are now very firmly established throughout Australia. They have been established for many years - since 1935 - and are doing a magnificent job. They are co-operative in the full sense. A great deal of voluntary work is given to them by people. Building societies have been eminently successful throughout Australia and should be given all possible encouragement. They are the ideal organisations for this purpose. Why any honorable member should want to intercede for any other type of organisation for the purpose of accepting deposits I do not know.
I can understand that savings banks and trading banks, because of their very nature, must be accepted as bodies with which acceptable savings may be lodged, but not excepting even trading banks or savings banks I say emphatically that it is my opinion that the building society movement throughout Australia is the natural home for deposits of this character. More people should be made aware of this. I believe that much more publicity should be given to this aspect and to the encouragement of deposits made with building societies. It must be remembered that in the building society movement in Australia there are a great number of men and women who have accumulated a vast experience of how to handle housing problems. They are familiar with the need for homes, with discussing with young couples what their requirements are, with guiding them in many ways and encouraging them and, indeed, with means of preventing them from making mistakes in the purchase of homes. Their exclusive function is housing. Where could one find a better organisation than that with which to lodge savings for a deposit for a house?
In making these remarks I do not exclude banks or any other institution because they have not had the particular experience that a building society has had. I refer to both terminating and permanent building societies. This aspect of the Bill is linked with the discussion that we had on the Housing Loans Insurance Bill, which has already passed through this place. I believe that that measure will be of great assistance not only to permanent societies but also to terminating societies. I am glad that, under the provisions of this Bill, not only will deposits with permanent societies be permitted and acknowledged as acceptable savings, but also contributions towards the purchase of shares in terminating societies will be recognised. I realise that people will fight on and try to have savings with every possible organisation recognised as acceptable savings, whether the organisation is a credit union or a superannuation fund. I presume that the next thing we will have is a cash order company coming in as an acceptable organisation to receive deposits. This, in my opinion, is absolutely wrong and is contrary to the spirit and intention of the Act.
I do not want to repeat what I have said, but in my opinion this provision should be no wider than it already is. There is no need to include credit unions in the Bill. The omission of credit unions does not discourage or prevent young people from establishing a savings account. They have access to building society movements in every capital city throughout Australia and in big country towns, wherever they like to go. They have other facilities for saving a deposit for a home. Why is it necessary to clutter up this legislation by including many other organisations which have never at any time been designed for the particular purpose of housing?
This Bill is to encourage young people to save, not necessarily when they are married but before they are married. It is to encourage them to save when they may not even have a sweetheart or intend to marry. Its purpose is to encourage them to start to save. In my opinion they should save through the building society movement, which is one of the fundamental movements for the encouragement of home ownership in Australia. This has been proved over the years. Therefore, I am against the inclusion of other organisations, good though they are, when their fundamental function is not that of housing as is the case with the building society movement.
.- It was not surprising to hear the honorable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) talk in the way he did. It is well known that he is a land agent and land developer.
– There is no need to get personal.
– Part of the profits of his organisation is wrapped up in the fact that if he can-
– Order! I suggest that the honorable member restrain himself.
– That is true enough. Everybody knows that estate agents are associated with building societies so that their prospective clients and prospective purchasers of homes can be referred to building societies. That is normal business practice. The honorable member for Bennelong has been doing that for the last 40 years.
– What is wrong with that?
– As I say, there is nothing wrong with that practice; but you, Mr. Chairman, tell me that I should not say that the practice exists.
– What is wrong with the building societies - not what is wrong with me?
– There is nothing wrong with building societies; but estate agents do not get much money from credit unions, so it is not surprising that the honorable member for Bennelong should espouse the proposition that all the money should go to building societies rather than even to the banks.
I have been informed that my opinion is wrong, but I was firmly of the opinion that the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) was mainly responsible for credit unions not being included. When one looks at the Minister’s history one sees that he has been a banker and has been associated with banking all his life. So his loyalties and his leanings naturally are that way. However, I am assured that in Cabinet he put up a strenuous fight to get credit unions recognised. If he cannot succeed in getting them recognised, there must be someone else in Cabinet who is not prepared to listen to the arguments that can be advanced on behalf of credit unions, which hold the savings of the smaller people in the community.
I have in my hand the “International Credit Union Year Book” for 1963. I think it would do the honorable member for Bennelong a lot of good if he had a look through this book and saw the number of credit unions that operate in the United States of America, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Pacific Islands and Australia, and also the enormous amount of money that these organisations hold in assets. In New South Wales alone there are more than 220 credit unions. They have more than 70,000 members. In the last six or seven months 19 new credit unions have been established in that State. Nine of those have been in country areas. I think credit unions could be described as the little men’s banks. Little men can put their money in credit unions and apply for loans from them. People do not have to go through the rigmarole that they have to go through if they want a loan from a bank. They are not asked all the questions that banks ask. They are not expected to put up the same security that they are expected to put up if they borrow from a bank. They receive coney so that they can pay cash for goods that they wish to purchase.
The Bill that is now before us and the measure that was introduced 12 months ago could curtail the activities of credit unions. Originally the Minister said that credit unions were not lending money for housing on long terms. But they are endeavouring to do that. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) pointed out that at this stage they are not in a position to put a great deal of money into housing, but that they are endeavouring to meet the conditions that are laid down by the Minister. However, whenever they move, the opposition is still there. Of course, they have not the same amount of money to lend as the banks have; but it is good to remind the Minister that any money that is advanced by the banks to building societies is guaranteed by the Government. That applies particularly in New South Wales. The banks are not running much of a risk in this connection. It will be interesting to see just how much extra money is put into housing because people are being compelled to put their savings into approved institutions, particularly the savings banks.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was speaking about the need to recognise credit union savings as a qualification for the purpose of attracting home savings grants and I was quoting from the “International Credit Union Yearbook” of 1963 about a survey which was undertaken by the Survey Research Centre of the University of Michigan in 1962 on all thrift and lending institutions, including credit unions. The survey showed that the largest single group of credit union savers were married males between 18 and 44 years of age whose youngest children were under 6 years of age. More than 62 per cent, of credit union savers are younger than 45, but only 51 per cent, of bank savers and 46 per cent, of savers in savings and loan associations fall into the younger than 45 year group. Under the legislation we are discussing grants of £250 are made to married couples under the age of 36 years. The Minister and the Government refuse to recognise savings in credit union institutions.
A table appearing on page 51 of this booklet indicates that persons between 18 and 34 years of age represent 31.71 per cent, of all credit union savers and those between 35 and 44 years represent 30.46 per cent. Of bank savers, persons between 18 and 34 years of age represent 28.29 per cent, and those between 35 and 44 years represent 22.6 per cent. The Minister’s main argument for not recognising savings in credit unions is that credit unions do not make money available for long term housing requirements, but the people who save in credit unions are those who realise they can get only 3 per cent, interest on their savings in bank accounts but at least 5 per cent, on their savings in credit unions. They can borrow money from credit unions to buy the household goods they may require or to tide them over times of sickness. If they were to rely on banks for money to meet these contingencies they would be waiting and waiting. The banks are not prepared to grant loans to people in this category because they are regarded as bad risks.
Credit unions are growing in Australia. The New South Wales Labour Government has recognised the benefit that credit unions can be to the community at large and particularly to those in the lower and middle income brackets. It has appointed a full time organiser who has, in the last seven months, started 19 new credit unions, nine in country areas. Credit unions deserve the support of every government in Australia, but we cannot expect to get the same support from the present Government in Canberra as is forthcoming from the Labour Government in New South Wales. It has been shown time and time again in this Parliament that members of the Ministry and Liberal Party and Country Party supporters of the Government are more inclined to protect the banking institutions and hire purchase institutions than they are to give encouragement to these ordinary workers’ organisations. It is not sufficient for the Minister to say that credit unions are not lending money for long term housing. These organisations have been operating in Australia for only a few years, but they are already lending from their central funds money for long term housing. I know that the Minister will ignore the Opposition’s plea to lay down at this stage how much he expects the credit unions to do and how much they must lend for long term housing before he is prepared to recognise them as approved savings organisations.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I support the motion by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) that this clause be postponed. The Opposition believes that the Government should reexamine the situation relating to credit unions. At present there are about 200 credit unions in New South Wales with over 70,000 members. Many young people join credit unions when they commence work and they pay money into them, looking to the future when they will want to marry and perhaps will require money to build a home. When the Government announced in its policy speech in 1963 its intention to introduce this legislation, it stated that it was intended to encourage young people to save for their homes. Credit unions are encouraging people to save for the future and should be recognised by the Government.
Young people aire being encouraged to save their money in banks, but we know that the banks use their depositors’ money, and earn interest on it. They are the biggest shareholders in many hire purchase companies. The Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) states that credit unions do not use all their money for housing, but neither do banks. Banks make personal loans to people who have sickness in their families and to persons who want to buy extra clothing or further the education of their children. The same applies to credit unions. Credit unions are co-operative societies in which members must have shares. Members can secure loans to enable them to purchase articles they require. Banks lend money to enable persons to buy motor cars; credit unions do the same.
Credit unions are playing a big part in assisting many young people today to obtain second mortgages at reasonable interest rates. Some credit unions lend up to £1,000 at interest rates well below those applying to loans from finance companies which charge 12 to 14 per cent. Many young people obtain loans from credit unions to enable them to renovate or extend their homes. Two credit unions have paid £50,000 into cooperative societies. We feel that they are doing their bit to assist people to get homes by making money available at low rates of interest. I cannot see why the Minister should claim that credit unions should not be recognised as saving institutions. lt does not matter what form the savings institution takes, whether it is a credit union or a savings bank: They all work on the same principle and relend money at rates of interest higher than they pay for money invested with them. Like other members of the Opposition, I feel strongly that credit unions should be recognised for the purpose of this legislation. It is of no use the Minister’s saying that they do not lend enough for housing. We know that in the near future credit unions will play a greater role in lending money on long term contracts to young people wishing to purchase homes. This is why the Government should recognise them. It should tell young people that if they have their money in a credit union they will qualify for the grant. Speaking in the debate last night about credit unions the Minister said -
It may bc of interest to honorable members to know that in a recent check we made, about 1 or 2 per cent, only of applicants for grants claimed any part of their savings as being with credit unions.
We have heard that there have been about 21,000 applications for the homes savings grant of £250. About 400 of those applicants would be people with their savings in credit unions. They probably will qualify for the grant because the Minister has told us that for the next three years savings in a credit union will be considered acceptable savings for the purpose of this legislation. But what about young people today who wish to put money into the credit unions? This legislation will force them to put their money into the banks and the banks will use their money in hire purchase activities. They will lend it to people who want personal loans or finance for the purchase of motor cars. If young people put their money into credit unions this Government will not recognise it as savings. An injustice is being done to members of the credit unions, indicating that this Government is not interested in encouraging people to save money for home building. It is a downright shame that the Minister and the Government should be so pig headed on this issue that they will not recognise credit unions.
