17th Parliament · 3rd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– As Chairman, I present the eleventh report of the Broadcasting Committee dealing with the control of overseas material for the Australian programmes.
Ordered to he printed.
– Will the Minister for Supply and Shipping inform the Senate whether the fact has been brought to his notice that about 200 exservicemen are now in Melbourne awaiting passages to Tasmania? The information supplied to me is that they will not bc able to obtain transport to that State, either by sea or by air, until about the. 21st March. Therefore, they are stranded in Melbourne. Has the Minister any information on the matter, and will be inquire whether transport can be made available at an early date, so that these mcn shall not be compelled to remain in’ Melbourne for another’-week or two?
– I shall ascertain whether any steps can De taken to relieve the position. Owing to the limitation of shipping tonnage, difficulties of this kind arise, but every possible effort id made to transport returned servicemen to their home States as expeditiously as possible. On other occasions it has been possible to provide extra shipping accommodation for this- purpose, but unfortunately that cannot be done at present.
– Will the Minister ask the Minister for the Navy whether a naval vessel, such as a destroyer, could he made available and the trip across Bass Strait made in daylight, thus avoiding the necessity to provide sleeping accommodation?
– Consideration will be given to that matter. I- shall consult with the Minister for the Navy with regard. to it..
– Is the Acting. Leader of the .Senate (Senator Ashley) yet in a position to make a statement with regard to the Yoizuki incident. in order that the Senate may be kept informed of tho latest ‘developments with regard to the matter?
– The Senate met yesterday but .Opposition members did not ask for any information regarding Yoizuki. I therefore do not propose to furnish any statement regarding it today. The matter was fully debated yesterday in the House of Representatives and is now regarded by the press as a dead letter.
– I lay on the table the following paper : -
Foreign Affairs - Statement by the Minister for External Affairs, dated 13th March, 1946, and move -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Senator McLeay) adjourned.
asked the Minister for Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister for Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
Fisheries Division, Department of Post-war Reconstruction, from the Western Australian Government, but at the recent Premiers’ Conference, it was agreed that Commonwealth and State Fisheries officers should confer on questions involved in re-developing the fishing industry.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
In view of the acute shortage of roofing iron for the completion of homes under construction in Adelaide, will the Minister investigate without delay the advisability of issuing an instruction to the Australian Wheat Board to release stocks of first quality galvanized iron held by that board?
SenatorFRASER. - The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following answers : -
This matter has been investigated.
The Wheat Board has reviewed its stocks of galvanized iron and no excess above the quantity needed for the coming season is held. The quantity held is small compared with the amount now delivered by manufacturers for building and the action suggested by the honorable senator is not contemplated.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
Inquiry is being made and an answer will he supplied as soon as possible.
– I move -
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the present acute housing shortage and the problem of rehabilitating ex -servicemen are being aggravated by the persistent series of industrial strikes and disputes and the lack of effort on the. part of the Chifley Government to combat industrial lawlessness. 1 recognize that the acute problem of housing is world-wide, and that all governments have been confronted with great difficulties since the cessation of hostilities in their endeavours to provide sufficient housing for ex-service personnel. These difficulties, of course, arise largely from the fact that we were unable to proceed with housing programmes during the war period. During’ my recent visit overseas as an adviser to the Australian delegation which represented this country at the United Nations Conference, at San Francisco, I had an opportunity to observe how the governments in Great Britain, Canada and other countries were meeting this problem. I also had an opportunity to study New Zealand’s approach to it. I propose to go into some detail with respect to the handling of this problem by this Government, and to draw attention particularly to the number of strikes which have aggravated the problem.
At the outset, I appeal to all supporters of the Government and to all honorable senators to address themselves to this matter in an endeavour to find some solution to the problem of civil war in industry, which is the most serious problem confronting us at the present time. As’ T- have said, I appreciate the Government’s difficulties, and I nin anxious that all honorable senators will endeavour to maintain this debate on a high plane bearing in mind only one purpose, namely, the urgent need to evolve a solution. It is interesting to note that the Minister for Trade and Customs (.Senator Keane), on his arrival in San Francisco on the 22nd February, said -
Black markets and the housing problem in Australia are atrocious. Solve the housing problem and you solve the greater part of the post-war industrial problems.
In spite of that statement by a member of the Government, we read in the press and in official reports that during the month of January last the number of houses constructed in Australia was only 25 per cent, of the number constructed in November of 1945. The main reason for that decrease was industrial disputes which, in spite of the seriousness of the situation, occurred in the steel, shipping and coal industries during January., In view of the many changes which have been made in the controls governing housing since the outbreak of the war, it is necessary that I give some attention to those changes. On the 5th December. 1940, National Security (Building Control) Regulations provided, that a permit must be ob.tamed from the Treasurer in respect of new buildings or the making of alterations to existing buildings when the work was estimated to cost more than £5,000. On the 19th June, 1942, the administration of these regulations was transferred to the Department of War Organization of Industry, and as from that date a permit had to be obtained in respect of any new buildings or building alterations estimated to cost more than £25. On the 31st August, 1.945, the administration of these regulations passed to the Department of Works and Housing, and as from that date a permit had to be obtained in respect of any new building estimated to costmore , than £1,200, or any building alterations estimated to cost more than ‘ £150 in any financial year. On the 1st November, 1945, the Commonwealth Government relinquished control of building permits and delegated the powers under National Security Regulations to the States until such time as the States -could introduce the necessary legislation. In the light of the widespread knowledge of the problems that would arise at the end of the war, it is appalling to find how very little was done by Commonwealth Departments in the planning of home construction in spite of the promises of various Ministers. It is appalling also to find how reportsmade by the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lazzarini) and other responsible officers from time to time, have been misleading and contrary to the facts.. I shall cite the facts briefly in a few moments. In November, 1945, appreciating the difficulties of the problem, the Commonwealth Government “passed’ the buck “ to the States.
– By agreement.
– Yes; but it would’ have been better had the Commonwealth permitted the States to handle the matter in the first place. T had the pleasure of listening to an honorable senator from Western Australia eulogizing the housing scheme undertaken by that State. There is a good housing scheme in South Australia, too, and I am quite satisfied that the States with their long experience, their extensive equipment, and their knowledge of local conditions are much better qualified to deal with this problem than is any Commonwealth department at Canberra. Therefore, I agree that the States should undertake this work.
-“ Passing the buck “ !
– No. When the Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, and other Premiers approached the Commonwealth Government, they found that it was the policy of this Administration to prevent home construction during the war years.
– Quite right. Surely the Leader of the Opposition agrees with that?
– No. To give an idea of how ill-informed were the Commonwealth authorities charged with the responsibility of dealing with this enormous problem I remind honorable senators of a statement made by the. Minister for Works and; Housing on the 16th July, 1945. On that date, the honorable gentleman announced that, subject to expected releases from the services, sufficient supplies of building materials and fittings would be available in every State to meet requirements for each quarter. On the 7 th August, 1945, the Directorate of War Organization of Industry reviewed the brick position for the then current quarter and reported -
From the information available it is considered that the supply will be satisfactory.
That was the information given to the public by the Ministerfor Works and Housing and by a responsible Commonwealth officer; but a month later, the New South Wales Housing Commission found that the supply of bricks was many millions short of its requirements, and an official of the Commission warned the Minister for Works and Housing that as time went on brick supplies would become hopeless. That statement was made barely a month after the announcements of the Minister for Works and Housing and the Directorate of War Or ganization of Industry to which I have referred. Manufacturing interests engaged in the production of building materials, fittings, &c, informed the Commonwealth Government a year ago that if the home-construction target was to be reached,-several hundred key men, specified by name and unit, would have to be released from the services; yet the services were allowed to retain these men for invaluable months. In spite of the importance of the points system, I cannot understand why the Government has refused to release from the Services men who are practical builders or have had some experience of the building trade. Hundreds of practical builders in the Army have had nothing to do since the end of the war. They should have been released in order to expedite house construction. Furthermore, the Commonwealth Government should have organized a plan to train men in building trades. As recently as the 14th August, 1945, the Minister for Works and Housing had to change his tune and say, “ Timber and bricks will govern Australia’s ability to produce homes “.
– Does the honorable senator dispute that?
– No, but I suggest that the honorable senator should not dispute the fact that Ministers were very wide of the mark in the reports which they submitted on the housing position. On the 16th January, 1946, theMinister for Works and Housing issued statistics covering the number of houses completed and under construction at the end of December, 1945. They are very interesting when read in conjunction with the target figures for 1945. They are as follows: -
Those figures show a total lag for 1945 of about 5,000 houses. That position is particularly serious in view of the reports that have been made as to the number of houses that are needed to meet the present extraordinary situation. In order to support my statement that Ministers were aware of the seriousness of the position, I refer to a statement made on the 12th October, 1941- five days after the Curtin Government came into office - by the then Minister for Health and Social Services (Mr. Holloway). He said -
There ‘can lie no doubt of the serious shortage of houses for workers on the lower range of incomes, and the existence of appalling slum conditions in all capital cities as well as some rural areas is also beyond dispute.
He also indicated that he intended to call a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers to discuss housing as a preliminary to further Commonwealth action. However, two years . elapsed before the Government appointed the Commonwealth Housing Commission in April, 1943, to make a full review of housing’conditions in Australia. In its final report, which was tabled in Parliament on the 18th September, 1945, the Commission stated that at least 700,000 dwelling units would be needed in the next ten years to solve the housing problem. On the 23rd May, 1945, the Minister for Health (Senator Fraser) admitted that, since the 3rd September, 1939, the Government had’ built or given assistance to build only ‘ 31 war service homes. Up to the 31st December, 1945, the number was 47, whilst the number of applications received to that date for war service homes was 8,798. Despite the fact that the Government realized the seriousness of the situation, all that had been done at Canberra was to set up a new department, and to appoint a number of officers to inquire into the problem and make reports from time to time. Finally, months after the war was over, we found that the Government’s claim that prompt action would be taken wa3 only newspaper talk. No housing scheme had been worked out in detail, and the problem had been sadly neglected.
– That is not correct.
– The Minister may contradict my statements later. I made inquiries from the Housing Commission. Although £700,000 was provided in the budget for housing, only £200,000 was placed on the Estimates for war service homes, and of this amount only £93,000 was actually expended. Realizing the seriousness of the matter, I have brought it to the notice of the Senate this afternoon, so that we may consider whether action can be taken in connexion with factors that are retarding progress in home construction.
Since the end of the war Australia has been troubled day after day with industrial disputes, and these seriously affect home building. What a sorry position ex-servicemen and civilians are in through lack of homes. In a report from Newcastle on the 11th March last it was stated that supplies of roofing iron for houses would be cut off within a fortnight if the strike at Lysaght’s continued. That statement was made by an official of Lysaght’s. He said that production was already low and. would end in a week, and he added that the small reserves of 3,000 tons of iron at the end of the year had been. quickly used up. The Premier of South Australia made a statement -last year that in that State 700 homes were held up through lack of galvanized iron for roofing.
– Most of the houses there have tiled roofs.
– At that time no fewer than 700 houses could not be completed because galvanized iron was not available for roofing purposes. The following report was published in the press on the 13th March: -
Serious effects on the building industry in South Australia are expected as the result of the strike at Lysaght’s works at Newcastle. Strikers are demanding the reinstatement of two dismissed men. The serious shortage of roofing materials caused by the recent coal strike and shipping difficulties will become grave if the strike lasts long.
At present the demand for iron far exceeds the supply. In some cases orders lodged six months ago are being filled only now. Supplies as large as 300 to 500 tons are sold immediately on arrival in Adelaide.
The director of building materials (Mr. J. W. Wainwright) said yesterday that soon there would be no galvanized iron for manufacturing and repairing purposes in South Australia. Even now country people were going without. He said that a small quantity of iron was held in case of emergency.
Nobody can deny the seriousness of the situation. I ask Ministers what they propose to do about it, and whether they intend to adopt the same policy as that followed since the present Government has been in office. That policy is one of selling out more or less to the waterside workers, and bowing to the Communists and other extremists who are holding the Government to ransom. We ha.ve heard the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) say that, as far as the waterside workers dispute in Sydney is concerned, he would prefer to see seven ships held up than have the whole of the waterside workers on strike.
– I say, “employ Australian seamen or naval ratings, because our own kith and kin are starving and dying at the hands of the Japanese collaborators “. The Government must admit that the reason it cannot take action is that it is frightened the members of the Seamens Union will go out on strike.
– Does the honorable senator claim that, the Japanese are collaborators?
-Can the Leader of the Opposition connect his remarks with the motion before the Senate?
– When a government has ceased to govern, it should cease to live politically. The record of Labour governments is that the people they have tried to help have brought about their downfall. This policy of appeasement, and of allowing revolutionary Communists who have control of some of the trade unions to dictate the policy of the Government will come home to roost. While this continues exservicemen are not being rehabilitated in civilian life as they should be. The important work of providing housing accommodation has been slowed because of the Government’s inaction.
Another aspect that must cause great concern to the majority of the people is the attitude of some of the extremists. When. 1 they are not satisfied with the decision of the Arbitration Court they adopt a “ go-slow “ policy. Mr. Thompson, being dissatisfied with an Arbitration Court decision, admitted that he had advised men in the building trade in Melbourne to “ go slow “. That is direct action in defiance of the Government, ye’t I cannot remember any Minister having had the courage to repudiate such action publicly, although it must result in increasing the cost of the houses required by ex-servicemen and civilians. I believe that that was an insult to every returned soldier and civilian anxious to purchase a home. That policy is having a serious effect on the economy of the country and will- prevent the maintenance of a high Australian standard of living. Mr. F. R. 0’ Connell, manager of the Timber Merchants Association, of Melbourne, made the following statement on the 7th August, 1945 : - -
The cost of labour is the biggest single item in the cost of building, and this could be reduced appreciably if workers could be induced by their union officials to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. For the last three or four weeks, however, certain union officials have been prepared to adopt “ go-slow “ tactics on works being carried out under the Government.
On one important work the workers are going so slow that they have almost stopped. These go-slow tactics are the union’s attempt to get even with employers because Judge Kelly cancelled the Defence Workers’ award.
According to a survey made by the building section of the Directorate of War Organization of Industry, a house which cost £913 to build in September, 1939, would have cost £1,267 in March, 1945- a rise of 38 per cent.
– Costs have risen still further since then.
