20th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., andread prayers.
– Is the Minister representing the Treasurer aware that the statement of the Treasurer, to the effect that he would refer the matter of the construction of a road between Warwick andCoolangatta to the Defence Department for consideration, has been interpreted to mean that another “ Brisbane line “ is contemplated by the Government? Is the Minister also aware that should such a road be constructed it will be used more as a means of defence for the Treasurer than for the defence of Queensland and Australia?
– I cannot understand in what way the question asked by the honorable senator does credit either to him or to the Senate. It is one of those foolish incidents that discredit public life in Australia.
– Is the Minister representing the Postmaster-General aware that there are 4,000 outstanding applications for telephone connexions in Tasmania and that some of the applicants have been waiting for installations for periods of up to four years? Is he also aware that because of shortage of staff, extensive amounts of overtime have been worked by the line staff during a long period? Does the Minister know that the Emu Bay railway in the far north-west of Tasmania is the alternative employment being offered to Tasmanian linemen who have been dismissed in accordance with the retrenchment policy of the Australian Government, and that such positions have been picked over and in many cases declined as unsuitable by New Australians ? Will the Minister advise applicants for telephones that it is unlikely that telephone connexions will be made because of the change of policy of the Government and that line staff who have been employed in making such connexions are now being dismissed ?
– I am not aware of the matters raised by the honorable senator, but I shall bring them to the notice of the Postmaster-General and request that a report be furnished in due course.
– Yesterday, the Minister for National Development, when replying to a question by Senator O’Byrne about the suggested sale of Trans-Australia Airlines, said that the Prime Minister, and the Treasurer, during the referendum campaign had both emphatically denied that the sale of the airline had ever been considered. In the Courier-Mail of the 21st September, the Prime Minister is reported tohave commented as follows on the statement that Trans-Australia Airlines was to be disposed of: -
The report is completely without foundation ; the matter has not been before Cabinet, and will not go before Cabinet until a good deal more preliminary study has gone into it.
In the same issue of the newspaper, the Treasurer was reported as stating -
This report is just fantastic lying propaganda. It is the first I have heard of it. I t is an absolutely mischievous invention.
As there appears to be a fundamental contradiction between the statements of the Prime Minister and of the Treasurer, will the Minister for National Development say which of the statements reflects the real attitude of the Government: towards Trans- Australia Airlines?
– I have not had the benefit of seeing the newspaper reports to which the honorable senator has. referred. I am well aware that the story that the Government was about to sell’ Trans-Australia Airlines was deliberately circulated during the referendum campaign for the purpose of prejudicing the results of the referendum. In other words, the story was a red herring drawn across the trail. The Labour party was unable to deal logically with the arguments that we advanced, and therefore raised a variety of issues which had no relation to the campaign itself. As for the position of Trans-Australia Airlines, I can only say that the matter has not come before the Government for consideration.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer by stating that I have been informed by the Department of Civil Aviation that the following advances have been made to Trans-Australia Airlines : -1946, £370,000 ; 1947, £1,800,000 ; 1948, £1,500,000; and 1949, £700,000. Will the Minister advise the Senate whether those sums of money were made available to Trans-Australia Airlines from revenue or from loans, and, if from loans, what rate of interest is being paid by the Government on such money ?
– I shall ask the Treasurer to supply the information that the honorable senator desires.
– Replying to a question yesterday, the Minister for National Development said that he had visited the Snowy Mountains project during the parliamentary recess, and was satisfied that, generally speaking, there was no ground for complaints that had been made. I now ask the Minister whether he noticed any valuable machinery lying idle and deteriorating through exposure to the weather? Did he visit Polo Flats, the transport section? If so, did he notice dozens of trucks and cars without engines? If the answer is “Yes”, did he ascertain where the engines had gone? Is it a fact that cars and trucks are used outside working hours by members of the official staff for private purposes at night and on Sundays?
– I did not see valuable plant lying idle. Of course, there is a very large quantity of plant spread over the whole area of the Snowy Mountains project. I think I did the right thing in going down to the area, but a Minister cannot be expected, during a visit of three days, to decide what plant is being used and what is not. Subject to that qualification, I would say that I did not see plant lying idle. The honorable senator asked me whether I had visited Polo Flats, the transport section. I do not know it by that name. Perhaps he referred to the big depot and mechanical workshop just outside Cooma. There is a considerable number of cars and trucks, as well as earth-moving equipment, at the depot in course of repair, or being garaged there, but I cannot give a specific answer to his question about trucks and cars without engines. The honorable senator has asked whether motor vehicles are used by employees outside business hours and, by imputation, improperly. I can only reply that I have no knowledge of that having been done. I suggest that in matters such as this chapter and verse information is needed to prove or disprove the truth of statements that improprieties are occurring. If the honorable senator has specific information that things are not all that they should be, I should be most obliged if he would make available to me such information as he possesses. I assure him that I should have it thoroughly and promptly investigated.
