18th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Eon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 pan., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture - 1, What steps have been taken to secure adequate supplies of wheat and potato sacks and wool bales for .this season ? 2. What is the cost to the Government of sacks and wool bales distributed by it? 3. What price is the producer being charged for them?
– I shall place the honorable senator’s question before the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and ask him to furnish a reply.
– Some time ago I asked the Minister for Health whether he would be prepared to establish a Lady Gowrie health .centre at Newcastle. He was good enough to promise that sympathetic consideration would be given to the request. In view of the fact that the annual report concerning the Lady Gowrie health centres states that the Government is prepared to carry on with them, will the Minister now assure the Senate that practical sympathy will he shown by compliance with my request that a centre be set up at Newcastle?
– When, some five years ago, the Commonwealth Government decided to establish the Lady Gowrie health centres, it did so with certain main objectives in mind, the first of which was to set up an administrative centre to demonstrate to the public of Australia a model school for the child of pre-school age where physical, social and mental well-being might be achieved. It was also desired to instruct parents in the best method of educating the children at home to follow up the work of the centres. The third intention was to enable research to be undertaken into the physical growth and mental development of the pre-school child. Broadly those three main purposes have been .achieved. It has been demonstrated that the Lady Gowrie health centres are eminently suitable for the training and development of the pre-school child. Medical research regarding the pre-school child is far advanced, but I do not say that research on the educational side nearly approaches completion. The Government has recently considered requests and has agreed to continue for another three years the six Lady Gowrie health centres, one of which is conducted in each of the capital cities of the States. Having regard to the purposes that animated it in setting up the six centres, the Government has hitherto set its face against establishing any more. It recognizes that there is a wide field of endeavour in respect of the pre-school child. Hitherto it has considered that that field should remain with the States, although they are rather reluctant to enter the field, and, at the recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, the Premiers declined to take over the Lady Gowrie health centres when the opportunity was presented to them. I regret that in view of the stand that the Government takes at the moment I cannot hold out to the honorable senator the prospect of a Lady Gowrie health centre being set up at Newcastle.
– On the 27th November, Senator Cooper asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works and. Housing the following questions, upon notice -
I informed the honorable senator that the information requested by him was being obtained. The Minister for Works and Housing has now supplied the following answers: -
Tools of TRADE
– In view of the difficulty that ex-servicemen are having in procuring tools of trade for which the Repatriation Department allows £10, will the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation consider extending the twelve-month period of eligibility?
– The Minister for Repatriation has informed me that he has considered this matter and has agreed to extend the period, and that each application for extension will be dealt with on its merits.
– Is the Minister for Supply and Shipping aware that 1,200 tons of galvanized iron piping urgently required in Western Australia is awaiting shipment at the port of Newcastle? Will he take immediate steps to have it loaded?
– I regret that the information sought by the honorable senator yesterday was not available. The Director of Shipping has now stated that the River Fitzroy has been loaded and has left Newcastle with 482 tons of galvanizediron pipes for Western Australia, and River Burdekin has also left that port with 430 tons of this material. The balance awaiting shipment is approximately 500 tons, and will be loaded on Kooringa and Koomilya, which will leave the eastern States before the end of the month.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs, in view of the statement by the Prime Minister that reductions of indirect taxes provided for in the budget would be passed on to consumers almost immediately, what steps have been taken by the Prices Branch to ensure that this shall be done?
– I assure the honorable senator that the Prices Branch is fully seised of its responsibility in this regard, and has the matter well in hand.
– In reply to a question that 1 asked in this chamber yesterday, the Minister for Supply and Shipping stated’ that he had no knowledge of a report that the important question of the ratification by Australia of the Bretton Woods Agreement had been referred to the federal conference of the Australian Labour party. I understand that the Prime Minister made a statement in the Houes of Representatives to-day indicating that that report is correct. I should like to know now whether, in the event of a decision by that conference that Australia should not ratify the agreement, this country would be unable to participate in the international trade conference that is to take place next year. Is the Minister prepared to make a statement to the Senate on this matter, and to give to honorable senators an opportunity to discuss the merits and demerits of the Bretton Woods Agreement before it is dealt with by the federal conference of the Australian Labour party. Also, will he give an assurance that the confidential reports of the Australian delegates to the international monetary conference at Bretton Woods will be made available to members of this Parliament before they are given to members of the Australian Labour party conference
– The question asked of me by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday was whether, in view of a report that the Parliamentary Labour party had reached a decision in regard to the Bretton Woods Agreement, I propose to make a statement to the Senate on the matter. I said that I had no knowledge of the report, believing that, as is often the case in this chamber, the question had been inspired by a newspaper report. The honorable senator now asks whether certain documents will be made available to members of this Parliament before they are placed before certain other individuals. As I said yesterday, [ am prepared to ask the Prime Minister to make available to honorable senators any portions of the reports that are not confidential.
– Has the Minister tor Trade and Commerce any comment to make on the reported statement by the Prime Minister that failure to ratify the Bretton Woods Agreement would mean that Australia could not be represented at the international trade conference that is to be held in 1947 to discuss such important matters as Empire preferences, and exchange rates?
– I am not aware of any statement by the Prime Minister in regard to the matter mentioned by the honorable senator, but I am sure that as trade discussions are of great importance to Australia, this country certainly will be represented at the conference. I do not think that failure ro ratify the Bretton Woods Agreement would, be an impediment to Australia’s representation at the conference.
– Has the Minister for Supply and Shipping any knowledge of a new weapon which, according to a report in yesterday’s press, has been developed by the British Empire, and which is stated to have greater destructive power than the atomic bomb? If so, will he make a statement to the Senate on the matter?
– I have no knowledge of the report to which the honorable senator has referred, but I shall have inquiries made and give consideration to the advisability of making a statement on the matter.
– by leave - I lay on the table the following paper : -
Sugar - International Agreement - Protocol, dated 30th August, 194(1, signed in London.
The protocol was signed by representatives of the governments of the Union of South Africa, the Commonwealth of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, the French Republic, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Haiti, the Netherlands, Peru, the Republic of the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United States of America, and the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. This protocol is similar in content to that signed on the 31st August, 1945, and extends the International Sugar Agreement, Which originally operated from 1937, for a further period of one year from the 1st September, 1946. The original agreement was to remain in force for five years until the 31st August, 1942, but has been continued’ by successive protocols until the 31st August, 1946. The first protocol continued the agreement unchanged until the 31st August, 1944, but in the two subsequent protocols which extended the agreement until the 31st August, 1946, it was provided that certain portions, particularly tile quota provisions, should remain inoperative. The pres< nt protocol also declares such portions inoperative during the period of one year from the let
September, 1946. The main purposes of the renewal of the agreement are to maintain the central machinery for the adjustment of international sugar supplies and to gain time for the conclusion of a new scheme to meet the long-term problems of the industry. It will be noted that article 3 (2) of the protocol provides that in revising the agreement due account shall be taken of any general principles of commodity policy which may be embodied in any agreements which may be concluded under the auspices of the United Nations.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Transport has supplied the following answers : -
Second Land Line from East to West.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : - i
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– I have not seen the report, but I will have immediate inquiries made.
Land Settlement of ex-Servicemen.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, upon notice -
With reference to the question submitted by Senator Collett, regarding soldier settlement in Western Australia, which was answered by the Minister on the 15th November, with a qualifying addendum received in the Senate on the 27th November: Now that the Minister is satisfied that a responsible State Government official did make a statement to the effect that, of the number of Western Australian exservice approved applicants for farms under the war service land settlement scheme, only 50 per cent, might be successfully accommodated within three years - (1) Will the Minister say if that statement accurately represents the position and prospects in Western Australia; and (2) if so, (a) are its implications appreciated by the Government, and ( b ) what action, if any, does the Minister propose to take?
– The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction has supplied the following answer: -
Under the war service land settlement agreement between the Commonwealth and the State of Western Australia the initiation of settlement proposals and the selection of the settlers are matters for the State authorities. The Government does not propose to trespass on the State’s functions. As the honorable senator is no doubt aware, it is a basic principle of the laud settlement scheme that settlement shall be undertaken only where economic prospects for the production concerned are reasonably sound, and the number of eligible persons to be settled shall be determined primarily by opportunities for settlement and not by the number of applicants.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator ASHLEY’ read a first time.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The Estimates tabled on the 14th November provide for expenditure on additions, new works, buildings, &c, of £21,648,000 from annual votes and a further £4,356,000 from special appropriations.
The proposed appropriations under annual votes for which parliamentary approval is now desired may be summarized as follows: -
Details of the proposed expenditure will be found on pages 378-392 of the printed Estimates.
With the cessation of hostilities it is now possible to divert to civil construction resources of man-power and materials formerly needed for defence purposes. As a consequence, a commencement can be made with the overtaking of arrears which necessarily accumulated during the war, and putting in hand works of an essential and urgent nature. The provision of £3,500,000 for war service homes represents the proportion of a total programme of £6,500,000 which will be expended this year. It provides for the construction of 3,590 homes, the purchase of land, the improvement of existing homes and the taking over of onerous mortgages. The amount of £4,165,000 for the Department of Civil Aviation covers electrical and other equipment, and buildings and works at aerodromes. There will foe considerable expenditure in the modernization of the main airports at Essendon and Mascot. The sum of £6,450,000 included for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department will enable considerable progress to be made in the provision of much needed postal facilities. The provision of £2,300,000 for the construction of ships is a continuation of the shipbuilding programme entered upon during the war. The amount of £1,674,200 for the Department of the Interior is mainly for the acquisition of sites and buildings for Commonwealth offices in the capital cities. The sum of £778,000 is required for repatriation offices and hostels as part of a programme to cost £1,678,000. Existing military establishments will be drawn upon wherever practicable. The amount included for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory shows a substantial increase - £1,596,000. Provision is made for a housing programme for Canberra, consisting of 450 cottages, with associated engineering services. In the Northern Territory much reconstruction and developmental work will be necessary, and £840,000 is provided for that purpose. In addition, £526,000 is included under special appropriations for the acquisition of sites in connexion with the rebuilding of Darwin. Any further details regarding specific works desired by honorable senators will be supplied at the committee stageby the Ministers concerned.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
Proposed vote, £25,000.
– The vote for 1945-46 was £1,500, but the amount expended was £7,972. Can the Minister for Supply and Shipping give the reason for the great difference between the vote and the actual expenditure?
. - The reason for the excess of expenditure over last year’s vote is that during the year other works were approved and carried out. The main item in the vote for the current financial year is approximately £20,000 for the renovation of the air-conditioning plant in Parliament House.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Primus Minister’s Department.
Proposed vote, £295,700.
– In 1945-46 the sum of £3,700 was voted for buildings, works and sites for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Re search. The proposed expenditure this year is only £1,000. I remind the committee that at least £600,000, plus £6,000,000 of money which rightly belongs to the wool-growers of Australia is available for research. The vote in these Estimates should be increased so that necessary research work in connexion with animal health and diseases may be undertaken. With such a small sum as that set down for this year there can be no possible hope of any effective field work being done in this sphere of research.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of External Affairs.
Proposed vote, £99,900.
SenatorLECKIE (Victoria) [3.40].- Some explanation should be given of the appropriations in respect of equipment for a long list of legations. We should be told whether such equipment is to be installed in buildings which the Commonwealth owns, or whether it includes equipment for legations yet to be established.
– Generally, there is difficulty in housing the staffs of legations as well as obtaining legation offices. This applies practically in every country. I am reminded that when Mr. Justice Davis left Australia recently for China he took with him four prefabricated houses in order to meet the housing shortage there. I understand that the staff of the Canadian legation in China was occupying the premises which Mr. Justice Davis wished to take over. Provision is being made for the establishment of a new chancellory building at Washington. That is the new method of describing a legation building. We propose to build a new chancellory at a cost of 250,000 dollars. There is an urgent need for larger and more satisfactory accommodation for the legation staff. The new legation will be a credit to Australia, and will provide the necessary accommodation. “In certain countries work had been begun but not completed last year. In respect of those matters, the appropriation made last year is considerably increased this year. That is due to the fact that new buildings were commenced last year, and work on them will now be accelerated.
.- I do not cavil at the amount of any individual item, but, in total, this expenditure is fairly considerable. “What I wish to know is when the Parliament will be consulted as to the necessity for appointing diplomatic, consular and trade representatives to other countries. These appointments always seem to be accomplished facts when the Parliament is informed of them. Parliament is merely asked to foot the bill, but is given no estimates of expenditure involved in the provision of buildings and equipment. Virtually, these items are sneaked in to the Estimates. I do not wish to single out any item, and ask whether the expenditure is worth while in respect of any particular legation. That may be invidious. But one might ask whether it is worth our while to establish legations in, for instance, Brazil, Chile, Southern Ireland and other countries. I am not questioning the amounts of expenditure so much, but rather querying where the Government will stop in regard to disbursements of this kind.
– Does the honorable senator believe that the Government has gone far enough now?
– In some cases it has not yet gone far enough : but I do not believe that it makes the right choice in many cases. I should like Parliament to be consulted before the Government makes up its mind to what countries it should appoint diplomatic, consular or trade representatives. We should be told what advantages we can expect to derive from proposed appointments, and also the cost of establishing such representation in other countries. For instance, we are asked to appropriate this year a sum of £19,000 in respect of one legation about which we had no previous knowledge. Itwould be carping to object to any of these amounts; but we have not an inexhaustible purse, and it is our duty to obviate unnecessary expenditure in this direction.