– Of that increase, £106 represented labour costs, comprising £30 increased wages, and £76 the reduction of output by each man. That is an appalling state of affairs which we cannot allow to continue without offering the most serious protest. The trouble is t’hat when costs rise in one industry there are serious repercussions in other industries. Speaking at Port Pirie some time ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) said that he was alarmed that ships were costing £76 a ton to build in
Australia compared with £34 a ton on the Clyde and £44 in Canada. That heavy cost is the result of industrial war between employers and employees. It is useless to try to disguise the fact that unless conditions improve the position will become acute, and Australia will find itself unable to enter the export markets or to give returned servicemen a fair deal. If a house costs 38 per cent. more than it would have cost in 1939, much of the advantage of reduced interest rates is lost. I am convinced that no one escapes the effects of these rising costs. Honorable senators opposite and their colleagues in the House of Representatives could do much to improve the existing state of affairs by using their influence inthe trade union movement, whilst honorable members on this side should do their utmost to foster a better spirit among members of the Employers’ Federation. I do not say that all the faults are on one side, but I deplore the fact that the Commonwealth Government stands by and takes no action. I am pleased that the Acting Leader of the Senate (Senator Ashley) visits the coalfields and other sections of industry from time to time. I believe that he is doing his best to influence workers in industry to abide by Arbitration Court decisions, and to obey the instructions of their responsible officers, but the hands of Ministers are tied by decisions of the. Labour caucus. The following is a list of some of the strikes that have taken place in Australia during the past nine months: -
April 17. - About 1,300 men were idle after men struck at Mort’s Dock against the “ Dictatorship “ of their Ironworkers’ Union officials.
April 22. - The Queensland bakers went on strike.
May 5. - Ten thousand men were idle in the meat, mining, and ship repair industries. 1,300 abattoir employees walked off the job. The number of ironworkers strikers had increased to 3,000. In New South Wales. 4,000 men were on strike in the northern coal-fields and 1,000 in the south. Bunnerong Power House day workers refused to accept the findings of the Industrial Commission on the matter of shift work rates.
May9. - Members of the Australian Railways Union paralysed the New South Wales railway system with a 24-hour strike for two days’ additional leave and an extra week’s leave at the end of the Pacific war.
May 12. - At the Bunnerong Power House, 450 men went on strike after16 men had been suspended by the management for refusing to do shift work, except with a guarantee of 25 per cent. extra payment. By afternoon the strike had spread to 30 men at Pyrmont.
May 15. - A meeting of Mort’s Dock strikers decided to continue their strike.
May 24. - At Lysaght’s Ltd., Newcastle, 1,700 men took part in a 24-hour strike because of transfer of union shop delegate to make way for reinstatement of returned soldier.
May 25. - A further strike occurred at Lysaght’s.
June 14. - Twenty-three coal mines idle, with a daily coal loss of 26,000 tons.
June 22. - Because a man was dismissed for being asleep on the job, 240 wharf labourers went on strike. The number increased to 650 the next day.
July 25. - Protesting against wages and working conditions, staff of Corowa Hospital struck.
August 2. - A stop-work meeting of the lay staff of the St. George District Hospital threatened drastic action if their rates of pay were not increased.
August 9. - Three hundred and fifty wharf labourers struck because they were tired of cut lunches.
August 10. - Because two men were dismissed for resuming work late, 1,000 men on the Sydney wharfs were idle.
By August 13, the number had increased to 2,000.
August 28. - The Victorian Branch of the Australian Railways Union called a 24-hour strike to protest against reduced margins for night and shift workers.
September 14. - The enginedrivers, who were key men in industry, threatened that if the striking Bunnerong employees were replaced by other labour they would call a 24-hour stoppage throughout New South Wales.
September 21. - Seventy-three ships were held up in Sydney Harbour when 3,200 wharf labourers were on strike.
September 24. - Following the dismissal of an employee at Lysaght’s, Port Kembla,6,000 men went on strike.
September 25. - Twenty thousand workers in the coal, iron, steel, electricity, meat, wire and nail industries as well as waterside workers, were idle.
September 26. - Waterside workers refused to work Dutch ships.
October 30. - In Brisbane, 1,500 waterside workers refused to work 12 ships.
October 31. - At Newcastle, 500 men struck at the Broken Hill Proprietary Limited steel works.
October 31. - In Adelaide, a general strike by tram and bus men dislocated city transport. The Federated Ironworkers’ Union offered a one-day strike “ to back them up “.
November 5. - About 5,500 men were involved in the Newcastle steel strike and an additional thousand were expected to join them.
November 8. - To review aspects of the Port Kembla and Newcastle strikes, 1,000 members of the Ironworkers’ Union in Melbourne stopped work.
November 12.- In New South Wales, 19,000 workers were idle, including 7,000 at Newcastle, 0,000 at Port Kembla, 4,000 printers ami 2,000 miners.
December 4. - In Adelaide practically all metropolitan industry ceased and it was estimated that 50,000 workmen were thrown out of employment as a result of the New South Wales steel and coal dispute.
December 5, - By this date it was estimated thai a total of nearly 500,000 employees were thrown out of work as a direct result of the New South Wales steel and coal dispute.
Coal losses through strikes in New South Wales for 1945, 2,3S2,132 tons. For period 1st January, 1940, to 0th March, 1946, 178,695 tons.
– -What does tie Leader of the Opposition propose to do about it?
– That is the Government’s responsibility. The Government should forget party political considerations, and the forthcoming general elections, and concentrate it’s attention upon post-war problems and the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel. Let me remind the Government of its failure to take action in the past. I recall the time when a- former Prime Minister declared that men would have to work or fight; but in industry many men did neither, and the Government failed to take action against them. At another stage, the Government, under the National Security Act passed regulations empowering it to fine and - imprison men who disobeyed the law, but because of pressure from the Waterside Workers Federation and other trade unions, which were led by men with Communistic and revolutionary ideas, the Government was bluffed into refusing to take action .along those lines. Summonses which had actually been issued were withdrawn upon the instruction of Cabinet Ministers. The Government pursued that policy of appeasement with the result that the position daily became worse. Sooner or later the Government must take its courage in its hands and deal firmly with law breakers. It has not given assistance to Arbitration Judges in their endeavours to enforce industrial law. It has refused employers the right to hire and fire and in cases, when men w,ere dismissed because they were going slow, it forced employers to re-instate them after the men reported their dismissal to their unions, and the unions brought’ pressure to bear upon the Government. Indeed, in some cases, the Government effected the dismissal of foremen responsible for dismissing unsatisfactory employees. The Government has invariably followed that policy of appeasement, and to-day we are reaping the results of that policy. I recall the state of affairs in industry in May, 1945. At that time I drew attention to the conditions prevailing. On the 5th May of that year, Judge O’Mara of the Arbitration Court said that it would be futile for him to order strikers in the Newcastle iron works back to work because they had brought pressure to bear upon the Government and the Government would refuse to act.
In such circumstances the Arbitration Court was being held up to ridicule.
– Judge O’Mara did not say that.
– He said this -
It is not likely that 2000 strikers will resume work if they have already disobeyed an order made by Conciliation Commissioner Morrison.
He also said -
I can only make an order for these men to resume if the Commonwealth is prepared to prosecute under the National Security Regu’Iations.
Is it any wonder that decent workers in industry are dissatisfied with these continual hold-ups? Is it any wonder that extremists have ‘been able to whiteant the trade union movement when the Government -has been afraid to act against law breakers? The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has said over and over again that these matters should be dealt with by the Arbitration Court; but when the court, or conciliation commissioners, make decisions in respect of employees who have broken the industrial law, where will the country finish if the Government backs down every time and refuses to take action against the law-breakers? The Minister for Supply and Shipping is now confronted with a problem in connexion with the payment of a war loading to seamen Now that the war is over the reason for any war loading has disappeared; but the seamen are holding the pistol at the head of the
Government and threaten to strike if they are deprived of their war loading.
– That is not true.
– At all events, the Government is continuing to pay the war loading. And the seamen have issued a threat that if .the war loading is discontinued after the 31st March, the date of expiration of the present arrangement for its payment, they will go on strike. I urge the Government to show some courage in dealing with that matter.
Honorable senators opposite have asked what is the solution of this problem of civil war in industry. They try to escape their obligations by drawing attention to the fact that strikes are prevalent in the United States of America and Great Britain. Two wrongs do not make a right; and, in proportion to population,more strikes are occurring in Australia than in any other country. Australia has never been presented with a better opportunity to make progress than has been the case during the last six months .when we have received orders from the Netherlands East Indies, Singapore and Hong Kong, and other places, for the supply of millions of pounds worth of steal and other goods. Our failure to fulfil those orders has caused considerable unemployment, and the full effect of this development will soon be felt in industry throughout the Commonwealth. I am informed that in South Australia approximately 3,000 -personnel are being retained on full pay in the defence services .although they have nothing whatever to do, because the Government knows that jobs are not available for these men should they be discharged at present. Men have come to -me in Adelaide saying that they have been released from the services but. cannot get a job. Hold-ups in industry are increasing the cost of transport and the cost of production generally. We now have a remarkable opportunity to extend our export markets, but we can do so only provided we continue full production of goods the quality and price of which will be competitive with goods produced in other countries. I am confident that we shall not be able to extend our market in Great Britain, we must find new export markets. However, so long as civil war in industry continues we shall not make progress; and Minis ters in .this chamber who say that they are not in favour of preference to exservicemen because the Government proposes to provide jobs for everyone, thus making preference unnecessary, will not see that boast fulfilled. In Adelaide many establishments engaged in motorbody making and the refrigerator manufacturing industry are at a stand-still because of a shortage of steel. As further service personnel are discharged conditions in industry will become worse. Knowing the difficulties that lie ahead, and realizing the golden opportunity presented to this country to capture new markets overseas, the Government’s failure to enforce observance of industrial law is deplorable. I was interested to note the following statement by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Hollo way) on the 26th September; 1945 : -
I am hopeful that we shall be able by the processes we are adopting - conferences with employers and employees - to get back to a constitutional basis for settling .disputes.
I was gratified also to learn that the majority of delegates to the last conference of the Australian Labor party favoured strong action to remove from the control of the Ironworkers Union and other organizations revolutionary Communist elements who do not desire peace in industry, but are anxious to destroy the present social system and substitute for it the system operating in Russia and other countries. The Australian Minister to Moscow, Mr. Maloney, has just returned from Russia, and it would be enlightening if the Government could arrange for him to address members of this chamber and of the House of Representatives so that we may form an accurate picture of what is taking place in Russia. and also to dispel from the minds of a number of unionists their present conception of life under a Communist administration. I was discussing this matter with a gentleman who met Mr. Maloney in Russia. He said that Mr. Maloney was a most interesting man, and had told him that he had been discussing with some Russian and other diplomats the question of strikes. In his innocence, Mr. Maloney remarked, “I am pleased to see that you do not have strikes in this country “. A Russian replied, “ No. So long as we have our good Red Army we shall not have any strikes here “.
– Is that the system that the Leader of the Opposition would like to see introduced in this country?
– No. Our way of life in the industrial world is not theirs. The point I was endeavouring to make earlier was this: At the last conference of the Australian Labour party a decision was reached to stand by the Arbitration Court.
– We all stand by it.
– It does not look like it when one reads the remarks of Judge O’Mara or examines the record of this Government in the last few years. The Liberal party of Australia also stands for arbitration because it believes that, to date, the arbitration system is the best method of settling disputes that has been evolved. It is reported that for some months the Government has been considering amendments of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and that Senator MeKenna has been assisting the Ministry in that connexion. I was hoping that we would have had air opportunity during this period of the session to consider what amendments are proposed by men such as the Prime Minister, who has had a long association with the trade union movement. My view, however, is that any proposed amendments of the act should be submitted to an independent committee representing employers and employees and presided over by a judge of the Arbitration Court appointed by the Government. It is not fair to employers that proposed alterations of the act should be prepared by the Government after consultation only with representatives of the trade union movement, as such action is not likely to inspire confidence in the minds of the Australian people. If we on this side of the chamber were in office and we prepared amendments of our present arbitration legislation after a consultation only with representatives of the Employers Federation, we would hardly expect to receive the support of honorable members opposite, or of members of the trade union movement. I should like the Acting Leader of the Senate to indicate whether we shall have an opportunity to consider the Govern ment’s proposals during this period of the session. I should like to know also if the Government has any definite proposals for an improvement of industrial relations. Some time ago the Prime Minister called a “ Peace in industry “ conference of employers and employees to consider this problem. Unfortunately, again because of industrial disputes, the conference was abandoned, and the industrial war continues. This state of affairs is hardly a compliment to ex-servicemen returning to this country. I hope that Senator McKenna, who, I believe, is not so hide bound as some of the old time union agitators and strike leaders who have held sway for so long, will be able to bring new vision to bear upon this important problem. If members of Parliament representing all political parties could agree to bring employers and employees together, and so ensure the settlement of 99 per cent. ‘of industrial disputes by conciliation, we should be doing a great service to this country. I do not suggest that when a dispute reaches the Arbitration Court the problem has been solved. In fact I am of the opinion that the more often disputes are ventilated in this way, the wider becomes the gulf between employers and employees. That is the cause of much of our industrial trouble. There is considerable agitation to-day for a shorter working week and an increased basic wage. Those are matters which, in my opinion, can best be determined by the Arbitration Court. They call not so much for technical knowledge as foi” common sense. What really matters is not the total number of hours worked, but the efficiency and the enthusiasm of those who are working.
I had an opportunity to see the records of certain efficiency tests made during -the war, and it was enlightening to find that women whose husbands. were in the fighting services were producing more in a day than were some men on the basic .wage in a week. The reason was that the women were interested in their work. They had something to work for. We have discussed the problem of industrial unrest many times from the point of view of the political party to which I belong. We believe that employers must pl’ay their part and give a lead towards the solution of this serious problem. We believe also that where possible, employees should share in the profits of the organization for which they work, and enjoy wages and working conditions in excess of the minimum prescribed by the Arbitration Court. It is in the interests of the employers, the employees, and of the country that we should all pull together, because upon our industrial efficiency depends our economic strength and advancement. I can see no other problem in this country more urgent or more real than that of bringing about peace in industry, and I hope that honorable senators opposite and their colleagues in the trade union movement will take a new view of this matter. Members of the Employers Federation must do likewise. Members of Parliament, no matter to what political party they belong, cannot allow the present state of affairs to continue. We have an Arbitration Court, and the workers and the Government should abide by its decisions. It is ludicrous that the Government should want to -have its own way at all times. I am aware of the difficulties confronting the Government, but the problems of housing and industrial unrest will become so. serious before the end of the year that they must be tackled immediately if they are to he solved at all. Another factor which has to be considered is the reluctance of many employees to work overtime because the high rate of taxation on overtime payments makes such work unprofitable. The same .factor influences employers. Men with capital are not prepared to engage in the building industry because controls and high taxes constitute too great a handicap. If they expand their businesses, they take a chance on obtaining a small extra margin of profit, which is so heavily taxed that they consider that the final return does not justify the risk. To achieve peace in industry we should all work together, instead of being provocative and blaming one side or the other. ‘
– That is just what the honorable senator has been doing.
