26th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry a question about the Tariff Board. He will recall that in the last session he announced a plan for the appointment of part-time members of the Board. I understand that a report indicated that he bad finally rejected that proposal. I now ask him whether this is so. Will he inform the House why he rejected the proposal? Will he also inform the House whether the shortage of members which led to the proposal to appoint part-time members in the first place has been rectified? If it has not, will he make a statement to the House of what he proposes to do about this very serious problem in the affairs of the Tariff Board?
– I explained to the House that there was a backlog of work at the Tariff Board when I had this line of thinking. I came to the conclusion that it might be a desirable innovation to have a panel of people who could be called upon. This is a matter which would be of great interest to those who are principally concerned with tariff making - people who feel that they have something to lose or to gain when tariffs are raised. In this case I did what I have done on many occasions - I sounded out the official bodies representative of these interests. I found practically no favour for the scheme and I therefore dropped it. I was putting myself in a position to explain to the Cabinet, if I had finished up with this intention, what I proposed and what the reaction to my proposal had been. Because the reaction was adverse I have never taken it to the Cabinet. That is the end of it. Since then, the Chairman of the Tariff Board has explained that there are circumstances in which the backlog is being overtaken and that the time period elapsing before a conclusion is reached is shortening. In these circumstances I have turned again to try to find an appropriate person io recommend to Cabinet for appointment to fill the single vacancy which exists on the Tariff Board. I have in mind such a person and, if I had not been indisposed during the last 3 weeks, I think that the point would have been reached where I would have been able to make a recommendation to Cabinet. I expect that point to be reached in the very near future.
– I wish to address a question to the Minister for Air. Will he make a statement to the House on the tragic loss of the trimaran ‘Bandersnatch’? In particular, will he give details of the Royal Australian Air Force maritime operations conducted as a part of the search?
– I think that the honourable member for North Sydney is aware that the Department of Air is not directly responsible for maritime search for vessels in distress off the Australian coast. In certain cases this is the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Shipping and Transport. On this occasion, however, it was the responsibility of the Victorian Government, which delegated its responsibility to the Police Department. The whole of the operations were under Police control through D24 in Melbourne. At certain stages during the whole of last week the Police requested the Royal Australian Air Force to participate in the search, assigning areas to be searched and the times at which the search should be undertaken. The search spread over a number of days from the evening of Wednesday, 30th August, until late on Sunday, 3rd September. At all times the Air Force provided all the aircraft that were required by the co-ordinating authority and carried out all the tasks assigned to it. I know that some honourable members hold the view that more should have been done, but I should like to emphasise that everything that was requested of the Air Force was carried out. If there are any specific details the honourable gentleman requires I will see that they are conveyed to him.
– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport whether he can inform me of the stage that has been reached in the arrangements for the construction of the standard gauge railway between Cockburn in South Australia and Broken Hill. In view of the disquiet in South Australia and Broken Hill, when will he make a statement on the arrangements that are to be made to allow the construction of the line to commence?
– The construction of the line between Broken Hill and Cockburn requires an agreement between three Governments. They are the Commonwealth Government, which will be providing a large proportion of the finance, the Government of New South Wales, in whose territory the railway lies, and the Government of South Australia. Substantial agreement on most of the matters involved has been reached between the three Governments. There are a few relatively minor matters on which I am trying to reach agreement with the Government of South Australia. When these details are finally settled we will be in a position to make a statement, and the honourable member and everyone else will know exactly what is proposed.
– I address my question to the Attorney-General. Has he seen the report that certain Monash University students yesterday collected funds for the Vietnam National Liberation Front on the campus of Monash University, that they claimed to have collected more than $50 from students and staff and that their names were taken by a university official? Is the Attorney-General able to say what action is being taken against these people?
-I have seen the reports referred to. As to the action that is being taken, I assume that the honourable member will be aware that the Defence Force Protection Bill at present is in another place. Of course, it would be premature to contemplate action under the Bill unless and until it becomes law.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Why has the Government not introduced the safety regulations relative to the handling of benzol petrol and other benzol-based products recommended in a report by A. W. Findlay, Senior Chemist of the School of Occupational Health and Tropical Medicine, Commonwealth Department of Health? Was this report made after an investigation of the loading and discharging of these products aboard ‘B.P. Enterprise’, an Aus tralian-manned tanker? Has the Government ignored the report? Was this out of consideration for the oil companies, especially those that use pure benzol as an additive to the petrol they market? Does the report point out grave detrimental health risks to persons engaged in the loading or handling of petrol and benzol? Must men engaged in such jobs wear respirators or self-contained breathing apparatus? Does benzol poisoning cause abnormalities of the blood stream that are irreversible? Is this condition leukemia or a disease similar to leukemia? On 28th August, were maritime unions forced to deliver an ultimatum to tanker operators that strike action would follow if agreement was not reached to implement the recommendations of the Findlay report within 24 hours? Has the Government taken any steps to protect seamen and other employees in all sections of the oil industry exposed to these dangers? If not, why not?
- Mr Speaker, I believe that this question should be directed to my colleague, the Minister for Shipping and Transport. However, I will consider the details of it. Either the Minister for Shipping and Transport or I will give the honourable gentleman a reply.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. The Minister will recall earlier representations made to him by the honourable member for Grey and myself regarding the future of the centralian railway line. I now ask the Minister whether he is in a position to advise the House what progress has been made.
– I think that when the honourable gentleman last raised this question in the House I was able to tell him that the Railways Commissioner was carrying out an investigation of the costs and feasibility of various alternative routes on the central Australian railway. The Commissioner has completed the report which contains rough estimates of costs of various alternative projects. At present this report is being examined in detail by my Department. When the facts have been studied carefully, a proposal will be made to the Government on the selection of one or more of these alternatives. It is quite a costly project, as the honourable gentleman will understand. The Government will need ti see what funds are available to it and what methods of achieving an all weather railway, which is not subject to periodical washaways, are available to it.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence. I seek clarification concerning the details of defence orders lodged overseas. I ask the honourable gentleman, especially as in a recent debate he indicated that he had not advised Parliament of certain defence costs because he had not been asked, whether he will provide me and the Parliament with a full list of all defence equipment - weapons, etc. - being supplied or to be supplied from any overseas source. Will he, with that list, supply details of quantities, cost, including spares and ancillary equipment, and terms of payment required? Will the Minister indicate also payments already made and to be made?
– The honourable gentleman apparently wants the Government to indulge in a 5-year plan. I will look over the proposal and see what information I can supply which will give him a reasonable appreciation of what is contracted for overseas, the overall costs, how payment is made and so on. I doubt whether I can pursue him in his quest for information by providing all the details for which he asks.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Health. I ask the honourable gentleman whether it is a fact that he has reclassified St Anne’s Private Hospital, Killara, in my electorate, as a nursing home rather than a hospital so attracting, of course, lower benefits under the national health scheme for the patients? Will the honourable gentleman state his reasons for the decision and, in particular, the criteria applied in such cases?
– It is correct that St Anne’s Private Hospital has been reclassified as a nursing home. I should explain that in determining whether approval is given to an institution as a hospital or a nursing home a number of criteria are taken into account. The first is the type of licence issued by the State authorities. The second is the type of accommodation and equipment. The third is the adequacy of the nursing arrangements provided. The fourth is the type of patient accommodated. The most important of these considerations is the type of patient accommodated. The Commonwealth’s concern is to see that benefits are properly paid; that is to say, that patients in hospitals need and receive hospital treatment and that patients in nursing homes need and receive the kind of care normally provided in a nursing home. After extensive investigation extending over 3i years, it was found that St Anne’s Private Hospital did not satisfy the criteria relating to approval as a hospital.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. I ask: To what extent has the per capita consumption of meat in Australia fallen? Has his Department been asked by people interested in the production and processing of meat to join in a promotion campaign to boost the consumption of meat and/ or an investigation of the reasons why the diet of the Australian people has so changed?
– I would have to tax my memory to state exactly the fall in the consumption of meat per capita, but I think it is about 3 lb per head per annum. A measure of promotion is undertaken by the Australian Meat Board out of the moneys collected in a fund, but this assistance is very limited. The point about it all is that no trouble is encountered in disposing of the meat that is available. The consumption per capita of pork in particular has increased to a greater degree than the overall consumption per capita of meat has fallen. It may be that this is one of the main reasons why there is a fall in the consumption of other meats, coupled with the present high prices for certain meats compared with the more reasonable prices for other products.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Trade and Industry a question about the export ban on copper scrap and metal. In view of the contention that appears to prevail in the industry at present concerning the merits of this ban, will the Minister make a statement informing the House of the Government’s present attitude on the subject?
– There has been a conflict of views over recent months on this matter. The responsible Departments - my own Department and the Department of National Development - made a close study of the situation and it was decided not to alter the ban. Standing here, I am not able at the moment to explain all that was in our minds at the time, but I shall inform the honourable member.
– I preface my question to the Prime Minister by inquiring whether his predecessor in office, speaking in this chamber on 29th April 1965, said:
The takeover of South Vietnam would be a direct military threat to Australia and all the countries Qf South and South East Asia. It must be seen as a part of a thrust by Communist China between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
I ask: Does not this clearly indicate an apprehension on the part of the Government that Communist China is a party principal to the war in Vietnam and that it directly threatens Australia’s security? Does this mean that we trade with an enemy? Does it mean that it is correctly stated that people who trade with Communist China or who have participated in arranging this trade, including members of the Government Parties, are traitors as was claimed by a Government supporter at the meeting of the Joint Government Parties today?
– The honourable gentleman has built up a complicated structure for himself.
– Just answer yes or no.
– I am sure that the honourable member would like me to answer just yes or no. Can he answer yes or no when I ask him whether he is able to cast a free vote in this chamber? He knows that he cannot cast a free vote. The honourable member could answer my question very simply. He has built up a complicated structure, taking one passage out of what no doubt was a quite lengthy statement by my predecessor on the position in South Vietnam. We as a government have made our views on this matter clearly known. We have made it clear that this country is not in a state of war with China; we are resisting aggression in South Vietnam which comes from North Vietnam and in which the Vietcong plays a significant part as the political instrument of Hanoi. We have at no time adopted the position that we are in a state of war with China. In fact I have gone on record more than once, as has my colleague, the Minister for External Affairs, as saying quite clearly that we recognise the desirability at some point of time of the free peoples of the world coming to a general accommodation with Communist China, and we have presented what we have been doing in the field of trade as part of the endeavour that we are making in this direction. We are engaging in an international trade which is also engaged in by others who do not by any means necessarily support the policies of Communist China.
The honourable gentleman made some passing reference to what occurs in the party room of the Government Parties. All I want to tell him on that aspect of his question is this: We have just concluded a council meeting of the Liberal Party.
– A closed meeting behind closed doors.
– Well, I am giving the honourable member something which is not closed. We have also had our own party room discussions, and I can tell the honourable member quite authoritatively that the views of the council of the Liberal Party and the views of the members of the Government Parties are entirely in accord with the policies which this Government has followed.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. When can I expect to receive my policy instructions resulting from the recent Federal Liberal Party convention? Should I take offence at the fact that up to date I have never once been handed a directive from Party officials or bodies? When, as on a matter of principle, I voted in this House on one occasion against Government proposals and an amendment proposed by me was accepted next day, was this acceptance an act of supreme disdain on the part of the Government, or is it the fact that I can go back to my electorate to study the interests of my constituents and continue to represent them directly in this place?
– The answer to the last part of the honourable gentleman’s question is, of course, yes, and he has expressed quite accurately his position and that , of all other members on this side of the House. If he wants, as I am sure he does not, the state of affairs which he has suggested in the opening part of his question it will be necessary to do what for him would be an impossible feat and join honourable members opposite. I am glad that in his question he has raised quite directly the fundamental difference between honourable members opposite and those of the Government Parties who, as elected representatives of the people in this House, have complete freedom to vote and speak according to their own judgment, unfettered by any directions from any outside bodies. This is a privilege which honourable members on the other side of the House cannot claim. I can recall some respected persons who used to be seen on the other side of this chamber who chose to express themselves as, in their own judgment, they believed they should. The honourable member for Batman did this and although he is still here it is no longer as a member of the Australian Labor Party. Others were less fortunate after they too were expelled from the Party because they were not prepared to toe the line.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service: Has further consideration been given to a proposal made a year or so ago for the construction in Canberra of self-contained flats to house migrants and so relieve them of the necessity to maintain themselves for perhaps 2 or 3 years in the Ainslie Hostel?
– There is a proposal to erect a number of flats as transitory accommodation, for migrants, but the early experiment in this field is confined to Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and four points in Tasmania. If the experiment proves workable and successful, consideration will be given to extending the scheme.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation a question without notice. In view of the importance of aviation ser vices to outback areas, will the Minister indicate the extent of expenditure on aerodromes and navigational aids in these areas in the last 5 years? Since the Minister approved the introduction of commuter services, how many licences for such services have been issued and how many applications are at present being considered?
– The records for last year have been completed. They were submitted to the House in the report of the Department of Civil Aviation, which I tabled yesterday. The report contains a lot of information of great interest on the subject raised by the honourable member. Speaking from memory I think that expenditure in the 5-year period in country areas throughout Australia on airport construction, maintenance and the provision of navigational aids amounted to about $30m. Expenditure in Queensland was, I think, about $7 .5m. This rate of expenditure is a measure of the importance which the Government places on services in these areas.
In addition there is some expenditure, both of a capital nature and on maintenance, by local authorities under the local ownership scheme. This expenditure is subsidised by the Commonwealth. There is also some expenditure in the private field, in the provision of airstrips and maintenance. In the areas where new developments are taking place some of the developing companies are providing their own facilities under advice from my Department. So collectively the amount being spent on the development of air services in outback areas is far greater than the amount I have mentioned. A substantial provision is being made for these services in all areas of Australia.
As regards commuter services, to date ten licences have been issued to eight separate operators. I understand that those licences cover about sixteen different routes. As the honourable member will be aware, most of the licences issued so far are for services in Queensland. A further eight applications are at present under examination. I hope to have a decision on them in the very near future. Several applications have not been approved and perhaps from the interests concerned we will have fresh applications at a later date. Having regard to the short time since commuter services were approved the results are most satisfactory.
– I ask the Minister for Air a question. I refer the honourable gentleman to reports that the Royal Australian Air Force will buy a number of Jaguar supersonic trainer-strike aircraft for $75m. If the report is correct, why has the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation not been given the opportunity to fulfil the requirements of the RAAF? Is the Corporation’s CA31 supersonic trainer design suitable for the Air Force? If not, can it be modified so that the Australian aircraft industry will have the benefit of the RAAF’s order for supersonic trainerstrike aircraft?
– Mr Speaker, the answer to the first question is: No, the Royal Australian Air Force has not placed an order for the British-French Jaguar aircraft. Possibly at this stage I might amplify some of the remarks that I have made to the House concerning the future needs of an aircraft in this field. As I informed the honourable member for Corangamite some months ago, the RAAF was investigating the situation as to whether or not it would require an aircraft to take the advanced training role between the new Macchi trainer, which comes into service next year, and an aircraft like the Mirage or the Fill. At present that role is filled by the Sabre aircraft, which will remain in service until 1974 or 1975. There was some division of opinion as to whether a supersonic trainer would be required or whether one could go direct from the Macchi to the Mirage. The weight of opinion now is that we shall probably require a supersonic trainer. But we have also given consideration to the fact that it is expensive to have one aircraft doing just one role.
The view of the Air Staff now is that we shall in all probability require an aircraft that can carry out the role of the supersonic advanced trainer and also the role of close air support which to an extent is carried out at present by the Sabre aircraft. We are therefore in the process of issuing an Air Staff requirement along these lines to meet the need for an aircraft to carry out both roles, which will probably not be required to go into service until 1974. This is 7 years ahead, and it is not easy for us to forecast our needs that length pf time away, but what we are doing is. giving the aircraft industry as long a period of notice as we can of the sort of requirements that we foresee 7 years ahead. More details will become available to the aircraft industry, both in Australia and overseas, within the next few days. I would say that other things being equal - that is, having regard to relative cost, delivery date and so on - we shall certainly aim to give preference to the Australian aircraft industry. No indication has been given to any aircraft industry overseas other than what I have conveyed to the House this afternoon.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Has the Minister seen reports which suggest that the Government intends to introduce a scheme to charge the public for entry to airports? Is there any substance in these reports?
– I have seen several reports suggesting that the Government had this particular scheme in mind and I should at the outset correct those reports by saying that no such scheme is proposed. The Treasurer did announce in the Budget Speech that a scheme would be introduced for a passenger service charge, and at the present time an examination of proposals in relation to this scheme is being undertaken. It will be some time before we are able to work out any basic details for submission to the Government. But the suggestion in the Press in relation to some form of charge on passengers or on the public entering airports is pure conjecture. There is no proposal of any sort in relation to that at the moment.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister for External Affairs. I wish to draw attention first to the ultimatum issued recently by President Nasser of the United Arab Republic to the War Graves Commission in London, that the graves in the war cemetery near Alexandria be removed. Will the Minister advise the House whether a strong protest has been submitted to President Nasser to prevent these graves from being disturbed? If this has not been done, will the Australian
Government join with New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries in presenting a strong protest to the President and remind him that were it not for the British Commonwealth soldiers who are buried in this cemetery, Egypt would have suffered severely at the hands of our enemies during the last Great War?
– The honourable gentleman who asked the question is not correct in referring to an ultimatum. There has been no ultimatum and any report to that effect is quite untrue. The situation is that for some 2 or 3 years past the Municipality of Alexandria has been wanting to obtain land on which two war cemeteries and some civilian cemeteries are located for the purpose of urban development. Over the past 2 years there has been discussion between representatives of all the countries of the Commonwealth of Nations which are concerned in the war cemeteries. Those negotiations are continuing.
Perhaps I can put the position in its clearest form by reading to the House part of a Press statement which was put out in London on 4th September by the War Graves Commission which has been acting as the principal in this matter. The Press release by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission reads in part:
For some years past the municipal authorities in Alexandria have been anxious to remove from the centre of the city a group of cemeteries in the Chatby and Manara areas.
Included in the area are two war cemeteries each, containing approximately 3,000 graves of Commonwealth servicemen who died in the First and Second World Wars.
I make a gap in the quotation. The Press release continues:
The security of the sites and the burials has been safeguarded by treaties between the United Arab Republic and the governments participating in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the most recent of which was ratified in 1955 by the Council of Ministers, of which President Nasser was then Chairman.
There have been a number of approaches over the years from the United Arab Republic authorities to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the representatives in Cairo of its participating governments-
I interpose that that includes the Ambassador of Australia: - with a view of obtaining their agreement to the .removal of one or other of the cemeteries to another site outside the city.
I make another break in the quotation and resume:
The movement of large numbers of graves merely to free a site for building purposes would cut across the principle of permanent security of war graves abroad and would cause great distress to large numbers of next of kin, besides involving the very difficult and costly operation of moving the graves to a new site and constructing a new cemetery. The United Arab Republic authorities have recently renewed their requests and the matter is still under discussion in Cairo.
That is the end of the statement made by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission which is acting in our interests as well as in the interests of the other Commonwealth governments. I wish to assure the House, and the honourable gentleman in particular, that the Australian Government attaches great importance to proper regard being paid to the graves of the war dead, and our Ambassador in Cairo will continue to support the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in its representations.
– The Treasurer will be aware that the Basic Industries Group is conducting a campaign against rural cooperatives in Queensland. I ask him: Have any approaches been made to the Government for a review of taxation concessions allowed to co-operatives and mutual companies under Division 9 of the Income Tax Act and, quite apart from the effect on these bodies themselves, what would be the effect on revenue if these concessions were repealed?
– I have little or no knowledge of the activities of the Basic Industries Group which has never had any contact of any kind with me.
– We thought the Treasurer was its leader.
– Some people suffer from hallucinations, and the honourable member is one of them. I am in the dark as to the operations of this particular concern. As to the specific question asked by the Leader of the Opposition about whether an application had been made to me officially or to Treasury officials for a review of Division 9 of the Act, no official representations have been made to me and I doubt whether any have been made to Treasury officials. I will find out from the Treasury whether representations have been made, but I can assure the honourable member that this matter has not been looked at and I do not know what the cost would be to the Government.
– Following the announcement by the Minister for National Development of the appointment of engineers and consultants to investigate and report on the problems of salinity in the River Murray I ask: Is the Minister aware that the solving of this problem calls for a joint effort by the Commonwealth and the States of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia? Will he take action to ensure the close co-operation of those appointed by the River Murray Commission and the representatives of the States concerned in the investigation of means of overcoming this threat to production?
– I can assure the honourable member that there will be the greatest co-operation between the four governments concerned. The honourable member will be aware, of course, that it was the representatives of those four governments who were responsible for the selection of the two consultants who are going to advise the River Murray Commission. The Commission itself already has a great quantity of information on the question of salinity, and this will be made available to the consultants. I can assure the honourable member that everything that can possibly be done by every one of the four governments in order to overcome this most pressing problem will be done.
– Is the Minister for Air aware of the great concern of residents of Newcastle and district, not only for their own safety but for the safety of the cream of Australian youth who are flying the Mirage jet fighter, numbers of which have crashed in the Newcastle area in recent times? How many more deaths or crashes of these aircraft will have to occur before they are withdrawn from the Royal Australian Air Force?
– I gave the House a statement yesterday on the subject of the particular accident that occurred last Friday and also on the general situation concerning Mirage aircraft. I informed the House, as I do once again now, that the Air Staff and I personally have every confidence in the Mirage aircraft now flying in the defence of Australia. As I have said also in this House, the reason why the Mirage aircraft are located at Williamtown is that we have always regarded the defence of that part of Australia as essential. The people of New South Wales have always been grateful that the RAAF has been there in their defence interests. I do not think it would be in the interests of Australia for us to remove the RAAF from this base either now or at any time in the future.
– by leave - I have the honour to inform the House that the Government has decided to limit appeals to the Privy Council from the High Court of Australia. As honourable members are aware, at present appeals may be taken from the High Court - other than in inter se matters, that is to say, matters concerning the line of demarcation between Federal and State powers - by special leave of the Privy Council. The Privy Council has, in fact, granted special leave in some 44 cases over the last 21 years.
Power to limit the matters in which special leave may be granted by the Privy Council is conferred on the Commonwealth Parliament by section 74 of the Constitution. The Government is of the opinion that this power should be exercised so as to make the High Court the final arbiter in all matters of Federal jurisdiction, that is to say, constitutional questions, matters arising under Commonwealth laws and the various other matters which the Constitution has, in sections 75 and 76, specifically recognised as being appropriate matters to be brought in the High Court.
On behalf of the Government, I would like to express appreciation of the learning and wisdom which members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council have brought to the consideration of appeals from the High Court since federation. Many notable contributions to the working of our
Federal Constitution have been made by their judgments. Moreover, I believe their Lordships’ dignified yet penetrating approach to cases has had a considerable influence upon our own approach to appellate work in Australia.
In reaching its decision to limit appeals, the Government has taken account of the growing body of opinion, both in the legal profession and amongst the people generally, that the stage has been reached when steps should be taken towards making the High Court the final court of appeal for Australia. This, the Government believes, is consistent with the growth of Australia as an independent nation. It has for many years been recognised that each member of the Commonwealth is free to decide whether it wishes to discontinue appeals to the Privy Council. Several Commonwealth countries, including Canada, India and Pakistan, have abolished the appeal altogether. The countries that retain it do so with differing limitations. Some smaller countries retain the appeal because, in their present state of development, they would have difficulty in providing a court of appeal of sufficient calibre from within their own resources. However, the High Court of Australia enjoys a status equal to that of any other court in the English-speaking world. Its decisions have great persuasive influence in all countries that have the common law tradition; its members are now also members of the Privy Council and some have sat as members of the Privy Council on the hearing of appeals from other countries.
The step the Government now proposes to take is a logical first step towards making the High Court the final court of appeal for Australia. The possibility of there being an appeal to the Privy Council from the High Court in an inter se matter will remain, as an amendment of the Constitution would be necessary to remove this possibility. However, an appeal in an inter se matter can only reach the Privy Council if the High Court gives its certificate and the High Court has not given such a certificate since 1912. The possibility of the Privy Council giving special leave to appeal from the High Court in non-Federal matters will also remain. Appeals to the Privy Council from State Supreme Courts in purely State matters will be unaffected at this stage. The question of the abolition of such appeals is a matter for the States.
The Government believes that its proposal to limit appeals from the High Court in Federal matters will be welcomed by honourable members and by both the legal profession and the Australian people generally.
– by leave - I am sure that the Attorney-General is correct in saying that honourable members will welcome the proposal that he has announced. It would also seem to be correct that the public will welcome it. The last time that this matter was debated in the House was on 23rd September 1965 when I moved:
That this House is of opinion that retention of appeals to the Privy Council from courts in Australia is inconsistent with Australia’s status as an independent nation and that steps should be taken as soon as possible to abolish such appeals.
The following weekend the gallup poll surveyed opinion in Australia on this matter. It had previously done so 10 years earlier. Over those 10 years the percentage of persons who held the view that the final court of appeal should be the High Court increased from 65 to 81; the percentage who held the opinion that the Privy Council should be the final court of appeal declined from 22 to 10; and the percentage who held no opinion declined from 13 to 9.
There are two matters to which I would make a brief reference. When the Prime Minister at the time followed me in the 1965 debate, he said: . . one way in which we could limit the matters that may go on appeal would be to provide that in relation to all matters arising under the Constitution or involving its interpretation, there should be no leave without a certificate of the High Court.
I notice the Attorney makes no qualification that there should be a certificate of the High Court. This is a development that I hope we all applaud. Apart from appeals on matters within Federal jurisdiction, the Attorney mentions that appeals to the Privy Council from State Supreme Courts in purely State matters will be unaffected at this stage. I had made a suggestion to his predecessor before last, the present Chief Justice, by way of a question on 28 March 1963:
Since all the judges of the High Court are members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, I ask the honourable gentleman whether arrangements have been made for Australian Privy
Councillors to -sit in Australia to heir appeals which lie from State Supreme Courts to the Privy Council?
I would hope that the administrative arrangements I advocated in the form of this innocent question can come about. It would seem to accord with the constitutional proprieties and the will of the people. The States in so many respects are still British colonies. This seems to be one case where we can liberate them.
I conclude by complimenting the Attorney-General on this initiative which I am certain also accords with the desires of honourable members, the legal profession and the Australian people generally.
Motion (by Mr Anthony) agreed to:
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honourable member for Lawson (Mr Failes) on the ground of parliamentary business overseas.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) agreed to:
That Government business shall take precedence over genera] business tomorrow.
– I move:
The proposal provides for a four storey building. to house mechanical mail handling equipment. The building will be of steel frame construction and the associated engineering services will include airconditioning and ventilation, lift services, emergency power plant and kitchen equipment for the cafeteria. The estimated cost of the work is $3,200,000. In reporting favourably on the proposal, the Committee has recommended that recreation facilities should be provided on the roof of the building at an additional cost of $30,000. It is proposed to accept this recommendation. Upon the concurrence of the House in this resolution, detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the Committee’s recommendations.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
The proposal provides for the erection of a new office block consisting of two floors of office accommodation for the following Departments of the Commonwealth: Interior - Electoral Office; Social Services; Postmaster-General; and Labour and National Service. The locality is subject to flooding and it is proposed to construct the building on piers with the first floor at a safe level and to use the space underneath for car parking. The estimated cost is $600,000. In reporting favourably on the proposal, the Committee has recommended that my Department should closely examine the possibility of reducing the contract period. The Committee was advised that the construction time was estimated at 18 months and this period was based on the construction times of comparable buildings in New South Wales country areas. It also allows for the fact that the building will be founded on piles penetrating SO feet. The construction period has been re-examined and at this stage it is not expected that it can be significantly reduced. However, provision will be made in the tender documents for tenderers to submit alternative offers for constructing the building in a shorter period if they consider this to be possible and to indicate the additional costs involved. Upon the concurrence of this House in this resolution, detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to amend section 29 of the Australian National University Act 1946-1966 to define the classes of students at the University to whom the University may remit fees. At present the University is authorised under the Act to remit fees, or a portion of fees, to students holding scholarships awarded by the University itself. It will continue to be able to do this. The University is also empowered at present to remit fees in the case of students holding scholarships awarded by a State, or by a body established by or under the law of a State, for the purpose of pursuing studies at the University in relation to forestry. This came about because, when the Australian Forestry School was administered by the Commonwealth, it was agreed between the Commonwealth and the States that students selected by the States to study at the School would not be charged fees. When, in 1965, the Australian National University took over the Australian Forestry School from the Department of National Development, this concession was continued by the insertion of the present sub-section (1a.) of section 29 of the Act. It is not proposed that this concession be changed. It is proposed, however, to repeal subsection (1a.) and to insert a new subsection (1a.), paragraph (a) of which will continue the concession to forestry students. Paragraph (b) of the new sub-section will empower the University to remit fees in respect of full time staff in its employ, thus bringing the practice of the University into line with the practice in other universities in Australia. In the result the University will be able to remit fees to holders of its own scholarships, to forestry students awarded scholarships by a State or a State instrumentality and to its own full time staff. It will not be empowered to remit fees to any other person. Mr Speaker, I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 15 August (vide page 76), on motion by Mr Hulme:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-Order! Is it the wish of the House that the subject matter of the two measures be debated together at the second reading stage as suggested by the Minister? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
– As has just been indicated, we are debating together two measures - the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill and the Post and Telegraph Regulations Bill. The purpose of the first of these two measures is to increase the charges prescribed in the Post and Telegraph Rates Act. A similar Bill was passed by this House in May last but was rejected twice in another place, lt will be remembered that the Opposition strongly opposed the increased charges and that our main objection to the earlier measure was its timing. In August 1966, prior to the last general election, when the Budget for 1966-67 was being debated there was no suggestion of increased postal charges. Yet, a few months later, on 1st May 1967, the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) announced that the Government proposed to increase these charges. We argued at the time that proposals to increase charges of this kind should be debated at a time when the Budget was being considered by the Parliament and all the associated financial matters were being discussed. I direct the attention of honourable members to what I said in May last, as reported at page 1947 of Hansard of 10th May. I stated:
If the increased charges had been imposed at the time of the presentation of the next Budget the Postmaster-General, in accordance with recent practice, would have produced an interim statement of his Department’s finances to assist honourable members in the Budget debate. However, that has not been done now. He has not proved to the Parliament that the increased charges are justified. In actual fact it is quite clear that they have been introduced for an entirely different reason. During the Budget debate the proposed rates could have been assessed with all the other financial factors that are debated at that time.
Those requirements have now been complied with. We are debating the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill in conjunction with the other financial affairs of the Government. There is no doubt that the reason why the Government wanted to increase the charges earlier in the year was that it hoped that that action would be forgotten when the Budget was being discussed. The present Budget would have appeared much less burdensome to the people if it had not provided for increases in these charges. The most important taxation increase in it is the increase in Post Office charges. Without the provision for these increases it would have been a quite attractive pre-election Budget. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) said in the Budget debate, the Senate performed a very valuable function by forcing the Government to admit the real nature of these increased charges and to provide for them in the Budget. By its opposition the Australian Labor Party has also forced the Government to change the accounting system in the Post Office and give the Parliament greater opportunities to examine its affairs henceforth.