I am sure that many members of the Opposition feel that the Government’s attitude in this matter is influenced by pressure from outside. I refer to the financial institutions which recognise that credit unions are doing them a great deal of damage because of their ability to lend money at rates of interest lower than are charged by hire purchase organisations. The hire purchase companies do not want to see credit unions encouraged. This is why the Government has refused to recognise credit unions for purposes of this legislation. Outside influences have applied pressure on the Government. The Minister should consider this matter further. He should resubmit our proposals to Cabinet. Young people who invest their savings in credit unions should qualify for the homes savings grant of £250 which is available to people who put their money into savings banks.
.- It could well be said that this Government has some congenital deficiency when it comes to considering any form of saving by workers. If it is not that, it could be a thought block, because it is evident that the whole idea of working men running their own savings organisation is repugnant to the Government. If we probe more deeply perhaps we will find that its machinations are associated with the desire to get the maximum amount of money into savings banks because there are shortfalls in public loans. It is well known that only 35 per cent, of the money deposited in savings banks is being lent for housing construction and that the balance of the deposits is a major source of investment in public loans. It is very laudable that the public loan market should be filled but should it be done by endeavouring to channel the savings of workers for that purpose, particularly when we see an alternative or fringe banking system in operation with the open connivance of this Government?
Let me take honorable members back 12 years, when it was sought to curtail the activities of the hire purchase companies by refusing bank credit to them, by refusing to discount their hire purchase agreements and the promissory notes associated with them. The companies were not satisfied to leave the matter there. They thumbed their noses at the Government and decided to tap the public lending market themselves, and they did so. If this Government is not prepared to take the necessary action to control these companies and to bring them within the ambit of the banking legislation, this evil will continue.
There was a carpenter of Nazareth who 1,900 years ago drove the money changers from the temple. He scourged them out. Here we have a scandalous state of affairs. For the first time workers have cottoned on to an idea of organising their savings. Not only are they able to borrow from a credit union at half the cost of borrowing from a hire purchase company but, in addition, they are able to go to the ordinary retailer with cash to buy ordinary household appliances and obtain the advantage of a very substantial discount in the highly competitive retail market that exists today. Why should they not have the opportunity to continue to do that?
The credit unions represent the workers* banks. There is no earthly reason why they should not be given proper recognition. On the one hand, the Government is prepared to laud the co-operative building societies. They are very good, very laudable and well run but as for any legal distinction between them and credit unions, it is a matter of tweedledum and tweedledee, because the average co-operative building society in New South Wales - this applies to other States also - is registered under the same legislation, comes under the control of the same registrar, has its accounts subjected to exactly the same audit and general supervision and is governed as to the terms of its rules and its entire legal status by the same legislation as are credit unions. Yet this Government chooses to differentiate. There is only one reason for this: The Government is prepared to do what every other conservative government in the world has done. It wants to channel everything it can into the control of the people who are its political supporters. Behind the scenes we have these people at work. Their pressures are being applied shrewdly and astutely. The work is done in back rooms. Very shrewdly, the pressure is applied, and this Government is extremely responsive to it. It always will be.
If this Government has an ounce of sincerity it would create a secondary banking system. I do not suggest that any hire purchase company is entitled to a full banking charter. At best it is entitled to be in a separate category or classification. The Government should be legislating in this direction. There is no reason why the activities of these organisations should not be brought under full control. If they were given separate status as a secondary banking system they would be under control in their borrowing and in their lending. Above all, they would be under control in their interest charges. We may search through every country in the English speaking world and find that in no country are higher interest rates being paid for public credit than in Australia. The entire system and particularly the rates of interest charged are to the eternal discredit of this Government. The Government is prepared to tolerate high interest rates. I would say that the average family today is paying 25s. or 30s. a week in interest on money borrowed to purchase the things that are now considered essential adjuncts to modern living, such as refrigerators and washing machines, quite apart from the interest they have to pay on. money borrowed to purchase their homes. There is no earthly reason why the savings of workers should not be mobilised. But, as I have said, this Government, true to its form and true to its breeding, will continue at all times to destroy anything that savours of education of the working man in the techniques of finance. It will always do its utmost to destroy, control and disrupt anything that would in any way help the working man to rise above the level at which he can be exploited by the Government’s associates and supporters.
.- I would like to think that the comments that have been made by some speakers -in this debate are unfounded and unjustified. I would like to believe that the stories and rumours I have heard, and the comments I have heard from some of the leaders of the credit union movement in Australia, have some foundation - that they are authentic. All those rumours and comments have been to the effect that the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) during the course of negotiations on this legislation showed a great deal of sympathy for the credit union movement, that he went to the Cabinet and put forward a proposition in favour of the movement with some enthusiasm and fervour, but that his proposition was rejected. If this is the case, it is a horrifying thing to happen to our first Commonwealth Minister for Housing.
– It is a humiliating thing to happen to a man who has the great responsibility of lifting the matter of housing to a level of importance it has never before been given in this country. The Minister has already been discredited once in his previous ministerial capacity, and many of us who have regard for his outstanding qualifications would hate to see him suffer any further embarrassment. When all is said and done, the Minister did demonstrate some degree of conciliation in respect of this matter in the early stages when the legislation originally came before the House. This is evidenced by the fact that credit unions did have some place in the new housing grant scheme. Let me explain to honorable members that credit union savings are an approved form of savings up to 3 1st December 1964, and the amounts on deposit at that date, provided they are not withdrawn, will be acceptable savings up to 31st December 1967. However, new savings after 31st December 1964 must be in one of the regular and approved forms. One wonders why the Government went so far and then suddenly drew back and denied this movement recognition.
I would not want to presume to tell the Minister of the importance of credit unions, because there is such a wealth of material available in Australia about them. There is also a great deal of overseas material available. An international magazine called “ Credit Union Magazine “ in its December 1963 issue eulogised the tremendous progress being made in this country. The “International Credit Union Year Book” for 1964 gives an account of the fantastic growth of this movement in the United States of America, Canada and many other countries. It is common knowledge that this is the up and coming thing. In New South Wales we have the good fortune to have the co-operation of the State Government. I may be wrong in saying this, but I think New South Wales is the only State with a Minister designated Minister for Housing and Minister for Co-operative Societies. He has given every possible assistance. Honorable members will have read in the Press the controversy recently about the appointment of a credit union expert. There has been some dissension about what seniority he should be given in the Public Service structure. I mention these things only to show the enthusiasm of the New South Wales Government and its desire to get this credit union movement started.
– The Minister is Abe Landa, is he not?
– Yes, the Honorable Abe Landa, M.L.A., Minister for Housing and Minister for Co-operative Societies. I do not want to do the Commonwealth Minister an injustice. I think it is fair to say that he is sympathetic and that he did try. What we as an Opposition are doing this evening is to swing our support behind him in an endeavour to show the Cabinet that it has made a mistake in rejecting his overtures. It would be foolish for any of us here to pretend that he is not aware of the situation. I hold in my hand at the moment a letter dated 29th October 1964 from Mr. Stan Arneil, President of the New South Wales Credit Union League Co-operative Ltd., and addressed to the Minister for Housing. It sets out most of the arguments we have been enunciating this evening. The Minister has had the benefit of the information contained in this letter. I have not had the benefit of the Minister’s reply, but Mr. Arneil has given me to understand that when he did reply he indicated a considerable degree of sympathy. Mr. Arneil’s letter stated in part-
We recall that one of the reasons that Credit. Unions were not approved was your contention that they did not make a contribution to long-term housing. You will also recall that we were puzzled by the fact that although you stated that you were interested in institutions which lent money for long-term housing, you made no stipulation in your Act that additional moneys saved as a result of the new Act would be channelled into longterm housing in addition to that proportion of the Savings Banks’ money which have previously been used for this purpose.
This is the point that was made by my colleague, the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Connor), a short time ago. There must be an enormous amount of extra deposited money being stored up in the banks at present as a result of the introduction of this scheme, which requires people tn put their money into approved savings accounts. If we want to get some effective net result for housing, the next obvious step is to ensure that the banks deploy more of this money for housing purposes, and this, as Mr. Arneil has pointed out, has not been provided for or stipulated in this Bill. The letter then goes on to talk about the value of accreditation. The value of accreditation under this homes savings grant legislation to the banking movement is tremendous.
How many new customers will be forced into the banking system within the next month? Why is it that the Government is not prepared to give similar accreditation to the credit unions? Would it not be a great thing to see people encouraged to join organisations which are fundamentally designed to facilitate the means by which people can exercise thrift? Accreditation under the auspices of this Bill would do a great deal for the credit union movement. Conversely, of course, there is a likelihood that credit unions may be damaged if the Government does not recognise the savings that accrue in those unions.
We - and when I say we I am referring to the members of the Opposition’s Housing Committee - had the benefit of Mr. Arneil’s views when he appeared before the Committee during the last parliamentary recess, when, as honorable members are aware, we spent a great deal of time looking carefully at this legislation with a view to devising ways and means of removing the enormous number of anomalies that were causing concern to young people. We were able to ascertain from Mr. Arneil that there are 200 credit unions in New South Wales alone, with 70,000 members. I think there are about 250 credit unions in Australia, holding savings to the extent of £6 million and having granted loans to the extent of about £4i million. The Minister pointed out that he was concerned that these loans were used mostly for the purchase of household effects, what might be called shortterm articles, and that insufficient attention was given to loans for housing purposes. As a result of what the Minister said about the credit union movement, the movement overhauled its entire structure and paved the way for the establishment of a central credit union. In this central credit union the various individual unions invest their surpluses in amounts of £50,000. Very early in the piece the first £50,000 went in, and I understand that amounts in multiples of £50,000 have been going in from that time onwards. The purpose of this surplus fund is to ensure that credit union members will be able to obtain loans for housing.
– Why not use the building societies?
– Is there any reason at all that the honorable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer), who is interjecting, can enunciate to show why credit unions should not be incorporated into this scheme? Since my time is about to expire, rather prematurely having regard to the tremendous potentialities of this subject, I invite the Minister to get up and say in a lucid way - he has not been able to do this yet - why the Opposition’s proposal should not be accepted.
I believe that the Minister has good reason to give effect to a resolution carried not so long ago by representatives of 70,000-odd credit union members who unanimously called for the inclusion of the credit union movement in the scheme. I sincerely hope that something will be done about this in the not too distant future.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Question put -
That clause 7 be postponed (Mr. Whitlam’s amendment).
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . . . 18
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of Bill - by leave - taken as a whole.
– Mr. Chairman, I want to deal with clause 10 of the Bill which I note amends section 20 of the principal Act. Before I proceed to enunciate the essence of this particular problem, I would like to read to the Committee sub-section (1a.), which is to be inserted in section 20 of the principal Act, to indicate the kind of incomprehensible nature of the jargon that young people have to interpret. This is just one of the many cases. The sub-section reads -
A grant under this Act shall not be made to an eligible person unless he became an eligible person before the expiration of 12 months after the prescribed date or before such later time as the Secretary, in special circumstances, allows.
You would have to be a bush lawyer to work that one out It is no wonder that so much difficulty is being experienced by people when trying to understand this legislation.