– I have been stating the facts as I see them.
– The honorable senator placed blame on the Government.
– I blamed the Government where it deserved blame. I hope that even now the Govern ment will call a conference such as I have suggested, under the independent chairmanship of a judge in order to free both sides from suspicion. We have fought a dreadful and costly war for our common welfare. We should now have enough intelligence to work together as decent Australians in a co-operative spirit- for the future welfare of the nation. If we do so the country will be able to produce- sufficient goods at economic prices to increase standards of living and to provide employment for everybody who wants to work.
– I expected the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) to deal with one of the most important of the Government’s problems, namely, the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen. His failure to do so indicates that he is satisfied with the Government’s actions in that regard. It is usual, upon the approach of an election campaign, for opponents of the Government to raise issues such as those raised by the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon. A general ‘election will be held this year, and I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition thinks that he has drawn up a good election placard. I was surprised to hear him advocate a greater degree of tolerance between employers and employees. The Government’ agrees with such a policy, and I have said so on many occasions. If that spirit of tolerance prevailed there would be fewer industrial disturbances. I make no attempt to apportion the blame for the absence of such tolerance, but I point out that many of our problems would be readily solved if a spirit of conciliation prevailed. The Leader of the Opposition referred chiefly to industrial disturbances and their effect on the housing programme. I shall not attempt to deal with the long list of strikes that he mentioned, but only with -the major one which occurred at Christmas time, known as the Port Kembla strike. Let- us trace the history of that dispute. A man - I think his name was Parker - was to be disrated by his employer. Every man in industry is employed under certain conditions ‘and for a certain remuneration. This man protested against the action of his employer, and he was eventually dismissed. It was alleged that he was victimized because he was a union representative. His dismissal led to a strike involving not only the ironworkers but also the miners and the seamen. The Government stood by the principle of arbitration. It was called upon to interfere by the people concerned in the dispute, hut it refused to do so and stood by the Arbitration Court. By doing so it darned the plaudits of every newspaper in Australia - a fact which made me think for a while that the Government might have been on the wrong track. However, the case eventually came before an arbitration judge. What was his determination? He found that Parker had been improperly discharged, and ordered him to be reinstated in his former position. Is that not correct?
– Quite correct. Who was the judge?
– I cannot remember his name at the moment. However, I have stated the facts in relation to that strike. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the dispute caused a grave degree of dislocation in- industry throughout the ‘Commonwealth.
– Why did the unions strike at all?
– Because Parker’s conditions of ‘ employment were changed and his employers refused ‘to discuss the matter with union representatives. The story of that dispute shows the need for a much greater degree of tolerance on the part of employers towards employees. The point-blank refusal of the employers to discuss a problem with union representatives brought about an industrial upheaval which had Commonwealth-wide effects.
L;sten.ing to the Leader of the Opposition, one might think that strikes occur only when Labour governments are in power. Some of my colleagues will be able to produce statistics showing that there was greater industrial unrest during the regime of the Government with which the Leader of the Opposition was associated than there is to-day.
– Two wrongs do not make a right.
– I do not suggest that for a moment. An honorable sena
tor on this side of the chamber asked the Leader of the Opposition for the remedy for industrial disturbances. The honorable gentleman said that that was a matter for the Government. I recall that in 1940, when Mr. Menzies was Prime Minister, a strike occurred on the northern coal-fields. Ten thousand men were on strike for ten weeks, and over 1,000,000 tons of coal production was lost. One of our greatest problems to-day - the shortage of coal stocks - had its genesis then. What action was taken by the Government of which the Leader of the Opposition was a member during the grave industrial upheaval on the northern coal-fields, the effects of which were felt throughout the war? Not only did the production of coal in Australia diminish, but the stocks of coal w-ere reduced to such a degree that industry was jeopardized as the result of restrictions i in posed on the transport and many other industries. Did the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), when Prime Minister, take action to put the strikers in jail?
– He should have done so
– The honorable senator was a member of that Government.
– Does the Minister always get his own way in caucus?
– The right honorable member for Kooyong left this Parliament while it was in session, visited the northern coal-fields, and asked the miners to go back to work.
– He reasoned with them.
– He pleaded with them to go back to work. After a strike which lasted ten weeks he pleaded with them to return to the mines, but what other action was taken ? ~No strike in the last ten years has had a greater effect on the economy of this country than that which, took place on the northern coalfields.
Much has been said about government inactivity with regard to housing. This matter has been featured in a section of the press recently, and an attempt has been made to fasten the blame on the shoulders of governments, and particularly the Commonwealth Ministry. This
Government is accused directly or by implication that the present position with regard to housing is due to its inactivity* The Commonwealth Government however, is not in a position to build houses except for its own employees or in its own territories. The volume of house-building by the Government prior to the war was negligible. What action was taken between the 1914-191S war and the last war with regard to house construction? When a widespread depression affected Australia, and United Australia party governments were in power, they could have given an impetus to employment, because no industry gives greater employment than the building trade.
– Ex-servicemen to the number of 30,000 were dealt with in that period.
– They were certainly “ dealt with “ They should have been supplied with homes during that long interval. Up to the outbreak of the recent war, the demand for houses was not so great as it is at present. In every capital city and large country town there were slums, and ample opportunity presented itself for the implementation of a policy of house construction with a view to providing homes fit for people to live in. During the “war just concluded the people have been in full employment and they have had money to spend. The Leader of the Opposition has asked why no action was taken during the war, and he made reference to war-time controls imposed with regard to building materials. He said it would have been far better to have left the housing problem to the States. What would have been the position when building materials were needed for war purposes such as the construction of ammunition factories and huts for soldiers, if each State had competed against the Commonwealth authorities for the ‘supplies of the materials available? Was it not wise that the Commonwealth Government took control over those materials during the war?
– It still has control in that matter.
– No. The Government appointed a Commonwealth Housing Commission, which discovered that there was a shortage of 200,000 houses, that S2,000 homes had to be demolished and that there were 155,000 temporary and sub-standard houses which were capable of renovation. The main features of the commission’s report, issued about August, 1944, were that every family in Australia was entitled to a decent home; that there was need for town and regional planning, and assistance to families on’ low incomes to obtain homes of a good standard at low cost; that there should be a long-term programme of house Construction at the rate of 80,000 houses per annum, and that technical research was necessary. The report pointed out that the powers of the Commonwealth Government were limited to the housing of its own officers, the building of houses in its own territories, and the provision of houses for exservicemen through the War Service Homes Commission. Action has been taken to restore the building industry to its former capacity, to provide means whereby families could be allowed to live in new homes under conditions of ever-rising costs, to facilitate slum clearance and town planning, and to provide an adequate flow of cheap finance. To-day home builders can secure financial accommodation at the rate of Bi per cent., and under a Credit Foncier system through amendments made in the Commonwealth Bank Act.
The Leader of the Opposition has given certain information regarding housing quotas, but I do not entirely accept his figures. The houses under construction from July to September, 1945, numbered 4,000, of which half were governmentsponsored and half were being erected by private enterprise. From January to March, 1946, the number had increased to 6,500, half of which are governmentsponsored and half built by private enterprise. From March to June the number of houses will be 8,500. Figures available from the Commonwealth Statistician indicate that from July -to December, 1945, 1,800 government-sponsored houses and 4,200 erected by private enterprise had been completed, making a total of 6,000. The number of new houses in the course of erection at the 31st December, 1945, was 8,000, of which 4,300 were government-sponsored and 3,700 were being built by private enterprise, making a total completed and under construction of 14,000. For the whole of the previous twelve months only 10,000 houses were under construction and 5,600 completed, so in the last six months the figures of the previous year have been more than doubled. There is every prospect thai the target of 24,000 houses for the year will be reached. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that there was some interference with the programme by the industrial break -at Christmas time.
I shall now refer to some rehabilitation matters. The figures in regard to the demobilization of members of the fighting services are so satisfactory that the Leader of the Opposition avoided making any mention of them. The Government’s record in this connexion is magnificent. The number of service personnel demobilized to date is 50,000 in excess of the estimate.
– 35,000 of them are unemployed.
– That is not correct. Since February of this year 325,000 members of the fighting services have been demobilized, and in addition, 100,000 workers have been transferred, from munitions establishments and other war activities to other employment, mak- ing a total of 425,000 persons within a few months. As I wish to be fair in what I say I shall not challenge Senator James McLachlan’s statement that 35,000 exservicemen and women are unemployed at this stage, hut I inform the Senate that up to date only 5,024 ex-members of the fighting services have applied for sustenance. That number represents 1.3 per cent, of the service personnel who have been demobilized. As approximately 25 per cent, of those 5,024 persons are in receipt -of reconstruction training sustenance, the figure is reduced to 1 per cent., which I regard as an amazingly satisfactory record. Service men and women who have been demobilized are not without some money and they are disposed to be somewhat particular in the selection of peace-time jobs. I well remember how I felt when I returned from war service years ago. I aimed at security, and therefore I accepted employment with the tramways authorities. The average soldier of the war which has just ended looks for security in the future. I had an instance of that only this week: A young man who had served with the Royal Australian Air Force asked me to assist him to get a position in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. He told me that he had previously been a cranedriver. When I said that there would be plenty of work for cranedrivers in the future he replied, “I want something more secure”. I appreciate his outlook. I did my best for him and he .is now employed in the Postmaster-General’s Department.. Another section of ex-service men and women are having a well-deserved rest. I do not suggest that there are only 5,024 unemployed service personnel in Australia at the present time - any such suggestion would be misleading - but the figures that I have given speak clearly as to the number of men and women who have applied for sustenance. I have discussed the Government’s demobilization plan with numbers of ex-service men and women and have found that they have only the highest praise for it. A typical statement concerning discharge is somewhat as follows: - “You are put through the race quicker than sheep. It is a matter of only an hour or two”. The experience of men to-day is quite different from that of men who served in the first world war.
– That part of the plan is working well.
– That is so. The Leader of the Opposition also said that in South Australia 3,000 soldiers are standing by idle in military camps, with nothing to do. Later, he said that they cannot be discharged because they have not sufficient points to entitle them to discharge. I do not know how many men enlisted in South Australia, but the number was probably between 40,000 and 50,000. If only 3,000 of them are in the .position indicated by the honorable senator I should say that the figures show clearly that the position generally is most satisfactory. Some of those men may be undergoing training, perhaps as members of the occupational force to serve in Japan. However, I shall be pleased to make inquiries with a view to relieving the mind of the
Leader of the Opposition in regard to those men.
Reverting for a while to the subject of housing, I wish to refer to the complaint of the Leader of the Opposition that there is a shortage of bricks throughout Australia, particularly in New South Wales. Perhaps the honorable senator is net familiar with what happened in that State some years ago - when a nonLabour government was in office. A number of brickyards were closed by the combine, and the .State Government of the clay disposed of the State brickworks. Later, it was revealed that the brickyards which were not working paid the. same dividends to their shareholders as those which were still operating.
– That is a bedtime story.
– It is not. The present Labour Government of New South Wales, being alive to the situation, has decided to re-establish the State brickworks, and before long there will be ample bricks in New South Wales.
The Leader of the Opposition also referred to war service homes. The story of’ war service homes does not make pleasant reading.
– Things were not too good at the beginning.
– The position is still far from satisfactory, but there are reasons for that. The War Service Homes Commission is most particular about the quality of the homes it provides for ex-servicemen. It insists on the observance of high standards; the conditions are much more rigid than they used to be. For instance, the foundations of each building are inspected before the superstructure is erected on them. In my opinion, that is a proper thing to do, because if any man deserves a faithfully built home it is a man who has served his country well. In addition, the commission insisted that there should be no additions or alterations once a building had been commenced. The result was that when the tenders were invited for building homes for servicemen there was no response from building contractors. Previously, the commission could not build for an ex-serviceman a house costing more than £950, but I am pleased to say that whilst the same standards and rules will apply in the future, so that every serviceman who obtains a war service home can be’ assured of a faithfully built house, there will be some relaxation of the provisions relating to finance. Yesterday, a bill to increase from £950 to £1,250 the amount which the commission may expend on the war service homes was introduced in the House of Representatives.
– The value of the house will not be any greater than before.
– I do not suggest that in. any country private enterprise gives more consideration to, the requirements of ex-service personnel than to the requirements of any ordinary person. So far as private enterprise is concerned, there is no difference whatever between building a. house for an ex-serviceman or for anybody else. All of us are aware that building costs have risen considerably.
– If it is detrimental to fix any limit to the value of homes that can be constructed for war service homes, will not the arguments used by the- Minister in that respect apply also to’ the new limit of £1,250?
– The limit has been raided because, although it may have been poss/Me to provide a good home at a cost of £950 prior to the war, it is not possible to do so at that figure to-day. Furthermore, contractors would not tender to construct houses of this kind at so low a cost as £950’. The Leader of the Opposition alleged that the Government was dominated by the waterside workers and Communists,, and he referred to the refusal of the waterside workers to load Dutch ships. I gave a complete answer on that matter in reply to a question asked in this chamber yesterday. During the war the Australian Shipping Board had a charter in respect of these ships, arid just prior to the termination of the war in the Pacific the Dutch authorities terminated that charter. As they owned the ships they had a perfect right to do so, but we could have used those ships to return service personnel to this country and to carry foodstuffs to forward defence units because many of these vessels have refrigerated space. When this trouble commenced there were 21 Dutch ships, including two or three hospital ships, in Australian waters, and all of those vessels with the exception of about half a dozen, made their departure. The latter vessels were manned by Indonesians who had a knowledge of what was taking place in their own country, f:nd they refused to continue working on those vessels. They ‘ walked off the vessels and they were declared black. Later, as I explained yesterday, the Dutch authorities brought out Lascars to man the ships; but when the Lascars learned the facts they; being members of their own union, .refused to man vessels which had been declared black. The Leader of the Opposition has suggested - - 1 do not know whether he was serious - that Australian -naval ratings should be employed to man those ships. I point out that the accommodation on those ships is governed by Asiatic standards. I wish to be fair to the Leader of the Opposition. I believe that if he understood that position he would not suggest that Australian naval ratings, or Australian workmen, should be asked to man those vessels.
