19th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 11 a.m.. and read prayers.
– When the Minister for Social Services stated yesterday that pension increases would not be paid retrospectively, did he mean that those increases would operate only from a date on or after the passing of the necessary legislation ? I also wish to ask the Minister whether that legislation has yet been introduced into the Parliament, and, if not, when does the Government propose to introduce it?
– The Estimates contain provision for increased social services benefits to commence in November. The increases cannot legally be paid until legislation is passedby the Parliament, so that it is proposed to date them back to the first pension day in November in respect of each class of pension. Adjustments will be made, and increased payments to the respective classes of pensioners will become effective as from the first pay day on which each class becomes entitled to a pension payment during November. I shall make every endeavour to have the legislation introduced next week, and I shall ask that it be dealt with as promptly as possible in order that there should be a minimum amount of inconvenience to those who are entitled to the higher rates of pension.
– I understand that the Government proposes to pay increases of war pensions from a date later than it intends to pay increases of civil pensions. “Will the Minister for Repatriation take steps to ensure that the increases shall he paid from the same date in each instance?
– Although increased benefits under the provisions of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act will become payable as from the same day as increased aged, invalid, and other pensions will be paid, the recipients will not actually receive increased payments until amending legislation has been enacted.
– I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Prime Minister to the well-known fact that many public servants who have been employed by the Commonwealth for years are still classed as temporary employees. Will he explain why they cannot be granted permanent status after reasonable probationary periods? If that were done, they would have a feeling of security in. their employment and, in many instances, friction between them and permanent public servants who are subordinate to them would be avoided.
– I raised this matter frequently when I was a member of the Opposition in this chamber, and it was also raised by Senator Critchley during thi3 session. The reasons why temporary public servants have not been granted permanent status have been announced; but at the moment I am unable to supply the details. If the honorable senator will place his question upon the notice-paper, I shall supply him with an answer to it as soon as possible.
– I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to the fact that, during the war, many Australian farmers sold wool to private companies and that those companies undertook to distribute to them, through the joint organization, any profits that accrued from the sale of the wool. I understand that many farmers are still waiting to receive their share of the £25,000,000 that was distributed recently by the joint organization. “Will the Minister request his colleague to ascertain the reason for the delay to which I have referred and take steps to rectify the position ?
– I shall refer the honorable senator’s question to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and furnish him with a reply as soon as possible.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Supply say whether it is a fact that the successful operation of some of the principal primary industries of Australia, including the wool, wheat and sugar industries, is dependent upon the receipt of adequate supplies of jute materials from India and Pakistan? In view of the unsettled situation in Asia, will the Minister impress upon his colleague the urgent necessity to stockpile jute materials until we have in this country a sufficient quantity of them to meet all our requirements for at least four years? Will he also ask his colleague to co-operate with the Queensland authorities in relation to the economical production of at least some of the jute needed by Australian industries ?
– The problem of jute supplies has been under consideration by the Department of Commerce and Agriculture for many months and a representative of that department is now in Calcutta endeavouring to ensure that companies which contracted to supply jute to Australia make the deliveries that they undertook to make. Owing to misunderstandings, some shipments have not been made on the promised dates. If the honorable senator will place his question upon the notice-paper, I shall obtain from the Department of Commerce and Agriculture a detailed reply to all the points that he has raised.
– On the 24th October Senator Robertson asked a question respecting fuel stoves that have been installed in new houses in Turner, a suburb of Canberra. The following answer has been supplied by the Minister Acting for the Minister for the Interior : -
For some considerable time serious difficulty has been experienced in obtaining fuel stoves for bouses being constructed by the Government in the Australian Capital Territory. For a period it was impossible to purchase any of the particular type usually installed. Consequently comparatively large numbers of two other makes were secured. A small number of complaints was received regarding one of these types, of ‘which over 500 have now been installed. Generally, it was found that the fault complained of was caused by incorrect installation. Serious fault has been found in only one of the stoves. The particular type of stove has been on the market for many years and is regarded as quite satisfactory.
– In this morning’s press the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport is reported to have stated that coal production in Australia this year will exceed 15,000,000 tons. Will’ tha Minister inform the Senate whether he has been correctly reported? If so, will he inform honorable senators of the production figures for (a) pit coal, and (b) open-cut coal, during the last ten months?
– The production figure mentioned was supplied by the Joint Goal Board, which, of course, estimated production for the remainder of this year on the basis of production to date, which we all sincerely hope will be maintained. I shall be pleased to obtain for the honorable senator the information that he has requested, and I hope to be able to report that record coal production will be achieved this year. However, even if the present rate of output is maintained, production will be still 3,000,000 tons short of requirements.
– Will the Attorney-General inform the Senate what steps the Government has taken, or proposes to take, to expedite settlement, of the Victorian and- South Australian railway strike?
– I am sure the hon orable senator realizes that the strike to which he has referred is a strike by men who are engaged by government instrumentalities in the States of Victoria and South Australia. This is peculiarly a matter for the governments of those States, particularly the Victorian Government. Of course the arbitral machinery of the Commonwealth is open to ib? parties, and they have made some use of it, but not with complete success so far. The Australian Government has not received a request for intervention from the State governments concerned.
– Whilst I appreciate the answer given by the Attorney-General to Senator Sandford’s question, I ask whether it would be possible for the Commonwealth to take some action to put an end to the railway stoppage?
– I have no doubt that if circumstances should arise to make it possible for the Commonwealth to intervene usefully it will do so, but so far such intervention has not been warranted. Commonwealth arbitral tribunals are there for the parties to make use of if they so desire. Apart from that, the matter is peculiarly the concern of the State governments.
– The Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr, said that the dispute had become a Commonwealth matter because it has involved workers in five States. It is possible that the entire transport system of Australia will be held up if the dispute is not settled. How can it be maintained that the dispute is a State matter when the transport systems of two States are involved ?
– I adhere to my statement that as the dispute concerns employees of a State instrumentality, it is peculiarly a matter for the State Government concerned, and that, so far, we have not had any request for Commonwealth intervention.
– According to newspaper reports, the Victorian railways strike, which has now been in progress for nearly three weeks, is extending throughout the whole of the Commonwealth. The Attorney-General has stated that this is a matter for the States. As the dispute will affect primary and other industries throughout Australia, and as it appears from press reports that it will extend to other industries, will the Minister use such powers as he has as Attorney-General to confer -with the State Premiers with a view to bringing about an early settlement of the dispute?
– I do not propose to say any more than that I adhere to my previous answers to questions on this subject.
– As there has been a 24-hour hold-up of rail transport in Tasmania as the result of this dispute, I propose to ask the Attorney-General another question, to which I think he should furnish an answer, because if the Government throws up its hands and rune away from the dispute, leaving the people-
– Order ! The honorable senator must ask the question.
– Does the AttorneyGeneral not think that the action of the conciliation commissioner in not ratifying the agreement approved of by the Victorian Railways Commissioner ie causing even greater public inconvenience than would otherwise be the case?
– I do not propose to reflect upon the decision of the conciliation commissioner which, as far as I can gather, is completely in accordance with the law. I certainly do not intend to discuss it. As so many questions have been asked on this subject by honorable senators opposite, I must confess that I had it in mind that, as the Australian Labour party exercises what might be regarded as a very considerable influence with the Government of Victoria, the questions that have been directed to me could more properly have been directed to the Government of that State.
– In view of the answers given by the Attorney-General to questions asked by other honorable senators on this subject, are we to understand that if the whole of the transport of Australia is completely paralysed, this Government will remain silent and take no action?
– It is not customary for Ministers to answer hypothetical questions.
– The Minister has given hypothetical answers.
– The honorable senator’s question was completely hypothetical because the whole of the transport facilities of Australia are not at present paralysed.
– They will be if this Government does not take action to end the dispute.
– Apparently the honorable senator has more information on this subject than I have.
– He is one of the big twelve in the federal executive of the Australian Labour party.
SenatorSPICER.- Senator Aylett, like many of his colleagues, seems to be eager to create a situation in which the whole of the transport facilities of this country will be paralysed.
– I rise to order. I take very strong exception to the statement by the Attorney-General that the colleagues of Senator Aylett are eager to create industrial disputes. That statement is incorrect, and unwarranted, and I ask for its withdrawal.
– I ask the Minister to withdraw the words to which exception has been taken.
– I should like to know, Mr. President, what words I am asked to withdraw.
– The Minister heard the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition, and his request for the withdrawal of certain words. The Minister must withdraw them.
– That Senator Aylett seemed to be eager - is that what I am asked to withdraw?
– Senator Aylett and his colleagues on this side of the Senate-
– Do you rule, Mr. President, that the words complained of are offensive to honorable senators opposite within the meaning of the Standing Orders?
– I certainly do, and I ask the Minister to withdraw them.
– I suggest that this is a most extraordinary ruling.
– I have given a ruling; the Minister may move dissent from it if he desires to do so.
– I could understand your asking me, Mr. President, whether I would withdraw the words-
– Order ! The Attorney-General will please resume his seat. I ask him to withdraw the words that he used and which were offensive to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) and to other honorable senators on the Opposition side of the chamber. Words that are offensive must be withdrawn, and the usual procedure is that the President asks the honorable senator who used them to withdraw them. I ask the Attorney-General to withdraw those words so that the procedure will be in complete conformity with the Standing Orders.
– In deference to you, Mr. President, I withdraw them.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral the following questions: - 1. Is it a fact that a mutual agreement was arrived at between the Victorian Railways Commissioners and the Australian Railways Union concerning working conditions of Victorian railway employees? 2. Was that mutual agreement submitted to a conciliation commissioner, not for conciliation but for the purpose of writing into an award conditions agreed on between the employer and employees? 3. Is it a fact that the conciliation commissioner refused to write that mutual agreement in to the award, despite the fact that he had not taken evidence in respect of the matters agreed upon, and declined to promote industrial peace in that manner? 4. Is it a fact-
– I suggest that the honorable senator’s time be extended.
– Order ! I think Senator Cooke is asking a legitimate question. It involves matters which are peculiarly within the province of the Attorney-General.
– Is it a fact that as a result of the conciliation commissioner’s refusal to write that agreement into the award the dispute was extended to New South Wales, South Australia, and to some extent, Queensland and Tasmania? 5. Is it true that the only arbitration and conciliation legislation which gives power to deal with disputes that have extended beyond the boundary of a State is contained in federal legislation? 6. Is it a fact that the Attorney-General and the Government are charged with a duty to the public to administer that legislation? 7. Do the members of the Government recollect that when the Australian Labour party was in office, it accepted : hat responsibility and not only intervened in interstate disputes, but actually took part in their settlement, and members of the Government visited the coalfields and assisted the conciliation commissioners in promoting industrial peace for the public benefit?
– I shall not endeavour to answer in detail the long “ quiz “ to which I have been subjected by the honorable senator, but it is apparent from the questions asked that he has not read theCommonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act and that, in a large measure, his questions are founded upon an entirely false basis. I do not wish to enter into controversy concerning this matter, but I think that it is fair to say that a conciliation commissioner, when asked to certify an agree ment made between an employer and his employees, is not left by the act with a mere duty to put his signature to the agreement, but must give consideration to the question whether it is in the public interest. Before a conciliation commissioner certifies an agreement he is obliged to determine - and this is in the Chifley Government’s act - whether the certification of the agreement is in the public interest. As I understand it, the conciliation commissioner concerned has taken the view that he is not prepared to hold that it is in the public interest. In doing so, he, at any rate, has discharged his responsibility under the act.
– And inconvenienced the public.
– The people may disagree with his finding, but I have no doubt that it is a perfectly bona fide finding on a question which he must determine under the act.
I invite correction if I misstate the position, but as I understand it, the failure of the conciliation commissioner to certify the agreement is not an obstacle to its implementation by the parties if they see fit to do so. That is a matter for the Victorian Railways Commissioners, and, perhaps, the State government and the other parties to the agreement, although I understand they made the agreement subject to its being certified by the conciliation commissioner. That. I think, in substance, answers the honorable senator’s questions.
– I direct a question to the Attorney-General. Is this spineless Government in favour of conciliation and arbitration?
– I rise to a point of order.
– Mr. President !
– Order ! Would Senator Scott please resume his seat? I am not quite certain whether Senator Scott rose first or whether Senator McCallum did so.
– I defer to Senator Scott.
– I rise to a point of order. The remark made by Senator Fraser concerning “ this spineless Government “ - of which I am a supporter - hurts my feelings considerably, is offensive to me, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– I should hate to have any honorable senator’s feelings hurt.
– My feelings have been terribly hurt, and I ask that Senator Fraser withdraw that remark.
Honorable senators interjecting,
– Order! I point out to honorable senators that they must be silent while the President is ruling on a point of order. I cannot see into the mind of Senator Scott, but I can see his deportment and the smile on his face, and I have also noticed the laughter provoked by his point of order. Consequently, I have come to the conclusion that the honorable senator is not really serious in the matter, and I shall call on Senator Fraser to proceed with his question.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral say whether this Government is in favour of the system of conciliation and arbitration? If it is, does the honorable senator believe that what has happened in the Victorian railways dispute constitutes a real danger to that system ?
– The Government is completely in favour of the system of conciliation and arbitration. I suggest that any threat to that system comes from people who are not prepared to abide by awards of arbitration courts and to act in a peaceful manner, but insist upon pursuing their claims by the method of strikes.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral say whether the railways dispute is still under consideration by the conciliation commissioner? If it is, has the Attorney-General, the Government or any of its officers power to intervene in the proceedings? If. they have that power, will the Attorney-General ensure that some governmental intervention in the proceedings does take place?
– As I understand the position, it is, at any rate as far as Victoria is concerned, that the proceedings before the conciliation commissioner were determined by the decision of ,the commissioner not to certify the agreement made between the trade union and the railways commissioners. I think that the only application before him was that he should certify the agreement. I am not certain of the position in relation to New South Wales. In that case, I think an application has been made for a variation of the award in relation to passive time. As I have already indicated, so far the Commonwealth has not seen fit to intervene in the proceedings. It may well be that honorable senators are not promoting the best interests of the community by pursuing this subject now.
– Can the AttorneyGeneral say whether there is any other case on record in which the parties to a dispute reached an agreement for the settlement of the dispute and a conciliation commissioner refused to endorse the agreement ?
– I am unable to answer that question. I direct the attention of the honorable senator to the legislation dealing with this matter that was introduced into the Parliament by the Chifley Government. It has been demonstrated recently that that measure is not a good one. Many of the difficulties that have arisen in relation to this dispute are attributable to its form. If the honorable senator reads the section of the measure which relates to the certification of agreements, he will learn that a conciliation commissioner is charged with the duty of considering whether the certification of an agreement would be in the public interest.
– Last year, the Chifley Government agreed to co-operate with the Government of Queensland in the development of what is known as the Burdekin River scheme. During the election campaign, the present Treasurer and the Liberal party candidate for the area concerned said that if the anti-Labour parties were returned to power the new government would proceed immediately with the proposed scheme. I now ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether it is proposed to honour that promise? If not, why has Queensland been made the victim of such political dishonesty?
– I am astonished at the implication in the honorable senator’s question. As a representative of Queensland, he should know that the proposal brought forward by the Hanlon Government in Queensland was found to be completely unsound.
– It was accepted by the Chifley Government.
– That is probably all the more reason why it was unsound. Senator Courtice, as a former Minister for Trade and Customs, should know that the overseas market for Australian sugar is limited by international agreement, and that the home market is limited by the requirements of our population. The proposals of the Hanlon
Government for the development of the BurdekinRiver project envisaged the production of many hundreds of thousands of tons of sugar cane for which there would be no market in Australia, and any attempt to dispose of it on the overseas market would constitute a violation of the international agreement. Although the scheme may have been accepted by the Chifley Government, such acceptance did not confer upon it the imprimatur of soundness. Proposals have now been made to use the land for the production of tobacco and other rich crops, and it is hoped that the amended scheme will be in operation in the near future. I repeat that the proposals of the Hanlon Government were found by Commonwealth experts to be unsound. Proposals for the development of the area in question are now being investigated by Commonwealth and State experts acting in conjunction, and I hope that, before long, the people of Queensland and of Australia will have the satisfaction of seeing that very important area developed on sound lines.
– As the Government has indicated that increased pension payments will be made available as from the first pay day in November, I should like to know from the Minister representing the Minister for Health why it is not possible for free medicine also to be made
Available to pensioners as from the same date?
– The pension increases impose a specific commitment on the Government, and provision has been made for them in the budget. The pharmaceutical benefits to which the honorable senator has referred will involve undetermined expenditure. In answer to the honorable senator yesterday, I agreed to submit his suggestion to the Minister for Health. I have done that and I shall obtain a reply as soon as possible.
– The withdrawal of the Commonwealth subsidy of £2 15s. a ton on superphosphate is imposing considerable hardship inWestern Australia where, in view of limited rail transport facilities, the fertilizer has to be carried mainly by road. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture ask Cabinet to consider the peculiar disability suffered in Western Australia, particularly by new settlers including ex-servicemen as the result of the withdrawal of the subsidy?
– While I was acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Senator Scott and some other Western Australians waited on me in regard to this matter. Their representations have been passed on to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who will consider whether anything can be clone to overcome the disabilities associated with late deliveries of superphosphate in Western Australia. I hope that the Minister will be able to make astatement on the matter next week.
– As time is marching on and there is much work to be done, I ask honorable senators to place any further questions they desire to ask upon the notice-paper.
– I rise to order. I take exception to the statement of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan).
– I rise to order.
– Order ! Two points of order cannot be taken at once. I ask Senator Hendrickson to proceed.
– I ask you. Mr. President, whether the Minister for
Trade and Customs has power to direct that further questions be placed upon the notice-paper ?
– I do not think that the Minister has power to do that, but it is the practice both in the House of Representatives and in this chamber to accede to a request by a responsible Minister that further questions be placed upon the notice-paper.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice - 1., Have any developmental works financed by the Commonwealth Government been commenced this year in the State of Queensland for the purpose of developing Australia and strengthening her defence?
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answers: -
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Spooner) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill seeks parliamentary authority for further advances to the States of capital funds totalling £26,100,000 in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act 1945. The following statement reveals the continued increase in advances made to the States by the Commonwealth since the inception of the agreement: -
During the same period parliamentary appropriations amounting to £69,000,000 have been approved, leaving a balance of £6,178,000 available at the 30th June. 1950, to enable the building programme to continue without interruption in the early months of this financial year. The works programme approved by the Loan Council in September last included £26,100,000 for rental housing under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
The increase of the provision in this bill over that provided by the Loan (Housing) Act 1949 is to meet (a) an anticipated increase in the volume of traditional housing; (b) rising costs of building; and (c) costs of supply and erection of imported houses.
The local building industry gives no indication under present conditions of being able to produce substantially more than 60,000 of the 90,000 new houses a year that Australia must have to meet housing needs arising solely from marriages and migration, so that there is an annual deficiency of approximately 30,000 houses to be made good. To encourage importation and to help to meet this deficiency, the Commonwealth has offered financial assistance to the States of up to £300 for each house imported from overseas. Orders so far placed, or in process of negotiation for importing houses under the Commonwealth offer, total approximately 8,000, with options for a further 6,000. It is expected that approximately 6,000 will come under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement and are in addition to orders by the Commonwealth for 2,600 houses for its own purposes and by Victoria for 2,100 bouses for its utilities not coming under the Commonwealth offer.
To the end of June, 1950, 40,999 dwellings had been commenced under the agreement in the five States operating under it; of those 30,410 had been completed and 10,589 were under construction at the 30th June, 1950. During the year ended the 30th June, 1950, 7,435 dwellings were completed. Of those 2,552, representing 34 per cent., were in country areas. The agreement is designed primarily to bring homes of good standard within the reach of persons with smaller incomes. This purpose is achieved by the provision of rental rebates, under which families whose incomes equal the basic wage do not have to pay more than one-fifth of their income in rent, whatever the economic rent of the dwelling they occupy. As the family income rises above the basic wage, or falls below it, the amount of rebate decreases or increases. The total amount of rental rebates granted up to the 30th June, 1950, was £214,630. All these houses are available for purchase, since the agreement makes provision for a tenant, if he wishes, to purchase the home he occupies. It is Commonwealth policy to encourage sales. The States are, of course, principals under the agreement, and it is they who determine the basis of sale. Commonwealth approval is necessary only should a State desire to sell a house below capital cost. To the 30th June, 1950, approximately 530 agreement dwellings had been sold to tenants, none at less than capital cost. It is expected that the volume of sales will be considerably greater in this financial year. An important feature of the agreement during the present acute housing shortage is that all dwellings must be allotted in accordance with the relative needs of applicants, and at least 50 per cent. must go to ex-servicemen. In practice, the proportion allotted by States to ex-servicemen and their dependants has considerably exceeded this provision.
I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Ashley) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 1st November (vide page 1708), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read asecond time.
– Prior to the adjournment of the Senate last evening, I had pointed out that in connexion with a number of the provisions of this bill the Opposition has no quarrel with the Government. However, it is extremely doubtful whether the claim of the Government that it has a mandate for certain provisions in this measure can be sustained. The supporters of the Australian Country party have made it quite clear that they are not interested in altering the banking legislation that was enacted by the Chifley Government in 1945. Although they are not happy about the proposed appointment of a Commonwealth Bank board, if a board is to be established they claim that they should have adequate representation on it.
– What is the honorable senator’s authority for that statement?
– That is a fact. 1 informed the Senate of the source of my information last night. Of course, it is quite evident that the Liberal party has an obligation to the private banks. The present Government comprises two minority parties. The Australian Country party did not seek a mandate to alter the Chifley Government’s 1945 banking legislation, and therefore, in effect, endorsed it. Furthermore, the supporters of the Liberal party are divided on the matter. Those two minority parties have coalesced for the purpose of enacting legislation which would be contrary to the best interests of the people. In spite of the bombast of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan), it is evident from the election figures that neither of the parties that constitute the Government was given a clear mandate by the people. I am certain that the people do not want to disturb a system that has operated successfully in the best interests of the country. The Government cannot point to a single instance of inefficiency or maladministration in connexion with the Commonwealth Bank. Under the present system, of management, the bank has co-operated with the Government in the best interests of Australia, both nationally and internationally.