– Is it a fact that men discharged from the armed forces after having served in Korea are not yet entitled to any of the benefits of the Re-establishment and Employment Act, which provides for reinstatement in civil employment, preference in employment, protection from dismissals, revival of apprenticeship contracts, vocational training, re-employment allowances, reestablishment loans, business reestablishment allowances, protection in contracts, agreements and mortgages and writs of execution, supply of tools of trade, plant and equipment and professional instruments? If so, will the Minister for Repatriation give an assurance that the Government will take action to include Korean veterans among those who are entitled to such benefits?
– Some of the benefits mentioned by the honorable senator are not yet available to members of the Korean Force, but most of them, including the whole of the benefits of the
Repatriation Act, and certain, benefits under the Re-establishment and Employment Act, are already available to them. The departments concerned have been considering the provision of other benefits -which are not yet available to them. Some difficulties have arisen because there are three categories of ex-servicemen in Korea - those in the regular forces, those enlisted especially for service in Korea, and those former members of the occupation force in Japan. I assure the honorable senator that the matter is being thoroughly investigated. I am hopeful that a report on it will be available at an early date.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– I have been advised by the Minister for the Army that a civilian clothing allowance of £18 has been approved for members of the Australian Military Forces who have served in Korea.
– About twenty years ago a public opinion poll, known as the Gallup poll, was established in Australia. Those who conduct the polls seek information from the public and publish the result in the newspapers which pay for the service. It has been authentically reported that some time ago a Gallup poll indicated that the Cain Government would win the Victorian elections - a forecast which proved to be correct - but that those who had conducted the poll had suppressed the information until after the elections had been held. Will the Minister for Trade and Customs take action to prevent those who conduct public opinion polls from furthering their propaganda as was evidenced in the reports relating to the recent referendum ? In the Sydney Sun-
– Order !
– The Sydney Sun of the 22nd September stated that there was a big drift-
– Order ! The honorable senator must ask his question.
– I am asking the Minister to take steps to stop the practices adopted by these people. The Sun newspaper published the following report : -
A Bio Drift from Labour back to “ Yes “ Vote.
Eight out of every ten Liberal-Country party voters, and three out of every ten Labour voters will cast “ Yes “ votes at the referendum to-day.
– I suggest in the light of the result of the referendum, that that report was published only for the purpose of-
– Order! I have been particularly patient with the honorable senator. He must ask his question and refrain from introducing irrelevant matter. I think he has the ability to state his question succinctly.
– Will the Minister take action to prevent newspapers from employing individuals whose aim is to misguide the people of Australia 1 Surely we have all passed the kindergarten stage.
– It would be a sad day indeed for this country if any government were to attempt to interfere with the free expression of opinions by newspapers. Some such opinions may be hurtful to the Australian Labour party, but that is not sufficient reason for their suppression. Surely if a Gallup poll is to have any value at all, its result must be published before and not after theevent. No good purpose could be served by withholding a finding until the event has taken place. Incidentally, a Gallup poll in Queensland correctly predicted an overwhelming “Yes” vote in that State at the referendum.
– Is the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture aware that the threatened shortage of foodstuffs which is fast becoming a menace to this country is being accentuated by the scarcity and consequent irregular deliveries of superphosphates? As superphosphate is the life blood of agriculture, will the Government take every possible step to overcome this handicap at present suffered by primary producers who desire to maintain or increase the fertility of their holdings?
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture who is now in London has been concerned about this problem for some time and I assure the honorable senator that the Minister and his departmental officials are doing everything possible to ease the position by ensuring that all available supplies of superphosphate shall be obtained and distributed to primary producers. The shortage of superphosphate is world wide, and, unfortunately, it is clear that supplies will not meet demand in the coming season, but I repeat that everything possible is being done.
SenatorFRASER. - I wish to make a plea to the Minister for Shipping and Transport on behalf of lighthouse keepers who may be regarded as a forgotten people. There are approximately seven lighthouses on the coast of Western Australia, and one in the Northern Territory. I assume that the conditions of employees in those lighthouses are the same as those of their colleagues in the eastern States. Will the Minister make a statement setting out the working hours, wages, and overtime payments of lighthouse keepers? Will he also undertake to provide improved amenities for those people who serve year after year on remote parts of the Australian coastline? Some lighthouse employees in Western Australia have to put up with undesirable living conditions. They have no bath heaters find have to boil water in kerosene tins. In view of the isolation of lighthouse keepers will the Minister undertake to give some attention to the matters that I have raised?