– The Leader of the Opposition was referring more particularly to vessels held up by the present strike in Melbourne.
– There is no strike in Melbourne.
– What is the difference between a strike and a hold-up?
– How many ships are now held up in Melbourne?
– From fifteen to twen:V
– - I ask the honorable senator to be fair.
– A ship with loading from Tasmania had to return .with its cargo undischarged.
– It is all very well for the honorable senator to say that from fifteen to twenty ships are now held up in Melbourne. That is not true.
– How many are held up?
– I was informed yesterday that the trouble had been adjusted and that disagreement still exists in respect of only one ship.
– How many were held up?
– I agree that a number were held up; but it is- not correct to say that a number of ships are held up in Melbourne at present. The dispute in respect of the one ship still held up arises from the refusal of thewaterside workers to unload carbon black unless they axe supplied with dungarees while engaged in that- work. I believe;hat that is a reasonable request. Reverting to the refusal of the watersidersto load Dutch ships, the Leader of theOpposition suggested that Australian seamen should man them. Again, Ave are confronted with the difficulty that the accommodation on these vessels is provided to comply with Asiatic standards, and would not be -tolerated by Australian seamen. It has also been suggested that the vessels could be placed in control of Australian officers and manned by Asiatic crews. The Seamens Union refuses to accept that proposal ; and I do not think that it is a desirable arrangement.
– They refused to load the -vessels as well as sail them ; loading would have nothing to do with Asiatic standards.
– They refused to “ load them because certain packings which were marked foodstuffs were discovered to contain armaments of war. However, this matter is very complicated and delicate. T. believe that were honorable senators opposite in office at present they would handle the matter as the Government is handling it. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Government is submitting to the dictates of the waterside workers a.nd Communists. I am sure that not one honorable senator opposite would desire that the whole of the waterfront’ should be tied up. Senator Leckie has just complained bitterly that two, or three, ships were held up in Melbourne recently. What would be his reaction if the whole of the waterfront were held up at present?
– I should blame the Government.
– Of course. As I said earlier, the motion is merely windowdressing in preparation for the approaching general elections.
– Does . the Minister say that bouses are being built in adequate numbers?
– The honorable senator must have been absent from the chamber when I dealt fully with that aspect. I cited the numbers of houses that had been constructed, and I attributed our present difficulties largely to the failure of previous governments to deal effectively with the housing problem.
– There was then no demand for houses.
– No, because governments which the honorable senator supported starved the people. I have already explained that the demand for houses has increased in recent years, because full- employment has been provided for all our people, and they can now afford to expend money on houses. That demand became apparent during the war period, but so long as the war lasted the Government acted rightly in ensuring priority to the armed services and the war effort in respect of building materials and man-power. I do not propose to speak further on this matter. I hope, as the Leader of the Opposition has urged, that the debate will be maintained on a high plane. I have no doubt that the motion will be defeated, but I invite the freest discussion on the problems raised, and sincerely hope that honorable senators on both side’s will be mutually tolerant in their approach to these problems.
– The motion draws attention to the acute problems of housing and the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel. Although honorable senators were called to Canberra this week from the four corners of the Commonwealth, we found upon our arrival that the Government had no business to placebefore us. We were told that we could go back to our homes for another fortnight, because there was nothing for us to do. In such circumstances honorable senators on this side who believe in private enterprise have taken the initiative and placed these problems before the Senate for its consideration.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that honorable senators opposite have no right to propose a motion ofthis kind? Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.- As supporters of private enterprise we believe in keeping the wheels of industry turning even in this chamber. The Government, which believes in unemployment relief, has seen fit within the last few days to approve of allowances to members of Parliament at the rate of £1 2s. 6d. for each sitting day on which they attend to their duties here; and I am prompted to ask whether we must regard that allowance as unemployment relief seeing that the Government has no business to place before us. Most of the difficulties now prevailing in respect of housing and the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel are due to the Government’s opposition to private enterprise. Had the Government encouraged private enterprise, we should now be in a much more favorable position. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) is opposed to the people owning the houses in which they live. He has said that such ownership tends to make “ little capitalists “.
SenatorCollings. - The honorable senator knows that the Minister denied having made that statement.
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.Yes; but he is still reported in Hansard as having made it. ‘So long as the Government supports such a policy, the people will experience a shortage of houses. Another reason for the present shortage of houses is the control exercised by the Government over building materials. The Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) said that restrictions, had been lifted on building materials, but when I asked him ‘to name one article in respect of which such controls had been lifted he could not mention a single item. The Government continues to exercise complete control over the supply and distribution of building materials. Some one may ask, “What about cement?” Cement is produced in this country, but it has been far from easy for anybody to obtain a few bags of that commodity. It is estimated that at least 80,000 houses are required in Australia. The target for 1946-47 has been set at 50,000; but we ha ve had home-construction targets on previous occasions. For instance, for 1945-46 the target for houses in New South Wales is 10,000. It is now the middle of March, and there are only three and a half months left in this financial year; yet figures show that only 3,000 houses have been built to date. If the target of 10,000 is to be reached, 7,000 houses will have to be built between now and the 30th June. The Commonwealth target for 1946-47 is 50,000, but how can that figure be reconciled with the statement of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) at an Australian Labour party conference held in Melbourne last April that, “ We could not build 50,000 dog kennels “.
– How does the honorable senator know that the Minister for Trade and Customs said that?
Senator JAMES McLachlan It was published in the press.
– But the press is the most lying thing I have struck in my life.
– 1 shall remind the honorable senator of that charge when he next quotes a press statement in support of his own arguments. The Acting Leader of the Senate (Senator Ashley) quoted certain figures relating to the demobilization of ex-servicemen. According to available statistics, there were £5,000 ex-servicemen out of employment in January of this year. No doubt the number has increased since then. I realize, of course, that many of these men were not seeking employment for a while, but undoubtedly some of them did want jobs. In addition, applications have been received from 7,000. ex-servicemen for assistance in land settlement. They, too, apparently, are out of work, and are waiting until provision is made for them. We all realize that it is not possible to have everything in readiness without a moment’s delay, but I believe that even honorable senators opposite will admit that, at least in regard to the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land, much more rapid progress could have been made. The Government has not even appointed valuers to value land acquired for its settlement schemes. To date, 19,546 applications have been made by exservicemen for technical training under the Government’s rehabilitation scheme, but, so far, the Government has been able to make provision for only 9,000, leaving 10,000 waiting to get through the entanglement of red tape with which the Government surrounds most of its offices. I was impressed by the Minister’s statement that rapid progress was being made with the demobilization of servicemen. I had rather doubted that, but Senator Collett has expressed agreement, and I am prepared to concede that it may be so. I assure the Senate, however, that there is nothing very rapid about the handling of applicants for technical training.
The latter portion of the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) relates to strikes and industrial unrest generally. Stoppages in industry not only are impairing trade and commerce within this country, but also are doing incalculable harm to our export trade. Much has been said about the recent Port Kembla dispute in New South Wales and the hardships that it imposed upon the people of other States. South Australia, top suffered considerably. The Minister very cleverly endeavoured to place the blame on the Menzies Government by saying that stocks of coal were so depleted by the strike that occurred in 1940, that there had been no opportunity to build them up again. I cannot agree with that. We must not lose sight of the fact that before the war we exported a considerable quantity of coal, whereas to-day we are .exporting only 130 tons per annum to Noumea. The rest of our export trade in coal has been lost due to lack of shipping during the war, and unless production can be increased considerably, we shall lose overseas markets for all time. We were informed in a press statement published recently, that unless New South Wales could produce approximately 12,000,000 tons of coal a year, there was no hope for any substantial restoration of our ex-port trade. Last year, production fell short of 12,000,000 tons by 1,750,000 tons. Before the war we exported 80,000,000 tons of coal annually to the Philippines; 25,000 tons to Fiji, 20,000 tons to Singapore and Java and 100,000 tons to New Zealand. That trade will be lost unless industrial unrest in the coalfields can be eliminated. Another outstanding dispute which has affected not so much our trade and commerce, as our prestige overseas is that relating to the loading of
Butch vessels bound for the Netherlands East Indies. Yesterday, the Minis*ter said that the trouble had arisen ber cause the Indonesians refused to work the ships1. Lascars were then sent to do the job, but when they found out what had occurred they too would not work the vessels. Would the Minister have us believe that that was the entire cause of the trouble? Did the Australian waterside workers not refuse to load the vessels ? It was not a matter of taking the vessels out of port, hut of loading them,, and I fail to see how the blame can be placed upon the Lascars or the Indonesians.
Industrial trouble will .continue so long as the Government pursues its present lax methods and fails to show any backbone in the handling of disputes. The Minister told the story of the Port Kembla strike and how a poor worker named Parker had been victimized. Even if Parker were victimized, would that be sufficient justification for paralysing Australia’s trade and commerce? The Government washed its hands of the responsibility, claiming that the matter was before the Arbitration Court ; but is there any reason why the men could not have continued work whilst the Arbitration Court was considering the case? Unless the Government is prepared to ensure that the law shall be observed, it should relinquish office. The Minister, avowed the Government’s intention of standing by the Arbitration Court. Surely, if his words had ‘any meaning at all, they meant that the Arbitration Court represented the law of this country, and that the Government was responsible for administering the law. Therefore, it was not the Arbitration Court but the Government that was responsible for the hold-up, because the Government should have facilitated the approach to the Court.
– Which Govern- - ment?
– The Government of this country.
– And who is the government ?
– The occupants of the treasury bench of this Parliament are the government; but now that the honorable senator has inquired I may say that we, on this side of the chamber, have been wondering for quite a long time who- is actually governing the country. We are inclined to think that the Government has been transferred from Canberra to the waterfront and the coal-fields, and that this country is ruled by the wharf labourers, seamen and coal miners. There will never be stable government so long as this Administration has to wait to receive orders from the waterside workers, the coal miners, or the seamen.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) has made charges against the Government in connexion with housing, industrial unrest, and the rehabilitation and re-establishment of exservicemen. His case on the industrial issue, however, consisted mainly of apologies for the inability of the Menzies Government to prevent strikes. The honorable senator enumerated disputes which he - claimed were in existence to-day, but he failed to tell the Senate what was the root cause of these disputes, or to suggest a remedy for them.
Dealing with the housing problem, I have before me an act of this Parliament - No. 35 of 1927 - relating to housing. It was assented to on the 22nd December, 1927, and its object was to provide £20,000,000 for the construction of homes. Its purpose was to allow persons to purchase homes. It was intended for the relief of people who were homeless. Men, with wives and children suffering from malnutrition, could obtain no better accommodation for them than beds under a sheet of iron, a piece of canvas, a crate, or an old shed. Some families were even sleeping amongst fowls. The position was so bad that representations were made in every State for a housing scheme to be instituted. As a result, the Commonwealth Parliament passed this piece of legislation allocating £20,000,000 for housing. Then the. depression hit the country in 1930. Had the Commonwealth Government proceeded with the £20,000,000 scheme, thousands of youths would have been apprenticed to building trades and, in 1939, in their fully trained capacity, they would have been valuable to the nation. They would have been of special use in 1942, after Japan came into the war. At that time, we had to send “ counter-jumpers “ and untrained men from all walks of life to work on the erection of brick, timber, and fibro-cement buildings. In spite of the failure of antiLabour governments to provide houses for the people, the Leader of the Opposition to-day condemns this Government for the shortage of houses. There has been a shortage of houses for many years. Before the depression, owners were collecting rents from people who occupied all sorts of hovels. One avaricious landlord had two families living in a fowl-shed with fowls, and he charged each family 5s. a week for the privilege. The racketeers wanted their pound of flesh and in the depression, because they could not get it, they evicted their tenants and left their houses empty. The tenants, through no fault of their own, but because of the failure of the anti-Labour governments to stabilize the economic situation, were unable to pay the high rents demanded.
– The Scullin Government was in power during the depression.
– It had a majority in the House of Representatives but not in the Senate.
– Legislation embodying a housing scheme was not brought before the Senate.
– The Scullin Government was in office from 1929 to 1931. It was defeated in December, 1931, and anti-Labour governments then had complete control of both houses of the Parliament. However, they did nothing to alleviate the housing shortage, and the position grew worse daily. In spite of all this, honorable senators opposite condemn this Government for the failure to build houses. The fact is that houses are being constructed everywhere in Australia to-day. Wherever I go I see building work in progress. I have inspected government houses inall stages of construction, from the laying of the foundations to completion, and I have met people who live in them. The tenants are satisfied with them. The materials used are sound and the construction is good. Senator James McLachlan said that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) had said, that he was opposed to people owning their homes because it made them “little capitalists”. I do not know what the Minister said, but I am sure that he did not mean that. The fact is that the present Government housing scheme is the best that has been in operation in any democratic country. The tenants are required to pay a maximum of one-fifth of the breadwinner’s income. That covers rent and municipal rates, and in addition the houses are painted and repaired when necessary. There is nothing to prevent a tenant from purchasing his home. If there is anything inSenator James McLachlan’s allegation against the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, at least the Minister is not inflicting his views upon the people. This Government has done something constructive to remedy the housing shortage. It has not muddled the business as other governments have done. It has not introduced legislation and then dallied and done nothing at all. As a matter of fact, it has proceeded with its scheme for the construction of thousands of homes, although all of the States have not yet agreed to it.
– Each State had its housing scheme.
– The only State schemes in operation at the time were those financed by the Rural Bank. Building societies were established, and they continued with the work. What was private enterprise doing about the shortage at that time? No streets of houses were erected by speculative builders. The only active bodies for years were the building societies, which are nowbuilding again.
– More houses were built by private enterprise than by the organizations which the honorable senator mentions.
– Of course that is so, because building societies were only established about 1937 or 1938.
– Oh, oh!
– There were building societies earlier than that, but new blood came in about that time, and society after society was established. While antiLabour governments were in power, these organizations were not able to secure finance from the Commonwealth Bank. Those governments had opportunities to build houses, but they neglected them.