The Government has gone even further towards meeting our wishes, though it has not gone all the way. The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) has announced that a Post Office trust account will be created and that all the revenues of the Post Office will be paid into that account and all expenses will be paid out of it. The Postmaster-General has told us that the Post Office will submit a White Paper to the Parliament each year during the Budget sessional period, outlining its affairs generally and including estimates of its commercial results for the current financial year, the proposed capital programme and the method of financing it. This is the sort of development that was suggested by the Opposition. I repeat, however, that it does not go all the way towards meeting our wishes. We suggested that the Post Office should be taken over by a corporation. As reported at page 1951 of Hansard of 10th May, I directed attention to a document that had just been received from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, entitled ‘Reorganisation of the Post Office’, which had been presented to the House of Commons by the United Kingdom Postmaster-General in March. Paragraph 3 at page 3 of that document contains this passage:
The Government concluded that the process begun in 1932 should be carried to its logical conclusion. A public corporation should be created to run these great businesses with a structure and methods designed directly to meet British needs, drawing on the best modern practice.
Paragraph 6 is a very important one. It is in these terms:
The Post Office is a major department of state. Practically the whole of it is involved in the constitutional change. This is an undertaking without precedent. Moreover, Post Office services are an integral part of the nation’s life. In addition to communications, the Post Office provides part of the machinery of the social security system, and many other kinds of business are transacted at Post Office counters. The Government’s objective is to create an authority which will: -be responsible for developing the most efficient services possible, at the lowest charges consistent with sound financial policies; -carry on in a worthy manner the Post Office tradition of service to the public; -develop relations with its staff in a forward looking and progressive way.
It will be noted that these passages refer to efficient services and lowest possible charges. Surely there is a lesson to be learned here. The document also refers to the desirability of the authority developing relations with its staff in a forward looking and progressive way. The PostmasterGeneral can learn something from this. Our advice is that he has not been co-operating with the staff to the extent that he could, and I think the recent industrial trouble indicates that less than the best of relations exist between the staff and the PostmasterGeneral. There is a passage in paragraph 52 on page 12 of the same document which I would like to quote. It says:
Without detriment to the responsibilities of managers to manage, the Government will expect the Corporation to promote the most constructive relationships between the management and the staff. The new Corporation will not be taking over an industry marked by bad industrial relations: on the contrary, a fine tradition of cooperation and consultation between the management and staff has been built up in- the Post Office. The Government will expect the Corporation to ensure that this develops further in the new conditions and to set the highest standards in relationships with the staff.
That is a very important paragraph. We were hoping that a corporation would be established here and that the principles outlined in that document would be followed. During the last debate on this matter I pointed out that the establishment of a corporation was part of the policy of the Labor Party. The Postmaster-General challenged me on that statement, asking: ‘Since when?’ I do hot know whether I was able to answer his question exactly at that time, but I can say now that this has been in our policy since 1959 and recently it has been included in our platform. I will read the relevant passage to the PostmasterGeneral from page 11 of this document. I am sure he has seen this because I have noticed that most of the Ministers seem to have a copy of it.
– I haven’t one.
– I will autograph one for the Minister. It says:
The severance of the Postmaster-General’s Department from Public Service Board control and the Department to be controlled by a corporation.
So now it is clearly stated as part of our policy. The Treasurer and the PostmasterGeneral have announced that the Government is going some of the way and I suggest to the Minister that it is a pity the Government is not going all the way and establishing a corporation as we have suggested. The Postmaster-General’s Department should be removed from the control of the Public Service Board. It should be a separate department controlled by a corporation. We believe the Post Office would then give better service to the community. We believe that industrial relations would improve and would be much more stable than they are at present. The latest report of the Public Service Board shows that the Board has control of 202,707 employees, and that of these 98,886 are in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, or nearly half of the total number of employees in the Public Service. It is ridiculous that an undertaking like the Post Office should be under the control of the Public Service Board, which is a board of three men who, although very capable, have had no Post Office experience whatsoever. What I am saying constitutes no reflection whatsoever on the members of the Board, but the fact is that the Post Office is too big an undertaking to be part of the Public Service itself. It should be a separate organisation, a separate corporation.
As I have said, nearly 50% of employees in the Commonwealth Public Service ara employed in the Post Office. Because it does not handle its own income the Post Office cannot make long-range plans for future expansion to meet the needs of the Australian public. The Treasury controls its funds and at the same time it is subject to interference and control by the Public Service Board. Neither the Treasury nor the Public Service Board is answerable to the people for any inefficiency in the Postal Department. It is the Department itself that gets any criticism that may be offered. Surely it is clear that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should be a separate entity. I repeat our suggestion that it be a corporation.
The Postmaster-General has stated that postal staff increased by only 10% to handle a 31% increase in traffic. It is well known that the Post Office is finding difficulty in recruiting staff. There is no doubt that the trained and experienced staff are doing their best to cope with a deteriorating situation. The fact is that casual workers have to be engaged to do work that should be done by permanent employees, and consequently the efficiency of the service deteriorates. New recruits will not seek employment with the Post Office when better opportunities are available in outside employment. They will not join the Post Office to work a Si or 6-day week when they can work a 5-day week in other employment. The solution is to make Post Office employment at least as attractive as outside employment. Mr Housley, the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, who is recognised as being an able administrator, realises the problem that faces the Post Office. He said in a paper delivered to the conference, on 23rd November 1966, of the Royal Institute of Public Administration:
The resources of the Post Office have so far permitted it to seek only to meet developing demands as they press upon it. There is need, however, for a more forward-reaching approach so that the Post Office can develop and encourage the use of more efficient tools of government and administration, of those services which make a positive contribution to better management. When it can do this Australia will realise the full potential of government through communications.
In an earlier debate the Postmaster-General said:
The Government believes that it must do everything that is reasonably possible to meet the needs of the Australian public and the expansion and efficiency of the service.
We agree with that statement, but those are empty words if they are not followed by action. There is need in my view for a full inquiry into the Post Office. The Labor Party in 1965 proposed a joint committee to inquire into the nation’s telephone services. It also proposes that there should be an inquiry into the Post Office itself. The Postmaster-General has admitted that there are serious flaws in the present system whereby the Post Office must pay all its income into Consolidated Revenue and receive its finances from the Budget appropriations. This alone must interfere with the efficiency of the Post Office. The Postmaster-General was forced to act in this matter because the Opposition forced his hand. If this is not so, why did he not act earlier to do what the Budget Papers indicate he intends to do? I suggest that the establishment of a corporation would make for more efficiency. It does not necessarily mean that the Post Office would have to pay its way entirely. The PostmasterGeneral himself, in one of the speeches he made on this subject, directed attention to the huge size of our continent and the fact that a large proportion of our population is widely scattered. This alone would justify some subsidy from Consolidated Revenue. The Post Office must accept the fact that some of its services are nin because of a social obligation to the community as a whole.
When we look at the expenses of the Post Office we find that since 1960 there has been a change for interest. Before that time finance for the Post Office was provided by the Commonwealth Government from taxation and from any profits that were made by the Post Office. Now the Government provides finance for capital expenditure and then it charges the Post Office interest on funds that the Government has received from the taxpayer. Then it increases postal rates, as it intends to do by means of the measure now before us, in order to pay interest back to itself. In other words, it requires the Post Office to pay more than the provision of its services has actually cost, and the taxpayer pays twice. He pays taxes and after that he has to pay increased postal charges. This method of financing was once condemned by the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. I draw attention to his remarks in
March 1959 at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, when he said:
The proposition is that we charge ourselves interest, we throw into deficit a couple of great undertakings that we have referred to and we then raise the wind in order to meet that deficit - because it all comes back on to us. Therefore charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of bookkeeping and does not produce one pennyworth of financial results.
But this Government has seen fit to reverse that procedure as far as the Post Office is concerned. Post Office accounts have always been incorporated in the Budget. Expenditure, whether of an annual kind, such as payment of wages, or a capital kind, such as expansion of services due to population growth, has been shown in detail in the Budget Papers. On the other hand, all receipts for all services have been paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The net budget effect has always been plus or minus, according to the state of the revenues - whether they exceed outgoings or otherwise. Apparently this process is to be changed in the future. It has been recognised that the cash approach determined by the budget forms did not give a true account of the Post Office as a business undertaking, so what are known as commercial accounts of the Post Office have been presented, together with a reconciliation between the cash and commercial accounts. The relationship between the two sets of accounts is clearly set out in the financial report of the Post Office, presented to the Parliament yesterday. It states:
The commercial accounts are maintained in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles to record trading operations. These are quite distinct from the Treasury or cash accounts, the form of which parallels the annual Appropriation Act.
The purpose of the Treasury Accounts is to record cash receipts which are paid into the Commonwealth Public Account and the cash payments made from funds appropriated by Parliament for Post Office purposes. The Treasury figures include some receipts and payments in respect of both the previous and subsequent financial years and do not record a number of charges which the Post Office has to meet as a business undertaking.
There are quite substantial differences between the two sets of accounts. For the financial year ended 30th June last the published Treasury accounts show an excess of revenue over ordinary service expenditure of $ 120.7m and the commercial accounts for the same period show a loss of $2 1.5m - a difference of $ 142.2m or something like one-third of earnings on a cash basis. There could be differences of opinion as to which items should be included as business expenses. It should be noted that the Post Office is not only a business but also a public utility. This poses the question of whether a public utility has to make a profit or break even on its operations. The Government has decided that the Post Office should make a profit and has deliberately set up a system of bookkeeping which provides for interest payments on moneys deemed to be advanced by the Treasury from Consolidated Revenue.
At 30th June each year the Treasury calculates the interest due for the year and debits it to the Post Office. The tabulation on page 15 of the financial report of the Post Office shows that $69m or almost 50% of the $142.2m difference between the cash and commercial accounts - the difference which turns an apparent cash surplus of $ 120.7m into a commercial loss of $21 .5m - is made up of an item which is described in these terms:
Charge in Profit and Loss account for interest on funds provided by the Treasury.
The question arises as to whether this should be charged at all and, if it is, on what rate of interest should the charge be based. If the charge were not made - be it noted that it was not made during most of the history of the Post Office - the commercial trade loss of $2 1.5m would become a trade surplus of 547 .5m.
– Not in the postal service section.
– No; I will deal with that in a moment. If the charges were made at 4% interest instead of almost 5%, the interest component would be $14m less, and an interest rate of 3)% would allow the Post Office tq break even. Since most of the capital funds have come out of surplus revenues and are free of interest, the rate of interest charged is at least only arbitrary. As has been pointed out by the Labor Party on other occasions, because of the unique monopoly nature of the services which the Post Office provides there is a case for those services to be provided at a price that merely covers cost. By contrast, the Commonwealth Railways, which competes with other forms of transport, is not currently paying interest on capital supplied by the Commonwealth .and it may be claimed that it is being unfairly subsidised.
I am aware that it is argued that if interest were not charged and Post Office charges were correspondingly lower, in terms of the overall budget position an equivalent amount would have to be found elsewhere. But again this only serves to confirm that Post Office charges have to be seen within the scope of the budget and confirms our attitude of last May when we said that Post Office charges should be looked at when the budget is brought down. At that time the Government was trying to deal with Post Office charges separately, and we were right in opposing the Government. Even now the anticipated $64m additional yield is more than last year’s commercial loss and the major part of it is to be raised by the telephone section, which last year made a commercial profit of $2m. In terms of total activity, the telephones side of the Post Office business is 75% of total Post Office business.
Although the Opposition will not on this occasion vote against the Bill for reasons 1 have outlined - because it is now a budget measure - we still criticise some of the proposed increases. There is provision for reduced rates for bulk postage. The provision in the earlier Bill is amended and provision is made for discounts of 5% on more than 2,500 letters, 10% on more than 25,000 letters, 15% on more than 100,000 letters and a further discount of 10% in special circumstances. The discount in respect of householder mail is increased from 30% to 40% on articles weighing up to 2 oz and will be 60% for articles weighing more than 2 oz. While rates for this class of mail are to be reduced, the rates for ordinary letters, lettercards, postcards, telegrams and telephone calls are to be increased. The users of bulk postage will get big discbunts, but what about the rest of the community? The charge for a letter, lettercard or postcard weighing 1 oz or less is to be increased from 4c to 5c - an increase of 25%. The Postmaster-General has said that the ordinary postage rate was reduced with the introduction of decimal currency. This is true in respect of letters weighing 1 oz or less but the new charge of 5c still will represent an increase of 20% over the pre-decimal charge of 5d.
Some rates are to be increased considerably. The rates for articles described as other articles are to be increased by as much as 125%. I went into those increases carefully during the debate on the earlier Bill and I will not deal with them at length now. I doubt whether any firm will reduce prices because of discounts for bulk postage and householder mail services. I hope that some firms do, but it is doubtful. There may even be some increases in price. Under this Bill the cost of telegrams is to be increased from 30c to 36c for the first twelve words and from 5c for each additional two words to 3c for each additional word.
In introducing the Bill to amend certain regulations under the Post and Telegraph Act the Postmaster-General said that the charges are the same as those which were the subject of regulations recently disallowed in the Senate. He pointed out that they cannot be again presented in the same form within a period of 6 months from the date of disallowance and that it is necessary to deal with the changes in the form of legislation. On 4th May 1967 the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1967 was introduced in the House of Representatives. At the same time the PostmasterGeneral announced that regulations would be introduced to impose some of the increases, and statements were attached, if I remember correctly, to his second reading speech dealing with these proposed increases. What the Government tried to do, of course, was to by-pass Parliament by introducing the regulations during the parliamentary recess. In the event, they were disallowed by the Senate. Because the proposed increases were disallowed by the Senate the Government is now faced with the charge that it has attempted to flout the will of the Parliament. If not, why were the regulations not introduced before the Parliament adjourned for the recess? This could have been done quite simply. That it was not, meant that the Senate had to be recalled to deal with the regulations.
The Government was hoping that the Senate would go into recess without making provision to be recalled, but the Senate did make that provision. The Senate had twice rejected a Post and Telegraph Rates Bill in May. When regulations were promulgated to achieve what had been sought by the rejected Bills it was well known that they would be disallowed if the Senate had the opportunity to disallow them. However, during the last recess the Government sought to do by regulation something which the other place had clearly indicated it would not accept and, in fact, would reject. The Government attempted to abuse its power but was thwarted by the Senate, which recalled itself into session to deal with the matter.
The effect of these proposed charges will be to lay a heavy burden on the community. They will have an inflationary effect, as business interests without doubt will pass their increased costs onto the consumer in the form of increased prices. By this measure telephone charges are to be increased, for local calls from 10c to 12c for three calls; for trunk line calls made by subscribers between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. over distances exceeding 30 miles but not exceeding 50 miles, from 20c to 24c; for calls exceeding 50 miles but not exceeding 100 miles the increase will be from 40c to 48c.
– Twenty per cent all over.
– Yes, 20-% right through. I think some may go up by 25%, but within the mileages I have mentioned the increase is 20%. Charges for calls made between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. are to be similarly increased. During his speech the PostmasterGeneral said that this is the first increase in charges for 8 years. It is true that charges have not been increased since 1959, but he did not remind the House that telephone rentals were substantially increased in 1964, only 3 years ago.
– I did.
– I know that the Minister mentioned telephone charges, but I do not remember his mentioning that telephone rentals were increased. I will accept his statement that he did. Whilst I accept his statement, it appears that the House was not advised about the rental increase in 1964. Anyhow, rental was increased. A table was published in the ‘Sunday Telegraph’ of 7th May under the heading Australia tops List for mail costs’. Dealing with telephone charges, that article gives a comparison of call charges in Australia, Britain, Canada, the United States of America and New Zealand. Subscriber local calls in Australia are 4c each, in Britain 2c, and free in Canada, United States of America and New Zealand. Coin-box local calls are Se in Australia, 3c in Britain, 4c in Canada, 9c in United States of America and 6c in New Zealand. Trunk line calls up to 3 minutes and up to 30 miles are 20c in Australia, 14c in Britain and New Zealand. There are no figures for Canada and the United States of America. Trunk line calls up to 3 minutes and over 400 miles are $1.45 in Australia, 45c in Britain and $1.12 in New Zealand. There are no figures for Canada and the United States of America. Nearly every charge is higher in Australian than in the United Kingdom, Canada, United States of America and New Zealand. The same applies to postal charges, but I have already dealt with them and 1 do not propose to say anything more in that regard.
By this legislation charges for money orders are to be increased from 12c to 15c up to the denomination of $10 and from 8c to 10e for each additional $10. Charges for postal orders for denominations up to $1.50 are to be increased from 5c to 6c and the charge for the $2 denomination will be increased from 5c to 7c. There is to be a new charge of 10c for denominations from $5 to $8. The increases under this Bill will range from about 20% to 25%.
It is true that the postal services showed a loss on a commercial basis, but the telecommunications branch showed a profit, which is revealed in the annual report. In theory the user of telephones is being asked to recoup the taxpayer for capital costs in the telephone branch. This means that Commonwealth works money is being raised by taxes instead of loans. It also means that we are paying now to provide assets for posterity. Surely it would be fairer if more of this capital were raised by loan. At one time the sound principle applied of raising taxes for current expenditure and loans for capital works. Why should not this system be restored? I repeat, we are not opposing the increases on this occasion because we have had an opportunity to consider them together with other Budget matters, but at the same time we offer our criticism in regard to some of them, and we question whether the Government should charge interest to the extent that that it does on money advanced to the Post Office.
– I can imagine no more suitable arena in which a paper tiger could roar to its heart’s content than this chamber when the debate is off the air and most honourable members are off for a cup of tea. But I do not propose to roar like a paper tiger or otherwise this afternoon. Indeed, I propose to be a mouse and support the Government. I have listened with interest to what the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) has been saying but I fail to find a great deal of consistency in his remarks. He began with a little political persiflage, which is rather in fashion at this time, regarding the timing of the new postal charges and the length of electoral memories and things of this kind, and he tried to justify what the Senate had done, which I suspect had its political implications as well. He spoke with approval of the separation of the Post Office from Government departmental organisations, though he did not believe that this went far enough. He appeared to be largely concerned with the interests of the staff in this matter. He was more interested in the staff than in the public, who are the customers of the Post Office and for whom, in my simple philosophy, the Post Office exists. He was highly in favour of the Treasury’s shelling out to assist the Post Office, although in his view it ought to be an independent business organisation. But of course this would provide more money for increased salaries and wages for the staff of the Post Office. This seemed to be his central interest.
I was not quite sure whether the honourable member for Stirling was for or against an increase in postal charges. He read them out without very much comment. On the whole, I think that he was anxious to gain as much political capital as he might from increases in charges that might not please the customers who had to pay more. But I do not want to pursue these matters. I am concerned rather with the principles involved in this measure and the matters to which the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) took the opportunity to refer in the course of his second reading speech. I am more concerned with these things, perhaps, than with details.
Is the increase in total reasonable? The charges, of course, are spread over many items. I do not profess to be able to answer this question. But I do know that it is only from time to time and at long intervals that any government builds up courage to increase charges at all. The result is that there is always a time lag. The Post Office tends to run into a deficit until such time as the Government, seizing an opportunity, increases charges to recoup the losses of the past or to look forward to the losses that will be anticipated in the ensuing years before it feels that it can again increase charges. I do not feel competent to say whether the increase in total is reasonable or not. But I believe that the PostmasterGeneral has probably done the right thing. He would not wish to slug the customers too heavily. On the other hand, he must have regard to the losses incurred in the past or to be incurred in the future. I am not in a position to go into the adequacy or otherwise of the increases in detail, whether they be increased telephone charges, postal rates or whatever they might be. I suspect that not many honourable members in this House would be able to do that, either. But the important principle is whether the Post Office should pay its way or whether it should not; whether it should recover the cost of maintaining its services and perhaps make some small addition through its profits to the moneys available from loans or otherwise, to enable it to increase its capital expenditure.
The honourable member for Stirling said something about this in the course of his speech. He has quoted at some length what the British White Paper on the United Kingdom Post Office has had to say. I shall remind him of one or two points that are made in the White Paper on Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industries (Command 1337). Under the heading ‘Revenue Account’, paragraph 19, the White Paper reads:
The Government consider that the financial objectives of the nationalised undertakings under their Statutes should now in general be interpreted on the following lines: -
Surpluses on Revenue Account should be at least sufficient to cover deficits on Revenue Account over a 5-year period: in arriving at the surpluses and deficits for each year there should be charged against revenue the items normally so chargeable including interest, and depreciation on the historic cost basis.
I draw the honourable gentleman’s attention particularly to the matter of interest. The White Paper relates not only to the Post Office but to all of the English nationalised industries. So far as the Post Office is concerned, the interest charge is, I believe, 8%. So this is the acceptable principle in socialised industries in Great Britain. I understood that the honourable member for Stirling was against the charging of interest or the making of charges for services that would enable the Post Office to make a contribution from its profits towards its capital requirements. The White Paper continues:
Provision should also be made from revenue for:-
Here we get the principle accepted that the Post Office - indeed all nationalised industries in Britain should provide in their charges for interest and for some contribution to capital requirements. I would agree with this entirely. I hope that the honourable member for Stirling will revise his views and not persist in the attitude that he has taken.
He has also raised the question - and this has been debated before in this place - whether capital for the Post Office, provided in the past from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, should be subjected to an interest charge. The argument, of course, has been that the public has already provided this by way of taxation; why should they then pay interest on capital that they themselves have so provided? This is not a matter that I think it is useful to debate at great length and with great particularity. It was argued, I think, before the Ad Hoc Committee of Inquiry into the Commercial Accounts of the Post Office. I believe it was pointed out that you cannot equate taxpayers of this and earlier times with the customers of the Post Office today. But in any event, as I have said, this is not a matter that is worthy of being argued at great length because the Post Office must have the means for carrying on its business and expanding, and unless this is done as far as possible from the charges that the Post Office makes, then I believe that it must fail in its services and not be able to expand as rapidly as it should. Resources would have to be found from somewhere else.
As we all know, the Treasury is burdened with vast expenditures in respect of defence, social services and a host of other things. It is in my judgment quite unrealistic to suppose that you will get large sums from the Treasury - beset as it is with all these other demands - for the purposes of the Post Office. Therefore, as a practical matter the Post Office must as far as possible cover its costs and even make some contribution to its capital requirements. These, I think, are the practical conclusions to which any honourable member, irrespective of party affiliations, ought to come. These are all matters of large principle, and I agree entirely with the Government’s view on them.
I turn from these matters to some other matters related to the Post Office which could be, perhaps, somewhat more controversial. I have been greatly concerned in my electorate - and, of course, this affects all honourable members, so far as the services of the Post Office are concerned - with the shortage of telephones. I have here some figures which have been provided by the research service in the Library. I have in my hand a table compiled from information published in the annual reports of the Postmaster-General, setting out the situation regarding deferred applications as at 30th June in the years from 1962 to 1966. In 1962 there were 34,597 deferred applications in Australia. This figure rose to a peak of 50,340 in 1964, it dropped in 1965 and it dropped still further in 1966 to 16,243. Now there has been an improvement, but the situation has been very bad, and indeed is still bad.
I pass on to another table which has been compiled by the same source. It refers to deferred applications in the various States. In New South Wales the number of deferred applications as at 30th June 1965 was 21,102. No less than 79.2% of these deferred applications related to the metropolitan area and only 20.8% to the country. In Victoria the number of deferred applications was a mere 3,452; in Queensland, 794; in South Australia, 3,303; in Western Australia, 1,037; and in Tasmania, 165. A curious feature of this table is that whereas in New South Wales 79.2% of the deferred applications related to the metropolitan area and a mere 20.8% to the country, this situation is reversed in almost all the other States. For example, in Victoria 76.8% of the deferred applications were in the country and only 23.2% in the metropolitan area. In South Australia the situation is similar to that in New South Wales in that 82.6% of the applications related to the metropolitan area and only 17.4% to the country. It is a very curious situation, but I do not find it hard to understand in New South Wales because my electorate happens to be in the city and I know what the position is there.
I pass on now to my own electorate of Bradfield. Another table I have shows that the number of deferred applications on 31st August 1965 in Bradfield was 631. This position somewhat improved in the following months because on 30th June 1966 the number had declined to 439. It may be thought that country people suffer great disabilities, but so far as my constituents are concerned this kind of situation arises: Many of my constituents hold responsible positions and this involves their having to work late. Time and again such men in the city, having to return home late because they have been working back in their offices - perhaps they will not be home until 7.30 or 8 p.m. - want to telephone their wives and ask them to bring the car to the local station which may be a mile away, but over 400 of them who have no telephones cannot do this. This is a very real hardship and I will not have it said that country dwellers alone suffer hardship in these circumstances.
– It is ludicrous.
– There are great hardships in the country, but not many of them, because only 20.8% of the deferred applications relate to the country.
– What about Victoria?
– Victoria generally is in a very good position, although perhaps the country areas of Victoria are not so well off. Let us not quarrel about these things. I have hundreds of constituents who suffer great disabilities. Let there be no mistake about this. I pass on to some other matters that I think are not unimportant. The Minister has referred to certain proposals for separating the Post Office from departmental administration up to a certain point. I am not competent enough to know to what extent. It appears to me to be largely an accountancy matter - the setting up of a special fund. I would agree here with the thinking of the United Kingdom Government, that the Post Office ought to be regarded as a business organisation and should be separated, rather more than the Minister apparently intends, from departmental administration. The question then arises, of course, as to the relationship between Parliament and nationalised industry, because that is what the Post Office is in plain and simple terms. What should be the relationship? Is there any bridge that ought to be constructed between Parliament and Government on the one hand and an independent or semi-government instrumentality on the other? Here, I believe, there is an answer, and this would make a proper separation possible, because we would have better control with the arrangement that I shall mention than we would have under the proposal simply to issue what the Minister has been pleased to call a ‘White Paper’, and which, of course, could mean anything or nothing. They have had to deal with this problem in Great Britain and they have found a way of meeting it. I have had the interesting experience of sitting in at an actual meeting in Westminster of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. When I was there about 18 months ago it happened that by chance the Committee was concerned with the PostmasterGeneral’s Department at the time. This is not the place in which to discuss in detail how the Committee operates. All I can say is that a problem was recognised when this Committee was set up - the problem of public corporations controlling nationalised industries, including the coal mines and railways. The same situation exists with regard to the Parliament and the Post Office.
At first Ministers refused to answer questions dealing with the details of administration. They said: “This is a business organisation and we allow the business managers to proceed in their own way. Parliament will not interfere and we, the Ministers, will take no responsibility for the day to day operations of nationalised industries.’ This resulted in considerable disquiet in Parliament. Perhaps it was intended to close down a branch railway line. The member concerned naturally believed that the principle was excellent but that the railway line to Little Muggleton in his electorate ought to continue. They began to think about this situation and in the end the parliamentary Select Committee on Nationalised Industries was set up. Its object was to explain to Parliament the policies of the industries concerned - what they were trying to do - and to go into their methods of doing these things. I have no doubt that on the other hand it was useful to the managers of the nationalised industries to know the problems that beset Parliament. So it was possible to walk the tightrope between interference in detail, which in the case of a business undertaking should always be eschewed so far as the Minister is concerned, and on the other hand cutting the instrumentality adrift so that Parliament neither knew of nor had any control whatever over its policies and what it was doing. I put forward seriously the proposal - the Minister has not yet brought down his Bill dealing with the separation of the Post Office from departmental administration. The Minister has merely adumbrated his ideas in his passing remarks during the course of his second reading speech on this Bill. This is the kind of bridge that ought to exist between this Parliament and the Post Office or, for that matter, other nationalised industries.
We have had it said time and again that we must not have parliamentary committees - that we should not do what they do in the American Congress because this would be disastrous. I content myself with saying that this system can work, because in Britain it does work. It is not alien to or inconsistent with the British parliamentary system, because it exists and works at Westminster itself. Let it not be said that it cannot be done here or that it would be doing as the Amercians do. In passing, may I mention that most of the newly emerging countries pursue the American model of democratic government rather than the Westminster one. I say this merely in passing.
May I make one further comment? I know that this is not, in one sense, directly relevant to the Bill, and yet in another sense it is. Another place has seen fit to buy into this dispute. It is not for me to debate what its constitutional powers or rights may be. Indeed, I could even be ruled out of order. However, because I get few opportunities in this place, I want to make the point that the Parliamentary Library has a very limited research staff - indeed, it consists of three people. May I say that, in a federal system with all the glories of conflict between the central Government and the States and with all the muddle for which federal systems are renowned, if that is the right word, we do not have a lawyer in the Parliamentary Library who could assist us. We may be engaged in deep debate about the rights of this House or another place in certain instances but honourable members can expect no assistance from the Parliamentary Library. We just do not have a specialist in legal matters although we are in the centre of a federal system. I do not want to trespass upon your kindness any further, Mr Deputy Speaker. I make these remarks in passing; they are related only indirectly to the subject matter of this Bill.
– The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) drew some comparisons between the city and the country. He also drew comparisons between post office practice in this country and in the United Kingdom. The electorate of Gwydir, which I have the honour to represent, is as large as England. I am sure that many other electorates in Australia are as large or larger. In my opinion, it is impossible and of no use in consequence to draw any parallel whatsoever between conditions in Australia and conditions in such a closely knit country as the United Kingdom. Conditions in that country are totally and irrevocably different from those in Australia. We must look towards Canada or the United States of America for a useful comparison.
Similarly, when the honourable member spoke about telephone connections in the country as being at a higher rate than in city areas, he was speaking not of fulltime first-rate connections but of part-time second-rate connections. These connections are given to country people who are put on party lines and non-continuous services through manual exchanges. These services are second rate and provide an entirely different service from that in the metro politan areas. In the country, a telephone is a necessity and a business adjunct to people who are running a property. It is a vital means of communication between people who would otherwise be isolated from each other and their business centres. In the city, all too often the telephone is a means of entertainment rather than a service. I do not wish to dwell on this matter, but the honourable member for Bradfield obviously has an entirely different approach to this subject from mine and that of the majority of members in this House.
The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) made as strong a case as he possibly could for the Labor Party’s action in recalling the Senate and holding back this legislation for a long period, thereby disrupting the programme of the Postmaster-General’s Department and putting the country to great expense. No matter how hard the honourable member tried to gloss over the truth it is glaringly obvious that the Labor Party, in taking this action, was not seeking to protect the Australian people from an unfair impost or from an unjustified additional charge. It was simply trying to make political capital out of a popular issue and the result of the Corio by-election was the payoff. The people of Australia should reflect upon this. They have been put to very considerable expense and inconvenience simply because the Australian Labor Party wanted to make political capital. The public should know that if the Labor Party could do this once, it could do it many times over. Members of the Opposition, with their tongues in their cheeks, refused this legislation passage through the Parliament when it was first introduced. Having scored a political point they now allow the legislation to go through without so much as a murmur about it. This is complete and utter humbug and it is the sort of thing we should not have in politics. I hope that we will see the last of it very shortly.
The Australian Country Party agreed to this legislation, which is tq increase mail and telephone charges, when the legislation was first introduced in this place. We agreed to the legislation because we recognised that it is a sensible procedure for the increasing costs of the Postal Department to be matched by increasing charges. A balance should be struck and maintained between the costs of the Department and the charges that it levies against the users of services. We regarded this as unfortunate but reasonable and therefore we accepted the legislation. However, as representatives of people who live in the country and, as I have said, of people who too often have to put up with inferior services, we are concerned to see that another balance is maintained. I refer to the balance between the type of service offered to people who live in metropolitan areas and that offered to people who live in country areas. We want to see the two types of service brought to some sort of parity so that the taxpayers who live in the country and who pay their dues to the Post Office should be given or offered the same kind of service as is available to people who live in the more closely settled areas. We are concerned about this and we hope that if the Post Office is able to carry through its programme for development and expansion of services, this will in some measure offset the increased charges that country people will have to bear as a result of the passage of this Bill.