– I believe that Senator Leckie will agree with the broad principle that it is desirable that Australia be represented abroad. As he is aware, Australia is playing an increasingly important part in the’ councils of the world; and, despite its small representation, and the fact that it has only one voice in those councils, I believe that honorable senators will be generous enough to admit that Australia in recent years has appreciably influenced the course of world opinion. It has made valuable contributions in many directions, notably in the movement for the provision of full employment standards throughout the world. The honorable senator also said that it is desirable that Parliament should be consulted before the Government arranges for the exchange of consular, or diplomatic, representatives. I say at once that that would not he desirable. The appointment of Ministers and consular representatives abroad is essentially the act of the Executive for which the government of the day must take full responsibility. The negotiations which precede the exchange of diplomatic representatives last for a considerable period. There is a degree of delicacy about such negotiations. It would not be prudent to canvass such matters in Parliament before the Government reached its decision. Serious international complications might be caused if the wisdom, or otherwise, of exchanging diplomatic representatives with another country were to be debated in advance on the floor of the Parliament. Senator Leckie implied that Brazil and Chile were not of sufficient importance to warrant our appointing a representative in those countries. I point out that the South Americas are also playing an increasingly important part in international affairs. Australia has prospects of developing trade with those countries, and there has been a great deal of collaboration between them and us in international relations. The mere fact that we have representatives in those countries is, in itself, a means of establishing goodwill, and of persuading those countries to our point of view. That leads to collaboration in important world events that would otherwise not he possible. The honorable senator has many opportunities to discuss international appointments. They may be discussed on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate. Announcements are made from time to time. On the notice-paper for to-day is a motion for the printing of a paper on which he could deal with these matters.
.- I accept the reproof of the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) that I had no right to ask the questions I did ask when discussing this bill, although that is entirely new to me. I thought that as the bill provided for expenditure on foreign legations, it presented me with the opportunity to speak about international relations. I was interested to hear the Minister say that in matters of international importance the Government must take full responsibility. I am inclined to agree with him, but why blow hot and cold? If the Government believes that matters that concern Australia internationally are its responsibility, why has it suddenly decided that responsibility for entering the Bretton Woods Agreement must be taken, not by the Government or the Parliament, but by a body outside this Parliament which, never having been elected by the people, has no responsibility to them. I was amazed to hear the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) say that he would recommend to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) that he should allow members of Parliament to peruse certain documents that were not confidential. I am wondering whether the confidential documents are to be seen by that outside body which is to decide whether Australia shall enter an agreement of supreme importance to the world.
– I think Senator Leckie is entirely out of order in referring to what I said previously, but, since he has done so, I assure him emphatically that at no stage did I even suggest that there was a possibility of anything confidential going outside the Cabinet. What I did say was that there were certain documents relating to the matter referred to by the honorable senator and that I would endeavour to make available all those documents that were not confidential. I do not see how he could expect me to say anything else. The Government has no intention to allow confidential information to be disclosed outside or even to honorable members of this Parliament.
– I am at a loss to understand how Senator Leckie understood any remarks of mine to be a reproof. I merely answered his complaint that the Senate had no opportunity to discuss matters relating to overseas appointments. I pointed out the various opportunities that existed for such discussion. The honorable senator misunderstands what has happened about the Bretton Woods Agreement. He spoke as though a decision had been made that Australia should not be a signatory to the agreement. That is not the position at all. No decision has been made whether we shall or shall not join in the agreement before or after the 31st December.
– It is highly desirable that we should exchange representatives with other countries, but I should like to know what is being done to train young Australians for diplomatic posts, because it is highly desirable that men should be trained for that work.
TheCHAIRMAN. - Order ! The honorable senator’s remarks have nothing to do with the item under discussion.
– Will the Minister reply to my question?
– I should be happy to answer the honorable senator if the subject-matter is in order.
– It is not in order.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed votes - Department of the Treasury, £17,200 ; Attorney-General’s Department, £11,600 - agreed to.
Department of the Interior.
Proposed vote, £1,674,200.
.- I should like some information about the large sum of £295,000 that is proposed to be expended on war workers’ housing. It strikes me as rather remarkable when the war has been over more than twelve months that war workers need to be housed. What is the necessity for this large expenditure on their housing?
– As Senator Leckie probably knows, during the war, housing for war workers was provided near to munitions factories. The honorable senator will probably find that the proposed vote is in respect of accounts for the erection of those houses that are late in coming to hand.
.- The explanation of the Minister for Munitions (Senator Armstrong) is insufficient. It seems to indicate that houses were built without warrant and more than twelve months ago, for the war ended more than a year ago. I should like further information.
– The explanation is simple. Throughout the Estimates the honorable senator will see provision for payments in respect of delayed accounts. Some of the proposed expenditure is in relation to the installation of sewerage and levelling which, owing to other needs, could not be provided when the houses were erected. The Commonwealth War Housing Trust has spent £27,000 on improvements at St. Mary’s and other large amounts at Lithgow and Bathurst and other places all over Australia. The total of the amounts so expended would easily reach the sum proposed to be expended under this item.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote - Department of Works and Housing, £215,600 - agreed to.
War Service Homes Commission.
Proposed vote, £3,500,000.
– I should like some information about this proposed vote. Ever since the termination of the war the War Service Homes Commission, notwithstanding that many thousands of ex-servicemen need homes, has been in a sort of comatose state. The vote last yearwas £817,000 and £352,135 was expended, I believe not so much on the building of war service homes as on administrative costs, salaries and so on. Anyway, not many homes could be built for £352,135. As a footnote to the proposed vote for the War Service Homes Commission we read this, “Estimated further liability £3,000,000 “. Does that mean that £6,500,000 is proposed to be expended on war service homes in 1946-47? If that be true I am absolutely overjoyed. Ex-servicemen should be able to secure their homes through the War Service Homes Commission.
– Earlier to-day, in reply to a question asked by Senator Cooper of the Minister representing the Minister for Works and Housing, detailed information in. regard to the numberof houses erected by the War Service Homes Commission was given. As Senator Sampson has said, the number of war service homes erected during the war years was very small. In fact, in one year not one was erected. However, the figures for last year showed a substantial improvement, and for the first quarter of this year, they were very good, indeed. This item of £6,500,000 is divided, in major figures, into £4,566,000 for loans for the erection of homes, and £1,705,000 for loans for the acquisition of existing properties, including the discharge of onerous mortgages. It is possible that, by the end of the year, not more than £3,500,000 of the total allocation will have been expended, leaving £3,000,000 to be expended next year, but the committee is asked to agree to the total appropriation.
– In answer to the question that I asked earlier to-day, I was informed that in the first quarter of this year 46 war service homes hadbeen built, and that in the first two months of the second quarter ten had been built, making a total of 56 in the first five months of the year. In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) said that provision was made for the erection of 3,590 homes during the current financial year, at a total cost of £3,500,000. In view of the fact that only 56 homes were erected in the first five months of the year, it is difficult to visualize how more than 3,500 are to be erected during the remaining seven months. I ask the Minister for further information in regard to this matter.
.- The Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) stated in his secondreading speech that the provision of £3,500,000 represented a proportion of the total programme of £6,500,000 which would be expended this year on the construction of 3,590 homes, the purchase of land, the improvement of existing homes, and the taking over of onerous mortgages. The point that worries me is that this expenditure, divided by the number of homes indicated, shows that the average cost of the homes is to be £1,800. That is a startling figure. We have already passed legislation providing for a maximum expenditure of £1,250 on a war service home. Originally, the figure was £750, but subsequently it was raised to 900, and then to £1,250. Now, the figures indicate that the actual cost is expected to be more than £1,800. How could any ex-serviceman possibly pay this sum for a house with any hope of becoming the owner in his lifetime? I am aghast at this prospect. If this is the best that the Government can do for our ex-servicemen, the outlook is poor, indeed. Is there any explanation of this extraordinary state of affairs?
– Under the War Service Homes Act, expenditure on any dwelling is limited to £1,250: That eliminates any fears that might be entertained by Senator Leckie in rega-d’ to the possibility of these bouses costing £1,800 each. The point is that the Government has other responsibilities, including the discharge of onerous mortgages, and the purchase of new land. In reply to Senator Cooper, I say that it will not be possible during the current year to build the full number of homes for which provision is made. That is why we have asked that £3,000,000 be allowed to carry over to next year’s Estimates.
– Is the Minister for Munitions (Senator Armstrong) in a position to say now what the net cost of a war service home will be under this scheme? Some time ago amending legislation was passed by Parliament permitting an increase of the maximum expenditure allowed for any one dwelling from £950 to £1,250. Senator Leckie has submitted figure; indicating that the actual cost will be much more than this sum, and I should like the Minister to make an explanation of the matter.
– I am not in a position to say, within £5, £10, or even £100, just how much each house will cost. Dwellings art being constructed in conformity with individual requirements, and the prices will range up to £1,250, but” will not exceed that figure.
Senator COOPER (Queensland) [4.14 1. - In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) said -
The provision of £3,500,000 for war service homes represents the proportion of a total programme of £6,500,000 which will be expended this year. It provides for the construction of 5,390 homes, the purchase of land, the improvement of existing homes, and the taking over of onerous mortgages.
The Minister cannot be unaware thai in the first five months of the current financial year only 56 war service home, have been built. That information was given in reply to a question asked by me this afternoon; yet he now says that in the remaining seven months of the financial year, it is estimated that more than 3,500 homes will he built. That is most misleading to members of the Senate and the public generally.
– Senator Cooper appears to be rather disturbed because provision is being made by the Government for the erection of 3,590 war service homes. It is quite possible that all those homes will not be built this year, but I remind him that provision is made also for the purchase of homes, and for loans to exservicemen to build or purchase dwellings. In providing for the erection of 3,ti00 homes, we have gone to what we regard as the limit. Money is being appropriated for the erection of 3,590 homes for exservicemen. What is the honorable senator’s complaint?
– That only 56 war service homes have been built in the first five months of the year.
– I am not concerned with what has happened in the past. I am looking to the future. Money is required not only for homes to be erected by the commission itself, but also for assistance to ex-servicemen who intend to have their own homes built or to purchase them.
– Honorable senators opposite complain about the small number of warservice homes that have been erected in the early part of the present financial year. It may be that in the full year, the total number erected will be less than that for which provision is made. One reason for that, I have no doubt, will be that some building contractors who are supporters of the Opposition, will not tender for the erection of war service homes, or if they do, they will demand excessive prices. Many ex-servicemen will find, after securing authority from the War Service Homes Commission to call tenders for homes that they believe will cost not more than the limit prescribed in the act, that tenders are in the vicinity of perhaps £1,600. Builders do not want to construct war service homes because the rigid system of inspection is probably the best in the world. They must dig the foundations and leave them open for inspection. The concrete and the reinforcing steel must be inspected before being put into the buildings. Every process is subjected to examination. The contractors do not like this, because they cannot get away with the use of too much sand in the cement and with other jerry-building practices. They have no chance of skimping the standards specified by the War Service Homes Commission. The commission charges the purchaser of a home only £2 2s. for this safeguard. I am sick and tired of listening to the complaints of honorable senators opposite. They should support the hand ing over of all building programmes throughout Australia to the Government.
– Are war service homes built by day labour?
– No. They are built by contractors, who demand excessive prices. Many contractors deliberately submit high tenders for the building of war service homes. Sometimes the disparity between various tenders for one job amounts to as much as £500. The Opposition should help the Government to prevent builders from charging excessive prices on the feeble excuse that they have difficulty in securing materials.
– Their prices are controlled by the Prices Commissioner.
– That is not so. They tender for the erection of homes at excessive prices and get away with it.
– Is the honorable senator referring to buildings at Bankstown ?
– I am referring to the construction of war service homes throughout Australia.
– The honorable senator is not right.
– I am right. I have discussed this matter with officials of the War Service Homes Commission, who have told me that they have been unable to secure reasonable tenders for the erection of war service homes. Although honorable senators opposite criticize the Government for having built only 56 war service homes during the present financial year-, the people whom they represent are really to blame for holding up the construction programme.
.- I am glad that the Minister for Munitions (Senator Armstrong) has more tact and common sense than to give vent to an outburst such as we have heard from Senator Amour. The Government is to blame for any misunderstanding about this matter. It has ear-marked £6,500,000 for war service homes and proposes to expend £3,590,000 of that amount during the current year. The Minister courteously explained that the War Service Homes Commission can advance not more than £1,250 for the construction of a house.
– That is correct.
– In that event, the proposed allocation of £6,500,000 will provide for the construction of 5,200 houses, or 1,600 houses more than, the Minister stated. Naturally, in view of that disparity, I am inclined to believe that something is wrong.
– What about the land that must be purchased? Would the honorable senator build the houses one on top of the other?
– The figure stated by the Minister provides for the cost of a house and the land on which it is built.
– That is not so.
– I understood that it was so.
– And the honorable senator was right.
– Then I believe that the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) is wrong again, and therefore I may be excused for questioning the accuracy of the figures that have been stated. Although the Government claims that it intends to build 3,590 new houses, the amount proposed to be set aside for war service homes will provide for the construction of 5,200 houses at the price of £1,250 each mentioned by the Minister. Some attempt should be made to clear up this position. The total sum proposed to be appropriated will also provide for the ‘purchase of land, the improvement of existing homes, and the taking over of onerous mortgages. Obviously, the sum advanced for the taking over of a mortgage would be much less in each instance than the amount of £1,250 allowed for the construction of a new home. Therefore, the Government will have sufficient money for almost 6,000 homes, instead of the 3,590 as the Minister has stated. In spite of the obscurity of the figures presented to us, some supporters of the Government become annoyed when we make gentle inquiries for further information. The obvious assumption from the figures supplied by the Minister was that each house would cost £.1,S00. The Minister courteously pointed out, in answer to my inquiry, that the amount allowed for each home would be £1,250. Then I, equally courteously, pointed out that the sum pro posed to be appropriated would provide for the erection of at least 5,200 houses. Obviously some mistake has been made, and it is natural that I should ask for an explanation.