In his second-reading speech on this bill, the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) watered down the attack of the anti-Labour parties on the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945. That is an excellent act. As some of the provisions of the Banking Act 1947 have been declared by the courts to be unconstitutional, they could not be put into effect, whether the present bill is passed or not. That clause in the present bill which provides for the repeal of the 1947 legislation, can do no more than formally repeal an act that has been declared invalid, and is already a dead letter. In his second-reading speech on this bill, the Minister for Social Services said - la reviewing the 1945 banking legislation, and in the preparation of this bill the Government has been deeply conscious of its responsibilities to the people, and particularly to the fact that these responsibilities require -
that measures of such great importance should not be approached in a partisan spirit; and
The Opposition agrees with that view, but the partisan feeling has been displayed by members of the Government and their supporters. “We are urging the Government to treat this whole matter with the calm detachment that its importance merits. The administration of the bank can be continued under the 1945 act without embarrassment to the Government, or injury to the people. Therefore, why change a system that is working well? There should be the widest kind of inquiry in order to determine whether the present system can be improved, and whether the methods proposed by the Government would be an improvement. Members of the Opposition believe strongly that the present method of control should not be disturbed. The Advisory Council, whose function it is to assist the Governor, has rendered excellent service. Its work has been highly commended by the Government and by competent banking authorities, both here and overseas. The members of the council are public servants, experts in their line, whose sole interest is to promote the welfare of the Commonwealth Bank. As public servants, they are not permitted to have outside commercial interests, and their judgment and good faith, is in no danger of being warped by association with private banks, insurance companies, or private financial institutions.
I do not believe that, even if the bill becomes law, the Government would interfere immediately with the present administration of the bank. The Government would like to make the kind of changes that its supporters frequently advocated before the 1945 act was passed, but it would hold its hand for a time, because it knows that the people are well satisfied with the bank as it is and that for the Government to permit any drastic change would be dangerous to their political future. The changes, therefore, would be introduced gradually. Banking has been the subject of controversy in Australia ever since the bank smash of 1893. As a result of the continuous efforts of the Labour party there has now been evolved a banking system that is as near to being completely satisfactory as is possible under the Constitution. That system should not be altered without the most careful consideration, and without an examination of the whole matter by a select committee of the Senate, so as to make certain that any change would be for the better. Under the bill, the Government will have the right to appoint certain members to the board. Quite properly, the Government will not state now who those members are to be. We maintain that they should not be associated in any way with Australian or international financial institutions or commercial combines. It may be that no exception could be taken to the first appointees, but later, the membership of the board might be changed, and then the board could be used to apply a policy which the Government would not dare to submit to the people, or even to the Parliament - a policy to suit the pressure groups that have had so much influence over the Government since it assumed office.
The bill provides that if the Treasurer disagrees with the Commonwealth Bank Board, he shall, within fifteen days, lay on the table in the Parliament the papers relevant to the dispute between himself and the board. In practice, it is extremely doubtful whether any dispute would reach the Parliament at all. The Treasurer would inform the board what he wanted done, and he would make it clear that he did not wish the public to know about any disagreement. There would be no report to the Parliament because of a mutual agreement having been arrived at. In the meantime, great damage might be done in this country. Substantial changes could be made in the policy of the Commonwealth Bank without any intervention by the Treasurer. During the last election campaign, the banks spent nearly £1,000,000 on securing the defeat of the Labour Government, and the present Administration has to repay the banks for that assistance. What objection can the Government possibly have to the fullest consideration of this legislation in a non-party spirit by a select committee of this chamber? After all, did not the present Government parties themselves follow exactly that procedure in relation to similar legislation in 1930? In those days, the banking policy being pursued in this country was far more vicious than it is to-day. Some years later, the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) expressed caustic criticism of the banking policy pursued during the depression years. He deplored the degree to which outside interests could influence the banking policy of this country, without government interference, and sometimes with full government support. Mr. McEwen’s criticism was strongly supported by the Labour Opposition in this Parliament.
The Scullin Labour Government came to power in this country because of the maladministration of the BrucePage Government, and its mismanagement of banking policy. Unfortunately the Scullin Government lacked a majority in the Senate as the Menzies Administration does to-day. On the 10th July, 1930, the Central Reserve Bank Bill which had been considerably battered about in both houses of the Parliament was referred to a Senate select, committee. That is the course that the Opposition proposes to take with this measure. We shall be doing exactly the same as the present Government parties did in those days. It i3 true that the names of those parties have been changed, but they still adhere to the same old conservative policy. There is the precedent for the Opposition’s proposal. On the 13th November, 1930, the Senate select committee was still taking evidence and it secured an extension of time. The then Opposition in this chamber used its majority to secure that extension, and with that action I have no fault to find. The bill was a vital measure. Witnesses before the select committee emphasized the necessity for protection of the people and of the Government against the private financial institutions. Unwelcome as the activities of the committee might, have been to the government of the day, I believe that the investigation was beneficial in the long run. An adjournment of the second-reading debate on the Central Reserve Bank Bill was insisted upon by the Senate Opposition on the 11th December, 1930. Similar action, I believe, is even more justified to-day because, despite the commendation by honorable senators opposite of the present organization of the bank and of its work the Government proposes by this measure to alter the management of that great institution. Honorable senators opposite have not hesitated to pay a tribute to the work of the Commonwealth Bank during World “War II. The Opposition agrees that the bank has done a splendid job, and believes, therefore, rhat any interference with the present method of control is unwarranted. Not nic honorable senator opposite has endeavoured to show that, as at present constituted, the management of the bank has acted contrary to the best interests of the people of this country. I say, therefore, that there is a need for the fullest possible investigation of this measure. The bill is of such far-reaching importance that it should be considered in a nonpartisan spirit. Here is the Government’s chance to ensure that the bill shall receive such consideration. The Government has refused to listen to the arguments that the Opposition has advanced against this measure. Honorable senators opposite have been critical, splenetic and bombastic. They have hurled insults at the Labour party for opposing the measure. The differences between the Government and the Opposition can best be resolved. I believe, by having the measure exhaustively investigated by a select committee on which both the Government and Opposition have representation.
The Minister for Trade and Customs said, no doubt with all sincerity, that the Government’s aim was to strengthen the Commonwealth Bank. but the only justification that he offered for that assertion was a proposal to increase the capital of the bank by £5,000,000. To the man in the street that may appear to be a huge sum, but it is really of no great significance when one considers the functions the bank is called upon to perform. The bank is closely identified with government finance. Ft plays a. vital part in the raising of loans, and the financing of marketing operations. After all, the Government proposes in the current budget to increase its own working capital by £200,000,000. The Commonwealth Bank’s close relationship with government financial policy is well explained in the publication, The Commonwealth Bank of Australia in the Second World War. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to-day is, like Mahomet’s coffin, suspended between heaven and earth. He does not know whether we are at war or not at war. He says on some occasions that we are not at war, but when appeals are made for increased social services, he has no hesitation in saying that we are at war. When we ask the Government to control prices and to retain in this country sufficient supplies of our export commodities to meet the requirements of our people, the Prime Minister says that the Commonwealth has no power to take such action in time of peace; but when he wants to put our boys into uniform, he has no hesitation in saying that we are virtually at war. I do not disagree with his contention that we are now enjoying the doubtful benefits of an uneasy peace and that at any time this country may be plunged into another major war. Both the Government and the Opposition are in complete agreement on that matter. Having regard to the uncertain state of the world is it wise for the Government now to propose to change the administration of the Commonwealth Bank which has played such an important part in financing the needs of this country and of ite industries, in peace and in war? In The Commonwealth Bank of Australia in the Second World War, the writer, dealing with control of exports, says -
The necessity for control over exports was realized early in the preparatory stages and collaboration between the Department of Trade and Customs and the Commonwealth Bank commenced several months before war actually broke out. The objective was then to formulate, in preparation for use in an emergency, a satisfactory system of control over the proceeds of exports which would result in the least possible disturbance to normal business practice. At the same time, it burt to be borne in mind that the system decided upon might be required to impose regulation over the physical movement of goods as well as over the proceeds of whatever goods were actually sent out of the Commonwealth. It was necessary, therefore, to devise n scheme which would have the effect of forcing shippers to come before a government authority before goods could be sent out of the country
Export controls were imposed by agreement between the Department of Trade and Customs and the Commonwealth
Bank, both of which were greatly concerned about the need for protecting our economy to enable us to devote all our resources to the prosecution of the war. If to-day the world position is as serious as the Prime Minister states it to be, and war is in fact imminent, why should the Government seek to interfere with the structure of the Commonwealth Bank which demonstrated that it could successfully handle the finances of the nation during a world war in which Australia was deeply committed?
– The bank was under board control at that time.
– That is so, but the board collaborated with the government of the day as the result of war conditions. Later, however, the present method of bank administration was instituted. The National Security (War-time Banking Control) Regulations which were administered by the bank and which were subsequently embodied in the Banking Act 1945 and the appointment of a Governor caused interference, with the interests of those who really finance the anti-Labour parties and when this Government assumed office it decided to abolish the existing method of control and to replace it by a system of board control in the hope that the administration of those provisions would be watered down. Outside influence undoubtedly played a very important part in the formation of the banking policy of the earlier board and the banking control regulations were formulated to protect the interests of the country. Under the regulations the private banks were compelled to deposit their surplus funds with the Commonwealth Bank at a low rate of interest in order to enable the bank to meet the heavy demands made by the Government on its resources for the prosecution of the war, to enable primary producers to be paid for their products even though they were unable to ship them abroad, and to keep at the maximum pitch of efficiency the industries engaged in the manufacture of war and other essential material requirements. The regulations caused embarrassment to the board and to the private banks alike. The private banks brought all the influence thev were able to bear on the government of the day to abolish the regulations. Not at any stage during the war did the private bankers with goodwill allow their surplus funds to remain on deposit with the Commonwealth Bank. They were eager to revert to the old system.
Although they knew that they could not convince the people of Australia that there was any unfairness in the regulations, when the regulations were embodied in the Banking Act 1945 they immediately challenged the validity of that act. The Labour Government decided to embody the regulations in the Banking Act 3945 to enable it to fulfill the promises it had made to the lads who had gone overseas to fight for the preservation of our ideals and our way of life. Unfortunately, our exservicemen have been cheated of their just due by the inflation that has resulted from the failure of this Government to keep the economy of Australia on a sound footing. The Commonwealth Bank cannot be blamed for the inflation that exists in this country to-day. Responsibility for it rests to a great degree on this Government. The young men who went overseas and risked their lives in the defence of their country are entitled to the full purchasing value of the war gratuity that was promised them. During the war the Commonwealth Bank was, in naval parlance, stripped for action and it reached the peak of efficiency. Why should it not be permitted to operate with equal efficiency in peace-time ?
– The fact that it, operated efficiently did not justify the Chifley Government’s proposal to nationalize banking.
– Now that honorable senators opposite can no longer raise the Communist bogy they attempt to make the people believe that the Australian Labour party still seeks to bring about the nationalization of banking. Although that issue is dead, the Labour party regards the experiment as having been worth while if for no other reason than that it had the effect of curbing, to some degree, the greed and capacity of the private bankers. The private banks claimed that the Banking Act 1945 was unconstitutional ; but they did not proceed with the challenge. They said, in effect, “When the tide of national affairs has reached its lowest ebb, we shall strike against it. We shall not do so now because we are well aware that we cannot sustain our attack”. If I insulted Senator Gorton, outside the Senate, he, as a man of honour, would immediately seek redress. I am sure that he would not say. as the private banks have virtually said, “ I shall wait for a day when you are weak, and then I shall get you “. To do so would he to act like a mongrel.
As the Prime Minister has warned us that we are in the shadow of war, I remind the right honorable gentleman that during the last war the Commonwealth Bank performed remarkable service for the people of this country. I am sure honorable senators opposite will not challenge my statement that primary production during the war was in a desperate position because of marketing difficulties. The wheat silos in Western Australia were full, and weevils had got Into the grain. The authorities disinfected the silos, and turned the wheat over in an endeavour to prevent it from deteriorating. That was necessary because shipping was not available to transport it overseas, the predecessors of the Australian Government then in office having destroyed the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. During all that time the farmer received regular advances. It is true that he was not paid the total realization price of his wheat, but he received more than he would have received had he been in the grip of private banking interests, who ride on the backs of the producers. That state of affairs called for a tremendous economic change in relation to the marketing of primary products, and the Commonwealth Bank efficiently dealt with that position.
As I have previously mentioned, when the Commonwealth Bank wa3 established, one of its functions was to control exports and to ensure that the requirements of this country would be met before exports were made. The bank did that and the country ultimately reaped the benefit if its policy. During the period from September, 1939, to September, 1945, the bank made impressive advances to primary producers. Advances to the amount of £164,710,000 were made in respect of wheat which was being held in this country and could not be exported. Advances of £124,680,000 were made in respect of meat; £69,638,000 for butter and cheese; £19,558,000 for eggs; £19,386,000 for apples and pears, and £6,889,000 for barley. In addition, an amount of £17,072,000 was advanced for the purchase of coffee and tea under government contract. An amount of £377,052,000 was handled under the special arrangements made for wool, and £9,S93,000 in respect of sheepskins, making: a grand total of £812,403,000. I suggest that that was a. magnificent effort. It should be remembered that those figures apply only to primary produce.
Honorable senators are aware of what occurred during the first world war, when produce was thrown on the various world markets. It will be remembered that there was advance buying of wheat and gambling in it, and that when the wheat could not be exported from this country, it was the farmer who suffered. The banks held the mortgages, and the gamblers in wheat reaped the profits. I knew a flour-miller in Western Australia who said that his business at that time slumped to such a point that he was almost bankrupt, but that buying and trading on the wheat market made him financially better, even though he was not in a position to turn a wheel at that time. During the last world war an arrangement between the Government and the Commonwealth Bank prevented a recurrence of such a state of affairs. The methods employed by the government that was in office when the war broke out were improved until the country had the benefit of an efficient Commonwealth Bank. We should not interfere with the position of that bank before making the widest possible inquiry. I suggest that the proposition advanced by the Opposition is a wise one and will not embarrass the nation. If the Government feels that the pressure groups which support it are not having sufficient say in the management of the bank, it should have the courage to disregard them.
Referring again to the marketing problem in existence during the last war, it is we’ll to remember that although there were difficulties, such as lack of shipping, the grower received 90 per cent, of the appraised price of his wool within fourteen days of completion of appraisal. That figure rose to 95 per cent, in 1940, and towards the end of the war he received practically 100 per cent, of the appraised price. Looking back on that period, it will be seen that the bank’s experts operated in collaboration with men who were interested in the industries concerned. It is impossible to pay too high a tribute to the wool realization organization, and to the persons responsible for wool marketing, but it must be remembered that their operations were made possible by regular advances from cbe Commonwealth Bank and a lack of interference in the methods of marketing adopted.
The Government has chided members of the Opposition on the fact that the Opposition supports the establishment of certain boards to deal with specific matters concerning the administration of governmental and semi-governmental instrumentalities, but there is a difference between a board set up to deal with shipping or workers’ compensation, or matters of that kind, and the board to be established by the Government under this proposed legislation. In fact, there is no analogy between them. An establishment such as the Commonwealth Bank has a very real duty to perform on behalf of every section of the community. It has a responsibility to the worker, to primary industry, to secondary industry, to developmental projects f-nd to governmental instrumentalities. I should prefer to see a committee of experts, acting under a. thoroughly qualified banker with a knowledge of ail aspects of banking, conducting the affairs of the bank. If a board is necessary, it at least should include members conversant with the particular industries with which the bank will be required to deal. Therefore, if the Government set up a board of ten members, or a board of 110 mem-‘ hers, many industries and projects whose very existence relies on banking policy would not necessarily receive adequate representation. Increasing the number of members on the board in the manner proposed will mean that only a very small section of the community, which
Iki? influence in certain quarters, will be represented to the exclusion of others. Banking is not a matter which can be dealt with in the same way as, say, workers’ compensation, shopping or marketing. Banking covers many activities, such as government finance, advances to primary producers, and the financial transactions of commerce, industry and private individuals. The board proposed to be established by the Government will not be in any way representative of such diverse interests. The present advisory council consists of true banking experts who should be answerable only to the bank; their ambition should, be to see that the activities of the bank extend and that the section of the bank in which they are interested should adequately serve the public. If the Government wishes to provide employment for persons it considers important, it should establish a board or boards to co-operate with the bank in the development of the interests those persons represent. The suggestions of such a board could be placed before the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, and if he and his advisers did not concur in them, the board could exercise the right to claim intervention by the Treasurer. I suggest that the Board proposed by the Government could not possibly be representative of the community, and that its establishinent would not in any way improve the efficiency of banking methods in thi? country or benefit the nation.
The’ DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
Sitting suspended from 12.1& to 2.15 p.m.
Debate (on motion by Senator
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator SPICER’ read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is a simple measure designed to accomplish one broad purpose only, that is, to enable the proceedings now before the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in relation to the basic wage to be carried through to finality, despite the fact that one of the members of the Bench hearing the proceedings is unable, through illness, to continue to sit. Although the Chief fudge and the other judges who constituted the Bench which dealt with the basic wage claims of the unions recently announced their opinions, the proceedings have not been -completed. What is necessary now is that the awards that were wrapped up in the unions’ claims should each be varied individually. The proceedings will not be concluded until that has been done.
Section 24 of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides that the jurisdiction of the court shall, except as to matters of practice and procedure, be exercised by not less than three judges. The Parliament made that requirement because it recognized that the matters with which the court would deal, such as the basic wage and standard hours, were matters of the most vital significance which went to the very heart of our economy. This bill is necessary because the Chief Judge, who, as I have said, was a member of the Bench that heard the basic wage claims, is unable to continue to sit on account of illness. I point out that when the case was resumed after the announcement of the opinions to which I have referred, the Bench consisted of the two remaining judges, together with another judge who had not taken part in the earlier proceedings. When doubts were raised about the competence of the court so constituted to proceed, the Acting Chief Judge suggested that the alternatives were to wait until the Chief Judge could resume his seat, to secure the consent of the parties or to ask the Government to amend the act. As it appeared that delays would he involved in obtaining the necessary consents, assuming that they would he forthcoming, the Government decided that any doubts as to the competence of the court should be resolved without delay in order to avoid any pos sible challenge to the outcome or continuance of the proceedings.
I feel that I should pause here to express the deep regret of the Government that .the heavy duties of the Chief Judge’soffice and his intense application to them have compelled him to take sick leave, i express the hope that he will be speed il, restored to full health.
The bill provides that the remaining two judges shall complete these curren proceedings. I emphasize the word* “ current procedings “, because if nev proceedings are commenced after this bill becomes law in relation to an industrial dispute, the normal provisions of thfprincipal act will apply. The bill also provides, in effect, that where those two judges do not agree on any issue before them, the matter shall be dealt with by the normally constituted court of three judges. The view of the Parliament as expressed in the 1947 legislation was to the effect that decisions on matters of thi* consequence should be dealt with by a Bench consisting of three judges. It is felt that it would be undesirable in principle to permit a result which in effect represented the decision of a single judge. We do not assume that there will be disagreement between the two judges, bin we have followed the line that we should enable proceedings to be continued anearly as possible in the manner in which they would have been conducted had thiChief Judge been available with the other judges to conclude the hearings. That course is consistent with the previous approach of the Parliament and also with the present legislation.
T make two further points. First, theseprovisions mean that if, for example, there were disagreement on one point only and agreement upon all other point? in dispute, only the point on which there was not agreement would be re-examined by the Bench of three judges. Secondly, the examination of points on which there was a difference of opinion between the two judges need not involve any delay. To ensure this, we have included in clause 4 (3.) of the bill, provisions which were found to be effective when the main ac> was being amended in 1947 and the government of the day found itself faced with a situation that had some similarity to the present one. Those provisions require the court to have regard to the evidence given, the arguments adduced and the judgments delivered in the previous proceedings.
I commend this measure to the Senate, and I seek the support of honorable senators in securing its speedy passage. We want to ensure that wage-earners affected by the basic wage case shall receive whatever benefit accrues to them without delay; due to procedural issues or doubts as to technical questions.
– The Opposition supports this measure. We regret that the need for it arises from the fact that the Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has been stricken by illness. We join with the Government in extending to His Honour our sincere wishes for his complete and speedy recovery. We have a full appreciation of his high sense of public duty, and of the great burden that he personally has carried. We agree with the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) that the Chief Judge has devoted himself intensely to the performance of his duties, apparently with unfortunate consequences to his health.
The bill is designed to meet one situation - the illness of the Chief Judge after a Bench of three judges made a broad determination upon the basic wage. It is a pity that a bill that will have such a temporary operation should become part of the Commonwealth conciliation and arbitration legislation, and I suggest for the consideration of the Government that when this situation has been resolved the measure could well be repealed and expunged from the statute-book.