What is the present position? If we are to go by past figures, it will take SO years at least for all the party lines in Australia to be eliminated and for the people in the country to be given exclusive services. This estimation is based on the past rate of eliminating party lines. At the present rate it will take at least half as long, or more than 25 years, to convert all of the manual exchanges in the country to automatic exchanges. This is not a very attractive picture for country people who are called upon to pay these increased charges. We are told - and this is the estimate of the Post Office itself - that the costs of converting the manual exchanges and all party lines that are now in operation will be about $500m. This will be a formidable operation. We cannot expect it to be done, even in the best circumstances, overnight. However, we can hope for an acceleration in the rate of converting telephones to automatic working and acceleration in the rate of transfer from party lines to exclusive services. I am very pleased that the Post Office has these plans for the future. I am pleased to note that the Post Office has these ideas for the future.
If it is given access to adequate capital, it proposes to accelerate developments in the countryside in the way I have indicated. It proposes, if it is given the capital, to speed up the conversion of manual services. It proposes to convert 170,000 manual services to automatic working by 1971 - that is, within the next 5 years. In other words, half the present manual services will be converted to automatic working within 5 years. The Department proposes to raise by 368,000 the total number of automatic services in country areas in the same period. This figure of 368,000 is the same as the number of automatic services provided during the past 20 years. So, in the space of 5 years, if the money is available we will have the same number of automatic services as were installed during a period of 20 years. That is very heartening. In addition to this acceleration of activity in the country areas, we will have, if the money is available, a big increase in the range of subscriber trunk dialling and of automatic trunk working through the trunk exchanges. This will have a profound and beneficial impact upon communications in country areas.
That is the programme of the Post Office, provided it is given the kind of capital that it needs for this development. It requires the continued support of the Government through the Treasury and a continuation of the kind of profit that the Post Office can make and has been making in its telecommunication services in the last few years. The programme is one that would be regarded as satisfactory by all country residents. Even though they may be suffering considerable disabilities at present, I am sure they will agree that the programme as it is outlined and forecast by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is a satisfactory one. They would consider it to be much more satisfactory, of course, if they could see a lowering of trunk line charges, an expansion of the departmental construction of new lines to provide for connections for new subscribers and the installation of some of the new types of equipment that is being developed in the Department’s research laboratories. I refer to the voice frequency dial equipment and the long span aerial construction - equipment which has been designed in Australia and which promises to lower the cost of construction in the more remote areas and to make it possible for the Department to spread its money a little further than it would otherwise be able to do.
We hope that the Department will be able to carry through this programme. We hope in time it will be able to modify its scale of charges for trunk calls to make it more attractive for people to settle in country areas, for industry to establish itself and to continue to operate in country areas and for developers to go there and open up the resources of Australia. All these objectives require more assistance, naturally, than can be given by this one Department, but the Postmaster-General’s Department is the key to the opening up, the settlement and the development of Australia. It is the key to decentralisation. Therefore, when the Treasury makes its grant of funds towards the running of the Post Office each year - it gave the Post Office $178m last yearit should earmark funds as a grant to the Post Office for the development and opening up of outlying areas of Australia. The funds should not be there just as an amount of money to make up the difference; they should be there for a specific purpose. They should be earmarked for the development and the decentralisation of Australia’s population and industry.
I put that thought to the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme). I believe it makes more sense than ideas that have been put in this House for divorcing the Post Office entirely from parliamentary control. Such a separation would be extremely dangerous in the circumstances in Australia. We must always have some close political influence over the activities of the Post Office. Many of the country services of which I speak are development services and do not have the backing of large numbers. They must, therefore, have the backing of men of vision, of men of acumen, of men who know and can see the potential of Australia. They are the people who can be found in this chamber and not in a small group of councillors who may be running a statutory corporation for the Government. I urge the Postmaster-General to give my suggestion some consideration.
Before I sit down, may I say how much 1 personally appreciate the work that is being done continuously by the officers with whom I come in contact in the Postmaster-
General’s Department. I have been in this place for quite some time now and I have had quite a bit of contact with these officers. In my experience, they have been absolutely dedicated to the task given to them of providing communications to people in country areas. I would like to see them provided with more arms in the form of funds and equipment so that they can carry out the job they dream about and want to do in the interests of Australia.
– I endorse the remarks of the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Ian Allan) regarding the efficiency and courtesy of the Post Office staff. I must confess that over many years I have had dealings with them, often relating to suggestions that an article put in a pillar box anywhere in the metropolitan area should arrive somewhere else in Australia the next morning, and on very few occasions have I found any deficiency in the service.
– The officers should be given a 5-day week.
– I think they deserve that sort of adjustment to their conditions. In an organisation as wide as the Post Office is mistakes will be made and possibly inconvenience caused to some people. There is a tendency to take this as the standard for the Post Office. For the most part, my experience has been that the Post Office is efficient. The two measures we are now debating are before us in rather a peculiar way. Certain things that formerly were attempted to be done by Regulation now form part of a separate piece of legislation. The two Bills, which we are considering simultaneously, provide for increased postal revenue of $64m a year. That is on the basis of a full year of the projected impost, and the $64m is about 15% of the revenue of the Post Office for last year. So, in the aggregate, the charges provide for a 15% increase in the cost of the services which the Post Office performs. Up to date, nothing has been produced that shows, even on what is called last year’s commercial loss or even this year’s anticipated loss, that an increase of this magnitude is required. This applies even on the projection which the Minister has made for the commercial result for the coming year. He has given the figure of $40m. Yet he is prepared to take at this moment $64m in increased charges which is $24m more than seems to be required.
In the course of this debate and also on other occasions we have had an attempt to look at the financing of what I suppose is one of the largest undertakings conducted in Australia. An undertaking which has a turnover of $430m, as was the case this year, is no small concern. I suggest that the great mistake which the Government made with its previous measure was to attempt to introduce its proposals separately from the Budget. What I hope to be able to show is how inextricably mixed up with the whole budget process are the finances of the Post Office. I agree with some of the reservations that have been expressed by honourable members. I do not intend at this stage to discuss legislation that is not yet before us. Like the honourable member for Gwydir I should hope that too much is not taken away from this House concerning the overall financial picture of the Post Office. I can see a certain amount of logic in the proposal from a budget point of view if the total postal revenues are $430m and the total outgoings on a cash basis are more than $300m. 1 only suggest that all that ought to appear in the cash statement of the Budget is the net difference between the two amounts. Both sides of the Budget are artificially inflated by the inclusion of the full transactions. But I should not like to see taken entirely from the view of Parliament what have previously been called the Post Office estimates where one can see what the outlay both of an annual kind and of a capital kind is. This also perhaps what we will have to look at in the future.
My colleague, the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) in beginning this debate for the Australian Labor Party showed that, when looked at, what is called the financial report of the Australian Post Office for the year ended 30th June 1967 - the Postmaster-General was good enough to circulate it to us last night so that we could consult it before the debate commenced - indicates the difference between what are called cash or Treasury accounts, as far as the Post Office is concerned, and commercial accounts. The honourable member for Stirling explained that matter and I do not wish to repeat it. In terms of the two sets of accounts, there are differ*ences which aggregate $142m. The amount of $120m is the so-called cash surplus on a cash basis and $21.5m is what is called the commercial loss of the Post Office. The commercial loss is made up of $23,580,000 on account of postal services but in respect of the telecommunication services, there is a profit of $2,077,000. The projected increases add at least another $30m to telephone revenue. It is a bit hard to get a precise figure from the way in which the two Bills have been presented. But at least £3 Om in additional revenue is being sought from telecommunication services despite the fact that last year these services made a commercial profit of over £2m. I do not think that any explanation has been given about this matter. 1 wish to say how arbitrary this sort of approach seems. It looks as though the Postmaster-General is not primarily concerned whether the separate aspects of the Post Office show profit and loss but is concerned with taking the two together. He can recoup all the outgoings which, again, is scarcely a matter of justice as between telephone users whose service already shows a profit and postal users whose services incur a loss. This is particularly so when we take into account some of the sorts of postal transaction on which a loss is incurred. For instance, quite heavy subsidies are provided to the gentlemen of the Press who sit above us as far as certain telegrams and other documents conveyed via the postal services are concerned. The Press business does not pay. What is the commercial cost of those services? Newspapers, when posted as distinct from being delivered by newsagents, do not pay. This applies to the country Press to a great extent. Quite a substantial loss is incurred on the carriage of such articles. Again, I am inclined to agree with my friend, the honourable member for Gwydir, when he says that in all its aspects the Post Office is not a business undertaking. In some of its aspects it has to perform public services. One can argue sometimes whether those postal services should be subsidised, whether they should cover their costs exactly, or whether they should make a profit.
One cannot be dogmatic about any of these propositions. In many respects, the accounting of the Government at the
Budget level, particularly insofar as it relates to the Post Office and the total, reminds me of certain accounts that my accountancy teacher described as billygoat accounts. He called them billygoat accounts because he said that they swallowed everything in sight. I think, with all respect, that the way the postal accounts are presented in relation to the totality of the Budget smacks of billygoat accounts because the way in which they are presented swallows, camouflages or hides the real situation.
It has been claimed - every time I rise to speak on this particular matter I am charged with this proposition - that this cannot be demonstrated. This afternoon it was the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) who chose to quote the British experience of a new method of financing the Post Office. I wish to quote from an earlier document because it is in the context of nationalised industries that that proposition arises. This document is called The Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industries’. It is a White Paper presented to Parliament by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in April 1961 and bears the number ‘Command 1337’. This is what the authors of the document say in paragraph 12:
Comparisons are sometimes drawn between the return on capital in private enterprise and the return in public enterprises.
In paragraph 13, they state:
That is the Labor Government - . . believe, however, that simple comparisons of this kind - which tend to overlook or under-stress the differences between these nationalised undertakings and private enterprise - would be misleading. While it is legitimate to look for the same rate of return in a publicly owned enterprise which is fully commercial in its nature and is engaged in the same type of business as private enterprise, the main nationalised industries are not in this position.
I submit that this applies to no organisation more than it does to the Post Office, which is less like a private enterprise than any other public undertaking is. It is different also from any other public enterprise. The Post Office provides services that otherwise would be provided privately only at exorbitant charges. Indeed, they would not be provided at all in some of the fields that the honourable member for Bradfield mentioned. Some of the services provided by the Post Office can be provided only by a public undertaking. This is why it seems to me to be erroneous to suggest that there is comparability between the Post Office as a public enterprise and any other public enterprise, let alone a private enterprise.
I submit also that the Government is inconsistent in its attitude to the Post Office. I could understand, for argument’s sake, that if the Commonwealth were to provide capital out of its surplus revenues for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, as it has done, and if the capital so provided were to bear no interest charge and the Authority were therefore able to supply power at very cheap rates, chaos would certainly be caused among the electrical undertakings in the adjacent regions. The Authority, in supplying electric power, is competing with other suppliers of power and there is a feasible argument that at least it should not be given an unfair advantage over the other suppliers. I suggest that this applies with equal force to the Commonwealth Railways. To demonstrate again the inconsistency of this Government, let me remind the House that, as my colleague, the honourable member for Stirling, pointed out this afternoon and as we on this side of the chamber have pointed out on other occasions, capital has been advanced to that undertaking but no service charge has been imposed on it, as honourable members will see if they look at the financial details given to this Parliament in the annual report of the Commonwealth Railways. This means that that organisation can provide transport services in competition with other facilities, especially shipping, road and air services, while it enjoys what may be described, if honourable members like, as an unfair advantage. All that I am suggesting is that there is no golden rule about any of these things. Even if there were, this Government would be extremely unlikely to follow it.
It is suggested that the Post Office has just made the largest annual loss in its history, but let me remind the House that it is a little difficult to make comparisons with periods more than six years back because of the interest component that was introduced into the accounts of the Post Office in, I think, 1960. According to the accounts presented to us last evening, the interest charge last financial year aggregated $69m. A’s the honourable member for Stirling pointed out, the equivalent of that $69m was not charged against the Post Office prior to 1960. If this charge had not been imposed on the Post Office last financial year, instead of a commercial loss of $21m - the largest on record - it might have made one of its biggest profits on record. I noted that the honourable member for Bradfield said that an undertaking like the Post Office should recover its costs. But there can be a considerable degree of argument about what its costs are. On this, there is certainly no agreement here or anywhere else among experts of one kind or another. Experts differ, and we differ from the Government and its supporters on this issue. It is easy enough to say that if the Government did not raise the additional $64m of revenue that it proposes to raise by increasing charges, it would have to raise the revenue in some other way. All I suggest is that if the Postmaster-General wants to raise that sort of argument and does so, he simply demonstrates that the finances of the Post Office cannot be separated from the totality of the Budget.
– 1 just ask the Minister to think about it.
– I have thought about it.
– -Let him think about the net effect. If he reads the voluminous documentation that now accompanies the Budget he will find, as all the gentlemen in the world who call themselves financial experts these days say, that the overall evaluation of a Budget depends on some residual item that is called the net increase in indebtedness. There is no argument about the fact that one of the principal contributors to the net increase in indebtedness as shown in the Budget for the current financial year is the capital provision for the expansion and development of the Post Office. No new kind of mechanism can change that. The Government may appear to take this issue out of the realm of politics, but it suffers from an illusion if it believes that by presenting the accounts of the Post Office in one way rather than in another it will really have taken the issue out of the political arena. Indeed, I believe it is wrong to suggest that it should be taken out of the political arena.
– The honourable member could not run any statutory corporation in the way that he suggests.
– I could perhaps accept the idea of some statutory corporations being run in the way proposed by the Government. But here we are talking about the Post Office. Regardless of whether it is run as a statutory corporation or a government department or is sold to private enterprise, as was suggested by one of the Minister’s colleagues, the Post Office still has a bearing on the overall financial arrangements of the Commonwealth. At this stage, I do not want to get into the sort of argument that the Minister is attempting to introduce in relation to the proposed corporation. I do not think that as seen by the Minister it will be quite the- kind of corporation that my colleagues and I would prefer. I shall have to see what kind of corporation is proposed when the time comes before I can discuss it.
What I want to do now is make it clear that anyone in this House who thinks that by presenting the accounts of the Post Office in one way rather than in another the Government will be doing anything other than camouflaging the real situation suffers from an illusion. I shall be interested to hear the views of the honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver), who is now Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Possibly his feelings are a little like mine and perhaps he would prefer to wait until he hears more about the corporation that will eventuate. However, he may care to make one or two general observations on the matter. As the honourable member for Stirling pointed out this afternoon, the decision to load the interest component on to the accounts of the Post Office rather than bear it somewhere else was an arbitrary one. The decision on the rate of interest to be charged on the capital provided for the Post Office is equally arbitrary. As my colleague pointed out, when the present accounting system was adopted, the interest rate was close to 4%. It rose to almost 5% and last financial year it was 5i%. Each year the interest component rises and the commercial accounts of the Post Office have to make additional provision for it. The additional funds required are obtained by raising the charges imposed on the public. We on this side of the Parliament have said tor a long time, and I repeat again this afternoon, that the Government is using the Post Office as a taxing instrument.
No matter how the position is camouflaged or distorted or covered up with nice phrases about accounting proprieties, there is no doubt that the Government’s decisions are arbitrary. Because they are arbitrary they are open to differences of opinion. Of the $64m projected increase that the Minister has talked about he can justify at best only $40m of it, so at least a third of the increases are in the form of taxes, if you like, or what now appears in the White Papers as surpluses of public authorities. That is a new kind of taxation instrument. Throughout the whole of Australia at the moment something like $600m a year more is collected from users of public services than those services cost. I know that all sorts of accounting justifications arc put up to the effect that the position is the same as in industry where one has to plough back some of one’s profits in order to allow for capital expansion. But again the big difference between public undertaking and private undertaking is that private undertaking cannot long survive without making a profit. As the poet said, all men are ready to invest but most men expect dividends. In the field of private enterprise the profit is an inescapable element, but when the enterprise is a public one and the public as a whole are the shareholders, whether or not a profit is made is largely an academic or an arbitrary exercise, because it is the community as a whole that would receive the surplus. It cannot be distributed, so why should it be extracted?
Considerations of this kind do in the ultimate delineate between public undertaking and private undertaking, even when the public undertaking is of the kind I have outlined. Where it may in some sense be said to be competitive with some other public undertaking or some other private undertaking l agree that we may have to be careful in our accounting and see that a subsidy is not unwittingly given so as to make the use of capital resources by one or the other unfair. But the same test ought not to, and cannot, apply in the case of the Post Office, and I would like to hear some honourable gentleman supply a convincing argument at some stage as to the way in which the Post Office is. as has been claimed, competitive as to its services with any other undertaking. I suggest that except in respect of some very minor aspects of its undertaking this would be difficult to do.
Another notion that seems to obsess the Government is that the Post Office is a business undertaking. 1 repeat that it is partly a business undertaking and partly a public service. When we come to its identity as a public service we find that all the strict accounting canons can run on to rather curious rocks, and, I suggest, something of the kind has happened here.
I do not want to debate this afternoon the proposition that the Minister always pulls out, that if we do not provide the 564m- and this is a $64m question - in this way we will have to provide it in that way. What I am trying to demonstrate this afternoon is that the way in which it is presently provided is at least open to argument and at least ought to be subjected to some kind of scrutiny on the basis of its equity or otherwise. It already scrambles two sorts of services together. I do not think it is always realised that in a financial sense more than three-quarters of the activity of the Post Office is concerned with telephone services, not with what were quietly called postal services in the old days, and the telephone side, the major activity, already makes a profit on commercial canons as applied by the Minister, although he still is willing to stick at least another $30m on to it this year. How he justifies this 1 do not quite know. There may be some arguable case in respect of the postal services if one looks at the matter only from the strict commercial accounting aspect. But I would be interested to hear the Minister divulge some of the transactions that are carried through at a loss and which help to inflate that total loss figure. Even if it is argued that these are public services, again there is no reason why the resources of the Post Office should have to pay for what is really a general community provision.
I agree with the honourable member for Bradfield that there ought to be more opportunity for members of this House, perhaps by means of committees of one kind or another, to examine interesting propositions of this kind at greater length. No matter how long I talk here I doubt that I will convince my friend on the opposite side of the table; conversely I doubt that he would convince me. But we are not dealing only with blacks and whites, and I suggest that sometimes in that very mysterious realm that lies between certainty and uncertainty there is room for honest doubt. I submit that in this kind of proposition what the Government calls a commercial loss is only a commercial loss because some items of cost are added into it that quite good experts would suggest should not be added in. Some other good experts might suggest that they should, but at least there are differences.
– You fellows used to agree.
– Yes, but then one comes down on one side of a proposition rather than another. There is an attempt on the part of the Government to suggest that the way it chooses to do things is the only way. Too often the people of Australia have found that it is the wrong way, and I think that in many respects the wrong way has been chosen on this occasion.
-Several speakers on the Opposition side have raised points that I think call for replies. My friend the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) worked some years ago, of course, in the closest of harmony with the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) on the Public Accounts Committee and apparently saw eye to eye with him when reports were prepared. I can only suggest that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports has gone a little further into socialisation in bringing up some of the points he has raised this afternoon, and has parted company with his former colleague.
Let me deal first with the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) who in opening for the Opposition this afternoon, directed our attention to the nationalised industries of the United Kingdom Labour Government. He advocated, if I heard him correctly, that in an undertaking such as the Post Office we should aim at no profit whatever but should try to give a service to the people without profit. The inference was that we would be doing what the United Kingdom Labour Government has done.
– I never said that.
– That was the impression the honourable member left. He may correct it if he likes, but he certainly left that impression. I simply point out that the nationalised industries of the United Kingdom Labour Government have on every occasion been given a target of 8% profit to aim at. If the honourable member looks at the White Paper of the United Kingdom Post Office, ‘Post Office Prospects for 1966- 67’, he will find on page 14 the information that in the year 1963-64 the profit returned to the Post Office was 6.9%, in the following year it was 7.8% and in 1966-67 it was 7.5%. I think we must bear in mind that even a Labour Government that nationalises industries realises that it must set a sensible target for profit and that service simply cannot be given with a line ball arrangement. Having regard to the apparent mystification of the honourable member for Melbourne Ports concerning some of the proposals outlined in the PostmasterGeneral’s second reading speech I thought I should draw the honourable member’s attention to the fact that the Government has a twofold purpose. Firstly it wishes to avoid the confusion which naturally results when there are two sets of accounts, particularly when we remember that cash accounts necessarily precede commercial accounts by about two months because of the time taken in compilation. The people can be led to believe that the situation in the Post Office is as shown in the cash accounting, but the commercial accounts, give an entirely different view of the position. I believe that the Government is saying .that it wants to avoid this confusion. Secondly there is the need to avoid unnecessary administrative costs associated with the two sets of accounts. While I might wish to refer again to the commercial accounts I am pleased to point out that the Government’s attitude is basic to the point raised by the honourable member.
In all the documents presented to the Parliament the Australian Post Office is listed as a business undertaking. We refer to it as such. In any reference to expenditure in the Appropriation Bill the Post Office has been treated accordingly. It is a business undertaking. I lay some emphasis on the fact that the Opposition has, during th years, treated the Post Office as has the Government, namely as a business undertaking. The operations of the Post Office have, however, remained underthe day to day scrutiny, survey and responsibility of a Minister of State in the person of the Postmaster-General. Therefore, the status of the Post Office has never, since Federation been that of a statutory authority. Tt has remained that of a government department.
May I draw attention to the fact that the Minister in his second reading speech underlined the traditional approach by the Parliament to changes in rates as far as the Post Office is concerned. He said that the users of the services of the Post Office should be required to pay for them. He went on to mention the free passage through both Houses of this Parliament of legislation varying charges upon users. This, he said, has become traditional and I add my protest to his regarding the antics of Her Majesty’s Opposition on the occasion of the Bill earlier this year to increase rates. Government supporters have watched with interest the divisions within the Opposition over this legislation. We remark again upon the unprecedented use in another place of a special sitting to reject amending regulations. I submit that the public should take note of the fact that even when these new rates become operative, in this financial year we can anticipate a further loss in the Post Office of between $8m and $10m. This loss may be laid at the door of the Opposition because of its frustrating tactics. This is so because the rates could have been applied a few months ago. The public will have this extracall upon it, but it might well have faced this extra call a few months ago. The lossin the Post Office whichI expect to be reported when the financial year closes will be the responsibility of none other than those who frustrated the Government in its intention.
We might well ask whether the Opposition has changed its traditional attitude towards the Post Office as a business undertaking. The Postmaster-General asked the opposition what its philosophy was regarding the Post Office and well that question might be answered. There has been a sensitivity today on the part of Opposition speakers in dealing forthrightly with the Opposition’s attitude.
I support the increased costs and submit that no other businesslike attitude can be logically applied. If revenues are falling so far short of expenditure and if a loss is apparent, increased revenue must be found to meet the situation. That is basic, with this proviso, that although I am a strong supporter of the Government,I am frank enough to point out that there is still a responsibility for constant scrutiny of expenditure. This is a demand from all over the countryside. The various institutes, particularly the taxpayers associations, are asking us to bend every effort, not only in respect of the Post Office but right through the whole process of Government administration, to see that we exercise economies and ensure that there is no unnecessary wastage of finances. Before I go further on that point let me say that I am also a member who feels the pinch when charges such as these must be increased and when unfortunately the increase has to be such a substantial percentage increase in certain areas. I know that in his earlier years my friend, the Postmaster-General, had vital and valuable associations with various organisations and businesses. He is a chartered public accountant. I know something of his early association with church activities and of his interest in youth organisations within his electorate.
– Who is this?
– I am referring to the Postmaster-General, my friend and colleague. So I say to him that it is a pity that, in some areas where these increases are to be applied, we have not found it possible to tone them down a little by concessions. I do not depart from the basic principle that the users of the services must pay for them, but I submit that we could have found some formula of concessions to apply to charitable bodies, church groups and youth organisations whose postage bill now will present an almost insuperable problem. This is something that hurts me and other honourable members, but basically we support the principle that those who use the services should be required to pay for them.
I return to the all important subject of expenditure and point out that last year in the Post Office expenses increased by $51. 6m. At the same time revenue increased by only $30.2m. Here we have this unfortunate gap which has to be spanned. The figures reflect, as we have been reminded in the last few days, a record loss in the Post Office of some $21.5m. I must draw attention to the fact that in the previous financial year the loss was only $124,117. Whether we like the reference or not, we have to be truthful and say that on the face of it this is a tremendous drift. A most careful analysis of the commercial accounts is necessary and I trust that all honourable members will recognise that such an analysis is virtually impossible in a speech of this nature. I am not unmindful of the problem and if as a Government supporter I am critical in a moment or two about a few things that are proposed, I feel bound to draw attention to the problem as I see it.
I have notes which indicate that over the last 2 years additional staff in the Post Office has called for an expenditure of an extra $14m. Here again we must ask whether there has been strict scrutiny of the need for this additional staff. In the same period basic wage, margins and award increases have required not less than $35m. The account for materials and services increased by $5m. The cost of contracts into which the Post Office must enter for the carriage of mail has increased by $2m. Of course, there is the increase proposed for interest and depreciation, superannuation and furlough, amounting in all to something like $55m. We take that into account and we note, too, that the postal working expenses in the 6 years to 1965-66 have increased from $85m to $127m, or an increase of 49.4% . This, of course, over the 6 years represents an annual increase of 6.9%. When we take this into account we understand the difficulty that this business undertaking must face. But losses of the kind to which I have referred carry a responsibility to provide every possible answer to parliamentary and public inquiry regarding the efficiency of this undertaking. We cannot forget that the Treasurer (Mr McMahon), as he came to the conclusion of his Budget Speech, raised the query: Are we efficient?’ He was making the claim in effect that our standing aim as a government through all department’s is a high degree of efficiency and he was throwing out a challenge to the business sector of the Australian population that they too must have this target of efficiency and that this must be a combined operation.
In the context of the Post Office I draw attention to the fact that the PostmasterGeneral has recently travelled overseas and in his speech he has given us the benefit of some of his observations. We know that he sent his senior officers around the world so that they might personally observe the operations of other postal services. In his speech the Postmaster-General drew our attention to the fact that there is no doubt in his mind that Australia’s communication services compare favourably with those of other countries. He reminds us of our large area and our small and scattered population outside the capital cities, and well we know the impact that this sort of service has upon the expenditure of the undertaking. He told us about the latest electronic mail coding equipment, with which we have had a few initial difficulties but which should in the long run improve the service to the public tremendously. We know that these are moves in the right direction to achieve efficiency and we wish the PostmasterGeneral and his Department every success. But if the Treasurer of the Commonwealth is emphasising efficiency, let there be no misunderstanding that this Department, the largest business undertaking in the whole of Australia, is carrying the responsibility daily of demonstrating to all that its efficiency is supreme.
The public is bewildered at times because of the technical organisation in this Department on some operations. I have not always been able to find a satisfactory answer to the critic who asks why there should be so many men employed upon a relatively simple installation. I believe that this Department has yet to put its house in order in this connection, because if it were a statutory corporation or authority I think I can envisage the chairman of the corporation ensuring that the man who bad to instal a telephone was trained as an individual to move into the home or business concerned and carry out the installation without a retinue of other technical people standing beside him to do a small job. In the minds of the critical public this represents a wastage of personnel. I believe there is a distinct area here for the efficiency of technical organisation and business management to apply.
Efficiency requires a control over extra duty pay or overtime. The Post Office record is not very different from that of other departments in this regard. In his recent report to this Parliament and in past reports the Auditor-General has found it necessary to refer to overtime. Last year the Post Office spent $27.3m on overtime. This year, and for the same vote, the comparative figure is up to $30.492m. What of the future? Parliamentary control of the Post Office’s expenditure and operations stands, I believe, to be affected by the announced decision to create a Post Office Trust Account. I have not time to quote the PostmasterGeneral’s words but he indicated - and this was referred to by the Treasurer in the Budget Speech and has been amplified by the Postmaster-General - that this is a highly desirable move. It is in this direction that I wish to make a few observations. May I be permitted to remind the House that over the years since Federation there have been some very deep and detailed investigations into the Post Office. The first was a royal commission on postal services in 1908-10. I would like to refer to a couple of points in this because these observations back in 1908 underline why it is that we have continued through the history of Federation to look upon the Post Office as we do. In the report of that royal commission, dealing with the third proposition* of the terms of reference, that the Department be self-supporting with certain grants for special services, the Commissioners said:
Regarding the fourth proposition in the terms of reference, that the Department be self-supporting as a Commonwealth concern, they said: the balance of evidence is in favour of the services being made self-supporting as far as possible. Your Commissioners recommend that the Department should be self-supporting as a whole, and consider that this is practicable without the lessening of facilities. The services should be viewed as a Commonwealth concern, and the term ‘selfsupporting’ should be applied to the functions of the Department as a whole.
There was another royal commission in 1919-21 on economies, when naturally the Post Office received some attention. But then we come to the year 1953-54, when I think the present Postmaster-General was associated with the Twelfth Report of the Public Accounts Committee. This report becomes a historic and valuable report, and I point out that it was largely the basis of the establishment later of the Committee on Commercial Accounting in the Post Office. That Committee’s scope is indicated in page 8 of that report, but in the conclusions on page 49 we again come to the basic principles. There it was said:
The Committee realises, however, that whether it is looked at as a government department or as a business undertaking, the services offered to the public, and the rates or charges that will be fixed for those services, will be decided by the Cabinet on the recommendation of the Minister, i.e., the Postmaster-General. If its appraisal as a government department predominates, there is no effective yard-stick to measure costs, and, therefore, to fix the rates that should be charged . . .
The Committee cannot over-emphasise the importance of comprehensive commercial accounts . . .
The Committee feels that the departmental organisation has been primarily concerned with the technical efficiency of its services, and that the business management of the undertaking, including a full appreciation of accounts and costs of the organisation has been relegated to a less important position.
Since that report there has been quite a tremendous change, with the report on commercial accounting and the introduction of commercial accounting. These we have analysed from time to time in the House. But now that a trust fund is proposed I find it necessary to draw attention to another report of the Public Accounts Committee which dealt with the Trust Fund and is therefore particularly relevant to the current proposal. This particular report expressed views generally on the creation of trust accounts. It wisely laid down for the Parliament’s acceptance the following criteria for consideration in relation to trust account creation. In paragraph 313 it stated:
It would be easy to consider the technique of annual appropriation and lapse of funds as indispensable to the proper functioning of parliamentary control, to make it, as it were, the foundation upon which parliamentary control rests. While in many cases this may be true, your Committee doubts whether it is universally so. It is our view that there are some circumstances that may cai! for a control exercised in a different manner.
In paragraph 162 of the report the Committee stated:
Your Committee considers that in many cases, trust accounts in the nature of working accounts have distinct advantages over the system of annual appropriations. We think that a number of qualifying conditions should normally be compiled with both before such accounts are established and in connexion with their operation-
And this is the critical point:
Supporting this view as I do, it seems to me that in retaining the status of a department, as the Postmaster-General has indicated, the Post Office will now have the flexibility of a trust fund, without the independence of being a corporation or an authority.
I believe that the Parliament should be aware of what this may involve. I find that the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) covering the annual Estimates recently tabled in this House provides on pages 175 to 178 the full votes of the Post Office for this financial year. It is my interpretation that these will probably be omitted from future Appropriation Bills. Also, the salaries and allowances schedule for the Post Office at the rear of the document will be omitted. Likewise, details which in the past have been included in the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) dealing with capital works will be omitted. The Appropriation Bills will, in my opinion, and from my interpretation of what has been said in the speeches, indicate a one-line provision. If a loss is expected there will be in the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) a total amount to meet the needs of the Post Office.
I ask: What will the Parliament have to replace the detail that is contained in the current Appropriation Bill? There is reference to the commercial accounts which now exist. We are told that we will have commercial accounts as in the past. There is reference to an additional White Paper, similar to the United Kingdom Government’s White Paper on the Post Office. When I turn to a copy of this document I find that it is an interesting document, but I am forced to ask: Will content similar to that which is contained in this White Paper satisfy this Parliament if we are not to have the detail that we have enjoyed in the past? I suggest that, as interesting as the document is, it does not provide the sort of detail that I have mentioned, such as extra duty pay. It will not necessarily show to country and metropolitan members the location of new post offices and facilities, such as telephone exchanges, which may be involved in a future programme. I am wondering what the staffing position might be. Will there be sufficient detail in the White Paper to satisfy me regarding the staffing set-up of the Post Office?