The main reason I have risen to speak is that I notice that clause 10 of this amending Bill has a relationship with section 20 of the principal Act. Under the section, people who have received assistance through
State housing authorities - those authorities that operate under the various Commonwealth and State Housing Agreements - are denied the right to seek eligibility under this Act. To me, this is an astounding state of affairs. During the second reading debate on this Bill, I indicated with other honorable members the enormous amount of interest that is paid by people who obtain loans or who purchase homes from State housing authorities. I indicated that in the case of a home worth £4,000 the total repayment is sometimes in the vicinity of £9,380. This calculation is in regard to comparatively low interest rate homes, it is true. Nevertheless, this is the sort of money that is being paid by low income earners for housing at the present time. I think it is fair to say that most people who buy a home from any State housing authority finally pay almost double the value of the home back to the authorityThere are very good reasons why these people should be able to seek assistance under this legislation. The Minister for Housing, or the Government, by excluding these people, has virtually put up a sign and headed this legislation with the announcement: “Under-privileged people and low income earners need not apply for assistance from this Government.” That is the net effect of this policy. I should like the Minister to indicate to me why he has chosen to discriminate against the people who have been catered for specifically in terms of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreements because of the consideration that has been extended to their low earning capacity. If one looks at the various reports of the State housing authorities, particularly the report of the New South Wales Housing Commission, one will be able to ascertain the large number of people who receive incomes under £20 per week. The precise figures escape me at the present time but the vast predominance of applicants to the New South Wales Housing Commission are low income people. In many instances, young people who could benefit if this embargo was not provided under section 20 of the principal Act are involved. As the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Hansen) reminds me, this does not involve an infinitesimal number of people. There are 70,000 applications with the various State housing authorities throughout Australia at the moment. I think that there would be something seriously remiss if we did not take this opportunity to put the case of those people during the course of this Committee debate.
Then I notice that clause 10 also amends section 20 (2.) (c) of the principal Act. This section determines that a person can obtain a grant in regard to the first home owned after marriage only. I believe that, as so much discretion is given to the Secretary of the Department of Housing regarding the various provisions of this legislation, it would not be a bad idea to extend his discretion in regard to this matter. I have mentioned during the second reading stage several particularly anomalous situations which have cropped up. One of them concerned a constituent of mine who bought a house in respect of which there was a demolition order. He occupied that house for a short time. He paid £1,800 for the house and the piece of land. The amount he paid was comparable with the price of an ordinary block of land in that area without any building. So, clearly, he was being sold a block of land. The house was to be pulled down. I was staggered when he submitted his application for a grant only to be rebuffed with the announcement that the house that was on this site, in respect of which there was a demolition order which was given effect, was considered to be the first house after marriage. Surely the spirit of the legislation is being denied here. This house was standing on the site for a few miserable months while this man went ahead with the construction of another house. He occupied this house due to be demolished for a short time while he was getting something ready to take its place. I suggest that a bit of common sense in these matters would not go astray.
I made brief reference the other day to another person who came to me. This person had built a small weekender at a holiday resort in Sydney. Finally, this man, who has a family, decided to build the house of his dreams, a family bouse. Having completed the application, he came to me and I just happened to check to see whether he had ever owned another house. As an aside almost, he mentioned that there was this little weekender - a room with a verandah around it. He had built this weekender out of his wages. This was considered by the Department to be the first house he had owned after marriage. As a consequence, he has been disqualified from receiving a grant under this scheme. This is a pretty crazy state of affairs.
If this man had put his money into a trailer caravan of the type that people have in the United States of America with several rooms including a bathroom, kitchen and heaven knows what else - instead of putting his money into this weekender, his position would not have been affected. A trailer caravan is not a home under the terms of this legislation. This Government has not yet come to think of the need to provide finance for caravan living which is an accepted feature in many parts of the world. This is not even an entity or a consideration. This man could have put his money into that accommodation and it would not have affected his eligibility for a grant. He could have put his money into quite a large number of things or even transferred it into a savings account. But because he happened to work diligently and, by using his own labour at the weekend and utilising his weekly wage he provided a little weekender for his family, he has been disqualified from receiving a grant under this legislation.
I mention those cases because this scheme is so selective in its application that it indicates that the claims made about the advantages to be conferred by this legislation are fallacious in many respects. The main point I want to emphasise tonight - and I am sure many of my colleagues feel strongly about this matter - is that people who receive assistance from the State housing authorities should not be excluded from this legislation as, in the main, they are low income earners and, heaven knows, they pay enough under this Government’s high interest rate policies. Interest charges have got out of hand since this Government came into office. Those people are paying more than they should pay for the modest homes they come to acquire. I hope the Minister will seek to include them in the provisions of this legislation as soon as possible.
– I support the remarks of the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson). I feel that this legislation should be extended to include those people who are prepared to purchase their own homes from the housing commissions of the various States. They are people who rightly deserve and certainly need the £250 that would be granted to them under this legislation. In his explanatory memorandum the Minister states that the purpose of clauses 10 and 12 is to delete the requirements that an applicant must satisfy the Secretary of his intention to occupy the home in respect of which he receives a grant, and must notify the Secretary if he and his wife do not occupy this home within three months after the completion of its purchase or construction. I want to know from the Minister whether this means that an applicant can receive a grant of £250 and never occupy the home that he purchases. If it does mean that, I want to know why this deletion is necessary.
I can think of instances in which a person, having signed in good faith a contract to purchase or build a home, is unable to occupy it. But the widening of the legislation in the way proposed in clauses 10 and 12 seems to me to leave the way open for a person to obtain a grant of £250 to help to buy, say, a home unit, then to continue to live with his father or with his mother-in-law, for instance, and to rent the home unit he has purchased with the aid of the £250 subsidy for £10 or £15 a week. In the Minister’s electorate the rent for an unfurnished home unit would be more likely to be £20 a week. I should like the Minister to explain exactly why he seeks to delete the provision that a person obtaining a grant should have to occupy the home within three months after its construction or purchase.
Another part of the Bill refers to savings of members of the forces. I have not been able to find any provision for members of the staff of, say, the Department of External Affairs or the Department of Trade and Industry who might be living overseas for a period of years. The Bill provides that the savings of servicemen when outside Australia shall be taken into account together with the savings of those of their children who are under 21 years of age. Does the same provision apply to the officers of the various Government departments who may have to serve overseas?
– The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) asked two specific questions. With regard to the removal of the requirement of occupancy, there have been a considerable number of cases in which people, after having entered into a contract to build or buy, and after having signed a statement of intention to occupy, either have been transferred or have been unable to occupy the house for some other very good reason and have been required to refund the grant. Having once had a grant, they are thereafter ineligible for a further grant. The deletion of the requirement takes care of that situation; but, of course, all transactions will continue to be checked. If, for some good reason, those who have received grants happen to dispose of properties after having received their grants, they will be covered.
The provision relating to members of the forces and their children does not apply to officers of the Department of External Affairs or the Department of Trade and Industry. This is special provision for members of the forces because they are subject to a number of disabilities that do not arise in other cases. Having served overseas in my previous career, I can assure the honorable member from personal experience that no difficulties will arise for officers of Government departments. Servicemen, however, are often stationed in out of the way places and have to make unusual arrangements, so the Bill seeks to cover them and their families. The provision is designed purely to meet the particular circumstances of servicemen.
– What about the savings of officers of the Department of External Affairs? Does the Minister take account of them?
– They are Australians. They will have bank accounts in Australia and they can continue to save. Their absence is only temporary.
.- I wish to refer first to the provision relating to servicemen, lt refers also to the children of servicemen who are under 21 years of age. I take it that if those children were to make application for a grant to help them purchase or build a home of their own, they would also be covered.
– Servicemen and their families are covered.
– I refer now to clause 10. In particular, I refer to sub-paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii) of proposed new sub-section (4.) (b). Perhaps honorable members could read these provisions for themselves, but I should be grateful if the Minister would give a brief explanation of them in layman’s language. I should like an explanation of what they actually mean.
– The honorable member is referring now to shares in the capital?
– Yes. I feel that it would be of interest to honorable members to have an explanation of those provisions. I do not think they have been dealt with adequately in the memorandum issued by the Minister.
I wish to raise another point. It relates to paragraph (a) of proposed new sub-section (4.) which should be read in conjunction with section 22 (b) of the original Act. This paragraph relates to the assessment of the value of a home. It appears that previously the limit was £7,000 and that the value was calculated by taking into account either the value of the house and the land or the value of the house separately from the value of the land. As I understand the Bill, the Secretary is to be instructed to take into consideration only the value of the house and land combined. The £7,000 limit will apply to the value of the house and land combined.
This will be of particular interest to residents of the Australian Capital Territory, who will be excluded from benefiting under this legislation if this provision became lawFor the purposes of my argument, I refer to war service homes. The Director of the War Service Homes Division has stated that the average cost of a war service home in Canberra is something in excess of £7,000. I do not think a war service home of that value is a pretentious home. It certainly is not when judged on Canberra standards. It would appear to me that by taking in account the value of the house and land combined, we will be excluding persons who may be building what would be considered average homes in the Australian Capital Territory.
– The reference to shares in the capital relates to the form of title of occupiers of home units. In Victoria and other places, a block of home units is usually registered in the name of a company formed for the purpose, and ownership of a share in the company entitles one normally to exclusive possession of a home unit. This system was once freely used, but it is not used so much now in New South Wales and other places where they have strata titles. Really, it is a means of providing an operative title.
– Have people any means of owning the title?
– They could. A married couple must have exclusive rights to a unit. They must have exclusive ownership. They may have only half and may acquire the rest, just as in the case of a dwelling. What this will do really will be to put this form of title on all fours with the titles of ordinary dwelling houses or of home units under strata titles.
The purpose of the other amendment of the principal Act proposed is to enable value and costs to be split. At present, the Secretary of the Department of Housing has to take into account either the total cost of bouse and land or the total value of house and land. The Bill will enable him to split the two. For instance, a person may have bought land and, after it had risen considerably in value, may have constructed a house on it. If the Secretary of the Department were to take into account the value of the land, that could inflate the combined value of house and land well above £7,000, whereas, if he took into account the cost of the land, together with the value of the house - which he would have to do with an owner builder - this would be to the advantage of the applicant for a grant. At present, either wholly cost or wholly value has to be taken into account. The Bill will enable the Secretary of the Department to take either value or cost of either house or land.
.- Mr. Chairman, I join the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) and the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) in protesting at the fact that intending purchasers of State housing authority dwellings will not be provided for under the terms of this measure. I think that honorable members are aware that there are in Australia today many citizens in the low income groups who would find it impossible to save £750 over three years. Here, 1 shall cite some figures that are relevant to the issue. In 1960-61, of those taxpayers who received incomes of less than £20 a week, 68,000 had a wife and one child, 56,000 a wife and two children, and 58,000 a wife and three or more children. This represents a total of 182,000 taxpayers who will not receive any benefit under the terms of this measure if they want to buy a State housing authority home. As we know, many of these people have no hope of buying a home except from a State housing authority. A person with a wife and two children and an income of less than £20 a week would need to save £4 16s. a week over three years to qualify for the total grant of £250. This would be impossible for him to do. The Minister has pointed out, and everyone knows, that no person who receives a homes savings grant will be directed how the money is to be spent. It may be spent on a refrigerator, carpets, furniture or any other household necessaries. Why should a person who can afford to buy a home of his own only from a State housing authority be denied the right to buy a refrigerator, carpets or furniture? I believe that this point should be considered.