The Opposition agrees that it is necessary to avoid delays in translating the effect of ‘the recent basic wage judgment into terms of the various awards. It is unfortunate that, owing to the limited power possessed by the Commonwealth Parliament in the industrial field, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has no jurisdiction in a dispute between parties, unless the dispute has an interstate application. That is a defect that the Parliament cannot cure, because it flows from the Constitution itself. We recognize that the only courses open to the Government and the court were to bring the Chief Judge back to deal with the 46 separate applications before the court, which would have been out of the question, or to await his return to duty, but that also, because of the urgency of this measure, was out of the question. The Attorney-General referred to thepossibility of obtaining the consent of thevarious parties to two judges disposing of the matter. I agree with him that great delay might have been caused by seeking and obtaining those consents. There .is the further difficulty that -mere consents of the parties might not confer adequate jurisdiction upon the court. The only practical course open to the Government was to amend the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act to permit two judges to proceed with the matter. This bill provides that if the two judges agree upon the application of the basic wage decision of the court to particular awards, the matter shall be concluded and finally disposed of. But, very properly, the measure contemplates the possibility of those two judges being in disagreement, either wholly or partially, and it provides that if they are in partial disagreement the matters upon which they are in agreement shall be resolved and determined, and those upon which they are in disagreement shall be determined by three judges, sitting in relation to those matters only. On behalf of the Opposition, I express the hope that there will be no need for recourse to a third judge. I have no doubt that the two judges who sit will use their best endeavours, in the interests of expedition, to resolve any differences that may arise between them. Clause 4 (3.) provides that if a situation arises that demands the presence of three judges, those judges shall hear and determine the matters upon which the two judges were in dispute. Although the clause makes it obligatory for the three judges to have regard to the evidence previously given, the arguments previously adduced, and the judgments already delivered, there is a clear obligation upon them to hear and determine the matters in dispute and there is, apart from other considerations upon which I do not propose to embark, a possibility that there would be further hearings, at which further evidence would be produced, and further argument presented. That is something that must be avoided, if possible. The Opposition, for the reasons that I have given, finds itself in complete agreement with the views of the Government upon this matter, and has pleasure in supporting the motion for the second reading of the bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed (vide page 1776).
– The bill before the Senate seeks parliamentary authority for further advances to the States for the purpose of housing. Although the Opposition does not raise any serious objection to this measure it will be critical of the methods to be employed, and will seek information to clarify certain points. In his secondreading speech the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) stated that, 4o encourage importation to help to meet the housing deficiency the Commonwealth had offered financial assistance to the States of up to £300 for each prefabricated house imported from overseas. This is a continuation of the policy that was initiated by the previous Labour Government. I understand that a suggestion has been made that the amount of the subsidy should be increased by about £100, because of the general rise in costs.
From time to time statements have appeared in the press to the effect that there were up to 100,000 prefabricated houses available overseas for purchase by Australia. However, the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey) stated recently that there are available overseas for importation to this country only between 10,000 and 15,000 prefabrieater! houses. There is a vast discrepancy between the statements. Because of the serious lag in the housing programme in Australia both the Commonwealth and the State Governments have been very interested in the importation of prefabricated units. I do not attribute that lag wholly to the present Government; Labour shares the responsibility in that connexion. The production of houses foi our people has been affected in the same way as other types of production have suffered. However, I urge the Government to take all possible steps to improve the housing of our people. It has been stated that there is an annual deficiency of between 30,000 and 40,000 houses to be made good, and that there has been an increase of the deficiency by 10 per cent, during the last ten months. It will be a considerable time before the shortage has been eliminated. As I have pointed out on previous occasions in this chamber, nothing is more conducive to good citizenship and responsibility to the nation than the provision of housing for its people. Invariably, when members of the Opposition seek information from Ministers about the progress of the housing programme, supporters of the Government ask what Labour did during its period of eight years in office. I point out that, for four years of that period Australia was at war, and both our human and material resources were used for the production of the war potential. There was practically no housebuilding during that period. Even for a considerable time after the war the production of materials for civilian requirements was restricted. Although the workers are continually blamed by honorable senators opposite for the decreased production, the main cause of the decline is the shortage of certain materials. The cause of decreased production that I have mentioned is as true to-day as it was during the war years. I hope that the Government will take whatever steps are possible to speed up the provision of houses.
I should like the Minister when replying to inform me of the amount by which it is proposed to increase above £300 assistance for the purchase of each imported prefabricated house. Honorable senators opposite have continually referred to the need for incentive in order to increase production. I point out that if the assistance to purchase imported prefabricated houses is to be increased by, say, £100, there will be serious interference with the local production of prefabricated units, particularly in instances where the locally manufactured article is of equal quality and comparable price. Care should be taken that incentive is not killed and local production reduced. [ hope that supplies of roofing, guttering, and other materials . used in housebuilding will be improved in order that the lag in the housing programme may be overtaken.
stated that the increase of the provision in this bill is to meet an anticipated increase in the volume of traditional housing. What is meant by “ traditional housing”? I practically grew up in the building trade, and I would not have the slightest difficulty in proving that traditional housing for workers is slum housing. As a matter of fact a good many of the houses that are being built to-day provide only slum housing. Many of the dwellings in the various cities that were built 70 or SO years ago are veritable death-traps. They should have been demolished many years ago, if the governments of former days had honoured their obligations and responsibilities to the people. To my unsophisticated mind the term “ traditional housing “ indicates that slum housing is intended. Of what use is it for supporters of the Government, r.o come into this chamber and merely play with the housing question and makebelieve that they are going to do a good job? There was nothing in the Minister’s speech to indicate that there is to be any departure from the traditional housing of the past. He stated that an additional reason for the increase in the provision in this bill was the rising costs of building. I remind the Senate that in his policy speech the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated that if returned to power his Government would attack the basic cause of under-production and excessive costs. No such attack has been made by the present Government. That is why I consider that the Government is not really serious in this matter, any more than it is serious about any other matter. The Government parties merely engage in political make-believe and political sham-fighting. If the Government had dealt with this matter as the Prime Minister promised to do, there would have been uo necessity for the Minister for Social Services to condone rising prices by saying, inferentially, that prices should be increased. Obviously, to the degree to which prices for housing are increased, the cost to workers purchasing their own homes must increase. Therefore fewer houses will be built, because the workers will not be able to pay for them. Although the Government has promised to reduce costs, the Minister for Social Servicehas condoned increases of prices. In dialectics we try to ascertain the truth of things in the light of their variations and contradictions. I am trying to ascertain what the Government means when it says on’ the one hand that it will reduce costs, and yet on the other hand condones rising costa.
– Will the workers work for less money?
– Money is only a medium of exchange. The workers are concerned with what they can purchase with the money that they receive. As I have pointed out before, the purchasing power of the workers has never been increased. What has happened is that the purchasing power of money has been reduced. The basic wage has increased, in terms of pa.per money, by more than 300 per cent., but the present wage will not buy as much as did the wage of years ago. In 1911, I worked for £3 12s. a week. I was paid in gold, and the money I received represented £17 to £18 in to-day’s depreciated paper currency. Even, with that £17 or £18, it is not possible to buy to-day as much as I could buy in 19.1.1 with my three golden sovereigns and twelve shillings. I recommend Senator Vincent to buy a book on elementary economics, and to study it. Then, perhaps, he will not ask silly questions. If he does not want to buy the book. I. am sure that the librarian in this building will be glad to place such a book in his hands. After he has read it he will he a better representative of his State.
The Minister referred to the cost of supplying and erecting imported houses, but he did not say what the cost was. There are obvious reasons for his failure to do so. We know that in the cost are included charges of all various kinds which are not warranted. Many persons are being paid for services that are not required, and the cost must ultimately be met by the workers. I now ask the Minister, what is the cost of supplying and erecting imported houses?
– Houses of what size?
– I am coming to that. The policy of this Government is r.o live within its meanness rather than within its means.
– What a horrible thing !
– Yes, it is tragic. Ministers have accused the workers of ceasing work and holding up supplies. I am sometimes amazed at the willingness of the workers to put up with appalling conditions.
– The honorable senator wants more and bigger strikes ?
– We want the worker to have a house as good as the one that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) lives in.
– If he worked as hard for bis house as I did he would probably have the same kind of house. Nobody gave me my house; I worked for it.
– I have never noticed that the Minister did much work. Indeed, he is not a worker. He is in the category of expropriators and consumers. [ am sure that the prefabricated houses that will be erected for the workers will be the smallest that the workers are prepared to accept. One has only to look at the houses being built for workers to-day to be convinced of that. Such houses are characterized by lack of space, low ceilings, bacl ventilation and little natural lighting. They lack those qualities that are essential in a house for the maintenance of the health of the occupants. We see slum houses being erected on all sides. In bis second-reading speech, the Minister for Social Services said -
The local building industry gives no indication under present conditions of being able to produce substantially more than 60,000 new houses a year of the 00,000 new houses* that Australia must have to meet the housing needs arising solely from marriages and immigration.
I should like to know what, in the opinion of the Minister, constitutes the local building industry. Has he in mind a few bankers, contractors, speculators and, perhaps, members of Parliament? Has the Government consulted those who know something about buildings such as the Institute of Architects, the contractors, and the trade unions, or was he merely making an assumption? Why should we import houses if we can build for ourselves much better houses than the imported ones ? Most of the imported houses are shoddy houses. I have not seen a decent imported house yet. 1 spent years in the building trade. I am a plumber by trade, and I have done slating and tiling, as well as plumbing. A decent house is one with a 9-in. cavity brick wall. There should be a from lounge-room of respectable size, a diningroom, two or three bedrooms and a fairsized kitchen. The house should be properly sewered. There should be sufficient air space around the house, and the ceilings should be sufficiently high.
– How much would it cost to build such a house to-day?
– The cost of building was never lower. The honorable senator has not grasped what I said before. Costs can be divided into two categories. There are economic costs, and monetary costs in terms of depreciated currency. The economiccost of building a house was never lower than to-day; the monetary cost was never higher. A house can be built today at less labour cost than ever before. It does not take anything like the same time to build a house now as it took 40 years ago.
– The honorablesenator says that when a bricklayer will lay only 350 bricks a day now as compared with 1,200 bricks some years ago!
– The honorable senator herself would not be disposed to work if she were not well paid. She would not be here if she were not well paid. A bricklayer is entitled to higher remuneration than is the honorable senator because his work is more valuable. If bricklayers, stonemasons, carpenters and other tradesmen were paid as they should be paid there would be little reason for complaint. When the purchasing power of the workers is being progressively reduced, there is no incentive to give good service.
As I have said, the Government should consult those actively engaged in the building trade, such as architects, timber merchants and those responsible for the supply of building materials. Last, but not least, the Government should consult the trade unions in an endeavour to find out how more houses can be built in Australia. We should not go on importing shoddy, prefabricated houses which will begin to fall to pieces in a year or two. We know, of course, that the Government will continue to import them because the private banks and the speculators can make more out of them than out of the building of houses in Australia. Why do not the Federal and State Governments construct the houses that are needed?
– The housing commissions are building houses.
– Yes, but under anti-Labour governments, which are pledged to encourage private enterprise, the housing commissions are not given rauch scope. The policy of this Government is to have work done by private contractors.
– More houses were built in Victoria under a nonLabour, government than in New South Wales under a Labour government.
– I do not think that the honorable senator is a judge of building, although she may be a judge of housework.
– Who should be a better judge of a home than a woman?
– If women were not so easily satisfied with the houses they live in, there would be better houses. When we see families living in garages and sheds made out of packing cases, we wonder why the people are prepared, to tolerate the present Government which makes such things possible.
– The honorable senator should not talk such rubbish.
– I think the schoolteachers are responsible for much of the trouble. They are mental slaves themselves, and they teach the unfortunate children to become mental slaves, so that when they grow up they are prepared to acquiesce in injustice. I suggest that the Federal and State Governments should build houses by day labour. If that were done better nouses would be built. Representatives of thetrade unions should be called together and asked to withdraw workers from buildings that are non-essential, and to concentrate on the building of houses for the workers. Throughout every State to-day, and particularly in the cities, thousands of workers are engaged in erecting non-essential buildings. Restrictions should be placed on the constructionof luxury offices and residences in order that homes may be provided for working people.
When the Chifley Government was in office, everything possible was done to meet our housing needs from our own resources. The Beaufort Division of the Department of Aircraft Production tooled up to produce fourteen steel’ houses a day. Speaking from memory and therefore subject to correction, 5,000 such houses were to be built for the Victorian Housing Commission, and 5,500 for the Department of Repatriation as war service homes. However,, after incurring all the expenses associated with tooling up, the project was abandoned by the Hollway Government in Victoria. The Victorian Government was not prepared to co-operate, and the planhad to be abandoned. The excuse given was the shortage of steel, but if prefabricated houses are really wanted, there isample masonite, canite, cement sheeting, and other substitutes for steel. The point I am making is that it is far better to build houses in this country using Australian materials and Australian labour, than to import inferior units from overseas. Construction in this country would alsobe cheaper provided the projects weremanaged efficiently. Everything depends on management. When business undertakings fail or strikes occur, the reasonis usually unnecessarily provocative or grossly incompetent management. I have certain suspicions in that connexion to which I shall refer on another occasion. If housing were placed under proper management by this Government and the State governments, there would be no need to import houses. If the
State governments are remiss in some respects in their control of building materials, they oan be disciplined by the Commonwealth Government. The erection of luxury houses and non-essential buildings must be restricted. All that could be done, but instead, this Government proposes to import prefabricated houses. I suppose we shall hear next that paper houses are to be imported from Japan, or shoddy dwellings of other types from Germany, India, or some other country where labour is cheaper than it is here and living standards are lower.
– The advantage of prefabricated houses is that they can be erected quickly. Is that not a good point?
– It is good, up to a point, but that advantage is more than offset by the rapid deterioration of prefabricated houses.
– The immediate problem is to house the people.
– If a job has to be done, let us do it properly. A good house, properly constructed, is much cheaper in the long run than a low-priced but vastly inferior prefabricated unit. A tent is cheaper than a house, but it does not last as long, and if we have to keep on buying tents, the ultimate cost will far exceed that of a good house. There is nothing in favour of prefabricated houses, particularly as there is labour, man-power and money available in this country to build houses. Present-day shortages are more or less artificial. They are caused deliberately to mislead unintelligent people. Talk of costs being prohibitive will deceive only poorly educated people who are unable to distinguish between what we call economics and what we call finance. True costs have never been lower. Nobody knows that better than the economists who have studied this matter. Unfortunately their advice is not heeded by the people who are under a political obligation to accept the best advice that is available to them.
We are told that we are to have “traditional housing”. Many houses that were built years ago are now obsolete but because they were solidly constructed they have given splendid service. Prefabricated houses will start to deteriorate within a year or two. In Western Australia, for instance, unless timber is properly treated, it will very soon be ruined by white ants and borers. Shoddily built houses are the most expensive in the long run. A well-constructed brick house, adequately ventilated and with plenty of space and natural light, will last for a century. I am not convinced of the Government’s sincerity in this matter. One reason for my scepticism is that nothing has been done to reduce costs, and apparently nothing will be done. The Government’s policy is to keep the workers down to the borderline of necessity for as long as possible. Honorable senators opposite fear that if the workers are permitted to become independent they will be more difficult to manage. They believe that the more dependent workers are on governments and on employers, the less inclined they will be to cause industrial trouble. I consider therefore that there is no real intention on the part of the Government to provide adequate housing for the workers of this country. All that they can expect is the lea’st they will accept. The workers’ share of food and clothing to-day is the least that they will accept. If Australian workers were prepared to accept the standard of living of the Indians or the Chinese, that is the standard to which they would be reduced. In fact, if Australia were as thickly populated as most Asian countries are, and the Australian people were prepared to acquiesce in their own subjugation as Asian people do, our living standards would be those of the Chinese and Indian coolies.
In business there is any amount of affectation, but no altruism. Therefore, when we are told that the Government proposes to provide adequate housing for the Australian people, I say that I do not believe it, because that is the very opposite of the policy to which the Government is committed. That policy is to suppress the workers to the borderline of necessity for just as long as they are prepared to accept such suppression and tolerate the injustices to which they are being subjected. Therefore, I am not impressed by this bill.
I should like the Minister for Social Services to explain first what he means by “traditional housing”. If he has the plans and specifications of the houses before him, he might also tell us something about their size and the materials to be used. I should also like to know why the Government is condoning an increase of prices when it is pledged to reduce prices. The Minister should give to honorable senators some idea of the cost of supplying and erecting imported prefabricated houses. I ask for that information because this is not the last word that will be said on the subject. So long as workers on whom we depend for essential services are treated in the manner in which they have been treated so far, our present economic difficulties will remain, and there will be no freedom from industrial discontent. If the Government wants increased production, it must give some incentive to the workers to increase production. If prefabricated houses are to be imported from cheap labour countries in preference to paying Australian rates of pay, there will be no such incentive. No intelligent worker will do anything to worsen his own position, yet that is what the Government is asking Australian workers to do to-day. It is urging them to forge a weapon that ultimately will be used against them. When industrial discontent has been reduced to a minimum, results will be much better than they are to-day. I judge the Government on its past performance. It has been in office for nearly twelve months, but I have yet to learn of anything that it has done to reduce prices or costs. Indeed, judging by the speeches of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and some of his Ministers and supporters, it would appear that the Government does not intend to do anything at all in that direction. If I were asked to state the reason why the Government does not intend to do so, I should say that it is because it, like other anti-Labour governments which were in office prior to the ‘thirties, intends to reduce thousands of workers to the borderline of starvation in the belief that by so doing it will be able more effectively and more profitably to control them. That is one reason why the Government has refused to act. Another is that it does not want to antagonize vested interests. To do what I have suggested should be done would mean that profits would be reduced, and if profits- were reduced, vested interests which depend for their existence more on profits than on rendering services to the community would b<antagonized and the financial support which assisted the Government to obtain office will not again be forthcoming in the future. That is, perhaps, the main reason why the Government has not attempted to take steps to reduce price.’ or costs in conformity with the promisemade by the Prime Minister in his policy speech.
If the Government is really in earnest in its desire to provide houses for those unfortunate people who need them, it should confer with registered architects, both those in government employ and those outside, reputable contractors - I emphasize the word “ reputable “ because many contractors to-day build houses with shoddy materials and charge extremely high prices for them - and last, but not least, the representatives of the building trade unions, all of whom are actively engaged in the building trade and competent to advise the Government on this problem. Such an approach would yield much better results than can be expected to follow the proposals outlined in that Minister’s second-reading speech, including the importation of costly prefabricated houses. However, the Government will not adopt my suggestion for the reason.’ which I have just given. Indeed, it would not pay the Government to do so. and what from the point of view of the Government does not pay will not be done, no matter to what degree the working community of this country continues to suffer either from the lack of housing, or from inadequate housing.
– This bill seeks parliamentary authority for further advances totalling £26,100,000 to the States under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act 1945. That amount is £8,885,000 in excess of the sum provided in the last financial year. In his secondreading speech, the Minister has indicated that the following advances have been made to the States by the Commonwealth since the inception of the agreement: -
Lt will be noted that the amount to be provided to finance the States’ housing programmes this year is ry large. Indeed, it seems rather
Ambitious, especially in view of the fact that at the close of last, financial year the unexpended balance in the hands of the States amounted to £6,178,000. It is possible, of course, that that balance has been expended in the interval since the close of the financial year, though we have been given no information on that point. It is not unlikely that an increased appropriation is necessary this year in order to meet increased building costs, [f that is so, it seems to suggest thai the Government has not made any genuine attempt to reduce costs and to restore value to the £1 in accordance with its pre-election promises. Apparently it hus come to the conclusion that it cannot prevent costs from rising, and consequently the appropriation must be increased. The Government should conduct an inquiry into the whole of the building industry in order to ascertain the real reasons for the steeply increased cost of house construction. It has been said that the wage component in all costs is very high. ‘ 1 admit that wages are higher to-day than they have been at any other time in our history, but that does not mean that they have greater purchasing power than he wages paid in former years. I have always understood that the wage component in the cost of manufactured articles is estimated to be approximately 30 per cent, or a little more. If the percentage has increased, the Government should ascertain the reasons why it has increased. Because of unstable prices, the Government is experiencing great difficulty in inducing builders to tender for works. T understand that the State housing authorities which operate the agreement on behalf of the Commonwealth have experienced great difficulty in inducing builders to submit firm tenders for home construction, and that as a result higher building costs have been incurred which in the final analysis have to be borne by the occupier of the finished dwellings. Many builders who have signed firm contracts have been forced to complete them at a loss.
When young people are contemplating matrimony their first thought is to secure a house, and most of them are prepared to pay any price in order to do so. Ten years ago it was possible to obtain a sevenroomed house, built on generous proportions, for about £700. To-day, a similar house costs between £1,500 and £2,000. What future faces the average young couple who purchase a house to-day? In the first place, they need between £1,000 find £2,000 to finance the purchase of even a very small residence, and, in addition, they have to buy furniture at greatly inflated prices. At present, many young men are able to meet their obligations because of the high wages they receive. History, however, has a tendency to repeat itself, and no doubt many young people who pay high prices for houses to-day will find themselves at some future time no longer able to continue the payments due, and will be evicted from their homes. During the depression years, thousands of persons were evicted from homes after having paid off nearly twothirds of the purchase .price. In nearly every instance the houses were sold to luckier individuals who possessed a generous share of the coin of the realm. A similar fate threatens many thousand* of young couples who are to-day paying exorbitantly high prices for homes.
An investigation of building costs is urgently necessary. The Government has adopted a laisser-faire attitude towards this problem. It is well aware that building costs are likely to increase still further, but it does nothing about the matter beyond increasing the appropriation to finance the State housing authorities to build houses under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
The Minister has said that the local building industry gives no indication of being able under present conditions to provide substantially more than 60,000 of the 90,000 new houses a year that Australia must have to meet housing needs arising solely from marriages and migration. That figure seems to have increased considerably since a statement was made last year by the then Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) that the objective was 60,000 dwellings per year. Whether there is any real reason for the difference between those two figures, I do not know, but it might be interesting to point out to honorable senators that by this measure the Government indicates that it is prepared to continue socialistic legislation, although it deplored such legislation when it was introduced by the Labour Government. If there is any practical example of the application of socialism in this country, it is the Commonwealth-State housing scheme. It is very pleasing to know that this Government, although it professes to believe in free enterprise, is prepared, and in fact desires, to enlarge) an instrumentality that was established by a Labour government.
It has been asserted by the Minister in charge of this bill that the Government intends to import large numbers of prefabricated homes. Listening to the honorable gentleman’s speech one could be pardoned for thinking that that was some new idea, but that is not so. If honorable senators examine a statement issued on the 13th October, 1949, by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley, they will see that the right honorable gentleman directed attention to this matter and said -
During the last financial year, nearly 60,000 dwellings were commenced in Australia, and over 52,500 completed. These figures indicate that Australia is approaching a long-term objective of 60,000 dwellings a year set some time ago.