– If the amount proposed to be appropriated were to be used only for the actual purchase and construction of new homes, Senator Leckie’s estimate of £1,800 as the cost of each house would be correct. However, the honorable senator is in error. He is endeavouring to convince ex-servicemen that this Government was not sincere when it stated that the maximum amount allotted for the purchase of a war service home would be £1,250. The amount of £3,500,000 proposed to be expended this year will not be used only for the building of new homes. We have not been told exactly how much of that total will be set aside for the improvement of existing homes and the taking over of onerous mortgages. It is entirely unfair of the honorable senator to manipulate the figures as he has done. The amount of £3,500,000 which will be expended this year is a. part of the total programme of expenditure of £6,500,000. It provides for the construction of 3,590 homes, the purchase of land, the improvement of existing homes, and the taking over of onerous mortgages. It is misleading to divide the amount of £3,500,000 by the number of homes proposed to be built and arrive at the conclusion that the cost of each home will be £1,800. Much of the money may be required for the other purpose stated. It will be to the advantage of purchasers to have mortgages taken over by the War Service Homes Commission. They will have a better deal from the commission than from the money-lenders, from whom they originally obtained their advances.
– This search for knowledge by honorable senators opposite is of advantage to all of us. I shall attempt to clarify the position by stating in detail the proposed division of the sum sought to be appropriated. A total of £11,770 will be loaned to purchasers of war service homes to connect sewerage and discharge sewerage costs; £25,500 will be loaned to enable purchasers to provide extra accommodation in their homes; £2,400 will be provided to renovate the homes of purchasers who are unable to maintain their properties as provided in the War Service Homes Act; £2,000 will be provided for the connexion of sewerage to reverted homes; £124,000 will be provided to purchase land for future requirements; £61,600 will be used for development of lands held by the commission; £4,566,700 will be advanced in loans for the erection of homes, and £1,705,950 will be advanced for the acquisition of existing properties, including the discharge of onerous mortgages. This makes a total of £6,500,000, of which the Government expects £3,000,000 to be unexpended at the end of the financial year, leaving the amount sought to be appropriated of £3,500,000.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department op Munitions.
Proposed vote, £2,300,000.
– I should like to obtain some information about this proposed expenditure of £2,300,000 for ship construction. It is desirable that we should establish a shipbuilding industry in Australia ; we should not be absolutely dependent on other countries for our ships. What types of ships will bo constructed? I hope that they will be like the “ River “ class vessels built during the war, which were excellent. Does the Government intend to undertake a shipbuilding programme on its own account, and, if so, for whom will the ships be constructed? Shipbuilding had to be started in a hurry during the war, and some of our ventures were disastrous, particularly in Tasmania. The cost of small wooden ships of about 300 tons was fantastic, and the time taken to construct them was excessive.
– I agree with Senator Sampson that some of Australia’s efforts at shipbuilding have been expensive, and I believe that that condition will continue for some time. The high costs have been due mainly to difficulties caused by the war. In Australia both repairs and new construction have been undertaken in the same shipyard, and as priority was always given to the work of repairing ships, men were frequently taken from new construction for repair work. The experience of other countries is that that system adds greatly to the cost of new construction. That is one reason for the high costs of shipbuilding in Australia. The chief item of expenditure is in connexion with the hulls of ships; the other work performed in Australia on ships is comparable with that done in shipyards in Great Britain where shipbuilding is almost a tradition. Because successive generations of many families have been engaged in the construction of ships, Great Britain is practically the only country in which shipbuilding is carried out on an economic basis. So far, it has not been proved that the United States of America can build ships economically. We know that shipbuilding costs in that country during the war were high, and that the magnificent ships constructed there before the war were subsidized. We hope that in time shipbuilding in Australia will be as successful as is the industry in Great Britain, but that stage has not yet been reached. The Government’s programme, which is estimated to cost £2,300,000 this year, provides for the construction of thirteen freighters each of 9,000 tons; four freighters each of 6,000 tons; ten freighters of 2,500 tons and ten smaller freighters each of 550 tons. That programme is subject to alteration according to experience und the facilities available.
– How much a ton does the Minister expect the ships to cost?
– The cost will vary in different yards. Excellent work is being done in some shipbuilding yards at lower rates than in other yards. The proposal is that the vessels shall be made available to private shipping companies on charter. When a ship on the Australian run reaches the age of 25 years it must be retired from service in Australian waters, although it may be sold and used elsewhere. The programme provides that as vessels are retired, Australianbuilt ships will take their place.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Civil Aviation.
Proposed vote, £4,165,000.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation say whether any proportion of the £8,000 set down for the construction of buildings and the improvement of aerodromes will be made available for the laying out of an aerodrome at Devonport, Tasmania, known as the Pardoe Aerodrome?
– The sum of £10.000 has been allocated for the acquisition of land at Devonport for the building of an aerodrome.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed votes - Department of Trade and Customs, £44,400; Department of Health, £55,400- agreed to.
Department of Repatriation.
Proposed vote, £778,000.
.- For buildings, works, fittings and furniture for the Department of Repatriation the sum of £775,000 is to be provided, and a footnote indicates, a further estimated liability of £S99,765. That seems to be a lot of money to expend on administrative buildings. Can the Minister say whether any of the vote will be used to construct repatriation hospitals?
– The accommodation provided at the administrative head-quarters of the Repatriation Commission at Perth is inadequate, and the staff is working under difficulties. The arrangements iri connexion with the clinic for out-patients can be described as primitive. Can the Minister say whether any of this vote will be used to construct a suitable clinic at Perth, and on the improvement of the administrative head-quarters of the commission there?
– In reply to Senator Leckie, I have to state that the sum of £1,132,053 is being provided for the building of hospitals and sanitoriumswhilst £452,487 for offices is included in the vote. An additional sum of £9j265 will be expended on factories. I am able to inform Senator Collett that the estimated expenditure includes £162,000 for offices to be erected at Perth.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Commerce and Agriculture.
Proposed vote, £201,800.
.- Can the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say where it is proposed to erect buildings to cost £201,800? Is it intended that State Departments of Agriculture shall be squeezed out of existence, or is a Commonwealth Department to be super-imposed on the existing State departments? Good work is being performed by the State Departments of Agriculture largely because their officers know local conditions. For instance, officers of the Queensland department are acquainted with the conditions in the sugar industry, whilst in the other States officers of the State departments have a special knowledge of the primary industries undertaken within their boundaries. It is interesting to note that Tasmania is importing from Great Britain a number of officers to undertake research work. I wish to avoid duplication of the work now undertaken by State departments.
– There is no intention to interfere with the work of any State department. The major part of the vote is required for the erection of wool appraisement centres throughout the Commonwealth.
.- Wool appraisement centres are no longer necessary as government centres, because the whole of the work associated with the appraisement of wool is being carried out by woo] companies which have operated in the- past. Now that we have .an auction system instead of an appraisement system, the wool brokers find accommodation for the product. The wool now being sold at auction is bringing prices in excess of appraisement prices. If it is proposed to establish appraisement centres at places where wool is not produced, wool buyers will not go there, but will continue to make their purchases at the bigger centres where sales have been conducted for many years. New buildings to accommodate wool are unnecessary.
, - The Government has decided to establish wool appraisement centres throughout the Commonwealth.
– For appraising and selling wool. The Government is well aware that the big city wool firms are antagonistic to its policy of decentralization. In order to show the farreaching nature of the Government’s policy, I inform the committee that establishments will be provided at places as far apart as Rockhampton and Townsville in Queensland, Geraldton in Western Australia, and Dubbo in New South Wales. The Government will proceed to carry out its policy.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed votes - Department of Social Services, £23,600 ; Department of Supply and Shipping, £67,600; Department of External Territories, £500; Department of Immigration, £4,000 ; and Department of Labour and National Service, £4,000 - agreed to.
Department of Transport.
Proposed vote, £747,000.
– I understand that the bulk of this expenditure is in respect of the standardization of railway gauges. Is this amount sufficient to initiate the project, or does it represent expenditure before any work can be actually commenced?
– This expenditure is made up as follows: Survey, plans and designs for tracks and structures and for locomotives and rolling-stock, £50,000 divided as follows: Commonwealth railways £2,500, New South Wales railways £11,100, South Australia railways £7,200, Victorian railways £6,600, all States locomotives and rolling-stock £22,000. Other items are: Survey, Kalgoorlie-Fremantle £23,000.
– Is that in addition to money already expended?
– Yes. Other items of expenditure are: Purchase of steel sleepers and fastenings for test purposes £12,000; expenditure in connexion with the transfer of Commonwealthowned plant, equipment, motor transport, &c, from disposal agencies £410,000; expenditure in connexion with the transfer of Commonwealth-owned buildings from disposal agencies £20,000; erection of buildings £60,000; reconditioning of plant and equipment £10,000; recoup for work already done in Victoria and South Australia £50,000; construction of 50 22-ton trucks by Victoria for test purposes in New South Wales £27,500; conversion of Wolseley-Mt. Gambier and Millicent line in South Australia, labour and materials £58,500; and administrative costs, including salaries and office maintenance £25,000; making a total of £746,000. I believe that very tangible developments in this major project will be seen in the near future. The sooner we expedite this work the happier all of us will be.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Information.
Proposed vote, £500.
.- What I am worried about is not the magnitude but the smallness of this vote. I understand that large sums of money have been expended on the short-wave broadcasting station which has been passed over” to the Department of Information. I do not remember the exact cost of that station, but it was a considerable sum. I understand that provision for its erection was made in the estimates of a war department.
Apparently, the Department of Information is hiding some of its estimate votes in those of other departments, such as the Department of the Army and the Postmaster-General’s Department. I should like to know whether the proposed vote of £500 represents the maximum cost of building and equipment which has been transferred to the Department of Information ; or am I correct in assuming that large amounts expended on works for the Department of Information have been hidden in appropriations for other departments ?
. Apparently, Senator Leckie is not interested in the proposed vote of £500. That does not seem to interest him in the least. I take it that he wants to know just what has happened to the short-wave broadcasting station which was used by the Department of Information. An appropriation of £570,000 was made in respect of that station, and was included in the estimates of the Department of the Army.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed votes - Department of Postwar Reconstruction, £15,000; Commonwealth Railways, £382,000; PostmasterGeneral’s Department, £6,450,000 ; Northern Territory, £840,000 - agreed to.
Australian Capital Territory.
Proposed vote, £1,184,000.
.- An amount of £750,000 is shown in respect of “ Architectural services, fittings and furniture “, and an amount of £250,000 for “ Engineering services “. We are asked to appropriate £1,000,000 for those two items. Evidently, they do not include provision for buildings. Is it proposed to expend £1,000,000 on architectural and engineering services in the Australian Capital Territory, or is this expenditure incorrectly designated ? It is beyond the bounds of possibility that the Government would expend £1,000,000 on architectural and engineering services in the Australian Capital Territory alone. I suppose there is an explanation of this matter, but, in view of the amounts shown, I cannot be blamed for making my inquiry.
– The items to which Senator Leckie refers embrace the whole of the ramifications of the Government’s building programme in the Australian Capital Territory. Architectural and engineering services as interpreted by the honorable senator are but minor items. The amount of £750,000 shown for architectural services includes the sum of £560,000 for the erection of 450 cottages.
– Why is no reference made in the item to buildings?
– It is customary for the department to frame its estimates in this way. Detailed information is available to honorable senators in respect of every item comprised in this vote.
.-I was not querying the amount. I am only wondering what the department has to hide; because it must be confessed that it is a little suspicious to anybody with an inquiring mind to find the sum of £1,000,000 set down for architectural and engineering services. No mention is made of buildings in the item. If the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice) explains that buildings are included that is a different matter altogether, but in view of the wording of the item, I cannot be blamed for assuming that some one is being overpaid in Canberra for engineering and architectural services. The Minister should give details of this vote, and inform us how much of the amount is to be expended in respect of supervision, and how much on actual building operations.
– I undertook to supply the details of all items comprised in this vote to the honorable senator, should he desire that information. The department has presented these estimates in identically the same form since he has been a member of the Senate, architectural services always being understood to include buildings.
– It is about time that practice was altered.
– It has been the practice for the last twenty years. I have just assumed Ministerial office, and I shall see what can be done to give effect to the honorable senator’s suggestion.
– I welcome Senator Leckie’s solicitude for homeless people. Possibly the item would be clearer if the word “ building “ were inserted in the item referred to by the honorable senator. I have seen some of the cottages under construction in Canberra. They seem satisfactory as homes, but what concerns me is their estimated cost, which seems to be very high indeed. It is indicative of the high cost of home construction throughout Australia. Recently, 1 suggested the formation of a committee of inquiry to ascertain the reason for the high cost of house construction, and Senator Amour referred to the same matter when dealing with war service homes. I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior to the high rents that are proposed to be charged for the cottages now in course of erection in Canberra. I understand that the rents will range from £2 to £2 10s. a week. That is a terrific impost on people who earn their livelihood in this Territory. I understand the Government is the proprietor of all the homes erected here. It collects the rents. Undoubtedly, the Government must conserve public funds in the same way as any business enterprise must conserve its funds. Nevertheless, [ consider that rents of from £2 to £2 10s. for cottages in Canberra are terribly high, and that the Government should give consideration to providing means by which they may not be so burdensome to lessees.
– I should like the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior to compare the present-day cost of cottages in the Australian Capital Territory with the pre-war cost. I should also like to know the sizes and types of the 450 cottages that arc proposed to be built in Canberra this year. How many have ‘been erected, and when is it estimated that the whole number will have been completed? Will they be finished before the twelve months is up?
– I take this opportunity to direct the attention of the Government to the poor conditions under which South Australian federal members and their staffs have to work in the federal members’ rooms, Adelaide. For a considerable time we have experienced cramped conditions there. I do not know whether the Estimates provide for any expenditure that would result in an improvement, but I do know that nearby in the same building there is a ministerial room which is either not used or is used only when the
Minister is there. Perhaps some other arrangement could be made for the Minister, allowing his room to be used by honorable members and honorable senators and their typists. We are overcrowded with four or five in a room. Each has a telephone, but there is only one interview room. The result is that one either has interviews in the same room as other federal members or goes outside for privacy. Practically all the typists are jammed into one room. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior to take the accommodation of federal members in Adelaide into serious consideration. I believe that there was some talk of the provision of new premises to house them, but it may be two or three years or more before that will be provided. In the meantime something should be done to improve the conditions. They are nearly as bad as those in the federal members’ rooms in Melbourne.