Everyone knows that the present Government, throughout the years since 1949, has done nothing to assist the underprivileged people of Australia. It thinks only of people who can already afford to buy their own homes. We on this side of the chamber do not object to this Bill in principle, but we do object to the many anomalies in it that will prevent decent citizens in the low income groups from qualifying for home savings grants. I emphatically support the protest by the honorable member for Hughes and the honorable member for Lang at the fact that intending purchasers of State housing authority dwellings will be denied an opportunity to qualify for this £250 handout that is being made by the Government.
Remainder of Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Bury) - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 1st April (vide page 580), on motion by Mr. Bury -
That the Bills be now read a second time.
.- Mr. Speaker, very many Australians feel deep regret and shame, as I do, at the actions of leading members of the present Government. In 1949, Australia enjoyed full employment and was debt free and self-reliant, but leading members of this Government are now making frantic, begging pleas to the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for preferential economic and financial treatment. These pleas constitute an admission that this country, in recent years, has depended excessively on overseas capital. Over the last 15 years, we have lost our self reliance. Severe wounds have been inflicted on the economy by the present Government, which has failed adequately to protect Australian industries and has not properly regulated our trade with other countries. One of the three Bills now before the House provides for the elimination of a tariff of 25 per cent. recently imposed on processed continuous filament manmade fibre yarns. This action illustrates the failure of the present Government adequately to protect our industries.
The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly) and the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Giles) did not deal at any length with the elimination of the 25 per cent. duty on manmade fibre yarns. The honorable members gave the impression that what they were dealing with was a vital principle that was being violated by Australia, the principle of allowing industries that they said were not economic or worth while to be discarded. They said that too much protection was given by the Government to uneconomic industries and that such protection meant, in effect, that manpower would be used in uneconomic industries that could be employed in rural or basic industries. They complained that prohibitive tariffs were preventing the admission to Australia of goods which would enable the man on the land to live and work more cheaply so that he could produce more cheaply rural commodities which could be sold in greater quantities in other countries.
The contention advanced by those honorable members was that if we live in a country which is to any large extent dependent on rural products we should buy our manufactured goods in the world’s cheapest markets. They contended that such a trading basis would enable our rural products to be sold in other countries. That was the general principle that they stated. However, they did not deal at any great length specifically with the man-made fibre industry or refer to the removal of the 25 per cent. tariff on the entry of man-made fibres. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Beaton), in a clear and reasoned speech, said how essential it was that industries of that character should be decentralised. He said that the industry should be protected so that it could continue to provide employment for our people and so that in the future there would be many more employment opportunities.
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten), in discussing this issue, pointed out that in time of peace this industry was necessary for the general development of Australia and that in time of war it was necessary to provide an essential product for the defence and security of the nation. I was watching the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury), who was at the table when the honorable member for Indi, who is a member of the Country Party, was violently defending in this House the protection of secondary industry. I thought that the Minister looked much as Julius Caesar must have looked when he exclaimed, “Et tu Brute “. This was the most unkindest cut of all, when it was necessary for a member of the Country Party to tell members of the Liberal Party that the only reason for protecting an industry was not so that the locally produced goods could be sold more cheaply on the local market than goods imported from the Soviet, Japan or some other place. The honorable member said that there were considerations other than the selling price to determine whether an industry in Australia should be protected.
One consideration is whether an industry is essential for the defence and security of the nation, and this was mentioned by the honorable member for Indi. However, the honorable members for Wakefield and Angas protested at the general principle of protection of secondary industries. Those two honorable members are like the Bourbons in some respects. The Bourbons were said to have learned nothing and to have forgotten nothing, but these honorable members have not merely learned nothing but have forgotten the very recent history of this country. In 1951 the Treasurer of the day, Sir Arthur Fadden, using almost the precise words that the honorable members used in this chamber the other night, said that in Australia there were some industries that were - he did not call them uneconomic - less essential industries. He said that those less essential industries had grown up under the protection of war and had expanded to dimensions out of all proportion to the size to which they should have been permitted to expand. He said, in effect: “By the utilisation and manipulation of the banking and credit resources we will encourage the entry of goods into Australia and discourage the manufacture of less essential goods. Then the workers employed in less essential industries will transfer into rural occupations.” But what happened?
In 1951-52 textiles to the value of £204 million were brought into Australia. In addition, we imported vast quantities of foodstuffs. Yet Australia was one of the greatest food producing countries in the world. As a result of these imports, by March 1952 a total of 150,000 people were unemployed. There had been no increase in the number employed in rural production and our overseas balances were being dissipated. The government of the day immediately reversed its policy. Instead of discouraging the manufacture of goods and encouraging imports, it encouraged manufacture and discouraged imports. Further steps were taken which, in effect, multiplied the effects of tariffs. Import restrictions and import licensing were introduced and, by refusing to permit the entry of textiles and other goods, that government reduced in one year the value of Australia’s imports of textiles from £204 million to £48 million. Further, the government of the day reduced the imports of foodstuffs by more than 50 per cent. It did so because it realised that protective tariffs were not alone the medium by which industries had to be protected.
But what has occurred in Australia since 1952? Gradually the flood of imports has increased. In the 11 years from 1953 to 1964 there have flooded into Australia textiles and made-up apparel valued at £1,300 million. Millions of pounds worth of made-up suits have come from Italy, London, New York, San Francisco and elsewhere. Textiles to the value of hundreds of millions of pounds have poured in. Boots have come from Czechoslovakia, Italy and elsewhere. All kinds of exotic foodstuffs have come into Australia. Millions of guilders worth of packaged peas have come from Holland. Canned chicken has come from Chicago. Canned vegetables and canned fruit have come from San Francisco. All those things have come to this food producing country. Only the other day I read that manufactured trams are to come to Australia from overseas.
Of course, it is alleged that these exotic foodstuffs, made-up clothing and other goods to the value of between £1,000 million and £2,000 million that have been imported have added to and helped in the development of this country. Ants in honey, caviar from Russia and shoes from Communist China have been imported. Have those things helped to develop the industries of Australia? Of course they have not. What they have done is put this country in the position that it must go as a suppliant to the President of the United States in Washington and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at No. 10 Downing Street, begging them to give us preferential treatment in connection with their financial and economic policies. That is what has resulted from the national trading policies that this Government has adopted.
I know that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and other members of the Government try to make it appear that the flow of capital from the United States, the United Kingdom or other countries is a complicated business and something that the ordinary individual cannot possibly understand. I point out that the flow of capital from other countries to Australia is not in the form of currency, but in the form of imported goods. Any policy that encourages the importation of goods that can or should be manufactured or grown in this country means that we are acquiring debts overseas in respect of things that we do not need and should not want. Of course, that is the position that has existed down through the years.
There is no objection by any member of the Labour Party to a trading policy that brings to Australia goods, no matter in what quantity, that add to the development of the nation and the welfare of the people. But there is every objection to a flow of capital into this country in order that we may receive goods which could and should be manufactured here. There is strong objection to that. Neither is there any objection to exotic foodstuffs being imported if this country can pay for them out of the efforts of the people; but if, in order to pay for them, we have to get into debt overseas and we have to sell the farms, factories and mines of Australia, that is not good trading. That is what this Government has been doing for a period of 15 years.
I know that the Treasurer says that when I speak on this subject I suffer what he calls a mental purge. He made that accusation years ago when I suggested that the Government’s policy would lead to exactly the position that Australia is in today. When I was speaking on this subject the other day, the Treasurer said: “The honorable member has an anti-American phobia. He suffers from anti-Americanism “. I certainly do not suffer from anti-Americanism. I give all credit to the United States of America for the great assistance that its people have been to the Australian people. However, I do say that if trading operations - not with the American Government, but with American businessmen - are such that they are detrimental to the welfare of Australia, that they put Australia in the position that we will have difficulty in meeting our obligations to the United States, and that Australia cannot permit the repatriation of American capital invested here and cannot allow the transfer to American investors of the profits made here, then this Government needs to be indicted.
Today I heard on the radio that the Government’s solution of the problems that face Australia will be that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) will say to the American investors: “We will not permit the transfer to the United States of profits made on American capital invested in Australia “. That is exactly what we warned the Government - not today and not yesterday, but 10 years ago - would happen if it continued to pursue a policy of permitting any and every kind of goods to enter this country as an inflow of capital, without giving any consideration at all to whether that capital would reproduce itself within Australia and enable, by its activities within Australia, the payment of the dividends that accrued on it.
Of course, today the Government admits that it is in a jam; but it does not admit that any of its policies have been wrong in any way. It says in effect: “ We will get out of the difficulty that we are in by making a plea to the American Government for preferential treatment, so that that Government will allow the reinvestment in Australia of profits on American investment in Australia and will allow certain amounts of capital to continue to flow to Australia “. The Government is seeking to secure some such assurances from the Prime Minister of England. If it does not get them, what will it do? Change its policy? No, it will go to Japan, West Germany, Holland and other European nations which want particularly good taxation concessions on money they want their nationals to invest in Australia, and the Government will give bigger and bigger concessions to induce money to Australia in order to save the solvency of the Australian nation.
– When did the honorable member dream that one?
– -I asked the Treasurer whether he was going to make an arrangement with Japan whereby Japan would receive taxation concessions, and he did not say “ No “. He said that since last December the Government had been negotiating with the Japanese Government in connection with the matter. I asked him whether the Government of Holland had approached him seeking concessions for its investors and he admitted that it had. He also admitted that the Government of West Germany was seeking similar taxation remissions and concessions. Of course, if such concessions aire given to one nation other nations will be entitled to similar treatment. If Japan, which buys far more from us than we sell to her, asks for a concession from us which a nation which buys far less from us enjoys, then Japan is entitled to that concession too. Of course, neither should get the concession. The only considerations in determining what goods and what capital should come to this country should be the development of the nation and the welfare of the people. On those criteria we should judge all applications from other countries for concessions on the placing of their goods in Australia.
I pointed out that in 1951 there was a flood of goods to this country. In 1952 the Government imposed a prohibitive tariff upon the goods because unemployment was increasing and because there had been a diminution of our overseas funds. The flood of goods recommenced in 1953 and it continued to 1964 to such an extent that apparel and textiles to the value of £1,300 million came to this country and in 1964 foodstuffs valued at £56 million were imported. Why did they not cause unemployment? Why did they not dissipate our funds? Only because the goods which came to this country were paid for by other countries. If we had had to pay for them we would have been as we were in 1952 - facing national insolvency. We would have had unemployment. The goods and the wealth which have come to this country have not created employment. They have resulted in the construction of vast 20-storey buildings in Melbourne, Sydney and elsewhere - buildings which supply office accommodation surplus to our needs for many years. This inflow of capital and goods has not added to the production of our country to the extent it should have done.
