17th Parliament · 3rd Session
The President (Senator the Eon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 10.80 a.m., and read prayers.
Mails - -DEMOBILIZATiON
– by leave - Last week Senator Large referred to the unsatisfactory way in which second-class mail matter was being sent to members of the armed forces in the northern theatres of war. I have discussed this, matter with my colleague, the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin), and now inform honorable senators that during the period to which Senator Large referred great difficulties had to be overcome in the delivery of mail to the forces stationed in the Philippines area. The delay in delivery and the deterioration of the mail were due mainly to the lack of staff and facilities at the captured bases, particularly Leyte, as with the rapid advance of the Allied forces, it was not possible to provide proper unloading facilities and storage on shore. This resulted in large quantities of mail, as well as stores, having to be ferried ashore on lighters and other small craft, and stored under makeshift cover until they could be sorted and disposed of. It will be appreciated that that took considerable time, and that the condition of the parcels deteriorated greatly. Itis understood that similar conditions existed during this period in regard to second-class mails for United States naval personnel. With the setting up of proper facilities, this state of affairs has, to a large degree, been remedied. Delivery of second-class mail matter to Australian ships in the New Guinea area is undertaken largely by naval store carriers, and is fairly satisfactory, although delays occur from time to time on account of lack of shipping space and thesudden changes in movements of the warships. Concerning Senator Large’s complaint about the class of bag used to carry the second-class mail, it was pointed out at a conference convened in July to consider the general mail question that no alleviation in this direction was practicable because -
It was recommended by the same conference that instructions should be issued to shipping companies that mail is to he stowed in the topmost position and in proximity to hatches, so that as soon as hatches are opened, the mails may be readily obtained. All mails are to be stowed in positions where they are not subject to the ravages of the weather. Both the Minister for the Navy and myself are satisfied that our respective departments have left no stone unturned in their endeavours to arrange for the most expeditious and safe handling of all classes of mail addressed to members of the forces, wherever they may be serving. The position generally at the present time appears to be entirely satisfactory and if Senator Large knows of any recent cases of serious delay, I again ask him to let me have specific details so as to simplify the task of locating the cause of the delay.
. - by leave - It was previously announced that the demobilization plan, which was recently placed before the Senate, would operate from not later that the 1st October. I now desire to inform the Senate of the further steps that the Government has decided upon to give effect to the speedy and orderly demobilization of the armed forces. First, whilst the demobilization plan proper will not operate until the lst October, substantial releases are already taking place. These include not only long-service personnel, whose release was decided upon before the end of the war. but also large numbers of men selected on occupational grounds whose early release is necessary to ensure the rapid re-establishment of civil production and so to ensure theready absorption of then fellow service men and women when demobilization proper gets under way Every effort is being made to speed these releases, and the services are arranging the discharge of all personnel nominated by the Director-General of Man Power except where the member concerned is key man in the carrying out of the remaining commitments of the services. It is estimated that discharges are proceeding now at the rate of about 36,000 a month. A review has now. been made of the numbers surplus to the services’ requirements in the light of their present commitments, and it has been tentatively estimated that approximately 250,000 men will become redundant in all theatres before the end of January. The rateat which these men can be made available in their home States for demobilization, however, is dependent upon transport actually available. On the basis of transport already in sight, at least 170,000of them will be made available for demobilization, but if the measures being taken by the Government to obtain additions’ transport from overseas are successful, this number will be substantially increased. The Government has decided, therefore, to approve, as the first stage of demobilization, the release of 200,000 men from the services as follows : - Royal Australian Navy, 10,000; Australian Military Forces, 135,000; Royal Australian Air Force, 55,000. It is expected that the machinery established for handling these discharges will be capable of releasing the numbers available without undue delay. I remind the Senate, however, that the demobilization plan adopted by the Government provides that, as soon as members of the forces are available in their home States for release, they will be enabled to proceed to their homes to await recall to the dispersal centre. They will be recalled as soon as the dispersal centre is in a position to carry out the requisite discharge and re-establishment action for them. The living-out period will be the shortest consistent with the regulation of the flow of men through the dispersal centre in accordance with the plan. During this living-out period the men, although still members of the forces, will be free to seek employment in other ways to commence their own re-establishment in civil life. In approving a figure of 200,000 as the first stage of demobilization, Cabinet instructed that the demobilization authority should aim to complete this stage during January, 1946. The Government recently announced its intention to appoint a Co-ordinator-General of Demobilization and Dispersal. It has now been decided to offer this position to Lieuten- int-General Savige, whose appointment, the Government believes, will ensure the mooth working of the demobilization plan in the interests of the servicemen.
– The statement which the Minister has just made refers only to men demobilized from the forces. Are women members of the services included in the figures given?
– I draw attention to reports published in the press last evening and this morning which deal with the difficulties which Great Britain is experiencing with respect to dollar axchange, and state that Great Britain will have to limit imports from America to the barest necessities. I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer if he will explain how Australia is affected in respect of dollar exchange? Does it all have to go through London? If so, will we be subject to the same restrictions as the United Kingdom?
– “We are in the same position as the “United Kingdom in this matter. Our dollar position has to be handled through London. There are two options offered to both the United Kingdom and Australia in the matter. The first is, failing sufficient dollar funds, to accept long-term credits extending over 30 years at an interest charge of 23/8 per cent. We have reduced the number of commodities permitted to be imported under, lend-lease to commodities required solely to meet our industrial needs. This will entail the provision of a large dollar fund during the six months ending the 31st December, and the following period of six months. Secondly, unless the present position alters materially, both the United Kingdom and Australia will have to trade with sterling countries. The British mission consisting of Lord Keynes and Lord Halifax is now in Washington negotiating on the matter, and we have officers in attendance at those negotiations who report to Australia daily. Up to date, not much progress has been made. It may be that Australia will have to limit its importations to bare necessities, and, at an early date, see whether the importations we require can be obtained from sterling countries, and, at the same time, dowhat we can to make ourselves independent of these pools.