– The conditions in the members’ rooms there could not be worse than they are.
– I think the conditions in Adelaide, especially in the room into which all the typists are jammed, are frightful. I should like to know what can be done to improve our lot.
– I shall certainly place Senator O’Flaherty’s representations before the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson), who is the Minister responsible for the federal members’ rooms. Senator Nash referred to the cost of house-building and rents. Those are matters of grave concern to the Government. The matter of economic rentals is under its special consideration. Honorable senators know as much as I do about the reasons for the high cost of building. There is no doubt that building costs are unduly high as the result of several factors. It must he a matter of serious concern to the Government and all associated with the building trade that building costs are so high. I will not burk the issue. Building tradesmen must accept some responsibility. It is unthinkable that a bricklayer who can lay 600 or 700 bricks a day should be so regardless of the interests of the country as to limit his output to 300 bricks. That is only one factor. There are others. Men associated with the building trade are perhaps not doing all that they should to assist the country through this difficult period. The problem of housing affects not only Canberra, but also every other part of the country. We are doing all we can to provide houses for people at Canberra at the lowest possible cost.
– What is the cost?
– I understand that about 500 bouses are being erected in Canberra. The cost would depend on the size.
– What is the size?
– I believe that they are cottages of a fairly good type, and are large enough to accommodate a family of three or four. The cost runs from about £1,300 to £1,700 or £1,800. The average cost would depend on the number of larger cottages being erected.
– What rent is likely to be required for cottages the cost of which will range from £1,400 to £1,S00?
– I do not have that information with me at the moment, but I assure the honorable senator that the matter of rents is under serious consideration, because the Government realizes that it is a physical impossibility foi- people to pay rents beyond their economic power.
– I do not know that the Government is blameless for the increased cost of housing. It is well known to every one that in the last four or five years the cost of building materials has substantially increased. All building materials are manufactured in Australia. So the fault must lie with the people who control prices. The prices and rents of houses built before 1939-40 are pegged at 1939-40 levels. Yet a house that would have cost £1,000 to build before the war now costs, on the Minister’s own admission, between £1,400 and £1,700. It is all very well for the Minister to express hope that the excessive building costs will not be reflected in rents too high for people in Canberra and elsewhere to pay. We all share that hope. The fact re mains that nothing is being done to prevent the cost of building from rising out of all proportion to what it was five years ago. Once the housing problem has been solved we may expect a substantial fall, perhaps of 20 per cent, or 26 per cent., in the cost of building a house. That will leave .without equity in their homes the people who have built at the inflated costs of to-day. The Government must ensure that these inflated costs shall not be passed on to the unfortunate seekers of homes. The price of building materials is outrageous. In this city and other places the framework of houses has been up for twelve months or more, but the builders have not been able to complete the work because of the shortage of hardware and other materials. Month by month costs are increasing. Margins are allowed for the possibility of contractors not being able to obtain material. A master builder employs a building staff. In the expectation of supplies of materials coming to hand, workmen are retained on the pay-roll, thus adding to the ultimate cost of the building. Provision for these contingencies is made when tenders are entered for the construction of homes. The cumulative effect is that the price of houses to-day is out of all proportion to what it was in pre-war years, particularly in this country where all the necessary materials are produced. A substantial increase of the cost of building materials was allowed about two years ago without any justification whatever. For instance the price of scantlings was increased by 7s. 6d. a 100 super, feet. As the ceiling prices for homes built prior to the war have been maintained, I see no reason why increases of the price of building materials should be permitted. I urge the Government to ensure that the unfair impost that is placed upon unfortunate citizens who were unable to obtain homes in the period prior to price-fixation, shall be reduced, as soon as possible.
– We have listened to an excellent diagnosis by Senator Herbert Hays, but unfortunately he has not suggested a remedy. The Government is fully seised of this responsibility in regard to this problem. I remind Senator Herbert Hays that he has frequently urged in this chamber an increase of the ceiling price of homes. He has pointed out in effect that a home which a few years ago cost £1,000 now costs £1,500, and that it is unfair to retain a ceiling price of £1,000. The Government is just as desirous of having homes built for the people of this country to-day as it was to have the manufacture of war material speeded up during the war. Throughout Australia, there is a shortage of man-power and materials. I invite Senator Herbert Hays to come to my office any time he likes if he has any suggestions to make in regard to a solutionof the housing problem. The fact is that if ceiling prices were imposed upon new homes, none would be built, unless the prices were somewhere near present-day values. I have had personal experience of the difficulties that are encountered by people who wish to build homes to-day. I asked a contractor if he would undertake the construction of a home, the estimated cost of which was £1,600. He did not want to do the job, and so he entered a tender of £1,800; but as the home was urgently required I had to tell him to go ahead. This disinclination to build homes at reasonable prices is a big factor in the heavy cost of new dwellings. It is wrong for any honorable senator to suggest that this Government is not fully seised of the importance of the housing problem. It is a matter that affects the entire economy of the Australian people. Not only in the Australian Capital Territory, but also throughout the length and breadth of Australia, the Government will do its utmost to reduce building costs to something like a normal level. A big factor in the present high costs is the shortage of essential materials. The Department of Works and Housing appreciates the seriousness of the situation and is doing everything possible to reduce costs.
– I have said on more than one occasion in this chamber that the cost of houses built prior to 1940 bears no relation whatever to present-day costs, and that the maintenance of 1940 ceiling prices is an incentive to black-marketing.
Not 20 per cent. of the houses that changed hands to-day are sold at the fixed prices. All I have sought in this chamber has been an increase of ceiling prices to a figure more in keeping with the cost of new dwellings. I have never said that the price of building materials should be increased.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Preamble and Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 14th November, (vide page 206), on motionby Senator McKenna -
That the following paper be printed: -
Foreign Affairs - Ministerial Statement, dated 14th November,1946.
– We have all taken a very active interest in the part that Australia has played at the United Nations. Although we are somewhat disappointed that the progress has not been greater, and although we have to take a practical view of what is necessary for the defence of our country while this organization is in its initial stages,we must bear in mind that if we are not prepared to support international collaboration and the principle of the English-peaking peoples working together and with their allies, we shall be faced, sooner ‘or later, with a dreadful alternative. After the last war there was a period of intense economic nationalism and isolationism, and only 21 years later we endured a second dreadful catastrophe involving a dreadful loss of human life.
I take this opportunity to refer to a mind-staggering episode that occurred in this chamber yesterday, the facts of which are frankly admitted by the Government. After a humiliating defeat within his own party, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has meekly consented to abandon his recommendation that Australia should join the other self-reliant and selfrespecting nations of the world which have banded together in the terms of the Bretton Woods Agreement. We are now informed that the question whether Australia should ratify the agreement has been referred to an irresponsible outside body of no particular standing, and no particular repute. In the whole history of parliamentary government, it would be hard to find so mean an abrogation of the basic functions of Parliament, and so despicable a betrayal of the principles of democracy, as yesterday’s debacle constitutes. The Bretton “Woods plan, and the question of our participation, is a national matter of first-rate importance. As such, it was pre-eminently a question that should have come to this Parliament for decision in accordance with the principles of democratic government based on universal franchise that the Parliament is supposed to sustain; but the magnitude of the task of making a decision, not as to whether the. agreement should be accepted - for that is the prerogative of this Parliament - but simply whether Parliament should be trusted to consider it, proved too much for the not singularly enlightened intelligence of those who support this Government. Without regard to the humiliation imposed on the Prime Minister and the Parliament, they basely surrendered this decision to the Federal Council of the Australian Labour party. I cannot recall a more completely despicable admission by the party opposite than that, when in office, it has no autonomous governing power, but is merely the servile puppet of an outside authority. This means that six men sent into a “ star chamber “ by the Labour organizations of each State are to take over one of the prime functions of the Parliament. This new overlord parliament merits some examination. It consists, on public knowledge, of ,a motley collection - socialists, Communists, strikers, law-breakers, and the abettors and sympathizers of strikers and law-breakers. This is the body which is to steal from this Parliament the right to decide whether this nation should or should not be a party to one of the major councils of the world. Responsible people throughout Australia will be shocked by the implications, already revealed, of the situation which is being cold-bloodedly tolerated by the Prime Minister. Australia is to join Soviet Russia, and a few insignificant central American republics which lack the courage to take a nation’s part in an experiment designed for the betterment of the world at large and the participating nations individually. What a bitter humiliation for the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) who has been proclaiming abroad for the last five years Australia’s inflexible determination to play its part in the councils of the world! What a grotesque submission to a veto, following his world-publicized fight against the veto ! But this is perhaps not the worst feature of the affair. Next year, representatives of responsible nations will meet to set up an international trade organization. We now learn that, because we cannot join the international monetary fund by the end of this year, we may be excluded from this vitally important conference. The implications of that proposal are widespread and grave, but I shall refer to only one of them. Upon the deliberations of the conference will depend the fate of Empire trade preferences. As the result of yesterday’s surrender, Australia therefore faces the prospect of being refused membership of the body which will decide whether Empire preferences will continue, whether they will be modified, or whether they will be abandoned. I leave this thought with the people of Australia.
It is traditional that, when a Prime Minister is defeated in the Parliament, dignity and decency alike compel his prompt resignation, or an appeal to the people who elected him. No parliamentary defeat has ever been more decisive or humiliating than the Labour party’s renunciation of the Prime Minister yesterday. I ask the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) whether the right honorable gentleman intends to acknowledge this fact in the only proper way open to him. This Parliament has every right to be given an opportunity to discuss the Bretton Woods Agreement on its merits and in the light of the reports submitted to the Government by the experts who attended the conferences at which it was drafted. I believe that the “ outside caucus “ makes the decisions which are announced by the parliamentary Labour caucus. This latest decision involves the betrayal by the Commonwealth Government of Great Britain and our great ally, the United States of America. The scathing comments of members of the Labour party about men who invested their money in Wall-street are offensive to me. They should not speak disparagingly of men who provided funds, and whose sons fought, in order that this country might be saved from Japanese occupation. The time has arrived when we can see the “ reds “ and “ pinks “ of the Labour movement of Australia returning to their former isolationist policy. They talk stupid nonsense when they advocate that we should co-operate with the United Nations, but should stand aloof on this important matter. They have very little knowledge of the problem. The Bretton Woods Agreement is of vital importance to the future welfare of not only Australia, but also all English-speaking peoples and other nations which are endeavouring to foster international co-operation and prevent a return to the bad days of economic warfare which we experienced after World War I. The Minister for Supply and Shipping has promised that, if possible, reports on the conferences which led to the Bretton Woods Agreement will be tabled in the Senate, so that we may examine them and form a considered judgment of the agreement. This outside body which controls the Government cannot express a considered opinion on the subject unless the confidential reports of Australian delegates to the conference are placed before them. It would be wrong for the Labour party conference to make a decision about the agreement without having that information at its disposal. It would be equally wrong of the Government to submit those documents, which are withheld from members of this Parliament, to that outside organization. I am amazed that the members of the Labour party have refused to stand by the Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs on this important issue. I sincerely hope that those members of the Labour party who have sufficient intelligence and courage to support the ratification of the Bretton Woods Agreement will fight strongly to win a majority of the party membership over to their side. Unless they do so, the Labour party will revert to its traditional policy of “ pink “ isolationism, which led it to refuse to allow Australians to fight outside the 3-mile limit. In the days when that policy was in operation, the party was prepared to allow British and American troops to come here to save Australia while it withheld the support of Australian forces.
Senator O’FLAHERTY (South Australia) [5.43J . - The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) talked about the humiliation of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley). In all my life I have never witnessed such a humiliating spectacle as that of the honorable senator reading the propaganda which had been prepared for him by somebody else. That speech should prove conclusively to everybody that the honorable senator does not know what he is talking about. He had to get somebody else to supply the thoughts which he has just expressed in this chamber. For years, honorable senators opposite and their supporters have condemned the Labour party for what they describe as its “irresponsible isolationist policy”. The Labour party has never been an isolationist party. It has always been an international party, and has advocated collective security. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Prime Minister had been forced to abandon the recommendations which he had made regarding the Bretton Woods Agreement. That is far from the truth. The honorable senator cannot recognize the difference between adherence to a guiding principle and abandonment of a policy. The Prime Minister has merely been giving a lead to the rest of the Labour party on the subject of the Bretton Woods proposals. The Leader of the Opposition made a futile attack on the members of the Labour party outside of the Parliament who, he said, did not know anything about the subject of the agreement. He admitted himself, by reading a prepared speech, that he knew nothing about it. He said that he had never before heard of the Labour party directing a government’s decisions. His memory must be very short-lived, because a Labour government in this Parliament was directed in the same way on an earlier occasion. That was when the late Prime Minister, Mr. John Curtin, sought the advice of a conference of the Australian Labour party. At that time, the
Leader of the Opposition and his political friends ranted all over the country and condemned Mr. Curtin’s action. In spite of this, his policy was successful. Honorable senators opposite raved because Mr. Curtin asked the United States of America to assist Australia in its hour of danger, but now they have the audacity to say that the Labour party gives no thanks to America for what it did to save this country. Honorable senators opposite opposed the bringing of American forces to Australia.
– That is not so.