– I appreciate the importance of the question. From time to time I have taken the opportunity to visit as many lighthouses as possible, but I have not seen any evidence of a lack of amenities for lighthouse keepers such as that suggested by the honorable senator. If the position is as bad as the honorable senator has indicated, then I regret that during the eight years in which the Labour party was in office it did not do something to improve matters. However, as a result of conversations with lighthouse keepers and a perusal of letters from men and women seeking employment in the lighthouse service, I can assure the honorable senator that we have a very loyal band of people who are, I believe, well remunerated and happy in their occupation. If the honorable senator can bring to my notice any specific instances of employees in the lighthouse service not receiving good treatment I shall be prepared to have a special examination made of the facilities at the light-house concerned. On the whole, I think the conditions are reasonably good and that the men in the service are reasonably satisfied with their conditions. If that were not the position, I think that the reports that I receive from time to time would indicate that fact. However, I repeat that if any honorable senator can give me a specific instance of unfair treatment I shall have it examined. I do not think that the honorable senator was justified in making such a general assertion as he did.
– Will the Minister representing the Treasurer say whether efforts will be made to have the report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission made available to honorable senators before they are called upon to consider legislation providnig for financial assistance to the States?
-I shall consult with the Treasurer to ascertain whether it is possible to meet the honorable senator’s request.
– During the last sessional period I asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport to give an undertaking that all possible work would be made available to Australian shipyards and that they should be informed well in advance of government orders in order to enable them to organize production economically. Does the Minister realize that it is essential that our shipyards should be kept fully employed all the time and that they should be informed of government orders well in advance in order to enable them to plan ahead in the foreseeable future?
– I appreciate the importance of the matter raised by the honorable senator, and I have been giving my attention to it. It is interesting to note that on a commercial programme the shipyards in this country are considerably behind with deliveries. Furthermore, large orders have been placed by the Department of the Navy with Australian shipyards and those orders have been given at least equal priority with orders for merchant ships that are urgently required. Only this week I received a report from the Minister for the Navy that he was concerned because the number of men employed in naval construction is approximately 8,000 less than the number required. The Department of the Navy is short of men and materials, and that raises quite a serious problem. However, a complete examination of the shipbuilding problem is nearly completed, and I hope shortly to make a decision about what further orders should be placed and, generally, what should be done to meet the position. I quite understand the point made by Senator Armstrong that shipbuilders must be given prior notice of orders in order to enable them to plan their work ahead. However, I assure the honorable senator that the whole position is being examined from week to week.
– Has the attention of the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture been drawn to an advertisement concerning butter that appeared in to-day’s press and was authorized by the Government of New South “Wales ? In view of the statements contained in that advertisement regarding the unsatisfactory butter situation in New South Wales, will the Minister say whether the correction of that position is the responsibility of the Aus tralian Government and whether the present state of affairs is due to the political party that is at present in power iii New South Wales?
– My attention has been drawn to the advertisement that was inserted in to-day’s press by a representative of the New South Wales Government, which criticizes certain members of the Federal Parliament. I regret very much that the taxpayers’ money is being used for such purposes. This matter has become one of a difference of opinion between the various States. However, it is interesting to note that four States have been prepared to increase the price of butter in order that the producers shall get a reasonable return. During my visits to various areas I have been informed that members of the butter industry appreciate the tremendous subsidy that is being paid on butter by the Commonwealth. After reading the advertisement, I obtained facts and figures from the technical officers of my department. Although I do not wish to fan the controversy, I shall acquaint honorable senators with the alarming position that has been revealed. The Commonwealth has been charged with having exported large quantities of butter from Australia. The figures that I shall reveal show a deplorable state of affairs. Only a few weeks ago the authorities in Great Britain found it necessary to reduce the already meagre butter ration in that country by an ounce a week. The action of the Government of New South Wales in placing on the Commonwealth responsibility for the failure of butter supplies in New South Wales is misleading and incorrect. The Commonwealth has already advised all State governments and the dairying industry that it will provide a subsidy of £16,800,000 on dairy products during 1951-52. That represents, approximately ls. lid. per lb. for butter, about 6d. per lb. for cheese, and about 2d. per lb. for dried milk. It is further claimed that the Commonwealth allowed the export of unduly large quantities of butter from Australia last year, thereby contributing to the present shortage in New South Wales. The actual quantities of butter exported were: 1948-49, 82,960 tons; 1949-50, 81,440 tons; and 1950-51, 53,600 tons.
The following figures provide a comparison between the quantities of butter that were exported during the months of July and August, 1950, and the corresponding months of this year: July, 1950, 1,092 tons; July, 1951, 590 tons; August, 1950. 1,583 tons; and August, 1951, 307 tons. In September, 1950, 2,388 tons of butter were exported. The figures for the present month are not yet complete. These last-mentioned figures, supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician, do not reconcile with departmental figures, which show that the total exports of butter in July and August this year amounted to about 300 tons, not S97 tons. That butter went to the British War Office, and to meet British Admiralty and Australian services overseas requirements.
– Did any go to Japan ?
– No, nor to Russia.
– Will the Minister inform the Senate of the quantity of butter produced during the periods that he lias quoted and what was the increased consumption in Australia?