– Will the Minister for Supply and Shipping refer to the responsible authorities the question of improving the quality of petrol stocks now held in this country?
– I have already met representatives of the major oil companies in Australia and requested that steps be taken to improve the quality of petrol as soon as possible.
-In view of the press report that the Prime Minister has stated that the Government has not the constitutional power to nationalize the coal mines, will the Leader of the Senate explain by what authority Parliament passed the Australian National Airlines Bill recently?
– It is not usual to make announcements of government policy in reply to questions.
– In view of the accumulation of applications for the installation of country telephones, is the Postmaster-General in a position to say when the shortage of materials which has delayed installations during the war will be sufficiently eased to enable the accumulation to be dealt with?
– Everything depends upon the availability of suitable man-power and materials. There is a scarcity of both of these essentials at present, but I assure the honorable senator that as soon as they become available we shall proceed with the work as quickly as possible. Where the need Ls greatest for additional telephone facilities we shall do our best to provide them first.
Senator ALLAN MacDONALD.Has the Minister for Supply and Shipping received any information from the Government of Western Australia as to the progress of the inquiry into the better utilization of the outer ports in that State in order to relieve the congestion of the Fremantle Harbour facilities?
– I took the matter up with the Government of Western Australia, but I have not yet received a reply.
Use of Tasmanian Resources
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following answers: -
Reconstruction Training Scheme
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, upon notice -
– The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction has supplied the following answers: -
Debate resumed from the 20th September (vide page 5679), on motion by Senator Keane -
That the following papers be printed: -
Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure, and Estimates of Expenditure for Additions, New Works, Buildings, &c, for the year ending the 30th June, 1946.
The Budget 1945-46 - Papers presented by the Right Honorable J. B. Chifley, the year ending the 30th June, 1946.
– Last night, when I obtained leave to continue my remarks, I was about to refer to the attitude of the Opposition to the provision of homes for the people. Listening to honorable senators opposite, one would have imagined that the present Government was responsible for the shortage of homes, but other honorable senators on this side have pointed out that there was a period, during the regime of non-Labour governments, when men walked the streets seeking employment which could have been provided under an active housing programme, but nothing was done. Governments which were in power before the war are responsible for the shortage. In those days of peace they had the means to build homes for the people, but they failed to do so. Yet supporters of those governments now criticize the present Administration for the lack of houses. I remind the Senate that the housing shortage is not confined to Australia, but is world-wide. I have listened to many broadcasts from other countries on the subject of housing, and have learned that building costs have risen by from 40 per cent, to 60 per cent, since the war began. Unfortunately, there is every indication that costs will continue to rise until homes will cost 70 per cent, or 80 per cent, more than in pre-war days. The only way to keep building costs down is for State authorities to set up their own industries, such as brick-yards, timber- yards, fibrous plaster works and cement works. Recently, an American broadcaster said that people in the United States of America who thought that ample employment would be provided by the building industry were likely to receive a great shock. That warning may well be sounded in this country because if building costs are too high people cannot build homes unless governments are prepared to subsidize the cost of providing them. But should any government expend the money of the taxpayers merely to increase the profits of a few connected with the building industry? There is no need to nationalize the building industry, but it is necessary to control prices so that homes can be provided at prices that people can afford to pay. In 1927, 1928 and 1929, when there was a building boom in Australia, the New South Wales Government had its own brick-yard and common bricks were sold at a profit for 55s. a thousand. When the Lang Government was superseded by the Stevens Government, those brickyards were disposed of, and to-day common bricks cost £5 9s. a thousand. Moreover, cartage is extra to-day, whereas in the earlier period to which I have referred cartage was included in the price of 55s. a thousand bricks. For how long are we to continue a system under which money from a common pool is paid to a few persons associated with private enterprise ? During the war when timber was in great demand nine timber-mills in the northern portion of New South Wales remained idle, and probably a similar state of affairs occurred in the other States. Timber is available because nature has provided the trees from which it is cut. I am aware that royalties are higher than they were, but even that increase does not justify the excessive prices charged to-day for timber. I cannot understand why the Prices Commissioner, Professor Copland, recently authorized an increase of 3s. a thousand in the price of bricks, particularly in view of the fact that before the increase the price was far in excess of pre-war rates and also that ten brick-yards in New South Wales are idle. When the banks called up overdrafts in 1930, home-building practically stopped and most brick-yards ceased production. The master brickmakers then decided to close down certain brick kilns. It is remarkable that the owners of those kilns received more from the pool than if their yards were working. Why should not at least one of the idle brick-yards be taken over by a government authority and used as a check on prices? Many timber-mills also are completely idle. We should get these works in operation instead of increasing the price of materials.
– The price of scantlings has recently been increased by 5s. a hundred.
– I should like to know who works out these prices for the Commissioner. Is the Commissioner merely a puppet of big business?
– Ask the Government.
– I have asked the Government, but I still am at a loss to know on what basis he allows these increases. I am confident that everybody in the community was shocked when the Commissioner agreed to these increases.