The Government is going on a begging expedition to other countries asking them to let money come to this country to pay for exotic foodstuffs and other commodities which we cannot afford. Australia cannot afford to buy suits of clothes from Italy. Australia cannot afford to be fed with caviare from Russia and with exotic foodstuffs from Italy. Australia cannot afford to have packaged peas from Holland nor can it afford to buy manufactured trams for Melbourne which will be paid for not from the results of our own industry but with goods representing capital flowing into Australia from other countries, dividends and interest upon which must be paid for by this and future generations
– We cannot always sell and never buy.
– That is right. Japan has set the example. What one buys with the goods one sells are the goods one needs. What we sell is what she needs, and in her legislation she says: “ We will not buy anything that does not make for the development of our nation, the welfare of our people and the protection of our overseas funds “. That is the policy which this Government should have proceeded with instead of drifting into a position which is fraught with disaster for the people of this nation.
.- I support the Bills now before the House. I must confess that I was unable to ascertain the position which the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) took in this matter, but we were treated by him to a discourse on the new economics - or, rather, on economics which were new about 150 years ago. However, they still keep bobbing up. Whenever a country is unfortunate enough to have these economics inflicted upon it they always have decidedly adverse results, as I believe the people of Britain are discovering on this very day. Another fact which emerged clearly from his remarks is that if by some mischance the Socialist Labour Party finds its way to the government benches austerity will be foisted upon the public willy nilly.
The honorable member did much less than justice to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly) and the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Giles). He said in a particularly, I thought, unmerited way that they knew nothing and they had forgotten nothing. Of course, that was completely unjustified, and I think he should have second thoughts about that statement. I pay particular tribute to the honorable member for Wakefield for his great study of tariff problems - his devoted and dedicated study of them. I must confess that when I see another batch of Tariff Board reports arriving my heart sinks within me and I think: “ How on earth am I going to be able to do justice to these? “ I believe that the honorable member for Wakefield has put much dedicated study into this subject. Before I get to the main theme of my remarks I should like to make one or two comments on these new economics propounded by the previous speaker.
– If I put them to my taxi driver he would think that whoever wanted to introduce them were a lot of dills.
– Well, I could sympathise with that taxi driver’s viewpoint. I see much on which he could base that opinion. The honorable member said that Australia is going to the United Kingdom and the United States as a suppliant. If he had read his newspaper he would have seen that the current Budget in Britain has not affected capital inflow from Britain to Australia at all. If he believes that speaking man to man with the President of the United States or his deputy about mutual problems of capital inflow to Australia is going as a suppliant, he should view the matter a bit more objectively because Australia has been brought by this Government to such a pitch of responsibility in the world that she goes as suppliant to nobody. In any case, why should the Treasurer not go to the United States to ensure an inflow of capital from that country? Any body except a purblind Socialist would realise that to lose this inflow of capital would be a national disaster. On second thoughts, perhaps this might redound to the Opposition’s advantage because we all know that the Socialist Labour Party thrives on adversity. Perhaps it will suit the Labour Party if we do not get this capital inflow which is so absolutely essential to our progress. Of course, the honorable member chooses to forget that when we import capital we also import know-how and that this importation has had no small part to play in the unprecedented progress this country has made up to this stage.
Tariff study is a most difficult and complicated matter. I do not think any private member can really hope to be able to arrive at a completely accurate conclusion because he simply does not have the data at his disposal. But I would like to say that I have some misgivings about Item No. 330 in the Second Schedule to the Bill. The item refers to polybutadiene and styrene polybutadiene synthetic rubber. Butadiene is a substance used in tyre manufacture. This protection could well add more than £1 million to the cost of producing tyres in this country. I am not criticising this. As I say, I do not have sufficient data at my disposal, but there are many points that should be considered. The first is that the tyre manufacturing com panies made an investigation of the estimated quantity of this substance which would be required in 1965. They are in a very good position to make an accurate estimate. Their estimate turned out to be accurate. The overseas owned Australian Synthetic Rubber Limited made its own investigation of requirements here. It transpired that its estimate was about 35 per cent, in excess of the actual requirements of this industry. Apparently a new company is about to be formed to manufacture butadiene. I have some misgivings about this but I confess that I do not know what will happen under these circumstances. I think probably very few people in this country can provide the answer to this question.
This is the sort of problem that is faced continually by the Tariff Board and it must impose an enormous burden on the Board in having to sort out these various matters. I believe that, on the whole, decisions of the Tariff Board have been wise and in the interests of the country as a whole. We all know that Australia has made unprecedented progress under this Government. This progress has been possible only because we have had good government. Australia is not naturally particularly well endowed. Enlightened government is most necessary to ensure that the best possible use is made of the resources at our disposal. Consequently it is essential that we should continue to have good government.
To those who say that this is not so and that automatically Australia will prosper I point to our near neighbour Indonesia, which is very richly endowed by nature but which is in a state of permanent bankruptcy simply because of the highly inept government with which the country is afflicted at the present time. I referred a few moments ago to Great Britain. After a politically contrived financial crisis - I admit there were problems but nothing in the nature of a crisis - engineered, by the Socialists to enable them to re-introduce their antedeluvian sledgehammer form of economics, concerning some of which we had a lesson a few minutes ago, Great Britain is rapidly becoming once more the austere unhappy island of the postwar socialist days. I think it is quite plain that governments have a fundamental effect on the fortunes of a country. It is equally plain that our Government has succeeded in strengthening and developing the country and in keeping it a free country and a most pleasant and desirable place in which to live. In all this the Tariff Board has played its part under great difficulties. Its task is an unenviable one. Moreover, I cannot see those difficulties diminishing. I believe they will increase very considerably in number and in complexity. For instance, the Australian Chemical Industry Council has made proposals in relation to an enormous range of chemical substances for which it hopes to obtain protection by substantial tariffs. Butadiene is one of those substances. The Council has made a number of very interesting assertions in a preamble to its proposals. It has stated -
The Australian chemical industry has an important role in the economy. It is essential for defence; it employs many scientists- [Quorum formed.]
We have just been treated to the great game of “form a quorum”, which, of course, is played by anybody with an intelligence quotient of less than SO. I cannot see the purpose of it unless it is to ensure more members on the Opposition benches, because we on this side were certainly quite well represented. I was quoting from the proposals of the Australian Chemical Industry Council -
The Australian chemical industry has an important role in the economy. It is essential for defence; it employs many scientists and technologists; it has stimulated the local construction industry in building its plants and has helped develop special skills in the engineering industry. It is one of the largest users of services such as electricity. It is increasingly import-saving in character . . . Over this period profits of the chemical industry have been inadequate.
This raises very many highly complex questions. For example, it is said that the chemical industry is essential for defence. How much of this industry is essential for defence? Are detergents, for example, essential for defence? I do not know, but these are the sort of questions that are raised. Is the whole industry essential for defence? If there is no chemical industry here, what will our position be in time of war? What volume of chemical imports could be expected in time of war?
Again, it is said that the industry employs many scientists and technologists. What is the position in Australia with regard to scientists and technologists? I believe that at present there is a very considerable shortage of them and that our defence effort is probably suffering because of this shortage. In what way will the chemical industry affect this problem? The Australian Chemical Industry Council said further that the chemical industry has stimulated the local construction industry. I believe that because of the prosperity engendered by this Government the construction industry is working to a very high level of capacity. Will the extra buildings required for the chemical industry add to the cost of home ownership? There are many other questions involved. For instance, there is the question of profits. What is an adequate profit for a chemical industry company?
Then there is a further general question: How many of these protective tariffs can the country absorb, having regard to the repercussions of such tariffs, such as on the tertiary users of the products concerned? I am not pretending to answer these questions but I do believe they are very important, and I ask myself whether the Tariff Board is the appropriate body to make these determinations.
Let us take another product, the chemical substance urea. A 25 per cent, tariff has been proposed for this substance by the Australian Chemical Industry Council. This will mean that the price of urea will increase by £8 a ton. I understand that urea is simply a by-product of the ammonia industry and that only about 50 men are employed in Australia in its production. Nevertheless it is a most important nitrogenous fertiliser, and cheap urea would stimulate primary production enormously. It would almost certainly result in our being able to export more primary products, which are our most important exports, and to export them for sale overseas at more competitive prices. It could also mean cheaper food for the people of Australia. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation through its Division of Tropical Pastures is achieving wonderful results in the development of new pastures. Some grasses which are under development grow so luxuriantly that I believe it will be many years before a legume will be found which will even look like supplying sufficient nitrogen for these grasses to realise their potentiality. Cheap urea would certainly help enormously to solve the problem involved in this development. These are the kinds of problems I am trying to bring to the notice of the House, Mr. Deputy
Speaker. There are probably other considerations involved in the production of urea. Defence could be a consideration. The necessity to develop our scientific technology could be a consideration.
There is another point I would like to bring to the notice of the House. If an industry is to be protected from overseas competition by means of tariffs, is it not reasonable to expect that it should accept obligations and fulfil those obligations in return for this protection? I believe that in return for such tariff support an industry should not only make itself as efficient as possible but should also locate itself in the most suitable area. This again raises enormous problems, but it is a very important matter when considering national development. For example, there is again the consideration of defence involved in the question as to where an industry should be located in time of war. Should it be handy to the cities or should it be located in some place where it will be less subject to widespread bombing attacks? Then there is the consideration of national development as such. Would it be better to locate the industry somewhere in the north or somewhere in the south? Would it be of advantage to locate the industry near to the users of its product? For example, fertilisers are very expensive to transport, and if a certain fertiliser is mostly used in Queensland it would be cheaper to transport it from Brisbane than from Melbourne. There are other factors involved. Should the industry, for instance, be located near the cheapest source of power and raw materials?
These are questions which I cannot answer and do not attempt to answer. I do suggest, however, that it is asking a lot of the Tariff Board if we expect it to provide all the answers to these questions. I believe these questions to be so complex that the Executive itself may be required in the near future to play a more basic role in determining the answers to them. For instance, at least the Department of Primary Industry, the Department of Trade, the Department of Customs and Excise, the Department of National Development and the defence departments would be affected by a decision concerning this simple substance urea which I mentioned before. Consequently I believe that a well inte grated department should be established to consider all these problems so that the Tariff Board could be made more of an instrument of government policy than it is at the moment. Such a department could prepare submissions and perhaps it could act as a sort of devil’s advocate before the Board. In this way the Board could give more careful consideration to the view of Cabinet upon a particular problem or to matters which Cabinet believes to be of special importance. The department could also consider in advance matters that it believed would be raised before the Board in the future. In this way the burden of the Board could be lightened, hearings facilitated and delays reduced.