How much financial detail will really be available to the Parliament to evaluate whether a deficiency, if one is expected, is fully justified? Will we find sufficient detail about capital works that are proposed? I wonder whether the civil works programme will be placed before us in a similar fashion as in the past, or whether we must go to the White Paper on the Post Office hoping there to find further amplification of the Post Office’s civil works programme. What about rates? Will these still be subject to control by the Parliament or will the Post Office be’ authorised to adjust rates to suit its budgetary needs? These are some of the things which naturally give me concern.
I shall make my position clear as I summarise my remarks: Basically, I support the proposal that these increases in rates at this time are essential because of the gap between revenue and expenditure which has unfortunately occurred. I would hope that we have not been inefficient in the Post Office in not calling for an increase in these revenues at an earlier stage.
When I think of that 125% increase in one area of postal charges which I have mentioned which is of interest to the Postmaster-General and to myself personally I wonder why we did not seek an increase at an earlier stage. I have underlined that as a business undertaking the Post Office has unfortunately been affected by increases in wages and prices. These are the facts of life with which this business undertaking, along with others, must live. So we, as a Government, are justified in asking for the rates to be approved.
I would remind Her Majesty’s Opposition that it has been a party to holding up these increases over recent months. It has cost the Post Office precious revenue of approximately $8m to $10m in the current financial year. I am sure that the public will not forget this. But whilst I have supported the Government, I have underlined the necessity for this Parliament in this context - and in the context of the establishment of any statutory authority - to make sure that it protects itself by asking the Executive for a sufficient revelation of the detail of proposed expenditure. Then the Parliament may approve of increases with a full knowledge of the position, not just accept the recommendations of an executive that increases of this kind are justified and that everything is in order regarding the commercial accounts. 1 believe that in this country we have a Post Office of which we can be proud, but this does not mean that there is no area for improvement. 1 believe that some of the critics of Government administration in my own electorate are justified in saying: ‘Has the Post Office sought an acceptable level of efficiency? How much more care should be taken to achieve that standard which the public desires?’
– We have just witnessed a typical Government performance - the striking of the pose of injured innocence when the Government itself is the guilty party in the proposal that is before us. The honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver) in his opening and closing remarks accused the Opposition of having held up this legislation for a number of months and, by so doing, of having cost the Postmaster-General’s Department a certain amount of revenue. What are the facts? What is the truth? A few months ago, silently, surreptitiously and without warning of any sort the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) came into this House to introduce increased rates for postal and telegraphic services. It was a procedure that had never been followed before, to my knowledge. These increases in the cost of postal services were to mean millions of dollars extra to the Postal Department.
A budget was introduced in August 1966. If the Minister is as efficient as he claims to be and if his top departmental officers are as efficient as we would like to believe they are, the Minister, the Cabinet and the Government, must have had warning that the Post Office was facing a deficit. So who is the guilty party? Who are the guilty people? Cabinet and the Minister knew that the Post Office was facing a chaotic situation, but they did nothing about it because there was a general election coming up in November last year. The Government did not have the courage to bring down these proposals in the 1966 Budget. So the Minister silently crept into this House in the early months of this year and introduced the proposals. The Opposition took the attitude that any decent opposition would take. If the Government wants to raise finance in order to keep the economy or a department going, then the time to do that is at the time of the presentation of the Budget. We endeavoured to hold up the increases in this House. We endeavoured to hold them up in the Senate.
The Parliament, which to me is the paramount body, expressed the opinion that these charges should not be imposed in the way in which the Minister was trying to impose them. That opinion was expressed by the Labor Opposition, members of the Democratic Labor Party and an Independent senator. They all voted against the proposition and the Senate refused to pass the legislation. But did this deter the Government? Did this deter the Minister? No. He and the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) announced that, irrespective of the decision of the Senate of this Parliament, they would take action to introduce the increased rates by regulation. Now the honourable member for Swan and various other members on the Government side stand before us and weep crocodile tears. The Minister wept crocodile tears in his two second reading speeches. If the Government had been honest about the whole situation, these proposals would have been brought down last August and it would have faced the electors on the increased postal charges. The Government was not prepared to do so then and now members opposite complain because we took action to prevent the Government, firstly, from tricking the people and, secondly, from riding rough shod over the Parliament. The Senate did the right thing, and now that the Government has announced these proposals as part of the Budget proposals the Opposition will not oppose the passage of this Bill.
We criticise these proposals because they deserve to be criticised and because they have not been directed against the proper people. We appreciate the need to pay for the services that are available from the Postmaster-General’s Department. Staff conditions and wages cannot be improved unless the Post Office can afford to pay increased rates. The postal services must be paid for by the people who use them, but the subscribers expect to get service. I doubt very much whether the Minister, who keeps on chirping like a tom-tit on a stump, has been an efficient PostmasterGeneral. I doubt very much whether he knows what is going on in his Department some of the time. I would say that under his administration the Department has declined and is still declining. The morale of the Post Office staff has never been lower. Telephone technicians are leaving the service in large numbers. The honourable member for Swan complained about overtime work, but there are not sufficient technicians to put in the new services required nor to keep the existing services operating. Almost every week in practically every area there are changes of postmen. Fellows come into the Department, are not satisfied with the working conditions and wages, work as postmen for a few weeks and then resign to get better pay outside the service. Letters, parcels and telegrams are lost, destroyed, mutilated or delivered late. The responsibility for the loss of postal articles is not accepted by the Post Office. I will give an example of this later. Disconnected telephone calls, crossed lines and wrong numbers are regularly experienced by us all. The wages and salaries of Post Office employees on the lowest rungs do not compare with amounts paid by private industry for unskilled and semi-skilled employees.
Post Office employees are expected to work on Saturday mornings. Most other Commonwealth departments and most State departments and banks are closed on Saturdays. I doubt very much whether much of the work that is performed in post offices on Saturday mornings is directly connected with postal services. I ask the Minister to give some percentages relating to extraneous work performed by the Postal Department year in year out for other departments on Saturday mornings.
– What other departments?
– I should like the honourable member for Swan to say how long it is since he has been in a post office on a Saturday morning. I will enlarge my question and ask how many times members of his family have been into a post office on a Saturday morning in the last 6 months. Can any member in this House at this moment say that he, or any member of his family, was in a post office last Saturday morning?
– Yes. I was. Does the honourable member want me to put that in writing?
– It is interesting that when a challenge is issued to a member who keeps interjecting, a lot of howls come from other members. I do not think many of the honourable members who howled would be often in a post office on a Saturday, but they want to keep the poor employees there. They do not complain about the banks being closed on Saturdays. This Government has never granted one concession to any employee during its whole political life without action first having been taken by the trade unions through arbitration or by other methods. I am now getting a few interjections from the Country Party - the Country Party of low wages and long hours. I expect this from the Country Party. I challenge any member from the Country Party or the Liberal Party to point to one major industrial legislative item that has ever been put on the statute book by this Government without action first having been forced upon it by the efforts of the Labor Party and the industrial organisations.
The ground of our criticism of this proposal is that these increases were known to be needed a long time ago and no action was taken. A further ground for our criticism is that the increases have been levelled against the ordinary user of the Post Office and the big business user has been favoured. Let us consider the rates of letters and post cards. The present rate is 4c for the first ounce and 3c for each additional ounce. The proposed rate is 5 c for the first ounce, 4c for each additional ounce up to 4 ounces and then 4c for each 4 ounces. This means a 25% increase to ordinary users of postal services. Most letters of non-business people would weigh between 1 oz and 4 oz. Business houses are more likely than private individuals to use the heavier letters, and yet letters over 6 oz can be posted cheaper under the proposed rates than under the old rates. For instance, a 7 oz letter under the old rate would cost 22c. Under the proposed rate it will cost 21c. An 8 oz letter under the old rate would cost 25c, and under the new rate 21c. The average letter would be under 1 oz. I am prepared to admit that a great number of business letters would weigh less than 1 oz, but there would be a fairly heavy usage by business houses of letters of 6 oz or more.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension for dinner I was giving a quick run through of some of the proposed postal charges. In the case of ‘other articles’ such as small packets, presents or books, the charge has risen. The cost of posting these articles will be 125% dearer than it was previously. In this category the rate known as the British Commonwealth rate of postage has been cancelled entirely. To send a 16 oz paper to the United Kingdom will cost 33c as against 13c previously. I would like all British migrants to take careful note of this. There is a new rate for other articles. A 4 oz parcel will cost 9c as against 4c before; a 12 oz parcel will cost 17c as against 10c.
I now wish to refer to registered publications. The new rate for a 16 oz paper is 13c as against 8c. The bulk rate in this category - and I suggest that people using this would be newspaper companies, large publishing houses and businesses of that kind - is increased by lc for 12 oz so that 3 lb of papers will cost 20c as against the old rate of 16c. Others using the bulk service are church organisations, small printers, clubs distributing journals and people of that sort. There is now a minimum weight for articles. An example of this would be 9,000 articles weighing approximately 900 lb, or about 2 oz per article. At the old rate this would have cost $48, but on the new minimum rate it will cost $90. The Salvation Army in my area has assessed that it will cost it 75c per 100 articles as against 40c per 100 under the old rate. Therefore, it can be seen that the increases that have been brought in by the PostmasterGeneral and which are being criticised by the Opposition, will hit hardest the ordinary user and the person who requires rates of postage to be kept as low as possible.
I now wish to refer to money orders. This form of payment is used by ordinary men and women in Australia. It is used by people who do not possess cheque accounts. The present commission on money orders is 12c per $10 plus 8c for each additional $10 or part thereof. The new rate is 15c and 10c for each succeeding $10. A cheque can be issued by any person whether it be for $1 or $1,000. Both these amounts carry the same rate of stamp duty. However, under the new charges brought in by the Postmaster-General the commission on a $1,000 money order will be $10.05. The commission on a $10 money order is 15c. I wonder whether the Postmaster-General and his advisers want the money order system to continue. No more work is involved in issuing a $10 money order than there is in issuing a $50, $100 or $1,000 money order. No extra procedures have to be followed by the postmaster or any other member of the Post Office staff. Yet, the rate of commission on money orders will rise continuously as the money orders become larger. I believe that the Government and the advisers of the Postmaster-General’s Department are trying to curb activity in money order business.
The same position applies to postal orders as to money orders. Postal orders of the value of $5 to $8 will now cost 10c. The stamp duty on cheques is 4c or 5c depending on the State in which the cheques are drawn. It is the person who does not have a cheque account or money in the bank who will want money or postal orders. He is the person who is going to be hit by these increases. I suggest that it is the ordinary man and woman, the pensioner and the family man who will be hardest hit in this category.
I now turn to telegrams. At the moment we are paying 2.5c per word for telegrams. The new rate wAi be 3c per word. As an example, if a person sends a 12-word telegram from a multi-coin telephone, he pays 36c for the telegram plus 5c for the call. I want to ask the Postmaster-General: If the charge is to be 41c, and as there is no provision for the use on multi-coin phones of lc and 2c coins, will the Post Office insist that the customer pays 4c extra or will it knock off the lc and reduce the charge to 40c? No differentiation has been made between telephone calls made from subscriberowned telephones and those made from subscriber services not equipped with multi-coin attachments. The manual rate between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. is 16c for the first 30 miles. It is $1.80 for over 400 miles. The automatic dialling charge, where no switch operator is required, where no monitor is required and where there is fewer personnel required, is exactly the same rate - 16c up to 30 miles, and $1.80 for 3 minutes over 400 miles. Between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. for a 3 minute call the cost is 12c for the first 30 miles and $1.44 for over 400 miles. So, no benefit is being passed on to the subscriber by automation and by more efficient use of the telephone cables that are installed throughout the length and breadth of this country.
I refer now to charges which are made for calls from public telephones and subscriber services which are equipped with multi-coin attachments from which trunk calls can be made. Between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. the charge will be 20c, which is 4c more than it is if you ring from your own telephone at home and make a call to a place that is more than 30 miles away but not more than 50. If you make a call of more than 50 miles but less than 100 the cost is 2c more; a call between 100 and 200 miles is 3c more. However, for some unknown reason, for a call between 200 and 300 miles the rates are the same whether you ring from your home or from a public telephone. A call between 300 and 400 miles will cost le more and a call exceeding 400 miles will be the same rate as the subscriber trunk dialling rate from your own home. Between 6 and 9 p.m. the charge from a public telephone is 15c for the first 3 minutes for up to 30 miles. This is 3c more than if you ring from your home. Between 50 and 100 miles the cost will be 4c more; between 50 and 100 miles it will be 4c more; between 100 and 200 miles it will be 2c more; and for some unknown reason, between 200 and 300 miles there will be no increase. From 300 to 400 miles there will also be no increase. A call exceeding 400 miles will carry an increase of lc. There is no logic in these charges. There is no rhyme nor reason in the way they have been made up unless perhaps they represent a bit of a sop to the Country Party.
– That would upset the honourable member.
– -It upsets me to this degree: If the honourable member is going to be consistent in helping the country people, he should not play around by increasing the charges in some directions and not in others.
– If the honourable member analysed this he would see the position.
– I have analysed it. I want the Minister and the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson), if he is going to speak, to explain this to me. I ask the Postmaster-General: If I am ringing from a multi-coin telephone and the cost of my call happens to end in lc or 2c, what happens to the lc or the 2c? Does it build up to an extra 5c which I must put in the multi-coin box, or will it be reduced to the nearest 5c? I suggest that the subscriber will be asked to pay an extra 5c because no provision is made for lc and 2c coins to be used in multi-coin boxes.
I pass to rentals. At $40 a year the rental is extortionate. I understand that more than 50% of telephone accounts are between $26 and $30. So the rental component of $20 is two-thirds of the cost of having a telephone. People pay $20 for each 6 months so that they can have a service that they may need urgently. It would be much more equitable if those people who use the telephone day in and day out, hour after hour, were to pay more for a single call instead of the rental component being so high. People pay the rental of $20 for each 6 months simply to keep the service in their home for emergency calls of one type or another.
I agree that some increases in charges can be justified. If we want an efficient Post Office and if we are to pay decent wages and give decent conditions to the employees charges for the services must be kept at a reasonable level. But the Opposition says that there is no need to slug the ordinary user. These charges have definitely been designed to slug the ordinary user rather than big business. Most ordinary users of our postal and telegraphic services would be quite happy to pay the extra charges if they had a more efficient service and if they had some protection from the mutilation and loss of their mail. I will give one example of loss of mail. A letter from a constituent of mine reads in part:
I returned an eight Transistor Radio to the Standard Radio Corporation in Japan for repairs on the 12th September last year. The Department of Customs and Excise have informed me that the repaired radio was received at the Sydney Mail Exchange and presumably despatched to the Punchbowl Post Office under notice (No. 3SS31) on the 23rd January this year. The Punchbowl Postmaster advises he never received the radio from the Department of Customs and the Sydney Mail Exchange confirms that the radio never left the Exchange. It is admitted that the radio is lost and further that I cannot be compensated for the loss because the radio was not sent by registered post.
This seems an incredible situation and I wonder if you could advise me whether it is fact that I must stand the loss or if there are steps I can take to recover the value of the radio.
I made representations to the Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Sydney and in part his reply reads:
As promised, I have had inquiries made but I am afraid they have confirmed substantially the information already received by . . . The parcel containing the radio was posted at Kanagawa, Japan, on 18th January, 1967 and, according to records held by the Customs Sub-section of the Sydney Mail Exchange, it must have been received at that point. The records show that the parcel was examined by Customs officers on 23rd January, 1967 and Duty was assessed at $27.25 including the Postal Handling Charge of 12 cents. In normal circumstances, the parcel would then have been returned to the mails and forwarded to the Post Office at Punchbowl for delivery as addressed. As you are aware, however, the parcel did not reach . . and despite the fullest possible investigation no trace of it can be found nor can the point of loss be determined.
Compensation for kiss or damage to articles in the post is restricted to the registered or insured post and since the radio under inquiry was sent by ordinary air mail there is unfortunately no way in which compensation can be arranged.
If I take a pair of trousers to a dry cleaner and the garment is destroyed, damaged or lost, whether I have registered it or not, I am entitled to be compensated for the loss or damage. In the instance I have cited there is admitted proof that the article was in the possession of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and has been lost by the Department. Accordingly, my constituent surely is entitled to expect compensation. Although the law at this stage may not allow for compensation to be paid to him the law should be altered, and I ask the Postmaster-General to consider doing this.
Another point of inefficiency is shown in a letter I received from another constituent of mine, who is a justice of the peace and a former employee of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. He writes:
Is the PMG’s Department conducting its business on the cheap? To my way of thinking the employment of irresponsible junior messenger boys to clear street letter boxes is improper, to say the least.
On a number of occasions recently 1 have seen lads carrying out this work in my area in the forenoon on week days.
Riding a push cycle while carrying by hand a conventional blue mail bag containing many letters, in morning traffic, leaves much to be desired where safety is concerned. Surely a wire cage or basket attached to the handle bars could be provided and thus give the lads greater control over the cycle particularly so on wet roads.
One morning … I noticed a messenger boy clearing a box half an hour before the first clearance time indicated on the box. He carefully examined the face of each letter as he removed it from the box. Why was that done? 1 approached him and said: ‘Isn’t it the practice to have this mail collected by a man or mcn with a van?’ ‘We have to do it in the mornings and the trucks do it in the afternoons and at night,’ he replied.
On several occasions I have observed a messenger boy mounted on a cycle clearing boxes . . approximately half an hour before the first clearance time shown on the boxes.
This is a bad practice. If a box is cleared a little late no inconvenience may result to letter writers; however, early box clearance could cause inconvenience to writers of some letters posted in a particular box immediately before correct first clearance time and immediately after the early clearance time made by the messenger boy concerned.
These are legitimate complaints, and the public is entitled to make them. As the Postmaster-General intends to make an extra charge for the services his Department provides I ask him to ensure that the public gets service, that the telephones operate correctly and that the mails are delivered swiftly and on time.
In concluding, I want to say a few words on behalf of the non-official postmasters and postmistresses throughout the country. I have not heard any member of the Australian Country Party put in a plea for them. They work under difficult conditions. They have to do a hundred and one different tasks and their remuneration is far too low. Something should be done to help them.
– In the words of Dr Samuel Johnson, it is much easier to be critical than to be correct. Whatever can be said of the criticisms proffered by the Opposition in this debate one fact, simple but illuminating, must be clear beyond contradiction, and that is the absolute failure of Opposition members to found their submissions on any depth appreciation of the proper role of the Post Office and the challenges that have faced it in the cost area in recent years. All the honeyed words from Opposition members cannot hide the fact that Labor on this issue manifests the same degree of dissident disarray that characterises its failure on other matters. It has been against the Bill, but apparently it is not now willing to force its defeat in another place.
The Bill before the House amends the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-1965 to provide for. increases in a range of postal and telegraph charges. Despite the fact that the Senate has twice rejected the measures inherent in the Bill and disallowed regulations covering a range of other matters, I welcome the opportunity to support the Bill because I believe the proposed charges to be fully justified. As other honourable members have emphasised, the Post Office is Australia’s largest utility and largest business undertaking of any kind. Its objectives should include the development of the most efficient services possible at the lowest charges consistent with sound financial policies, the maintenance of effective relations with its staff and the pursuance at all times of a customer orientated service and adequate programming to meet growth and prepare for future expansion. But against this context of management goals, it is important to emphasise that the Post Office is a national business undertaking, and as such it must be prepared to pay its way. This embodies the earning of sufficient revenue from the sale of its services at least to cover its costs, including interest on capital made available from Treasury sources.
Even the most superficial examination of cost increases since the last rise in Post Office charges makes it clear that the tariff structure is due for change. It is one thing for the Opposition to level generalised charges that the financial principles of the Post Office are conducted on an arbitrary basis, but it is quite another matter to substantiate such charges and to detail these types of charges. Lack of substantiation ot charges, I believe, has been a characteristic of what we have heard from honourable members on the other side of the House.
For charges well below the general average of comparable overseas services, the Australian Post Office maintains an enviable record of ever increasing demand in the marketplace faced with the great Australian challenge of distance and population sparsity. No overall increases in postal rates have taken place for almost 8 years since the basic postal rate of 5d was introduced in 1959. During this period, charges for most other consumer services in Australia have risen by some 22%. Postal charges have been increased in countries such as New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States of America during this period.
One of the major problems faced by the Australian Post Office has been the increase in the wage rates of postal staff. During the period 1959-60 to 1965-66 the wage rates of postmen and mail sorters rose by approximately 40% while the wage rate of postal clerks rose by over 50%. It would be completely unreasonable and unrealistic to expect wage increases of this magnitude to be absorbed into the Post Office cost structure. We recognise that productivity has been increased by the installation of the latest technical equipment and the improvement in operating methods and techniques. As a consequence, the volume of business has been able to develop at a faster rate expressed as a percentage, than the number of staff employed. For example, between 1959 and 1966 postal staff increased by 10% but handled 31% more traffic. Despite continuing improvements in productivity, cost reduction and all round efficiency, losses on postal operations have occurred and are increasing rapidly.
The Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) pointed out in his second reading speech:
The postal service was able to maintain a break-even financial position over the 5-year period from 1959-60 to 1963-64, averaging a profit of about $900,000.
In 1964-65, however, a loss of $2.6m was incurred and this was followed in 1965-66 by a loss of $10.3m. The loss incurred in 1966-67 is expected to exceed $20m and in the current financial year, with current postal tariffs and allowing for a continuation of recent cost trends, might exceed $30m.
Now, clearly this situation could not be allowed to continue in perpetuity. As a labour intensified industry the Post Office has a cost structure which has been and will continue to be particularly vulnerable to rises in the salary scale of Post Office employees. I again emphasise the need for the Post Office to be self-supporting as a Commonwealth concern. As far back as 1910, the Royal Commission on Postal Services stressed this point. At page 12 of the report it is stated: the balance of evidence is in favour of the service being made self-supporting as soon as possible.
Clearly it would be unsatisfactory in the extreme for the Post Office to accumulate losses in the tradition of the State Railways with all this implies for staff morale and public judgment concerning the relative efficiency of the undertaking. It would be wrong also in my view to expect taxpayers to meet any deficiency between revenue and operating expenditure. The only effective and business-like approach is that the costs of the services provided by the Australian Post Office should be borne not by the general taxpayer but by those who use the services. Capital is required not only for expansion of the network to meet the demand of new telephone customers but also to provide better facilities and services to existing customers.
It is logical therefore that existing telephone customers should meet some of the demand for this capital through increased charges in the area where the telephone network is being improved for their benefit. Even with the tariff adjustments now proposed, it is estimated that a loss exceeding $10m will be incurred in 1968-69. Quite frankly, I believe that tariffs should be fixed at levels which would earn reasonable profits and thus enable the Post Office to finance its operations and expansion more cheaply. Even a profit of $24m would be a very modest return on resources employed or revenue. But I do not for one moment recommend this level of profitability, recalling the hullabaloo which has taken place in those years in which the Australian Post Office has made marginal profits.
The British Government has adopted the policy that public utilities should earn surpluses on a replacement cost basis and that there should be adequate allocation of general reserves as a contribution towards capital development and as a safeguard against premature obsolescence. Such an example should be followed by Australia because, after all, retention of profit is standard business practice. We recall at least one honourable member on the other side of the House who appeared somewhat suspicious of the concept of public utilities making a profit. I wish to read at this stage from the British Government document which was quoted earlier by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). The document is entitled ‘The Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industries’. I wish to quote from this document to evidence my point relative to the need for a public utility to earn a reasonable profit. The report states:
Experience has shown, however, a general trend for nationalised industries, even those which were at one time reckoned to be relatively free from commercial risk - to build up adequate reserves to deal with contingencies which may affect their capital as well as their revenue accounts. Moreover, there are powerful grounds in the national interests for requiring these undertakings to make a substantial contribution towards the cost of their capital development out of their own savings, and so reduce their claims upon the nation’s savings and the burden to the Exchequer: this is particularly so for those undertakings which are expanding fast and which have relatively large capital needs.
I say that this surely is the situation of the Australian Post Office today.
During 1965-66, interest charged to the Australian Post Office was $64.4m on total advance of $1,4 18m. I refer to this matter in passing but in some detail because of the sustained criticisms which have been levelled at the policy by members of the Opposition. We were told by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports that this policy was purely arbitrary. Is this the case? It should be remembered that there is a longstanding precedent for the charging of interest on Post Office funds. Until 1928, interest at the rate of 3i% was charged on the value of Post Office assets. Thereafter, interest charges were restricted to the actual interest payable on sums allocated from the Loan Fund to the Post Office, though as no such allocations have been made since 1942, interest and sinking fund charges had become insignificant in size by 1958-59. We reflect on the fact that the policy of charging interest on funds made available by the Treasury was recommended in the majority and minority reports of the Ad Hoc Committee of Inquiry into the Commercial Accounts of the Post Office in 1961, following recommendations made in 1954 by the Public Accounts Committee, on which all parties in the Parliament were represented. The Ad Hoc Committee in 1961 came to the unanimous conclusion that interest should be charged on net advances to the Post Office, regardless of whether these were made from loan funds or consolidated revenue. The report of the Committee stated: . . the use of interest free money is worth something in addition to the money itself: that is to say, the recipient of an advance obtains a financial advantage greater than the amount of the advance. In other words, if interest is not chargeable on an advance, an advantage is obtained by the recipient at the expense of the provider, lt follows that the non-charging of interest on any part of the net advances that have been provided to the Post Office would mean the conferring of an advantage on the Post Office at the expense of the provider of the funds - in this case, through the Treasury, die taxpayer - thus transferring a cost from the Post Office to the taxpayer.
The actual rate of interest charged is the long term bond rate current at the time the advance is made, and as public utility loans in Australia are issued at the long term bond rate, there is no reason for disputing the applicability of this rate to Post Office funds. Interest charges are paid by a number of business undertakings operated by the Commonwealth and dividends are paid by others. Here, Mr Speaker, we can mention not only the Post Office itself but also the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, the Australian National Airlines Commission, Qantas Airways Ltd,, the Australian National Line, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, the Government Printing Office and the Australian Capital Territory Electricity Authority. Surely these examples provide a basis for the substantiation of any analogy. In 1965- 66, $94m was paid by these authorities. If these sums had not been received from them, an equivalent amount would have had to be made up from tax revenues. Thus part of the true commercial cost of services would have been transferred from the users to the taxpayers. We firmly believe that this would be completely unfair to the taxpayers.
One of the most salient reasons for charging interest - and, I believe, an indisputable one - is the business principle that new money cannot be obtained for capital investment without the payment of a price for the acquisition of the funds. In the normal business market, the price is gener ally paid in the form of dividends to people who invest money or of interest to those who lend money. The amount that has to be paid generally reflects the return that the lender or investor could obtain if the funds were utilised in some alternative manner. The same kind of practice must be applied to government owned businesses, of which the Australian Post Office certainly is one.
I sum up on this question of the charging of interest by stating that the payment of interest on net advances to the Post Office is consistent with the recommendations of expert committees, normal business and accounting principles, the general practices of other Commonwealth business undertakings and the principle that those who use commercial services should meet the full costs that would otherwise fall on the community at large.
There are two matters that I take this opportunity to commend to the attention of the Postmaster-General. Firstly, I refer to the Government’s policy on depreciation provisions - an area in which I recognise the Minister’s considerable expertise, particularly in the light of his chairmanship of the Special Commonwealth Committee investigating Depreciation under the Income Tax Acts in 1955. As I understand it, current policy is that depreciation provisions for the fixed assets of the Post Office shall be calculated annually in conformity with the basic principle that additions to or major replacements of fixed assets shall be charged to fixed asset accounts and depreciated by annual charges estimated to spread the original cost, less estimated salvage value of the asset, over its expected life. This policy follows the lines recommended in the majority report of the Ad Hoc Committee in 1961.
As P. E. M. Standish points out in an article entitled ‘Financial Policies in a Public Utility: A Study of the Australian Post Office’, published in 1964, depreciation charged to revenue as a percentage of average depreciable fixed assets in 1962-63 was 3.5% for the Australian Post Office as against 4.5% for the British Post Office and 4.8% for the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. I understand further that the British charge of 4.5% includes 1.1% as a supplementary charge to bring the total provision for the year into line with the current value of the assets. The American Telephone and Telegraph Co. has also ex- pressed dissatisfaction with depreciation based on historical cost and has advocated the basing of depreciation charges on original asset costs adjusted annually for money value changes. I appreciate that this cannot simply be said and accepted and that it gives only a surface impression of the situation, for this obviously is a very complex and technical matter. But I believe that there is some merit in considering the adoption of a policy of this kind for the Australian Post Office to provide more funds for developmental purposes.
In passing, Mr Speaker, I also mention the position of suburban and country newspapers which are distributed free and which have become a recognised medium for the transmission of communications throughout the community. In recent years, the production standards of these papers have risen considerably and in many instances the once criticised free newspaper has now a standard and community image equivalent to the standard and image of those newspapers which are sold to their readers and which enjoy the benefits of registration for transmission by post as newspapers. I understand that on the basis of the proposed new rate, each forty-page free newspaper will cost 9c to mail compared with the existing charge of 4c - an increase of 125%.
A number of members of suburban newspaper associations throughout the country believe that the extent of the rise will result in an indirect form of Press censorship, as the free newspapers will be quite unable to absorb the cost increases in their advertising appropriations. They seek some form of reduction or special consideration because of the unusual nature of the situation in which they are placed. Should the Minister be concerned at the possibility of a flood of newspapers through the mail - and this possibility must, of course, be recognised - then it is suggested that the benefits of free registration could be restricted to, firstly, voucher copies sent to advertisers or advertising agencies; secondly, copies to genuine subscribers, who would pay a prescribed subscription fee for the purpose of receiving the newspaper in the same way as subscribers pay a fee for those newspapers which are currently circulated on a fee basis; thirdly, copies required by law to be sent to public libraries, and, finally, exchange copies sent to other publishers. I believe this suggestion has some merit.
I strongly commend the Bill before the House and I have much pleasure in supporting it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hulme) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from15 August (vide page 78), on motion by Mr Hulme:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hulme) read a third time.
Bill - by leave - presented by Mr Swartz, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to increase repatriation war pensions for the children of ex-servicemen whose deaths have been accepted as due to war service, as announced by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) in his Budget Speech. The Bill therefore provides that for children who have lost one parent through war service the weekly pension will rise by 50c to $4.40for the first child, and by 50c to $3.25 for the second child and other children. Where both parents are dead the weekly pension will rise by $1 to $8.15 for each child. The Bill also appropriates the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent necessary to provide during the current year the additional benefits to which the Bill gives effect. It is intended that the Act will come into operation from the date of assent, and the increased pensions which it provides will be payable on the first pension pay day after that date. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Barnard) adjourned.
Bill - by leave - presented by Dr Forbes, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to extend the operation of the States Grants (Mental Health Institutions) Act 1964 for a further period of 3 years, from 1st July 1967 to 30th June 1970. Under the States Grants (Mental Health Institutions) Act 1964 capital assistance grants have been provided to the States in respect of mental health institutions, on the basis of $1 from the Commonwealth for each $2 expended by the States for the 3-year perio’d 1st July 1964 to 30th June 1967. This 1964 Act replaced the States Grants (Mental Institutions) Act 1955 which authorised capital assistance on a similar basis; but provided for a ceiling of $20m divided between the States.