Much criticism of the Department of Information has been voiced in this debate. I compliment the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) under whose direction the department has given very valuable publicity abroad on behalf of Australia, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. A question was asked to-day concerning the possibility of transmitting electric power from Tasmania to industrial centres in South Australia and western Victoria. I have expressed the opinion on previous occasions that the practice of relying solely on coal for the generation of electric power is uneconomic and outmoded. That practice is antiquated, because electric power can be generated comparatively cheaply from any permanent stream in the vicinity of which a mountain is situated. By syphoning the water over a mountain, all of the electric power required by any community can be generated from a permanent stream. Mainly because we have the great hydroelectric scheme in Tasmania so much in mind, we seem to assume that the hydroelectric power schemes involve huge expenditure. There is nothing mysterious about the Tasmanian hydro-electric power scheme. I should like members of this Parliament to visit Nymboida, 14 miles from Grafton, and see for themselves the generation of electric power by syphoning water through pipes from the Nymboida River over a mountain, and concentrating the water on paddle wheels which turn a turbine. This little scheme has not been costly, but it generates sufficient power to serve areas as far north as Brisbane, and as far south as Taree. Whenever I travel along the Hawkesbury River and Brisbane Waters, or along the banks of any permanent stream and see mountains in the vicinity, I wonder why we continue to carry coal from Newcastle to Bunnerong. South Australia surely has streams with mountains in their vicinity, where schemes similar to the Nymboida scheme could be established. It seems to me to be very foolish for South Australia to continue to rely upon the importation of coal from Newcastle for the generation of electricity.
Dealing with the development of Australia, I said last night that we must first supply community amenities and services such as roads, electricity and water services, before attempting to form settlements. I foresee other great developments throughout this country within the next few years, developments which will prove a boon to people living in isolated areas. Comparatively few people have an opportunity to visit Canberra to see Parliament in session. That must necessarily be so. I visualize that in the near future people throughout the length and breadth of the country will be able not only to hear debates in the Parliament through a broadcasting service but television also will enable them to see what is going on in both branches of, the legislature. This will give an opportunity to people in isolated areas who may never have a chance to visit the National Capital to follow proceedings in Parliament. 1 believe that the wireless station at Shepparton is the largest of its kind in the world, and I have no fear that we shall be able to broadcast proceedings in this Parliament throughout the length and breadth of the continent.
Some time ago, I ventilated the cas* of the late Captain W. C. Rickson, an employee of Red Funnel Trawlers Proprietary Limited, who lost his life when the vessel which he commanded struck an enemy mine off the coast of Australia. His life was insured for £1.000 with the Smith British Insurance Company Limited, but that company refused to honour the policy when his widow sought to collect that amount. It based its refusal on the ground that a clause in the policy provided that unless an additional premium was paid the policy would be null and void should the person insured lose his life outside Australia. Captain Rickson’s vessel was mined at a time when Japanese submarines were operating off the coast of Australia so effectively that had they not been driven from Australian waters in which they sank many vessels, they would have completely tied up our transport system, causing congestion throughout the coun-try. Fortunately, we were able to deal effectively with that menace. However, it was during that period that Captain Hickson lost his life. Because he was a master of a vessel he was not covered by workers compensation. This well-known company with which his life was insured for £1,000, and in protecting its assets he lost his life, refused to pay the money to his widow.. There should be a Commonwealth law to compel the South British Insurance Company Limited to pay the money to Mrs. Rickson. Payments should be compulsory in respect of all people who lost their lives whilst defending this country. I ask the Government to examine the position. I believe that the insurance legislation passed by the Parliament this session does not cover such cases. That legislation should be amended so that all persons who contribute premiums to insurance companies shall be safeguarded against loss. In this case, undoubtedly, Bed Funnel Trawlers Proprietary Limited paid the premium, and the South British Insurance Company Limited accepted it, but when the man lost his life, the company refused to pay his widow. I endeavoured to have the South British Insurance Company Limited brought to book, and to see that justice was done to this woman, but no action was taken. I received all kinds of answers which were most unsatisfactory to me and, of course, to Mrs. Rickson.
.- Since the last budget was before the Senate, hostilities with Germany and Japan have come to an end. The fires have been extinguished, but smouldering ruins remain. So far as Germany is concerned, the Allies,’ with the experience of the war of 1914-18 in mind, are mak ing certain that these smouldering embers shall not be re-kindled for at least many more generations, if at all. Japan is a somewhat different proposition. Revenge is part of that nation’s creed. Its war factories have been reduced to rubble, its naval and air power shattered, but its armies have not been defeated in battle. Three-fifths of them had not met the Allies in combat. Their fighting equipment is being handed over in compliance with the surrender terms; but the will to fight remains.- A military clique, with a lust for power, has been the dominating influence in the national life of Japan. Though driven underground, it may rise again unless there is a complete change in the national outlook. Many people doubted the wisdom of accepting Japan’s surrender before its armies had been taught a lesson at the point of the bayonet, or experienced the effect of many more atomic bombs. In appealing to the nation through the Emperor -or, and stressing that further resistance was in vain, the Allies took the right course. If the conflict had been continued until the Japanese armies had been decisively defeated, at the cost of thousands of lives, a mass upheaval such as the French Revolution in 1789, the Russian Revolution in 1917, and the German citizens rising in 1918 would not be possible. The Emperor is their god, the Samurai mentality is ingrained in their character. The leaders of the Allied occupation forces, under the guidance of General MacArthur, are going the right way to explode the myth that the Emperor is a supernatural being.
Let us leave General MacArthur as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief to carry on the difficult task before him. He is on the spot and knows what is best to do. He is conversant with the details of the terrible atrocities committed by the Japanese. Let us hope that General MacArthur will leave no stone unturned until these fiends are brought to justice. With the steady progressive steps such as have characterized his SouthWest Pacific strategic plan, General MacArthur hopes to attain the objective of reducing Japan to a third-rate power. He believes that in the peasant classes lies the material for democracy. The loyalty of the first generation of
Japanese- American citizens serving under his command, confirms the belief that through the peasant class - the backbone of the Japanese Army - a new Japan, based on democratic principles, may arise within the next half century. Meanwhile, no political, economic or philanthropic conditions must intrude, otherwise there will be a repetition of what happened after World War I.