There is a demand for war service homes. The fact that many ex-servicemen cannot obtain war service homes does not mean that a. returned soldier is denied the opportunity to buy a home. This Government’s plan provides that at least 50 per cent, of the houses built must go to ex-servicemen. It is not the fault of the War Service Homes Commission that the war service homes programme is lagging. When war service homes are under construction, officers of the commission must inspect foundations, materials and general constructional details. The concrete must be tested to ensure that it is not composed mainly of sand. as. would be the case if private industry could get away with it. We found out recently at Canberra that the contractors on one job used sand and apparently forgot about the cement. That is the sort of thing that private enterprise does on war service homes if the commission’s officers do not make thorough inspections. The system ensures that returned soldiers purchasing home3 get a fair deal, but now the commission cannot get contractors to tender for the construction of houses because they object to these close inspections. Nevertheless, the commission is doing a great deal to help ex-servicemen. A returned soldier who owns a block of land may go to the commission to inspect plans. If he likes a plan, it is given to him. Also, if he can find a builder willing to erect a house, the commission will provide the necessary money. However, in that event, the commission is not able to give him the benefit of the supervision which is exercised over the construction of war service homes iri the usual way. It is not fair to condemn the Government for the housing shortage. By doing so, honorable senators opposite condemn the nation. They broadcast to the people of the world an untruthful story that the Government is lax and not concerned about providing homes for the people. Surely honorable senators opposite realize that the task of changing from war to peace is probably more complicated than that of changing from peace to war. For instance, we want men to engage in the timber industry. That involves a lot of hard work and the purchase of expensive machinery.
Instead of encouraging men to engage in the industry, the Forestry Commission of New “South Wales has increased the royalty charge on logs and so discouraged them. Honorable senators opposite talk about the importance of producing bricks, but men will not work in the brickyards. Why is that .so? The reason is that the work- is too laborious. These old brickyards use the same methods to-day as were used 50 years ago. There has been no improvement of conditions of employment, and there are no amenities associated with the industry. How can we expect men to go back to such employment? In the street where I live, there are five men who once worked in the brick industry. They left it .because there was not a great demand for bricks, and went into war-time industries and the armed forces. Now that the war is over, they have no intention of returning to the brick-making industry. Of course, the Government secured the release of men from the Army for work in the brick kilns, but most of them did not like the job and stuck at it only until the manpower controls were relaxed and then walked out of the industry. Another thing that makes my blood boil is the talk that comes from the opposite side of the chamber about costs. Senator James McLachlan -asked “What do costs, matter ? “. Costs matter a great deal. To-day an ex-serviceman may obtain a loan of £1,250 to build a war service home. The permissible amount ‘before the war was £950, and at that time £950 would provide a better home than can be had to-day for £1,250.
– What is the reason for that?
– A Nationalist government of the same political brand as the present Opposition - the Stevens Government in New South Wales - sold the State brickyards. It did so at the behest of private enterprise. That government was a great supporter of private enterprise. Face bricks from the State brickyards used to cost 55s. a thousand. To-day, face bricks cost £8 2s. or £S 4s. a thousand. Common bricks cost £5 9s. a thousand. The Stevens Government did not sell that brickyard; it gave the yard away. Afterwards it employed men to disfigure the place, as it did at Walsh
Island. Now the New South “Wales Government has acquired the land on which the excavation was made in order to obtain the shale, and bricks are again being produced. I see no reason why they could not be produced at £2 15s. or even £3 a thousand. How much have the workers’ wages increased since 1935 ? The pay of the carpenter has gone up by £1 a week. As carpenters are engaged on a brick cottage for six weeks the cost in that respect would be increased by £6 for each carpenter. .But the wages of the men working in the brickyards have increased by the same amount. Who has reaped the benefit of the increased cost of bricks? Not the workman but the employers, whom I regard as the thieves of private enterprise. I criticize the former Prices Commissioner, Professor Copland, for having allowed the brick combine to increase the price of bricks by 3s. a thousand. That was one of the worst wrongs ever done to the working classes. Professor Copland has now left Australia, and I am sorry for the people of China, the country to which he has gone. The Stevens Government in New South Wales, which was of the same political faith as that of honorable senators opposite, supporting private enterprise, decided to adopt a house-building programme. It purloined a portion of the people’s park lands at Erskineville in order to build tenements. It described the buildings as flats, but they are similar to the slum tenements seen in London, Paris, Berlin and the large cities of the United States of America. The reason advanced for building the so-called flats on park lands was to encourage the demolition of the slum houses which would thus be vacated, but, when the occupants of the latter premises transferred to- the tenements, the landlords of the slum houses put new tenants into them, and the net result was that the people lost a portion of their parkland.
It has been said that the Labour party and the present Government are responsible for the industrial unrest that prevails to-day, but those who are trying to foment trouble are not members of the Labour party. Communists are’ not accepted as members of that party. When a person seeks membership of it he must sign a declaration that he is not a member of any other political organization.
A credentials committee makes close inquiries about him before he is admitted to membership. But on payment of 2s. 6d., any person can join the Liberal party. There is nothing in the rules of that party to preclude Communists from joining it.
– It is advertising for members
– Yes. After what I have heard in the House of Representatives about the Yoizuki incident, I should say that the Liberal party would accept Japanese internees as members.
– Yoizuki is called a “ hell-ship “.
-Yes. Crocodile tears have been shed about the conditions on that vessel. We have read in the Commonwealth Year-Booh striking statistics about the number of children suffering from malnutrition, but what have honorable senators opposite done about that evil? When they sent the Australian Imperial ‘Force to Crete and Greece without arms, were they not sent in hell ships? Did honorable senators opposite do anything about that? No. But when we are dealing with Japanese prisoners of war, Formosans and Koreans, one would think from the remarks of the Opposition that the last straw had been placed on the camel’s back. Members of the Liberal party 9ay that they believe in private enterprise, but they are controlled by “ big business “ and the banks, which contribute largely to their funds and call the tune. The Australian Labour party is the most democratic .political organization in this country. It holds a federal conference and appoints a federal executive. The Liberal party thought that that was a good idea, and it has adopted a similar procedure. In each State there is a Trades and Labour Council rand these have elected a federal body known as the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, to which I pay the greatest respect. During the war the latter body did everything humanly possible to encourage the production of the goods required by the nation. It submitted to the pegging of wages and has never made any unreasonable demands. It has been a peace-loving body. A few individuals have caused industrial trouble, but it is wrong to say that the Government is under the control of the Australasian Council of Trade
Unions or any other body. Labour supporters in this Parliament naturally look politically to that organization, and it would be wrong to slight- it, just as honorable senators opposite, when, in power, take care not to offend the banks and the representatives of “ big business
Members of the Opposition side desire improved housing standards. I claim that whether a worker’s cottage costs £950 or £1,200; in the event of the death of the bread-winner, his widow is not called upon to pay a rent of more than 8s. a week, and’ this Government provides the widow with the money. Members of the Opposition should hide their heads in shame for having failed to do anything in connexion with the housing problem when .they were in power.
Senator HERBERT HATS (Tasmania) (5.41]. - The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) has rendered good service to the Parliament and the people by directing attention to the urgent matter of the housing shortage and demanding a statement on behalf of the Government as to what it proposes to do about it. I do not know that any good purpose can be served by reverting to events in 1927. I could refer to the conditions experienced during the great depression. The housing problem is, no doubt, the most acute in Australia to-day. After the 1914-18 war ire were faced with the same problem, but not in such an acute form as at present. After a few years the prices of our exportable surplus commodities dropped substantially, and the prosperity that prevailed during that war, which was largely artificial, disappeared. Conditions became normal and the problem at that time was,, not how to build more houses, but to find tenants for vacant premises. The cost of building increased substantially after the 1914-18 war, and many returned soldiers obtained homes under the repatriation scheme. Houses were built at excessive cost, and when normal conditions returned the cost of building decreased by from 30 to 40 per cent., or even more than that. Numbers of people who had obtained advances from building societies, agricultural banks and other institutions, bought homes of equal or higher value in the open market at prices below the balances owing on the homes that they were purchasing. In many instances the houses vacated by them were purchased by civilians. The same thing happened in connexion with hundreds of farms and other country holdings. A problem confronts us in the provision of homes for ex-servicemen. Obviously, they must have homes, but we must face the fact that they will cost a great deal more than in normal times;. Building materials of every, kind, as weir as labour costs, have increased tremendously since 1939. Present day costs are so excessive that I predict that when more normal times return much of the inflated values placed on houses .now being built will have to be written off, or otherwise the people buying them will sooner or later become financially embarrassed.
– The honorable senator’s reasoning is against the teaching of history.
– I do not know whether Senator Large has in mind some better method of financing homes. I shall listen attentively to him when he speaks on this subject. The provision of homes for the people is not a new problem; it has recurred from time to time. Senator Amour said that private enterprise had failed, but I submit that private enterprise has rendered great service to this country. Is it suggested that private enterprise will always scamp the work, erect jerry-built houses, a>nd have no regard to the quality of the buildings erected? “Who has been responsible for the buildings in our great cities - cottages, mansions, commercial houses and structures of all types? I suggest that private enterprise has been mainly responsible. Honorable senators cannot point to many instances of faulty construction. Ample safeguards are provided; the various local authorities have their own building regulations, whilst architects and builders have their reputations to maintain. It cannot be said that all these people are dishonest. It is ridiculous to suggest that a government is the only authority to which the building of houses oan safely be entrusted. Tradesmen associated with the building trade are no more honorable or faithful in the. performance of their duties when working for a government than when employed by private contractors. It is idle for any one to say that private enterprise has not played its part in the development of this country. Is there any reason why, side by side with building societies, banks, Commonwealth and States governments, private enterprise should not engage in building construction? Honorable senators opposite choose to make a “ cock-shy “ of private enterprise, but I maintain that it is in the best interests of the nation that private enterprise should be encouraged. I believe that individuals should be free to carry on in the future the good work that has been accomplished by individuals in the past. It is ridiculous to say that private enterprise did nothing to solve the housing problem during the war just ended. “What opportunity did privatsbuilders have to erect homes during that period? Honorable senators know that man-power for such purposes was not available, and that building materials could not bc obtained. Moreover, even had those things been available, authority to expend money in the building of houses would not have been granted.
– Does the honorable senator think that the present Government could be expected to provide homes for the people in the six months that have elapsed since hostilities ceased ; does he think that the present Government i.s responsible for the shortage of houses ?
– I do not say that the present Government is wholly responsible for the shortage of houses, but I do say that during the war the Government ought to have foreseen that shortage and made some provision to meet it. Thousands of men - carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers and others - associated with the building trades, who for various reasons could not be accepted as members of the fighting services, could have been permitted to build homes. That could have been done in Tasmania where timber in abundance was available. I believe that had the Government allowed those men to be employed in that way, money for the building of homes would have been available, and in that way some amelioration of the present serious state of affairs could have been provided. Because of lack of vision there has been stagnation in the building trade. I agree that the first duty of every young man was to defend his country, but there were others in the community who could have served in the ways which- I have indicated. Every one knew that at the end of the war a housing problem would arise, but nothing was done to relieve the situation. It is useless for Senator Amour to say that the existing housing problem is the result of the inaction of previous governments. Many private concerns are providing homes for their employees, and there is much to be said for that system. I suggest that Commonwealth and State Governments should consider accepting the responsibility of providing homes for their employees. Particularly in the Commonwealth Public Service, men are constantly being transferred from one place to another, and from one State to another. In order to maintain an efficient public service it sometimes is necessary to transfer one man from, say, Melbourne to Hobart,, and another man from Hobart . to Melbourne. Under present conditions each of those men finds difficulty in obtaining a home in the city to which he is transferred whereas under the system which I advocate a home would be available for each of them.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I suggested ‘ that the Government should set an example to the community by providing houses for its permanent employees. It is all very well for Senator Amour to talk about the failure of private enterprise to do its part in the provision of houses. To-day private enterprise is setting an example to the Government by providing homes for its employees. .Many big industrial organizations, such as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, the Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australasia Limited, several mining companies in Tasmania, H. V. McKayMassey Harris Proprietary Limited and Cadbury-Fry-Pascall Proprietary Limited are now providing homes for their permanent employees.
– It took private enterprise a long time to do that.
– It is an evolutionary development. This trend is in keeping -with the Government’s policy of liberalizing social services. I approve of this trend on the part of private enterprise. Many honorable senators in this chamber seem to - believe that nothing praiseworthy can, or should, be said about private enterprise in this country. They seem to believe that as public men it is part of the scheme of things that they must on all occasions denounce private enterprise. However, what opportunity was. afforded private enterprise during the war to build houses? What example has the Government set private enterprise in that respect during the last five years? Would any honorable senator claim that the housing shortage is less .acute at Canberra than it is in any of the capital cities? Certainly, it is not. One hears complaints on every side at Canberra a bout the shortage of housing. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) is charged with that responsibility. Therefore, when honorable senators opposite blame private enterprise for failing to provide adequate housing in the capital cities, they must not ignore the fact that in the Australian Capital Territory the Government cannot escape criticism in this respect. Honorable senators opposite have complained about the slums in -capital cities, and have deplored the fact that private enterprise collects rents from houses in slum areas. But what has the Government done to remove substandard houses at Canberra? Government supporters, when they were in opposition, lost no opportunity to condemn substandard dwellings at the Causeway, and urged that they should be removed immediately; but those structures which were erected temporarily in order to house workers employed on construction work in the early days of Canberra are still standing, and the Government receives rent from their occupants. Therefore, honorable senators opposite are ‘not above blame in this matter. I know that excuses can always be found for a Government’s failure in such matters; but instead of trying to lay the blame for this problem at the door of previous governments honorable senators opposite should build their case on the merits of their own administration. They cannot explain the failures of the present Government simply by blaming previous governments for similar failures. I again urge the Government to set an example to the community by providing homes for its permanent employees in every populous centre. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department, for example could undertake such a scheme because large numbers of employees of that department are subject to transfer from town to town and State to State. Under such a scheme a standard wellplanned home could be provided. This would facilitate removals. The provision of standard homes as the basis of such a scheme would enable employees to transfer .floor coverings, furnishings and fittings without great inconvenience, and also to avoid expenditure which they have to meet when moving into houses whose dimensions differ entirely from those which they are obliged to vacate in another town. To-day, however, owing to the shortage of houses, employees who are transferred from one town to another often find it impossible to obtain a house in the town to which they are transferred. The Government has plenty of scope to benefit its employees by instituting a scheme of home-building of that kind instead of always finding fault with private enterprise.
Every honorable senator knows that it is most unprofitable for a private individual to build a house at the prices ruling at present.
– Are we not concerned about more than profit in this matter?