– I am not in possession of those figures, but I am prepared to obtain them for the honorable senator. I think that everybody will admit that the quantity of butter that has been sent overseas gives a different picture from that painted by the representatives of New South Wales.
– The situation that has arisen concerning butter prices in the various States of the Commonwealth is the natural consequence of lack of co-ordination and of competition between the States. Such incidents may be expected in regard to other commodities in the near future. In view of a motion that is being debated at the present time in the Tasmanian Parliament that prices control should be relinquished by the State Government and the power referred to the Australian Government, will the Minister inform me whether provision has been made to handle such a situation should all of the State governments relinquish control of prices?
– The honorable senator states that the difficulties concern ing butter arise from lack of coordination. My opinion is that they arise primarily by reason of the fact that Australia has at last a government that is prepared to come down to earth. I do not think that anybody, other than a member of the New South Wales or Queensland Government, would support the contention that the Australian Government should subsidize one of our most important primary products to a greater extent than ls. Iia. per lb. It is fantastic that our important dairying industry should be placed in such a position. In reply to the honorable senator’s question whether the Australian Government will assume power to control prices should the States agree to refer such powers to the Commonwealth, I think that ‘the appropriate answer is “ That will be the day “.
– Can the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture state the difference between the amount of subsidy at present being paid on butter and that formerly paid ?
– I cannot state definitely off-hand, but I think that the figure is 300 per cent, more than that paid by the Chifley Government.
– Did I understand the Minister to say that the subsidy now being paid for butter is greater than it was previously?
– Yes, by 300 per cent.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Interior has supplied the following answers : -
– On the 11th July, Senator Benn addressed the following question to me as the Minister representing the Postmaster-General in the Senate : -
The reception of broadcast programmes on the Atherton Tablelands in north Queensland is so technically defective as to be worthless. Will the Minister have this matter investigated and consider the establishment of another radio station at a suitable place in the area?
The Postmaster-General has supplied the following answer : -
A national relay station 4AT, which broadcasts the Queensland regional programme of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, is in operation at Atherton and, according to measurements which have been made, it should be providing a good service over most of the Atherton Tableland. In view of the honorable senator’s observations, arrangements will be made for further investigations to be undertaken, at the first suitable opportunity, into the quality of the service being provided in the Atherton Tableland by the station.
On the 12th July, Senator Seward addressed the following question to me as the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral : -
Is the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral aware that it is not possible for listeners in Canberra to pick up radio programmes from Western Australia? In view of the fact that newspapers in the eastern States completely ignore West Australian news, will the Minister discuss with the Australian Broadcasting Commission the desirability of making it possible for radio programmes from Western Australia to be heard jil Canberra?
Yes. I am aware that the programmes radiated by Western Australian stations are not received satisfactorily in the eastern States. Such stations are established for the primary purpose of providing broadcast programmes to listeners resident in Western Australia. Propagation characteristics and technical considerations prevent the transmissions from these States being received normally in eastern Australia. The Australian Broadcasting Commission arranges for some programmes to be relayed by land line to the eastern States from Western Australia, but these must, of course, be coordinated with the requirements of . the general body of listeners served by the eastern States stations, nearly all of whom are naturally most interested in news relating to affairs in the States in which they reside.
– On the 10th July, 1951, Senator Amour addressed the following question to me as Minister representing the Postmaster-General in the Senate: -
Some time ago tenders were called by the Chifley Administration for the construction of television stations, but the present Government rejected those tenders and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board called for fresh tenders. Can the Minister representing the Postmaster-General inform the Senate whether any tender has yet been accepted and if so, when details of the matter will be made available. Notification . of the acceptance of such a tender is important because the radio industry will .require some time to train technicians if it is to provide a television service for which the people of Australia have been waiting so. long? If no tender has yet been accepted, can the Minister say when we may expect a tender to be accepted?
The Postmaster-General has supplied the following reply: -
Following the Government’s decision that television should be developed on a gradual scale in the Commonwealth, tenders were invited for the supply of equipment for a national television station in Sydney. No tender has yet been accepted, as it was decided to defer action pending the return from overseas of a committee which had been sent abroad to investigate certain aspects of a practical nature such as studio design, form of administration, availability of programme material and costs. The report of the committee has been completed and the Government proposes to review the whole matter in the light of this further information and the present economic situation. _
– I am very happy to inform honorable senators that I have received a letter from Senator Gordon Brown in which he states that he is making an excellent recovery after his recent illness. I took the liberty of telling him in reply that I thought the Senate would adjourn for a considerable time at the end of this week, and that it would probably be in the best interests of his health if he did not attend for the opening of the present sessional period. There is every prospect that when the sittings of the Senate are resumed about- the middle of next month, Senator Brown will again be with us.
Format, Motion fob Adjournment.