It will take many months before General MacArthur will relinquish duty in Tokyo and return to the United States of America. In recognition of the part he has played in the final defeat of Japan, I understand that the Commonwealth Government intends to invite him to Canberra, where the thanks of the people of Australia can be conveyed to him. It is pleasing to hear, too, that Mr. Winston Churchill will visit Australia shortly. The people of Australia are anxious to see and hear the inspiring head of the nation which stood alone against Nazi Germany during the first eighteen months of the war. General Sir Thomas Blarney also will shortly cast aside his uniform. Many people are eager to throw a searchlight upon a person’s shortcomings, whilst overlooking his good points. General Blarney has carried great responsibilities in most difficult times as Commander-in-Chief - a position no other officer, Allied or enemy, has held during the whole six years of war. After the last war our two great leaders, the late Sir Harry Chauvel and the late Sir John Monash, were accorded a State dinner by the Commonwealth Parliament, sitting in Melbourne. Such a tribute to Sir Thomas Blarney would mean a tribute to all ranks of the fighting services.
The surrender conditions having been signed, members of the fighting services, except those required as occupation troops, are gradually being demobilized. It will be a long process, rendered slow and more difficult because the Government was averse to the re-introduction of the Military Board. Two-thirds of Australia’s service men and women are in the Army, scattered all over Australia and in the islands, extending from the Solomons to Borneo. It is impossible for n commander-in-chief to give full attention to high administrative matters such
Senator Brand. as the pruning of army establishment* and the speeding up of discharges. The machinery and mass of preliminary details of general demobilization can only be drawn up and put into operation by a central administration in close daily touch with the Minister. I have no doubt that before hostilities ceased, demobilization plans had been prepared under the guidance and instruction of the ‘CommanderinChief, whose head-quarters were somewhere outside Australia. In addition to his primary duties of controlling operations extending from the Solomons to Borneo, it was not fair to load him with the task of solving administrative problems not directly associated with the combat troops. Bottlenecks will occur within the service if there be no direction to remove congestion speedily. In addition, of course, there is the biggest bottleneck of % all - the control of man-power. I understand the Government proposes to appoint a lieutenant-general as CoordinatorGeneral of Demobilization a* soon as he can be released from active service. Such an appointment should have been made months ago and the Man Power Directorate brought under his control. That would have removed one bottleneck.
Having been demobilized, what will be the soldiers’, sailors’ and airmen’s reaction to the conditions they will find? Not very pleasant, I believe. Their two desires are a home of their own and a steady job, after some leave. Some hope to go back to their pre-war jobs, others to take up post-war reconstruction training with the intention of following a trade or profession. The unexpected cessation of hostilities has caught the Government on the hop. I sympathize with the Ministers who are called upon to undertake the sudden transition from war to peace conditions. However, il will not be a very difficult task if the Government will only drop the economic professors’ plans, turn a deaf ear to agitators screaming for some mythical new order, and face realities. In pre-war years, 80 per cent, of the nation’s breadwinners were not on government payrolls. Government officials are consumers, not producers, and until the shackles of production establishments are removed. there can be little prospect of combating inflation. When consumers outnumber producers, the value of the £1 falls below its true value. The sooner industrial firms and producers of primary commodities are relieved of heavy taxation, the better it will be for all sections of the community. By that means we can build up true wealth in place of the present spurious prosperity. One would have thought that employment would have first priority in the Government post-war reconstruction plans. In retaining almost the war-time rate of taxation, the Government is denying industry the opportunity to provide jobs. Machinery has to be renewed and brought up to modern standards for production, and raw materials acquired in order to create employment. “When I used the word “ wealth “ I did not mean individual wealth, but a better allround distribution of wealth. More than once I have stated in this chamber that the employee is entitled to a share of the wealth he produces. Some firms recognize this by issuing a bonus, after the prospects of future markets have been examined and after allowing for depreciation and a reasonable return to shareholders for the use of their money for development.
There are one or two matters connected with the Repatriation Department to which I desire to refer. The first is the vexed question of onus of proof, when deciding whether a soldier’s disability is due to war service or not. Before the amendment ‘ to the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act was agreed to by Parliament in 1943, a soldier had to prove his case for a war pension. Now, the onus is on the Repatriation Commission. Numerous instances can be cited in which this obligation has not been carried out. An unsuccessful applicant for a pension appeals to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal. He is usually accompanied by an advocate appointed by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. Professional legal men are not allowed by the regulations to assist the appellant. The departmental file is before the tribunal with the commission’s endorsing decision, “ Not due to war service “. There is no witness for the commission to prove that contention. In the odd cases in which an advocate requests the attendance of such a witness, the soldier wins the appeal. It should be obligatory for the commission to be represented at these tribunals. As there is no appeal against the tribunal’s decision, unless fresh relevant evidence is forthcoming, it is necessary that the fullest evidence, for and against, should be available when the case is heard.
Another matter which requires investigation by the Minister is the anomaly in connexion with the payment of a pension or allowance to the wife of a service pensioner and the wife of a civilian invalid pensioner. Both these pensioners are in the same category. Both of them cannot work because of some disability. In the case of the service pensioner, the disability is directly or indirectly due to active service. His disability cannot be conclusively traced to war service; otherwise he would be receiving a war pension. The civilian invalid pensioner’s disability is contracted whilst in civil employment. Both pensioners receive the same amount of pension, namely, £1 12s. 6d. a week, subject to a means test. The civilian invalid pensioner’s wife receives £1 a week. Should she die and the pensioner marry again, the second wife receives the same rate of pension. But if a service pensioner’s wife, who receives £1 2s. a week, subject to a means test, died after the 1st October, 1931, the second wife cannot draw a pension should he re-marry. If the civilian invalid pensioner’s second wife receives a pension, irrespective of when the marriage took place, why should the second wife of the ex-soldier invalid pensioner be denied that concession? Surely, the service pensioner is entitled to more consideration. He must have seen service in a. battle zone in order to become entitled to that pension.