– I do’ not think that the honorable senator would be happy if his parliamentary allowance was reduced by 25 per cent. All of us are concerned about profit. The Government is concerned about profit. If the Government builds a house in the ordinary way of business it expects to collect rent from the occupant ; and if the occupant is a government employee the rental of his residence is taken into account in the fixation of his salary. When the rental is being fixed account, is also taken of the interest in respect of the co.=t of the home. Therefore, all this “ hialutin “ talk to the effect that profits do not matter is futile. What will be the position of any working man who erects a home, or any investor who invests in a house, say an ordinary five-roomed bungalow, when the ruling price is from £1,200 to £1,400? Allowing for ordinary rates of interest and the cost of repairs and maintenance the rental on the basis of such cost would be about £2 a week. We are living in abnormal times. But some years hence a .house of the same standard will be worth only £900 to £1,000. Thus the owner of such a home will be obliged to write off approximately £300 or £400. That factor is of great concern to every person who is now confronted with the problem of finding a permanent home, and it cannot be ignored by private enterprise. I believe that the Government made a great mistake in suspending home construction entirely. Many tradesmen, getting on in years, could have been more profitably employed in a modified housing programme. However, the Government went to the other extreme and refused to permit the erection of buildings, or building alterations, estimated to cost more than £25. Is it any wonder, therefore, that we now experience an acute shortage of housing. It cannot be argued that there is a shortage of timber in this country, whilst there has been no call for defence purposes for material such as roofing iron since last September. Indeed, it has yet to he denied that different branches of the armed services were holding large reserves of building materials which could have been released for the construction of houses in anticipation of the present acute demand. Whatever may be said about the neglect of previous governments in this matter the fact remains that the record of this Government during its five years of office is not comparable with that of previous administrations during (he preceding five years. Indeed, this Government has discouraged private enterprise from playing its full part - the part it has always played - in the construction of homes.
The degree to which industrial unrest has been responsible for the dislocation of the trade and commerce of this country is history. Every honorable senator opposite knows that the fault lies largely with a few people who are disturbing elements in the community. While it was hardly surprising that honorable senators opposite failed to condemn those individuals, it was surprising that they should utter words almost of commendation. We heard the old story “ The workers are not to blame “, and once again the employers were charged with pinpricking tactics. Honorable senators opposite know well that that charge is not true. Whatever may have happened in pre-war years, I am confident that such tactics were not employed during the war and have not been used since the end of the war. I challenge any honorable senator opposite to name one industrial dispute that has occurred as a result of wrong-doing on the part of the employer. Clearly the fault, lies with the disturbing elements to which I have referred.
– The honorable senator lives in a sheltered State. “ Senator HERBERT HAYS.- At least Tasmania has been an example to the rest of the Commonwealth in industrial conduct. Few industrial disturbances have occurred in that State. Recently when I visited the west coast of Tasmania, I saw men performing most hazardous operations at the Mount Lyell mine,’ in shocking weather. They were operating rock drills whilst suspended by ropes on the rainsoaked mountain-side. Surely no conditions could be more conducive to industrial unrest; yet these men have carried on with an almost .complete absence of disputes. The record of other organizations in Tasmania is equally good. Why the difference between Tasmania and the other States? It would be an education for honorable senators opposite to visit Tasmania and see for themselves how harmoniously industry can be carried on.
When honorable senators who now occupy the treasury bench were in opposition, the argument they always advanced when industrial disputes occurred was that the then governments did not understand the psychology of the workers, and that the workers did not have any confidence in the governments. Now the Labour party controls both Houses of this Parliament, but industrial relations are worse than ever. The trade unionists are the masters of the Government, andil does their bidding. When they take h pinch of snuff all honorable senators opposite have to sneeze.
– And they arn sneezing all the time.
– They are. All the talk about understanding the psychology of the workers is so much “ hooey “ and “ flapdoodle “. Governments of the political complexion of the parties now on this side of the chamber gave to the workers most of the rights they enjoy to-day, and I believe that I speak for all members of the Opposition when I say that the workers know who are their true friends. There was far more industrial peace when we on this side of the chamber were in office than there has been during the past five years. The Leader of the Opposition enumerated disputes and strikes that took place in key industries in this country during the war, and .that list stands as a record of weak administration. The Government is able to govern only in consultation with, and at the direction of, the powerful Labour organizations.
– What about the ten . weeks’ strike during the regime of the Menzies Government in 1940?
– The wise man from South Australia has interjected. He may smile, but he knows that what I have said is true. No doubt when it is his turn to speak in this debate, he too, will apologize for the acts of the wrong doers, instead of taking his proper place as a member of this Parliament and giving a lead to the industrial move-‘ ment.
If this debate has served no other ‘ purpose, it has given to honorable senators on this side of the chamber an opportunity to say a few things that wc believe should be said firmly to this Government and to the people of this country.
– In submitting arguments in support of his motion, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) has dealt almost exclusively with effects and has not attempted to explain fundamental causes. The expression of the possibly worthy sentiment that we should all get together, employers and employees alike, in an endeavour to reach an agreement on what are regarded flp injustices or anomalies, is all right so far as it goes, but unless, there is an understanding of the fundamental causes of industrial unrest, the shortage of housing and other problems, merely getting together will not produce the desired results. I have had years of experience in meeting employers and employees in connexion with industrial disputes, and I have found that while such sentiments are usually expressed, they are seldom helpful. We should ask ourselves the Question, “ Why is there a’ shortage cf houses?” We’ might also ask why there is a shortage of other essential commodities, and of purchasing power. The answer to the first question is that when and where it is possible and profitable to keep houses in short supply, they will be kept in short supply. The same may be said also of other commodities and of purchasing power. Houses can be kept in short supply by charging their capital cost and the interest upon the capital, over and over again. That is to say, although the original capital cost and interest on a dwelling may be recovered in ten years, the house may last for 20, 40 or even 80 years, during which time capital and interest are charged over and over again. As long as the capital cost, plus interest, can be recovered over and over again by means of rent, obviously capital will not be invested in the erection of new and better houses. We would object if our tailor, grocer, or baker attempted to recover the capital cost of our clothes, food, or bread over and over again. We would say that it was a fraudulent practice.
– Is not property an investment?
– That is just what T am complaining about. It is a corrupt investment that is robbing the workers from the. cradle to the grave. If a man invests £1,00.0 in building a house, what right has he to recover £1.000 in addition to the original investment?
– Ls the Minister a landlord?’
– No. I am not even a. house-owner, but I have been a rentpayer under duress and I have objected and pointed out that the practice is fraudulent both in its origin and its incidence. Dilapidated houses that should have been demolished years ago are kept in commission until they are actually falling to pieces. While that is profitable as an investment, as Senator Collett would say, obviously capital will hot be used as it should be used to build new and better houses.
– Interest is paid on Commonwealth loans to build nouses.
– A Commonwealth loan is a different matter. I could use the same argument in that connexion, but I want to keep strictly to the theme I am trying to develop. Take miners’ houses as an example. I have in mind the miners’ homes on the shore of Catherine Hill Bay. There is a fine picturesque landscape on which are built shacks that should have been demolished years ago. According to my judgment, and I have had considerable experience in the building trade, they are fully 50 or 60 years old. The miners are compelled to live in those hovels and pay the mine-owners their capital cost over and over again for the duration of their working lives. If it were made compulsory after the capital cost had been recovered, plus interest - I shall be generous - to reduce the rent to the cost of maintenance only, then it would be unprofitable to keep such houses in commission and capital would be invested in building new houses. I also have in mind the miners’ homes at Minmi - wretched hovels which are a disgrace to civilization. Honorable senators opposite would call them a legitimate and a legal investment, but from my point of view they represent a postively immoral investment, an investment which tends more than anything else to degrade men and reduce them and their families to the lowest level of existence. I have here an example of the extent to which this degradation can occur. I quote from the Melbourne Herald of the 12th October, 1943. Under the caption, “ How ‘ Old Bob ‘ Loft Made Fortune “, the following report appeared: -
Parsimony and shrewdness in propertybuying made “ Old Bob “ Loft one of Melbourne’s richest men, with a fortune approaching £100,000. Hie lonely death in the weekend in the backyard of his dilapidated weatherboard cottage was typical of his life.
Robert Edward Loft, 73-year-old North Melbourne identity, small, stooped and bearded, in shabby clothes, lived in squalor but neighbours suspected that he was not so poor as he looked. Probably not more than half a dozen people knew that he was one of Melbourne’s biggest owners of slum dwellings.
Among the meagre possessions in his cottage in O’Shannessy-street. North Melbourne, was a bankbook recording more than £12,000 to his credit in one bank. In another bank he had £7.000 or £8,000.
At one time he owned 260 houses and when he died he still owned about 200 in North Melbourne, Carlton, Collingwood, South Melbourne, Flemington and Kensington. They were mostly of the four-roomed weatherboard cottage type in back streets and lanes, valued at £200 to £250 each.
His properties alone are estimated to be worth £50,000 and Loft still owned the land on which stood condemned dwellings now demolished. He also had considerable wealth in stocks and shares.
Loft, a bachelor, denied himself every comfort or pleasure, to amass money. His “capital” was savings from his earnings as a letter-carrier at East Melbourne. Every penny he scraped together from frugal living he invested in slum property, which he bought at little more than the value of the land.
The Melbourne City Council and the State Parliament, which have justified and legalized capitalizing on the poverty of the workers, allowed this man to do that. It was admitted that the houses should have been demolished long ago, and that it should have been made impossible for any man to invest his capital for the purpose of keeping in existence buildings unfit for human habitation, particularly at a time when there was an abundance of skilled man-power and materials that could have been used to build better dwellings for the workers. The trouble does not end there. Old shops are another example. High rents are still charged for them, and capital costs are being multiplied in the returns from them. All these capital costs, in the form of exorbitant rents, are included in and collected through high prices, which have the effect of reducing the purchasing power of wages. I do not accuse honorable senators opposite of being influenced by ulterior motives knowingly, but I charge them with a lack of understanding of the’ way in which housing has been kept in short supply by a very ingenious and subtle process for the purpose of accumulating profits. I also charge them with attempting to justify this predatory system. I suppose that Senator Collett would say, if he invested several thousands of pounds which he had saved, in a dilapidated house that should have been demolished long ago, that it was a perfectly legal investment. I would agree. He would also say that it was a perfectly moral investment. I would disagree very strongly.
– The honorable senator is half right.
– I am all right. That is the fundamental cause of housing being kept in short supply since long before the war, and particularly during the depression years. Some honorable senators now in opposition were members of the Senate at that time. As one who inflicts upon himself the hardship of reading Hansard very closely and critically, I have yet to learn of any of those honorable gentlemen rising in this place and pointing out the gross injustice that was being perpetrated as the result of many -thousands of workers being condemned to enforced idleness and to work in return for dole payments. None of them pointed out that the injustice could have been remedied if these men had been put to work building the houses which are now so urgently needed. To state the position in “ bread and butter “ English, what happened during the depression, and .even before it, was tha-t capital went on strike so that it could continue to receive the highest possible income from hundreds of thousands of houses that should have been demolished years ago. Senator Herbert Hays and Senator James McLachlan had something to say about private enterprise. I have shown how private enterprise operates. It works on the principle of obtaining the maximum, of profit at the minimum df cost. The worst of houses will be kept in commission as long as people are prepared to live in them and as long as it is possible to collect rent from them. The oldest and most dilapidated house is generally the most profitable investment when houses are in great demand. The building of houses was held up during the depression in the interests of wealthy land-owners, and also during the war owing to the exigencies of war, which demanded the employment of man-power for more urgent purposes. What happened during the war? While men were sacrificing their health and their lives in the front lines, the landlords and land agents were capitalizing the shortage of houses by charging the women folk of the fighting men the highest rents that they could extort from them. That is not a figment of the imagination; the’ evidence of it is irrefutable. Take the building of tenements, commonly known as flats, to which reference has been made by Senator Amour. Owing to the shortage of houses, women with children are forced to live in two small rooms and a kitchenette, for which they pay £2, £3 or as much as £4 a week.
– What about the remedy ?
– I shall come to that later; I am now dealing with causes and effects. Landlords are quite prepared to rent houses to the wives or mothers. of servicemen, provided they receive a commission in addition to the rent. These so-called patriots who invest in war loans, are capitalizing the misfortunes of the helpless people who have been fighting to save them.
Reference has ‘been made by the Leader of the Opposition to the cost of building. I suggest to him and to all other honorable senators that when we think in terms of cost we should make the reservation that there is a difference between monetary cost and economic cost. The economic cost of building houses to-day, whether expressed in terms of labour time or in terms of gold, was never lower. Anybody with experience in the building trade similar to my own should know that less time is now taken than ever before in erecting any sort of building, hut the cost in terms of the depreciated currency which was inherited by the present Government, which amounts to the process adopted by forgers acting without legal sanction, was never higher. So the workers of this and every other country are fooled, ruled and robbed from the cradle to the grave. The present generation of wage earners accept in good faith that their wages have been increased to. the extent of about 135 per cent, as from 1907, w:hen the basic wage was fixed at £2 2s. a week. There has been an increase of wages in terms of depreciated money, but there has been a reduction of real purchasing power. When we speak of costs we should keep in mind that the present inflated and fraudulent costs have been more or less built up by the process to which I have referred, in order to deceive those who do not know better. It is a part of the subtle technique peculiar to capitalizing ignorance or credulity. Wars are caused by the capitalist system, and are conducted at the expense of the working class.
– Is the Minister talking of the “ go-slow “ policy ?
– I shall come to that matter shortly. There is a psychological and a physiological reaction to that sort of thing. Although the workers do not understand the process and the way in which it operates, there is a reaction. The action in the direction which I have indicated and the reaction against it are equals as well as opposites. To the degree that the workers are being f ooled, ruled and robbed “from the cradle to the grave by the manipulation of the financial system and by an appeal to the noblest sentiments of mankind such as was made to-day by the Leader of the Opposition for the purpose of perpetrating the most ignoble of practices, we have the result in- the form of industrial disputes and strikes.