– I have received from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The sale by the Government of shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, including nil matters incidental thereto or connected therewith and all implications arising therefrom.
– I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 11 a.m.
– Is the motion supported ?
Four honorable senators having risen in support of the motion,
– This is an urgent matter arising out of the sale by the Government of shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. I propose to discuss that sale, and all matters incidental thereto or connected therewith, and implications arising therefrom.
– What is the urgency?
– The urgency arises primarily from the implications of the sale. Of course, I realize that the sale is fait accompli, and there is very little that the Senate can do about it. As a preliminary to our criticism of the Government, it is desirable to review briefly the history and activities of this company. It was incorporated in July, 1913, and the purpose of the incorporation was to amalgamate the Marconi and Telefunken interests in Australia. The original capital was £140,000 fi shares, but by 1922, which is a significant date in the history of the company, the authorized capital had increased to £200,000, and the issued capital was £189,100. In 1922 the company sought from the Government a licence to establish wireless communication between Australia and the United Kingdom. The government of the day, which was a non-Labour government led by the Right Honorable W. M. Hughes, set up a select committee of the Parliament to investigate the proposals, and Mr. S. M. Bruce, now Lord Bruce, was a member of that committee. An agreement was entered into between the company and the Government whereby the capital of the company was increased to £1,000,000, and the Government bought £500,001 of the shares. The Government refused to grant the licence unless it was to hold a controlling interest in tho company. In 1927, the company inaugurated a beam wireless service between Australia and the United Kingdom, as a result of which rates for telegraphic communication were appreciably reduced, resulting in the saving of hundreds of thousands of pounds to business houses and private persons.
In 1930, apart from the beam wireless service, a wireless telephone service was inaugurated by the company, so that in that year the company was operating both telegraphic and telephonic service” with all the principal countries of the world, a development of very great importance to Australia. By 1936 a great system of overseas communication had been established and the company was manufacturing transmitting and receiving equipment for aircraft. Further progress was made in all branches of the business from time to time, until the company was manufacturing directly or through its subsidiaries broadcast receivers, radio valves, and a full range of radio components, telephones and telephone equipment and traffic signals. broadcast transmitting installations, equipment for radio communication stations, radio and radar equipment for ground stations, ships and aircraft, and scientific electronic instruments of various descriptions.
Other activities embraced the ownership and operation of commercial broadcasting stations, the installation and operation of radio telegraph and telephone services on board ships of the Australian merchant marine, in addition to which it maintained a well-equipped research and development laboratory whose work was supplemented by access to overseas technical and manufacturing information. In 1946 the Commonwealth acquired from the company the whole of its overseas telecommunications services at a cost of £1,400,000. That amount was paid to the private shareholders of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and the conduct of the overseas telecommunications was then vested in a commission established by the Government.
After that very rapid review, I think it is unnecessary for me to add that the telegraphic and telephonic world communications service which the company had established was of the greatest value to this country. During the 1914-18 war the company manufactured commercial wireless equipment and supplied it to merchant ships and the services. Its research laboratory, to which I referred a while ago, was of vast importance to this country in the development of knowledge of radar, wireless telegraphy and electronics generally. During the 1939-45 war the company was almost wholly engaged in assisting the Australian war effort. I do not think that I need argue to the Senate that a company, the activities of which were concerned with such fundamental developments as radar and electronics, was of vital importance to the security and defence of Australia.
On the financial and business side, the company had an extraordinary record. Reference to the balance-sheet of the company for the year ended the 30th June, 1950, discloses that the total value of its assets amounted to £3,587,000, whilst its liabilities amounted only to £964,000, leaving a surplus of assets over liabilities amounting to more than £2,622,000. If honorable senators will keep that figure in mind and then recall that the paid-up capital of the company at the same date was only £567,000, they will see at once the vast success of the company, the net value of the assets of which was five times as great as its paid-up capital. That, of course, accounts for the very excellent price at which the company’s shares were quoted on the stock exchanges of Australia. It made substantial profits out of which its vast disclosed reserves were built up. I have seen a report, though I cannot vouch for its accuracy, that during the 30 years in which the Australian Government held an interest in the company it received by way of dividends approximately £S00,000. Thus the Commonwealth’s share in the company represented an excellent investment from the financial point of view. The invaluable national work undertaken by the company was not the least feature of its activities. All of its success and development has been achieved under Government sponsorship, both Labour and non-Labour, during the last 30 years. I understand that the original agreement between the Commonwealth and the company was made on the 2Sth March, 1922.