Another question arises which has given me pause: Under whose aegis should this department operate? [Quorum formed.] I apologise to the House for this further example of Opposition infantility. When I was considering under whose aegis this new department should operate, my first thought was that it should be the Department of National Development. I thought that, since so much of this matter does have an important bearing on the development of our country, this would be a fitting place for it to be administered. Then, on further consideration, I could see that this department is too limited in its dealings with the everyday economic activties of the country, so I looked elsewhere. I considered the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Customs and Excise and dismissed them for rather similar reasons. I felt that the decision really rested between the Treasury and the Prime Minister’s Department. It would seem logical to me that an organisation which would impinge upon so many ministerial departments and become an instrument of Government policy should be under the direction of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) himself. I know that this would impose a still greater burden on the shoulders of this great man who so magnificently is directing our destiny. But I do believe that if this department were to operate for any length of time it would be found that much of the work would be taken from the shoulders of Cabinet as a whole.
I am sorry that I have been unable to produce anything more detailed than this in the time that I have had at my disposal to look at the problem. I would say that, although economists would be very necessary in such a department, they would have to be selected with great care. They would need to be practical economists and not the sort of people who float around in the insubstantial ether which permeates the London School of Economics. I believe it would be vitally essential to see that there was effective liaison between Government departments and this new department. That point should be absolutely ensured. It may be objected that Cabinet reviews decisions made by the Tariff Board. I know that this is so. But Cabinet’s time is limited, and it is probably overworked already. I think it is inevitable in these circumstances that Cabinet would sometimes be precluded by sheer pressure of more urgent business from a full consideration of decisions of the Tariff Board. I believe that this new department would be a great help to Cabinet itself, and that it would help to save Cabinet’s time in the long run and lead to decisions which would be based upon more comprehensive data. I hope that the Government will look at these rather unpolished suggestions to see whether they do contain anything of merit.
.- The discussion of tariff proposals in this House has become of greater interest to honorable members since the operations of the Department of Trade and Industry began to build up an enormous manufacturing industry in Australia. In my experience in this place, tariff proposals have led to only a very short discussion. With respect to certain single items which have come before us, many members of this House have not bothered to take an interest. But since the advent of this new Department and the sharpening of the interest of honorable members in these matters by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly), together with the crisis in tariffs which could be approaching, many more honorable members have been rising in their places to discuss these matters.
The background of this situation is that Australia is a great trading nation. About 90 per cent, of that trading is represented by the export of rural commodities. Last year, total exports earned about £1,300 million of which £1,100 million came from rural exports. These exports are sold on the world markets. The honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs) spoke about prices. Australia has to get what prices it can for its goods. We sell them at world parity. Various schemes have been brought in to stabilise certain primary industries. But, in fact, the goods that we export are sold for whatever prices we can get for them. We get rid of them at whatever price is offering. We have to accept the word market price, whatever it is.
The Government has been pursuing a policy which, in effect, provides that we must increase our population. We cannot do so by means of our rural industries because, in the last 10 years, they have doubled the volume of their production although fewer people have been engaged in them. There are fewer people in the rural industries today and yet there is greater production. So, we do not increase our population by means of rural industry. The Government has said that if we are to increase our population, we need to have factories. By means of the device of the Department of Trade and Industry and by the operation at certain stages of import licensing, Australia has begun to build up enormous manufacturing industries based on our coal and steel industries which supply the basic materials required by factories. We produce great quantities of steel, which is one of the sinews of manufacture. We have 10 times more iron ore than any other country, the ore itself is richer. We have enormous coal deposits. Gas has been discovered and fuels are being found, but they are great distances from the capital cities and the development of them involves heavy expenditure. So Australia is doing what the United States of America did many years ago and has begun to build up great manufacturing industries.
Now we have come to a crisis. Great groups of factories and companies have prepared for years for a movement to the Tariff Board. One which has been referred to is the chemical industry and synthetic resins. The transcript of evidence of the public hearing covers 4,000 pages and evidence from the private hearing occupies another 4,000 pages. The honorable member for Bowman has, we hope, been able to read this evidence. He is of a studious nature - an intellectual - and would get through it.
I have had the experience of asking the Department of Customs and Excise, the Tariff Board, and the Commonwealth Reporting Branch for a copy of the transcript of evidence. I thought it should be made available to members of this Parliament who would have to deal with the report of the Tariff Board when it came before Parliament. I was told I could have the transcript provided I paid £220 for the evidence for that week and £750 for the evidence up to the previous Friday for it. This is a mere amount of £970- just to enable me to have a look at papers which I thought were necessary to a member of Parliament. Other people did not think so.
– Did the honorable member pay that amount?
– I have managed to get a copy of the transcript in the Parliamentary Library. The honorable member for Bass may go there and start to read the 4,000 pages. 1 may say, in passing, it is most illuminating to learn of the reasons, difficulties and economic problems in bringing a great chemical industry into Australia.
Now, we face this situation: For the first time, an application comes before the Tariff Board which asks for groups of tariffs - in other words, tariffs in baskets, not for one item or two items, but whole groups. There are, in fact, 20,000 items in the one application before the Board for chemicals and synthetic resins. These are the results of the new age, the scientific age, which produces the exotic detergents, ureas, phenols, thiabenzole, phenothiazine, and the rest. The honorable member for Bowman spoke about the use of urea as a fertiliser. Urea now becomes an important additive to feed. This great searing drought that is afflicting our country has resulted in an enormous amount of dry feed which is deficient in protein. When cattle are fed urea in licks such as mineral licks, molasses licks, morea and protoblocs, they are able by some process that occurs in their stomachs to digest the dry feed and thereby get more protein and nitrogen. Urea is included in an application now before Tariff Board covering 20,000 items. The application seeks a British preferential tariff of 15 per cent, and a most favoured nation tariff of 25 per cent, for urea. Hitherto, urea has been imported free of tariff. The application asked the Board to deal with items of manufacture not yet known or used in Australia but in connection with which companies might become established here in the next four or five years. It is a tremendous application. We in this Parliament will be asked to consider the question in the limited time that is available here for discussion. We will have to decide whether we are going to continue expanding our rural industries in order to earn the export income necessary to pay for imports. Let me inform the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) that without the export income earned by our rural industries we would not be able to pay for the things we import for secondary industries. Why, 70 per cent, of our imports are processed further in Australia after importation. The only way in which we can hope to pay for these imports is for our rural industries to continue to earn an export income, and in some cases those rural industries have to contend with catastrophic falls in overseas prices. The rural industries will now be asked to bear the burden of increased tariffs on what are in fact the sinews of production in the rural industries.
Knowing that Australians would be proud to have great new chemical industries, we have to decide whether we will throw caution to the winds and grant a tariff to protect those enormous chemical giants which, by their cartels in America and England, have shown just how powerful they can be. We have to decide whether we will allow such industries to come into Australia - and we want them for many reasons. We do not want them so much for employment purposes, because they do not employ many people, but we want to have the products of these industries manufactured in Australia in case some world wide conflagration might prevent our obtaining them from the countries by which we are now supplied. We have to decide whether our rural industries can continue to bear the burden of exporting enormous quantities of wool, wheat, sugar, meat, butter, cheese and so on to pay for the imports that are so necessary to us.
If we decide to admit these giant chemical industries to Australia we shall then be asked to charge our rural exporting industries a greater amount for the things they need, despite the fact that, after meeting these higher charges, they must compete on the world’s markets, must sell on whatever market they can get. Thank goodness some of our rural industries are meeting with good demands. Beef, veal and so .on seem to be in good world demand and, although the demand for wool and sugar is declining, it is still fairly good.
Can this Parliament decide these important questions without giving them the study they should have? I remind the House that the Tariff Board has before it thousands of pages of transcript of evidence, whereas the Minister comes before this Parliament with only a few words saying in effect that the Government recommends certain things. In this instance, I suppose his speech introducing the Bill would occupy about half a foolscap page. In effect, he really said that the Government recommended the adoption of the schedules by the Parliament, and and we are left to wrestle our way through them.
There is a change taking place. These practices are coming to an inevitable end. We have to meet these changes. It was plain sailing, while we were able to absorb these factories, to give them protection. Indeed, we felt proud to be a great manufacturing nation. But we have now reached the stage where these huge companies, with all the power and wealth they have behind them, and with all the knowledge they have gained in other countries, after having sold us their products for some years, are employing highly paid experts to prove conclusively to the Tariff Board that they ought to come to Australia and that we ought to have them here. We have to decide whether we can bear the cost of allowing them to establish themselves here. In certain cases we have to decide whether we will agree to the establishment of more companies than are needed, sometimes many years before they are needed, and then embark upon what might be a raid on our primary industries.
It may be argued by some that these companies will save us £20 million a year in imports. That is a very significant amount of money, but when you relate it to the £1,100 million worth of rural exports which can be affected the problem becomes a most difficult one. If this country continues its present phenomenal rate of expansion of rural development, then £20 million will be a mere bagatelle compared with the enormous value of the increased exports that will result from that rural development. It will be of little significance if, for instance, the beef industry can be developed in Queensland and other parts of the north to the stage where we become the greatest beef exporting country in the world. We are almost at that point now. If the suppliers of the chemicals used by our primary industries keep prices at a reasonable level the problem will not be so great. At the present time, such things as urea, the materials used on sheep to defeat the worm problem, and carbon tetrachloride for the treatment of fruit trees, attract no tariff, but it would seem that in future they are to be sold to our Australian primary producers at what could be threateningly high prices. It was stated by the chemical companies that if a tariff could be imposed on these items they would not have to increase present prices. In other words, they said that if they have a high tariff barrier to prevent anything else from being imported in competition with their products they might undertake to keep down the prices charged to the Australian consumer. In my book, it would be quite all right if they kept to that undertaking, but an application such as the one under consideration, which covers 20,000 separate items divided into huge groups, is something which neither this Parliament nor this country has seen before, and it is essential that we approach it with care.
I believe that the honorable member for Wakefield should continue his studies of this matter, provided he is not required to do too much work as the Deputy Whip. Again, I commend the problem to the study of the handsome young man from Bowman (Mr. Gibbs), with all his university training, the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Giles) and that fresh young man from the Legislative Council of the deep south, the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Bridges-Maxwell). Perhaps they could be assisted by the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns), who made a quite notable contribution to this debate on Thursday morning, although I know that the Australian Labour Party has been traditionally a high tariff party. I know, too, that the trade unions and management have got together to increase tariffs and so raise prices in this country. This is also a problem that might be studied by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Beaton) who, as a rural producer, has to steer a course somewhere between two forces. I commend to the study of all honorable members the question of whether we are to develop great factories in this country at the expense of losing our rural production and, as a consequence, the export income earned by those rural industries.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills together read a second time.
– The first Bill for consideration is the Customs Tariff Bill (No. 1) 1965.
Customs Tariff Bill (No. 1) 1965.
.- Mr. Chairman, I wish to discuss items 110 and 482 under the heading, “ Division V - Textiles, Felts and Furs, and Manufactures thereof, and Attire”, in the First Schedule to the Customs Tariff Bill (No. 1). The Tariff Board, in the first part of its report on ribbons made from manmade fibres, recommended the continuation of the existing rates of duty. These are 40 per cent, most favoured nation, or Id. per yard less 12i per cent, of the cost, whichever returns the higher rate. The Board did not state what is the average cost of a yard of ribbon. So it is difficult to find out what is the effect of these duties. We know that the duty cannot be less than 40 per cent. So, if the cost is Id. a yard, the rate of duty works out at 87 per cent. Evidently, the average cost per yard is more than this.