In reply to Senator Herbert Hays I make no apologies whatsoever for what has happened in the industrial field. If I made any apology I would apologize for the acquiescence of such a large number of workers in their own subjection. I would apologize for the acquiescence, for example, of the employees at the Mount Lyell mine, where the honorable senator said no industrial trouble ever occurred. He told us that no matter what the conditions or the weather, the men were the slaves of what they regarded as their sacred duty. They kept on working until finally they were unable to continue any longer, and then, no doubt, they were scrapped. If honorable senators opposite could discard their prejudices, particularly their class prejudices, they would find that in almost every case industrial disputes and strikes have their origin either in grossly provocative or incompetent management. Everywhere we look where power - has been delegated to a far greater degree than I think it should be to those whom we could classify as employing authorities, it would be found that where industrial trouble has occurred the management has been deliberately provocative or grossly incompetent, and strikes are the results. So long as the men in charge of production and services are unqualified to the degree I have mentioned, no matter what government may be in power, industrial disputes and strikes will occur. Where invidious distinctions are made and where workers are denied the rightto appeal against action by employers which they consider to be. unjust, there will always be friction, disputes and strikes. Why should the Leader of the Opposition try to gloss over these causes and attribute the blame to the Government?
The present Ministry came into power on the 7th October, 1941, with a minority in both branches of the legislature, lt was faced with a war without precedent, and a state of affairs in which the country was unprepared to defend itself or provide for war-time production. So great was its unpreparedness that the then Minister for Defence, the honorable member for .Warringah (Mr. Spender), said that one division of the- enemy could have ridden rough-shod over and captured the whole of this country. The present Government inherited that state of affairs because of the indifference and incompetence of the previous administration. When ‘ the Labour Government came into power it had to restore as best it could some sort of order out of the chaos created through the ignorance, maladministration and incompetence of a previous government. It simply had to make the best of the position as it found it. Expedients were resorted to, including wage pegging, the taxing of the lowest income earners, excessive overtime, rationing and the deskilling of skilled workers, in order to do in a few months what would have taken years to do in times of peace in order to prepare for war. Is it surprising that strikes occur ? Put the Leader of the Opposition in the position of a waterside worker, put him down a mine, or put him in an establishment where the employees are required to handle heavy ingots of white-hot steel, and he would become a Communist. Judged by the aggressiveness which he has shown in this chamber, the honorable senator could be described as an inverted Communist. Honorable senators see these things from their own point of view. I could imagine my esteemed and honorable friend, Senator Brand, coming back from the war which has just ended and finding no houses for himself and his comrades, or condemned to pay interest in perpetuity to people who had never fought, becoming a member of the Communist party. But because honorable senators opposite sit on soft seats and have more freedom of access to the means by which men live than others have, we find them saying, either by direct statement or by implication, as the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition in the House pf Representatives (Mr. Menzies) said, that the coal miners, the waterside workers or the ironworkers who go on strike are skunks. I have no desire to indulge in the classic language used by that right honorable gentleman, but I know that when men resort to political “ Billingsgate “ in order to describe others, they are condemning themselves. Accordingly, when the Leader of the Opposition in the other branch of the legislature referred to the waterside workers as skunks he condemned himself as a skunk. If, however, some turn of the wheel of circumstances suddenly forced the right honorable gentleman out of Parliament to work on the waterfront, where he would have to put up with all that the present waterside workers have to endure, he would aspire to act as a. leader of the Communist party. If we want to view the position dispassionately in the light of the facts as they can be understood, we must try to establish the right relationship between cause >and effect, and must remember that everything happens according to the law of cause and effect. If men attack those who treat them as beasts, such action can rightly be described as the effect of such treatment. So long as men are treated as the waterside workers, seamen, miners, and other workers are treated, we can expect a policy of retaliation and reprisals
– Is the Minister criticizing the Government of which he is a member?
– No, I am criticizing the Opposition. The present
Government followed hopeless and helpless governments which did nothing. On other occasions I have likened society to an apple on a tree. As the apple is ripening it contains all the elements of its negation and reconstruction. But the tragedy of the process is that the apple has to become rotten ripe and fall from the tree before those elements are matured and released. In the acid test of war, hopeless administrators, indifferent legislators and incompetents in high places may be likened to the apples on a tree. “We have, in this country, a vigorous Labour movement which is able to withstand ‘ the vile criticism, the vicious misrepresentation, the eloquent and unconvincing appeals to sentiment to which it is-subjected. The movement is growing in every country and is challenging all who would oppose it. I have no apology to offer for what is taking place. I pay high tribute to the workers of this country for their magnificent work in production and in the fighting line under the most difficult and dangerous conditions ever experienced in this country. They rose to the occasion; they justified their existence. Experts who have visited this country have expressed themselves as amazed that such a small working population should have done so much in such a short time. Only yesterday I received a letter from a highly qualified technician in Melbourne who has made it his business to provide hospitality to American technicians who visited Australia. In it he said that as a result of their examination of the work of technicians in the Postal Department and other departments these American technicians were amazed to find that in many respects the work of Australians was superior to that done in the United States of America. I give credit to these men for the work that they have done; yet to listen to honorable senators opposite one would think that most of the workers of Australia should bc either gaoled or shot. It is an example of a “ little Australia “ attitude when men in such an assembly as this use their position to belittle those who have made it possible for us to deliberate in this chamber. For the purpose of arriving at a clear view of the position of Australia during the war, society may be divided into three groups, the first of which, comprises all persons engaged in either primary or secondary production. The second group comprises the men of the fighting forces, and the third group those who, although they neither worked nor fought, lived on the fat of the land during the war. A good many of them enjoyed incomes derived from profits on. war-time investments. Yet there are some who wonder why there is resentment :and criticism and a ridiculing of private enterprise. Senator Leckie asked what was the remedy. In my judgment, the only remedy is the establishment and maintenance of an economic democracy instead of the economic dictatorship which now exists. “We have our major monopolies which are controlled by a few men who, without consultation or agreement with the hundreds or thousands of workers on whom they depend to maintain production, decide the policy to be adopted. Generally, that policy is based of the principle of minimum cost and maximum profit. Political democracy cannot run in double harness with an economic dictatorship. The issue which will be before this country in the near future will be to decide who will be the governors of this country, whether it will be “ big business “, economic dictators, or the people. The representatives of the people are here, but up to date they have been subjected to domination by the economic dictators who were primarily responsible for the hold-up of the iron industry of New South Wales. Without consultation with any one, they arbitrarily decided to dispense with the services of a worker named Parker. They decided on all sorts of things which had an irritating effect on the workers. Reference has been made to General Motors-Holdens Limited. The management of that concern would, I think, be described as most efficient. It sets out to get the last ounce out of the human mechanism known as the g emus homo. Previous governments have given effect to a policy which has irritated and provoked men because it has indirectly robbed them. “ Big business “ dictators and monopolistic dictators are virtually a law unto themselves; they ignore the Parliament, the Government and the people. For all practical purposes, they lay down the conditions under which production shall be carried out; and those conditions more or less determine conditions sociologically and politically. The Leader of the Opposition, in unmistakably clear language, said that the Liberal party stands for arbitration; but he did not tell us what arbitration consists of. Arbitration as we know it now consists of a court in which a qualified lawyer presides as judge. Judges have no free hand, at all. What they do must be in accordance with the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Arbitration is one thing, and the act mentioned is quite another thing.
– It has been amended only about nineteen times.
– It would have been better had it been abolished and a new act substituted for it, because each of those amendments worsened the act.
– The Minister has been pretty slow in acting along those lines during the last five years.
– No; I have been endeavouring to drive ideas into heads as hard as that of the Leader of the Opposition; and I am meeting with success. The act provides - and judges must observe the act - that wages shall be assessed in accordance with the cost of living, plus margins for skill. First, labour time is a diminishing factor in production as the result of the adoption of improved methods and the mechanization of industry ; and where labour time ia a diminishing factor wages also are a diminishing factor. But, at the same time, the basic wage is constant; and, directly and indirectly, it has been reduced. One cannot expect workers to accept arbitration based on an act which binds them to what is known as the basic wage, plus margins for skill. Without reflecting upon any judge of the Arbitration Court, I say that although one can give them all the credit possible for being sincere in trying to do their best, they lack practical experience in industry, and therefore are lacking in knowledge. They are not as competent to judge as men and women who have worked in industry, and who have a knowledge of economics. We find that many of the awards of the court are very provocative. The court may not have intended them to be provocative; nevertheless, they are.
In such circumstances, the workers have no redress. Legally, they can appeal, and apply for variations of awards or consideration of what the law defines to be anomalies. This is the tedious and interminable ‘ process which gets the workers nowhere. So, when the Leader of the Opposition says that the Liberal party stands for arbitration he merely utters a half-truth. The Liberal party stands for the arbitration system as we know it to-day; but it does not stand for arbitration based on principles of equity and conscience. The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act is not based on equity and good conscience, because if it were, wages would be assessed not in accordance with the cost of living but in accordance with the value of the labour created by the workers directly and indirectly; and as labour time becomes a diminishing factor and the relative aggregate wage is decreased in consequence, then automatically and inevitably, profits’ increase. We find material evidence of the system in the palatial offices of the financial capitalists and their palatial residences and luxurious facilities of all kinds. In a time of peace or war they have the best of everything, whilst around the outskirts of our cities and towns are dilapidated hovels, tents and -shacks, in which hundreds of thousands are living under semi-starvation conditions. That is material evidence of the arbitration system as it works to-day. Therefore, I can quite understand the Liberal party being in favour of arbitration on the basis of the basic wage; but I could not conceive, in my wildest dreams, the Leader of the Opposition, or any of his colleagues, being in favour of arbitration based upon principles of equity and good conscience when wages would be assessed in accordance with the value created by the worker’s labour and conditions adjusted accordingly; and the labour of the workers as they became more and more productive, as they do as the result of improved methods and the mechanization of industry, would be expressed in the form of constantly improving living standards, extended social services and efforts to make their lives congenial, happy and healthy. But, to-day, the workers are struggling and scrambling for the right to live under the roof of any old house they can get, and the right to be rationed with frozen meat and the necessaries of life. What I suggest, would mean a complete reversal of the whole system. I could not imagine honorable senators opposite trying to bring about that result. The present arbitration system is responsible for the existing discontent and recurring strikes in industry. On the other hand, honorable senators opposite believe in maintaining the privileges enjoyed by the economic dictators. Finally, all of the matters to which honorable senators opposite have directed attention in this debate are signs of the times, of a state of affairs that is very bad arid which, obviously, is becoming worse. If they are wise in their generation they will be influenced by what is happening. They will try to act in accordance with the law of cause and effect and thereby ‘justify their existence and thus help the people they represent in this Parliament.
.- Apart from the difficulties forced upon discharged servicemen by the rehabilitation scheme, thousands are being kept out of trade, industry, and professions by organizations of tradesmen, unions, producers and by government controls. Bodies and laws created during the war to keep men in the field, are now being used to keep ex-soldiers out of jobs. Two forms of control operate against exservicemen. First, the government regulations, distribution of supplies, and, secondly, the denial of permits unless ex-servicemen are prepared to enter new and barren business territory. An example is the fixing of supplies on the basis of orders placed in the early war years. This means that men who enlisted in the dark days of war cannot get stock to resume their former business or start a new business. -Manufacturers and suppliers tell ex-servicemen that they have not enough stock to supply ordinary customers. Many of these ordinary customers, a few of them aliens, entered the trade after the other men had enlisted. At least 6,000 men in Victoria are anxious to go on the land, but are still waiting for legislation to enable the scheme to operate. Not a few of them are sons of farmers who have been given land but cannot operate till some higher authority tells them to do so.
Ex-servicemen are “ frozen out “ in obtaining transport to carry on a business, which they may have been lucky to secure. Instead of getting priority in the purchase of a truck from the Commonwealth Disposals Commission they are obliged to obtain one from a private concern at many times its value. All this leads to the necessity for the easing up of government controls, and, above all, the reduction of .taxes to enable producers to speed up production and so meet all post-war demands. The latest figures supplied by the DirectorGeneral of Rehabilitation are very interesting. The number of applications received for full-time rehabilitation training is 19,456; the number accepted for training, 9,247; the number already in training, 4,938 ; the number rejected, 1,093; and the number still under consideration, 6,942. My information is that the main reason for the position that all who have been accepted are not undergoing training is the Trades Hall’s understandable fear that the supply of craftsmen may be, eventually, considerably in excess of the demand. Until the heavy hand of government control is lifted and the burden of taxation reduced that fear will prevail. Meanwhile the ex-servicemen’s future is prejudiced. They are hamstrung and forced to take any old menial job. That should not be. They deserve a better deal from the Government.
“9.29].- The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) has rendered a service to the Government by submitting the motion now before the Senate, because the efforts of honorable senators ‘opposite in this debate prove conclusively to the people that no ground exists for serious criticism of the Government in respect of housing and the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel. Senator Brand, when dealing with the latter subject, quoted certain figures ; but those figures are not accurate.
– They were the figures as at the 1st March.
– I shall give the latest figures supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician. Application for fulltime training total 20,017 of which 15,000 have been considered and 11,500 approved, and training has been commenced in 7,250 cases. For part-time training applications number 60,S51, of which 41,41S have been considered, and 33,570 approved and training has started in 21,582 cases. In February alone, 3,007 ex-service men and women commenced full-time courses, and 7,779 commenced part-time courses. It can be seen, therefore, that figures quoted by Senator Brand were far from correct, and 1 remind the honorable senator that it is not the first time that he has made inaccurate statements in this chamber. 1 recall that on one occasion I asked him to supply the names of four or six - I am not sure which - men employed in the Department of Social Services who were not returned soldiers. I have not yet received those names. It is air very well to accuse the Government of this or that, but accusations are worthless unless facts are advanced to support them. One has only to compare the record of the Menzies- Government with that of this Administration, to ascertain the true position in regard to industrial unrest. I pay a tribute to the workmen of this country because, during the war, they had to accept conditions which would’ not have been acceptable in normal times, and in fact would not have been imposed upon them by a Labour government in time of peace.
– “What is. the Minister’s attitude towards communism?
– I am opposed to communism, and the party to which I belong is the only political party which is openly opposed to it. As Senator Amour said, the Labour party is the only party which refuses to admit to its ranks members of the Communist party. For a small fee, however, any individual may become a member of the Liberal party of Australia, and may even represent that party in Parliament. What measure of industrial peace did the Menzies Government achieve on the coal-fields or in the workshops? I recall statements on strike.’ at various factories being made by th< honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), then Minister for Air, and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt); It was hot suggested then that navy or military personnel should be employed to do the work of industrialists ; yet that course was taken by the Labour Government in the interests of Australia’s war effort.We regretted exceedingly the necessity to do it, but the fact remains thatwe did do it.
– The Labour Government removed the ban on the Communist party.