– It is true. All honorable senators opposite attacked the late Prime Minister, through the newspapers and by other means, because he appealed for American aid. The Leader of the Opposition accused Mr. Curtin of “selling” the British Government. The Opposition had no more knowledge of the facts on that occasion than it has now in relation to the Bretton Woods Agreement. If it knew the facts, it would not talk such “ tripe “ as we. have heard to-day. Other interests than those of American financiers are involved in this matter. Most important of all are the interests of the working people, not only of Australia, but also of the rest of the world. The Government could seek the advice of no more sympathetic organization than the great Australian Labour party, which the Leader of the Opposition says is irresponsible and composed of law-breakers, strikers, and Communists. The honorable senator is not “ game “ to take action against strikers or Communists under the Crimes Act, although he knows that he has the power to do so as an individual citizen. The honorable senator must have known that his charge against the Labour party was a lie when he uttered it. He has a “bee in his bonnet” about communism and strikers, and all the rest of the bogys that he talks about, and he cannot get rid of it. It is time for him to wake up to the fact that his party suffered an overwhelming defeat at the elections as the result of the vicious attacks made by it upon the Labour movement. Instead of continually vilifying the Labour party, honorable senators should concede its virtues. After all, it is composed of the people who produce goods and com modities for Australia. Those people are capable of producing goods without the assistance of honorable senators opposite and the interests which they represent. They proved during the war that Australia could fight without the aid of antiLabour interests, because the Government had to act against the continual obstruction of honorable senators opposite and their friends. They raised their voices time after time in condemnation of everything that the Government did. Now they say that the Prime Minister has repudiated his decision in relation to the Bretton Woods Agreement. He has done nothing of the sort. If I know anything about the right honorable gentleman, he has not given up hope yet. Make no mistake about that. What I may think about the Bretton Woods Agreement is of no immediate concern, but I will not tolerate vilification of the Prime Minister by the Leader of the Opposition or anybody else. The honorable gentleman said that Parliament should be given a chance to consider the agreement. There was nothing to prevent him or any other member of the Opposition from raising the subject during the last two years, but they did not attempt to do so. They have taken many opportunities to criticize the Government in order to secure Australiawide publicity for their efforts to split the Labour movement. They have been unsuccessful up to date, and they will not succeed in future. They have been trying to catch the Government off-balance on the Bretton Woods Agreement with the object of promoting dissension within the ranks of the Labour party. Whether or not the Bretton Woods Agreement is accepted by the Australian Labour party conference, the Labour movement will not be split. The honorable senator can rant about communism, strikes and industrial unrest generally, but so long as the Labour movement retains its solidarity he. has no hope of getting back on the treasury bench.
– The honorable senator is going the right way to split the Empire.
– We have heard that charge before. The honorable senator said the same thing when an appeal was made to the United States of America during the war.We were told that Australia was abandoning the Empire, and was intent on its disintegration. We differed from the honorable senator and his supporters then, and time has proved that we were right and that they were wrong. We shall do so again. These matters are related to foreign affairs, but I repeat that it is very humiliating to see the honorable senator reading in this chamber a speech prepared for him by outside people. The way in which he read it showed that he did not know what it contained.
The world to-day is different from the pre-war world. Some people think that the war is over; unfortunately it has not finished, as many millions of sufferers know. The war has left devastation and desolation in its train. That is true, not only of Germany, but also of Great Britain, Russia and other Allied countries. With one exception, the Allied Nations are poorer financially and economically than before the war, and the result is that they are experiencing a period of tribulation and great trial.
– What nation is the exception?
– The exception is the United States of America, which has emerged from the war financially stronger than before. Great Britain is in a disastrous state financially, and Australia’s financial position is not as happy as some people would have us believe. We must consider how to restore things to their pre-war state. The war has created more and greater monopolies than existed before September, 1939. Cartels are still operating, even in Australia; monopolies are expanding; their tentacles have grown. The result is industrial unrest. Even in the defeated countries there is industrial unrest, but to a minor degree. They will experience tribulation later, simply because monopoly capitalists are expanding their operations regardless of the welfare of the people. They are concerned only with expanding their trade and commerce, so that they can make greater profits. There is greater exploitation than ever. That is the position of the world to-day. One result is the creation of a bloc against Russia and what are known as Russia’s satellites. After World War I.
Russia was ostracized, but the opposition to that country to-day is greater than ever. That is because the monopolists have not been able to persuade Russia to share their machinations. The result is that Russia’s sphere of influence is widening, and that country is being driven to take protective measures against the bloc that is being formed. Articles appear from time to time in the press, and statements are made by various people, all directed against Russia. It is said that Russia has turned imperialist, or is expanding its sphere of influence in order to capture world trade. Whatever Russia does we are told that its actions are directed against Great Britain, the United States of America, Australia and other Allied countries. This propaganda is part of a carefully prepared plan to get the people of those nations to turn against one of its greatest allies in the war. For that reason, it is necessary to be wary of some of the international agreements that are proposed from timeto time. The Commonwealth Government stands for full employment not only in Australia but in all countries. At all the international conferences which have taken place recently, including the one which the Leader of the Opposition attended at San Francisco, attempts have been made to incorporate in the agreements provisions relating to full employment throughout the world, but, so far. not a great measure of success has attended those efforts. It is true that lip service to that ideal has been given in some of the agreements, but not in all of them. There is no provision for full employment in the Bretton Woods Agreement. Australia’s aim is full employment in every country, but not on the level of wages paid for coolie labour. If the standard of living could be raised in every country the present world production of food would not be sufficient to meet the demand. It is because so many people cannot afford to buy food that Australian primary products have not found markets from time to time.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 9.30 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I pointed to the tendency among certain allied nations to form blocs against the Russian people and those countries over which Russia now has sway. I also pointed to the spate of propaganda being directed against Russian ideologies with the object of turning allied peoples away from the Russian people, who were among our most valued allies in the last war. That tendency has been apparent for some time. So, unfortunately, the war having been fought and won by the democracies, with the aid of Russia, which is not a democracy as we understand democratic government, an attempt is being made in allied countries to swing back to the old system of trade barriers and controls which operated before the war. The greatest evil of the pre-war system, namely, the control of the exchange rate in the interests of certain countries, is also being revived. This tendency explains why greater unrest now prevails throughout most countries than was the case prior to the war. The capitalist system is now giving its dying kick. Capitalism always contained within itself a disintegrating force, and that weakness is showing its head to a greater degree than ever before-, because the peoples of allied countries, with the exception of Russia, about which we really know very little, are rebelling against any attempt to revive the old order. During the war wholesale promises were made by parties of all political shades in all of the democracies that a new order would bo established after victory was won. It was said that the war was being fought to defeat the fascist system, which was really the essence of the capitalist system. Fascism destroyed itself, because it reached out too far. It did so because of the inevitable tendency on the part of the ruling classes in capitalist-controlled countries to expand their markets. Wo were told that Germany wanted greater living space for its people. That was not no. Germany, primarily, wanted to extend the influence of its monopolistic capitalist system. That was the cause of the war; but we find that the monopolists have not been destroyed in allied countries. In those countries capitalism has merely adopted new methods. Even the monopolies which thrived in Germany have now been absorbed to a large degree in monopolies in allied countries. The first objective of the capitalist power will be to subjugate the people, ignoring entirely the need to raise living standards. It is in this respect that Australia, through the efforts of the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt), has made a mark in the international sphere. In the councils of the world, he has advocated the policy of the Labour Government in this respect, emphasizing that the only way by which permanent p< lee can be established is by raising the standards of living of all peoples, including our defeated enemies. The first step towards this objective must be the provision of full employment for all peoples; and our representatives at the councils of the nations have emphasized this point so much that to-day even notorious capitalist countries are now flirting with the idea. However, whilst they say that the principle is splendid, they raise some doubts as to whether it can be implemented. At the same time, as they did in the past, they want to enshrine the principle in some agreement which they have no intention to implement. The objective of Australian foreign policy is to ensure the making of agreements based on that principle, and also to leave no doubt that such agreements shall be carried out fully. We have not been successful in that direction up to date; but our policy is to strive resolutely to raise the living standards of the peoples of all countries by providing full employment, making each country self-contained and affording every facility for the exchange of surplus production. When that objective is accomplished we shall have taken the first effective step towards the maintenance of world peace; because under such conditions the reasons for which wars have been fought in the past will not exist. The Government has done a magnificent job in this sphere. Honorable senators opposite, because of their failure to study international affairs, do not understand current trends. Therefore, they allege that the Government is pursuing an isolationist policy. Nothing is farther from the mind of the Government or the people of Australia. In this respect, honorable senators opposite merely repeat the lying propaganda which has been directed against the Government’s foreign policy for many years past. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) put -
That Standing Order 68 be suspended up to and including Friday, the 13th December, for the purpose of enabling new business to bc commenced after 10.30 p.m.
– There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
SALES TAX BILLS (Nos. 1 to 9) 1946.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) agreed to-
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of all or several of the Sales Tax Bills Nos. 1 to 9 being put in one motion, at each stage, and the consideration of all or several of such bills together in committee of the whole.
– There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bills (on motion by Senator Ashley) read a first time.
.- I move-
That the bills be now read a second time.
These bills are designed solely to reduce the general rate of sales tax from 12-J per cent to 10 per cent, on and from the loth November, 1946. Prior to that date, the rates of tax in force were 7^ per cent, in respect of clothing and household drapery, 12£ per cent, in respect of the general field of goods, and 25 per cent, in respect of goods of a less essential character as specified in the Third
Schedule to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act 1935-1946. In other amending legislation provision is made for exemption in respect of the clothing and drapery which has hitherto been taxed at the rate of 7-J per cent. That rate of tax, accordingly, lapsed on and from the loth November, 1946. Thus instead of three rates of tax, only two are in operation on and from loth November, 10 per cent, in respect of the general field, and 25 per cent, in respect of those goods which remain in the Third Schedule.
It is estimated that the loss of revenue resulting from the reduction of the general rate from 12-J per cent, to 10 per cent, will be £5,000,000 per annum, or £2,900,000 for the current year. The reduced rate applies to such essential goods as household furnishings, cutlery, crockery, and other domestic utensils, motor vehicles, tools and business equipment.
– I support these bills, and have only one comment to make. In view of the very high cost of building, a- matter that was discussed this afternoon, I urge that the Government give consideration to the removal as soon as possible of the 10 per cent, sales tax on furnishings and floor coverings. In view of the substantial rise of the price of those goods, sales tax at the rate of 10 per cent, places an additional heavy burden on people, especially young ex-servicemen and their wives, who are anxious to set up a home.
– It is not my intention to delay the passage of these bills, because the tax reductions for which they provide are essential. I rise to stress the need to pass the benefit of the reduction of sales tax on to the general public as quickly as pOSsible. The action of the Government in reducing indirect, rather than direct, taxes has been discussed at great length by our friends in the Opposition and by many Government supporters outside. The Government considers that the reduction of indirect taxes increases the value of wages, on the ground that what really matters to the workers is not the amount in the pay envelope in notes but the quantity of goods that those notes will purchase. The Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) said - l he reduced rate of sales tax applies to such essential goods as household furnishings, crockery and other domestic utensils, motor vehicles, tools and business equipment,.
We do not think that many workers will be interested in the reduction of the sales tax on motor vehicles.
– Do not make any mistake about that.
– I hope the rune is not far distant when the workers, as well as the captains of industry, will be able to own cars. I see no reason why r.hey too should not drive to work in cars. 1 hope, too, that members of this Parliament will soon receive emoluments that will enable them to go to work in motor carp. The reduction of the sales tax on tools will benefit workers required to supply their own tools of trade. Many people think that the provision of tools is the duty of the employer, but under several Arbitration Court awards operatives are responsible for supplying them. They will benefit by an increase of their real wages. The” benefit to the public will diminish in ratio to any delay that occurs in the Prices Branch in arranging for the reduction to be passed on to the people. [ hope that the Minister for Trade and Customs will not mind my mentioning that, but I feel very keenly about what I regard as the ineffectiveness of that branch of his department. One wonders what sort of prices control allows the prices of many articles displayed in shop windows. The Prices Branch plays a most important part in our economy and in the preservation of industrial peace, and unless it deals effectively and rapidly with this matter by passing on to the consumers the benefit of the reduction of the sales tax, the bulk of the people will realize that they have gained no benefit from it. When the Parliament adjourns it will be the duty of the Minister for Trade and Customs to ensure quick action by the Prices Branch.
– I think all honorable senators will readily agree that the motor vehicle industry is one of the greatest in Aus tralia. It employs more skilled and semi-skilled men than does any other Australian industry I know of. Yet no section of the community is more heavily taxed than are the people who are unfortunate enough - perhaps I can put it that way - to own motor vehicles. They are taxed in every direction. They have to pay 10 per cent, of the purchase price in sales tax. They pay tax on petrol. They are taxed on driving. All sorts of taxes are imposed on the section of the community that patronizes one of the largest industries of Australia. We should do everything in our power to give immediate relief to an industry that provides such abundant employment for Australian people. Let us analyse the position a little in order to see how taxes affect the industry and its employing ability. Few are able to buy new motor cars in Australia to-day because of the high prices. Chevrolets and other cars, the purchase of which was within the capacity of the average working man before the war, are now at such high prices, owing to taxes and other causes, that they are absolutely beyond his reach. The result is that, instead of our being able to purchase the new cars, the manufacture and . assembly of which provides employment for Australians, we have to fall back on the cast-offs of some one else with greater means than we have, who has been able to buy on the new car market. If the Government can relieve the position by totally removing the sales tax on motor vehicles, it will do a valuable service to a large industry that employs a great number of hands. The reduction of the sales tax from 12i to 10 per cent, still leaves us paying an additional £10 on every £100 of the price of our cars. I think all honorable senators will agree that that is far too great an imposition on the industry. I sincerely hope that the Government will give consideration to the removal of the sales tax as it affects the motor vehicle industry. The more people within whose purchasing power we can place the products of the industry the more it will employ. But the more we burden it with taxes the more we limit the market. That is bad for the trade, the Government and every one else. I sincerely hope that before long the Government will be able to say in respect of all industries . that provide abundant employment that the sales tax on their products will be reduced to the absolute minimum, if not abolished.