I quote the right honorable gentleman’s statement because the present Government says that the figure is 90,000 a year. The statement continues -
Special measures are necessary to get substantially beyond this level of housing activity in the next few years. The Commonwealth Government has in mind that, in. addition to action at present being taken to import building materials from abroad, efforts should be made to secure from overseas a substantial number of pre-fabricated dwellings, complete with fittings.
The Commonwealth is prepared to assist the States to obtain in all up to 10,000 such units and to accept them under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Commonwealth assistance will take the form of meeting overseas freight and duty up to a limit of £300 per unit, provided -
The Commonwealth contribution does not reduce the cost of a unit to lees than the cost of a traditionally built dwelling of similar accommodation; the houses are erected primarily in areas producing basic materials, particularly coal and steel : and
Preference in allocation of the units is given to workers needed for the production of basic materials. Otherwise allocation on a needs basis as agreed between the Commonwealth and the States under the Commonwealth and States Housing Agreement.
The Commonwealth offer applies only to prefabricated houses approved by the Commonwealth and ordered by the State housing authorities. It is proposed that a report on each type be obtained from the Commonwealth Experimental Building Station concerning structural soundness, durability and the like. Reports already made by the station on a number of overseas types of pre-fabricated dwellings indicate general suitability for this country.
That statement should convince honorable senators that the proposal to import prefabricated dwellings is not a new one. I agree with Senator Cameron that it is bad policy for this country to import large numbers of prefabricated dwellings, because there are in Australia sufficient materials of a suitable character to meet most demands, although those materials may not be in general use at the moment. I feel that prefabricated homes will, in the long run, represent tragedy for the purchasers of them. They are manufactured in other countries under different climatic conditions, and it is natural to expect that after a short time in this country many defects will become apparent. It is very likely that the purchasers will find that instead of an asset they have a distinct liability. I do not object to the Government’s policy of importing such dwellings, but I hope that the numbers involved will not be large and that the Government will accord Australian products the greatest consideration.
The State housing authorities have done an excellent job in providing housing for the people. It is worthy of notice that during the year ended the 30th
June, 1950, 7,435 dwellings were completed, and of those, 2,252, representing 34 per cent., were erected in country areas. That perhaps is not a particularly large figure for the whole of the Commonwealth, but at least it is an indication that the building authorities are doing something tangible and worthwhile for the people of this country. As far as costs are concerned, I understand that those authorities are largely at the mercy of building contractors, hut they are able to have buildings erected because they exercise control over the supply of materials. It is not possible for an ordinary individual to purchase large quantities of building materials; he must first obtain approval from the State authority. The result is that that authority is able to issue priorities for materials in such a way that builders are ensured of reasonable supplies. It is well known, of course, that continuity of supply is interrupted from time to time, with the result that a person who is, perhaps, building a small group of cottages, is forced to cease construction because of lack of certain materials. Labour and distribution costs increase, and he is obliged to dismiss employees or to employ them on other work.
Honorable senators are no doubt aware that too much green timber Ls being used in buildings at the present time, the reason being that great difficulty is experienced in procuring milled and dried timber in this country. I can remember when the Labour Government offered to find the money for the installation of wood drying kilns throughout the country, but there was a remarkably small response to its offer. To-day, in Western Australia, where most of the hardwoods grow, jar rah timber, which is extensively utilized in home building, is being used with the sap running out of it. It is not difficult to imagine the future state of houses constructed of timber such as that. The State housing authorities are entitled to some measure of praise for the work they are doing. Of course, some of the buildings erected by them are badly constructed, but that is because of the poor quality of the materials available, and the occupiers of those dwellings must be prepared to accept that disability.
When this legislation was originally introduced in 1945 there was a building lag of more than five years, because the whole of the economy of the country had been directed towards the prosecution of the war. Every stick of timber that could be produced was required immediately for use overseas. Apart altogether from the scarcity of housing, there was the great problem of rebuilding slum areas, which is of tremendous importance to the welfare and future of the people. Honorable senators will recollect that it was also necessary to rehabilitate persons discharged from the services and those who had been previously engaged in war production in Australia. That rehabilitation took time. Being aware of the great difficulties that faced the country in respect of housing at that time, the Government created a reconstruction training scheme. One hears a great deal of condemnation hurled at trade unionists in this country, but it should be remembered that it was only because of the cooperation of trade unionists that the Government was able to give effect to that scheme.
The ex-Minister for Works and Housing, Mr. Lemmon, played a prominent part in the implementation of reconstruction training. As recently as the 6th September, 1949, he issued a report, in the course of which he stated -
The Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme has added 20,000 skilled tradesmen to the six principle building trades. The postwar increase in the building labour force is largely attributable to this Commonwealth activity.
I have directed the attention of the Senate to that report in order to show that the Chifley Government was faced, as this Government is, with the physical difficulty that there was not sufficient man-power available to do all the jobs that were required to be done. In- an attempt to overcome the difficulty, the Chifley Government diverted to basic trades thousands of the migrants who arrived in this country. We know that it arranged for the employment of hundreds of migrants in Newcastle steelworks with the object of increasing steel production. Up to the time when the report to which I have referred was issued, 70 per cent, of the migrants who arrived in Australia were employed in the building trades. The report states -
Over 12,000 new settlers, representing about 70 per cent, of the total available, are now working in industries directly or indirectly related to house construction, for example, building materials, timber getting and milling, water storage and reticulation, electrical undertakings, and road and rail construction and maintenance.
I have no objection to the Government’s proposals, but I feel that, in all fairness, it should be pointed out that a Labour government, as it were, set the ball rolling and that much of what the Minister said in his second-reading speech was merely a recapitulation of what was done by that government.
There has been much talk about inadequate production of basic materials and commodities. I shall not discuss now whether man-hour production is less than it was years ago. Some people may not be working as hard to-day as they worked years ago, and, if that be so, there must be some reason for it., Senator Robertson interjected when Senator Cameron was speaking and said that bricklayers now laid only approximately 350 bricks a day. I do not know whether the honorable senator was correct in saying that, but I do know that at the present time on many building jobs bricklayers have to do work that was previously done by labourers because they were unable to find hod carriers or labourers. If they are successful, usually the men obtained are inexperienced and some time elapses before they become thoroughly acquainted with the work that they are required to do. Honorable senators opposite should consider one or two facts before they condemn bricklayers. On a straight job such as construction of the walls of a large factory, a bricklayer could lay many more bricks in a day than he could if he were working on a cottage with arches, corners and chimneys. It would be physically impossible for a bricklayer, unless he were a superman, to maintain an average output of 1,000 bricks a day, and even a superman, in order to do that, would need the best possible assistance. Mortar and bricks would have to be ready to his hand when he wanted them. As I have said, at the present time bricklayers have to do much of their own labouring work, and consequently the average number of bricks that they lay in a day is less. than it was. I do not say that some bricklayers and other tradesmen are not doing a fair day’s work, but there are many professional men in this country who are not doing a fair day’s work. As soon as they have earned enough money for their needs, they cease to work because they do not want to pay more taxes. Their attitude is that the people who require their professional services can go without them. If a worker who is subject to industrial awards relating to pay, conditions and hours of work does not produce as much as he should produce, the fault lies not with him but with the supervisors. I say without hesitation that the average Australian worker is no loafer and that he is prepared to give a fair day’s work in return for a fair day’s pay.
– The majority of Australian workers are prepared to do that.
– I say that all of them are. We have heard a lot about the slow turn-round of ships and have been told that it is due to the activities of Communists, but when we come down to hard facts we find it is due mainly, if not entirely, to obsolete machinery, to the use of slings that will not take loads quickly enough and to the fact that merchandise cannot be stored on the wharfs because the sheds are already full of goods that should have been removed long ago. I have said before, and I say again now, that the Australian worker must give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. If he does that, he will have done all that this country can reasonably expect of him.
Let me examine the figures relating to the production of building materials. I shall quote from the Pocket Compendium of Australian Statistics issued by the Commonwealth .Statistician. In 1947-48 728,000,000 bricks were produced in this country, compared with 626,000,000 in 1948-49. Those figures show a decrease of production, but there is an explanation of the decrease. I shall take Western Australia as an example. Western Australia has a State brickworks. That undertaking is working to full capacity and its rate of production is good, but before its output can be improved a completely new works must be erected and other clay pits found. The figures relating to the production of terra-cotta roofing tiles are 43,800,000 in 1947-48 and 45,200,000 in 1948-49. The production of terra-cotta roofing tiles increased during that period, but the production of cement building sheets decreased slightly, the figures being 18,800,000 square yards in 1947-48 and 18,100,000 square yards in 1948-49. The production of sawn native timber increased from 1,099,000,000 super, feet in 1947- 48 to 1,212,000,000 super, feet in 1948- 49. The production of Portland cement also increased during that period, the figures being 1,013,000 tons in 1947-48 compared with 1,083,000 .tons in 194S-49. There was also an increase of the production of fibrous plaster sheets from 11,700,000 square yards in 1947-48 t«. 13,500,000 square yards in 1948-49. The figures for 1949-50 will probably show that the production of many building materials has increased again. I have cited those figures to prove that in the building trades there has not been the loss of production that some people allege and that in fact difficulties are being rapidly overcome.
The Minister, in his second-reading speech, said -
The agreement is primarily designed to bring homes of good standard within the reach of persons with smaller incomes. This purpose is achieved by the provision of rental rebates, under which families whose incomes equal the basic wage do not have to pay more than onefifth of their income in rent, whatever the economic rent of the dwelling they occupy. As the family income rises above the basic wage, or falls below it, the amount of rebate decreases or increases. The total amount of rental rebates granted up to the 30th June, 1950, was £ 21 4,030.
I do not dispute the accuracy of that figure, but I direct the attention of honorable senators to .Statement No. 12, referred to in the budget speech delivered by the Treasurer. It is headed “ National Welfare Fund” and shows that in 1949- 50 the expenditure on rental rebates under the housing agreement amounted to £565. I ask honorable senators to bear that figure in mind. If my recollection, be correct, the corresponding figure for the previous year was only a nominal one. In fact, I was very surprised at the smallness of the figure, because I had thought it would be much larger. The basis of the rental rebate scheme was that a person in receipt of the basic wage should not pay more than one-fifth of his weekly income in rent. To-day few people are receiving the benefit of that provision. Some children of mine are tenants of State houses and, because they are tradesmen and receive more than the basic wage, they pay more than one-fifth of their wages in rents. Having regard to that position, I cannot understand why it is that the Treasurer has estimated that the expenditure in respect of rental rebates under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement will be £20,000 in 1950-51, compared with an expenditure of £565 in 1949-50. The Government must be convinced that the economic condition of this country, as reflected in the value of the £1, is becoming worse, and that accordingly, more money will have to be made available to meet the increasing costs that are occurring. The Minister also said1 -
All these houses are available for purchase since the agreement makes provision for a tenant, if he wishes, to purchase the home he occupies. It is Commonwealth policy to encourage sales. The States are, of course, principals under the agreement and it is they who determine the basis of sale. Commonwealth approval is only necessary should a State desire to sell a house below capital cost.
I agree that wherever possible the tenants who ‘ take over these properties should have the right to purchase them. The Minister went on to say -
To the end of June, 1950, 40,999 dwellings had been commenced under the agreement in the five States operating under it; of these, 30,410 had been completed and 10,589 were under construction at the 30th June, 1950.
Although approximately 41,000 dwellings have been built under this scheme since its inception, only 530 have been purchased by the tenants. Is there a particular reason for the relatively small number of purchases? This is an aspect of the matter that should be inquired into. I know of one person who has been given the rental rights of a CommonwealthState home. He has the money and is willing to pay for the dwelling. However, when he made representations in that connexion to the housing authority in Western Australia he was informed that that authority was not able to determine the capital cost of the house at present and that until that figure had been established no business could be done. That is another aspect, of the matter that demands inquiry. I understand that housing authorities construct a number of dwellings simultaneously. Arrangements are then made with local authorities to provide footpaths, roadways, water supply and other amenities. The cost of provision of these services is taken into account in determining the capital cost of each house.. Surely to goodness the housing authority concerned should be able to determine the capital cost of each building in the group within a reasonable time after the completion of building activities and provision of ser.vices. Generally speaking, I have no objection to this bill. I have endeavoured merely to advance some considered thoughts about the housing programme. I was particularly pleased to learn that probably 65 per cent, of the houses to be built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, will be granted to exservicemen. My chief criticism is that although the Government is continuing to the best of its ability the housing programme that was instituted by the previous Labour Government, in respect to the additional costs involved the Government is still not giving effect to its promise to put value back into the £1.
– During the last ten years governments have become so accustomed to expending huge sums of money that in this instance we are being called upon to vote away £26,100,000 of the taxpayers’ money on the presentation of a most flimsy document. Ministers have become so blase towards these huge expenditures that they appear to be indifferent about the amount of information that is supplied to honorable senators. Although I realize that Ministers are busy men, I consider that when a bill to provide for an expenditure of £26,100,000 is passing through the chamber, in a very brief period, the Minister in charge of the bill should remain in the chamber in order to hear the criticisms of honorable senators.
– I am taking notes for the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner).
– I know that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator
Cooper:) ia most active in- taking notes,, and I am confident that he. will pass them, on to his colleague. However, in all seriousness, I consider- that the Minister whosponsors a bill should be available to furnish, honorable senators with all information required. I consider that he should be in the chamber while honorable senators are expressing their thoughtson the subject and asking questions that they should like answered.
– There are only six members of the Opposition present.
– At least the six members of the Opposition who are present in the chamber are interested enough to want further information on this measure. We are told that this bill is for the purpose of dealing with the housing problem, which is a matter that vitally affects the people of this country. This is a subject that has engaged the attention of every government in Australia during recent years, and whatever measuresmight be taken to solve the housingproblem are of vital interest to every member of every parliament in this country. I am reminded that when the present Government came, to office at the end of last year, the leaders” of the Government parties stated that they would attempt to deal with this problem. Early in the life of the. present Government the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey) sent a delegation overseas to ascertain whether prefabricated housing unitscould be purchased on advantageous terms and in sufficient quantities to relieve theacute shortage of housing in Australia. We are now informed that a number of such units are to be purchased abroad and brought to this country. As I have pointed out on previous occasions, although honorable senators read many statements in the press about current problems, they rarely hear authoritative statements about them in the Senate. I suggest to the Minister who is now takingnotes on behalf of the Minister in charge of the bill that an authoritative statement about prefabricated housing should havebeen presented to the Senate before honorable senators were called upon to vote! away £26;1 00,000.
– If the honorablesenator asks a specific question, I 6hall. give- him a specific answer.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) is always most courteous. Although I appreciate his courtesy, it is reasonable to assume that the Minister who sponsors a bill would have all relevant information at his fingertips, and, as he did not include that information in his secondreading speech, I submit that he should be in his place in this chamber in order to be able to furnish the additional information required when speaking in reply.
I should like to know what happened to the delegation that went overseas. I understand- from press reports that it duly returned. Therefore I suppose that it furnished a report. If the report was worth making, I suppose that it would be worthwhile for honorable senators to read it. I, for one, should like the opportunity to study the report, which must have cost the taxpayers of Australia a considerable amount of money. I have so far been denied that opportunity. What. did the delegation discover overseas? Did it find that prefabricated houses being manufactured in other parts of the world offered a solution of Australia’s housing problem? Is it possible to obtain prefabricated houses from other parts of the world cheaply, or are they costly? Would they be suitable for the Australian climate? These are questions on which anybody asked to vote money might prudently require answers.
According to press statements that I have read, other countries desire to sell prefabricated housing units to Australia. I understand that various overseas firms are prepared to enter into contracts to supply specified numbers of prefabricated housing units. It is therefore natural that I am wondering whether the Government has decided to purchase prefabricated houses abroad. According to one press report that I read about this matter, a German firm was prepared not only to supply prefabricated houses, but also to send its own workmen to this country to erect them. It was suggested that those workmen would then be prepared to remain here. I should like to know whether that was so, and whether -that factor was taken into consideration by the Government in determining where orders would be placed. I should also like to know whether the type of construction was a major consideration, or whether cost was the most important factor in determining where orders should be placed. In the absence of authentic information on this subject, one might be pardoned for assuming that, after making its tour abroad, the delegation was unable to obtain worthwhile information. I should like the Minister to inform the Senate whether the delegation was, in fact, able to effect contracts abroad for the supply of our requirements of prefabricated houses. Why has the Minister not already made public the information that was gleaned by the delegation overseas? He should at least inform the Senate of the conditions on which these housing units can be purchased, including the prices of various types. According to a press report, a prefabricated house of twelve squares would cost £2,100, and erection on the site approximately another £400. Will the Minister inform me whether it is true that the total cost of a prefabricated house of twelve squares would be approximately £2,500? If that is not true, can he inform me of the total estimated cost? Honorable senators have been asked to believe that Australian workmen are not giving a fair return for their wages. Perhaps we now have a chance to compare what the Australian workman is doing with what workmen overseas are doing. If we knew the actual cost of these imported houses we’ could make such a comparison.
I wish also to discuss the fittings for imported houses. The Minister for Trade and Customs assured the Senate that Australian-made fittings would be used if they were available, but I understand from press reports that the fabricated houses are to be imported complete.
– Only those that are imported up to the 31st December.
– And how many will that be?
– I cannot say. I know how many have been ordered, but I do not know how many will arrive before the end of the year.
– Certain fittings may be scarce in Australia now, but they may be plentiful enough in a few months’ time when the imported houses have been erected. We do not want local industries to be destroyed by dumping from overieas. Here is an example of what can happen. The Postmaster - General’s Department uses a piece of telephone equipment called a jack. The Australian manufacturer can supply this equipment at ls. 5d. a unit, but the department has, I believe, recently received quotations from British manufacturers who offer to supply them at ls. 3d. I made inquiries and I have found that the self-same article is supplied from England to the postal authorities in New Zealand and India, where there is no local manufacture, for 7s. 6d. Thus, the price is 7s. 6d. in those countries where there is no local competition, but in Australia the article is offered for ls. 3d. against the local manufacturer’s price of ls. 5d. To me, that seems to be a clear case of dumping. It may not come within the technical definition of that term) but it certainly represents an attempt to put the Australian manufacturer out of business.
– Is the price of ls. 3d. in Australian currency, or in sterling ?
– It is in Australian currency. Some of the standard equipment sent to Australia with the prefabricated houses could enter into serious competition with products made in Australia. There is a danger that equipment may be dumped here at far below the cost of production, merely in order to put Australian manufacturers out of business.
The provision of houses for the people is important, but at this time the Government has an opportunity to do much more than that. Government after government has spoken of the need for decentralization. We remember what a nightmare it was to the authorities during the war that more than half the population of Australia was concentrated in a few cities on the coast. We have been assured that, in another war, submarine activity will play a major part, so that coastal towns will be particularly vulnerable. We now have an opportunity, while our re-housing programme is under way, to settle a considerable proportion of our population in areas removed from the great capital cities. With improved road and railway services, there is no reason why people should not live 25 or 30 miles away from Sydney, and still work in city factories. However, we have the opportunity to do even better than that. Industry is expanding rapidly, and there is keen competition for materials for use in building houses and factories. We have a chance now that might never recur to establish industries outside the capital cities. The Government should seriously consider the points that I have raised before more houses are built in and around the existing cities to form new slums, and to ‘ cause further concentration of population. I could quote authorities who argue that economically, as well as hygienically, it would be advantageous to get the people . away from the crowded cities. We must realize, also, that should there be another war, big cities like Melbourne and Sydney could be destroyed overnight, and the ability of the nation to resist an aggressor might be destroyed within 24 hours. That is a further argument in favour of decentralizing industry and population.
Interest rates on money used for building houses has frequently been discussed in this Parliament. When a house could be built for £500 or £600, the rate of interest was not so important as it is now when an ordinary home may cost more than £2,000 to build. I quote the following paragraph from a publication, This Housing Problem, issued during the war by the Army authorities: -
Interest is the biggest factor in ordinary rents. The Victorian Housing Commission estimated that when the interest charged on the capital was 4 per cent., it was about two-thirds of the full economic rent, or, put in other words, what will cover interest, rates, repairs, &c, and allow the Victorian Housing Commission to balance its budget. It is considered desirable that no economic rent should exceed a fifth or 20 per cent, of the tenant’s income. When interest was reduced to about 3J per cent, the proportion of interest fell to about one-half of the total rent. For example, in an economic rent of £1, interest accounts for about 10s. If interest were wiped out, that 10s. would pay all charges, such as rates, taxes, repairs, maintenance.
Many honorable senators will know of ex-servicemen who settled in war service homes after the 1914-18 war, and who, after making repayments totalling almost the cost of the house, still found themselves owing a substantial part of the original debt. I, in common with other honorable senators, have made representations to the authorities on their behalf. Prices are rising so rapidly now that . it will be impossible for young couples on ordinary incomes ever to own their own homes. I believe that, in addition to what the Government has already done to assist home purchasers, it should carry interest charges in excess of 1 per cent. Some years ago, I was privileged to be a member of a parliamentary committee that discussed this “problem with representatives of the Commonwealth Bank and with various authorities throughout Australia. We were informed, if my recollection be correct, that handling charges for money amounted to approximately three-quarters of 1 per cent.
– Probably that figure has increased because of rising costs.