The 1964 Act which is being extended by this Bill applies in respect of mental health institutions, which are defined as being institutions carried on exclusively or principally for the care and treatment of mentally ill or mentally defective persons, and which are conducted by or are in receipt of maintenance grants from a State. Assistance is made available by the Commonwealth in connection with expenditure made for the acquisition of land and buildings to be used as mental health institutions, the construction and alteration of buildings used for this purpose and the acquisition of allied equipment.
The Commonwealth has provided material assistance to the States under this legislation, amounting in all to over $29m over the 12 years the scheme of capital assistance for mental health institutions has been in operation. The States have derived tremendous benefit as a result of the Commonwealth’s participation and the overall mental health facilities in Australia have been improved immensely. A total expenditure by the Commonwealth and the States of over $88m has been directed to improving the buildings and facilities for the care of mentally afflicted persons.
Today, as a result of these efforts, modern facilities for the care and treatment of the mentally ill have been established or are in course of construction in all States of Australia. This certainly was not the case 12 years ago when this scheme of capital assistance was introduced. Honourable members will be aware that the Government designed the scheme in 1955 following a survey which disclosed gross overcrowding and a deplorably low standard of accommodation in mental health institutions throughout Australia. Although this situation no longer exists, the Commonwealth has decided to extend the scheme for the further 3-year period to enable works already planned to be completed with Commonwealth financial assistance. The Government saw the need to continue its support and encouragement of the States’ plans for improved conditions which will be in keeping with modem concepts and will include the provision of outpatient clinics, day hospitals, after-care hospitals and rehabilitation clinics.
The Bill provides for Commonwealth assistance to end on 30th June 1970, except where a State may still not have exhausted all of the assistance to which it was entitled under the States Grants (Mental Institutions) Act of 1955. In this case a State will continue to be eligible after 30th June 1970 for the unexpired amount authorised by the 1955 Act.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Barnard) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 5 September (vide page 818), on motion by Mr McMahon:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr Whitlam had moved by way of amendment:
That all words after That’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: ‘this House condemns the Budget because -
it places defence costs on those least able to pay them;
it fails to curb administrative waste and extravagance;
it defers and retrenches development pro jects; and
it allows social service and war pensioners to fall still further behind their fellow citizens’.
– In addressing myself to the Budget I make a few preliminary observations. Many honourable members have strongly supported defence policy. Naturally enough, living as I do in the north - my electorate is perhaps closer to Saigon than to many places in the south - I am vitally interested in this aspect. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard), in referring to defence of the north, said that in Darwin we had a strength of one Friendship. He knows only too well that we have there an operational Mirage squadron and we are very pleased to have it. Today the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) complained about the noise caused by Mirage aircraft using Williamtown air base. He seemed to think that it would be better if these front line aircraft were not based near Newcastle. Well, we in the Northern Territory would be only too pleased to have another operational squadron of these front line aircraft in the Territory, because if we look at a map we will see that Saigon is no further from Darwin than is Flinders Island.
Honourable members opposite have strongly criticised the Government for its programme of water conservation. The honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) said that no major water conservation scheme had been proposed or instituted by this Government. He has forgotten that bis colleague, the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), spent days in this place criticising the Government’s policy in which there is a proposal to dam the Daly River. The Daly River has the heaviest flow of any dry river in Australia. So it would appear that some honourable members opposite are not in agreement with their own colleagues.
I refer now to the civil rights of the people who live in the Northern Territory. This is a matter having direct connection with the Budget, because finances for the Northern Territory are controlled wholly from Canberra. On 22nd August last I presented to the House a petition. It was a genuine petition dealing with an urgent problem. The petition was publicly supported by the people of the Territory and emphasised the pleas, both written and oral, that I have made on many occasions to the Government. The petition sought for Territorians the right to vote in referendums and full voting rights for the honourable member for the Northern Territory in this House.
– The honourable member will be sorry.
– Perhaps with full voting rights I will not be able to go to sleep at this time of night, as the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory usually does. The petition also sought representation for the Northern Territory in the Senate. This was not a political gimmick, as was the Bill introduced some months ago by the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Whitlam). It is a genuine petition from hundreds of Territory residents. That is the difference. After all, 40 years ago the Territory had full representation, so why not now?
In Alice Springs, the 27th May this year was Show Day. It was also referendum day, as honourable members may remember. The referendum relating to the rights of Aboriginals was carried with an overwhelming majority. That is fair enough. We all are for full rights for Aboriginals. The carrying of the referendum was hailed as a major breakthrough. But the people most directly concerned in this matter - the Territorians - had no right to vote in the referendum. The Constitution denies them this right. It provides that only the people of the States, not the people of the Territories, shall vote in referendums. People living in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory cannot vote in referendums. The Constitution can be altered only with the approval of the Australian people. So, before the people of the Northern Territory can vote in a referendum the people in the States must approve an alteration of the Constitution. A referendum would be necessary to obtain this approval and the people living in the Territories would be unable to vote in that referendum. Why should people ‘down on the inside’ as we say, beyond Oodnadatta and Longreach, in the Territory, or anywhere in Western Australia, decide whether we Territorians should have civil rights? On 27th May this year the petition which I presented to the Parliament last month was signed by hundreds of Territorians. A public meeting was held in Colacag Park, Alice Springs. The meeting was supported by the council of the United Church in North Australia. It was addressed by churchmen. People of all colours and creeds were at the meeting. There were hundreds of placards. The meeting was filmed for showing on television in the south. I was in the front rank carrying a placard bearing the inscription ‘60,000 voteless voices’. The people marched to the polling booth and demanded the right to vote, which, of course, was denied them. Hence the petition. It was a peaceful kind of demonstration.
We in the Territory pay all taxes. We pay dearly to live in the Territory. We pay high freight charges. For instance, the freight charge between Darwin or the would-be Port Dundas and Brisbane is in the vicinity of $130 a ton, compared with a charge of $15 a ton between Darwin and overseas ports. This is the kind of charge which we in the Territory must face. This is just one of the hardships that we have to bear. We are at the mercy of the elements. Ea Flier this year-
– And at the mercy of the Government.
– We are at the mercy of the elements. Thank God we are not at the mercy of the Opposition. Earlier this year Alice Springs and Darwin were cut off by floods, railway lines were washed away, roads were washed away and prices soared because commodities had to be brought in by air. Through the efforts of the Minister for Air (Mr Howson), and in some small way through my own efforts, an air lift was arranged for places such as Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. Normal commodities such as milk, fruit and vegetables became prohibitive in price. This is what happens in these areas.
– What about the age pensioners?
– The high costs seriously affect age pensioners. They are living on fixed incomes and cannot go out and avail themselves of the work and overtime that is available there. I am right with these unfortunate people. Their pensions do not go very far in the north, 1 can assure honourable members. They cannot join the labour force and have the benefit of overtime, as hard work is the essence of the Territory.
We do not have television in the Northern Territory, as honourable members have here, and we have a very limited radio reception. We do not receive many visits from theatre or ballet groups or orchestras. In Darwin and Alice Springs there are very active theatre groups that are very good indeed, but this is not recognised theatre. There was a visit by a Western Australian ballet company, which staged a very good performance too, as did the Royal Australian Air Force band and the South. Australian symphony orchestra. Once in my lifetime this has occurred. We do not have the same amenities in the Northern Territory as the States have. We make our own amusement. For instance, rodeos are conducted. There was a rodeo at Hermannsburg last week-end that was conducted almost entirely by the Aboriginals. They did the riding and most of the organising of the rodeo. We had the Henley-on-the-Todd regatta last Saturday that was attended by some thousands of people and there was a Country Women’s Association flower show in Alice Springs at the same time.
– How about the Darwin Show?
– I remember seeing the honourable member for Hughes when I opened the show some months ago. To continue, Mr Deputy Speaker, the cost of living in the Northern Territory is extraordinarily high. For instance, if we wish to go south for a holiday the fares are high. We in the north cannot go to the beach in summer time in the normal way that people in the States do, because of the presence of sea wasps in Darwin Harbour. This is very serious. The Todd River at Alice Springs has not been dammed and therefore no aquatics can be held there. Damming of the Todd would be a tremendous help to: tourism and also would be a boost for the farming area in Alice Springs. We have to send our families south for tertiary education and very often on medical grounds. Only the’ other day I heard of a man who had to send his wife down south to the dentist. If is pretty rough to have to send your wife 1,000 miles by plane and back for dental treatment. We are paying taxes and yet we have limited representation in the Commonwealth Parliament.
The population of the Northern Territory is increasing very rapidly. It is 60,000 now, and at the present rate of growth I think it should be 75,000 by 1970. Alice Springs, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Darwin are all growing very fast, due to mining, agriculture; oil and gas development. All these things are taking place very rapidly. Northern Australia holds the key to the future. It could be the food bowl for South East Asia. With this population explosion there are going to be towns at Gove, Groote Eylandt and Centre Island that will be all in the vicinity of 5,000 to 10,000 in population. This is not to mention what could take place as a result of the Tipperary land scheme expansion. Surely with this improved growth and wealth the Territorians have earned the right to full representation. We differ from the Australian Capital Territory. Our future industrial and agricultural development is entirely different, so let our growth not be identified with a pure population growth. The north is a mighty place - 520,000 square miles - and the development that I have just mentioned is going on.
Social reform in the Northern Territory is very urgent. Our Legislative Council is fighting now for greater responsibility. I say, give greater responsibility to the Legislative Council and scotch the knockers. There are so many of these people around who are prepared to say ‘No’ on principle. I believe this would breed a greater sense of responsibility in the Legislative Council. Self-government must start sometime, so why not start it now. I say that we should replace the nominated members, of whom there are three in the Legislative Council, with elected members, and this should be commenced almost immediately, because in November 1968 there will be Legislative Council elections and as there will have to be an electoral redistribution the members to be elected will have to be able to stand for certain electorates at that time. I also say that the elected members should be paid a reasonable wage. At present they are paid $1,800 a year. They should be paid something similar to what their counterparts in the States receive. After all, they do go to these meetings and spend weeks in Darwin at a time. They have to travel thousands of miles to attend. They bring in far more private members bills than we ever do down here. There are eight elected members of the Legislative Council at the moment and four of them represent 520,000 square miles, which is roughly 130,000 square miles each. Those members travel up to 950 miles to get to the meetings, yet they receive only $1,800 a year.
The need for elected members to replace nominated members was brought home very forcibly during the passing of the Northern Territory Land Tenure Bill. Many irresponsible and unsubstantiated statements were made by the honourable member for Dawson and they were parroted by his northern supporters. These statements placed a very serious strain on one or two of the nominated members. Honourable members must all remember the honourable member for Dawson speaking in this House about the land scandal - the plot to defraud Australia of its rightful heritage and that sort of thing. These statements were parroted by half of the elected members of the Legislative Council who would support his brand of politics. Let me read an editorial from the ‘NT News’ on Monday, 24th July 1967. This is a newspaper which on occasions has not given full support to the Government. The editorial reads:
At last the full story of the Tipperary land project, a project already linked to the controversial Government Land Ordinance before the Legislative Council, has been told.
And it is a story of cold hard facts, combined with considerable vision and with great economic strength that could shape a new agricultural future in the Top End within just a few years.
A major strength of the proposal lies in the indisputable fact that long-term scientific research conducted by CSIRO and Administration research stations points straight to the viability of the Tipperary proposal.
This is what the honourable member for Dawson, and half of the Labor thinking members of the Legislative Council, described as a scandal. The article continues:
There can be no genuine fears that the plan will be ‘selling out’ the NT to overseas interests.
The Tipperary Land Corporation plan can so obviously lead to a tremendous surge of development over wide areas of the Top End in agriculture and cattle production. And it is development of such magnitude that secondary industry must inevitably follow on a large scale.
It must now be clear that the only risks are being taken by those with the courage, and no doubt business foresight, to invest heavily in an area where investment is so sadly lacking.
As I have said, this was described by the honourable member for Dawson as a public scandal. This morning I asked a question of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Freeth) concerning railways. Communications are essential in the Northern Territory. We urgently require a standard railway line from Tarcoola or Kingoonya to Alice Springs. The whole of the north is on the move. That is why I say that good communications are essential. Proposals to construct sealed roads must be continually pressed. The beef road system which runs into Katherine has made that town. The northern meatworks have given a fillip to local industry. With the introduction of Townsville lucerne along the river flats around Katherine, the whole area has received new confidence. It is going ahead. Development is taking place in the north. Western Australia has given a lead in this direction by providing $30m for a sealed road programme in the Kimberleys. Allweather roads are the arteries of northern development. There is the Alice Springs to Port Augusta road. To the end of June this year, approximately 19,000 tourists have visited Ayer’s Rock. The week before last there were sixty buses in Alice Springs carrying tourists. These people want to see Australia. They want to see Central Australia. They even want to see parts of Western Australia. They should be able to see this country while travelling on sealed roads. The person from whom we could probably get some co-operation in this regard is the Premier of South Australia. Possibly the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Andrew Jones) could have a word with him.
Last Saturday the South Australian Premier attended the Henley on Todd regatta. He was one of the people enjoying some of the amenities on the banks of the Todd with the Rotarians. Possibly he had a cold Swan.
I turn now to the matter of Aboriginal rights; After the recent referendum, what happens next? The Government must take the lead- It must provide a policy. It must correlate all efforts to improve the overall lot of the Aboriginals who urgently need guidance. They need training at trade schools. They also need very good public relations, although the Government has done a lot of work in this regard. Despite what has been said in this plr.ce and outside it, the Aboriginals’ case has been very badly misrepresented. I refer to the television programme ‘Project 67’. We do not have television in the Territory, but some honourable members may have seen the programme down here. An episode of ‘Project 67’ was filmed at the Angurugu Mission on Groote Eylandt where there are eight or ten very fine houses which have been built for approximately $16,000. There is a new school and a church with a lovely altar at the Mission. But what did the people filming Project 67’ photograph? They took a photograph through the back window of the church. It depicted slab bark huts in which the natives had lived for a long time. Then the people filming ‘Project 67’ slammed the Mission for not doing anything about this situation. What happened? Why did it happen?
– It sounds like Gordon Bryant.
– No. It was not. It was Cecil Holmes, formerly of New Zealand, who is a ticketed Communist who did this. He was the adviser. This is the way in which the position of the Aboriginals is being misrepresented to honourable members and to the world. Last year there was a strike at Wave Hill station and Newcastle Waters station. Who was on Wave Hill station when the strike occurred? lt was Brian Manning, a ticketed Communist. This is what is happening to the Aboriginals. This is the sort of thing that genuine Labor men do not want. It is something that we do not want. It does not help the Aboriginals. It does not help anyone. Who went down the road with Mr Dick Ward and organised the strike at Newcastle Waters station? lt was Frank
Harvey, a ticketed Communist. This is the thing that goes on. Now on the Wave Hill station and Limbunya boundary the Aboriginals have staked a claim. They consider that they own the country. Who was out there organising this? It was Frank Harvey, a ticketed Communist. Honourable members opposite may laugh, but there is nothing to laugh about. This is a very serious situation.
Before I conclude I want to deal with the reason why Mr Charles Perkins resigned from the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. He said:
There is a subversive influence in Aboriginal affairs throughout Australia which is trying to undermine the confidence of the Aboriginal people to cope with their situation, to undermine the confidence of the white community in the Aboriginal people, and by so doing to create a situation of disorganisation, which can be manipulated politically.
That is why he resigned from the Council. Who is left on the Council? Who runs it? There is a fellow named Joe McGinness, a part Aboriginal waterside worker from Cairns - ; -
– A ticketed Communist?
– I am not going to say that. He is not a ticketed Communist. But he is a fellow traveller. Who is left on the Council? There is the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant). I have given a picture of the Aboriginal situation in the Northern Territory. It is very serious. We are not asking for anything that can be regarded as a gamble. There is a future for the Northern Territory. It is not a gamble; it is there for the organising and for the taking. It is the greatest opportunity since the ancestor of the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) crossed the Blue Mountains. The Government must recognise the people who live there and give them their rights and responsibilities. A lot of the people are like myself - really good people. They live there.
– I congratulate the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) on a very constructive and interesting speech and for the most able manner in which he represents the interests of the Northern Territory. I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Budget which, in today’s postKeynesian period, is the essential instrument of economic policy supplemented by the effective use of monetary measures in achieving the objective of maximum economic growth without inflation. No longer today is the Budget circumscribed by its traditional role as ‘keeper of the public purse’, for we embrace the view put forward by Lord Keynes in his ‘General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money’:
Whilst, therefore, the enlargement of the functions of government, involved in the task of adjusting to one another the propensity to consume and the inducement to invest, would seem to a nineteenth-century publicist or to a contemporary American financier to be a terrific encroachment on individualism, I defend it, on the contrary, both as the only practicable means of avoiding the destruction of existing economic forms in their entirety and as the condition of the successful functioning of individual initiative.
In this context I believe today our major national objectives should include the pursuit and maintenance of full employment; a high rate of economic and population growth; increasing productivity; external viability and internal stability of costs and prices; a rapid increase in living standards with maximum stability, the establishment of a diversified and balanced economy, including an optimum use of natural resources, and a fast moving development programme; and the bringing down of such social service legislation as will ensure for all responsible citizens a decent and reasonable standard of living. I believe that the Budget before us represents a farther progression in the realisation of these basic objectives. I congratulate the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) on bringing down a Budget which will sustain the current economic recovery.
– What are we recovering from?
– Order! The honourable member for Scullin has already spoken.
– The honourable member is due for a period of recovery. The Budget will bring about a solid lift of approximately 5% in real national output in 1967- 68. It lays emphasis on continued stability as a prerequisite for sound and long term growth. In acknowledging the economy’s potential for growth in 1967-68 the Treasurer commented:
As 1 now see* the prospect, we can expect another good year. The supply of labour, material and plant is adequate to sustain a good rate of growth. With normal additions to the work force from our own population and net immigration, a rise of 3% in employment seems feasible without putting much strain on the labour market.
Later he said:
The capacity for expansion is certainly there.
The economic indicators available to us certainly substantiate this assessment. During the last 6 months we have seen the economy shaking off the sluggishness which had tended to characterise important sections of industry and business during most of last year. There is no doubt that the underlying trend in business activity would appear to be upward. As the Associated Chamber of Manufactures of Australia and the Bank of New South Wales point out in their ‘Survey of Industrial Trends in Australia’, issued in June 1967:
The modest rate of expansion of Australian manufacturing activity recorded in the March quarter 1967, has been maintained during the past 3 months. . . .
Continued optimism is evident concerning their (manufacturers) own individual company operation. Industrial executives generally forecast an increase in their orders, output and employment. Manufacturing output rose steadily in the last 3 months with a corresponding growth of new orders.
During the March quarter, consumer spending increased by 7%, thus maintaining the rate of the preceding 3 months and this has resulted in welcome increases in industrial production. Retail figures for April and May suggest that this pattern of consumer spending will, in fact, continue. Motor vehicle sales have also shown a recent improvement although not commensurate with industry’s expectation.
In the field of housing, the preliminary figures for the number of houses and flats commenced in Australia in 1966-67, which figures were released by the Commonwealth Statistician in late July 0f this year, reveal that home building activity during the past financial year was running at a reasonably satisfactory level. Overall, this was the second highest level of commencements ever achieved. Commencements in 1966-67 at 114,804 were 7% above the 1965-66 level of 107,204 and only 2% below the record 1964-65 level of 116,709. In public sector spending, defence commitments have again been the dominant element in the Budget. This year we are providing $1,1 18m for defence - an increase of $168m or 18% on 1966-67. This increase will be equivalent to 5% of the gross national product, with only three countries of the Western world - the United States of America, Britain and France - devoting a larger proportion of their resources to defence. That this can be done, whilst maintaining a position of sound economic gowth, is in every way a creditable performance.
An important feature of the Budget was the Treasurer’s decision to draw ‘the reins on public spending more tightly than before to provide for balanced expansion of the private sector’. Government expenditures, after rising by 11% in 1966-67, are budgeted to rise more slowly - by 9.5% in 1967-68. When the 18% rise in defence spending is excluded, it would appear that the rate of growth of spending on other functions will be about 8%. The decision to contract the growth rate of public spending manifests Government recognition of a problem which has caused increasing concern in the business- community. This problem is the rapid growth of the public sector in recent years. Government employees now number 26% of the total work force, and Government spending is equivalent to 21% of gross national expenditure. Unless continuing action is taken to check this trend, serious dislocation will occur in the economic base of our community, and we will be faced with a developing trend towards Socialism by evolution. The National Bank monthly summary for August 1967 pointed out:
If not checked, in the short-run this trend risks excessive pressures on resources, costs and prices with the ultimate possibility of further restraints on the private sector. In the long run it could seriously distort the whole economy.
If public spending movements over the past 5 years were to continue, the ratio of government expenditure to total expenditure would rise to 35% in 15 years time. After 25 years government expenditure would exceed private expenditure in the economy. Such an eventuality would inhibit and stifle that keynote economic motivation which emanates from a system of free enterprise and upon which the progress of this nation has been founded. For the private sector lt is a source of satisfaction that the Budget is free from increases in tax rates. This was essential in order to maintain the current recovery in consumer spending and to provide a boost for recent sluggish private fixed capital spending. The Treasurer made this clear in his Budget Speech. He said: we do not think it would be in the nation’s interest to put further restraints on consumption. The’ taxes imposed in 1964-65 and 1965-66 in order to shift resources to defence are still effective and new restraints could immobilise rather than divert resources.
In summary then, as a medium of economic policy, the Budget brought down by this Government is designed to allow room for a faster rate of expansion of the private sector during the coming year. The rate of government spending is to slow-down and we can view this as an engendering manifestation of the need for the private sector to forge ahead. But what of the submissions put forward by the Opposition? I believe the Opposition has failed lamentably in this debate to make any positive and constructive approach to the situation facing Australia now and in the period ahead.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) provided the basic orientation of the Labor Party to the Budget when he commented:
We seek in a Budget a sense of purpose and direction. . . .
Later in his speech he said:
Few Budgets, in recent times have so firmly drawn the line which distinguishes the approach to the development of this nation as between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. . . .
He also stated:
This Budget illustrates clearly the difference in the sense of priorities between us. . . .
The Treasurer spelt out very clearly the sense of purpose and direction which characterises the Government’s approach to our essential economic objectives. But what is the Labor Party’s reply? Where is this sense of purpose and direction’ which it evidences as being the nub of any Budget rationale? This purpose is apparently covered in the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition which seeks to condemn the Budget because:
Surely this is political gobbledegook, the effect of which would be to consign Australia to the limbo of economic retrogression. It is all too easy to speak in such glib and Pyrrhic terms - as did the Leader of the Opposition and other members of the Opposition - but where is the substance? Where is the detail? Where is the substantiation of the general principles which the Opposition has engineered and put forward? How would the Opposition restructure the apportionment of defence costs? Would the Opposition have in mind higher taxation rates .on some income groups in the community? If so, at what level would the rates commence? What would be the costs of social services and development projects and how would these costs be met? Does the Opposition still see the basic answer to rising prices in this country as emanating from a system of price control which I believe would be anathema to the people of Australia, and which at best is a misguided form of economic back seat driving? Where does the Opposition, in this debate, stand on the question of nationalisation? These are fundamental areas and fundamental questions on which to challenge the Opposition. We have waited in vain for any constructive answers from the Opposition on these particular questions.
– Would the honourable member sell TAA?
– As the honourable member for Wills is well aware, this Government has stood for a two-airline policy. Over a number of years this policy has worked effectively and we will continue to ensure that it works effectively. I might say that this is far more than honourable members opposite could do if they happened to be in government. That is very unlikely indeed, even though the Labor Party is now under a new leader. I would like to remind honourable members on the other side of a comment made by Samuel Johnson. He said:
I have found an argument but I cannot find you an understanding.
Even under the present Leader of the Opposition, the Labor Party has lapsed into its traditional role of playing Father Christmas knowing full well that it has no semblance of responsibility for meeting the cost of the proposals which it has put forward in so generalised and confused a fashion as to lose significance and purpose. It is the absence of responsibility in both the internal and external development of Australia that is the essential issue for the Labor Party today. Indeed, when I think of the confusion which characterises the Labor Party I am reminded of the story of a chimpanzee which escaped from the Melbourne Zoo. After some weeks of searching he was finally located in the Melbourne Library. In one hand be held a copy of the Bible, and in the other hand he had a copy of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’. Apparently the chimpanzee was endeavouring to discover whether he was his keeper’s brother or his brother’s keeper. No doubt the Labor Party, as it endeavours to determine policy on the basic issues upon which this country stands or falls at present, would understand that chimpanzee’s sense of confusion. .
One of the salient features of the Budget is an increase in our overseas aid appropriation to .75% of our estimated national income. That contribution is estimated to amount to $142m. This is further evidence of the Government’s genuine desire to assist developing countries of the world so that they can reach a point where their economic growth is self-sustaining. Australia has every reason to be proud of the contribution which it has made in aiding the needy peoples of the world, particularly in South East Asia. We are active members of such regional organisations as the Colombo Plan, ECAFE, ASPAC, ANZUS and SEATO. We have trained some 25,000 Asian students in our schools, technical colleges and universities; we have made a major contribution to the Asian Development Bank and we have markedly increased our trade and investment programmes with countries in this area. This is our commitment, as a nation, to the cause of peace and prosperity in South East Asia.
The need, of course, is monumental. In many developing areas of the world, people are struggling to overcome poverty, disease and hunger. As the United Nations has pointed out, nearly two out of every three people are unable to secure sufficient food of the right kind to keep them healthy and half of these people go hungry until they die. The gap continues to widen between the living standards of the minority of people in the more affluent nations and the two-thirds of the world’s population in the economically under-developed countries. The irony, of course, is that for the first time in the history of man we have the resources internationally to enable all people to live their lives free from hunger and disease and with the benefit of the education that so many are denied. Of course, the basic answer must lie in the trade, investment and productivity fields, but I do hope that our forward policy will include progressive increases in the percentage of our overseas aid appropriation leading to a commitment equivalent to 1% of our gross national product. This is a policy that I personally support.
The Opposition has focussed attention in this debate on the absence of any increase in the base rate pension. I would not be honest with myself if I did not express, as other honourable members on this side of the House have, extreme disappointment that the exigencies of the Budget framework have not allowed any general increase in the base rate of age and invalid pensions.
– Will the honourable member vote against the Government on that account?
– Let me remind the honourable member for Wills that honourable members on his side of the House, despite their assertions to the contrary, do not possess a monopoly of concern or sympathy for the aged, the invalid and the needy in this community. Opposition members may well reflect upon the fact that the only government in Australian history ever to reduce the pension rate was a Labor government, and it was a Labor government that took away from pensioners cost of living adjustments. The verbal smokescreens that tend to be the stock in trade of Opposition members cannot hide the fact that the most substantial and far reaching social service legislation has been brought down by Liberal governments. I remind honourable members on the other side of the House that it was a Liberal government which first introduced federal age and invalid pensions in Australia.
– It was not.
– It was the Deakin Liberal Government of 1909.
– What did it do?
– It introduced federal age and invalid pensions in Australia. It was also a Liberal government that introduced child endowment, homes for the aged, the national health scheme and the liberalisation of the means test on some five occasions. These measures have been supplemented in this Budget by the provision of benefits for the moderately retarded, a hearing air service for pensioners, relief for deserted wives and wives of prisoners and increases in child endowment. This is a worthy record and I commend the Budget to honourable members.
– I listened to the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch) and it seemed to me that he was talking about either another country or what should be achieved in this country. He obviously has not read the Budget speech of the Treasurer (Mr McMahon). If he has, he has not bothered to analyse the situation of the economy as it is disclosed in the Budget speech and as the papers related to the Budget, which were distributed to honourable members clearly evidence it to be.
The Budget is a miserabe budget. By any type of measurement it is miserable and it fails. It fails to handle the central problem of the economy at present and the problem that is causing so much concern to the Treasurer. It will fail to stimulate private investment as much as the Treasurer would like. So it is miserable and it fails to solve that central problem. It is miserable and it fails because it is an inequitable budget. It consolidates the inequality that exists in the distribution of economic wealth throughout our society. I will deal with these points during my speech. Most of all I want to show that this Budget is the sort of budget that serves the conservative entrenched interests of monopoly capitalism, of the power wielders who manipulate the puppet strings that control the Liberal-Australian Country Party Government.
Let us examine the Budget. The problem for the Government is to stimulate private investment somehow. Investment in the community is either private or public. The Government wants to pick up private investment, because it has been flat for some time. So the Treasurer has come into the House and has tried to huff and to puff and to blow the private sector up. But he cannot do it, because it is not possible to huff and puff and blow private investment up. We must have demand if we want to increase private investment and the Budget we have here will not provide the sort of demand we need in the economy if private investment is to be lifted. The Government has a record defence expenditure in this Budget of SI, 11 8m. It is an increase of 18% on the expenditure on defence for last year and is 17% of the total expenditure in this Budget. The Government has its problems, but because of the sloppy and irresponsible - I think that is a fair enough word - way in which it handles the Budget and the way in which it sits back and lets the flow of the economy take its free course, with all its restrictive practices, it will npt achieve the increase in private investment that it warrants.
What is the Government’s record? We have heard the honourable member for Flinders and other honourable members opposite speak of the grand achievement of growth in this country in the last financial year. It is said to be 9%, but let us look at this 9%. The increase in prices in that period was between 5% and 6%. The increase in employment was about 2.5%. This leaves an actual growth in productivity of between 1% and 1.5%. But the increase of productivity of primary industries is equal to an increase of 1% of the gross national product. We find, therefore, that the growth of industrial productivity of this nation in the last financial year is at best no more than .5%. Can we be satisfied with this growth rate in our economy? What have we done?
– The honourable member cannot be serious about that.
– Let me speak about private capital in this community. The Australian Financial Review’ of 1st September points out that for the June quarter that has just ended private capital investment is in the worst position it has been for the. past 2 years. It stands at $398m on a seasonally adjusted basis. It was $429m for the preceding June quarter and $406 for the June quarter before that. So the slump in investment is setting in. But what is the Government doing? It will huff and puff and blow its bags in an effort to create the upsurge in investment that is needed in the private sector, arid this is all that this Budget is doing. The Budget will fail in its objectives. Will the Government lower the long term interest rate to encourage the pick up that is required? If it does this, it faces the real problem that there will be a fall off in foreign investment, and the Government has based a lot of its optimism on a fairly high inflow of private investment. The annual report of the Reserve Bank and the White Paper on the economy make this clear.
The Budget will fail in its stated objectives, and therefore it is a miserable Budget on that account. It is also a miserable Budget for the way in which it has failed to bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth in the community and for the way in which it has failed to redistribute the burden of the economy on a fairer basis by taking some of the heavy weight off the people in the lower income brackets. The Government has given a miserable 25c a week increase in child endowment for the fourth, fifth and subsequent children. What sort of a contribution is that? I will speak about it later. The . Government will hire hearing aids to pensioners. My goodness, we have a generous Government. The Government wants to. make a tax out of the physical deficiencies of age and invalid pensioners. The Government intends to increase the dependant’s allowance by $26 per year. The Government intends to increase by $400. a. year the deductions allowable for. insurance and superannuation contributions. I want to speak about these intentions because they are inequitable and miserable. The Government is not handling satisfactorily the problems that are central to the economy of Australia.
Deductions in relation to subscriptions to superannuation funds and life insurance companies are to be. increased from $800 to $1,200 per year. What does this concession mean to the bulk of the people in our community? The fact is that 70% of taxpayers earn less than $3,000 per year. Those figures are taken from the income statistics. Yet, the deduction for superannuation and insurance payments represents nearly half of the income level of those earning $3,000 per year. I can well imagine the glee and the joy with which the announcement of the increase of the allowable deduction was greeted by the bulk of the wage earners in this community who have the heavy burden of supporting the economy. Obviously this is the sort of preferential treatment’ to a restricted sector of the community that is given too often by this Government. It is not the sort of treatment which should be provided by a government that has some sense of moral responsibility to the mass of the people.