One disturbing feature of the budget is the heavy increase of oncoming commitments for non-war purposes, including non-contributory social services. War costs fell last year, but outlays for these purposes increased, and the National Welfare Fund’ envisages annual disbursements up to £30,000;000, in addition to the present payments for invalid and old-age pensions, child endowment, &c. Among increases in the coming year will be £8,000,000 for unemployment and £1,000,000 for pharmaceutical benefits. Invalid and old-age pensions now costing £22,000,000, will cost £300,900 more than last year. It is proposed to spend £64,800,000 on social services of one kind or another in 1945-46, and the only item showing a decrease is child endowment. If the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act passed by Parliament in 1.938 had been implemented, the vast and growing pensions bill would by now have been diminishing. Hosts of employed people, having made their contributions, would have become entitled to the relevant benefits. When Sir William Beveridge was investigating social security in Great Britain, the trade unions were among those who emphasized, or accepted the contributory principle as a. central feature. Those who insist on the non-contributory basis fail to realize that the .vast majority of workers do not wish to be classed as paupers or dependants on public bounty and largesse. Whilst provision against sickness, unemployment and old-age is imperative, it cuts across a salutary principle when the Government declares, in effect, that none shall have the right to make personal contributions to a national scheme of insurance against those contingencies.
If social services are to be developed on the lines favored by the Government, no material reduction of taxation in the post-war time is to be expected. The effects of the present rates of tax on potential earnings are by no means confined to the higher-income group. One reason for absenteeism on the coal-fields is the fact that incentives to morethanaverage earnings have been removed by tax rates which make the extra exertion no longer worth while. The restraint applies throughout the community. An obvious danger of continuing peak, or near-peak taxation after the war is that of a levelling-down process, not only in spendable incomes, but also in efficiency, initiative and the spirit in which all work is approached. Far greater impulse to production, and the use of skill in every sphere, would be supplied by restoring the incentives to earn. The principle should also be recognized that social benefits should be earned. Th«present scheme has no guarantee of permanence, since the benefits lack any contractual roots or binding relations. In times of adversity the whole plan could be whittled down and large parts abandoned or repealed. None would deny that the purposes are intrinsically worth while, but the very validity of the purposes demands that the scheme should b* organized on a proper basis, and that the tap-roots of its resources secured against the vicissitudes of political anc financial changes.
The provision of war pensions is inter woven financially with the huge cost o’ social benefits. These pensions are expected to cost annually no less thai £14,000,000. The casualties in the second world war to the 31st May, 1945, totalled 92,211, as compared with 214,361 in th, previous war. Thousands of prisoner? of war have yet to be medically examined A considerable number of them wil”. qualify for a pension. The dependants of those prisoners who died in captivity wil’ also enter the pensions and allowance* list. I am apprehensive that the socia benefits scheme, on the present basis, may break down of its own weight, and so endanger war pensions. On no accounmust war pensioners suffer. They have already suffered enough.
I now refer to a matter of income taxation. I have been informed by a taxpayer that his wife is blind, and that hr has a daughter aged sixteen years whom he is compelled to keep at home to look after his wife. The question is asked why the taxation authorities should not grant to the father a concessional allowance in respect of his daughter, in view of the fact that she remains at home to tak* care of his wife. I understand that where a daughter is an invalid, and the wife remains at home to take care of the daughter a rebate is permitted, but where the wife is an invalid and the daughter has to remain at home, no rebate i3 allowed. Will the Minister representing the Treasurer investigate this matter? If the Income Tax Assessment Act does not provide for a rebate in such cases an amendment seems to be necessary.
, - On examining the budget figures, one is astonished that a country with a population of only 7,000,000 is called upon to provide the many millions of pounds that will be required in the post-war years to meet our huge financial commitments. The Government, in addition to having to meet the colossal expenditure which a total war has involved, is now confronted with the necessity to raise revenue to enable it to provide the deferred pay of members of the armed forces, the war gratuity to ex-service personnel, and the money required for the repatriation and re-establishment of exservice men and women in civil life. I find it difficult to understand why complaints are heard because the Government is unable to reduce taxes immediately to a much greater extent than it sees fit to do at present. In view of our enormous commitments, the people of Australia are indeed fortunate that the Government, so soon after the cessation of hostilities, has been able to announce a reduction of the income tax by 12£ per cent, for the present financial- year.
I am greatly interested in the Government’s efforts in the direction of the repatriation and the re-establishment in civil life of our ex-service men and women. We should all be proud of the Government’s plans to confer well deserved benefits on the members of the forces. Senator Brand remarked that one of the most important requirements of the ex-serviceman was a regular job and a home, and I fully concur in that statement. Every member of the community should give all possible support to the Government in its endeavour to implement its policy of full employment. We should endeavour to ensure that those who have been prepared to sacrifice their all in the defence of this country shall be given assistance in the purchase of a home of their own immediately they return to civil life. They should be given an opportunity to secure a home under such conditions that they would have a reasonable chance of paying for it. I” was most sincere when I asked the question yesterday whether the Government would make money available for the building of cottages for invalid and old-age pensioners at the interest rate of 1 per cent. I thought that a house of three rooms and conveniences could be built at a price ranging from £700 to £800, which allowing for rates and taxes and an interest payment of 1 per cent., would enable the occupant to have his own property at a cost of 10s. a week.
– In South Australia such homes aTe provided at a cost to the occupant of 12s. a week.