– I doubt whether it would be very much more. Obviously, if financial accommodation is to be obtained, interest must be paid. In that respect, the Commonwealth Bank is no different from any other financial institution. When it wants money to lend to its customers, it has to draw upon interestbearing deposits. It is quite fantastic to suggest that money can be lent at 1$ per cent, or 1£ per cent, interest without loss. If the Commonwealth were to undertake the responsibility of making housing loans at a nominal interest rate of say lj per cent., a substantial financial loss would be incurred, but I believe that it would be worthwhile. This is not only a financial problem; it is also a social problem. People who are comfortably housed in their own homes are usually healthy and contented and can be expected to give a much more satisfactory labour return. ,1 believe, therefore, that the provision of adequate housing accommodation is an important government responsibility. Our task is to try to make this country a little better than it was when we first came into it. Unorthodox finance may cost the Government many millions of pounds, but that is a responsibility that must be accepted. We have an opportunity to do something for the ordinary people of Australia, particularly young people shouldering the responsibilities of marriage. If we can make houses cheaper for them, we shall be doing them a great service. If pre-fabricated houses have to be imported, we should ensure that they will be of the best type. Admittedly, we cannot be satisfied merely with providing houses. We are confronted by many other problems to-day, and I emphasize particularly our defence responsibilities. However, I believe that by ensuring adequate housing for the Australian people and by giving them an opportunity to own their own homes, the Government can render a great service to this country.
.- To me, the most striking feature of this bill is the small sum of money that is to be borrowed for such an important task. If we are to compare that sum with corresponding loans raised between 1945 and 1949, we must remember that those were the years in which the Australian economy had to be changed from a wartime basis to a peace-time basis. That, of course, involved many huge problems, and, to accomplish the transition successfully, required much of the Government’s attention. To-day, the Menzies Administration is much, more at liberty to concentrate on housing. Undoubtedly the housing problem is acute. Migrants are pouring into Australia. In fact, so many have come here since 1945, that providing accommodation for them is in itself a difficult task. However, in addition to meeting the requirements of new Australians, the Government has to consider its own people. Thousands of Australians are seeking homes of their own and are finding that task almost impossible. A third section of the community to which consideration has to be given consists of young people who are marrying, and who wish to establish themselves in their own homes. Thus attention has to be given to the needs of three specific sections of the community.
Clearly, it is quite impossible for all people who are seeking homes to obtain them immediately. At present, the Commonwealth’s part is confined to providing funds for the home-building programmes now being carried out under State administration. One cannot help asking seriously “whether the Commonwealth Government is making its fullest contribution towards the solution of our housing problems merely by providing funds to the States. Is that sufficient for a national parliament? Throughout the Commonwealth many housing schemes are in progress. Some are being carried out by building societies which have undertaken to provide houses for private purchasers. Under such schemes, a substantial deposit is required from the client. In addition collateral security has to be provided and fairly high interest payments met. I do not know what the ruling interest rates are, but some years ago, they were as high as 8 per cent., 9 per cent., and 10 per cent. Other building schemes are being carried out by private builders and financed in various ways. In addition, houses are being built by various State instrumentalities. The result of all this activity is a heavy demand for building materials that cannot be met under present conditions, and could not have been met even prior to the war. Even if our present industrial resources were being used to the utmost, the demand for houses would still be acute because of the large number of people migrating to this country. In Queensland, 70 per cent, of the people own their own homes or are purchasing them. As Senator Arnold said, that is a most desirable state of affairs. One of the shortcomings of the present Government’s housing programme is that it merely follows on where Labour left off in 1949. As I have said, between 1945 and 1949 the Labour Governments had many serious economic problems on their hands, and could not devote their entire energy to housing. However, what the Chifley Government had in mind in respect to housing has never been announced. Had Labour remained in office, a master plan would have been in operation to-day. House construction in this country would have been organized under the control of one authority so that instead of private builders, building societies, and State instrumentalities all competing for building materials on the same .market, the supply of those materials would have been organized. Even now it is not too late for the Government to re-organize all the industries associated with building construction, particularly house construction. All of them should be reorganized and brought under one control and so co-ordinated that instead of different persons and authorities competing for available materials, all materials would be obtained by a central purchasing authority.
Under the system which I envisage production records would be established so that when shortages and bottle-necks became apparent remedial action could be instituted immediately. A supreme authority should be established and given sufficient power to say, “ This or that must be corrected “ or, better still, given sufficient authority to invite suggestions for correction. If we continue along the lines we have followed in the past the housing position must become still more acute. The immigration programme for this year and next year alone will considerably aggravate what is already a very bad position. Government activities for the provision of houses for the people are absolutely insufficient to meet present needs. More vigorous action must be taken to attack this problem. As a part of the reorganization which I briefly outlined a few moments ago a special authority should be established to interview builders and contractors with a view to expediting house construction. It is not sufficient for the Commonwealth merely to finance the State housing authorities in the construction of rental houses. I cannot emphasize too strongly the fact that the States have special problems that arise from the house building programme. They cannot merely build houses on vacant land, arrange for their occupancy and leave the matter there. People need more than just a house in which to live. Streets must be constructed, highways built, electricity services provided and connected, water reticulated, and police protection and additional transport services must be arranged in order to meet their needs. The cost of all these services is borne by State instrumentalities or local governing bodies. We could not build, say, 500 houses in a new area, allow them to be occupied by approximately 2,500 persons, and fail to provide the amenities which are commonly required in all civilized communities. The Australian Government should not merely provide funds for the building of houses and then say to the States, “ Well, we have done our duty as the National Government. We have provided your housing authorities with funds to build houses ; we leave the matter there “. The provision of funds must be followed by inquiries about the progress of the housing programmes and investigations of delays that may occur in their implementation. If delays are caused by shortages of building materials the reasons for those shortages should be investigated and remedial action should be taken.
The importance of providing houses for the people cannot be too greatly stressed. From the spiritual stand-point and from the point of view of the individual it is most desirable that every family should have a house in which to live. Most Australians are accustomed to living in houses as distinct from flats. Flat and tenement life is abhorrent to us. Children should be in the company of their parents at the end of the day and every family should enjoy privacy, and a reasonable share of amenities available in all modern civilized communities. From the health standpoint it is also desirable that each family should live in a house of its own. If houses were available for all our people most of the diseases which are attributable to slum and tenement conditions would be eradicated and the standard of Australian citizenship would be improved.
Another matter which should not escape attention on an occasion such as this is that people who live in houses and enjoy good health have greater incentive to improve their position. Among them there is less absenteeism from work because of sickness or disease. It is of little use for the Government to appeal for increased production at a time when many people are absent from their employment through influenza, colds, or other illnesses caused by improper housing conditions, or worse still, if they absent themselves in order to move from suburb to suburb in the search for a house.
The procrastination that marks the administration of war service homes should be scotched without delay. It is an accepted fact that applicants for war service homes after having complied with all the prescribed formalities must necessarily wait for at least two years before steps are taken to provide them with a house. I do not suggest that that defect could be remedied by an officer who merely works in an office. The solution of this problem may involve the sending of experts into the forest where the timber is felled in order to speed up supplies, to sawmills to encourage greater output, and to brickyards and iron works to arrange for increased output of building materials.
This bill contemplates tho erection of imported prefabricated houses. We haN had a very limited experience of such houses. Such houses as have been brought here have not been erected for a sufficiently long period to enable us to judge how well they will stand up to Australian conditions. In some areas of Australia extreme climatic conditions are experienced. It remains to be seen whether imported prefabricated houses can satisfactorily withstand the rigours of our climate. In Queensland the floor level of houses is usually from 4 feet to 10 feet above the ground. I should like to see a demonstration prefabricated house placed on piers 7 feet or 8 feet above the ground in order to ascertain how it stands up to Australian conditions. I should also like a prefabricated house to be erected in Canberra so that honorable senators and others may see for themselves whether or not houses of that type are suitable for Australian conditions. I do not suggest that a test house should be left unoccupied. It could be occupied by a family and inspections could be arranged from time to time.
Another matter which is worthy of consideration is tlie need for establishing a balance between the construction of industrial buildings and dwellings. Unless this matter is taken in hand by some competent authority we may find that while houses have been built for the people no industrial structures have been provided to absorb the working population of the area. We should adopt a balanced programme of industrial and dwelling construction if only as a means of insuring against unemployment in later years. If a depression came it would be too late to revise our opinions.
It was said in the Senate this afternoon that the cost of building a brick house far exceeds that of a wooden structure. It is true that the first cost of a brick house is greater than that of a wooden house, but it is also true that the cost of upkeep of a wooden house is very much greater than that of a brick house. A timber house needs a thorough painting once every five years, whereas once a brick building is erected there is very little further cost involved, and certainly not for painting The painting of an average-sized dwellinghouse to-day costs approximately £60 or £70, so that over a number of years h will be found that, although the initial cost of a brick dwelling might be slightly greater, it is in fact the better purchase.
In conclusion, I again plead that when further grants are considered for the purpose of constructing homes for the people, the amounts will be considerably increased.
– It is a source of pleasure to me that the Government intends to continue the operation of a scheme commenced by a Labour government. However, the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) did not commend the Labour Government for the work it started, and it would be possible for an individual, looking at the total figures that the Minister has quoted, to think that the Government had provided £62,822,000 for the purpose of building homes. It also gives me pleasure that this Government has seized upon plans made by the previous Minister for Housing, Mr. Lemmon, and has adopted them as its own. That indicates that although there may be some small anomalies and hold-ups which do not permit the schemes to function at full capacity, the Government has given its blessing to those plans for home building throughout Australia, and it may count on the co-operation of the members of the Opposition in putting them into effect.
Perhaps it would be as well, if only for record purposes, to detail the schemes that have been proposed, by governments in the federal sphere. I think it is necessary to go back to the time when the Eight Honorable S. M. Bruce was Prime Minister of Australia. During an election campaign the right honorable gentleman promised the electors that if his party were elected it would commence a housing scheme, and he made particular mention of the removal of slums. He stated that the aid of State governments would be enlisted, because the Australian Government possessed no paramount authority to remove slums. In subsequent years many promises were made by governments that slum-clearance schemes would be put into operation. In 1925 the Nationalist party issued a manifesto stating that £20,000,000 would be provided to enable people in the cities and in the country to secure their own homes. In 1927 a Commonwealth Housing Act was actually passed, but from 1929 to 1934 no advances were made under that act.
During the elections held in 1934, the Right Honorable J. A. Lyons promised to assist in the building of more houses with a view to abolishing slum areas. In 1935 Sir Frederick Stewart, who was a member of the House of Representatives, reported to the Australian Government on the subject of slum clearance and rehousing in the following terms : -
No constitutional hedge could justify our disconcern, even were we not so definitely committed by pre-election undertakings.
Yet no houses were built. At that time there was an abundance of labour and raw materials, and apparently the only difficulty was that of finance. Some years before that there had been a manifesto issued by the Nationalist party - the Liberal party has changed its name so often that it is rather difficult to follow-
– But it has not changed its policy.
– I think the policy has changed, because the Minister for Social Services has stated to-day that with the consent of the Parliament, £26,100,000 will be made available for the purpose of building houses. In previous years, all that the non-Labour governments did was to promise to build houses. Sir Frederick Stewart admitted that the government of the day was hedging, and was not building bornes, although there were ample materials and labour available to do so. Although the government of that time, which was not a Labour government, said it would make available £20,000,000, apparently there was some difficulty in obtaining sufficient finance to commence operations. It may be said, of course, that in those days the people did not have the money to purchase homes, but there still remained the necessity to deal with slum clearance and to re-house those people who were living in slum conditions. Some of them were living in humpies, similar to the prefabricated homes that are being imported to-day, except that the humpies were built on the spot. The necessity for homes was obvious, and everything necessary to build homes was available. If we are truthful, we must admit that the lag in housing experienced since the war might have been obviated to a great degree had the promises of previous governments been honoured.
In 1935, as I have already pointed out, the Nationalist Government of the day hedged on the matter and did not go ahead with construction work. In March, 1936, Mr. Lyons again refused to make money available for slum clearance and extensive housing schemes. In 1938 he stated that it would be quite impossible at that stage for the Australian Government to take part in any programme of home construction or the abolition of slum areas. In 1939, when the country had the same Prime Minister as it has to-day, Mr. Menzies refused to make funds available for a re-housing plan which also was concerned with the elimination of slums throughout Australia. On the 1st May, 1940, the right honorable W. M. Hughes was asked whether he had made any progress in the’ Cabinet with his proposal for the abolition of slum areas in Sydney, and he replied, “I am afraid that that question is neither important nor urgent, so far as it is directed to me “.
There has been a complete reversal of attitude on the part of those associated with the Government to-day. That is borne out by the fact that the Minister for Social Services has graciously submitted a plan Whereby the home-building agree ment inaugurated by the Australian Labour party shall be continued. I am pleased that the Government has seen the error of its ways. During those years I have mentioned it would have been possible for the various governments to draw up a similar plan for the cities and towns of this country. It must not be forgotten that in some of our country towns there are slum dwellings that should have been demolished years ago. lor many years the policy of governments in relation to housing consisted of promises to the people that schemes would be put into effect, but on each occasion that a political party was elected to office it was found that it would not be constitutional for the Australian Government to implement such schemes. No one dreamed of giving financial assistance to the States to enable them to undertake housing schemes, although it was well-known that, as far as the States were concerned, finance was the stumbling block.
At a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers held early in 1944, a Labour Government presented to the State Premiers a plan for the construction of houses by the States. It proposed that the Commonwealth should make the necessary funds available and that the State governments should, through their building authorities, construct houses for rental or sale. One of the conditions upon which financial assistance was to be granted to the States was that returned servicemen should be allotted a percentage of the houses that were built. The States were to be responsible for the allocation of the houses, the collection of rents, arrangements for sales, maintenance &e. A further condition was that houses built should be suitable for occupation by people in the lower income group. The Commonwealth agreed to pay a subsidy in respect of some of the houses in order to ensure that the major portion tff a tenant’s income was not expended upon rent. It was suggested that the rent paid by the tenant of a house built under the agreement should not be more than approximately one-fifth of his weekly earnings, birt regard was to be had to the number of other persons in the family who were earning money. Broadly, that is the scheme that is now in operation.
In an overall plan, it was necessary to make provision for the construction of a certain number of homes each year. Arrangements were made for, I think, approximately 12,000 homes to be constructed in the first year of operation of the scheme, but, owing to the physical difficulties that were encountered at that time, it was not possible to attain that target. Later, it was proposed that 24,000 homes be built yearly, and that the annual target be increased progressively until it was approximately 50,000.
In his second- reading speech, the Minister said -
The local building industry gives no indication under present conditions of being able to produce substantially more than 60,000 . . new houses a year.
Under this progressive programme, the annual target has increased until this year there is a possibility of 60,000 homes being built.
During the war, and for some time afterwards, it was necessary to operate a system of issuing permits for building. The permits were issued by the Commonwealth, under the defence power, and the Labour Government that was then in office became very unpopular because, for example, it restricted the building of magnificent residences in order that modest cottage homes could be built. Later, the States continued the permit system. It is still in operation, although it has been modified in some respects, and it has the approval of the Minister. There is no doubt that it is still necessary to restrict the use of building materials for extravagant homes, in order that the great majority of our people may be properly housed. The Minister has signified his approval of the plan that was put into operation by a Labour Government, and which provided that houses erected under permit should be allocated on the basis of need and required to conform with agreed maximum standards in order that available resources could be used to build houses for as many families as possible. Houses erected by State authorities are allotted in accordance with the terms of the agreement reached at the 1944 Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, and are intended principally for persons in the lower income group.
When the Commonwealth entered into an agreement with the States to finance their building operations, subject to certain conditions, it did not attempt to induce them to prevent private enterprises from building homes. There was, and probably still is, a restriction imposed upon private builders in relation to the dimensions of houses. That restriction was imposed by the Commonwealth and continued by the States with the object of ensuring that the greatest possible number of homes of the cottage type was built. Private enterprise is playing its part in the building of homes, and no restriction is placed upon its operations other than that it must build houses suitable for the majority of our people. The Commonwealth stopped private enterprise from building mansions, and now the States are doing so. Despite the State laws in that connexion, one or two mansions have been built and the builders have been heavily fined, but apparently that has made no difference to them. They take the view that the fine only increases the cost of the building by a few pounds.
I ask the Minister, when he replies to the debate, to tell the Senate the number of houses that were built .under this scheme last year and the number that will be commenced this year. That information will be of interest to honorable senators, because they will be able to say that, irrespective of party considerations, the Commonwealth Parliament has made provision for the granting of financial assistance to the States to enable a certain number of homes to be built, showing conclusively that the Commonwealth Parliament is of some’ use.
I shall deal briefly with interest rates. After World War I., it was quite usual for persons buying homes to pay interest of between 5 and 9 per cent, upon the money that they had borrowed. The rate of interest was dependent upon the source from which the money had been borrowed. Before the policy of the Commonwealth Bank was changed to allow it to finance home building, the States made housing loans through their housing authorities, but the rates of interest that they charged were often as high as 6 per cent. Interest rates are very important in this connexion. At one time, it was possible to buy a well-built, substantial five-roomed brick house for approximately £700. Between 1924 and 1927, approximately 4,000 homes were built in South Australia by .State authorities. They cost about £725 each. People who purchased them had to pay a deposit of £25 and guarantee to repay a certain sum each week over a period of 40 years. During the depression, many persons who were purchasing houses were forced to sacrifice them. A similar type of home would cost approximately £1,900 to erect to-day. Despite the reduced rates of interest now charged on building loans many people cannot afford to build their own homes. As a result, the demand for rented homes has increased. In order to assist people who desire to build homes I consider that the Government should make representations to the Commonwealth Bank to reduce still further interest charges on home-building loans. I repeat that building costs to-day are much higher, relatively, than they were 20 years ago, and interest is a terrific “ slug “ for young married couples aspiring to own their own homes. In my opinion the rate of interest charged on building loans should be decreased as the capital cost of home-building increases. As honorable senators are aware the great Labour movement of this country has always advocated that the people should be encouraged to acquire their own homes. On the other hand, recognizing that a proportion of the people find it necessary to move from place to place, following’ seasonal work; and that people in another section of the community may have difficulty in accumulating sufficient money with which to pay deposits on homes, Labour has advocated, also, the provision of a number of tenement dwellings. Labour’s scheme, socialistic ‘in attitude and application, is still being implemented by the present Government. Labour established the principle of homes being built by the Government for rental and a certain proportion being built also for sale to the tenants in due course. Repayments of principal and interest are spread .over many years in order that prospective home-owners may acquire their homes by easy weekly payments in the form of rent.
I have previously pointed out to the Senate that part at least of the tremendous shortage of ‘homes in Australia to-day could have been obviated if, during the depression years, the available material had been applied to house building. However, that opportunity was lost. Quite unfairly, many opponents of Labour have deplored the -Labour Government’s inactivity in the field of homebuilding during the war years. Apparently they do not realize that, from the moment that the Labour Government implemented an all-in war effort, homebuilding virtually ceased. In many instances it became necessary to utilize improvised accommodation for people who were required to work in various places to produce goods to carry on the war effort. Artisans employed in housebuilding were directed to assist in the manufacture of the war potential, and building materials, also, were directed to the war effort. It may not be generally known that during the war years 40,000,000 superficial feet of timber was used annually in connexion with the manufacture of munitions. In this connexion the local production of timber was augmented by imports. As a result, only limited supplies of timber were available for home-building. Following the termination of hostilities it was possible to make some building materials available to industry, and that is when the homebuilding scheme was resumed. A number of huts and offices that were constructed in various parts of Australia for the use of Army and Air Force personnel have now been converted into temporary dwellings for migrants. Huge stores that were built during the war to store wool are also being converted into temporary accommodation. Although I admit that the smell of the wool still lingers in them, they are not altogether unpleasant. It is therefore apparent that it is grossly unfair for the opponents of Labour to criticize the extremely limited homebuilding activity during the war years, and I hope that in future honorable senators who have offered such criticism will remember that it was quite impossible for the Labour Government then in office to pursue an all-in war effort and at the same time maintain the homebuilding programme. That programme is now being accelerated, and the purpose of the bill before the chamber is to provide funds to carry on the plan that was inaugurated by the previous Labour Government and continued by the present Government. The supply of homes is still far below the demand, and at the present rate of progress 50 or 60 years must elapse before the supply will equal the demand. However long before that time has arrived all of the timber in this country suitable for home-building will have been used, and Australia will have to rely on timber imported from overseas at prices even higher than to-day’s prices. I point out that timber will always be required in connexion with home-building. Some years ago I considered very carefully the possibility of substituting steel for timber in home construction. However, I found that steel was quite unsuitable for flooring, because of its slippery surface, and as I do not favour concrete floors in homes, I came to the conclusion that timber should be retained for floors. Probably before the expiration of 50 years from now, the huge deposits of iron ore and manganese in this country will have been developed for the purpose of manufacturing fittings for houses. Ultimately, by the more extensive use of steel for building purposes, we should be independent of overseas supplies of fittings.
The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) has referred to the fact that a number of prefabricated housing units will be imported in order to relieve our housing shortage. If the prefabricated houses to be imported are similar to the houses at Narrabundah, a suburb of Canberra, I consider that they would be a very poor type of home. I have been told that the people occupying houses in “ Rainbow Valley “ - as one portion of Narrabundah is called - are able to identify their own places only by the colour of the paint on the front doors. They are really slum dwellings. Of course I am aware that they are only temporary homes. Many buildings in Canberra, including Parliament House, have been described as temporary structures. I trust that in time the Parliament will be housed in a permanent home, and that other temporary structures in Canberra will have been replaced by permanent buildings providing modern amenities. Narrabundah is the aboriginal equivalent of “ Get behind the tree3 as quickly as you can hide yourself “. Perhaps the authorities are planting trees in that area in order to hide the terrible dwellings there. In Turner, another suburb of Canberra, concrete homes are being built. Construction has been under way for from twelve to fifteen months, and I understand that none of this type of home has yet been completed, owing to shortage of fittings - probably some little things that nobody thought of until the work had progressed to a certain stage. I consider that the Labour Government was at fault in approving the construction of such homes in Canberra. Then construction was held up until supplies came to hand. Frightful contraptions are being erected and called homes. I urge the Government to see if something better can be done. Thousands of people in Australia to-day are desperate for shelter. They will jump at the chance to get into these prefabricated houses, but after a while they will become dissatisfied. When this matter was raised on a previous occasion, some of the tenants said that the houses were satisfactory, and so they are for the time being. They are better than tents, but they are still slum dwellings In the winter they are terribly cold, and in the summer they are hot and stifling. Children should not be reared in such surroundings, and the Government should not continue to erect such dwellings.