This Senate went into recess on the 14th July last after measure on measure had been mercilessly gagged through the Parliament. The Government was obviously in a hurry to shut up the Parliament. On the 27th July, thirteen days after the Parliament had risen for the recess, an announcement was made by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) that the S63,956 shares owned by the Commonwealth in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited were to be sold at 45s. each through certain brokers in Melbourne and Sydney who, ] understand, had underwritten the sale. It is important to recall that on the day before the Treasurer made his announcement the shares of the company had been sold on the open market at 53s. 6d. each. The Labour Opposition in the Parliament is wholly opposed to this transaction. One of the principal grounds of its objection is that the transaction was not approved by the people, and that the Government had no mandate for such an action. As a matter of fact, this proposal was not submitted to the people, and, what is even worse, if anything could be worse than that, it was not put before the Parliament. The Government has gone behind the back of the Parliament in this matter. The Parliament has been deliberately by-passed. No one can persuade any member of the Opposition that, when the Parliament went into recess on the 14th July last, the Government did not have the clearest intention to embark on this sale.
The first charge which I make against the Government is that, with a full knowledge of what was about to happen, it withheld that knowledge from the Parliament and did not provide us with an opportunity to debate this proposal. The only reason we have yet been given, by the Government for this sale was offered by the Treasurer, who said that the decision to dispose of the shares had been made as a part of the de-socialization policy of the Government. I regard that reason as so completely silly as to cause me to reject it as untrue. I do not accept it. If the Government was seriously concerned about de-socialization, what about the Commonwealth Railways, in which the Commonwealth has the whole interest? What about the Postal Department, which is a complete specimen of socialist control ? If the sale were decided upon as a part of the Government’s policy of de-socialization, why did the Government start at a point at which it had only a partial interest? Why did it not begin with an activity over which it has complete control - a monopoly?
I invite any member of the Government, who may reply to this debate, to tell the Parliament and the people the true reason for its decision to embark upon that transaction. Certainly, it was not the absurd and silly one, given by the Treasurer, that the sale was made in conformity with the Government’s policy of de-socialization. The Government cannot claim that it needed the money which it obtained from the sale of the shares. Definitely, the Government did not require the money, because it is budgeting this year for a surplus of approximately £114,000,000, to be extracted from the people of this country. That line of argument is not open to the Government.
The Parliament and the people are entitled to be told who fixed the selling price of the shares at 45s. Were the undisclosed reserves of the company taken into consideration ? Whether there are undisclosed reserves, I do not know. I merely pose the question. I am considering the fixed assets which in land, city properties, wireless services and real estate, total £563,595. All I want to say is that if, as shown in the balance-sheet, the real estate of this company is shown at cost, there is a vast undisclosed reserve representing the difference between the cost value of the real estate, and its present-day value.
– Tell us what the shares are quoted at to-day?
– The AttorneyGeneral should not be so impatient. 1 shall have something to say to him about that matter, and the effect of the Government’s action on private shareholders and other people who bought on the open market. I should like the Minister to tell us on what basis the price of 45s. was fixed. How can he reconcile that price with the fact that the day before the Treasurer made his announcement, shares were selling on the open market at 53s. 6d? Both the Parliament and the public want to know what was the basis of distribution of the Government’s shares. Who worked that out and what were the principles on which the allocation of shares was made? I invite the Minister also to answer this question : Was any thought given to reserving a parcel - and a substantial parcel - of shares for employees of the company? Were the employees given an opportunity to buy shares preferentially, for cash or on terms? If no such opportunity was given, why waa it not given? Would it not have been an excellent move to encourage employees of this company to take up some portion of the shareholding in the concern for which they worked? Such a move, I suggest would have been wise, and in accordance with what the Government preaches aboutgood industrial relations between employers and employees in this country. The Attorney-General asked whether I knew the price at which shares were selling to-day. Indeed I do; they are selling at 39s.
– They are selling at 37s.
– They were selling at 39s. yesterday. I have not seen to-day’s newspaper reports. I shall not argue if somebody says that the price has fallen a further 2s. to-day. What else could be expected but a depression of the market when a parcel of 863,000 shares is dumped on the market overnight? How completely unfair that was to the people who, only the day before, had bought shares at 53s. 6d. ; how completely unfair it was to the people who purchased shares from the Government at 45s! To-day, any unfortunate purchaser of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited shares at 53s. 6d. or the Government’s price of 45s., who is compelled to sell his shares, will receive only 37s. for them. To-morrow, the price may be even lower.
– That is antiinflationary.
– I might well have expected the Attorney-General to say that. I do not for one moment believe that the existing depressed values are permanent. The rapid fall has been due entirely to the dumping of a great parcel of shares on the market at once. As I have already pointed out, the disclosed reserves of the company are more than five times the actual paid-up capital. It is quite clear that there are vast undisclosed reserves in the present-day values of the real estate of the company and I have no doubt that, with those factors present in the minds of the investing public, plus an appreciation of the very important place that this company occupies in the radio world, the knowledge that frequency modulation and television are only around the corner and that Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited will play a major part in the development of those new techniques, the price of the shares will bounce back to its proper level in due course; but, in the meantime, the Opposition wants to know who is getting the advantage of buying shares at the deflated price of 37s. Who is making the profit to-day? Who is buying shares at 37s. which a few months ago were 53s. 6d. on the open market and which the Government sold at 45s.?