– I commend the Government for reducing the sales tax, particularly on house drapery, to 7^ per cent. Some articles which are not luxuries are not so essential as are the ordinary items of drapery. I saw advertised in the Melbourne newspapers yesterday women’s handbags at prices ranging from £13 to £15. There is something radically wrong if these luxury goods can be produced at a time when there is a serious shortage of essential commodities. I am sure that the leather that is used to make these expensive handbags could be used to better advantage to improve the quality of footwear and other commodities that have to be bought by the ordinary wageearner and his family.
I endorse what Senator Sheehan has said about price-fixing. This is a most vexatious matter, particularly when one travels from State to State and sees the substantial disparity in prices for the same goods. For instance, cotton goods sell in Perth for about 2s. lid. a yard; yet I have seen exactly the-same materials priced in Sydney and Melbourne at from 5s. 6d. to 9s. lid. a yard. As these goods come from the same source of supply, and Sydney and Melbourne wholesale purchasers are able to obtain all the benefits of bulk-buying that are not enjoyed by retailers in Perth because of the limited market for goods, obviously there is something wrong somewhere. I have come to the conclusion that the Deputy Prices Commissioner in Western Australia is exercising his authority in a much more efficient manner than is the case in the eastern States. I raise this point because basic wage workers and others on low incomes in the eastern States have to purchase the same quantities of essential commodities as their fellow citizens in Western Autralia. Surely if Perth traders can give a fair service to the people of that city at a much lower cost than that applying in the eastern States, there is some weakness in the price-fixing system operating in the larger centres of population. 1 believe therefore, that if the removal of the sales tax from essential goods is to bo of any real value to people in the lower income groups, we must insist upon a stricter supervision of prices. The Government is giving a lead by removing or reducing the sales tax on essential commodities, and I know that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice) is most sympathetic in this regard; but I should like to see purchasers throughout Australia getting a fairer deal. The substantial margins between prices of the same goods sold in various cities of the Commonwealth should be eliminated. This applies not only to the commodities that I have mentioned, but also to other items including sheeting, children’s clothing, and clothing generally. In some cases, the difference is as much as 150 per cent. As most of these goods are manufactured in the eastern States and traders in Western Australia have to add the cost of freight by land or sea, the disparity is even less understandable. Reduction of the sales tax should be accompanied by a more stringent policing of prices, particularly in regard to clothing. For the last five or six years housewives have been worried by the problem of providing clothing for their families. Not only have they had to incur considerable expense, but also they have had to exercise their ingenuity in endeavouring to make the coupons last over the rationing period. That applies particularly to the replenishment of stocks of household linen. The housewife must he given a better deal than she is getting under the present system of retail distribution.
I should like to compliment the Deputy Prices Commissioner in Western Australia. The further afield I travel, the more I am inclined to believe that we have a super man at the helm in Western Australia, because he has had much more success in keeping down prices in that State than has been achieved in the eastern States. For instance, in Sydney or Melbourne, apparently it is quite normal for a woman to pay £20 for a frock. If that price were asked in Perth, a trader would be accused of being a “pirate”. If prices can be kept down in Western Australia, where there is a limited population and therefore a limited demand, they can he kept down in the more populous States. I trust that prices officials will ensure that the letter and the spirit of this legislation shall be observed.
.- I have no wish to dampen the high hopes of honorable senators opposite in regard to the effect of this legislation, nor shall I oppose the bill, but I believe that it is my duty to point out that the reductions of sales tax for which it provides will not really afford much relief to the purchasing public. The taxpayers of this country can be relieved of the heavy burden that they now carry only in the manner that we on this side of the chamber have suggested for many months, namely, a reduction of the income tax. Under this bill the reduction applying to most items on which sales tax is charged is 2£ per cent, or 6d. in the £1. The effect on items selling at 2s., 3s., or 4s., will, therefore, be infinitesimal. Senator Finlay has referred to the reduction of the sales tax on motor cars, but what exactly does this concession mean? On a car now costing say £800 - he will agree that it is not possible to-day to buy a motor car for very much less than that figure - a reduction of the sales tax by 2$ per cent, will mean that the vehicle will sell for £780. Does the honorable senator believe that the workers of this country who could not buy motor cars costing £800, will be able to buy them at £780 ? I have no doubt that many of the things that the honorable senator said were true, but he should not mislead the people of this country into believing that this measure will be of any great- benefit to them. The price fixing authorities have a difficult job already without having to police a reduction of 2^ per cent, in the sales tax on ordinary household articles costing perhaps a few shillings. I do not believe that the reduced rates will be reflected in the price of any goods costing less than £1, and even then the concession will be only 6d. Listening to honorable senators opposite, one would believe that the Government was handing out largesse to the taxpayers of Australia, but that is completely fallacious. The people of this country should not be deceived by the talk of indirect tax remissions amounting to £5,000,000.
– Although the sales tax reductions became operative more than a fortnight ago, there has not been any noticeable decrease of prices of essential goods such as clothing.
– Senator Sheehan apparently overlooks the fact that on a large percentage of the stocks now held by traders, sales tax was paid before the reduced rates became operative. Until these stocks have been exhausted, prices will not be reduced. In any case, the implementation of this measure will not result in a material reduction of the cost of essential commodities. This is the wrong way to go about relieving the burden of the Australian taxpayer.
– Senator Leckie’s remarks were misleading. He said that some of the reductions granted by the Government amounted to 6d. in the £1, but he omitted to state that sales tax will be removed altogether from some goods. The honorable senator knows the facts, but he only told the people that such reductions as had been made were so slight that they would not notice them. He warned them not to expect any relief. As has already been said, the prices of some goods have increased by 200 per cent, or 300 per cent, since the beginning of the war. Apparently the firms which deal in these goods charge as they wish.
– The Government is in charge of the price-fixing regulations.
– I admit that. I once said in the Senate that the then Prices Commissioner, Professor Copland, should be removed from his position. He was removed. I now say that the present Prices Commissioner should be removed from his position.
– He is held in high esteem by the Government.
– The charge for admittance to the grandstand at the Randwick race-course was increased from 15s. to 30s.
– I am not greatly concerned about that.
– The intention of price controls is being evaded in many instances. For instance, people frequently telephone me to complain about the charges made at Prince’s restaurant in Martin-place, Sydney. Everybody is entitled to go to Prince’s. The charges for meals there conform with the prices regulations, but customers are obliged to pay an additional 17s. as a cover charge. Why does the Prices Commissioner permit that sort of thing? It is a definite evasion of the law.
– What do the customers get for the 17s.?
– Nothing but the privilege of eating at that restaurant. It is a racket, but the prices authorities have done nothing about it. Other examples of the flouting of the law can be found in the millinery trade. The Prices Commissioner ruled that women’s hat3 should not cost more than £4 each. What did . the milliners do ? They made up cheap pieces of straw and other materials and sold them at £4 each. No action was taken by the Prices Commissioner.
– How does the honorable senator connect these remarks with the bills?
Senator AMOUR. Senator Leckie has said that the people will not notice the effect of the reduction of sales tax on wearing apparel and household goods. I am illustrating how, in some instances, prices control has been of no advantage to the people. Does price-fixing apply only to some commodities? Is only one section of the trading community to be policed by the prices authorities? Medical authorities recommend that children should be provided with oranges for the sake of their health. But oranges cost 3d. or 4d. each. Why is that permitted? Bread-winners with large families cannot afford to provide their children with all the oranges that they need.
– There are not many orchardists living in the big cities.
– Nobody imagines that there are. The Minister’s interjection reminds me of the old saw that “ an apple a day keeps the doctor away “. Apples are not grown in the cities. They cost at least Id. each, and many people cannot afford to buy an apple a day for each of their children. The Government should investigate many increased costs. Wages are pegged, but the prices of many commodities have increased considerably. Why has the Prices Commissioner permitted this to happen? By reducing sales tax rates on certain items, the Government sincerely believes that it is helping the people. I understand that the overall reduction will amount to £20,000,000 a year. However, as Senator Leckie has said, the average person will not receive the benefit of the reductions. The Government’s desires will be thwarted by avaricious people who will not pass the benefit of the reductions on to the consumers. They are concerned with their private purses, not with public welfare.
– Senator Leckie said that the sales tax reductions would not benefit the people in any way.
– I did not say anything of the sort.
– The effect of the honorable senator’s statement was so near to that as to make no difference. He distinctly said that some of the reductions would not benefit the people. That is ridiculous. Tor instance, consider the reduction that will apply to boots, an item which affects the working-man’s purse. The reductions will affect meat pies. A man engaged in heavy manual labour might eat two pies for his lunch each day. The removal of sales tax from this item will bring down the price of pies by id. each. This will save Id. a day for the man who eats pies. All these reductions benefit people in the lower income groups. Senator Leckie is always complaining because the Government does not reduce taxes. He should be consistent and praise the Government on this occasion. The Government will help the workers by reducing sales tax. It has started on the lowest rung of the ladder, and it will gradually work its way to the top. That is why its popularity with the people has increased.
– I support the bills because they will provide some measure of tax relief. Taxation is one of the heaviest financial burdens that we must bear at present, and the reductions, although slight, are welcome. All honorable senators will agree that sales tax is an iniquitous imposition. High rates of sales tax had to be imposed in order to help to finance the nation’s war-time activities. Undoubtedly, this tax bears most heavily upon those persons who have to support large families. In addition, the method of calculating sales tax is most unfair. It penalizes consumers who live in districts far removed from the places where the goods are manufactured. Sales tax should be imposed on the cost of goods at the place of production, not at the point of sale to the consumer. Under the existing system, sales tax is calculated on the cost of an article, plus the cost of freight from the factory to the place where it is sold. Because of this, people who live in distant parts of the Commonwealth have to pay tax on the high charges for the transportation of the goods to their point of sale. Some places are 2,000 miles away from manufacturing areas. The imposition of sales tax on the cost of the goods, plus the freight, adds considerably to the retail price in those places. I ask the Government to discontinue this unfair method of computing sales tax and to place all consumers on an equal footing, irrespective of where they live. The tax should be imposed at the point of production, not at the point of consumption.
– in reply - The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) has referred to the desirability of granting further reductions of sales tax on furniture and floor coverings. The Government realizes that these are essential commodities, and that their prices’ are important to working people. Full consideration was given to this fact when the sales tax reductions were being considered. I agree with much of what Senator Cooper said. If any tax can be regarded as unjust, it is the sales tax. Any tax that is sectional is unjust. Senator Sheehan urged that the prices authorities should police the activities of retail traders so as to ensure that the benefit of the reductions shall be passed on to the public. The Prices Commission has already taken appropriate action to this end. Senator Finlay referred to the high cost of motor oars and pointed out that the prices of motor vehicles had increased by hundreds of pounds since the war began. I point out to the honorable senator that these increases are chiefly due to increased costs of production, both in the United States of America and in Great Britain. The points raised by the honorable senator have been considered by the Government, and the law has been amended to provide for tax exemptions for plant and machinery used in the manufacture of motor vehicles in Australia. Senator Tangney referred to the high prices of handbags and other women’s requisites. This matter will be investigated by the prices authorities, and every effort will be made to comply with the honorable senator’s wishes. Senator Leckie said that the tax reductions will give no real relief to the public. Very subtly, he said that, in some instances, the reduction of sales tax represented only 6d. in the £1. As the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) pointed out, he omitted to remind the listening public of the benefit that will be conferred by the exemption of drapery and clothing from sales tax. Senator Leckie should realize that these reductions of sales tax represent an aggregate saving of £5,000,000 a year to the purchasing public. It may be that in respect of certain commodities the reduction is only 6d. in the £1, but as sales tax has been removed entirely from a big range of articles the total benefit is much greater than the honorable senator would have the public believe.
– It would be 9d. in the £1 at the most.
– If Senator Leckie is so used to dealing with large sums of money that a mere £5,000,000 is insignificant, I assure him that the people generally are appreciative of the reduction of sales tax which these bills represent.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a second time.
– Senator Leckie attempted to misrepresent what I said in my secondreading speech regarding the sales tax on motor vehicles. I understand that the rate is to bc reduced from. 12£ per. cent, to 10 per cent.
– The honorable member may not revive the debate on the second reading.
– The reduction proposed will give some relief to the purchasers of motor vehicles, but the total removal of the sales tax would enable their cost to be reduced by- £100, which would make it possible for many more people in the community to purchase motor cars. That, in turn, would provide more employment in the motor industry which is overburdened with taxes. I stress the desirability of lightening that burden as quickly as possible. The fame argument applies to the sales tax on furniture, refrigerators and other articles in common use. Senator Leckie claimed that the effect of the removal of the sales tax would be infinitesimal.
– I said that the effect of a reduction of 2i per cent, would scarcely he felt. My remarks did not relate to the total removal of the tax.
– Sales tax has been removed entirely from a number of articles which are used in every home. The honorable member may regard the saving of a. few. pence as a matter of little or no importance, but in a period of twelve months the total benefit would be considerable. Senator Clothier spoke of the effect of the reduction of sales tax on pies and pasties. Senator Herbert Hays laughs, but I remind him that thousands of workers have a couple of pies for their lunch each, day, and that a saving of id. on each pie would represent about 26s. a year on one article of food, alone. I regard a reduction of sales tax as- one of the most effective ways of increasing the wage of the worker. He is concerned, not with theories, but with what the money in his pay envelope will buy; and if a reduction of taxes increases his* purchasing power he knows that he is that much better off. The Government is doing a good joh in reducing the sales tax, but I again stress the need for an effective control of prices also. I appreciate what the Government has done in reducing the sales tax on many articles and removing it entirely from others, and. I hope that that principle will be. extended to the products ofsecondary industries which provide workfor Australians.