If one cares to take a pad of paper and half a day off, one can perhaps calculate that the average cost per yard of imported ribbon is 3.367d. If that is so, the average duty would be .875d. a yard, giving an average ad valorem rate of 26 per cent. In this case, the effective duty would be the alternative rate of 40 per cent. On single satin ribbon, one quarter of an inch wide, which costs 8s. per gross yard - that is 144 yards - the duty works out at lis. or 135 per cent. If the ribbon is five eighths of an inch wide, the cost is 13s. and the duty 10s. 6d., or more than 80 per cent. Why the Tariff Board cannot present us with a table showing the percentage effect of its recommendations at varying costs of ribbon, I cannot understand. I know that it is difficult for honorable members to follow the Board’s reports on items such as these, but there is little inducement for us to make the effort to understand them if they are not presented in such a way as to make it comparatively easy to study a table that presents the effects of the Board’s recommendations clearly. This would save an immense amount of research.
There are three sections of the Tariff Board’s report on ribbons made from manmade fibres. The next section to which I refer deals with cotton tapes. The old duty used to be 50 per cent, most favoured nation. This should surely be enough to protect an efficient industry. Cotton, of course, receives particularly generous protection these days. The Board recommended duty at the rate of 50 per cent., plus 2s. per gross yard. I want all honorable members to listen and to hear this. So I shall repeat it: The Board recommended duty at the rate of 50 per cent., plus 2s. per gross yard. The only way to find out the ad valorem effect of this recommendation is, again, to take half a day off and grind out the calculation that is necessary. The Minister for Housing (Mr. Budy), who is at the table, has a mathematically brilliant mind and he can probably romp through mathematical problems like these. It took me half a day of continual hard slogging. If the tape costs 2s. per gross yard, the duty is 150 per cent. At 3s., it is 116 per cent.; at 4s., 100 per cent.; at 6s., 88 per cent., and so on.
Obviously, the rate of protection is exceptionally high. If one relies on the information presented by the Tariff Board in its report, one needs a degree in mathematics to discover exactly how high the duty is. So I went to the trade to find out what the duty really meant - in other words, what was the f.o.b. price of ribbon. I now know that, on a 1,000 yard roll of natural cotton tape one quarter of an inch wide, the old duty was 27 per cent, at the British preferential rate and the new duty 91.6 per cent., or an increase of 233 per cent. On one inch tape, the new duty is lower, at 52.2 per cent. When a specific duty is added to an ad valorem duty, or a specific duty is proposed in any way, as is recommended by the Tariff Board in this instance, one would expect the Board to make a special effort to inform us of the effect of its recommendation. I suggest that the Board, when it recommends specific duties, ought to prepare a table giving the ad valorem incidence at the different prices. Failure to do so leaves the whole subject clouded with mysticism.
Speaking of mysticism, I now come to the third section of the Tariff Board’s report - that dealing with shoulder straps. There is no one in this chamber who is not well aware of the importance of shoulder straps, how much depends on them and how much hangs on the Board’s recommendations, so to speak, if not on the shoulder straps. The Board recommends a duty of 2d. a pair. But there is nothing in the report to suggest whether shoulder straps cost 2d. or 2s. a pair. If the cost is 2d. a pair, the duty is at the rate of 100 per cent. If the cost is 2s. a pair, the duty is at the rate of less than 10 per cent. I have a hazy idea that the cost is nearer 2d. a pair, because, obviously, the Board feels a bit uneasy, since it states that it regards the duty as rather high. But how high is it? The only way that one can find out is by going to the trade. In November, a shipment of shoulder straps that cost 28s. a gross pair - or 144 pairs - was landed. The duty was 24s., at an ad valorem rate of 86 per cent. The cost of another shipment was 21s. a gross pair, and the duty 24s., or 114 per cent.
I agree with the Tariff Board that the duty is “ rather high “, as it states in its report. I have an advantage over most honorable members now because I know roughly how high the duty is. An assessment is easy to arrive at. When the women of Australia step out, arrayed in buttons and bows and ribbons and shoulder straps - the latter, I understand, are almost essential - they should realise what has happened. If one notices a trace of irritation in one’s fair companion as she snatches rather angrily at her elusive attachments, it may be that she has heard that fewer than 20 manufacturers make shoulder straps, and she may be wondering whether it all is worthwhile. What is to prevent the Tariff Board from giving use the true facts and figures? I use the word “figures” in the statistical sense. The Board may be afraid to let the women of Australia know what it has done to them.
Motion (by Mr. Swartz) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Speaker, my mission in rising tonight is to bring to the notice of the House and, in particular, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) what I consider to be a grave injustice meted out to one of my constituents by the Department of Social Services in Newcastle. This is only the second occasion in five years that I have raised my voice in this place about what I have considered to be a grievous injustice to a member of the community. I do not believe in taking up the time of Parliament by raising matters that can be rectified with officers of the Department. However, I take this opportunity to bring a matter before the House.
I want to say at the outset that my relations with the Regional Director of Social Services in Newcastle have been harmonious and I hope that they will not be estranged through my raising this matter tonight. To my mind the case to which I shall refer screams for justice. This matter relates to an unfortunate woman. Last night I sought her permission to mention her name. She is not a person who seeks publicity, but she said: “Yes; there may be similar cases of injustice which may be recti fled if my case is publicised.” The woman to whom I refer is Mrs. Janet Arnold, who is S3 years old and who has been residing at No. 1 Gertrude Street, Cardiff South. Mrs. Arnold is divorced. She is an Australian born citizen who came to Newcastle on 6th April last year. She registered for employment at the Newcastle employment office on the following day.
I have made careful inquiries and have been assured that she is a person of impeccable character. Not so long ago she was engaged as a nurse in New Guinea and has held the position of assistant matron. She has nursed at the United Protestant Home at Warringah. She was deserted by her husband. A divorce case followed, but through lack of finance she was unable to pursue court proceedings to obtain a maintenance order against her husband. Her health has broken down completely and recently she applied for a deserted wives’ pension. That application was made out in my office with the aid of my secretary on 8th February this year. Mrs. Arnold did not receive a reply to her application until 4th March, when she was informed that she was not eligible for a social service pension of the type for which she had applied.
Through the charity of people who have a high regard for this unfortunate woman she has received some food which has been taken to her by Sister Craig of the Newcastle hospital. Because of her shocking state of health - I am not over emphasising her condition - some of her friends from the Watt Street mental hospital took her in, housed her and cared for her. Mrs. Arnold had her right breast removed recently because of a cancerous growth. This morning she travelled to Sydney to undergo specialist treatment because of the fear of the cancer spreading. Mrs. Arnold has had a very good upbringing. Her father was headmaster or deputy headmaster at a high school in Newcastle.
The main point that I want to stress is that I have been reliably informed that an investigator from the Department of Social Services went to this unfortunate woman’s home. I know that these officers have to carry out investigations and do so in as gentlemanly a manner as possible. The officer searched this unfortunate woman’s home in Cardiff, possibly at her invitation because of the approach that he had made to her. The investigator complained about a pair of shoes being in her wardrobe. He said they were men’s shoes. I think that most honorable members are men of common sense and will appreciate that someone seeing nursing shoes with low heels could gain the impression that they were mens’ shoes. When he saw the shoes the investigator formed the opinion that the woman had a de facto husband.
A man to whom I shall refer as R.D., because I have not his permission to mention his name, and who lives at Cook’s Hill, for charitable reasons and because of his deep sympathy for this unfortunate woman went to her home at Cardiff and effected some repairs. He remained there for three weeks and for three weeks only. Mrs. Arnold has made a statutory declaration to this effect. As a result of the friendship, sympathy and kindness of R.D., the Department of Social Services has taken the view that he was a de facto husband and for that reason, I understand, has denied her a deserted wives’ pension or even an invalid pension to which I believe she would be eligible today in her state of health.
A reputable firm of solicitors in Sydney, Campbell and Co., has known this woman for many years. A member of the firm has written to my office and, I understand, to the Social Services office saying that this woman is of very good character. The letter stated that in all her dealings with the firm she had been beyond reproach. It emphasised also that the firm has known her for many years and accepts that her statements about her relations with the man R.D. have been completely truthful. I wrote to Mr. Beasly, the Regional Director at Newcastle, on 12th March asking that this case be reviewed and that justice be granted to this unfortunate woman.
I remind honorable members that this is only the second time that I have brought a case like this before the Parliament. I do not believe in raising matters that I consider have not a worth while foundation, but, Mr. Minister, it screams in my mind and my heart that this case reeks of injustice and calls for your immediate intervention. In this case let justice flow down the mountain in a mighty stream. Do not let Australia be accused of meting out this treatment to this unfortunate, sick woman who is suffering from cancer and whose days are closing in on her. Let her be given her just entitlements as a respectable citizen of this community.
– Naturally, I know nothing of the actual instance to which the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has referred. I will have the circumstances of the disallowance of Mrs. Arnold’s application for a pension investigated. However, 1 assure the honorable member and the House that extremely high standards are expected of each and every one of the investigators in the Department of Social Services. Whenever any complaint is lodged by either an individual applicant or any other member of the community - whether it be on his own behalf or through his member of Parliament - every effort is made to make a fair and judicious inquiry into the complaint, and immediate action is taken to have the position rectified if an officer is found to be at fault in any way. I might add that in the short time for which I have been responsible for the Social Services portfolio, I have not had any occasion to reprimand any officer of the Department for the manner in which he has conducted his investigations. In this instance, if there is any case for a reprimand, I certainly will see that one is given. In any event, I assure the honorable member that every effort will be made to ascertain the reasons behind the Department’s rejection of Mrs. Arnold’s application.
.- In Melbourne recently the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) said that overseas capital controlled 95 per cent, of Australia’s motor vehicle and petroleum industries and 97 per cent, of its pharmaceutical industry. I do not intend to deal with that statement. Rather shall I show the control that foreign interests have over this Government in other spheres of activity. Tonight I will refer particularly to R. W. Miller and his endeavour to break the foreign shipping combines’ monopoly on the Australian coast by using tankers flying the Australian flag and employing Australian crews at Australian rates of pay, and to the fact that foreign combines have received protection from this Government to such an extent that they are forcing R. W. Miller to dispose of his tankers.
I want to recall very briefly, for the benefit of the House, the history of this matter. Honorable members may recollect that in 1961 R. W. Miller decided to take advantage of the Navigation Act and to put Australian tankers on the Australian coast. There was immediate opposition from the representatives of the oil combines. They were assisted by this Government, which was opposed to Australian interests participating in the coastal shipping trade in particular. Foreign vessels with cheap labour crews were encouraged by the Government. R. W. Miller’s attempt to put tankers with Australian crews on the Australian coast met with strong opposition from members of the Government parties. It was a strange situation, because the Australian Government was assisting overseas combines, which used cheap labour crews, against an Australian who was endeavouring to put Australian ships on the coast.