Somebody is going to make a nice profit and the Opposition will be watching to see who it is.
There is one other aspect of the matter that concerns the Opposition considerably. From what I read in the press - the sole source of information upon which the people of Australia and the Parliament have had to rely so far - an underwriting fee of 5d. a share was to be paid to two firms of brokers, one in Melbourne and the other in Sydney. That fee of 5d. a share amounts to £18,000 on the entire transaction. What I should like to know is whether the two underwriting firms took the whole of that commission, or whether the issue was handled also by sub-underwriters. If sub-underwriters were involved, who were they? Will the Minister tell the Senate just who cut up the £18,000 underwriting commission? I should like to know, too, whether all the shares have been taken up by the public, or whether the underwriters have been obliged to take up unsold shares. Will the Government consider withholding the disposal of any unsold shares - on mere book values they should be five times their paid-up value, which works out at about 42s. 6d. - to avoid further loss to the shareholders who for so long carried this enterprise with the Government ?
The Government, without consulting the people or the Parliament, has sold valuable shares belonging to all the people to only some of the people of this country who are wealthy enough to. buy them. That is one of the Opposition’s chief points of attack, but it is not the main one. The main point of attack is that this Government, which professes to be so much concerned about defence preparations, and is straining the economy of this country to the very limit, has sold its interest in an organization without which, because of its vast knowledge of electronics, radar, and other modern developments, Australia could not wage war at all. Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia)) Limited is concerned, too, in the provision of vital communications, yet this Government now has no control over the company’s activities. The directors could, if they so wished, decide to swing away from research and development in the fields that I have mentioned. In fact, if the directors saw better opportunities in other fields it would be their duty to the shareholders to enter those fields, and to drop all defence work. That is the Opposition’s major ground of attack upon the Government. From now on, the Government will have no knowledge of the activities of the company and will not be able to exert any influence at its inner councils. “We are told that the Government’s action is part of a policy of de-socialization. How far does that policy go? What does this portend? In the matter of oil supplies the present Government, which is -allegedly most concerned about defence preparations, saw fit to close down at Glen Davis, which is the only oil-producing plant in Australia.
Honorable senators interjecting,
– The fact remains that that undertaking was producing 3,000,000 gallons of oil each year, and whether or not it paid it was a very important laboratory experiment and cost nothing like the amount expended by the United States Government on the production of oil from shale. If the Glen Davis undertaking is regarded purely as a laboratory experiment, then honorable senators opposite must concede that Australia obtained value for every penny expended on it.
What will happen now to Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, in which the Government has a large interest? Will the Minister tell the Senate what the policy of the Government is regarding the shares held by it in that undertaking? Above all, will he tell the Senate what the policy of the Government is in relation to Trans-Australia Airlines? The conduct of air services by the Government is also a matter of considerable defence importance, apart altogether from the splendid improvement that the government airline has brought about in air services generally. The fear and uncertainty caused amongst the staff of
Trans-Australia Airlines bv the Government’s attitude and de-socialization pronouncements from time to “ time is sabotaging that activity. Staff are leaving the airline, there is a state of general uncertainty, which the Govern ment has a bounden duty to dispel by making a frank statement concerning its attitude towards Trans- Australia Airlines.
– Order ! I must ask the honorable senator not to introduce the subject of Trans-Australia Airlines in this debate.
– In referring to Trans-Australia Airlines I believed that I was answering certain statements made by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) concerning the Government’s de-socialization proposals, and I was developing the theme that if those proposals are to be carried any further the Government should make up its mind, be frank about it, and tell the country now what it proposes to do not only with Trans-Pacific Airlines but also with British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, Qantas Empire Airways, Tasman Empire Air Lines and the Commonwealth shipping line. I think that it is encumbent upon the Government to be frank with the people, and not wait until the Parliament has gone into recess in order to dispose of national assets behind the back of the people and at a time when it can escape criticism from the Parliament. By this process of so-called de-socialization the Government proposes to dispose of the assets of the nation to a few individuals who are wealthy enough to purchase those assets. I say that Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited was the perfect example of co-operation between the Government and private industry at the highest and most efficient level. That magnificent co-operation has now been wrecked by this ill-judged and wanton action of the Government. Since my time is running out and since I want the Minister to answer certain specific questions, I shall confine the remainder of my remarks to reading out those questions. They are as follows : - Why was the Parliament deliberately evaded in relation to the sale of the Government’s shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited? What was the real reason for the sale? Who fixed the sale price, and on what principles? Were any shares reserved for the company’s employees? Were all the shares sold by brokers? What was the basis of distribution of the shares? “Will the Minister furnish a list of the buyers, with the number of shares bought by each buyer ? What was the underwriting fee? How much was paid to underwriters and subunderwriters? What assurance, if any, has the Government got that Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited will not alter the whole range of its activities? Above all, how far is de-socialization to be carried? What is the basis of the value placed on the real estate of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited? I shall hand a copy of those queries to the Minister, if he cares to receive it, so that he may have it before him when he replies. In conclusion, the Opposition records on behalf of the people whom it represents a most emphatic protest against the sale of these assets of all the people to only some of the people, and it resents particularly the fj.ct that no opportunity was given to the people’s representatives in the Parliament to discuss and criticize the proposal to sell certain national assets before that proposal was carried out.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) concluded on the note that this was a sale of assets to only some of the people. In truth it was a transaction which relieved the whole of the people of something that they did not want and which was of no practical use to them. That was the position in which Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited found itself. Without in any way decrying the great record of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and while fully subscribing to the view expressed by the Leader of the Opposition about its future, the facts are that that undertaking has been, ever since 1946, purely a manufacturing and trading concern, selling some of its goods to governments and some elsewhere. Therefore, there was no need for the people of Australia to retain any capital interest in it. When the Government sold that capital interest it relieved the people of Australia of the necessity for paying taxes to support an undertaking that they did not want and which was of no value to them.