– South Australia has done well in providing homes for the people at reasonable rentals. I am concerned that returned servicemen shall be able to get money to build homes under conditions which will enable them to purchase the property during their lifetime. It will be utterly impossible for these men to purchase their homes if the interest rate is as high as 4 per cent. I know well the case of a soldier of the ‘last war who obtained money at 4 per cent, for the purchase of a home. As the ruling interest rate at that time was 6 per cent., it was thought that the soldier was being well treated in obtaining money at 4 per cent. Thousands of returned soldiers .availed themselves of the opportunity to borrow money to build homes. The soldier I have in mind was 33 years of age when he returned from the war, and he had a wife and three children. He applied for and obtained an advance of £700 at 4 per cent, interest. From 1920 to 1944, he paid his monthly instalments regularly, and during that period he paid to the State bank of South Australia a total of £1,244, which included rates, taxes and maintenance. Last year he was left a small legacy, and he thought that he would use it to pay off the balance owing on his home. The State bank authorities told him that the amount outstanding was £456. He paid the money, which made his total payments £1,700 in respect of a loan of £700. I know that those figures are correct, because I am the person who obtained the loan and paid the money. Bates and taxes were included in that amount. Whatever government may be in office in the future, it should endeavour to enable ex-servicemen of this war to purchase their homes under a system of national credit at the cost of issuance. It can be done. People should be able to provide homes for themselves and their families without being called upon to pay excessive interest charges. It should be possible for a man to purchase his home in twenty years. The Government is launching two schemes for the housing of the people. The first scheme provides for the purchase of homes; the other provides for a government subsidy. Unfortunately, a house which cost £700 in 1920 would cost about £1,200 to-day. Let us consider the problem which faces a man with a wife, but no children, who borrows £1,000 on his home. It will be almost impossible for him to make that home his own. The great majority of men who will seek homes costing £1,000 will have incomes ranging from £250 to £350 per annum. People with higher incomes will look for a better class of home, which, of course, will be more costly. Interest at 4 per cent, on £1,000 represents £40 per annum, or approximately 15s. a week. Insurance of home and furniture would represent another £5 per annum, or say 2s. a week. Water rates, municipal rates, and land tax would total at least £10 a year, or another 4s. a week. For the maintenance of the property £10 per annum would not be an unreasonable allowance; a home requires painting every two years. So we must add another 4s. a week for maintenance. Without paying one penny off the principal, his weekly commitments would be about 25s. A man with a salary between £250 and £350 should not have to pay more than that to keep a roof over his head. But if the man wishes to purchase his home we must add at least another 10s. a week for the repayment of the principal amount borrowed by him. The addition of that sum would increase his weekly outlay to 35s. a week. Men in the lower income groups would, have no chance to become the owners of their homes under those conditions, even if they remained in full employment year after year. So far, I have spoken of the two-unit family; if there were children, the position of the would-be home owner would be infinitely worse. So long as the system which I have illustrated remains, hardship will be inflicted on those who wish to own their homes; but if the Govern- ment would make money available for home-building on the basis that I hansuggested, the position would be vastly different.
– The home would always be good security for the money lent.
– Yes; the asset i> there all the time. We are approaching the housing problem in the wrong way when we ask people to pay 4 per cent, interest on money advanced to them for the purchase of homes. In addition to its proposals for the purchase of homes., the Government proposes to embark on a housing scheme on a rent-subsidy basis. Under it the rental of a home is not to exceed one-sixth of the man’s income. Assuming that the cost of the house to the Government was £1,000, what would be the position of the man under the purchase scheme, compared with that of the man under the rent subsidy scheme ? I have already pointed out that an ex-, soldier earning £250 a year would be obliged to pay 35s. a week. Should he become unemployed, the first call upon him would still be the charges due in respect of his home, and hh income would be reduced from £250 per annum to £1 5s. a week for himself, and £1 a week for his wife, under the unemployment benefit scheme. The total income of himself and his wife would thus be £2 5s. a week, from which sum he would have to pay 35s. a week. That would leave him with 10s. a week to sustain himself and his wife. One can imagine how much worse his position would be if he had a family. It is impossible under such conditions for ex-servicemen to purchase homes. More favorable treatment is to be given to people who do not desire to purchase but merely rent a home. The Government, of course, should provide homes for all our people at the lowest possible rental. Under the rent subsidy scheme, agreed upon between the Commonwealth and the States, a tenant occupying a house which has cost £1,000 will be obliged to pay in rent only onesixth of his income. In respect of an income of £250 a year the rent would be 16s. a week. Such a person would be in a far more favorable position than one with a similar income -who Was endeavouring to purchase a home of the same value. The former would have security of tenure, and the Government would he guaranteed its rent because should the tenant become unemployed, or ill, he would receive social service benefits sufficient to enable him to pay 16s. a week rental. Under similar conditions an ex-soldier who was endeavouring to purchase his home would have to pay 35s. a week. Let us now examine the position of a tradesman on a margin of, say, 30s. a week above a labourer, that is, with an annual income of about £350. His rental at the rate of one-sixth of his income would be approximately 22s 6d. a week f or exactly the same class of home for which an ex-soldier, who was endeavouring to purchase his home, would pay 35s. a week. I do not suggest that proposed rentals under the rent subsidy scheme should be raised. [ have no fault to find with the basis of those rentals. Under the scheme, during a period of 30 years a tenant with ah income of £250 a year would pay a total of £1,24S, and a man with an income of £350 a year would pay a total of £1,755. In all cases the Government would be reimbursed its outlay, and would still retain the asset. My point is that treatment as favorable as that given under the rent subsidy scheme should be given also to ex-soldiers, or civilians, who are anxious to purchase their homes. I ask the Government to give serious consideration to this suggestion, which can be implemented on the basis of making building loans available at the cost of providing the credit. Under such a scheme fairer treatment would be given to ex-soldiers who do not take up rural life, or enter a profession, in which case the cost of their training and establishment is to be borne by the Government. Senator Leckie. - What does the honorable senator mean by the cost of providing the credit?