The proposals which were opposed included an application by R. W. Miller for permission to import a vessel. That application was rejected by the then Minister for Shipping and Transport, the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman). Then, in 1962, with an election pending, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) decided that something should be done. Consequently, he overrode the then Minister for Snipping and Transport, and approval was given. R. W. Miller then brought in his first ship, “ Miller’s Canopus “. I was present when it arrived in Sydney and was handed over. The Labour Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Renshaw, was among the people who welcomed it.
– He is a good Premier.
– He certainly is. Like all good Labour Premiers, he welcomes Australian ships on our coast. Subsequently, the honorable member for Corio was replaced by the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) as Minister for Shipping and Transport. The Minister and the Government placed all kinds of obstacles in the way of R. W. Miller operating ships on the Australian coast. The result was that the Minister demanded £250,000 cash per vessel as a guarantee that Miller would build two or three ships in Australia within three years. The Government requested Miller to put down cash, but no such request had ever been made to the foreign combines that were operating on the coast. None of the controls that the Government sought to impose on R. W. Miller’s ships and the building of ships was ever imposed on the overseas combines. They were never even required to use Australian shipyards for maintenance work.
Fourteen years after being elected, this Government decided that it had to have some policy on this matter because of the public support in trade union and other circles for Miller’s attempt to break tha overseas combines’ monopoly, with their cheap labour crews, and to replace their ships with Australian owned ships. However, in order to protect the foreign monopolists against Australian competition, all kinds of obstacles were placed in the way of R. W. Miller. Bonds were demanded and certain building promises were requested. The huge profits of oil companies over the years could be quoted, but there has never been a’ demand that the oil companies build tankers in Australia and use them on the Australian coast. After R. W. Miller got going, the charge was made against him that he had made about £80,000 profit from his first ship.
Despite all the wild statements that were made from time to time by the present Minister for Shipping and Transport, R. W. Miller eventually imported two more tankers. All seemed well on the Australian coast. We had Australian ships with Australian crews. But what happened? All kinds of reasons were used to deny to R. W. Miller’s ships the oil cargoes that he wanted. His ships were idle for long periods. All kinds of excuses were given for granting permits for ships to carry cargoes while R. W. Miller’s ships were idle. The result is that now cargoes are not available to R. W. Miller’s ships, but evidently they are freely available to foreign vessels which are making huge profits out of Australians.
When certain specifications for ships were required to be given, R. W. Miller was required to give them within about 48 hours, whereas the usual time allowed is three months or more. I mention these matters in order to show that every possible obstacle was placed in the way of R. W. Miller’s tankers, in order to prevent them competing with the overseas combines’ ships which were plying on the Australian coast with cheap labour crews. After all these obstacles were put in the way and when his vessels were unable to obtain cargoes, Mr. Miller announced that he would be forced to sell his ships because he could not maintain them with the limited cargoes that were available. I quote the following passages from an article which appeared in the Melbourne “Age” on Thursday, 18th March, under the heading “Tanker Crew to be Dismissed; Outlook Obscure “ -
Mr. Miller decided to sell his tankers because he alleged his coastal shipping business was being squeezed out by discriminatory action by oil companies.
Oil companies were not giving his Australianowned and manned ships contracts to keep them in work.
Mr. Miller said no new contracts had been taken up for Millers Canopus and Millers McArthur and the crew of the R. W. Miller would be paid off tomorrow. . . .
Mr. Miller repeated his allegation that oil companies were manoeuvring to keep his fleet idle. “ Only today B.P. applied for a permit to lift 17,500 tons from Kwinana (W.A.) to Melbourne, the cargo to be lifted on Sunday,” he said. “ B.P. knows that we could not possibly get a ship to Kwinana by then. “ It is obvious the oil companies wait until they know where our ships are and then apply for cargo at ports we could not possibly reach in time.”
I have not time to go into all these matters, but what I have said indicates the background to the situation.
On 30th March in another place, Senator Fitzgerald pointed out to the nation what was being done in order to force these Australian ships to be taken off the Australian coast so that foreign owned tankers with cheap labour crews might operate. In this House on 31st March the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) directed a very pertinent question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. The Minister gave an hysterical reply. T have not time to read the question that was asked by the honorable member for Newcastle. It was a pertinent question and pointed the finger at the efforts of the Government to destroy an Australian scheme to build up a tanker fleet and to replace it with foreign control of our coastal shipping, which has always been the Government’s policy, although it contradicts the Navigation Act. The honorable member for Newcastle pointed out the damage that was being done by the policy of the Government and the need for assistance to be given to R. W. Miller and others in order that they might not only stimulate shipbuilding in our shipyards but also put on the Australian coast ships manned by Australian crews, paid in accordance with Australian awards. The position today is that Miller’s tankers are up for sale, to the eternal discredit of this Government. An Australian has been betrayed by a Liberal Party Government in the interests of foreign combines. The Navigation Act of 1912, which gave priority to Australian ships on the coastal trade and which was introduced by the Fisher Government, was amended in 1961 by this Government which now, by intimidatory methods and by denying Australian tankers necessary cargoes, prevents Miller from operating his tankers.
If anything in this country requires a full and public inquiry it is the attitude of this
Government to Australian tankers on the Australian coast and its treatment of R. W. Miller in his efforts to run Australian tankers at present. I go so far as to say that this Government will run away from holding an inquiry, because it must be ashamed and frightened of the revelations that would come out - how it has destroyed the Australian tanker trade and is doing its best to bankrupt the man who introduced Australian tankers to the Australian coast. I urge the Government to consider what I have suggested and I challenge it to set up an inquiry into its activities and actions in this matter in order that the public may see that the Government stands for foreign vessels with cheap crews instead of Australian men on the Australian coast sailing under the Australian flag and under Australian conditions doing what Australians should do - transporting the cargoes that are available.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.52 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated -
Australian Capital Territory: Real Estate Agents. (Question No. 815.)
Mr.J. R. Fraser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Is it a fact that any person, whether experienced or inexperienced, reputable or disreputable, solvent or insolvent, may set up as an estate agent in Canberra without let or hindrance?
Is he able to say whether all the six separate Suites of the Commonwealth have legislation requiring real estate agents to be licensed? 3.If so, does State legislation require applicants for licences as real estate agents to prove that they are of good character and are not undischarged bankrupts?
Have representations been made for the introduction of legislation in the Australian Capital Territory requiring all real estate agents to be licensed?
Did a former Minister for the Interior, in August 1962, inform the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council that he was introducing legislation, similar to State legislation, requiring real estate agents to be licensed?
Was it then proposed that real estate agents in Canberra would be required to have a registered office, to pay all moneys received in transactions into a trust account subject to annual audit, and to post ; a £5,000 bond?
As no safeguards exist to protect the public against frauds in land transactions, will he indicate when the requisite legislation will be introduced?
Eye Drops. (Question No. 850.)
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Education in Papua and New Guinea. (Question No. 814.)
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
The Government has now indicated that it seems probable that the first universtiy students will enrol in 1966.
n asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1, I have received no official information concerning such an inquiry, but I understand that there have been reports in the Press to this effect. 2 and 3. Hie only sphere in which the Commonwealth has any control over drug prices is in relation to the prices paid for drugs to be supplied as pharmaceutical benefits. As the honorable member is no doubt aware, my Department is continually engaged in negotiations with drug manufacturers regarding the prices charged for such drugs. As a result of these negotiations very substantial savings have been effected, and I do not consider that the situation warrants an inquiry into the drug industry.
m asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
In what circumstances, with what documents and after what investigations can native-born and naturalised Australian and New Zealand citizens visit or migrate to New Zealand and Austrafia and their respective Territories and Dependencies?
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
Natural-born and naturalised Australian and New Zealand citizens of European descent may travel freely as intending immigrants or as visitors between Australia and New Zealand without requiring a passport or prior authority to enter the other country. Similar facilities are available respectively to Australian Aborigines and Maoris.
For the natural-born or naturalised New Zealand citizen of non-European descent proceeding to Australia as a visitor or as an intending migrant, Australia requires as a pre-requisite to travel, possession of a valid passport and prior authority by way of an endorsement in that passport, or a “ Letter of Authority “ issued by an Australian office following production of evidence of citizenship. New Zealand, where a visit only is intended, requires neither passport nor prior authority as a pre-requisite to travel. Where, however, the natural-born or naturalised Australian citizen of non-European descent intends proceeding to New Zealand as an immigrant, New Zealand requires that prior authority be held.
In all cases where a travel document (passport) and/or prior authority to enter is a pre-requisite to travel, the applicant would be required to comply with the normal conditions for entry, viz. health, character and security checks.
So far as travel to the Territories and Dependencies of either country is concerned, the formalities to be complied with would be dependent upon the immigration requirements relating to admission into such Territories and Dependencies. These, in addition to the normal procedure for a permit as a pre-requisite to entry into a Territory or Dependency, generally would be similar to, although not necessarily identical with, the immigration requirements determined by the mainland.
y asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
The charge of 5s. per prescription is of course not payable by pensioners and their dependants who are enrolled in the pensioner medical service.
y asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Total expenditure includes the 5s prescription fees paid by patients other than pensioners and also amounts paid to approved hospitals and other authorities which supply pharmaceutical benefits. The average cost per prescription includes the patient contribution.
y asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
As the British Government has abolished the 2s. prescription fee in Great Britain, will he take steps to adopt a similar course to abolish the 5s. fee charged in Australia; if not, why not?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
No. The Government believes the 5s. charge is a necessary and proper contribution which patients should make towards the cost of pharmaceutical benefits prescriptions.
t asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
A child born in the Territory of Papua becomes an Australian citizen at birth irrespective of the nationality of its parents; a child born in the Trust Territory of New Guinea of Australian parents becomes an Australian citizen upon registration of the birth with the Collector of Customs at Port Moresby who is an authorized officer for this purpose under the Citizenship Regulations.
t asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
Why has the Government recognised the Federal Republic of Germany but not the German Democratic Republic?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
The Federal Republic of Germany is regarded by the Australian Government as possessing the attributes of statehood and its Government is an independent, freely-elected and legally constituted Government not subservient to any other power. For these reasons the Australian Government recognises the Federal Republic of Germany us a State and the lawfully elected authorities in the Republic as the Government of the State.
On the other hand the self-styled “ German Democratic Republic “ is not recognised by Australia and the other Western powers as a State. The territory in question has remained under the control of the Soviet Union and its armed forces; no free elections have been permitted; and the institutions set up in the zone have no obvious basis in the will of the people of the zone. The territory is still regarded as a zone under Soviet military occupation not possessing national sovereignty or independence. In these circumstances the Australian Government, in common with other Western governments, has considered that recognition of the territory as a Stale is out of the question.
d asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1 and 2. If the student receives payments by way of wages, salary or allowance from the person or authority to whom he is under bond, endowment is not payable.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 April 1965, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1965/19650407_reps_25_hor45/>.