SenatorFRASER. - I know that. I prefer to argue political policies in the open rather than to endeavour to suppress them. I am sure I can convince the people of this country that the party which most merits their support is the Labour party and not the Liberal party. I remind the honorable senator, too, that no Labour government has ever created a secret fund to suppress strikes. Whilst I have no wish to condone certain industrial stoppages thathave taken place I say that any administration which seeks to take away from the workers their right to say what should be the reward for their labour is looking for trouble.
In regard to housing, I remind honorable senators opposite that, although legislation providing £20,000,000 for the construction of homes was passed by an anti-Labour administration some years ago, not one house was built. At least this Administration can point to something that has been accomplished since the cessation of hostilities. Even Senator Herbert Hays will agree that the housing problem is one winch confronts all countries to-day. Senator James McLachlan claimed certain controls should be relaxed. He is a little out of date. We relaxed the controls long ago.
SenatorFRASER.- The control of. building materials has been transferred to the States. I ask the honorable senator if ha favours the complete removal of controls on building materials, as was clone in the United States of America, with dire results. A report on that matter states -
The administration has become thoroughly alarmed over the housing shortage and the steadily increasing threat of runaway inflation in this field. The decision to remove controls on construction last October is now being reversed. As in the United Kingdom, the suspension during the war of normal replacement (estimated at 800,000 houses a year), together with rapid demobilization from the armed forces and the great number of marriages, have created what is now recognized to be a serious national problem.. The National Housing Administration estimates that no less than 3,400,000 houses are needed before the end of 1946 for new families alone. Apart from these, there are already 1,000,000 families living “ doubled up “. In the same period, only about 1,000,000 vacancies can be foreseen after allowing for the construction of half a million new units in 1946.
This Government in co-operation with the States has laid down definite plans for housing people of this country.
– They are not being carried out.
– They are being carried out now.
– Are they being carried out at Lysaghts?
– Unf ortunately that dispute has. retarded the housingprogramme to some degree. I shall, endeavour to give to honorable senators an idea of what already has been achieved by this Government. The two major developments during the war have been the growth of the State housing authorities, and the setting up of the Commonwealth experimental buildingstation. In addition, an administrative machine has been developed for the control of building materials andfor the allocation of building permits so that those families in the greatest need maybe housed first. During the war the Government set up a special investigating body, the Commonwealth Housing Commission, whose advice was the basis on which the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was negotiated. That agreement will take an important place in the social history of Australia, because for the first time, it makes it possible for the ordinary family to have a home suited to its needs and at the price it can afford to pay. Last session, when this Government put on the statute-book the principle of rental rebates for families on low incomes, it brought Australia into line with the most advanced overseas social developments in respect of housing. When once the dislocations due to the war have been overcome - no one need apologize for the fact that sis months after the end of a major war, with many commitments still on hand, we are still not entirely out of the wood - we have administrative and financial machinery which will permit an unprecedented programme of house construction to meet the needs of all classes of Australian families, “but especially those who because of war service or inability to pay the full cost of a cottage, are in need of special assistance from the community.
The first point I wish to make is that had. the task of slum clearance and the provision of more adequate housing for all sections of the community been, carried out prior to the war, the responsibility for meeting the housing needs of the people of this country for the past quarter of a century would not have fallen entirely upon this Government. It is true that after the war of 1914-18 the War Service Homes Commission erected numerous dwellings; but it would not be fair to say to the Commission to-day ““You go right ahead and have all the building material and man-power you require “. That would be merely taking man-power and materials from the community pool. As Senator Amour has pointed out, State .housing authorities have laid down that 50 per cent, of all new dwellings erected shall he occupied “by ex-servicemen. Actually that figure has been exceeded, and the Commonwealth average is 60 per cent. The question of valuation has been raised by Senator Herbert Hays. I am. sure that Senator Collett, having had some experience of the administration of war service homes, will recollect that returned soldiers were “evicted from their homes during the depression.
– Not only during the depression. »
– No, but mostly during the depression. What astounded me was that the fact that, because these men could not pay the rentals laid down by the War Service Homes Commission at that time they were evicted and the homes were sold privately. Houses that cost as much as £950 were sold for less than £600 to private buyers.
– F.or what they could fetch.
– In some cases for less than £600. I have in mind war service homes that were built along the
Fremantle-road. I say to Senator Herbert Hays that I would rather the capital value of a house be written off and the benefit given to a returned soldier than that a man be evicted because he could not pay the rent. This Government has made provision for such -cases. During the depression, the values of houses which had been built for £1,000. and in which” the occupants held an equity, were forced down and the tenants’ equity was lost. The same sort of thing happened in connexion with farm properties. Steps must be taken to avoid such devaluations in future. To lift the controls in prosperous times, as suggested by Senator James McLachlan, would mean that people who are most in need of homes would never be able to own them.
– Is such a provision in the new bill?
– Provision is made for a rebate of rental.
– In the new bill?
– In keeping with the terms of the Commonwealth Housing Commission’s report, the Commonwealth and the States, at the Conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers, of August, 1944, and August, 1945, hammered out a co-operative agreement, whereby the Commonwealth provides finance and meets three-fifths of State losses in a huge building scheme which will cost perhaps £20,000,000 in 1946, and £30,000,000 in 1947. The State housing authorities’ programmes provide for 17,000 houses to be built in 1946 and 25,000 houses in 1947. It is hoped that at least equal numbers will be constructed by private interests.
– Those are not war service homes.
– There is a different agreement in relation to war service homes. As the Acting-Leader of the Senate intimated this afternoon, the Government intends to bring down a bill providing for the maximum cost of war service homes to be increased from £950 to £1,250.
It is wrong to say that plans have not been developed for housing. They have been developed over a long period, during difficult times, and agreements have been reached. Even the- Leader of the Opposition will agree that the Government had to contend with many disabilities arising from war-time conditions. The United States of America and the United Kingdom are faced with serious housing problems. Australia is in the same position as those countries in regard to the shortages of materials, in addition to man-power shortages. I am sure the Leader of the Opposition would not dare to visit our island forces now and advocate the abandonment of the points system of discharge in favour of the occupational release of carpenters and bricklayers. The troops’ would not stand for it, and rightly so. I was acting Minister for the Army when the system of occupational releases was in force, and I say definitely that thousands of men who obtained discharges on occupational grounds lasted only a week or two in the jobs for which they were released and then became “ ill “. The system was so open to abuse that the Government had to discontinue it. Occupational releases were severely abused by many men who were discharged from the services on those grounds. There will be man-power and there will be material for the building of houses, but it will take a. little time before we have enough of both. The Government is well abreast of the schedule that it laid down.
– That is not borne out by the report of the Minister for Works and Housing ‘(Mr. Lazzarini).
– Despite the industrial troubles that we have experienced, the target of 24,000 homes set by the Government may be reached by the end of this year.
– The Government said that 12,000 homes would be built by the end of December, 1945, but only 7,000 had been built by that time.
– The Leader of the Opposition realizes that the programme was retarded by industrial troubles. He also knows that the coal strike which occurred during the regime of the Government of which he was a member has also affected the position to-day. The effect of that loss of production is being felt by this Government. We have had to “ carry the baby “ for anti-Labour governments. Mention has been madeof slums in Canberra. Labour governments have been responsible for theaffairs of this country since the 7th October, 1941. Since that date they have been responsible also for providing: men and equipment to conduct a major war. There were slums in Canberra when peace reigned in this country,, but no action was taken by our predecessors to rid this beautiful capital city of the blot that was created by an anti-Labour government.
The Opposition has done the Government a service by submitting the motion now before the Senate. We can answer every question that has been asked. A plan has been laid down for a housingscheme unprecedented in the history of Australia. I am sorry that Senator Leckie will not be a member of this chamber when our housing schemeis completed, but he will know all about it. Ministers have effectively answered the criticism expressed by honorable senators opposite. In spite of all that the Leader of the Opposition said regarding industrial troubles, he made no suggestions for overcoming them other than to put naval ratings on board Dutch ships in place of Indonesian crews.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cooper) adjourned.
Broadcasting : Listeners’ Licences foe Service Pensioners; School Radio Sets - Bigamous Marriages.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) proposed -
That thu Senate do now adjourn.
– This morning Senator Nash asked the following question, upon notice -
Following on representations recently made that service pensioners he granted the concession of half-rate broadcast listener’s licence, will the Minister advise whether any action has been taken concerning this matter?
I have now received the following answer to the honorable senator’s question : -
The matter is receiving consideration and itis hoped that it will be practicable to suitably amend the Australian Broadcasting Act to confer the same benefits on service pensioners under the Repatriation Act .as those which apply to invalid and old-age pensioners.
– I raise a matter of great importance which has been brought home to me very forcefully in the last few weeks. I have discovered a complete absence of Commonwealth power to act in regard to bigamy. I have had brought to my attention four cases of bigamous marriages contracted in States other than those where the parties now reside. As there is no reciprocity between States with regard to apprehension of the guilty parties in such marriages, in many cases offenders go free and many worthy women are having their lives ruined. One case is that of a young woman who went through a form of marriage at Port Pirie and went from there to live with her alleged husband at Norseman, Western Australia. It was then discovered that the man had a wife living in Western Australia but, because the offence was committed in South Australia, the Western Australian police had no power to act. The man was trying to get away from Norseman, probably to engage in another such adventure. The South Australian police were unwilling to act because of the difficulty and expense of following extradition procedure. I have already brought this matter before the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), but he has told me that the Commonwealth has no power to act. This shows the necessity for the enactment of Commonwealth legislation to make such cases impossible. I communicated with the AttorneyGeneral of South Australia, who told me that the matter was under discussion. In the meantime, however, the Western Australian police are unable to take action, no matter how willing they may be to do so. There is another unfortunate aspect of this affair. It is that women so treated must themselves find the legal expenses necessary to undertake procedure for annulment of their “ marriages “. I have raised this matter with the Law Society of West Australia, which informs me that expenses of annulments vary from £40 upwards. In Western Australia there is a Poor Persons Legal Aid Bureau, which gives financial assistance in legal cases but does not deal with cases relating to divorce or annulment of marriages. Therefore, these young women - the four whom I have in mind are all in their early twenties - may be precluded by financial difficulties from rectifying their marital affairs. One woman was a maid-of-all-work in a little country hospital, earning little more than £2 a week, and £40 represented a fortune beyond her reach. I approached the Law Society on her behalf without success and then visited individual lawyers. Finally, a lawyer who is a friend of mine agreed to undertake the case for costsalone, which would amount to about £10. We managed to raise the money to help this young woman out of her predicament. This state of affairs does not apply in one State only. The four bigamous marriages which I have in mind were contracted in four different States. It is an Australia-wide problem. An agreement should be made whereby costs of annulment can be met by the States, or else a Commonwealth law, similar to that enacted last year in relation to Australian wives of American servicemen, should he passed so that a man who makes a bigamous marriage will not be free to go where he likes and ruin the lives of women.
– I have a matter to bring to the notice of the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Dedman). Last October the Tasmanian Education Department advertised that it was prepared to supply Beville wireless sets to parents’ associations and others, including school teachers, for £17 10s. There is a school at Egg Lagoon, on King Island, and the secretary of the parents’ association, there has written to me. as follows : -
Re school wireless from Education Department. After a meeting of our association held on the 6th October, 1945, we sent tothe Department for Education a “ cheque for £176s.6d. ordering a Beville radio set (dual wave), which they offered for that price. On the 13th November, we received a letter as follows: -
Head Teacher, State School, Egg Lagoon.
Sir. - The Prices Commission has authorized an increase in the Beville radio sets purchased bythis department for State schools, and the cost is now £1811s. 5d. We have received four sets and these will be forwarded in order of the original application as soon as the difference in the earlier price and that now to be charged is received from you.
It is anticipated that the other nine machines on order will come to hand at an early date and will be forwarded as soon as they are received. As some applications were forwarded with more than the original cost of £176s.6d. it should be noted thatthe difference between the originally forwarded and the new price of £1811s.5d. is all that should be sent now.
We forwarded another £1 4s. 9d. which was receipted by the department, and then onthe 11th February of this year we received the following note: -
Dear Sir. - We have now been advised that the wireless sets being supplied to schoolsare now to cost an additional £2. this increase being approved by the Prices Branch. This makes the total cost £2011s.5d. If you still desire the set ordered for your school to, be forwarded will you please send this additional amount at once? If you so desire the amount already paid can be refunded and your order cancelled. You have already paid £1811s. 3d., so that you will have to send £2.
We shall be very grateful to you if you will write us immediately you have queried the case, and advise us what you have been able to do.
V.G. Archie, honorary secretary. Egg Lagoon Parents and Citizens Association.
I was on King Island last week and some of the members of the parents’ association spoke to me about this matter asking whether they should send a further £2. I should say that there was a contract in the first place, and I shall be pleased if the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs will give consideration to the matter.
– Once again I bring to the notice’ of the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) the unsatisfactory nature of the telephonic service between Adelaide and the other States and also The services within South Australia, particularly in the metropolitan area. I have raised this matter at least twice previously, and on each occasion I have received a.long communication from the Postmaster-General promising that some action will be taken and stating that delay had occurred in obtaining equip ment, whilst difficulty had been experienced because of the shortage of manpower. Since the last sittings of this Parliament, the disability to which I am directing attention has become very serious. The delays experienced by business firms are most exasperating at times, and faults are continually encountered in the operation of the automatic systems through the Central exchange. I hope that the Minister will not furnish me with another long reply, but will seethat action is taken without delay toremedy the difficulty. I trust that, if necessary, the Minister will give the: matter his personal attention.
– in reply - The matter raised by Senator Tangney with regard to bigamous marriages will be brought to the notice of the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt). The complaint from Tasmania mentioned by Senator Sampson about school wireless sets will be taken up with theDepartment of Trade and Customs and a reply will be furnished to him as soon as possible. The wishes of Senator O’Flaherty with regard to telephonic services in Adelaide will be placed before the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) to-morrow morning.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Air Navigation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1946, No. 51.
National Security Act -
National Security (Emergency Control) Regulations - Order - New Guinea (Administration) (No. 6).
National Security (General) Regulations - Orders -
Control of second-hand jute - Revocation.
National Security (Mobilization of Electricity Supply) Regulations - Order - Electricity (Australian Capital Territory ) - Revocation.
Papua-New Guinea Provisional Administration Act - Ordinance - No. 1 of 1946 - Liquor.
Senate adjourned at 10.8 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 14 March 1946, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1946/19460314_senate_17_186/>.