Senator SHEEHAN (Victoria) 1 10.40]. - I do not see in the schedule any indication that the sales tax on ice chests is to be reduced or removed, and I wonder whether a mistake has been made in not including these articles. An ice chest is a necessity in every household. Not every person in Australia lives in a district where electrical refrigeration is possible and many householders must therefore be content with ice chests. If this is an accidental omission-
– It is not. lee chests are covered by another bill.
– I hope that the sales tax on ice chests will be appreciably reduced or entirely removed.
Bills agreed to.
Bills reported without requests; report adopted.
Bills read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Ashley) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill bc now read a second time.
The object of the bill is to allow relief from sales tax on and from the 15th November, 1946, by granting certain further exemptions, and also by omitting certain goods from the Third Schedule to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act, thus reducing the rate of tax thereon from 25 per cent, to 10 per cent., which is the new general rate operating on and from the 15th November, 1946.
Particulars of the goods affected by the concessions are set out in a statement which is being circulated among honorable senators. The most important of the new exemptions is that relating to clothing and household drapery. Prior to the 15th November, 1946, a special rate of 7-J per cent, applied to clothing, drapery, soft furnishing and yarns which were coupon goods as at the 13th September, 1945. The cost of clothing at the present time is undoubtedly burdensome and it is proposed, therefore, that there shall be a complete exemption from sales tax in respect of all clothing, drapery, soft furnishings and yarns which have been subject to the special rate of 7£ per cent. Exemption is also being granted in respect of certain specified kinds of industrial clothing which were not coupon goods, and which, therefore, previously bore tax at the general rate of 12£ per cent.
Perambulators and comparable goods are also being included in the schedule of exemptions, with the object of reducing the cost of these essential articles. The list of exempt building materials is being extended to cover paint and associated goods, in addition to wallpaper. It is estimated that not less than 95 per cent, of the value of the materials used in the construction of an average home is free of sales tax. The principal foodstuffs are already exempt from tax. However, action is being taken to restore to the exemption schedule certain items which were exempt prior to the 22nd November, 1940, but which were taken into the taxable field at that date because of the unprecedented need of revenue for war purposes. The most important of the foodstuffs which are now being restored to exemption are meat pies and meat pasties. These goods represent a normal portion of the regular daily diet of a considerable section of the people, and are supplied in great numbers through canteens which cater for workers in large industrial establishments. These goods are considered, therefore, to have a strong claim for exemption, so that they may be placed on the same footing as the basic foodstuffs.
In response to numerous requests, exemption is also being granted in respect of show ribbons and certain printed matter for the use of agricultural societies. The former exemption of mining machinery and equipment is being restored. Although persons engaged in the mining industry gained substantial benefits from the recent exemption of aids to manufacture, the terms of that exemption are not sufficiently wide to allow freedom from tax on all the goods which formerly qualified for exemption when used in the mining industry. This bill, however, now restores to that industry the full measure of exemption previously enjoyed by it. Of the goods which are being reduced in rate from 25 per cent, to 10 per cent., perhaps the most important are watches and clocks, musical instruments, gramophones, bath and toilet soaps, and toothpastes. This reduction is also being granted in respect of skiffs, dinghies and other craft for sport and recreation, so that rowing and yacht clubs are being placed on the same footing as regards sales tax as other sporting bodies. Details of the other concessions to be allowed will be found in the statement which has been circulated.
The annual loss of revenue resulting from the concessions granted by this bill is estimated at £11,000,000. ‘ The loss for the current year would be approximately £6,400,000. The total loss of sales tax revenue, taking into account the reduction of .the general rate by virtue of other legislation from 12£ to 10 per cent., would be £16,000,000 per annum, or £9,300,000 for the current year. The bill is confined to the allowance of relief from tax, and I have no doubt, therefore, that it will give satisfaction to all honorable senators.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Courtice) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill bc now read a second time.
The hill gives effect to the Government’s decision to remove special war duty as on and from 9 a.m. on the 15th November, 1946. Special war duty was introduced on the 2nd May, 1940, to provide additional revenue for the prosecution of the war, and represented 10 per cent, of the total of customs and primage duties payable. The collection of special war duty was validated under the Customs Tariff (Special “War Duty) Validation Act (No. 2) 30 of 1943j and to discontinue the duty it is necessary to limit the period of operation of the Validation Act of 1943.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McKenna) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to ask Parliament to authorize a gradual and orderly transition of our national life from what may broadly be termed wartime conditions to those appropriate to peace. It seeks to do this by giving effect for twelve months to certain regulations and orders made under the National Security Act. “ 1939-1943, which would otherwise be terminated with the parent act on the 31st December, 1946. That such far-reaching legislation as the National Security Act should have been introduced by the parties now in opposition and strengthened subsequently by the Labour Government was essential and, indeed, inevitable. It is essential at once as the framework within which, and the instrument by which, Australia organized itself for survival and victory in conditions of total war. During the war years few of our day-to-day activities were unaffected by national security legislation. In the greatest of all our national emergencies the act served its purpose. Now it has run its full time and is to disappear. But many of the emergency conditions which the temporary legislation was created to control have not terminated. The difficulty and duration of a national post-war transition are affected by the length of the war, the degree of human and economic mobilization at home and the extent of economic dislocation abroad. This time we have undergone a six-year war. Our position as the bastion and base, and the source of food and other supplies for so much of the Pacific War and our role as an objective for actual invasion by the enemy, have involved Australia in a degree of human and. economic mobilization quite unparalleled in World War I. Moreover, world dislocation and devastation were on a scale and over an .area beyond all comparison with the catastrophe of 1914-18. In these circumstances a simple or short transition from war to peace conditions in Australia was not to be expected.
With the cessation of hostilities it has been possible to remove - and the Government has lost no time in removing, or where it could not remove, at least in relaxing - a very considerable number of war-time controls. Even prior to the cessation of hostilities a committee under the leadership of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) in another place had assisted the Government in ite tasks of cutting down and simplifying numerous controls and regulations. Every Minister and department has for eighteen months been under the obligation of regularly to report to Cabinet, through the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) on progress made in eliminating controls and on reasons for retaining the remainder. Honorable senators will recall that the call-up, man-power direction, control of new manufactures and many other major war-time restrictions were dropped promptly after the cessation of hostilities. In that way the Government kept faith with Parliament and with the people of Australia which entrusted national security powers to it, and in so acting the Government was confident that it served the national interest. The Government also judged it necessary early this year to fix the termination of the operation of the National Security Act at the 31st December, 1946, in order to give the general public an assurance in that regard and to ensure that any powers which might still be required would be brought under the review of Parliament itself. But with an equal sense of responsibility, and after careful weighing of all the trends and circumstances, the Government announced that termination of all controls under the National Security Act on that date could not be effected without the gravest danger to the national welfare.
If there are any who have doubts, I suggest that a short study of economic developments iri the United States of America between the 30th June last, when the original Office of Price Administration Act lapsed, and the recent lifting of practically all remaining controls, will induce very sobering reflections. After the final abandonment of price control in the United States of America, except in relation to rents, sugar .and rice, wholesale prices in many cases jumped between 10 and 70 per cent, in a single day. Rayon goods, for instance, went up 20 to 25 per cent, overnight with prospects of another increase within a fortnight. General .Motors announced a $100 rise in the prices of all cars immediately. In the United States of America between 1914 and 1920 the food prices index rose from 102 to 235; but between 1939 and last week it was reported to have risen from 89 to 273, most of the rise occurring since the 30th June, 1946, without any suggestion that the limit has yet been reached.
The bill before the House, with the details set out in its schedules, extends for twelve months from December, 1946,’ provisions which, in the considered opinion of the Government, are necessary to ensure a continued smooth transition from war to peace. At the same time “there are some regulations and orders listed for operation in 1947 which are included under “this ‘bill for reasons other than economic. In some cases .these will later be incorporated in whole or ‘in .part in normal legislation. I refer to SuCk regulations as those on disposal of Commonwealth property and on patriotic funds. In those cases it Ls proposed to allow time until Parliament can deal with necessary legislation next year. In other cases regulations are retained for the time being because the matters with which they deal are certainly disappearing, at least in their present form, but will not bo out of the way by the end of December. I refer to such regulations as those dealing with treatment of prisoners of war, the women’s services, and the discipline of the war-time forces. A third group involves preservation of rights to certain pensions, compensation and allowances for which other legislative provision has not yet been made.
One more general point should be mentioned at this stage. Certain acts specified in the third and fourth schedules and dealt with in the body of the bill require amendment in consequence of the termination of the National Security Act insofar as they make reference to or are in some way dependent for their proper or continued operation on the National Security Act’s currency. In some instances these are matters of major import. In one case at least, namely, the Ministers of State Act, it is proposed in the present session to introduce a new bill to eliminate dependence in existing legislation on .the duration of the National Security Act. In other cases the opportunity has been taken of amending legislation where this is necessary. For example, sections 78 and 79 of the Crimes Act forbid the making of sketches and plans of any prohibited place. It ‘is proposed to amend these sections by prohibiting photographs of these places. 1 might mention here in passing that it is the Government’s definite intention to present to this Parliament amending legislation to remove certain obnoxious provisions ‘in the -Crimes Act.
I deal next with the legal basis of the transitional provisions. “What is the constitutional, foundation for legislation giving ‘force for a further twelve months to the provisions of certain of the regulations originally made under the National
Security Act? The .general power is, of course, the same as that which was invoked to support the National Security Act, namely, the power in paragraph vi. of section 51 of the Constitution which is usually referred to as the “ defence power “. The scope of this power of the Commonwealth is very wide in time of war and, as has been pointed out by several judges of the High Court, does not shrink to its normal peace-time dimensions immediately on the cessation of hostilities. The high-water mark of the extent of this power was pointed out in clear terms by Mr. Justice Isaacs in Farey v. Burvett, 21 CLR. 483. In that case, at page 453, he said -
The defence power may bc exerted in times f peace; but so far only by way nf preparation. Actual defence, and ail that it connotes, comes only when we are at war. War creates its own necessities, proportioned to the circumstances, and not measurable in advance of the occasion; and defence is only complete when it meets those necessities’, whatever they may prove .to be.
His Honour proceeded -
A war imperilling our very existence, involving not the internal development of progress, but the array of the whole community in mortal combat with the common enemy, is >a fact of such transcendent and dominating character as to take precedence of every other fact of life. It is the ultima ratio of the nation. The defence power then has gone beyond the stage of preparation ; and passing into action becomes the pivot of the Constitution, because it is the bulwark of the State. Its limits then are bounded only by the requirements of self-preservation. It is complete in itself, and there can be no implied reservation of any State power to abridge the express grant of n power to the Commonwealth.
The doctrine there enunciated has been referred to by other justices from time to time and, although some qualifications may perhaps be said to have been engrafted on to it, it remains substantially true to say that the extent of Commonwealth power is almost limitless in time of war.
The “ defence power “ does not, as Latham C.J. points out in Dawson v. The Commonwealth, 1946 A.L.R, 461 at page 464, cease, instantaneously to be available as a source of legislative authority with the termination of actual hostilities. He stated -
The power is not cut off .as with a guillotine. The defence power includes not only a power to prepare for war and to prosecute war, but also a power to wind up after a war to restore conditions of peace - gradually if that is thought wise, and not necessarily immediately by the crude process of immediate abandonment of all federal control. The fact that certain conditions have been created by the exercise of the defence power is itself a fact which is relevant to the validity of a continued or further exercise of that power.
Support is lent to this view by the following remarks of Mr. Justice Dixon, at page 468, in Dawson’s case : -
To place a country on a footing to take an adequate part in such a war as that through which we have passed requires a co-ordinated and systematic series of measures which must re-shape the economy of the country. It is impossible to suppose that the defence power will suffice to authorize the retention of such a legislative fabric so constructed throughout a long and indefinite period of peace. But it is apparent that the change back from a war economy to an economy appropriate to peace is a task calling for further measures of a legislative nature, and the defence power, in my opinion, is not insufficient to authorize laws for that purpose. The power must in consequence aim extend to sustaining for some -reasonable interval of time the laws and regulations in force at the end of hostilities so as to enable the legislature to proceed with the task. The whole edifice does not collapse at once simply because the necessities which call it into being have passed. Further, among the things :that are incidental to the power must be the fixing by the legislature itself of some reasonable time during which the .regulations adopted for war are to continue in force, while the steps are taken that are considered necessary for the remission of the community to an order proper to peace.
I should point out that in three cases recently the High Court upheld the national security regulations then in question on the ground that their continued operation was necessary for assisting in the “ winding up “ of the war effort or in re-establishing ex-servicemen in civil life - Dawson v. The Commonwealth, 1946 A.L.R, 461- in which the validity of the land sales control provisions of the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations was upheld; Miller v. The Commonwealth, 1946 A.L.R. 469, in which share control provisions of those regulations were held to be valid; and Blair v. The Commonwealth, not yet reported, in which regulation 30a of the National Security (War Service Moratorium) Regulations was upheld. This regulation relates to the issue of warrants to grant possession of unoccupied premises to returned servicemen. Accordingly, the regulations which are by this bill declared to be in force include those which are necessary to enable the winding up of current war-time activities to be effected. Power is taken to repeal those regulations during the period of their operation. It is considered that these provisions are within the defence power as expounded by the majority of the justices of the High Court.