Nearly 2 million of our 4.5 million taxpayers earn less than $2,000 a year. The concession regarding superannuation arid insurance payments represents 60% of their income. This allowance will make no contribution to the improvement of their position. The proposed allowance is about twice the single rate of pension which is $656 per year. What sort of a proposal is this to put before the Australian community? Whom does this sort of concession assist? It assists the people on incomes of $6,000 and more per year, representing a mere 2% of Australian taxpayers. It benefits the people on $10,000 and more per year who represent .15% of our taxpayers. This small section of the community is well enough off not to require this sort of concession. Is this the sort’ of economic thinking that the Government has when it handles the affairs of this community?
Let me look now at a table that I have had prepared to show how these concessions serve the Australian people and how unfair they are. I have based this table on a reply by the Treasurer to a question asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). The reply appeared in ‘Hansard’ of 30th August 1967. Allowable deductions for income tax purposes are broken down in this way: To those people earning less than $3,000 per year the amount of the deduction is 32.6% of the total amount of the tax reduction. To the people on $3,000 per year and more the deductions represent 67.4% of the total amount of the reductions. Yet the bulk of the wage earners are to be found in this lower income group, as I pointed out a few seconds ago. What does this mean in relation to the estimated total deductions per taxpayer? It means an amount of $63.99 to a taxpayer earning less than $3,000 per year. This is the deduction on the tax bill. This is the way in which the people in our community benefit. But to the. people earning more than $3,000 per year - the group which represents only 30% of the total number of Australian taxpayers - the deduction of tax represents an advantage of $318.65 per head per year. This is an inequitable sort of arrangement. Obviously the wealthy will become wealthier and their wealth will be subsidised by this Government.
Let us look now at the concessions proposed in this Budget. The proposal in the Budget will mean a reduction of 27.8% for the people earning less than $3,000 per year. This represents a figure of 56c per head per year. To those people earning over $3,000 per year the reduction represents 72.2% of the total which amounts to $3.43 per head per year. Is this a fair arrangement? Is this an equitable arrangement? The Budget proposals before us represent the intention of the Government to serve vested interests and a few wealthy people in the community.
An increase of $26 per year is proposed in relation to each dependant. The Taxpayers Association of Australia has estimated that a married man with two dependent children who is earning $80 a week will have his annual taxation bill reduced by $24 a year as a result of this concession. If the taxpayer is earning only $40 per week and has two children to support - and certainly there would be no quibble that his position is much more parlous in terms of meeting the cost of his weekly budget - the tax reduction for him under this proposal is $9 a year.
Why was not some concession allowed to the pensioners in our community? Why was there not some valuable concession on a more equitably adjusted scale for the people at the bottom of the wage bracket? I mentioned before that the problem in regard to the economy at the moment is to lift private investment. Private investment will not be lifted unless demand is lifted first. One of the best ways to lift demand is to put more money into the pockets of the people who will spend it. The people who will spend this money are those of whom I am speaking now and not the people at the top of the income bracket who already have more than enough to meet their daily expenses.
The total wealth created in our economy in the last financial year was nearly $23,000m. This represents an increase of approximately $2,000m over the figure for the previous financial year. If the pension rate had been increased by 50c per week this concession would have cost the economy an extra $20m per year as the shadow Treasurer, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), has pointed out. The means test could have been eased further to allow married couples to enjoy the full concession which was granted by the Government early in the year. If the Government had eased the means test to allow each married pensioner to receive each week an extra $3 instead of $3 for a married pensioner couple as provided earlier in the year, the extra cost to the economy would have been only $5m a year - out of an increase of $2,000m out of the total wealth of the economy of $23,000rh. Is it too much to ask this Government to provide this small amount representing an extra and reasonable increase in the living standard of these people?
What sense of priorities does the Government have? We see $40m expended on VIP aircraft so that the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) can fly his daughters-in-law from point to point to enjoy social engagements. We find $6m spent on an artificial lake so that members of Parliament can wander out of doors from time to time to enjoy the serene appearance of Canberra. We find $250,000- a quarter of a million dollars - spent by a private industry on a party. I refer to the cost incurred by the consortium that is developing the alumina plant at Gladstone. Let me quote from an article which appeared in the Brisbane Sunday Truth’ on 6th August 1967. The article begins:
Australia’s ‘top 300’ were given the green carpet treatment when they rolled up on Friday to share the goodies at what has been described as the most expensive party ever thrown in Australia.
This organisation spent $250,000 - a quarter of a million dollars - to prepare the alumina works at Gladstone for a team of 300 visitors. The organisation spent $250,000 to bring eight truck loads of instant grass from the Gold Coast to make a carpet of lawn. It jackhammered holes into rock and filled those holes with shrubs. It built a new toilet block at Gladstone airport for the convenience of guests on their arrival. It arranged gushing fountains. It arranged a pool of reflection filled with water lilies. Perhaps those people could have reflected in this pool on how they had wasted this money when so many people in our community were living in the precarious shade of poverty. The hills were planted with garden beds in full bloom.
This is the way in which priorities in our affluent but selfish community are rated. We have blanket appeals for the pensioners in winter and at the same time we have the representatives of businesses enjoying the benefits of swindle sheets, as they are known; and writing off luxury entertainment at public expense. We have 1,000,000 people living in poverty; but we have no tax on the capital gains that some people are able to enjoy. Perhaps this sounds good to those who have 400 or 500 shares in the Broken Hill ‘ Pty Co. Ltd when a bonus’ issue is made in proportions of something like two to one. Let us reflect for a while on how good this must sound to the people who run BHP - the Baillieus, the Darlings and the other people who have millions invested in that company and who get this sort of capital gain.
We have pegged wages and expensive so called free education. We have a deficient health policy and a deplorable state of housing for people on the lower income scale in our community. On the other hand, we have excess profits, high prices and inflationary speculation, and this Government does nothing about them. We have what may be regarded as a good conservative government, for it believes that a good conservative government does as little as possible. Judged by this criterion, this Government does a good job. But it does a deficient job for the bulk of the people in our community. A recent Treasury White Paper expounds on the need to cut back public expenditure. Go vernment supporters have referred to this. What do they mean by this? Do they suggest that our roads are good enough? If they believe that our roads are good enough, I am prepared to take them to any number of local authority areas throughout Australia to show them the shocking state of the roads in cities and towns. I am prepared to take them to country areas and show them what a terrible mess country roads are in. If they are satisfied with that sort of situation, their sensitivities are very blunt indeed. Honorable members opposite certainly have a very blunt appreciation of the needs of this community. Is our education system adequately provided for? Are our schools of sufficiently high standard and are our teachers sufficiently well paid in view of the important social service that they perform and the high responsibility that they assume in educating our children? Is it good enough for our health services to be so deficient and for our so called voluntary heath insurance scheme to be eroding and collapsing? Is it good enough that housing for the low income groups in our community is so expensive? The latest returns from the State housing authorities show that in 1965-66 there were 65,000 outstanding applications for the purchase and rental of houses from these authorities. Those who want to buy the houses that they provide are the people on lower incomes, the sort of people about whom Elaine Martin wrote in or about 1961 when she discussed the problem of high cost housing for low income earners. Ohe would hardly expect Government supporters to have read her book. It would be like a horror story for them, though it might awaken their consciences and expose them to some of the realities of life in our community. The people who have the problem of trying to meet the high cost of housing on low incomes have been in no way helped by this Government.
Is the Government happy that education in this community is so deficient? A comparative table that I have ranks Australia about sixteenth among the countries of the world in the proportion of its gross national product that it spends on education - 3.30% . Is the Government happy with this sort of contribution by the public sector? Is it happy with a situation in which the
Institute of Applied Economics in Melbourne discovered in 1966 that the incomes of single age pensioners with no allowances and no property or income other than the pension met only about 90% of their living costs? Is it happy that that report showed that almost 15% of the people of pensionable age had incomes just below the poverty line and that another 4% had incomes in the range to just 12% above that line? Is it happy with this sort of situation? Is the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) happy about this? I hear , the answer: ‘Yes’. That is passing strange, because he is a member of the Council of Social Service in Queensland.
– And the National Civic Council.
– Yes. The rates of maternity allowance have increased only threefold since this benefit was introduced 55 years ago, but retail prices have increased fivefold. Retail prices have doubled since child endowment at the rate of 50c for the first child was introduced, over a period in which the only change in endowment rates was an increase of 50c a week for the third and subsequent children a few years ago and in this Budget an increase of 25c a week progressively for the fourth and subsequent children.
Is the Government happy with the national health scheme which it promised would meet 90% of a patient’s medical costs? It has never covered such a high percentage of the costs as was promised. The patient has to meet 28% of the cost of a visit to a general practitioner’s surgery, 41% of the cost of a visit to his home, 30% of the cost of treatment in an intermediate hospital ward and 43% of the cost of treatment in a private room. He even has to meet a fairly substantial proportion of the cost of treatment in a public hospital in States other than Queensland, where the patient does not have to pay for treatment in a public hospital. Is the Government happy that in 1961 the Victorian Council of Social Service, in a survey of fifty-six low income families, found that only one could afford medical benefit insurance under the voluntary scheme that it imposes on our community and that twelve families had let their membership of funds lapse during the previous year because they could not afford the contributions? Yet 50% of the people in those families had some unmet but urgent medical need. Eighteen needed long delayed dental treatment and four had had to delay optical treatment. This is the sort of situation that is perpetuated by the economic planning of this Government.
Let me give some more illustrations of the inequalities of which I speak. In 1956, a Melbourne woman was sentenced to 2 days in gaol because she was unable to pay the cost of ambulance transport to hospital to have her third child. This is a disgraceful situation in an affluent society such as this. It indicates that there is something wrong with the distribution of wealth in our community. There is certainly something wrong when we consider the way in which some people are able to get to the goodies barrel while many miss out completely. Speculation in certain fields of activity is creating inflation at the expense of the low income earners, but the Government does nothing about it. For instance, a few weeks ago speculation in the luxury apartment field was brought to my notice. People engaged in that field as promoters are borrowing money from hire purchase companies at interest rates of 13% to 15%. This is staggering. The interest .burden has to be paid by the buyer of the apartment units. This sort of thing means that resources are being bid away from other sectors of the economy that should have higher priority. It means that costs are being raised and that inflation is being promoted.
This sort of thing, of course, is not the only cause of inflation. Excess profits also help to promote it, as do bad business management, inefficient production methods, excessively high tariffs and increased export earnings. All these things promote inflation. Yet all that we ever hear from this Government is a cry that the wage earner is responsible for inflation in Australia. The evidence available clearly shows that wage levels in this community have never been able to catch up properly with the cost of living, let alone cause inflation. Why have we such a miserable performance in Australia’s economic growth? At the outset, ‘ I mentioned some facts relating to this. We have one of the highest investment rates in the world - about 27% of our gross national product. Yet our productivity rate by world standards is extremely low. According to a table that was prepared by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports and presented to the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party earlier this year, eight countries are ahead of Australia in productivity growth. We are well down the list. Can we feel happy with this sort of situation? As I have said before in this House, one of the reasons for this situation is that the Government allows economic forces free flow, if one can rightly use this expression in view of the restrictive, pressures that are applied to the economy by private enterprise. About 54% of our investment goes to the tertiary sector of the economy - a nongrowth or negligible growth sector in which 60% of our. work force is engaged. Surely the Government ought to do something about this situation. If it does not act, our opportunities to achieve greater economic growth will be severely restricted.
What are the differences between the Government Parties and the Australia Labor Party? The Labor Party would act to see that this country achieved increased national productivity growth rates. We on this side of the Parliament are not happy with this see-saw economic policy adopted by the conservative people in charge of this Government, who impose their philosophy on the Treasury and completely impregnate it with their thinking. To express a personal view, I hope that one of the first things a Labor Party government would do would be to establish a ministry of economic affairs.
– The honourable member wants to go back to the dreadful controls that Labor had operating in 1949.
– The Minister for Territories has just entered the House, and so he has not heard some of the things I said earlier. But I am sure he will read my speech in Hansard, as he always does because he likes to be informed. He will then discover that there are many deficiences and inequalities in this country, and he is one of those who ought to do something about them. The fact that he does not indicates that he is one of the guilty men in this country today.
I am approaching the end of the time allotted to me, Mr Deputy Speaker. I shall have to postpone my references to the tie-up between the Liberal Party and big business until we are debating the estimates. I will have to leave the tie-up between the Liberal Party and the anonymous manipulators of capitalism who stand at the top of the economic pyramid in this country, pull the strings and determine what this Government is going to do. The point I want to make in concluding my speech is that we are not happy about this up and down, see-saw sort of economic policy to which this Government subscribes. When we are in a slump it pours money into the public sector to get things up again - get the roads built and the schools built - and as soon as the economy is starting to lift, as soon as profits are on the up and up, it cuts the public sector off and returns it to the corner of poverty within the economic boundaries of this community. Then it lets things go, lets the boom get under way, and when it is under way properly the Government jerks the head off the economy and brings everything to a full stop. Then we are back in the slump and we have to start all over again. The fact is that we have to pull up out of a slump into which we are forced by the Government itself. The Government says we have achieved something marvellous in such and such a year, that we have achieved such and such a percentage of economic growth, but it forgets to say that we are climbing out of a slump that we should never have gotten into. In actual fact the loss of growth is a loss that we will never regain. It means a loss of living standards for the people in our community.
Surely the time has arrived for us to accept that there is a consistent and continuing responsibility to the public sector of the economy which should not be treated as poverty corner in times of prosperity. Surely the time has arrived for us to accept that this priming of the pump, this injecting of public expenditure into the economy is too blunt and is no way to get the strategic sector of the economy operating again at a proper rate. It is of no use, for instance, to pour the money in just to lift up the consumer durables section when what is needed to be lifted up is the heavy capital investment section. So I think the time has arrived when we need some more delicate and selective system than we have at present. A more sensitive approach is needed if we are to get the economy of this country operating at a consistently increasing rate of growth.
There are a number of things that could be done, not the least of which is to put the cleaner through the Treasury which is located somewhere to the rear of this Parliament House, and replace some of the people at the top with clearer thinkers who have a greater sense of responsibility to the needs of the community, and who are able to plan the economy efficiently. The Minister says that his Government plans the economy and of course this is so, but it does not do it in any reasonable kind of way. It works on the basis of high tariffs for the people who subscribe to McEwen House, while those who do not subscribe miss out. This is planning in a very blunt, preferential and ineffective way.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– It is amazing to me, having listened to the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), to think that he was addressing a Parliament which has had the benefit of the same Government for the last 18 years, and that that Government has never enjoyed a greater majority than it does at the present time. These facts speak volumes, either for the effective advocacy of members on the Government side of the House or for the weakness of the arguments of the Opposition - and I hope that in the time at my disposal I will be able to demonstrate some of that weakness.
The honourable member for Oxley deserves some congratulations because, firstly, he at least addressed himself to the amendment which is before the Chair, which I think I can rightly describe as an expression of censure and, secondly, he was one of the very few Opposition speakers in a very long debate who was honest enough to admit that if the Opposition’s proposition were accepted the defence vote would be seriously cut. Then he went on to an amazing argument on economics in which I freely admit that he lost me completely. He spoke in glowing terms of the productivity of Australia but for some unknown reason he gave no attention at all to the contribution made by primary industry. Then he proceeded to tell us what a terrible Budget this is. He predicted evil and doom. Then he spoke about the affluence of our society and the amount of money that is being spent in many directions.
The honourable member then asked a series of Dorothy Dixers, giving not one answer to the many questions he asked. This has been typical of contributions to this debate by honourable members opposite. Finally he spoke of what is evidently one of the weapons of the Labor Party, the establishment of an economic ministry. I ask him whether it is not true that the British Labour Party, soon after it came to office to the regret of the British people, established a department of economic affairs, and is it not equally true that that department has had to be scrapped?
I have said, Mr Deputy Speaker, that very few members have addressed themselves to the amendment. I do not blame honourable members of the Opposition for this because they have had to wait until today, with a censure amendment being debated in this House and in another chamber for the last fortnight, to get their riding instructions. I believe they got them only today, despite the challenges that have been issued by honourable members on the Government side in both Houses of the Parliament.
– We made our decision.
– Yes, and 1 understand that it was decided today. I thank the honourable member for telling me. It proves how accurate is some of the information that comes from the party room.
– And we made it ourselves.
– Without a doubt it would have been sorted out by honourable members opposite amongst themselves - the left versus the right. That has been the continuing struggle within the ranks of the Opposition. But now after nearly a fortnight they have their riding instructions and we will see where they go from here if they want to test the validity of this Budget.
The debate has covered a very ‘ wide field, and from the contributions of members of the Opposition one can only conclude that they have a valuable secret weapon, somebody who, like little Jack Horner, is able to put his finger in a pie and pull out X millions of dollars with which to assist Australia’s economy. During several election campaigns we have heard the extravagant promises made by the Labor Party, right from the days when Dr Evatt led the Opposition. If he could have got the moon he would have promised it to the people for the purpose of climbing into power. But the people rejected his promises. He was succeeded by Mr Calwell who again offered a whole host of promises without any suggestion of how the money would be raised to honour them, and again the Australian people turned him down. Now we have the new look Party under new direction, and although we have not yet had a new series of promises we have heard this criticism of the Budget because it did not contain certain things.
It is quite true that the Wilson administration in the United Kingdom has placed that country in the most parlous position it has ever encountered. It has had to do one thing quite unique in its history, repudiate its responsibilities in the Far East because it is financially incapable of meeting its commitments there. The Wilson Government has hurt and trodden on the very people who have supported Labour, the people whom the Opposition in this Parliament claims it would befriend. The British Government has turned them aside, and when the British people go to the polls they will turn aside the Labour Government that they are unhappily saddled with at the present time.
Labor’s policies are obviously not acceptable to the people. They are not abreast of modern thinking and there are of course, many things that need to be done, both there and here. It is reasonable to have a look at what has happened in Australia and compare the form of Government in this country with that which exists in most other parts of the world. We have in this country a stability that would make many other democracies jealous. They would envy our opportunity and our growth.
It is true that the debate on the Budget presents an opportunity to range over the widest spectrum. It gives the Opposition the greatest opportunity to criticise, to level objections and to say how if it were the government it would increase social benefits and other benefits. These things are easy to do for an Opposition which is not confronted with the odium of raising taxes and the responsibility of spending the money so raised.
– The honourable member has not been here long enough to be critical.
– I have been here long enough. I am glad that the honourable member for Wilmot has interjected because he reminds me that the Opposition has been discussing the distribution of hypothetical largesse in the hope that it may gain some minor support from the electorate. Well, this tactic has been tried time and time again - this spending of money, which you do not have to raise, with a reckless abandon that boastfulness alone can support.
Let me refer to what a member of Parliament has said. He said that after a survey of departments he was still searching for the means whereby the Opposition proposed to save money. He said that it would be a miracle if it could do what was required to be done and at the same time save money. He said that the Opposition had no plan; that it wanted people to believe that it would substantially reduce taxes and balance the Budget. He said that it could be done if the Government took away from the people some of the things they had. He wanted to know what could be taken away to make room for the savings to bridge the gap. Those things could well have been said by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) or any honourable member on the Government side of the House, but by whom were they said? They were said by none other than the Labor Premier of Tasmania. He made that criticism when faced with a censure motion such as now confronts this Government. So it may appear that it does not matter so much which side of politics one is on when the Budget debate comes before the Parliament; what matters is on which side of the Speaker’s chair one is currently sititng
– Tell us about the blue in your caucus today.
– The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith has some wonderful information. As usual it is wrong.
Perhaps this is an appropriate time to discuss some of the promises made to the people of this country by the Labor Party. Let us look at the rashness of some of those promises. Nobody has attempted to say whence the money to honour these promises will come. Under the smooth little heading of nationalisation the Labor Party proposes to do a few minor things. It has promised only to nationalise banking, credit and insurance companies, monopolies and shipping. In its previous policy Labor said that we would have our own shipping line. Labor would nationalise radio and television as well as sugar refining. In the field of health services we would have free general practitioner services. Apparently Labor thinks we have some very benevolent nurses and doctors. Under Labor we would have free Commonwealth health benefits, a free national hospital service, free specialist medical services, free dental services without means test and free optical services without means test. Labor would institute a scheme of graduated income tax for companies. What a laugh. This will convince the companies. There is only one way the tax would be graduated. Free travel would be provided to all employees. Wages would be increased. Apparently the arbitration court would be abolished. Labor would increase child endowment and the maternity allowance. Pensions of all kinds would be increased. Service pensions would be increased. A housing subsidy would be provided by capitalising child endowment to the extent of $2,000 for each child. Labor would assist in the field of education and would provide assistance for primary producers. These are but a few of the promises made by the Labor Party in the course of this debate and on many occasions in the past, including its latest’ policy.
Let me turn now to the provisions of the Budget, all of which can be financed without any significant increase in taxes. There can be no support for the argument advanced a few minutes ago by the honourable member for Oxley who said that this is a stop-go type of economy. The proposals outlined in the Budget may be implemented by establishing the conditions and circumstances under which this nation can prosper and progress. It is presupposed that this will be done by increasing our gross national product. The progress of Australia on an even keel over recent years speaks volumes for the wisdom of its administration.
Much has been said in this place about the plight of pensioners. No honourable member would deny that there are some deserving cases in this sector of the community but it is absurd to suggest as a generalisation that the system adopted by the Government over the years has not been benevolent, humane and generous and has not been approached from other than a standpoint of complete reason and justice. I would add, in case honourable members opposite need reminding of the fact, that there has been a constant increase in pensions in Australia. To Labor goes the dubious honour of being the only government to reduce pensions. What happens when this Government increases pensions? I suppose an increase in pensions can be measured only in terms of the amount of take-home pay left to the pensioner. What has been the attitude over the years of the Tasmanian Labor Government, which has been in office for longer than this Commonwealth Government, when pensions have been increased. When the pension was increased by 15s a week the Tasmanian Labor Government increased by lis 6d the rent charged to pensioners living in government homes. When the pension was again increased by 5s rents went up in Tasmania by 4s. Following an increase of 5s in the pension in 1960, what did the Tasmanian Government do? It took the lot by increasing rents by a full 5s a week. When the pension was further increased by 5s the Tasmanian Government took 2s 6d of the increase. They are examples of the heavy inroads made into pension rises by a benevolent Labor Government. If honourable members opposite are sincere and in fact have the interest of pensioners at heart why do they not raise their voices against the pernicious policy of the Tasmanian Labor Government of whittling away increases granted by the Commonwealth? It is unreasonable that one should complain on the one hand that the Commonwealth has not increased pensions sufficiently and on the other hand watch another government of one’s own political colour reduce the value of any increases that have been made.
In the last few days the first shot’s have been fired in the Senate election and tha
Capricornia by-election. Honourable members opposite have said that the Government has done nothing for Queensland. Inconsistent statements have been made by members of the Opposition. Yesterday, the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Beaton) said that this Government had done very little for northern Queensland. He alleged that it had done nothing about water conservation. By way of interjection the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) said that the Commonwealth had done nothing in the past 17 years. The honourable member for Bendigo suggested that the Commonwealth had done nothing until 1961, when the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) lost his seat in the Parliament. Then came the amazing contradiction from the honourable member for Bendigo who, after saying nothing had been spent in Queensland, went on to say:
After 1961 the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt), who was then Treasurer, went about Queensland with his money box shaking it out everywhere to get a few votes back and to win back a few seats. It seems to me that the people of Queensland ought to. show their objection . . .
He said that these people had received nothing, but if we turn to page 800 of Hansard we find that his own colleague on the Opposition benches, the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) had this to say:
The greatest area of potential in Australia is in central Queensland. The brigalow scheme is under way and we can pay full credit to this Government for assisting wilh that scheme. There has been development in coal and in railways, and private’ enterprise has found much of the money for this.
Here we have a man who is fair enough to give credit where credit is due. Yet how conflicting are these statements made within an hour or two of one another? They do not ring with any consistency.
Having mentioned some of the principles of the Opposition’s Socialist platform and its criticism of what I believe to be a reasonable Budget, I want to mention for the sake of the record some of the matters that are contained in the Budget. Is it not a reasonable performance on the part of this Government that this year it is able to budget for $56 lm more than it did for the year 1966-67? Does this savour of an economy that is running down and decadent, as was suggested by the honourable member for Oxley? Receipts will go up by $499m. Perhaps the Treasurer has erred a little on the conservative side, and rightly so too. Despite the drought and bush fires that we have recently experienced this will be an increase on last year. Of necessity, defence spending will rise to the extent of $168m, which is a great amount admittedly but it is needed. Unless we do cater for the defence of this nation what on earth is the good of all the legislation we put through this Parliament if it is not going to be of some lasting benefit. Surely we will derive that lasting benefit only by firstly attending to the security of our country and the people whom we represent.
The Defence Forces Retirement Benefits benefits have been increased. No credit has been given for this, yet we find ourselves in a position where we are giving our servicemen in Vietnam comparable benefits with those benefits that the United States Army allocates to its servicemen. Here we have something that honourable members opposite have complained about ever since we have been in this House and here their complaints have been met. The Treasurer has met their demands through the Defence Committee and through various members from both sides of the Parliament. Here is an achievement, but it draws no credit whatsoever from the Opposition. Their criticisms would perhaps be a little fairer and perhaps a little more acceptable if occasionally they gave credit where it is due. General aid is to rise by $142m. An amount of $5.2m is provided to help Indonesia with her current difficulties which Socialisation, Communism and shocking government has thrust upon her. An additional amount of $8m is provided for Papua and New Guinea. Honourable members may argue that this is not enough. I would not know. Nevertheless, the Opposition gives no credit whatever for the fact that here is an increase and a genuine attempt to fulfil our obligations in this regard.
The allocation for education has been increased by 551m in. this present Budget. A moment ago the honourable member for Oxley had nothing but criticism for the educational system. He touched upon the payment to school teachers, which to my mind has very little bearing on this Parliament and is more the responsibility of the
States. Here is a genuine effort on the part of the Government to concede the opportunity for education by an increase of $51m. Even the State governments of the same colour as the Opposition have not made similar increases in their Budgets. If one compares the educational grants made by this Government over the years and strikes a graph it would show a sharply rising graph on the one hand showing the contributions made by the Commonwealth Government and. a very slowly rising graph in the case of most of the States. So it is that this Government is playing more and more its part in the role of education, particularly in science and technology. Here the State governments are perhaps not reaching out to the extent that they should. Generally speaking, the salary situation is controlled by the States and is not the direct responsibility of this . Parliament.
The amount of assistance to the States has been increased this year by $58m on last year’s figure, and yet we are told that we are starving the States. Specific State grants have increased by 28% on last year’s figures. State works and housing grants have been increased by 5% and Commonwealth works and services by 9%. This will generate more circulation of money throughout the States. An upward adjustment will be made for Commonwealth superannuitants and members of the defence forces. It is said that the increased child endowment allowance is insufficient. The other day I spoke to a man with thirteen children and he is quite happy about this increase. Additional allowances have also been made for dependants; taxation concessions to the aged and primary producers’ concessions have been increased; superannuation deductions have been increased and there will be increased assistance to the sugar industry. The provision of hearing aids for the aged, which has been scoffed at, will be of tremendous help. Admittedly, if we could put them on the free list, as the Opposition would do with all such benefits, this would be better. But here is a step in the right direction that will assist many people and yet no credit has been given by the Opposition. So it goes on. There are many other benefits in the Budget that are too numerous to be mentioned but which will have a beneficial effect.
During the course of this debate much has been said about Vietnam. I do not intend to dwell on this. Furthermore, I would not get the indulgence of the Chair or, I am sure, of honourable members opposite. However, I do want to say that the record of the Labor Party in regard to the defence of Australia is not one of which it should be proud. The Opposition opposed the establishment of the North West Cape naval communication base and also the Woomera rocket range. It also opposed the sending of troops to Malaya. Recently we had the illustration here of several speakers of the Labor Party complaining of the Liberal Party pamphlet used at the last election which asked: ‘Where do we draw the line?’ Where do we draw the line? The welfare of Australia is exactly where we draw the line.
– I know.
– I know where the honourable member would draw the- line. He would draw it right around the whole world. Some of us would not. This depends on one’s philosophy. But I believe there are people in this chamber who would be happy to see a Communist victory.
– You are just a bunch of spivs.
– Listen to them. Every time Communism is mentioned they come to its defence or they go to church services to support the rallies that are held. I know where the honourable member would draw the line on Communism - right round the globe. But there are people who would object to this. Most of them, or a good many of them, happen to be in the Liberal Party. There were some of them in the Labor Party until they were expelled for joining right wing organisations that supported our commitments in Vietnam. But those who join the left wing of the Labor Party ranks are welcomed with open arms. That is a truth which members of the Opposition cannot dodge in any circumstances. But could we just for a moment take our minds back to the Malayan conflict, to which this country sent troops in the early and middle 1950s - again something that was opposed by the Labor Party. The Communist terrorist activity had Malaya by the economic throat and, not only that, it was murdering the villagers. In Malaya, as must bc the case now in Vietnam, it was difficult to distinguish the so-called friend by day from the foe by night. We saw the situation develop there in which General Templer was forced to take some extraordinary measures for the protection of the Malayan people. Communism was stopped there. I wonder whether honourable members would care to contemplate what would have happened had Communism not been checked to the extent that it was in Malaya at that time. The Malayans are going extraordinarily well at the present time. They have a fine country which deserves saving. People who go there today will find nothing but gratitude for the contribution that Australia made not only to the Malayans’ physical defence but afterwards to their economic recovery. Here is a typical example of what can be done to rid a country of Communism and then to proceed with the enormous task of its rehabilitation. The Malayan people are grateful.
It is convenient for honourable members opposite to argue that China has no navy and that she does not intend to use her army for the southern thrust. No, but she has telegraphed her punch to the world. If we do not wake up we will be where we were back in 1939, when it was typical of Labor to hide its head in the sand and not to face reality. That is what it does today. That is typical of Labor thinking. Its policy is to retreat to isolationism and to retreat from obligations whenever it appears that they may be a little difficult. It is easy to win a war without sending troops into the field because of the insidious nature of Communism with which we are all familiar. This is the pattern which is developing throughout the world today and which we see on every hand. This is the problem that I believe confronts Vietnam. Should it fall there will be no more territorial ambitions, but there will be these little committees like we have in Australia that want to liberate people. But what do they want to liberate them for? They want to liberate them for Communism. That is the motive. We have seen it. It started in Vietnam. It has now developed. It is being held. I hope that in the interests of my family and for the future of Australia this matter will be resolved satisfactorily as soon as possible. But had Malaya fallen in 195S, there is little doubt in my mind that Indonesia would have gone. Had the Labor Party had its way we would have been confronted with a hostile enemy which had a common boundary in Papua and New Guinea. This would have been a fait accompli, as I see it. I may be wrong. I stand to be corrected by honourable members.
– You are barmy.
– Sometimes I think that the honourable member is barmy. I want to issue one last warning. In recent years we have witnessed peace marches in America. These marches have now developed into bloody clashes within that country. Honourable members in this Parliament should not attempt to encourage such meetings and they should not attend such meetings within this nation, because it will not be long before the peace marcher and . those who pray on the lawns in front of Parliament House - and I do not hesitate to say that some of them are hypocrites - will create, by their actions, similar problems in this country. I think this is most undesirable.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Miss Brownbill) adjourned.
Bill - by leave - presented by Mr Howson, and read a first time.
– I move:
In the Budget Speech the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) estimated that the excess of Commonwealth expenditures over receipts - that is, the amount to be covered by net borrowing at home and abroad - would amount to $596m in 1967-68. Towards this borrowing requirement there will be available an estimated $123m from net drawings on the credits arranged for defence purchases in the United States of America, leaving $473m to be financed by other borrowings.