– I should say that the charge on loans for the construction of homes under such a scheme should not exceed 1 per cent. Under this scheme the ex-soldier, or civilian, who wishes to purchase a home would be given concessions more in conformity with those granted to ex-soldiers, or civilians. who wish merely to rent a home under the subsidy scheme. The Government should not only place ex-service personnel in employment but also give them a stake in the country in whose defence they have fought. In that way it would earn the undying gratitude of not only ex-service personnel hut also the nation generally.
– I take this opportunity to deal with the dehydration of vegetables particularly in Tasmania, a subject on which I have spoken on previous occasions. Farmers in Tasmania who have been growing vegetables for dehydration have done a very good job. They have produced large volumes of food for ‘ the troops. The day is now approaching when another market must be found for dehydrated vegetables or the factories now engaged in this production will have to be closed down. On a previous occasion I asked the Government to endeavour to open up a market for dehydrated vegetables inside Australia, and, if possible, overseas. Even during this debate, the scarcity of fresh vegetables and the excessive prices being charged for them have been commented upon. Senator Foll stated that cabbages were costing as much as 4s. each, and cauliflowers up to 8s. each. In a wireless broadcast a few nights ago, a departmental official, when dealing with the standardization of railway gauges, argued that with the standardization of gauges it would be possible to transport fresh vegetables from Western Australia to< relieve the scarcity in the eastern States. Would it not be more feasible to supply to markets in the eastern States first-quality dehydrated vegetables from Tasmania? The Government, apparently, has not acted upon my request. The Minister replied that owing to the “ No “ vote at the recent referendum, the Commonwealth did not have power to do anything in the matter. The States possess adequate power to handle the matter along the lines I suggest. At present, the Tasmanian Government is practically running the dehydration factories. These are controlled by a board of which the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture is the chairman. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to ask the
Commonwealth Government to find markets for these products, and to recommend that the Tasmanian Government carry on with the factories. Personally, I should prefer to see the factories operated under private enterprise, but my primary consideration at the moment is to ensure that these factories will not be closed down, particularly when markets already exist, and could be developed, in the eastern States. Some factories in Tasmania are most favorably situated to dehydrate vegetables in attractive form. Such vegetables must be supplied perfectly fresh at the factory. That can be done in numerous places in Tasmania. These factories have been erected at very high cost, and those which I have inspected are very capably managed. I should like to see the Government table running costs of these various factories in order to enable us to determine whether they can supply the finished product at a cost which people can afford to pay. Personally, I have no doubt that they could do that. We should have given more consideration to the establishment of permanent markets for dehydrated vegetables while the factories were in full production during the war. Following the sudden cessation of hostilities it will be much more difficult to develop permanent markets. If the factories are closed down, farmers who have been supplying fresh vegetables to them will suffer serious loss. It is unthinkable that the factories should be closed down when people in our cities need vegetables, and are compelled to pay excessive prices for them. The sudden cessation of hostilities has resulted in a tapering off of the demand for dehydrated vegetables. Many contracts have already been cancelled. The Government, of course, acted in good faith in letting contracts on the assumption that the war was going to continue for some considerable time. I do not know the terms or conditions under which contracts have been cancelled. I have endeavoured to find out whether equitable treatment will be meted out to all States in that respect, and I have been assured by departmental officers that cancellations will be effected on that basis. We could not, of -course, expect otherwise. However, owing to the fact that the season is earlier on the mainland States than in Tasmania more favorable consideration may be extended to those States than is extended to Tasmania in the cancellation of contracts.
Vegetable growers have done a good job. They have incurred tremendous expense, paying high wages and meeting the difficulty of shortage of man-power. Many growers in Tasmania purchased expensive machinery and cleared fresh land with a view to continuing in the production of vegetables for dehydration. I assume that growers whose contracts are cancelled will be adequately compensated. The Government can afford to grant liberal compensation when all the factors are taken into consideration. I have been informed by departmental officers that when contracts were let this year they were confined solely to dehydrated vegetables. The cancellation of some contracts will mean that the dehydration factories will not be able to continue in operation. If my information be correct, even before this year has ended, some factories will ‘be closed. I believe that they should be kept going, and I ask the Government to re-examine the position.
This war has taught us many things. For the first time within my memory, primary producers have enjoyed stable prices for their products. They have been able to continue production knowing that their return will be reasonable. They have not made fortunes, as some people imagine, but for the first time in their lives they have been assured of % reasonable income and have been able to pay reasonable wages to their employees. I should not like to see a reversion to the position existing before the war when primary producers operated on the “get what you can “ principle. I have no cut-and-dried scheme to put before the Senate, but the suggestion that maximum and minimum prices should be fixed, permitting the market to vary between the limits imposed, seems to have much to commend it.
– The fixing of prices for vegetables is one of the hardest tasks with which the Prices Commissioner has ever been faced.