In briefly surveying the range of regulations for which parliamentary approval is sought for 1947,I divide the list given in the first schedule into eight groups, though there will be many cases of overlapping : -
Let me say a little about each of these groups. I deal first with the structure of orderly economic transition. The key group is that network of economic controls which keep inflationary pressure upon prices and costs in check and consequently ensures, not only justice as between persons, but a flow of resources as far as possible to essential rather than non-essential needs and in general preserves a balance within the economy under the abnormal stresses of the post-war transition. The principal sets of regulations in this group are those covering price control, wage control, rent control, control of land values, of capital issues and of interest rates. At the Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers held in August last, this group of key controls was discussed with the State Premiers, who were in agreement that they should be continued for some time ahead. Next year, the Government will bring down bills to continue anti-inflationary controls - prices, rent, land values, and capital issues - beyond the 31st December, 1947. This will be in accordance with the decisions of the conference held in August, that these controls should continue to be exercised on the basis of Commonwealth and appropriate complementary State legislation. First amongst these controls is price control proper. All parties, I believe, are agreed as to the necessity for carrying on this control until such time as the supply of goods has caught up with consumers’ demand.Without it there would almost certainly be a rise of prices, probably a considerable rise, in most fields, and this would gather a cumulative effect. We have been successful since the war began in holding prices down, and also in maintaining a fair relationship between costs and prices in different fields, but while the present wide gap between supply and demand remains, there can be no general relaxation of the measures by which this success has been achieved. Rent control is a special aspect of price control and is made necessary by the great shortage of housing. Progress is being made in the housing field, but it must be a long time yet before the supply of housing becomes adequate to the community’s need for it. This is a world-wide difficulty and it is significant that, of American controls, rent control almost alone has been retained to the present. I am sure that very few who know the housing situation would wish rents to be left free to unfettered competition here in Australia. But prices and rents cannot be held in check unless costs, too, are controlled. Hence, a measure of wage control, regarded as a corollary of a price control scheme, is contained in the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations. The object is to ensure a fair distribution of returns, and to keep real wages in line with the nation’s productivity. These regulations are retained, but they will not remain unamended. Already the Government has relaxed the wage-pegging regulations in force at the end of the war to permit the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to make variations in the standard hours and the basic wage. Although the measure before the House continues the selected regulations in their present form, it will permit of their amendment from time to time, subject to Parliament’s power of disallowing any amendment. In this connexion, I remind the Senate of the Prime Minister’s intention to make further relaxations of the wage-pegging provisions as and when circumstances permit this to be done. These particular provisions are at present under review, and, it is expected, will be announced before the 11th of this month.
Control of land values also clearly belongs to the group dealing with orderly economic transition. In the economic history of Australia the tendency for land values to hoorn in times of prosperity has been all too familiar. A period of favorable returns for producers leads to excessive bidding up of property values. Speculation develops, indebtedness grows, and costs impose a burden that cannot be supported if and when post-war prices and incomes decline. The result is often a desperate situation, necessitating long and painful readjustments. There can be little doubt that conditions are now present under which, in the absence of controls, past experiences of this kind could easily be repeated. The measure also contains provisions for the continuance of the pegging of values of land for taxation purposes at the 1939 level.
Strong competition for limited resources is a feature of the post-war situation, and it is this which necessitates the continuance for the time being of the capital issues control. Obviously, it is in the interests of the community that resources should be concentrated upon essential production and not be diverted to speculative and unnecessary enterprises. Capital issues control operates in the field of new investment and regulates the registration of companies, the issue of share capital, the making of calls upon shares and the raising of loans upon mortgages other than by way of normal bank overdraft. In other words, it regulates the main channels through which the savings of the public are actively sought by investors, and endeavours to ensure that those enterprises shall be fostered which would contribute most to the output of essential services and commodities. During the war, particularly in the later stages, the control was made very strict. Since the end of the war it has been relaxed considerably, though capital transactions which are clearly unsound or speculative or which threaten to create excessive capacity in particular fields of production are still prohibited ; but under present conditions, when there is great competition to start ventures of all kinds, this selective function is essential and should be continued for the time being. There was general agreement at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in August that the control of capital issues should continue for at least three years, and that it must be made applicable to all States if it is to be made effective. It was agreed, further, that the control should apply, not only to issues of capital, but a.l?o to mortgages and interest rates generally.
Extended power to control interest rates is regarded as vital. During the war period a notable reduction has been accomplished over practically the whole range of interest rates and it is our purpose now to consolidate that important gain so that the economy can derive the full benefit of it through the transition. In the period which followed the 1914-18 war, high interest rates imposed a heavy burden upon industry as well as upon public finance. We do not want that experience repeated. Power to regulate bank interest is contained in Commonwealth banking legislation. To complement this, power is required to cover transactions outside the banking field.
I deal next with regulations in support of marketing schemes. The second group - that of regulations under which wartime marketing schemes were organized - includes the Apple and Pear Acquisition, Barley Board, Tobacco Leaf, Dairy Produce Acquisition, Egg Industry, food Control, Potatoes, “Wheat Acquisition and “Wheat Industry Stabilization Regulations. There are several reasons for extending the currency of these regulations until the 31st December, 1947. First, the Commonwealth must keep faith with primary producers. The apple and pear growers of Tasmania and “Western Australia would be in a hopeless state if control were not continued until refrigerated shipping space lost during the war is made good and once more makes possible the disposal of surplus production. Second, contracts have been honoured. Thus, the forthcoming barley crop in Victoria and South Australia is very largely under contract to the Commonwealth, which must have power to control its marketing. Third, the price stabilization and control schemes are dependent on continuance of some controls in this group - hides and leather, rabbitskins and tobacco are examples. Fourth, the Commonwealth has to honour certain contracts made in war-time with Great Britain. Thus, we are under the necessity of implementing our contracts for sale of dairy produce to Britain. Fifth, in some cases negotiations are under way, but are not completed, with the States for agreed schemes of organized marketing. Thus, in the case of the egg industry, the Australian Agricultural Council is evolving, but has not completed, a- particular scheme. Sixth, the Commonwealth hascontinuing obligations on the supply side particularly in the case of food, towardsthe British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan. For. this reason, we believe it to be necessary to continue a. limited section of the Food Control Regulations. Seventh, the Commonwealth itself, has, in one important instance at any rate - the- wheat industry - passed wheat marketing legislation, but is now-, awaiting the passage of complementary legislation by the States. Until that State legislation has been completed emergency powers require extension.
I pass now to- provisions dealing1 with rationing and allied matters. After most’ serious’ consideration, Cabinet decided’ that the present rationing of clothing and food should be continued into 1947’. The reasons are twofold. In the case of tea and clothing, Australia is dependent on supplies from other parts of the world. In the case of sugar, butter and meat Australia has an obligation to help to alleviate the intense shortages in other countries, particularly the United Kingdom. The- policy of the Government has been to relax clothes rationing as soon as it is in the interests of the public to do so, and. during last-year, reductions were made of the coupon ratings of woollen piece goods’ and women’s clothing, whilst rationing was’ removed from knitted underwear, knitted outerwear, hosiery, headwearfootwear and minor .articles such as handkerchiefs, collars and ties. Further re– taxations- will be made as1 circumstances permit. With regard to’ tea, there is still a. severe world shortage* as the Netherlands East Indies, one of the principal producing- countries prior to the war, is still out of production. With regard to sugar, butter and’ meat, production in Australia is ample to meet all domestic requirements without restriction, but’ largo quantities of these goods are required for export to Great Britain, where there is a very severe shortage of essential goods - a shortage even greater than during the war years. Besides the.rationing regulations proper, there have also to be considered the Hide amd Leather. Jute Control, Tinplate, Land Transport (Motor Car), Liquid Fuel. Control, Rabbit Skin and Tea Control Regulations, all of which were related in. war-time to the problem of the best distribution of scarce commodities. To remove them now, while the effects of. wartime dislocation are still strongly present, would be to give rise to acute instability and hardship.
In the industrial group, I should especially refer to the Female MinimumRates, Industrial Peace and the Shipping Co-ordination Regulations. As in the case of regulations included in other groupings’ it is hoped that, as time permits, Parliament will be asked to enact’ in substantive statutes those parts of’ these regulations with which this Parliament’ is competent to deal. Meanwhile, if is essential for the successful industrial reconversion of Australia that fundamental provisions under these regulations should be retained. The Industrial Peace Regulations, for1 instance-, are still being widely relied upon by the Government, the Arbitration Court, and conciliation commissioners. The regulations provide a .means of bringing to the’ notice’ of the court and the Minister forLabour and National Service any matter which is likely to result in an industrial dispute. They also permit the appoint ment of conciliation commissioners inexcess of the three provided for in the’ current Arbitration Act. These regulations are- used by the appropriate Minister to refer- industrial disputes and matters direct to the- court’ or the conciliation commissioners for hearing; and settlement: As a result of this, many awards have been made and are still in force. Many determinations have been made under the regulations which cannot immediately be deprived of their basis without the gravest results. The Government is now exploring the extent to which some at least of the extensive war-time modifications in industrial relations machinery can, within the terms of the Constitution, be grafted into Commonwealth peace-time legislation. It is intended to amend the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act with a view to improving and extending the procedures of conciliation and also accelerating the arbitration process. However, while transitional difficulties remain intense, it would be inviting industrial chaos to allow all these regulations to lapse in December.
I deal next with provisions pending legislation. Some of the matters to be temporarily covered by national security regulations and orders will bc replaced hy legislation during 1947. I would instance the Control of Animal Diseases, Disposal of Commonwealth Property, Industrial Property, Minerals and Patriotic Funds Regulations.
With regard to rights to pensions, allowances and compensation, from the point of view of many Australian individuals and families this group is of vital importance. It includes the whole or part of the benefits and compensation sections of the Civil Constructional Corps Compensation, Civil Defence Workers and War Injuries Compensation Regulations, the War Service Moratorium Regulations, the War Damage Regulations, the Medical “Benefits for Seamen and the Claims against the Commonwealth in relation to Visiting Forces Regulations. Clearly, as our social service legislation is consolidated in the coming months, it will be possible to incorporate the provisions and obligations under some of these regulations in it. In some cases the regulations will be covered by special legislation. The Commonwealth Government naturally has no intention of going back on its undertakings and obligations in these instances, and hence cannot allow the regulations imposing them to lapse until alternative provision is made whenever necessary. Small adjustments have already been made in some to bring them up to date, and they will be regularly reviewed to ensure that with the passing of time anomalies and injustices do not creep in.
In the next group are certain military and security regulations, the continuance of which is essential to cover phases of the final demobilization period, the Interim and Occupation Forces period, and the period of clearing prisoner-of-war and alien control arrangements. For instance, we shall still have a few members of the women’s services, to whom existing regulations apply, on strength in the first months of 1947. Certain disciplinary and other related matters applicable to the remaining war-time and occupation forces require the retention of sections of the National .Security (General) Regulations for the time being. Some important regulations governing prisoner-of-war and enemy alien detention camps have to be maintained until sufficient shipping has been provided to return the men held and so remove the need for such regulations. During 1947, I believe, the regulations in this group can be rapidly reduced by repeal or revocation. If, in future, any measure of alien control which is not provided for already under our immigration laws should be necessary, it will be provided for by normal legislation which the Parliament will have full opportunity to scrutinize.
I have already explained that, for eighteen months, a regular check has been made with a view to the progressive reduction of regulations. It is not easy to give a precise idea of this process of reduction by means of mere bald statistical tables showing the degree to which controls are being removed by this bill, as the operation and effect of individual regulations vary considerably. For example, regulation 59 of the National Security (General) Regulations gives a Minister practically unlimited power over industry, and the removal of this regulation is, from this point of view, of more importance than the retention of a host of others which are concerned with lesser matters.
Nevertheless, a general idea can be obtained from the following facts. At the 2nd September, 1945, 157 sets of regulations were in operation. These sets included the National Security (General) Regulations and the National Security (Supplementary)Regulations, which contained 141 and 121 individual regulations respectively. The bill proposes to continue 61 sets of regulations, in the whole or in part, and to remove 104 individual regulations from the General Regulations and 79 individual regulations from the SupplementaryRegulations. Under one regulation alone - regulation 59, GeneralRegulations, to which I have referred - 131 orders were listed as being in operation on the 2nd September, 1946. It is proposed to continue only four of these 131 orders.
In conclusion, I reiterate that when I say that it is proposed to continue certain regulations, I am speaking of a bill which allows of continuance for only twelve months. Reviews will continue during that period, and many regulations will be discontinued as 1947 progresses. None of the matters covered by this bill will be capable of continuance beyond 1947 without being embodied in specific legislation approved by this Parliament. That is as it should be.We must ensure that the difficult period of transition and reconversion after total war shall proceed without dislocation and unnecessary suffering. At the same time, the democratic parliament’s supreme rights will be maintained. This bill restores to the Parliament its right and power to review the whole question of the continuance of Commonwealth emergency legislation for the purpose of covering part of the period of transition. I am sure that, in the exercise of its undoubted rights of criticism and review, the Parliament will also give the most favorable consideration to the Government’s proposals. In order to assist the Senate in its consideration of the bill, the Attorney-General has caused to be prepared, first, a short statement of the purpose for which the temporary continuance of each scheduled regulation or order is required and, secondly, a summarized statement of the regulations which will be discontinued. This statement also summarizes the regulations which have been repealed since the cessation of hostilities on the 2nd September, 1945. These statements have been incor porated in the Hansard report of proceedings in the House of Representatives on the 21st November, 1946.
Debate (on motion by Senator McLeay) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by SenatorCourtice) read a first time.
Minister for Trade and Customs) [11.37].- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is to give effect to the following decisions of the Government: -
All these duties were first imposed during the war to provide additional revenue for the prosecution of the war. As the collection of these duties was validated by Excise Tariff Validation Act (No. 2) 1943, it is necessary to limit the period of operation of that act so that the duties referred to above will cease to operate on and from 9 a.m. on the 15th November, 1946.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Ashley) read a first time.
– I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) - by leave - agreed to -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1936, the following senators be appointed members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works:- Senator Brand, Senator Lamp and Senator Nash.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Defence purposes - Portland, Victoria.
National Security Act - National Security ( Shipping Co-ordination ) Regulations - Order- 1946, No. 49.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act-
Ordinance - No. 12 of 1946 - Scaffolding and Lifts.
Rules - Workmen’s Compensation Ordinance.
Senate adjourned at 11.46 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 5 December 1946, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1946/19461205_senate_18_189/>.