Prefabricated houses are being imported, and I have seen two samples of them. One is of the Anderson shelter type that was used in Britain during the war to provide shelter from bombing. The prefabricated houses are made of somewhat lighter material, but the design is much the same. They consist of a half circular roof, with walls about as high as those of a 6 feet by 8 feet tent. The ends are filled in a framework structure, in the middle of which a door is placed. I do not know whether the Federal Government is importing any prefabricated houses of that kind, or whether it is merely financing importations by the States. I hope that the Commonwealth will not make money available for the importation of such dwellings. It would be far better to place restrictions on the export of iron and steel so that more galvanized iron could be made here for the building of homes. It is terrible to think that the cost of imported, prefabricated, so-called houses ranges from £1,300 to £1,700.
I have seen another kind of prefabricated home, which is similar to those that have been erected in Rainbow Valley. The rooms are very small. With twin beds, or even a double bed, in a room, it is almost impossible to put any other furniture in that room. The kitchens are very small. Indeed, I cannot find language in which to describe them. It is appalling to think that we are importing houses like that, and paying an exorbitant price for them. I hope that the Government will thoroughly investigate proposals for importing prefabricated houses, and paying for them with money to be appropriated under this measure. The Government should not allow the erection of slum dwellings of the prefabricated kind, whether they are made in Australia or imported from overseas.
– The Labour Government was responsible for the erection of the houses of which the honorable senator complains.
– I said that the- Labour Government was responsible for putting them up, and that it was at fault for doing so. I am now asking the present Government not to make the same mistake.
– I thought the Labour Government never made mistakes.
– That is an extraordinary statement for the Minister to make, and he calls himself an intelligent man.
Sitting suspended from 5.56 to 8 p.m.
.- I support the bill. This debate gives to honorable senators an opportunity to voice any ideas that they may have on housing generally, and to make suggestions that they consider may be useful to the Government and to the community at large. An interesting feature of this measure is that the sum <j£ money being made available this year is £26,100,000, compared with £17,000,000 last year. That is ample evidence of the rapidly rising prices about which we have heard so much in this chamber in recent weeks. To my mind, housing is one of the predominant problems facing the Government to-day. We cannot expect to have a happy, contented community unless young people can look forward to owning their own homes when thev marry or very soon afterwards. As Senator O’Flaherty has pointed out, this Government admittedly has inherited a legacy from the tragic depression days of the early 1930’s, when the building industry languished, and from the more recent war years, when all our energies had to be devoted to the defence of this country. It is easy to be wise after the event. Now that the Japanese have been beaten, we can all feel rather smug about the fears that we all entertained during the war years, but our worries were very real in those serious times. The great movements of people from the cities to country areas was a clear illustration of the uneasiness that was abroad, when this country was threatened. It is quite understandable, therefore, that a government led by a man such as John Curtin, should have harnessed all available man-power, materials and money to the one vital job of winning the war. One result was, of course, that, during the war years, the housing position, already bad in 1939, deteriorated much further. To retrieve the situation we have to face a long, slow, upward grind. Our housing problem cannot be solved satisfactorily in a short time. As long as we have full employment in this country we shall have a housing lag, but that should not stop us from making every effort to overtake that lag. The housing problem could, of course, be solved very rapidly in another way. If full employment no longer existed in this country, houses would rapidly become available. During the depression years, houses could be rented or purchased for almost nominal amounts. That was not because there were too many houses, but because there. were not enough people with money to pay rent or buv houses. The slightest drift in this country towards unemployment would very soon’ ease the demand for new houses; but that is a solution of our problem that must be avoided at all costs. We must be prepared to put up with whatever disabilities arise from full employment, and devote all our energy to the building of new homes. In that connexion, I compliment the Government upon having followed the lead given by the Chifley Government in making advances to the States for housing loans.
During the week, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) announced that the services proposed to expend between £12,000,000 and £14,000,000 on hutments and housing accommodation for permanent servicemen and recruits. In view of the extraordinary public reaction to the Government’s recruiting campaign, the Minister should have another look at that proposal, because, if effect is given to it, there will be a serious diversion of manpower and materials from the construction of houses. I have no wish to impugn the motives of our service authorities, but the fact remains that they are often inclined to ask for more than they really need. I believe that the proposed expenditure should be closely examined by the Government before the plan is proceeded with. The Minister also announced that approximately £1,500,000 would be expended in the Eastern Command area on much the same kind of work. I do not suggest for a moment that we should build houses only and that every other type of construction work should cease. That would be a tragic mistake. I believe that some States have concentrated far too much on home building and have neglected to provide other buildings that are useful and necessary to the community such as certain types of factories. I do not deny that a high priority should be given to the building of homes, but our housing programme should not exclude all other building activities. Again I urge the Government to reconsider its defence building programme which, I believe, would seriously interfere with the supply of materials and man-power to house-building projects. The obliga te to support our home building programme reS’t; not only upon the Aus.tralian Government, but also upon the State governments and every individual in” the community. It is a common problem and we must all contribute our share to its solution. I agree with Senator O’flaherty that the Government should investigate the possibility of providing cheaper money to encourage home building. As I said in my speech on the Constitution Alteration (Prices) Bill, I believe that once the will of the Government is established, and its policylaid down that better and more houses must be built, we have only to look at the small things associated with the building programme to ascertain in what way each may make a contribution to improved output. Our aim must be a vastly expanded home building programme. For the Government to say that there is an annual lag of 30,000 homes and that not much can be done about it is quite the wrong approach. Let us apply all our energy to the problem, and see by how much that lag of 30,000 can be reduced in the first year. I am certain that after a year of solid effort, the problem’ will not seem to be nearly so great. The annual lag may be reduced to 20,000.
Many things can be done. The Victorian Government has brought American engineers to this country to assist in State water supply undertakings. I am sure that if contracts for the building of homes were big enough and attractive enough, we could interest American industry in house building in this country on a large scale. When I say a large scale, I do not visualize not hundreds of homes, but thousands of them. It has been done in America. Under some housing schemes undertaken in that country, swamps and forests have been replaced by settled towns in a matter of a year-or eighteen months. In other words, this problem is so big that big minds and big efforts are necessary to solve it. The Government could explore the possibilities of letting contracts for houses to American construction companies, and even permitting those companies to import dollar materials if necessary. In other words, a successful contractor could be permitted to bring to this country from America, materials such as steel that are in short supply here. Those are problems that require thought, energy, and determination. There is no reason why they cannot be solved.
It is interesting to learn that the production of some building materials to-day is below the 1939 levels. For instance, in 1939, we produced 721,000,000 bricks, whereas in 1949-50 production totalled only 582,000,000. The monthly average production for 1938-39 was 60,000,000 bricks, but in 1949-50 it was 48,500,000. That is something that should challenge the drive and initiative of some one in the Government. I admit that it is a challenge that the Labour party was not able to meet in the first post-war years. There is something radically wrong in the brick-making industry. It is of no use for Ministers to tell us that the trouble is lack of man-power or something of that kind. It is much more serious than that. The production of cement to-day is two and a half times greater than, it was in 1939. The production of fibro-plaster sheets has doubled. The output of most other commodities has increased considerably; yet the production of bricks has fallen by nearly 12 per cent, and the production of terra cotta tiles has increased only from 39,000,000 in 1939 to 43,000,000 last year. The state of those two industries challenges action by the Government. Those industries are basic to home building, yet production in them is lagging. What can we do about it? Investigations and reports by economists, public servants or Ministers, are useless unless they are to be followed by some action.
– We should have government brickyards.
– That is one answer, but that in itself would not be sufficient by a long chalk. The New South Wales Government has bought a brickyard, and it is doing good work, but it can make only a small contribution to the solution of the problem. If I were charged with the responsibility of increasing the output of bricks, I should have a close look at the effect of taxes on the brick-making industry. Brickmaking has problems of its own. Production figures show that there is a cancer in that industry. There is something fundamentally wrong. If the responsibility were mine, I should find out whether a scheme could be devised to encourage brick production. I should examine, for instance, the allowance that is made for depreciation of brick-making plant. The brick-making industry to-day is not mak ing profits, and after all, under our present economic system, if there is to be production there must be profits. No matter how essential an industry may be, it cannot carry on without profits. To make certain that the brick-making industry shall make profits and shall be able to carry on, a very close examination should be made of it. It ha.s been said that shortage of man-power in the brickmaking industry is responsible for the decline in the production of bricks. While the Government continues to implement its extensive immigration programme and while migrants are required to serve in industries nominated by the Commonwealth for a period of two years, I see no reason why sufficient man-power could not be directed to the brickmaking industry to overcome the bottle-neck. At present migrants are being sent to Stenhouse Bay, on St. Vincent’s Gulf in South Australia, and to other almost inaccessible places in order to assist in the plastermaking industry established at those places. Therefore, I cannot understand why a sufficient number has not been made available to the brickmaking industry to enable bricks to be produced to maximum capacity. I am convinced that the decline in the production of bricks is caused by other factors.
– Migrants have been directed to the brickmaking industry.
– If that is so, how can the Government claim that the shortage of man-power is solely responsible for the decline in production? The Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey) made a survey of the industry about four months ago and after it had been completed he stated that the shortage of man-power was one of its basic problems. If, in fact, the industry is still short of labour, the Government should direct to it a sufficient volume of migrant labour to meet its needs. Brickmaking is well paid work and migrants would undoubtedly eagerly accept work of that kind. I know of brickyards in Sydney which are idle to-day because they cannot be operated at a profit. Action should be taken to put every available brickyard into operation at maximum capacity. I realize that there are manufacturing problems to be faced. Whether they can be overcome satisfactorily by the Government I do not know. At all events they should be thoroughly investigated and every effort should be made to overcome them. I agree with the Minister that the annual deficiency of 30,000 houses will not be overtaken until the production of basic materials has been greatly increased.
Because of the shortage of bricks, many substitute building materials are being used. Many houses are now being built with stone foundations and weatherboard walls. In structures of that type a minimum number of bricks is used. Notwithstanding the use of substitutes, the brickmaking industry ‘ is still totally unable to meet demands. In fact the position is daily growing worse. Not only is production declining, but also the demand is being intensified. If sufficient quantities of bricks were available the construction of the factories sorely needed for industrial development could be immediately undertaken.
A somewhat similar position exists in relation to supplies of terra cotta tiles. What is the reason for the shortage of terra cotta tiles? Can this Government do anything to increase production of that requirement? Has it tried to do so? Has it established an expert committee to encourage production? The shortage of basic building materials is a challenge to Ministers. If I were in a Ministry and were able to say when mv term of office had expired that I had overcome a problem of that kind, I should indeed be proud of my achievement. Ministers should resolutely tackle this problem. If the leaders of private industry will not engage in brick manufacture without tangible governmental assistance, it is the duty of the Federal and State governments to help them in every possible way. Although the production of terra cotta tiles has increased slightly, the demand for this essential roofing material has been greatly intensified. We welcome the opportunity to discuss this subject because our deliberations may stimulate others to take an interest in these basic industries.
The Minister in his second-reading speech stated that in order to encourage importation of prefabricated houses the Government has- offered financial assistance to the States of up to £300 for each imported unit. It is obvious that the Government has no knowledge of the extent to which the cost of imported houses has increased in recent months. The Chifley Government offered to subsidize the importation of prefabricated houses up to that amount in September of last year. At that time £300 represented a fair proportion of the cost; but in the last eleven months, building costs have increased greatly. Consequently having regard to present costs a subsidy of £300 represents a very much smaller percentage of the cost involved. I suggest that the subsidy be increased and that it be paid not only to the State governments but also to private importers of prefabricated houses. Until the lag in the building programme has been overtaken the Government should do everything possible to encourage individuals and groups of individuals to import prefabricated houses. I noticed in the press this week a statement that Overseas Corporation (Australia) Limited is contemplating the importation of houses prefabricated by its parent company, the Bristol Aircraft Company Limited, in Great Britain. Whether they will be imported for the Commonwealth or the States, I do not know. The point I make is that all those who are interested in the importation of prefabricated houses should be given every encouragement and should be eligible for the subsidy. Desperate measures are required to meet desperate situations. Eighteen months ago I had hoped that the Labour Government had almost overcome the housing problem. Undoubtedly the influx of migrants and the great deal of spending money in the community has accentuated the problem which has now become more acute than it was in the years immediately following the termination of the war.
If we are to develop a healthy race of Australians we must give to young married couples an opportunity to enter their own homes as soon as possible after marriage. It is most undesirable that young married couples should be compelled to live with parents for many years while they are waiting for houses as many of them have to do to-day. This is an urgent national problem. It must be tackled by men of vision who are not afraid to take drastic steps to overcome it. Any man who conquers this problem or helps to do so will earn the gratitude of the nation.
While I compliment the Government for having introduced this measure, I ask the Minister to give very serious consideration to the suggestions I have made. The Government might consider appointing a special Minister or, failing that, a highly qualified public servant to undertake the task of removing the bottlenecks that hamper the production of basic building materials. Everything that can be done must be done if we are to overtake the lag in the housing programme.
– I wholeheartedly support the bill. The only regret I have about it is that it does not seek to appropriate a larger sum of money for the construction of houses for the people. Opposition senators welcome the opportunity to state their views on this most important subject. I regret to have to say that when we ask questions about the housing programme we seldom receive reasonable answers from the responsible Ministers. The housing position in Australia is in an appalling state. Blame for the existing state of affairs rests on those members of the present Government who were also members of the governments which were in office in the years when building materials of all kinds were plentiful, when hundreds of thousands of people were out of work and when the wonderful opportunity to implement a sound housing programme was neglected. Had they taken notice of the advice of members of the Australian Labour party in the past, Australia would not now be faced with an acute housing problem. Thousands of Australians have been homeless for years. During the depression, when we suggested to the government of the day that it should engage the unemployed in the building of houses for the people, we were laughed to scorn. We were told that no money was available for that purpose.
During this debate, honorable senators opposite have frequently interjected that during the eight years in which Labour governments were in office they did nothing about this matter. They were able to do little or nothing about it during those years, because for at least one-half of their period of office they were forced to harness the whole of the resources of the nation for the prosecution of the war. In the early years of World War II. vacant houses were to be seen in every provincial and country centre, because workers from country and provincial areas were sent to the cities to work in the munitions factories. Others were vacant because of enlistments in the forces. After the termination of the war the Chifley Government sought vainly the co-operation of the members of the then Opposition, who now form the Government, in an endeavour so to regulate the return of ex-servicemen and munitions workers to industry as to cushion the demand for housing accommodation in the cities.
Undoubtedly the extensive immigration policies of this Government and of its predecessor have accentuated the housing problem. Because immigration is a Commonwealth matter, the housing of migrants should also be regarded as a Commonwealth matter. The Government should seek power from the .States to undertake construction of houses for our migrant population. During the course of his speech the Minister in charge of this bill stated that in order to help to meet this deficiency the Australian Government has offered to the States -financial assistance up to £300 on each prefabricated unit they purchased abroad. That offer was also made by the previous Government, but because of increased costs of production and freights that sum is not sufficient to enable the State governments to import as many houses as they require. The Government should give favorable consideration to increasing the amount to £450 or £500 in respect of each unit. When the question of importing prefabricated houses was first discussed, the cost of freight and charges of that kind were not nearly as great as they are to-day.
Another matter affecting costs of prefabricated homes and other homes in Australia is building on a cost-plus basis. 1 am not so concerned with the monetary aspect as with the fact that although the workers are invariably criticized by members of the Government for lack of production, they are not always responsible for it. Homes built on the cost-plus system illustrate my point. That system is used to advantage by some contractors who, instead of using their employees on homes being erected on that basis, take them away to other projects, and thereby retard the completion of homes. That position could be remedied if homes were built under the contract system, as they were prior to the war.
I consider that the Australian prefabricated house is the best available in the world to-day. I have seen most types that have been erected and also the plans of many others. The cost of erection of the Australian units is cheaper than that of imported types, and the saving to the purchaser is considerable.
Many people think, as apparently do some members of the Government, that all that is required in order to solve the housing problem is to tell the State governments to build or to import homes. Of course, that is not the position. Prefabricated homes, on arrival in Australia, must be transported to the localities where they are to be erected, and on arrival there, matters such as the connexion of electricity, gas, sewerage, and water have to be considered, and construction of roads is also necessary. Those are some of the major problems that are delaying the settlement of people in their “ own homes, and the position cannot be alleviated unless man-power is taken away from works that are not as urgent as housing projects. The members of the Government are appealing to the workers for co-operation. They will receive cooperation if they make the workers contented and provide decent homes for them to live in. In order that , that may be done, labour should be taken away from projects planned by previous governments to be carried out in a possible time of recession, and diverted to more essential undertakings.
– Such as the Snowy Mountains scheme?
– The Snowy Mountains scheme is a good one, but my reply to the honorable senator is that the workers will not he contented unless they have homes to live in. I suggest to the honorable senator that if he and his wife and children were living in a shed, his need for a home would assume much more importance to him than the Snowy Mountains scheme.
Sentaor Gorton. - What projects has the honorable senator in mind ?
– I have in mind many projects on which manpower is being wasted to-day. That manpower could be utilized in the manufacture of the basic materials necessary for the erection of homes and the construction of roads.
– What are the projects ?
– There is a tourist organization in this country that is probably second to none in any country in the world., Thousands of people are employed by it for the benefit of fortunate persons who have made money, and who are able to travel round the Commonwealth. Whilst such organizations may serve a purpose, it seems to me that there are more important undertakings to be considered after the completion of a war.
– There are also several race-courses in the country.
– I admit that, and they have always been there. If the honorable senator suggests that race-courses should be closed down, he may receive my support; but I would suggest that he reconsider his proposal, and leave it in abeyance until after the running of the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday next.
It is undeniable that the shortage of essential materials is holding up industry to-day. Contractors who have men building homes, flats or factories sometimes must wait a day or two until sufficient tiles, for instance, arrive. It is not economically sound for them to take their employees off that project, and transfer them to another, and so many man-hours are lost through no fault of contractors or of their employees. The members of the Government say that the workers are at fault for all delays in production, although the workers are perfectly happy to work when the materials are available.
As Senator Armstrong has said, those- who control our armed forces are not particularly .concerned with the quantities of materials they order, or how those orders are filled. They have no concern for the civil population. I have read newspaper reports at various times to the effect that houses were to be taken over for use as officers’ quarters in various camps throughout the country. Honorable senators will .surely agree that that is not necessary to-day. Men and women with children .should receive first consideration, and some of those houses should be made available to th’i homeless.
The Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey) has stated that there is a lag of 30,000 houses per annum in Australia to-day, -and that imported prefabricated houses are available at the rate of 10,000 a year. I suggest to honorable senators that this country will never overtake that lag in homes if it depends simply on imported houses. As far as home-building is concerned, private enterprise has failed.
– So have the housing commissions !
– If the honorable senator and other supporters of the Government think that the housing 1’iimissions have failed, it seems to me that the time has arrived for the Australian Government to control the building of homes, as it did during the war.
– A two-bedroom prefabricated house cost3 approximately £5,000.
– In view of Senator Scott’s interjection, it is astounding that he did not give some support to the prices control legislation which was before this chamber yesterday. Support for that legislation could also be claimed from Senator Henty, who recently stated in this chamber that the high cost of vegetables was due to the fact that people were not willing to take off their coats and do some gardening. I do not know whether the honorable senator has ever been to Fitzroy or Richmond in Victoria, but if he has he will know very well that if the workers who live in those congested areas wished to dig a garden to plant vegetables it would be necessary for them to dig up the main roads or the parks or the places where they lie down to sleep.
– There is land available for the planting of vegetables, but the people require a shovel with a seat on it.
– I referred to those people who live in the industrial areas of the various capital cities, and I say that in those congested areas there is very little room to plant vegetables.
The building programme has lagged for many years, and it seems that the only corrective for that lag is a depression. If there should be a depression, the ‘ housing problem would be solved, because those people who require homes to-day would then be unemployed, and would be forced to live under the same conditions as those which existed during the last depression. If prosperity continues in this country, the only authority capable of dealing with the housing problem will be the Australian Government. The authority that controls immigration should surely control the direction of migrants to industry. As Senator Armstrong stated, private enterprise today is not prepared to engage in the manufacture of such articles as bricks, probably because of the shortage of machinery, and consequent unprofitable production. But if the brick kilns are lying idle, it behoves the Australian Government to direct man-power to them, so that bricks may be made and homes built for the homeless. One of the primary causes of the acute housing shortage is the increasing flow of migrants to this country. The Minister for National Development has stated that in the current year we can expect to receive at least 250,000 migrants from overseas countries. Assuming that each migrant family is comprised of five members, that number would require the provision of 50,000 homes. Surely the Australian Government should have the right to see that those people who are brought to this country to assist in its development, are men who can be directed to industries that will provide essential materials for homes ?
The Commonwealth Bank could assist in the solving of the housing problem by making available money at lower rates of interest, so that people would have some measure of protection when the shock comes, as I have no doubt it will come. Honorable senators opposite laugh at my suggestion. Perhaps they do so because they think that in the event of a depression, they may be able to draw upon the fund built up for them before the last election. I am speaking of the workers who are paying 50s. or £3 a week to rent or purchase prefabricated houses. When conditions become normal they will be faced with difficulties similar to those with which I was faced after World War I., and they will be forced to give their homes away, because they cannot continue to pay their rents or mortgage commitments. I was forced to give my home away.
Home-building is not a matter for the States. Honorable senators opposite may say that a Labour government was responsible for the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, and that is true. That government was the only one in the history of the Commonwealth that made any effort to build homes for the people of this country.
– It worked in co-operation with the States.
– It was forced to do so, owing to the provisions of the Constitution. If this Government is sincere in its statements that it wants to provide homes for the Australian people, it will have to do more than cooperate with the States.
– We have nothing to be ashamed of in South Australia.