– I am glad to know that that matter is before the Prices Commissioner. Fixed prices are required not only for vegetables but also for other farm products including wheat, oats, hay and dairy produce. The solution of the problem requires more than an not of Parliament. I cannot say at this stage what should be done, but 1 am inclined to f avour the fixation of maximum and minimum prices. As the result of war-time controls, the Government must have gained a great deal of experience in the handling of primary products. Organizations such as the Vegetable Production Board and the Potato Marketing Board are composed >f practical men who have now had wide experience in their jobs. Money could be well spent upon an inquiry into the whole subject by a competent authority consisting of representatives of the farmers and of the merchants. As the result of such an inquiry, it might be possible to evolve some scheme which would save primary producers from a recurrence of pre-wa.t conditions, by guaranteeing returns for primary products. Farmers would then know when they planted their crops that they were assured of a reasonable return. One often hears the remark during good seasons, £ What wonderful rains for the farmers “. Many people do not realize that in so-called “ good seasons “ a glut very often occurs, resulting in low prices, and i-.hat the farmers may be almost as badly tff as in times of drought. The farmer is the most useful member of the community. He produces foodland he should he guaranteed a continuance of the favorable conditions which have existed during the last three or four years. If the dehydration factories could be kept in operation, thus giving to farmers reasonable prospect of a fair return, we would be going a long way towards creating employment. In the district in which I ive in Tasmania, there is a dehydration factory in operation, and I know the benefit it has been from an employmentpoint of view. This Government has set itself the task of achieving full employment. That is a most laudable objective. Everybody would like to see full employment. We are informed that the Government intends to spend large sums of money on public works as a means of creating employment; but prior to the war, 80 per cent, of all employment was given by private enterprise. Huge public undertakings will not entirely fill the bill. Many ex-servicemen who have been used to finer work will not be very pleased to take jobs on the roads. Private industry could offer much greater employment now if restrictions were removed wherever possible. Taxation should be reduced to a much lower level.
– The Government believes that private industry should, supply 80 per cent, of all employment.
– That is the figure which I have heard mentioned. It is the Government’s task to provide the remaining 20 per cent., by undertaking a public works programme. In this country, of course, it is not possible to give employment to everybody all the year round, because there is a great deal of seasonal work such as shearing, harvesting, the peculiar conditions of which are taken into consideration in the industrial awards covering it; but reasonably full employment should be attainable if governments and private industry each play their part.
I- was interested to hear the remarks of Senator Finlay in regard to warservice homes. There is some interesting information in the report of the War Service Homes Commission for the yea? ended the 30th June, 1944. No warservice homes were built during the year because of the shortage of material and labour. The report states -
It is perhaps advisable to mention in this connexion that, however desirable the provision of homes may be, the commission has at all times to take cognizance of the fact that the net requires all homes erected under its provisions to be substantial and durable in construction, and also to represent reasonable assets from a security viewpoint. These provisions protect the interest of both the Commonwealth and the purchaser or borrower in homes provided. The establishment of assets conforming to this standard is not easy of achievement when costs are above normal and materials are in extremely short supply or replaced by substitutes as has been the case for a considerable time. The position generally during the year indicated that had it been possible for applicants to proceed with the erection of dwellings, a likely risk of depreciation in value and in equities contributed, would have had to be accepted against the return of more normal conditions in the post-war years when wider selections in firstclass building materials and fittings should be again possible, and skilled labour available.
That of course is common sense. The gist of it is that a person who builds a home to-day may find in three or four years time that conditions have returned to normal and that he has a debt but no asset. I have suggested previously that ex-servicemen should be encouraged to build homes as soon as possible, and that provision should be made for revaluation after a specified period with a view to writing down capital costs, the expense to be borne by the Government. One honorable senator opposite suggested yesterday that values should be written down now, but I do not think that could be done. By keeping the price of homes pegged at the rates operating in normal times would prevent the sale of houses to people who urgently require them. Owners will not dispose of their properties unless they are able to charge a little bit more for them than the prices ruling at the date of pegging. For instance, a house valued at £700 in normal times should be valued at say £800 now. In my opinion the Prices Commissioner has done an excellent job in his control of prices generally ; but everybody knows that building costs to-day are very much higher than they were in normal times. Most people expect a return to normal conditions within a few years and they realize that any man purchasing a home at the existing inflated values may find in the not distant future, that he has lost a considerable sum of money. In the case of ex-soldiers that loss should be borne by the country. I have heard the suggestion that prices will not decrease. If that is so, a revaluation of properties in three or four years time would not cost the Government anything. The same argument applies to the price of land.
Reference has been made in this chamber to the failure of soldier settlement schemes in Tasmania after the last war. The reason for that failure was the existence of conditions similar to those existing to-day. I was associated with the soldier settlement schemes and I know that every precaution was taken to ensure that ex-servicemen obtained land at a reasonable price. There was an efficient soldier settlement board composedof practical men. If an orchard property was being considered, it was dealt with by the board’s horticultural expert. The president of the board was a capable man. In addition I was responsible for the appointment of local advisory committees. However, despite those precautions, we found, eventually, that land had been bought at too high a price, and that a revaluation was necessary, Exactly the same conditions operate to-day. Even if land were purchased to-day at a reasonable figure, the erection of fences and buildings, including a home valued at say £1,000, is such a costly undertaking at present-day prices of material and labour, that a property would not be an economic proposition when times became normal. Instead of waiting until a soldier settler has become disheartened by his huge burden before revaluing his property, his indebtedness should be reduced before he takes possession. I believe that the Government has something like that in mind. I hope that an Australian market will be established for dehydrated vegetables in the interests of farmers and that those who have suffered losses through the cancellation of war contracts will be fully compensated. I know that the Government will be just in its treatment of them, but. I urge it also to be generous.
Debate (on motion by Senator Clothier) adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules-. 1945, No. 141.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Commonwealth purposes - Harris town, Queensland.
National Security Act -
National Security (General) Regulations. - Orders -
Taking possession of land, &c. (11). Use of land.
National Security (Man Power) Regulations - Orders - Protected undertaking- (52).
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1945, Nos. 137, 139, 142, 146, 147.
Senate adjourned at 12.31 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 21 September 1945, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1945/19450921_senate_17_185/>.