So far as our borrowing prospects abroad this year can be assessed, we would expect redemptions again to exceed new loan proceeds, although to a smaller extent than last year when the excess was $82m. The amount then remaining to be covered by net borrowings in Australia this year should not exceed the net $527m borrowed locally last year. We cannot estimate with any accuracy how much of the amount to be raised locally will come from the Australian public but in all probability some borrowing from the Reserve Bank will be necessary. The purpose of this Bill is to obtain authority for any necessary borrowings from the Reserve Bank.
Authority is being sought to borrow an amount of up to $300m. This does not mean that we expect that we will have to use this authority to anything like the full extent. However, because of the uncertainties as to how much we will be able to borrow from the public both locally and overseas, we thought it appropriate to propose that the upper limit on the borrowing authority being sought in this Bill be set at the round figure of $300m. The same limit was specified in the comparable loan Act last year.
– Why cannot you borrow it overseas?
– Earlier in my speech I referred to the amount that we expected to borrow overseas. I think that if the honourable member had been listening he would have understood. The borrowings for which authority is now sought will be made for defence purposes and the proceeds will be applied to finance expenditure from the loan fund on defence services. Total expenditure on defence services in 1967-68 is estimated at $l,118m. It is estimated that, of this, about $123m will be met from net drawings on the credit arrangements with the United States of America, leaving about $995m to be met from appropriations.
It is proposed that, of the total estimated expenditure to be met from appropriations, an amount of . up to $3 00m should be charged to loan fund where it will be financed from funds raised under the authority of this Act. Provision for charging part of our defence expenditure to the loan fund has been made in previous years when net loan proceeds have not been adequate to finance the excess of expenditures over receipts. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
Bill - by leave - presented by Mr
Howson, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
At the Premier’s Conference held in June it was decided that, for purposes of determining the financial assistance grants payable to the States in 1967-68 and in future years, the special assistance of $5m paid to them in 1966-67 should be treated as part of that year’s formula grants. This Bill is designed to give effect to that decision. The financial assistance grant payable in any year is arrived at by increasing the grant for the previous year in accordance with a formula which takes account of increases in population and in average wages together with a betterment factor of 1.2%. Thus, the formula grant received in the previous year provides the base on which the formula operates for determining the grant in the following year.
If, as is now proposed, the special assistance of $5m paid last year is incorporated in the base amount on which the formula will operate for 1967-68, this will lead to an increase of $5,400,000 in the financial assistance grants for the current year. Moreover, the benefit to the States will not be limited to the current financial year as the base amounts on which the formula will operate in subsequent years will be higher than they would otherwise be.
As honourable members will be aware, these financial assistance grants finance about one half of State budgetary expenditures, excluding operating expenditure of State business undertakings. Thus they have an important influence on the level of State expenditure which includes expenditure on such vital State government services as education and public health. The Government is fully conscious of the need to ensure that the States have access each year to sufficient revenue to enable such services to be expanded in line with the growing needs of the community. As the financial assistance grants are now determined by means of a formula which virtually ensures that they will increase at a faster rate than the economy as a whole, it is clear that these grants are making an important contribution to growth.
In recent years State expenditures have been increasing at a faster rate than total national expenditure. This strong increase in State expenditures would appear to reflect not only a rapidly increasing usage of State services but also some improvement in the standard of those services. We would, of course, all like to see further improvements in the standards of State services, not least in such fields as education and public health. However, there are obviously limits to the extent to which resources can be devoted to some activities without adversely affecting other activities. In this respect, the recent rapid growth in Commonwealth assistance to the States and in State expenditures is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that it has occurred at a time when we have been allocating a significantly increased proportion of our resources to Defence. As I have mentioned, the present measure will have the effect of further increasing the revenue available to the States.
I might remind honourable members that this follows the two measures to assist the States which were agreed at the Premiers Conference held in February 1967. At that Conference it was decided, firstly, to provide in 1966-67 the special assistance of $5m which it is now proposed to incorporate in the formula grants and, secondly, to reduce the time lag before increases in average wages are reflected in the grants. As a result of these two measures, the grants to the States in 1966- 67 were $11,800,000 greater than they would otherwise have been.
Because of the reduction in the wages time lag, it is much more difficult than previously to make a reliable estimate of the grants which the formula will produce. However, the current estimate is that the 1967-68 grants will be just over $900m. This would be $73,500,000, or nearly 9%, greater than the combined total of the formula grants in 1966-67 and the 35m special assistance paid in that year. I commend the Bill to honourable members and, with their concurrence, incorporate in Hansard a table relating to grants to individual States.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-! have two or three matters that I want to raise before the House this evening. The first is a brief response to a statement made about an organisation called the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, of which I am Senior Vice-President, and the news items that have been used in this House about the resignation of one of its vicepresidents. I point out that that particular vice-president was appointed or elected at a conference held in Canberra at Easter. A week or so later he left Australia for overseas and he wrote from overseas resigning his post. His contributions, though important and appreciated, were noted more for their brevity. In this field there is a consistent campaign to try to prejudice the activities of groups working in the interests of Aboriginals. Most honourable members of this House will remember that I have been active in this work. I was the national campaign director during the campaign on the referendum. Although I am fairly actively involved in politics and I regard most of the attitudes of my friends opposite as being hypocritical in the extreme, capable of grievous error and in need of correction on this issue, nobody has been able to claim any great righteousness. There are great things to be done and all people are welcome to the cause. I put this on record in case there is some development of an attempt to prejudice this organisation by labelling it as being under some sort of control by the Communist Party, the Labor Party, the Liberal Party or some other body. It is not, and honourable members opposite know it is not It is open to all people who want to work in that field.
I rose tonight because it is time the House, the Government, the Parliament and everybody paid some attention to the position in Hong Kong. In view of the present outbreak of unrest in Hong Kong I am afraid that the logical deduction in the minds of many people will be that it is Communist inspired. I do not think it is Communist inspired so much as Communist gingered along. This would prevent many people from turning an objective eye on the position in Hong Kong. I believe that Hong Kong is . very important to Australia. It is not only the watching post or communication point with Communist China, but of its 4 million people I would estimate that 80% do- not want to belong to mainland China. Last year I spent 7 or 8 days id Hong Kong. I do not claim to be an expert on the situation, but my stay was probably longer than most members remain when they visit Hong Kong to try to purchase cameras, watches or whatever else they want. It is terribly important that we take up with the British Government the necessity for it to make some immediate effort to produce political democracy, reasonable industrial conditions and advances in social conditions in that colony.
I want honourable members to start to think of the situation in Hong Kong more objectively than merely by asking questions in the House about letters written by trade unionists because that will not get us anywhere. It might be a handy political point and look good in the headlines. It might embarrass the Labor Party or the trade unionists but it will not do a darn thing for Hong Kong or its future, or for its security. Hong Kong has a population of about four million people. Its area is 398 square miles, according to a document issued by the United Nations. It is not an insignificant community. Its population is almost as large as the population of Denmark or Switzerland and twice as large as the population of Israel or New Zealand, so it is a significant community. It cannot be written off just because it happens to be on the edge of China, because most of its inhabitants are Chinese or because it happens to be a British colony. It is suffering from the disability of isolation - complete isolation from the British community and probably from the United Kingdom Parliament. A number of British members of Parliament are able to travel there, but Hong Kong is far more isolated from Great Britain and the House of Commons than Papua and New Guinea or Neuru are from us.
Someone has to take steps to bring before the British Government the necessity to take immediate steps in Hong Kong. As I see it, there are three problems in Hong Kong - the political problem, the industrial problem and the social problem. There is no political democracy whatever in Hong Kong. In the sense in which honourable members opposite and I think of it, it is more remote from being a politically democratic community than, say, Papua and New Guinea, Nauru or anywhere else. I believe that this House and the Australia Government should set some standards for the rest of the world in attitudes towards independence, democracy and selfdetermination. This would apply particularly to, say, a tiny community like Nauru. Although it is a tiny place with a few thousand people we have taken steps to give it some sort of political independence. In Papua and New Guinea, although I believe we are proceeding in a very conservative way, in fact, we are taking definite steps towards developing political responsibility in that country. None of this exists in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has a Governor appointed from Britain, an Executive Council which is purely advisory, and a Legislative Council which is equally advisory. Most of the people who make up these bodies are appointed ex officio. There are nominated members and so on. These bodies have no authority and are not representative. My information indicates that most of the people appointed to these positions are millionaires of one sort or another. They are mainly Chinese, and I think there is perhaps one Indian. As I said before, these bodies are completely unrepresentative of the community. No modern community is going to stand this sort of thing and unless there is some effort towards political democracy in Hong Kong the people are going to throw bricks through windows.. If they do not get anywhere by doing this, eventually, they are going to throw bombs.
Hong Kong is situated right alongside mainland China. Logically, from the evidence that we have had, the most active and politically organised group is the local Communist Party. These people will stir other people up. It is essential, I believe, for the benefit of the people of Hong Kong, for the security of the area and for the sake of all the other things that are involved, that the British Government take immediate steps to give Hong Kong political democracy. Hong Kong is also lacking in industrial democracy. There is no legal limit to the hours people may work. People who work behind the counter of a shop work long hours. They start at 7 in the morning and finish at 7 in the evening and work most weeks of the year 7 days a week. Of course, the people are paid wages. There is not a great deal of unemployment but the industrial conditions are not going to be tolerated for much longer by the unionists in this part of the world. They are becoming organised. The unions will be dominated by people who will use all sorts of terrorist tactics unless they get results.
Finally, there is the question of social advance. Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world, so far as I know, where there is no free primary education. I do riot know of any other place where it is not even policy to have free primary education. Therefore, affairs in Hong Kong should not just be thrown around this House in some way. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) should not merely answer Dorothy Dix questions and then put his head in the sand. I believe it is our duty to stir the British Government along. We have got to make it take the kind of steps that we have taken in Papua and New Guinea and in Nauru. I place this matter before the House tonight although this is not the first opportunity I have had to do so. However, I believe it is time that we took some urgent action about it, and I could not think of anything else to do.
– How would the honourable member go about it?
– I think the British Government will have to initiate something like the steps that have been taken in Singapore. Singapore has become a viable economic and democratic unit. It has, of course, a good solid Labor Government. We never know - it might yet become reactionary. The people of Hong Kong will have to do something like this. Surely, we know, with all our experience, that if we suppress the reasonable political aspirations of people we are going to end up with riot and revolution. One of the things that I can say to the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) is that the Communist Chinese Government, the Australian Government and the British Government seem to have the same policy; the Chinese Government will not tolerate autonomy for Hong Kong; the British Government is not bothering or does not want to end the fighting there; and the Australian Government is following that line. I do not think that the honourable member for Mitchell ought to follow the Peking line to that extent. I think it is time that we raised this matter with the British Government in such a way that it felt obliged to take some action and to step along the road of political democracy, decent industrial conditions and social advance, particularly in the field of education.
– During the last week I have made two attempts to discuss what is to me a very important aspect of the Government’s defence policy, and my enthusiasm for this subject has not been dulled since. Within the last couple of weeks, a completely unwarranted attack was made on the Government’s defence policy by a Sydney newspaper, the ‘Sun*. As I have mentioned before in this House, I refuse to sit idly by and watch this newspaper attack my Government’s policy on this matter and attack the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) for whom I have a great amount of respect, without punching back at these distorted and harmful articles. This newspaper ran a series of five articles labelled ‘Defence Shambles’ which were specially written for it, so it claims, by the Financial Review’ defence expert, Mr Peter Robinson. I would like to query the qualifications of this so-classified expert. Does the Sun’ think it can assume the mantle of a deity and appoint a desk reporter from its stable mate, the ‘Financial Review’, to discuss publicly this important and vital matter with any degree of accuracy or factual knowledge? Of course it cannot, and the point that really angers me is that this newspaper deliberately misled its reading public, by implying that the writer of these articles was qualified to do so. I do not know Mr Robinson, but I would be very surprised if he has ever fired a rifle in anger, flown a modern fighter aircraft, or sailed in one of our latest guided missile destroyers. I am positive he has no access to Defence Department documents. Yet, the editorial board of the Sydney ‘Sun’ sets this reporter up as a defence expert to write his series of articles of what I call journalistic junk with complete and utter disregard for the sincerity and ability and the tremendous value of the work of national interest and importance done by the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the Committee on Defence and External Affairs, the Defence Planning Committee, the Defence Committee, the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of the Naval Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff, all of whom advise and assist the Government in matters of defence.
Surely, this particular line of attack and the method used to institute it are an indication to its reading public that the Sydney Sun’ can be quickly dismissed as being of absolutely no weight or consequence in the community so far as the true presentation of facts is concerned. Whilst I was making inquiries as to why the ‘Sun’ should rush into print with its series of ill-informed articles on defence, I found that the suppression of truth and facts is not a new thing to this paper. It did not publish a word of evidence in the most important court hearing regarding the newspaper industry so far this century. The evidence given at this hearing was from veteran journalists and the judgment of the Full Bench of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission will affect the course of the mass communications field for a long time. This was the Australian Journalists Association award hearing which was commenced by the Full Bench of the Commission on 25th October 1966. Judgment was finally handed down on 7th July this year, more than 8 months after the hearings began. Yet not a single word of the evidence was ever published in the Sydney ‘Sun’. It must have been important news because we had a 15-day strike of. journalists immediately afterwards. Yet, this newspaper did not present one line of news on this subject, so that the people could learn what was happening. I believe the reading public is entitled to know. I think that this was a high handed attitude to adopt to the journalists themselves. The journalists who sit in the Press Gallery know that what I say is correct.
The people of Queensland, especially those of north Queensland, are vitally interested in the subject of defence. When our Queensland papers feel they have cause to criticise aspects of defence matters, their criticism is constructive. Maybe they have spoilt me in this regard, and 1 expect this from all the newspapers. However, I would suggest to the editors of the Sydney ‘Sun’ that they put their house in order regarding presentation of facts before they attempt to set themselves up as experts on the Government’s defence policy and to try to defame this Government for its great effort in building up our defence structure, within the limit of our national economy, to meet the challenge of the times. Some people may ask why I, a new member of the House, should concern myself about what a Sydney newspaper says or does. The answer is simple. I will hit back at any organisation that attacks my Government or the policy of my Government in such a ruthless and unfair manner.
In the few minutes that 1 have left, I would like to offer a suggestion relating to pensions for aged people. I feel rather strongly about this subject. 1 have listened to all sorts of ideas from people in various walks of life. Some think that the age pension is designed only to supplement the incomes of aged persons. Others think it is designed to enable age persons to live comfortably after reaching the retiring age. Still others have different thoughts on the matter. But there is one significant point that seems to be overlooked. Perhaps the passage of time has erased this point.. The aged persons today are a very special type of person. They are the people who battled through the depression days of the late 1920s and the early 1930s. They fought grimly to rear their families in an atmosphere of need, amounting to a continual struggle to feed and clothe themselves and their families. The advantages of a higher education for their children was beyond the means of most people. The struggle lasted for a long time. The people who had the breaks or the professional men who were established were lucky, but they were in the minority. The majority of the people were average working people who most certainly bad no opportunity to save or to own their homes. Their whole existence was a constant struggle for survival amongst continuing hardship. I remember it well. It is because these people fought so grimly and with such determination that those of my generation and of the present generation enjoy the privileges of our present excellent standard of living.
Just as the economic situation started to improve and these people could look forward to a better and more secure future, we became involved in the Second World War. This put a halt to their progress for a further 6 years. This is why I believe that the age pensioner of today is a very special person with a very special place in the development history of our country and therefore .deserves special attention. I am not a master of economics nor do I understand completely the problems associated with the nation’s economy. But I should like to know why it is not possible to determine a basic rate for the age pension, to link it with some other wage system such as the basic wage, and then, as periodic adjustments are made to that wage to cope with rising costs of living, automatically adjust the age pension.
I think that this suggestion would be accepted by the community and would put a stop to all the haggling and arguing that, is evident in every Budget session. Again I become extremely upset and angry when I hear the truth distorted or legislation that confers benefits on our senior citizens who have a special place in our community being snarled over and booted about just for the sake of political expediency. As I have said, I am not in a position to make any judgment on economic affairs, but I do know that purposeful consideration was given to social services when the Budget was being prepared by the Government and I am satisfied that the decisions reached by it were the right ones. I can only ask that the suggestion I have offered tonight in regard to the age pension receive some consideration in the near future.
– The matter I have to bring before the House is a serious one. I will start, if I may, by reminding the House of some matters that are in the public domain. A few weeks ago, during the riots and disturbances in Communist China, attacks were made on the British Embassy in Peking. Inflammatory action was taken by the Chinese Communists, and as a spill over from this attacks were made by the Chinese Communists in the city of Hong Kong. There were violations of the frontier and there were corresponding demonstrations and riots leading to some deaths in the city of Hong Kong itself. The record shows that these were Communist inspired. It was part of a Chinese Communist campaign. It was correlated with what was done in Peking.
The House will remember that last week the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) made a statement to the effect that on 4th August last a petition was sent from certain trade unionists in Melbourne to the Governor of Hong Kong and that simultaneously, apparently, a copy of this was made available to our Chinese Communist enemies in Peking so that they could use it. This they did in their broadcast of 8th August. I want to read to the House the terms of this petition. They are:
We call on the British Government and the British authorities in Hong Kong to accept the just demands put forward by the workers and residents of Hong Kong:
To immediately stop all Fascist measures.
To immediately set free all arrested persons, including workers, journalists, etc.
To punish those responsible for the atrocities and compensate the victims for their sufferings and losses.
To guarantee against re-occurrence of a similar incident.
There is no doubt at all that this so-called petition was part of a Communist campaign directed to helping the rioters and directed against the interests of Britain and ourselves. In point of fact it was little short of treason.
It was signed by a number of people - I think seventy-five. I have obtained the names of a number of them - not the names of all. I have the list here in my hand. But I do not intend at the present moment, for a reason that I will give, to read this list to the House. However, what I do say, about it is that it contains the names of no fewer than five members of the Australian Labor Party Executive in Victoria - the people who are responsible for the selection of .honourable members opposite insofar as they come from Victoria. Much worse than this, it contains the names of a number of Communists. Here is a unity ticket - a unity ticket of a treasonable nature. You will find, for example, a member of the ALP Executive placing his signature above that of a Communist who holds office in his union and who is apparently his running mate. Here is evidence of complete identity pf purpose between the ALP and the Communist Party.
Now, Sir, I will tell the House why I do not intend to read out these names at the present moment. I have got only a typewritten copy and I am by no means confident that it is just to name these people for what is virtually a treasonable activity on the basis of a typewritten copy. But prima facie they signed this petition. The Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) is present at the table and I ask him now whether he will obtain from Hong Kong without delay a photostat of this petition so that we can verify these signatures. If the verification turns out to be as the position would seem to be on the face of this document - I do not think that in a serious matter like this we should condemn anybody except on the most conclusive evidence - I ask him whether he will make the photostat available to this House and whether he will provide an opportunity for the House to debate this serious matter. I ask him whether he will do that if it be found, and only if it be found, that the signatures are genuine.
This is one of the most serious matters that this House has ever considered. ALP members who come from Victoria are Executive-selected. They owe their political lives to these people. Are their political fathers traitors? Here is the question that will be solved when we see the photostats of these signatures. It is an infamous thing to have signed that petition. It is an infamous thing to have endeavoured to create riots and to cause death in Hong Kong for the benefit of our Chinese enemies. The stirring up of riots, the incitement to riot in one of Her Majesty’s Dominions is very near treason if it is not indeed technically treason. It is a shameful and a disgusting thing. If the photostats bear this out, here we have a unity ticket of the most infamous nature, a unity ticket concocted by people to whom my Victorian friends on the other side of the House owe their political lives and to whom they owe their allegiance. Are they going to repudiate them? We will see.
I will say this: Until we see these photostats, we should not condemn these men. It is for this reason that although I have a list with their names in my hand, and although I believe this to be a correct list, I do not think in a very serious matter such as this that we should use this list or’ publish these names until we get verification of the signatures. Therefore, I am going to ask the Leader of the House whether he will do two things. Will he see that a communication is sent to the Governor of Hong Kong so that when we reassemble, in a little under a fortnight’s time, after the coming short recess, we will be able to see these photostats and be able to judge whether or not these signatures are correct and whether these men who hold these positions of absolute power in the Victorian ALP are in fact the traitors which they will be if they really signed the document in question? I ask the Minister also whether at the same time he will assure us that if it be found that these people actually have done this infamous thing he will make time available in this House for a debate on this matter so that the truth of this matter can be known to all Australians?
- Mr Speaker, one is very surprised to hear the admission from the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) that Communist China is an enemy of Australia. This has been denied by the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall). When he was questioned about this matter when speaking last weekend on the television session ‘Four Corners’, the Minister for Defence said that ‘ China is definitely not an enemy of Australia. It seems to me to be strange that we see a backbencher differing from one of the senior Cabinet Ministers. Only a couple of months ago, the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt), also appearing on a television session, slated, when asked a question about trade with China, etc., that he would like to see the day in the very near future when we could establish cultural and sporting relations with China. Just who is right on the Government side? Are senior Government Ministers and the Prime Minister right, or are the backbenchers or one or two of them right?
Let us look now at this little pamphlet which was printed and circulated right throughout New South Wales at the last election. It is authorised by Mr J. R. Willoughby. I presume that he has the complete confidence of the Liberal Party because he is the director of its Federal Secretariat. He authorised this pamphlet. The implication, of course, is that China is an enemy of Australia. But that was at election time. I did not hear any senior Cabinet Minister denying at the last election that China was an enemy of Australia. Oh no, not on your sweet life. But they will do so after the election.
This shows the dirty tactics adopted by the Liberal Party in trying to get votes. I listened to the Prime Minister speaking yesterday. He quoted the words of the late
Mr Chifley as though he considered Mr Chifley to have been a great Australian. Yet the Prime Minister stooped down into the gutter with other Liberals in 1949 and, by pernicious implication said that Mr Chifley was a fellow traveller of the Communist Party. I suggest that some of those people, including the Prime Minister, were not fit to clean Mr Chifley’s shoes. That is my opinion. Yet these individuals slur c people, week after week, at election time.
But after the election, of course, they are very embarrassed about the trade with China. As ah example, they say that our steel cannot be used in China for war purposes. That may be true - I do not doubt it - but does it hot mean that our exports relieve China’s steel manufacturing industry so that it can produce more war material? Of course it does. There is no difference at all. If the Chinese are relieved of having to manufacture the goods that we send them it means that they can produce more for their war effort. So what hypocrisy it is for the Government to try to make a case out of the export of tinplate, for example.
Strange to relate, China is now our greatest wheat purchaser. If it had not been for the famine in China a few years ago our overseas credit balances at that time would have been in dire circumstances.
When that famine came the Government, of course, sold the wheat. The Australian Labor Party does not oppose trade with China. Not at all. We would like to increase trade with every country. But we do not go around the back lanes casting slurs on people by suggesting that they are Communists because they trade with China. We try to be fair dinkum on this matter.
It is strange to hear tonight a person disagreeing with his Prime Minister and senior Ministers, including the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) and the Minister for Defence when they say that China is not an enemy of Australia. Where does the Government stand on this matter? What will it do at the next election? Will it bring out a pamphlet similar to this one? Of course it will not. I challenge any member on the Government side, Minister or otherwise, to debate this subject with me on television, if any station would be willing to screen such a programme. I would point out to the public the hypocrisy of the Liberal Party in casting slurs upon decent people by using this sort of propaganda - saying prior to an election that China is our enemy, and then going to water like a lot of cowards after the election.
– I am sorry to hear the honourable member for Watson (Mr Cope) making the worst of a very bad case. The House is greatly indebted to the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) for having placed before it-
– Either he or the Minister is telling lies.
– Listen to Opposition members. They cannot stand this.
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston)Order! I remind honourable members on both sides of the House that interjections are out of order, particularly when they come from members who are not sitting in their correct seats.
– Mr Speaker, as I have said the House is greatly indebted to the honourable member for Mackellar for pointing out some very disturbing features of what is happening today in Australia. It does not matter that there are some people who took some action in relation to Hong Kong. But this is evidence of something which is disturbing. Here are Australians - and let it be said with shame that they are Australians - who hope that in whatever contest Communists are engaged, they will win. These people have taken action to assist the Communists in twisting the tail of the British lion in Hong Kong. There can be no doubt about that. The honourable member for Watson and other honourable members opposite may indulge in whatever refinements of argument they like, but the plain truth is that there are Australians who have taken steps to try to help the Communists against the British in Hong Kong. Does anyone in this House deny that, on the evidence that has been produced by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck)?
– The Government ought to do something with the British Government about it.
– The honourable member for Wills comes out to defend his friends.
– I come out to defend-
-Order! The honourable member for Wills has already spoken in this debate.
– This situation is a disturbing feature of Australian life today. Let me take the matter one step further. Again, the House is indebted to the honourable member for Mackellar for directing attention to the fact that another person by the name of Francis James - I think he is an Australian - told university students in Melbourne that the important thing-
– He is a Liberal supporter.
– No, he is not. He told university students in Melbourne that the important thing was to keep up the morale of the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong. Here is a man in Australia trying to persuade others that it is important for the morale of the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong to be kept up and for them to be assisted and to win. This is a disturbing feature of Australian life today, Sir. This evening the honourable member for Mackellar has suggested that there may be evidence - he has asked the Leader of. the House (Mr Snedden) to get it if it exists - that members of the Executive of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party are among those who want the Com munists to win in whatever contest they are engaged and who are anxious that the British should be defeated in Hong Kong. One can only assume that they want the Chinese Communists to win in whatever field they are engaged. As the honourable member pointed out, Labor members from Victoria not only are selected by the Executive of the Victorian Branch of the ALP as candidates for election to this place but also are directed by that Executive how they shall vote in this House.
There is one further point to which 1 want to direct attention and which is at present a disturbing feature in Australian life. Again, we are indebted to honourable members who have pointed out this fact. The honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell), who is the former Leader of the Australian Labor Party in this Parliament and who is abroad at present, pointed out very clearly the effects of Labor Party policy on Vietnam. He said that the Americans would not accept the conditions that a Labor government would lay down for the maintenance of Australian forces in Vietnam. He said that the Americans would rather withdraw from Vietnam and that if they withdrew from that country they would withdraw from the whole of South East Asia and the whole of the Pacific region. He went on to say that what would happen then was anybody’s guess but it might not necessarily mean a Communist victory. Here we see complete irresponsibility and recklessness in the approach to what the onward march of Communism might achieve in South East Asia. It would certainly achieve it without any Australian resistance and without any American resistance as far as the honourable member for Melbourne is concerned. And the members of the Australian Labor Party are committed to that policy. I ask the Australian community to consider the three things that I have mentioned. They are not in isolation. All are related and when the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) asks, whether we are living in a lotus land, there is cause for grave reflection on the part of many Australians.
- Mr Speaker, the other evening, Rohan Rivett, a highly respected member of the community, appeared on television to discuss the supply of steel to China. He said that millions of dollars worth of steel was going to that country and that it was alleged that it could, either be used for war purposes or be. used, as my friend, the honourable member for Watson (Mr Cope), pointed out, for the manufacture of industrial goods thereby releasing raw materials in China for the manufacture of war materials. Mr Rivett said that that was not the important thing in connection with trade with China. There is one thing, one strategic material that the people of North Vietnam, the Vietcong, need more than anything else and that is food. It is humbug for any person to assert that when materials in the form of food are supplied to those who are fighting the people, of this country, those. materials are not giving succour, comfort and aid to the enemies of this country.. After all, that statement might be incorrect. The assertion that those who are permitting it in this country are treacherous tq the best interests of the people pf this, country-
– I thought the honourable member was in favour of it.
– I merely point out that if that assertion is made on television in regard to the Government of this country by a highly respected member of the community, and members of the Government take no action in order to bring him to account for his assertion, then they are traitorous to the interests of this country. The Government has gone to the extent of introducing legislation which is a sledge hammer with which it tries to crack a peanut, the mob of humbugs from the universities of this country who would send over what after all would not be a few meals per day for the Vietcong in North Vietnam. Those people must . be attacked because Australia has to defend itself from any suggestion that certain people in this country would help the aggressors of Australia.
It was Rohan Rivett, not a member of the Australian Labor Party, who made the statement, that the greatest contribution in the form of strategic material that can be supplied to those who are fighting the Australians in Vietnam today is food, because it is food that they need most. Rohan Rivett is either right or wrong. If he is right then the members of the
Government should hang their heads in shame. If he is wrong then the Government, whose honour is at stake, should see that he is taken to task for the statements that he has made. But does the Government do that? Certainly it does not. Does the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) attack Rohan Rivett? Certainly he does not. No member of the Ministry, no Prime Minister of this country, no backbencher attacks the man who accuses this Government and every member who supports it in its trade with the enemies of this country, of being guilty of treachery. No-one takes any action. No-one raises any voice against him. No member of the Australian Country Party raises a voice against him.
– This is the first time I have heard about it.
– This is the first time that the honourable member has heard about it. Having heard it - and I assure the honourable member that the statement is correct - I expect him to assist me in demanding that the Government take action against Rohan Rivett or admit that the statements Rohan Rivett has made against the Government’s attitude towards the North Vietnamese are correct.
– I wish to direct the attention of the House and the Government to a very special situation which exists in an important part of my electorate of Eden-Monaro. All parts of Eden-Monaro are important, but in Cooma, as this House is well aware, there has been a major development sponsored by the Commonwealth which has greatly affected the growth of the town of Cooma and the surrounding district, and in fact the whole of the Snowy Mountains area.
The Snowy Mountains scheme was commenced in 1949 by a previous Labor Government, and with the enthusiastic co-operation of the State Labor Government work was commenced on the Eucumbene Dam. Traditional Labor Government methods of management succeeded, not unexpectedly, in getting the project about 12 months behind schedule in the first 18 months of operations. It took a little while for the incoming Government to change the system of management, and, as every member is well aware, the Snowy Mountains Authority has had unparalleled success ever since Liberal-Country Party Governments have been in control of the management of the scheme.
In the course of its operations the Snowy Mountains Authority has done two other things of note. It has supplied services to organisations and State Governments within Australia and also to countries and organisations overseas. These tasks were not envisaged when the Snowy Mountains Authority was originally established. The Authority has also played a part in developing the Cooma district. This was something that was not entirely foreseen, and it has had an effect on the development of the tourist industry in the area. Although there has been a great and very much welcomed development in the area there have inevitably arisen certain problems which again were not foreseen.
I now appeal with some confidence to this Government to> co-operate in every possible way with the New South Wales Government in ironing out the problems associated with the Alpine Way. I know that negotiations have already proceeded for some distance and a workable basis has already been arrived at. Roads that were constructed to service the scheme have in fact been used by the public for a number of years for tourist purposes, and I ask the Government to co-operate with the New South Wales Government to maintain these roads in the public interest. Although the Commonwealth Government did not contract to undertake any liability in respect of these roads it has in fact inherited a responsibility to the public arising from this magnificent development. I am sure that this Government will not let the people of Cooma or the district of Cooma down and will work out a practical basis with the Government of New South Wales for solving these problems.
– I have no doubt that the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) has raised the matter of Hong Kong tonight because of frustration developed at this morning’s party meeting. We have also heard from the Minister for Shipping and Transport (MrFreeth). He has now left the chamber. Probably he is the worst Minister to have been in charge of transport since the days of Cobb and Co. coaches. He was certainly off his subject tonight. I want to refer to the situation in Hong Kong, lt is true to say that the Australian Labor Party is disturbed at the damage that is being done and the injuries that are being incurred by people there. We regard that with some dismay. However, I think it is necessary to take a wider look at the problem to discover its base and source, lt is true, as the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) said, that undoubtedly some Communists are gingering up the situation there. But what is the real and basic cause of the trouble? The plain fact is that more than four million people live in Hong Kong. They have no elected representatives. They do not elect any government. They have no voice in the appointment of the Governor and the two bodies that govern them.