– I do not know what South Australia does, but I do know that governments of Victoria, whether they have been composed of members of the Labour party, Liberal party or Country party, have been unable to provide homes for the people of that State. The task of building homes for our people is, in some respects, similar to the task of defending this country in war-time. It is a job for the Commonwealth. If it is right in war-time to ask the workers of this country to fight to keep us free, it is also right for the
Commonwealth to request an alteration of the Constitution to enable it to provide homes for the servicemen who sacrificed years of their lives and, in some instances, their limbs, to defend this country.
The Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) boasted of the Government’s success in negotiating a dollar loan in America. I regard that loan as low-down roguery. We have borrowed money from America at a time when the Australian £1 is worth only two American dollars, or even less than that. The Government proposes to use a part of the loan to provide equipment to speed up transport on some of the outback lines, but I believe that it could he used more effectively to build homes for our people to live in. If we want contented men in this country, we must provide them with decent homes and a decent environment for the children that they bring into the world. I have lived among the workers all my life, and I know that to achieve industrial harmony and greater production it is necessary to make them contented by giving them a decent stake in the country. I have pleasure in supporting the bill. I regret that the sum to be made available to theStates is only £26,000,000 and not £200,000,000.
– A striking feature of this debate is that all the eulogies of this measure have come from this side of the chamber. Honorable senators opposite are apparently content to rely upon the second-reading speech of the Minister; because they have not said anything in support of the bill.
– Surely the honorable senator does not think that the Government would have introduced the bill if we did not support it?
– The bill is designed tocontinue work that was commenced bya Labour government. It is probab le that the reason why honorable senators opposite have not spoken in support of the measure is that they have been so condemnatory of anything savouring of socialism that they feel that they would be accused of speaking with their tongues in their cheeks if they did so. They are afraid that if they eulogized this measure they would be accused of supporting socialism, although I have told them repeatedly that there is nothing wrong with socialism.
I join issue with Senator Hendrickson, who made a remark with which I cannot entirely agree.
– Hear, hear !
– The honorable senator may not say .” hear, hear ! “ when I have finished what I am about to say. Senator Hendrickson said that the Government’s only hope of solving the manpower problem and overtaking the building lag was in another depression. If the honorable senator had given more thought to his experiences and those of other people during the last depression, he would have realized that it is unlikely that the present Government parties would do anything worth while, even during a depression. The idea of increasing building construction in a depression in order to reduce unemployment and keep money in circulation is a good one. The stimulation of the building trade is the’ best means of increasing employment and putting money into circulation in the community. There is no doubt that when the building trade is prosperous, prosperity for all is on the way. But what happened during the last depression? I charge the anti-Labour parties with having failed to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the depression to alleviate the housing shortage in this country, which was acute even then.
– What did Mr. Scullin do?
– If the honorable senator had read Hansard, he would know that the Scullin Government proposed a fiduciary note issue for that purpose. I was not in the cradle then, or sitting on my mother’s knee. I have not been told of what happened then by my elders. I have bitter personal experience of those years.
Senator Gorton interjecting,
– Order! Constant interjections by Senator Gorton cannot be tolerated. The honorable senator will have an opportunity later to speak on this hill, if he wishes to do so.
– I do not object to Senator Gorton’s interjections as such, but I do object to him making them sotto voce. If I could hear them clearly, he would get a Roland for every Oliver. I have heard honorable senators opposite complain that they cannot understand the dialect used by Senator Grant, but I cannot understand the gibberish that I hear from some of them by way of interjections. Perhaps I should not expect other than gibberish from them. I was making the point that the antiLabour parties failed to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the last depression to overtake the home building lag. If the building programme had been expanded then, nearly all our problems would have been solved and the depression - that world-wide scourge - would hardly have touched us. Senator Hendrickson had apparently forgotten what happened during the last depression when he said that the only hope that this Government had of solving the housing problem was the onset of another depression.
In my opinion, the Government is acting properly by intruding into home building. I regret that it does not propose to intrude even further. I have always held the view that it is the responsibility of a government to safeguard the health and comfort of the community for which it is responsible. To do that, it should ensure that all members of the community are housed well and that they have a stake in the country. By helping the people to become owners of their houses, a government would help to make them contented. I urged the Chifley Government to go further and deeper than it did go into home building, because I realized that if it did so it would endear itself to the people. 1 am satisfied that home building, if properly controlled by the Commonwealth, will be one of the finest safeguards against the recurrence of a depression. A comparatively small sum of money devoted to home building would circulate so rapidly that it would solve many of the problems and alleviate much of the distress that would otherwise occur in a time of depression.
I shall relate an experience of my own in support of my contention that the Commonwealth should intrude further into home building. Some years ago, I was purchasing a home. I had paid a deposit on it and, believing in government institutions, I raised on mortgage an amount with the Rural Bank of New South Wales. I undertook to pay interest on the mortgage at the rate of 6 per cent, per annum. Unfortunately, interest rates then were higher than they are now, and I shall have something to say about that later. Times began to become bard. I did not think that the depression would be as severe as it in fact was, but I knew that conditions would deteriorate. I read in the press that the New South Wales Government had introduced a scheme under which it was prepared to lend up to 90 per cent, of the price of a house to people who were suffering hardship because they were paying high rates of interest on mortgages. Eight per cent, was considered to be a high rate of interest then. Having discovered that I should have to establish that I was suffering hardship by paying a high rate of interest on my mortgage, I negotiated a second mortgage at 10 per cent. That made my average interest rate approximately 8 per cent. Unfortunately for me, I applied for a 90 per cent, loan only two weeks after it had been decided to discontinue 90 per cent loans As a result I was in the doldrums. Despite my wife’s financial ability in connexion with housekeeping - which placed her in a category equivalent to that of Sir Denison Miller - we fell into arrears, although I am proud to relate that we did not fall too far behind in our payments. The second mortgagee congratulated us on the efforts that we had made to reduce the amount outstanding. He told me that of hundreds of second mortgages that he had on his books, the greatest effort to repay had been made by my wife and me. He rewarded our efforts with a rebate of £7S off the final payment. At that time thousands of people were unable to keep up payments on their homes, with the result that they lost their equity, in many instances representing their life’s savings. These people had built homes with money borrowed from building societies and lending organizations that were not so considerate as were the Rural Bank and other government institutions. Realizing that its borrower.’ were falling into arrears through no fault of their own the Rural Bank called a meeting of creditors, who decided that arrears up to £60 should be capitalized, the rate of interest on the principal sum lowered, and the period for repayment extended. Prom my personal experience, therefore, honorable senators will understand why I favour home-building being undertaken by the Government. I consider that , the first responsibility of the Government is to provide housing and to take steps to care for the welfare of the people. The provision of housing should not be left to building societies and other private organizations. Because past governments have not accepted this responsibility, home-building has in many instances been financed by friendly societies and StarBowkett societies. As honorable senators know, some Star-Bowkett societies have not been conducted on the best lines. An advantage of government control would be that the Government could purchase building materials, and if necessary stockpile them in order to arrest price increases. I do not suggest that if one timber merchant raises his prices by 6d. a 100 lineal feet, other timber merchants should not likewise raise their prices. Any of a number of subterfuges could be utilized to justify the additional charges. The Government could also offer inducement to artisans.
Prior to my leaving for a trip to England four years ago I discussed with members of the government of the day a scheme that I had devised in connexion with unemployed artisans. At the request of those members I asked representatives of the various building trades unions in Great Britain, as well as members of the British Cabinet, whether they were prepared to support a scheme of short-term contracts for the various artisans who were signing the unemployed book and collecting national insurance. At that time between 75.000 and 78,000 skilled artisans were collecting national insurance in that country because there was no work available for them. The representative people to whom I .spoke expressed the opinion that Australia had scarcely felt the impact of the war, and had no rebuilding programme such as faced the authorities in England. I should ment:on that at that time only limited supplies of timber were available in Great Britain, and it was estimated that at least 21 months would elapse before adequate supplies would be forthcoming from West Africa. In those circumstances I suggested that the authorities in Great Britain could avoid heavy national insurance payments, and at the same time assist the Australian Government, by permitting 25,000 or 50,000 skilled artisans to emigrate to Australia to assist to build homes for the migrants that Australia was expecting and looking forward to getting after the war. I pointed out that the Australian Government would be prepared to defray the expense of transporting those tradesmen to Australia. One prominent official said to me, “ But they may not come back “. I replied that he could not have expressed a greater indictment of the conditions in Great Britain, particularly in view of the fact that their passages would be provided free and that they would be engaged only on short-term contracts. Unfortunately the scheme that I advocated was not accepted.
I remind honorable senators that it was quite natural that home-building should lag during the war years, when both artisans and materials were directed towards the production of the war potential. Furthermore, it must be remembered that there was a considerable lag in the home-building programme in thi3 country at the outbreak of war. In 1945 I was approached by a gentleman who was in touch with manufacturers of prefabricated housing units in Helsinki, Finland. I introduced him to a Minister in the Labour Government that was then in office, and he offered to arrange for the supply of 25,000 prefabricated houses every six months for importation to Australia by the Australian Government. To the best of my knowledge no action was taken to import prefabricated houses from Finland following that interview, until three years later, when there was a change of portfolios. As a matter of fact I do not think that prefabricated houses have yet been obtained from that source, although designs were submitted to the Australian Government. Personally, I am not keen on the importation of prefabricated houses from the congested countries of Europe, because people in those countries have not the conception of home life that we have in
Australia. Because of the wider spaces available in this country, we favour relatively bigger rooms than are used by the people of Europe. I am speaking from my own experience, having inspected houses occupied by the ordinary people in Belgium, Holland, and Great Britain. I inspected prefabricated houses constructed of concrete, fibro cement, aluminium’ and timber. None of the prefabricated housing units that I saw in those countries was suitable for use in Australia.
Less than six months ago I was approached by a person representing a prefabricated housing manufacturing concern in Western Germany. On behalf of his principals he offered to import into this country, at the expense of his principals, equipment, materials, and 500 or 600 skilled artisans, after they had been properly screened in Europe. Those artisans, after running the gauntlet of repeated screenings in Europe, would bring their own hutments with them and construct their own factory ‘ here, under the supervision of local builders if necessary. I understand that that offer is now being considered by a State government. I do not know whether the Minister for National Development, to whom I communicated the offer, has taken any step3 in the matter. I point out that that organization would have supplied prefabricated houses at a rate commensurate with the target recently announced, and that only about £100 profit would be made on each unit supplied. The gentleman to whom I have referred stated that the whole of the profits would be applied to the building of a brick factory, the proposed design of which I have seen. It was to be built within eighteen months of the commencement of its operations, and would yield at least 15,000,000 bricks a year, to be used exclusively by the Government in its home-building programme.
In his second-reading speech the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) stated that to the end of June this year 40,999 dwellings had been commenced under the agreement in the five States operating under it; that of those, 30,410 had been completed, and 10,5S9 were under construction at the 30th June, 1950. He pointed out that during the year ended the 30th June, 1950, 7,435 dwellings were completed, 2,552 - or 34 per cent. - being in country areas. If brick-works were established in country areas, the building of more homes in those areas could be undertaken. Furthermore, if additional amenities were provided for people living in country areas, the attractions of the large cities would be lessened, and family life in country districts would be preserved. I believe in decentralization. Honorable senators should not merely pay lip service to decentralization proposals. I have travelled through the outback parts of Australia, and have sometimes seen a lonely house on the horizon. T have been told that Jones lives there, that he is a boundary rider, and has a family of ten children; that he is, in fact, one of the district’s pioneers. I am not curried away by that. If he is a pioneer, then what in God’s name is Mrs. Jones, who had to bear, rear, clothe and teach the ten children? “We know, of course, that wi ves in such circumstances are buoyed up with the idea that, in middle life, they will have their growing families around them, but too often, as the boys and girls grow up, they drift away to the cities, because there are no country industries to employ them. The establishment of industries in the country would do much to save the family life of many country dwellers. That is the sort of decentralization that I should like to see. I should be pleased if my remarks v/ould. stimulate some honorable senator opposite to speak his mind on this subject, either in approval or in rebuttal of what I have said. I cannot understand why they sit there - I was going to say with vacant grins - but, at any rate, just grinning, and without making any contribution to the debate.
I wholeheartedly support this bill, which was introduced by our friends, the enemy. I support it because it deals with a project that was initiated some years ago by the Labour Government. It is good to realize that, in spite of the Government being so timid about socialism, it is proposing to make money available to the State governments for housing purposes.
– I am glad that this spineless Govern ment has mustered sufficient courage to carry on the practice initiated by a Labour government, and to continue making money available to the States for housing purposes. We all agree that housing is one of the most important matters that we have to consider. The acute shortage of houses is not, of course, peculiar to Australia. It is our concern to do what we can, under the limitations of the Constitution, to help the States to provide houses. It is unfortunate that this so-called National Parliament is national only in name, insofar as its powers in many matters are concerned. For instance, it is farcical that the Commonwealth Parliament has no power under the Constitution to engage directly in the provision of houses for the people. That being so, the next best thing is to make money available to the States for that purpose.
The bill provides for the raising of £26,000,000 to be advanced to the States. That is a considerably larger amount than was ever made available for this purpose in any previous year, but because ot inflation, about which this Government has done nothing, the larger amount will not build any more houses than did the smaller appropriations in other years. The present acute shortage of houses in Australia is a legacy from previous nonLabour governments which masqueraded under various aliases. I remind honorable senators that, during the depression and the years that followed, there was a serious shortage of houses, but nothing was done by anti-Labour governments to overcome the shortage. During the depression, when Australia was under the dictation of the private banks, supported by the Commonwealth Bank Board, there was no shortage of materials, and tens of thousands of skilled tradesmen were walking the streets looking for work, but anti-Labour governments did nothing to provide more houses. From the end of World War I. until 1941, Australia was ruled by a succession of anti-Labour federal governments. The ex-servicemen were told that nothing would be too good for them, and that was precisely what they got - nothing. During the depression, ex-servicemen and their families lived under shocking conditions. Almost every newspaper during that time carried pictures showing the appalling conditions under which families were compelled to live. As I have said, there was no shortage of labour or materials then, but there was not enough money. If we are prepared to accept the sacrifice of our soldiers in defence of national freedom, we should see that, after the war, they are decently housed.
I hope that Commonwealth authorities will supervise the expenditure by the States of the money to be made available under this scheme. I am convinced that the money could be advanced through the Commonwealth Bank at a much lower rate of interest to home purchasers. The Royal Commission on Banking and Monetary Systems that was set up by an anti-Labour government in 1936 pointed out that money could be advanced to State governments at a very low rate of interest amounting to no more than the cost of issuing the loan. Interest payments constitute the heaviest burden that has to be borne by those trying to buy homes.
This Government sent a committee overseas to buy prefabricated houses, and thousands of houses were ordered at prices much higher than those quoted by local manufacturers. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent in tooling up for the production of Beaufort prefabricated houses in Victoria. Then, the antiLabour Hollway Government of Victoria repudiated the contract, and made available to private enterprise the steel that was to be used in the houses, although many hundreds of men had been trained specifically for the job.
The proper housing of the people should be a national responsibility. The Government, if it remains in office long enough, should endeavour to have the Constitution altered so as to enable the Commonwealth to play its proper part in housing the people. I believe that housing is just *“» much a national responsibility as is defence, and there is no greater morale builder than good living conditions.
We have been told that all our economic difficulties arise from insufficient production. In the pre-war years, there was no shortage of building materials or man-power. The problem then was not under-production but so-called over-production, and home building almost ceased. Slum areas which, years earlier, had been declared unfit for human habitation, were never cleared in spite of the activities of various slum abolition authorities throughout the Commonwealth. The antiLabour governments then in office were more concerned with pounds, shillings and pence than with the provision of suitable housing for the people. I believe that the Commonwealth Government should take steps to ensure that the money advanced to the States under this measure will be put to the best use. I believe that, in view of rising prices, much more than £26,000,000 should be advanced to the States to hasten the solution of the vital and tragic housing problem. That is my only criticism of the measure. Honorable senators opposite claim repeatedly that increased production would solve most of our economic problems, but what l.ave they done to increase production ‘ the ten months that they have been i:i office? The Government has not shown any inclination to do anything to step up production even of basic building materials and other necessary items. It has not one tangible suggestion to offer. The Minister said, in his secondreading speech -
The local building industry gives no indication of being able under present conditions to produce substantially more than 60,000 of the 90,000 new houses a year that Australia must have to meet housing needs arising solely from marriages and migration, so that there is an annual deficiency of approximately 30,000 houses to be made good.
We all heartily approve of the Government’s endeavours to increase the flow of migrants to this country, but the arrival in Australia of those people is greatly accentuating the housing problem. Many thousands of new Australians are being housed under what may be regarded as war-time conditions. They are living in camps, reconditioned woolsheds and so on. Unless this vital problem is tackled earnestly and dynamically, many of our migrants will become most discontented with the conditions under which they are living. The needs of our own people, too, must be given every consideration. Thousands of Australian citizens are living under appalling conditions. I know of dozens of ex-servicemen of World War II. who are living with their wives and families in single rooms for which they are paying exorbitant rents. Those are the conditions that breed communism about which the Government professes to be so concerned. If we can house the people of this country adequately we shall have nothing to fear from communism or any other foreign ideology.
I am pleased that the Government has decided to carry on with the Labour Government’s policy of making advances to the States for housing purposes. Constitutional limitations prevent the Commonwealth from doing much more than that, but I appeal to the Government to ensure that money for housing shall be made available at the lowest possible interest rates, so that home purchasers will not have a huge interest burden hanging around their necks for many years. All those things can be done if the Government wishes to do them. No one will deny that there is a need for increased production of 1 building materials, but we should not assume that employers are free of guilt in that connexion. In many instances, the production of materials could be speeded up if the employers were prepared to install modern equipment.
I am pleased to support this measure, and the favorable reception that the Opposition has given to the bill is an indication that we are not always opposed to the Government’s legislation. If the Government brings in worthwhile measures, we are always ready to support them. By introducing this bill, the Government is carrying on from where the Labour Administration left off, but I consider that, particularly in view of the record budget that the Treasurer has brought down, Commonwealth advances to the States for housing purposes should be more generous. As I have said, because of the reduction of the purchasing power of our currency in the last year, the £26,000,000 that this bill makes available will purchase no more than a considerably smaller sum purchased in the previous financial year.
– in reply - Honorable senators on the Government side of this chamber have no less an interest in housing than have mem bers of the Opposition, but my colleagues* have refrained from participating in this debate because of the need to have this legislation passed by the Senate as soon as possible. I am confident, however, that, during the budget debate;. Government supporters will give to- the Senate thebenefit of their knowledge and experience of the housing problem.
This bill provides the finance with which the Commonwealth and States Housing Agreement is given effect. Themoney is advanced to the States, and repaid over a period of 53 years. As hasbeen clearly shown in the course of this debate, the provision of money for homebuilding is only one of the problems that have to be faced if our housing shortage is to be overcome. Indeed, I believe that the tenor of this debate has indicated that the provision of money is by no means the most important problem. Australian governments generally can hardly be accused of being remiss in their obligation to make money available for home construction, because the Estimates show that the Commonwealth and State governments together will provide during the current financial year approximately £100,000,000 for this purpose. Of that sum, approximately £70,000,000 is to be provided by the Commonwealth under the following headings: -
In addition, it is estimated that between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000 will be expended on housing by the State governments. Of that sum, approximately £10,000,000 will be expended on imported prefabricated homes. That indicates the magnitude of the housing problem, and shows that it goes much deeper than the measure now before the Senate might indicate. The problem is, of course, directly related to the shortage of such building materials as timber, bricks, glassware, cement, and others that have been mentioned in the course of the debate. It is very interesting to note that most of the materials which are now in short supply are of Australian manufacture and are of a standard and quality which we are vain enough to believe compare more than favorably with similar materials manufactured in other parts of the world. In order to solve our difficulties we are seeking supplies from foreign countries which faced greater difficulties than we did during the war years and suffered much greater losses than we did as the result of the ravages of war. It will be agreed on all sides that if we can diagnose and eradicate the faults that give rise to tins situation we shall have made the greatest single step towards the promotion of the happiness and contentment of the Australian people. Nothing is so discouraging and anti-social in its effect as the lack of reasonable living conditions for a man, his wife, and his family. I do not propose to canvass that issue because it is in itself a big problem. I offer only the one passing thought that perhaps a good deal of the trouble is due to a lack of recognition on the part of the Australian people of the interdependence of one section of industry on all other sections and lack of proper co-operation between various industries, and classes and types of people.
I was very intrigued to read the comments made in another place on the effect of the shortage of coal on the housing position. It was said that it had been estimated that the manufacture of the materials needed for a small home of ten squares necessitated the use of between 20 and 25 tons of coal.
– That is a brick house ?
– Yes. It was said that a loss of production of 20,000 tons of coal deprived the community of the equivalent of 1,000 houses.
A good deal has been said during this debate about the importation of prefabricated houses. While the debate was in progress I collated a few general items of information which may be of interest to honorable senators. The total estimated expenditure on housing proper - that is, excluding hostels - by private and government contractors is at present at the rate of £120,000,000 per annum. It is estimated that the number of houses built will be 10 per cent, greater this year than last year. Apart from prefabricated houses imported to Victoria by the Victorian railways and the State Electricity Commission, few prefabricated houses have been imported to Australia. .It is estimated that next year expenditure on the importation of prefabricated houses will amount to £14,500,000, made up of £5,000,000 of the £26,000,000 proposed to be appropriated in this bill, a subsidy of £1,500,000 being made available by the Australian Government, £4,000,000 being appropriated by the Victorian Government from its own funds and another £4,000,000 worth imported by the Australian Government.
– How many houses does that represent?