There are no labour laws in Hong Kong. The people work from morning till night on 6 or 7 days a week. Those conditions have ceased in this country. The people in Hong Kong look at Australia and other countries and see the conditions in which other people live and they want something better for themselves. In my view they are entitled to it. As the honourable member for Wills said, we know of no other country, undeveloped or not, where these conditions apply. There is no provision for compulsory primary education in Hong Kong. I have been to Hong Kong, as have many honourable members. We have seen indications of attempts to improve schools and other facilities, but the truth is that there is a long way to go. The people are showing unrest. They arc concerned because they are not making progress. They want a better standard of living and a better way of life. The time of the honourable member for Mackellar would be better spent if, instead of looking under the bed every morning and night for Communists, he looked to discover the real basis and source of the troubles in Hong Kong.
Tonight the honourable member for Wills made what I believe to be a very temperate and wise speech. The honourable member for Mackellar could well read it tomorrow morning and absorb some of it. In that way he might get at the root of the problem, which would indeed be a good thing. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) could approach the British Government, Labour Government as it is. Hong Kong is a long way from Britain, and the people there have many real problems. We in the Labor Party believe it would be a good thing if our Government attempted to bring about some sort of reformation in Hong Kong. I and my colleagues in the Labor Party believe that most people in Hong Kong do not want Communism; but if they are left the way they are, that is the way they will go. They will become Communists unless we do something about their conditions. The factors that breed Communism are present in Hong Kong and other places where the people are tired and perhaps hungry after working for 11 or 12 hours a day for 7 days a week. These are the conditions that breed Communism. Something must be done. Let us hear some sane statements occasionally from the honourable member for Mackellar instead of the statements we hear so often. 1 know what happened in the party room this morning. I know that the Country Party and the extreme right wing of the Liberal Party did not get on. We will read ali about it in the newspapers tomorrow if they are honest. We are aware of this situation. The honourable member for Mackellar says that Communist China is the enemy of Australia. I saw the ‘Four Corners’ programme on Saturday night last and I heard the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) say that we have never regarded Communist China as being our enemy. I have taken the trouble to search through some newspapers and documents pertaining to the Federal elections last November. Some of them are very interesting. For instance, the Minister for the Army (Mr Fraser) said:
No other power on earth than the United States can stop Chinese domination of this region. . . . The allied powers were determined that the governments of North Vietnam and China would not be allowed to overthrow the South Vietnam regime. When North Vietnam and China learned this lesson, there would be peace in Vietnam.
We have troops engaged in South Vietnam. We admire their ability and the job they are doing. We do not thick they ought to be there, but we will support them all the way. The Minister for the Army says quite openly to the people of Australia that Communist China is an enemy. That is the same country to which the Government is sending wheat and wool. It is trading with the enemy. The honourable member for Mackellar this morning indicated that this was treason and traitorous. I leave this matter to the consciences of honourable members opposite.
Let us be fair. Let us think about it. Honourable members opposite make capital of this matter at election time. They make capital of it whenever possible in this place. Let them answer to their consciences. If they really think that China is our enemy, treat her as such. Let them be straight and honest about this. If they do not believe that China is our enemy, let them stop trying to fool the people of Australia and instead get on with the business of making friends with China and trying to bring her back into the family of nations. This is the only way we will get sense out of China. So long as China is isolated she will be belligerent. She is belligerent now. I am sorry about it; I am dismayed about it; I wish we could do something about it, because China is a potentially powerful nation. She has atomic weapons. This is a serious business. Honourable members opposite should be ashamed of themselves for playing politics with Communism and China. The report of the statement made by the Minister for the Army quite clearly reads:
The allied powers were determined that the governments of North Vietnam and China would not be allowed to overthrow the South Vietnam regime. When North Vietnam and China learned this lesson, there would be peace in Vietnam.
There can be no other construction put on that statement than that China is our enemy. This is what honourable members opposite say at election time. Enough of this silly business of playing politics. I do not want to play politics. I want to be straight and fair. If honourable members opposite believe that China is our enemy, let the Government do as America does and cease to trade with her. But if the Government believes that China is not our enemy, let it be honest with the Australian people.
I could quote other statements made on this subject during the last election campaign. I could show photostat copies of things said by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) and the Minister for Defence all implying that China is a danger to Australia. It is this kind of thing that makes honourable members on this side angry. We are loyal Australians but we like to look at matters in a broader perspective than do Government supporters.
I have referred to conditions in Hong Kong. Government supporters treat Hong Kong simply as a little island where one may buy transistor radios cheaply. There are four million people living in Hong Kong in conditions far from satisfactory even judged by Asian standards. A British delegation went to Hong Kong to investigate conditions. Mr John Rankin, a member of the House of Commons, said that Hong Kong was ‘a disgrace to the civilisation to which we belong.’ Let us look at the source of the trouble in Hong Kong and see whether we can do something about it. Let us stop trying to play politics.
– I wish to comment on one or two matters with, I hope, the same sincerity and ability not to play cheap and easy politics as was demonstrated by the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Beaton). I am sorry that he is so misguided and gets himself into such a difficult position every now and then, but at least I would judge him as meaning what he says, which is a change from one or two of his friends whom J have listened to in the last 2 or 3 days. What concerns me is what we on this side of the House are to believe. In this place we have had attacks ad nauseam on an attempt to reach a democratic situation in a country like South Vietnam. I do not know why this should be so; the people of Australia may judge for themselves.
I rise tonight to submit that the Australian Labor Party cannot have its cake and eat it too. If the Opposition is to be against the holding of elections in Vietnam and against what happens in Hong Kong, but for insurgency that is not related to normal industrial unrest, in my judgment there is a lot of inconsistency somewhere along the line. If we compare the elections in South Vietnam today with the elections held in other countries alongside it, what do we find? I did a little research in a mild way the other day and found that in Thailand, for instance, where there is a very much smaller proportion of the total population on the roll, 15% of these in the roll voted at the 1957 election. The figure for the previous election was the same and for the election before that it was 8%. The honour able member for Wills (Mr Bryant) is trying to interject. He cannot keep quiet under any circumstances. I do not know what this House would be like without him.
– Order! If the honourable member for Wills does not cease interjecting I will have to deal with him.
– He is a welcome comic relief. I would not worry very much. The point I am making in mentioning the Thailand elections is that three elections ago, according to my authority, only 8% of the people on the roll voted and it is stated that of that number 4% were driven in military trucks to vote.
Who are we in this country to sit back and condemn a fine and successful result in South Vietnam? Twice now over 80% of the voting population have voted. How can we condemn such results unless we are hog-tied by our own ignorance? The honourable member for Wills orates about Hong Kong tonight. What does this mean? In my view it mainly means that he does not understand what is going on there at the present time, just as those who have criticised the South Vietnam elections over the past 2 years do not understand.
We cannot look at this matter through the eyes of Australians. The classic mistake that many of my friends opposite make - they are still making it - is that they do not understand how the Asians think in dealing with their problems. What is the point in getting up at this hour of the night and condemning their methods of conducting an election? What is the point in getting up here tonight and saying we understand all about Hong Kong and nobody else does? Let those who criticise go and live there. Let them see the real problems. Let them see for themselves just how much is industrial unrest and how much is genuinely whipped up trouble by certain sections who are trying to take political advantage. It is vast over-generalisation and a very dangerous one indeed for honourable members opposite to sit here and pontificate in their smug fashion, trying to tell other nations exactly what they should do. This is a classic mistake many of my friends opposite made over and over again in the short time I have been in this House, and I regret that this is so. It irritates me.
The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) made . valid contribution to this Parliament. I think the type of thing he introduced needs to be aired. I appreciate that in his generosity he feels he has not sufficient proof to nominate who voted or who signed what forms, or when and where, or after which signature. I hope we can get some proof on this matter because I do not think it is right that members of political parties should become associated with these questions.
We can obviously throw this backwards and forwards along the line at this point of time, but the only point I wish to make is one that has been made over and over again. It is very apparent from what has been said opposite tonight that individual members of this Party are quite entitled to get up and put their views. Whether there is a clash of opinion, on this side of the House as to whether a country is an enemy or not is of no great consequence so far as I am concerned so long as the thinking is correct. And that applies to many other matters. What happens, for instance, when the members of the Labor Party are instructed as to their policy? They are given their policy, quite logically, from their annual conference. There seems to be no question about this. In fact, I hear no argument about it.
– It is a biennial conference, not an annual conference.
– That is right. And how is it held?
– Do not shake your head.
– I am not shaking my head at all. I am just pointing out that this is the body that controls Labor policy. I hope that, when we do get proof, we find that none of the members who signed this particular form turn out to be members of the Australian Labor Party Executive because if they do it will be a very difficult situation nationally, I think. I am not so concerned about the Labor Party but I am concerned with the future of this country. It has been said tonight, for instance, that we hold our meetings without the Press being present. Not many weeks ago I remember being in Adelaide when the Australian Labor Party Federal Conference was held. Nothing could be more of a stage managed act than the decisions that were taken in the absence of the Press. Suddenly, the Press was called in and a decision was flaunted bearing no relationship to the debate that had gone on before that decision was made. It seems to me that this is something we can keep in mind for the future.
– They make their decisions in bed rooms at night.
– I do not know if it is in bed rooms. I do know the decision is not made under the glare of their flaunted Press publicity. Any one can turn on an act under a television camera but there is no solid basis for selling this to the Australian people when it is not a genuine issue.
I return now to the point I was on in the first place. I hope we will not make the dreadful mistake of judging Asian countries through our eyes and our judgment. Sooner or later all who express views have to have some understanding of the nations that they are referring to. I regret once again to have to point out that I believe one or two honourable members tonight, including the honourable member for Wills were way off the beam in their understanding of the problems of the countries about which they spoke.
I would like to take up for a few minutes the debate as it has been taken up by the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles). He began by making what was obviously an error. He said that the Australian Labor Party had taken a position against the elections in Vietnam and in favour of the insurrectionists in Vietnam.
– I did not say that.
– This statement can be checked when Hansard is looked at. This was what the honourable member said and I want to deal with this proposition for a start. First of all, the Australian Labor Party has not taken a position opposing the elections in Vietnam. We have said, and I have said, and I say now that the holding of the elections in Vietnam on 3rd September was a very desirable development and that these elections have been of very great significance; that these elections have produced and have revealed some very important and very significant forces in South Vietnam. The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) has just given me a transcript of an ABC broadcast, which I would like to bring to the attention of the House. It says:
Worldwide interest is being shown .in a surprising development of the South Vietnamese Presidential elections - the strong running of the candidate most outspoken on the issue of making peace.
With nearly all the votes counted, the military ticket of General Thieu and Marshal Ky, polling 33 per cent of the vote, has won easily. But Mr Truong Dinh Dzu, who rested his campaign squarely on ending the war as quickly as possible, ran a strong second. Dzu rallied support both in Saigon, and in the Mekong delta, to win 17 per cent of the vote.
Mr Dzu, a lawyer, was relatively unknown in South Vietnam before the election. During the campaign he urged an unconditional and immediate cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam. He appealed to Hanoi to stop infiltration and fighting, and called for negotiations with the North Vietnamese regime. He was the only one of the eleven Presidential candidates to argue that the National Liberation Front, the Viet Cong political organisation, was not a mere tool of Hanoi, and he called for talks with the front.
Reuter says the strong performance of Mr Dzu has attracted almost as much attention in Washington-
But apparently not in Australia - as the victory of General Thieu. The former Chief of State, and his running mate, Marshal Ky, were generally expected to win the election.
The events that led up to the election in South Vietnam were of very great significance. It became apparent that in South Vietnam there were very strong forces that believed that the only course to follow was one towards negotiations. The people who took up that position in South Vietnam - whether they were men like Mr Dzu or men like Dr Phan Quang Dan, who has a heroic record in South Vietnam - recognised, as does the Australian Labor Party, that if there were to be negotiations in South Vietnam there would have to be a cessation of bombing of North Vietnam and that there would have to be a recognition of the National Liberation Front in the negotiations; not because we approve of the National Liberation Front or of the insurrection - personally I approve of nobody who uses violence here or anywhere else - but because it so happens that among those who are fighting in Vietnam significantly is the National Liberation Front or the Vietcong. When you. are fighting with somebody you cannot hope to transfer that fight into negotiations unless you negotiate with the people with whom you are fighting.
When, after the war with Japan, a battleship tied up in the harbour at Tokyo, it was not some other power that came on board to negotiate and sign with the American and Australian generals; it was the Japanese who came on board. If some table is to be drawn up somewhere in Vietnam in the near future for negotiations to occur, it will not be the Chinese or someone else who will be sitting at that table; it will have to be the people with whom we are fighting.
– In one case - the Japanese one - it was a surrender.
– If the honourable member for Maribyrnong thinks that we can fight to a surrender in this case, he does not support my point of view. He is perfectly entitled to take up that position, but he should not try to give us a wrong impression. If he does not support negotiations, let him say so. If he believes that the war in Vietnam has to be fought to a finish and if that is what the Government believes, let him say so.
– That is not what 1 said. The honourable member is twisting what I said.
– I am asking whether that is what the honourable member believes. If he wants negotiations, with whom would he negotiate? The position is that when we talk about recognising the National Liberation Front we do not talk about approving it any more than we talked about approving Japan in relation to World War II. We say that if there are to be negotiations they have to be with the people with whom we are fighting. I want to make that as clear as it is possible to make it, because I hope that in the future it will do a little to prevent honourable members on the Government side from continuing to distort the position of the Labor Party, as the honourable member for Angas did at the beginning of his speech.
I wish to refer to two other matters that have been brought before the House this evening. One of them is the complaints that have been made that some trade union officials in Melbourne and Sydney have sent some kind of message to Hong Kong. I am not aware of the contents of it or of the truth of it. 1 do not know what has been involved in this matter. I do not think honourable members know much about what has been involved in it. But this message is supposed to have been sent. The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) pointed out that, whatever is happening in Hong Kong, it cannot be ignored that wherever there is poverty and suppression in the circumstances that exist in the world today there will be an uprising.
It so happens that in most of the places in which there is poverty and suppression the people are coloured; they are not white. Therefore, it so happens that suppression leads to dissatisfaction or to an insurrection which happens to be directed against white people. This kind of thing is a problem that exists in the world today. It is not so much the machinations of Communists or others because Communists are not of very much significance in this situation.
– Rubbish. They are completely behind it.
– They may add to it.
The honourable gentleman speaks from a theological point of view. I wonder what the honourable gentleman has read recently. I wonder whether he could give us an indication of his reading on this subject, because it seems to me that the most important work that is being done today is the showing of the significance of these conditions, to which I am referring, to the causes of revolutionary situations in the world today. Whether they be in Spanish Harlem or in Detroit or in Hong Kong, the tendency for conservative gentleman like the honourable member for Evans, who interjected, is to deal with the situations by discipline and force, to assume that they are caused by a few conspiring dissidents and to ignore significantly the conditions that produce them. Whereas on this side of the House the emphasis is given to the conditions. We say that unless conditions are improved you are going to have insurrections. If these insurrectionary conditions are there and there are Communists in the situation they can take advantage of it unless we on our side do something to take the initiative away from them - and shooting and killing them is no way to take the initiative away from them.
This is the kind of message that speakers on this side of the House try to ask you to take into account and seriously to consider. We ask you to read the literature that has come out of the history of Vietnam. I refer to books by authors such as Kahin and Lewis and Joseph Buttinger. Has the honourable member for Evans read either of those two books? Is he interested in finding out what they have to say? I doubt it. Now compare assistance to the National Liberation Front from students at the Monash University - a few silly dollars - with the $863m in Australian produce that has been sent to China, which presumably is behind this insurrection in Hong Kong. If you compare that you have the story in a nutshell.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– First of all, I apologise to honourable members for speaking at this late hour, but I think that several significant points have been made in the discussion this evening regarding the subject matter principally raised by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). I congratulate members of the Opposition for their speeches. I particularly congratulate the honourable member for Watson (Mr Cope) and the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Beaton). They have been able delightfully to drag a red herring across the trail and cover up the actual comment that was made by the honourable member for Mackellar. I think the significance of this debate is that for the first time I have heard in this House a comment from members of the Opposition regarding conditions in Hong Kong.
Let us face the position. Anybody who has any appreciation and understanding of the situation would realise that in Hong Kong at Che moment there are many problems facing the British authorities. We may say that there are certain steps that they have not taken. But one finds it has been acknowledged by many people throughout the world that the British authorities in Hong Kong in recent years - perhaps in recent months - even have taken tremendous steps to alleviate a lot of the conditions under which the people of Hong Kong live. The authorities there have been facing a problem that is complex because of the tremendous number of refugees who have come across the border. As my colleague the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) said, in many instances Chinese have come across the border into Hong Kong because they wanted to get away from conditions in Communist China. If what has been said by members of the Opposition is true, that conditions in Hong Kong are bad, what must be the conditions in Communist China from which these people want to get away?
I think that people who know what is happening acknowledge that many people coming across the border are being sent deliberately by the Communists to incite trouble and to cause revolts in Hong Kong. I think it is also admitted that certain sections of the Red Guards literally got away from the control of the authorities in China and caused perhaps more damage and more trouble than was originally intended. But I think that there is also something else to which we should give consideration. I mentioned this matter the other day in my speech during the Budget debate. I said that Britain had bent over backwards to placate China, yet here was the result. I quoted from the headlines of the afternoon newspapers of that day the fact that Britain was being pushed around. Follow this to its logical conclusion and we see that international diplomacy has no strength and no power. If what the Chinese Communists have done in Peking was followed to its logical conclusion, then international diplomacy would be a thing of the past.
I think this betrayal of international ethics is something that should give everyone cause for concern, not only in Australia but also in every country, because international anarchy such as this would completely destroy diplomacy and the standards of diplomacy. As I have said, I believe that all this and the other matters which have been mentioned by members of the Opposition in regard to trade with Red China are completely irrelevant to the subject matter that was first raised by the honourable member for Mackellar. At this stage, and for the first time, there is a significance in this. For the first time we have heard from members of the Opposition about conditions in Hong Kong. If one follows to a conclusion what they have said it is that the riots and troubles in
Hong Kong are the fault of the British authorities because the British authorities have done X, Y or Z.
The reality of the situation in Hong Kong has been twofold. First, it has been a desire of China to force a situation in Hong Kong, allied with what they achieved in Macao, to cause humiliation for the United Kingdom. Secondly, this situation has been caused by dissentient groups within Hong Kong who have been trying to take advantage of the position. But the real point in this, which I am sure was made by the honourable member for Mackellar but was not taken up by any member of the Opposition, is that at thu moment, when the United Kingdom is facing a tremendous problem in Hong Kong and in the whole of Asia because of (he economic and the political situation in the United Kingdom - let us face it, at the moment a Labor government is in power in the United Kingdom - a group of Australian unionists sent a message to the Governor of Hong Kong. We can read portion of that message, as stated by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) in his reply to a question asked by the honourable member for Mackellar. He said that the message from the Trades Hall, Sydney, stated:
Please find enclosed thirteen petition sheets signed by Australian unionists who are strongly opposed to the attitude and actions of the British authorities towards their trade union brothers in Hong Kong. 1 have been directed by a special general meeting of the above union to register to you the very strongest possible protest of the members of the Milk and lee Carters and Dairymen’s Employees Union of New South Wales for the recent action taken against the citizens and trade unionists of Hong Kong by the British authorities.
The Minister went on to say:
The wording of the petition was identical with that which I read out last week, calling on the British Government to stop ‘all Fascist measures’ to free arrested persons and to guarantee against a recurrence of a similar incident.
To my mind the real danger in this is that, irrespective of what is happening in the United Kingdom or of the attitude of the United Kingdom in Asia at the moment and its policy in regard to troops in this area, at a time when the United Kingdom and the British authorities are facing an increased complexity in this situation in Hong Kong, people and groups in Australia are prepared literally to take action which helps to undermine the safety and security of British people in Hong Kong. This, I believe, is the point made by the honourable member for Mackellar. It was made well and it should be given serious consideration, not only by members of this House but also by the people of Australia.
– I should like to say a few words about the debate tonight. Firstly, I was shocked to hear the speech of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Freeth). I think panic has gripped the Government benches since the devastating defeat of its candidate in Corio. The Government is bearing in mind that there will soon be an election in Capricornia, followed by a Senate election. It may be coincidental that the Council of the Liberal Party is meeting in session behind closed doors in Canberra and that it has invited the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) twice to address the delegates. The Council has also invited other Liberal Party members to sit in the gallery to observe the proceedings behind closed doors. A decision has been made at the meeting on the tactics to be adopted during the next election campaign. The old red bogy has been trotted out. Communist China has been mentioned. There have been declarations and charges by members opposite of a connection between the Australian Labor Party and the Communist Party.
The Liberal Party and Country Party Government of Australia stands condemned for its trade with China. I am pleased to note that the Minister for Shipping and Transport has just entered the chamber, because he stands condemned for his actions in connection with this trade. Apart from wheat and wool, tallow - the base of high explosive - has been shipped to China in barrels. At one stage it was impossible to secure sufficient shipping space for the barrels of tallow it was proposed to send to China. The conference line was called on but failed to answer the call and it was necessary for the Minister for Shipping and Transport- and I challenge him to deny this - to make ships available from the Australian coastal trade to transport the tallow to China.
This Government has permitted the sending of wheat, wool, tallow and steel to
China - wool to clothe the Army, wheat to feed the Army, steel to supply the means of attack and offence, and tallow for the high explosives used by the Communist troops who are supposed to be helping the Vietcong in Vietnam to kill and murder Australian troops. What salty crocodile tears have been wept tonight by members opposite when they have referred to the Communist Party. The Government is encouraging the Communist Party. I challenge the Minister to deny that he made ships available for the transport of tallow to China when it was not possible to get conference line ships to do the job. I challenge him to deny that coastal ships were used for the transport of tallow, wheat, wool and steel to China in recent months. The Minister grins, but I challenge him to deny this.
– in reply - The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) spoke first in this debate, if I remember correctly or, if not first, then second after the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant). In the course of his speech he referred to a matter which no doubt will occupy very seriously the attention of everyone in this country. It appears from the reply of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) that a communication in the form of a petition was sent to the Governor of Hong Kong. It appears that there can be no doubt that the petition was sent. This is a matter for ascertainment. It is equally apparent that by some means unknown that document came into the possession of the broadcasting authorities of the Peking Government and that the terms of the petition were broadcast. The petition, so it is apparent, purports to be from ‘leaders’ - in inverted commas - of trade unions in Australia and to contain the genuine signatures of those alleged leaders.
The honourable member for Mackellar has asked me to see whether the Government can obtain a copy of that petition for the purpose of ascertaining whether the signatures are genuine. He has asked me also whether I, in my capacity as Leader of the House, will make time available for debate on the substance of the petition and in relation to the signatures which appear on it. I tell the honourable member that I will do what I can to see whether a copy of that petition can be obtained and, if it can be obtained, to make it available. As to providing time for debate, I really believe that that will not be necessary because the forms of the House permit debate, such as we have had tonight, on the motion for the adjournment of the House. The forms of the House also permit matters of great urgency and national significance to be debated. Of course I will consider his request although I must say to the honourable gentleman that the nature of the subject is such that I would not expect it to be necessary to make time available for the reason that if the document does contain genuine signatures of members of trade unions, there will be forthright declarations from the trade unions concerned that there was no authority for those persons to speak on behalf of the trade unions when they expressed the views contained in the petition.
Furthermore, I would expect loud and clear statements to be made by the leaders of the political organisation of the Australian Labor Party. For instance, if the petition contains signatures of members of the Australian Labor Party, I would expect the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) to make it perfectly clear that no member of the Labor Party has the right to sign a petition containing the sentiments expressed in the petition under notice. In addition, I would expect the leaders of the organisational wing of the Australian Labor Party to make equally clear statements of the lack of authority and the right of members of the Labor Party to sign such a petition. I would also expect Mr Brown, the President of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party, for instance, to make a clear denunciation of anyone who had signed such a petition. Therefore, 1 undertake to see what I can do to get a copy of the petition and to consider making time available for debate.
The next matter with which I should like to deal is pertinent to the point raised by the honourable member for Mackellar and remarks made by the honorable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns). A great deal has been said in this debate tonight. Incidentally, I thought it was a worthwhile and interesting debate. The honourable member for Wills made certain remarks in relation to Hong Kong. He was followed up at a later point of time by an obviously perturbed and genuinely concerned member for Bendigo (Mr Beaton). Largely these members said pretty much the same thing. They said that there is trouble in Hong Kong. They also said it was not surprising that there was trouble there, and that we in Australia should give a lead to the Government of Hong Kong, by which no doubt they meant the United Kingdom Government, to make changes there, which would render the insurrection there unnecessary. This is a remarkable statement to make. However, let me not linger on examining the remarkability of that statement because I want to come to the statement that was made by the honourable member for Yarra.
The honourable member for Yarra made a pointed reference to the fact that the honourable member for Wills had pointed out that where there is poverty and suppression there will be uprisings. If honourable members cast their minds back to the alleged terms of the petition, they will find that there is not a very great difference between that statement and the statement in extreme which is contained in the petition. One sees in the statement by the honourable member for Wills the honourable member for Bendigo and the honourable member for Yarra, a reflection of what is contained in that petition which apparently emanates from Victoria. The honourable member for Yarra went on to make, perhaps, one of the most remarkable statements ever made in this Parliament because of the implications which it contains. I recorded what he said, not necessarily exactly word for word. Hansard will, as he reminded us earlier tonight, disclose the exact words. This is what he said as I recorded his words: ‘Shooting and killing is no way to take the initiative away from those persons in Hong Kong.’
The honourable member for Yarra then made an allegation against the British Government with its police force which has the duty of maintaining peace and the right of individual citizens of Hong Kong to go about their business free from threat, without being burnt by fire-bombs or acid and without being shot down. These people who are charged with maintaining peace were accused by the honourable member for Yarra of conducting shooting and killing. We have a situation in which the honourable member for Yarra has made an accusation more extreme, if that be possible, than the accusations made in the petition itself.
I would like the honourable member for Yarra now without any equivocation to say whether or not he believes that it is reasonable and proper for a member of the Australian Labor Party to sign a petition containing the sentiments which are contained in the petition. He remains silent. This is not surprising because his own words tonight have disclosed his identity of interest. I want him to answer whether or not he believes it is proper for a member of the Australian Labor Party to append his signature to a petition, expressing as it does, such views.
– Will he be given time to make another speech?
– I am sure the Speaker will permit the interjection which will enable the honourable member for Yarra to say Yes’ he believes it is proper or ‘No’ he believes it is improper. Would anyone else in the Australian Labor Party like to say by way of interjection whether he believes it is proper? I would like members of the Oppositon to say by interjection whether they believe it is proper and reasonable for a member of the Australian Labor Party to sign this petition or whether they believe it is unjustifiable to make an allegation - to put the blame where they allege the blame lies.
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.35 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1 to 5. Yes. 6 to 8. Approval has been given by the Australian Government for the establishment of a commissary at the United States Naval Communication Station, North West Cape. The patrons for whom facilities of the commissary may be afforded are persons who are, or are dependants of, members of the United States Forces or of the civilian component, who are officially attached to or officially visiting the Station.
In compliance with the terms of Article 10 of the Status of Forces Agreement, measures were agreed between the appropriate authorities of the United States and Australian Governments for the prevention of abuses in the commissary’s operations. These include the quota restrictions and specific controls to prevent resale of commissary purchased goods set out below. These specific controls are rigidly enforced by the United States Naval authorities. Under their regulations personnel found abusing privileges would be subject to suspension in whole or in part (either indefinitely or for a stated period) of their commissary privileges and to strong disciplinary action. The following basic quotas apply:
Cigarettes: Limit of 400 cigarettes (or 1 lb tobacco or12 cuts of chewing tobacco) per week to authorised patrons. Sales are made only upon presentation of a valid Privilege Card and a Cigarette Ration Card issued by the Personnel Officer.
Sale is strictly by Ration Card and no representative or dependant may be designated to make purchases.
Expensive Items: Sales slips are made up and signed by patrons for any items in excess of $5 in value.
Petrol: Sold only to authorised patrons and only to vehicles with appropriate bumper decals. No more than 5 gallons of petrol is sold to patrons in separate containers. In addition to the above specific controls, purchase records are inspected at frequent intervals to detect any unusual purchases or violations of the regulations. There is provision for the placing of further merchandise rationing controls on any item in the event of evidence that it is being sold, bartered or traded to other than authorised patrons.
asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
The Commonwealth Statistician has advised that Australian export statistics are compiled according to State or port of final shipment. He advises that no export information is available according to area of production.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
Are cane growers and millers responsible for the repayment of the $19m. Federal Government loan or is this repayment the sole responsibility of the Queensland Government?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
In accordance with the Sugar Marketing Assistance Agreement Act 1967 the State of Queensland will be responsible for repayment of the financial assistance to be provided by the Commonwealth towards the end of October 1967. This assistance will enable the State to meet its obligation to the Reserve Bank of Australia in respect of borrowings of up to $19 million (plus interest) by the Queensland Sugar Board for the purpose of increasing returns to millers and growers from 1966 No. 1 Pool sugar. Arrangements between the State and the Queensland Sugar Board are matters for the parties concerned.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
Why was No. 2 Pool sugar completely omitted from financial assistance to cane growers and millers within the terms of the Government’s $19,000,000 interest bearing loan?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
At the industry’s request, the State sought financial assistance from the Commonwealth for 1966 season No. 1 Pool sugar.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
What are the specific requirements which make cane growers liable to repay the $19m loan initially advanced by the Reserve Bank to the sugar board?
– See answer to Question No. 468.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
The Commonwealth has offered to contribute to a further beef roads programme in Queensland, and the arrangements (including the terms and condition on which the assistance will be available and the roads on which the Commonwealth’s funds will be spent) are at present being worked out with the State Government. Pending finalisation of these arrangements, an amount of $4.5m has been provided for expenditure in 1967-68.
Hospital Treatment of Pensioners:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1 and 2. Not necessarily so. In the first place not all sleeping tablets are affected by the change. For the more frequently prescribed strengths the quantity that may be ordered at any one attendance has in fact been increased from SO and two repeats to 100 with one repeat. For the high strengths where the maximum quantity has been reduced, provision exists under the National Health Act whereby a doctor may make application for permission to prescribe increased quantities beyond the maximum quantity normally available. This is a matter for the doctor to decide, bearing in mind the needs of his patient. If he does obtain authority the patient would be involved in only one visit to the doctor for this increased quantity. In these circumstances there need not be any increase in the number of visits to the chemist or the number of times the patient has to pay the SO cents patient contribution. If the patient is a pensioner the 50 cents contribution would not be payable. 3 and 4. The decision was made following a recommendation from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. This committee is appointed to advise the Minister for Health on matters concerning pharmaceutical benefits. The committee does not give reasons for the recommendations but I feel that the committee would have taken cognizance of the growing concern throughout the world on the problem of dependence on the barbiturate group of drugs.
Development Projects (Question No. 483)
asked the Minister tor
Primary Industry, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Having regard to the Government’s policy on this matter and to the Commonwealth’s constitutional powers, the question of compulsion does not arise.
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
What guarantee has the Australian Government that Australian wheat being sent to main land China is not being forwarded by mainland China to North Vietnam?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Australian Government does not exercise control over the ultimate destination of goods purchased by foreign buyers.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Science, upon notice:
– The Minister for Education and Science has supplied the following information:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 September 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1967/19670906_reps_26_hor56/>.