– I have made some estimates of the number but I’ do not pretend that they are completely accurate. The same point occurred to me and I made a stab estimate. Assuming that these imported prefabricated houses will cost on an average £2,000 each, the estimated expenditure of £14,500,000 this year should yield 7,250 houses. Assuming that the total expenditure on housing during the next twelve months is £120,000,000, of which £14,500,000 will be expended on prefabricated houses, about 12 per cent, of the houses to be provided during the next twelve months will bo of the prefabricated type. Senator 0’Flaherty has criticized the standard of certain prefabricated houses. I think that he and other honorable senators may rest assured that the houses now being imported are of a very much higher standard than those imported in earlier years. Those now being imported conform to the specifications laid down by the Commonwealth Experimental Building Station and the. station estimates that they should last for at least 53 years, that being the period of repayment for houses built under the Commonwealth and State housing agreement and purchased by the people. All imported prefabricated houses are now also being constructed to specifications laid down by the State housing authorities. They are mainly of weatherboard construction and are similar in type to houses already erected by the State authorities.
asked what results had been achieved by the housing mission that was sent overeas shortly after this Government came into office and whether a copy of its report is available. I have a copy of the report which I shall be glad to make available to any honorable senator who wishes to peruse it.
– Is it not possible for the Minister to furnish copies of the report to all honorable senators?
– It is a roneod production and sufficient copies are not available to enable that to be done. The mission lays special emphasis on the necessity for site preparation well in advance of the arrival of the houses. The major conclusions reached by the mission were that it should be possible to secure from abroad up to 40,000 houses annually from the end of 1951 onwards; that a number of building organizations in the United Kingdom and on the Continent are willing and capable of supplying prefabricated houses complete with foundations, paths and drainage ; that a number of organizations are willing to undertake site preparation work, including engineering services; and that it should be possible to secure from abroad quotations for erected houses which the housing authorities in Australia would regard as acceptable. The mission made a series of suggestions about the calling of tenders. It states that one of the greatest deterrents to obtaining satisfactory tenders has been the lack of uniformity in the methods of calling for tenders adopted by the Australian Government and the State governments. Corrective steps have been taken in that direction.
– Will these 40,000 houses come from non-dollar areas?
– I should say so. The report deals almost entirely with continental sources of supply. The information that I have given in relation to prefabricated houses constitutes perhaps the best reply that I could give to any criticism that the Opposition may make of the Government’s housing policy. I have shown that the bottle-necks in local industry are not capable of quick eradication. The Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey), very soon after he accepted that portfolio, came to the conclusion that the speeding up of imports might partially solve the housing problem. He sent the Director-General of Housing overseas and has already carried out a lot of spadework required in connexion with import procedure. I do not think that we should encourage the importation of houses when they can be constructed in Australia. We all agree that importation should continue only while we are unable to overtake the housing lag by the use of our own resources.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) asked whether the subsidy on prefabricated houses is to be increased. It has already been liberalized since this Government came into power by the admission of prefabricated houses duty free. That concession will continue until the end of this year. Another very valuable minor concession has been made in that if the whole of the £300 i3 not needed to bring the cost of one house down to the level of Australian costs the balance may be spread over other imported houses. Information has been sought as to the number of prefabricated houses available overseas. There are indications that the number of houses available exceeds any demands we are likely to make having regard to the difficulties of prior site preparation and the provision of the necessary services. Many interesting points have been raised during the course of this debate. I shall crave the indulgence of honorable senators and refrain from replying to all those points, but if honorable senators are sufficiently interested I shall be prepared to discuss them with them.
Senator Arnold mentioned several matters that I consider have a good deal of general interest. One matter concerned the policy that is adopted in relation to fittings for prefabricated houses. It must be appreciated that the essence of the success of the importation programme is quick erection of the houses. It is necessary to get them into the country and erected as quickly as possible. Despite that, the policy has been adopted of eliminating from the specification all items or fittings which are of Australian manufacture and available. They are not imported but are supplied from the local markets. Senator Arnold also inquired as to the policy adopted to decentralize the placing of the houses. Honorable senators will remember that the State governments are really the constructing authorities. Action rests primarily with them, but the policy that is being adopted is that, as far as possible, houses should be placed in areas produc-ing basic materials and allotted to workers employed in those areas. In other words, if they are made available to those engaged in the coal and steel industries, employees will be attracted to those industries and production will be increased, and that, in turn, steps up the production of houses. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed (vide page 17S2).
– In commending this bill, I regret that the harmony which has characterized the proceedings in this chamber during this afternoon and this evening may not be extended to the discussion of this measure. Yet, there has been a considerable amount of agreement. I wish to speak very briefly, because I feel that there is very little to debate. The measure of disagreement has narrowed down to the simple question whether there should be a bank board or not.
In discussing a similar bill when it was before this Chamber I stated - and no honorable senator contradicted my statement - that the bank board proposal contained in it was similar to a provision contained in a bill introduced by the Scullin Government in 1930 which proposed to set up a bank board. All the arguments that came from the opposite side of the chamber against the measure which came before us earlier could have been urged much more strongly against that Labour
Governments proposal of 1930, because that proposal did suggest certain qualifications for members of the bank board,, in that it stipulated they should be actively engaged in commerce and industry, and so on. The proposal in thisbill makes no such qualifications. It. merely states that certain persons shall be members of the board because of their official positions - for instance, theGovernor of the Bant - and it allows theGovernment to nominate two public servants, other than those stipulated. It then provides that at least five of tho.=emembers shall not he public servants. That is the only qualification. I submit to honorable senators that that is not a sufficient reason for rejecting the bill or for referring it to a select committee. I consider that there is not sufficient difference of opinion to warrant the rejection of the bill and that the measure of agreement is sufficiently great for theOpposition to accept that provision and the bill as a whole.
– We remember thetreachery of the last Commonwealth Bank Board !
– Having regard to previous interjections by honorable senators opposite to the effect that this Government cannot be trusted toappoint a board which would be objective in its judgments and capable and honorable, I submit that that is contrary tofact and that this Government has already made many appointments that are admitted by all who are unbiased tobe appointments of men capable and honorable in every way. One of the gentlemen who was to be appointed is of such high calibre that we have not been able to retain him in this country, and he has become a director of the International Bank. I refer to Professor Melville. There is no reason whatever to supposethat all appointments, whether of publicservants or not, would not be of men of similar calibre. The reason for appointing five members is simply to balance against the official mind the wisdom of people from outside the Public Service. With regard to theallegation constantly made - and it is apparently the only point of issue - that a non-Labour government must necessarily appoint representatives of vested interests, I remind honorable senators of a matter that is probably within their own knowledge. I am not under any obligation to defend the United Australia party or any of its actions. I was never a member of it. I have seldom spoken a kind word for it, but even if it were true, as it is not, that this Liberal party is merely the United Australia party under another name, the United Australia party gave a signal example of impartiality in making such appointments when Mr. Lyons, as Prime Minister, had to appoint a commission to inquire into the working of the banking system. He appointed, as one of its members, the Honorable J. B. Chifley, as he then was.
– That was because of his capacity and ability.
– That gentleman afterwards became Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. I cannot see the reason for the interjection of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley). Of all the unreasonable interjections I have heard that is surely the most unreasonable. I wished simply to make the point that the Lyons Government appointed, as a member of the board, a gentleman who was a member of the Opposition and who had been an opponent of the United Australia party Government. I said nothing whatever about his capacity. I instanced that as evidence that the contention constantly made by the Opposition is completely without foundation. A non-Labour government can be trusted to make good and sound appointments, and it will do so in this case.
I cannot see that there is any ground whatever for the setting up of a select committee to inquire into such a small matter. The Opposition should either accept the bill or reject it. Into what matters can a select committee inquire? Surely it is not suggested that it should summon witnesses? The Opposition cannot give the reasons it gave for referring the alteration of the Constitution to a select committee. This is a matter that has been thrashed out in this chamber and in the House of Representatives so thoroughly that I defy the wit of man to find another argument for or against it. The issue is clear and simple and should be resolved to-night before we leave this chamber. As it is the intention of the Leader of the Opposition to refer the proposed legislation to a select committee, I shall conclude my remarks by urging that the Opposition support the bill.
– The measure that the Senate is discussing to-night is one that arises solely from an election promise that was made in the heat of the moment during the last general election campaign. Although it may perhaps be true to say that that promise had its roots in many things that have occurred since 1911, and in the emotions which have been aroused from time to time during discussions on banking, it is nevertheless true that this bill is here because of an election promise contained in the policy speech made by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on the 10th November, 1949. It is interesting to compare what the right honorable gentleman said in that policy speech with the views expressed by honorable senators opposite to-day. I quote from the joint opposition policy speech in which the right honorable gentleman stated -
A Bank Board of experienced and independent men would afford a guarantee that no policy decision by it would be lightly swept aside by the political head of the Treasury.
In another passage in the same speech the right honorable gentleman stated -
We shall continue the trading bank activities of the Commonwealth Bank in fair competition with the other banks.
For the moment I direct attention to the passage containing the words “ a Bank Board of experienced and independent’ men”. When the legislation ultimately came before the Parliament we found that it was a measure very obviously trimmed down to meet the Senate, and it finished up as a bill which suited very few people.
Although this Parliament is considered to be in an unusual position, it is not an uncommon one with State governments. In this Parliament there is a political party governing in one House and a political party of a different colour with a majority in the second chamber. That situation has appealed to the Australian people as somewhat novel, but I suggest that it is something to which this Parliament must become accustomed. It is not beyond the wit of man to overcome whatever difficulty may arise, and in several State parliaments it is something to which the people have become inured. In Western. Australia for a number of years there has been a Labour party government in the lower house and a coalition government in the upper house, elected on a restricted franchise. I have no doubt that bills which have been introduced by the Labour Government in that State have been trimmed down with an eye to what the Opposition in another place might allow to pass. I do not know whether that is entirely a bad state of affairs, because restraint is sometimes a very good thing. We have all heard the saying that all power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. That may be a very good argument in favour of the proportional representation system, which appears to be here to stay. We must face up to the fact that the boot may soon be on the other foot. It may be that in Australia we are politically immature and that we have not become accustomed to the position that exists to-day.
There are two Commonwealth Bank bills before the Parliament at the present time, both of them in identical terms, one of them in the House of Representatives and one of them in the Senate. The original bill was well summed up in the Sydney Morning Herald in a leading article that I shall read in a few moments. It was trimmed down to a form in which the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) probably believed the Senate would accept it, but it suited very few people in the community. It did not meet with the approval of the Senate and it did not suit the members of the Liberal party. If we can believe the newspaper reports that were circulating throughout Australia at that time, when the original bill was discussed by the Liberal party organization in New South Wales there were some very stormy scenes at the meeting, which was attended by the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner). I do not know whether the honorable senator maintained his usual charming smile on that occasion. If the newspaper reports be correct, he had a very torrid time, because members of his own party criticized the bill which had been introduced in the Parliament, as they had a perfect right to do, and almost passed a vote of censure on the Government. I thought that stormy meetings occurred only within the four walls of rooms in which members of the Labour party meet.
– When the “big twelve “ come along.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs(Senator O’Sullivan), who should set an example to the Senate, has made an inane and silly interjection. Usually, I try to deal with the motion before the Chair, which is something that the Minister has never done.
– Nasty little boy!
– I hope that I do not grow up to be a nasty old man.
Senator Hannaford interjecting,
– Many people have crossed from this side of the chamber to the other, and, having done so, have not had a moment’s happiness. Two honorable senators who now sit opposite have done that, but it is something that I shall never do.
At about the time when the original bill was presented to Parliament - not the one with which we are now dealing - the Australian Wheat-growers Federation held a meeting in Perth. The unanimous opinion of the meeting was that it was opposed to the formation of aCommonwealth Bank Board that had any resemblance to previous boards. The Australian Wheatgrowers Federation is not a Labour organization. One of its members is Mr. Roberton, the present Australian Country party member for Riverina, and another is Mr. Nock, a former Country party member for Riverina. The bill did not suit even the Sydney Morning Herald, which I do not think anybody would accuse of being the official organ of the Australian Labour party. In its leading article published on St. Patrick’s Day, 1950, the Sydney Morning Herald said -
Sharp disappointment will be felt, however, at the constitution of this body, half of which
Ut to consist of bank or government officials. Much will depend on the calibre of the five members who have still to bo selected, but at best the board will inevitably be under the domination of the Governor and Treasurer of the day. . . . The composition of the board, however, conforms neither with the recommendations of the Banking Commission nor with the expectations aroused by the 1’rime Minister’s policy-speech. . . . Where Mr. Menzies, without any qualification, promised a board of “ experienced and independent men”, Mr. Fadden now speaks of “an appropriate measure of independence “.
It would appear that this Government, which has done little hut try to please people without making a resolute stand upon anything, has pleased nobody with this legislation. Senator McCallum said, very naively, that, although the Opposition in this chamber does not agree with the provisions relating to the establishment of a Commonwealth Bank Board, as they are only a part of the bill, it should agree to pass the bill. If the matter is as simple as that, let the Government withdraw those provisions and ask the Opposition to agree to the bill in that amended form. It is always the Opposition that is asked to give way.
I do not think it will be out of place now to trace, very briefly, the history of the Commonwealth Bank and Commonwealth Bank boards. The Commonwealth Bank was established in 1911 by a Labour government. Prior to its establishment, there was a great battle of tactics. If great publicity had been given to the fact that a government bank was to” be established, the great forces that always oppose progress of any kind would not have been inactive in Australia. The bill to establish the Commonwealth Bank was viciously opposed by the opponents of Labour, as was the bill to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act that was introduced in 1945. In 1911, those who opposed the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank said, among other things, that “ Fisher’s flimsies “ would be on sale at street corners in Melbourne, Sydney, and other capital cities at ls. a bagful. The time when Australian £1 notes will be purchased for a shilling a bagful may be closer than we think, but if that does occur it will not be as a result of the operations of the Commonwealth Bank.
The Commonwealth Bank had not been functioning for very long when the 1914-18 war broke out. For the first time, the world, so to speak, left the bow and arrow stage of warfare. We began to speak in terms of expenditure of millions of pounds a week. The Commonwealth Bank, which acted as a central bank during that crisis, came through its ordeal magnificently. In 1924, the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), who yesterday referred to the members of the Opposition in the House of Representatives as a “lot of lousy cows “, made some very interesting comments when he spoke on a bill which made provision for the establishment of a Commonwealth Bank Board. On the 13th June, 1924, the right honorable gentleman said -
When the. question of a Commonwealth Bank was first mooted, it was generally expected that a truly national bank would be established - a bank of deposit, issue, discon ut, exchange and reserve. When the bill waa introduced, however, expectations were not realized, and when the bank began to function, it became perfectly clear that a national bank had not been established, but merely a governmental institution in competition with the private banks.
That appeared to be the crux of the matter on that occasion, as far as the right honorable gentleman was concerned. One of the reasons for the establishment ot the bank in 1911 ‘ was that it should act in competition with the private banks, but, because it had done so, the United Australia party Government of 1924, through the “ Tragic Treasurer “, attacked it - and on that ground only. A few minutes ago I read the following passage from the policy speech that the Prime Minister delivered on behalf of the present Government partiesat the last general election : -
We shall continue the trading bank activities of the Commonwealth Bank in fair competition with other banks.
It seems that, although from time to time Labour governments go down in defeat, some of the good they do lives on after them. One of the express reasons for the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank in 1911 was that it should operate in fair competition with the private trading banks, but in 1924 the “ Doleful Doctor “ attacked it on the ground that it was merely a governmental institution in competition with the private banks. The right honorable gentleman, having dealt with the troubles that arose during the war and in the early 1920’s, said -
In troubles such as these, one would naturally look to banking authorities to find a way out or at least to advise as to the remedies to be applied. But, in fact, there is no hanking body which can be considered representative. Instead, we have a number of banks which, though loosely associated for some purposes, scarcely can express a corporate opinion. Chiefly mindful of theirown interests, which is but natural, they can have no such regard for the public welfare, as is undoubtedly required . . .
Their individual outlook and interests render them unsuitable for the exercise of that provision which is absolutely necessary for the construction of. a sound public policy and its wise application during a long period. Banking policy aimed at the maintenance of the interests of the community often requires sacri fice of, or abstention from profit, and without, any reflection upon individual banks, I submit it is too much to ask that the ordinary banker shall exercise the self-denial which is involved.
Those words were spoken not by Mr. Chifley or any other member of the Labour party, but by the present Minister for Health, who was Treasurer of the Commonwealth in 1924.
The truth of the matter is that when the Commonwealth Bank Board was established it immediately set out, as it was its duty to do after what Sir Earle Page had said in 1924, to destroy the concept that the Commonwealth Bank was an institution that should operate in competition with the private trading banks, and it did an effective job in that connexion. The testing time of any body of persons or system is when it finds itself confronted with a crisis. The testing time of the Commonwealth Bank Board was during the great depression that began at the end of 1929. I come now to the reason why all Australians, especially members of the Labour party, should be sceptical of any Commonwealth Bank Board that is sought to be established. “When this country was passing through the dark days of the depression, and when the people expected that any Commonwealth government should stand out like a beacon light in the community and try to help the unfortunate people who were out of work, the Commonwealth Bank Board, to use a colloquialism, “ stood over “ the Government and said that it would not be allowed to govern in the manner in which it wanted to govern.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon.
Gordon Brown). - ‘Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I rise to discuss a matter arising out of Standing Orders, specifically Standing Order 418 - a matter which appears to cause some bewilderment to honorable senators on both sides of the chamber and which appears on some occasions to cause embarrassment to yourself, Mr. President, or to your deputy. I refer to those occasions when some honorable senator, either on this side or the other side, having made a remark, an honorable senator at the receiving end of that remark rises and says that it is offensive to him, and asks that it be withdrawn. I want to make it clear that I am saying this without in any way wishing or intending to cast any reflection on any ruling made at any time by either yourself or your deputy, but it does appear to me that, from time to time, situations arise in which you have to make decisions of the greatest delicacy and difficulty. You may be called upon to exercise your judgment, perhaps to an unfair degree, when there is no solid ruling or precedent to guide you as to what is offensive or not offensive. In many instances, of course, there is no question whether a remark made by an honorable senator is offensive. If I were to rise, for instance, and say that Senator Aylett was a “ weesleekit cowering timorous beastie”, and Senator Aylett chose to regard that remark as not being a compliment, there would be no doubt about its being offensive. Similarly, if some honorable senator on the other side, in a fit of unbridled passion, were to call Senator Anna-belle Rankin or Senator Robertson a fascist, then again I suggest there would be no doubt that the remark was offensive personally. But there is another category of remark, a variety of criticism which applies not to an honorable senator personally, but which could, by some tenuous reasoning, be considered to apply to him indirectly, because it applies to a party or organization to which he belongs. In circumstances such as that, I contend that there is no solid rule or precedent - at least I could not find one - on which you or your deputy can formally base a ruling. If we reach a stage where we say, for argument’s sake, that the members of the Opposition are political wreckers, is that personally offensive to any particular member of the Opposition? If the Opposition says that this Governnent is a spineless Government, grinding the faces of the poor, is that personally offensive to any particular member ?
– It is true.
-All I can say is that if Senator Ward thinks it is true, I do not consider it offensive. But if those situations which I have mentioned do arise, and the remarks are construed as being personally offensive, it seems to me that we would be approaching the position in which it would be very difficult for an opposition to say what it thought of a government, or, and this is more important from my point of view, for at least the nest ten years, it would be very difficult for a member of the Government to say what he thought -of the Opposition. Thus we would reach a stage where, with the most exquisite courtesy one to the other, we would be quite unable to drive home the point of a criticism. So I suggest you consider a ruling on the lines that I have brought to your attention. I do not suggest that you should give a ruling now, but that you should consider the matter, so that you can bring before the Senate some rule to which all can apply when an occasion arises. At the moment, so far as I can see, the only riding is that the words must be offensive against either Blouse of the Parliament, or a particular member. If the concept of offensive words is to extend beyond that, then to prevent any unfortunate incidents in the future, I suggest that you consider, possibly with the help of the Standing Orders Committee, the matter of bringing down some firm ruling so that we can say what we think without fear of being misunderstood, and without fear of unfortunate results.
– I have listened with very great interest to Senator Gorton. I think he will agree that it is impossible to lay down rules that are absolute. It is impossible to bring forward a standing order that would cover every case without fear of any contradiction or of its being attacked. That being so, it rests with the President to exercise his judgment and common sense. During the seven years that I have occupied this chair, I have tried to exercise that common sense, which I think is sometimes uncommon. As I have said, it rests with the President whether or not he shall use the Standing Orders to the full to compel any honorable senator to withdraw words that are considered offensive. I do not think that the standing order mentioned by the honorable senator requires that a remark shall be regarded as a personal reflection upon an individual senator. Even words used in a general way may be regarded as offensive by an honorable senator. I do not think in the past Presidents have ruled that an expression must relate to an individual personally. The President is not compelled to take the extreme action of inflicting upon an honorable senator who will not withdraw a remark which is considered offensive, the penalty of being suspended from the service of the Senate. The practice is that when an honorable senator asks that certain words be withdrawn because they are offensive to him the President asks the honorable senator who used those words to withdraw them. If he refuses to do so, it is left with the President to say whether or not he insists on a withdrawal. Should the words not be withdrawn at the request of the President, the honorable senator may suffer the penalty of his refusal. So it will be seen that there is a certain amount of responsibility on the President in such cases. I do not think there is any need for a new standing order in this case, because the more standing orders there are, the more the arguments that are likely to arise. I think it is essential in tie conduct of the business of the Senate, or of any other meeting, that the presiding officer shall be allowed a certain. latitude. Honorable senators have been very wise in their selection of a President for the last seven or eight years, and that may be why the proceedings in the Senate have been maintained at a high level. I assure Senator Gorton there is really no need for any further extension of the Standing Orders, and if he will continue to have faith in the President, I can assure him all will be well.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Australian Wool Board - Fourteenth Annual Report, for year 1949-50.
Canned Fruits Export Control Act - Twenty-fourth Annua] Report of the Australian Canned Fruits Board, for year 1940-50, together with Statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
Landa Acquisition Act - Land acquired for-
Defence purposes - Wooloomooloo, New South Wales.
Department of the Interior purposes - Carnarvon, Western Australia.
Postal purposes - Perth, Western Australia.
Senate adjourned at 10.42 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 November 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1950/19501102_senate_19_210/>.