The Leader of the Opposition has seen fit to submit to me a number of specific questions in writing. I had prepared some facts to enable me to speak on this matter, and my material was quite different from that used by the Leader of the Opposition as the basis of his speech. However, I do not burk the issue, and I shall deal with the questions raised by the honorable senator.
The first question that he asked was: “Why was the Parliament deliberately evaded ? “ By any business and reasonable standard that question is nonsensical. Who could imagine any Government which was contemplating the sale of a parcel of 850,000 shares making its intention the subject of a parliamentary debate in which the terms and conditions of the sale would be disclosed ? That would be a fantastic approach to the sale of an asset of this kind, and there is no obligation on any administration to come before the Parliament, and disclose the circumstances surrounding the sale of national assets. This Government, like previous governments, engages from time to time in purchasing, selling, and trading in assets of all kinds and in all fields, and surely it is not suggested that it would be sound practice for a government to disclose its intentions in such matters. For example, suppose the Government decided to buy a block of land in the heart of a capital city for the purpose of erecting’ offices. Does anybody suggest that it should come to the Parliament and disclose its intention to purchase, the name of its agent and the price it is prepared to pay? All that the Government did in the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited transaction was to decide that there was no need to continue holding the shares, and it therefore adopted a proper, business-like manner of disposing of them.
The next question is : “ Who fixed the sale price, and on what principles “ ? The sale price was fixed according to principles that are accepted by every one except those who desire to make political capital out of this matter. We employed independent, chartered accountants of the highest standing in Sydney. We also employed brokers of the highest standing in Sydney and Melbourne, and having had the benefit of their advice, we obtained independent advice and a valuation from the Treasury. All those three roads led back to the price at which the shares were subsequently sold, and that price was completely validated by the market price after the parcel had been sold. It is utter nonsense for the Leader of the Opposition to raise a comparison between the sale of shares in this concern at 53s. 6d. a few days before the large parcel was marketed, and the sale of the Government’s shares at 45s. The truth is that the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited stock is very attractive to investors, and for that reason not many of them were offered for sale on the market. Another factor that explains the limited number of dealings in those shares was that their purchase price, 53s. 6d., returned, to investors a yield of only 2 per cent. Purchasers at that price were buying for the future as every one knew. So sane person would imagine that a price of 53s. 6d. a share for a few thousand shares a year could be obtained if a parcel of 850,000 shares was suddenly thrown on the market. The honorable senator also asks: “Were all the shares sold by the brokers, and what was the basis of distribution ? “ The shares were made available on every stock exchange in Australia. We took the precaution to arrange that applications should be lodged through the Commonwealth Bank. “The fact is that applications were received for about 4,000 shares in excess of the parcel offered. I think it is fair to say that no transaction of comparable size in Australia’s commercial history has been handled with greater care, skill, and diligence than was this particular transaction. We placed this tremendous parcel of £2,000,000 worth of shares on the market to be sold at 45s. a share, and despite all the inflationary trends apparent the share-market valued them at ls. to ls. 6d. a share above the price at which they were sold. I cannot furnish a list of buyers; there were thousands. Every precaution was taken to ensure that the shares were sold in the smallest parcels possible.
Let us get to the pith of this matter; let us look at it in a fair and square manner, and not make a credulous approach. I repeat what the Leader of the Opposition has said, that this company has had a proud history. I hope that its future will be just as proud. I consider it fantastic to suggest that the Government should have continued to hold its interest in the company because of the great effort that was made by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited during the war years. Admittedly that company did put forward a tremendous war effort. If occasion again demanded a similar effort. I have not the slightest doubt that it would again play a valuable part. Is it logical to suggest that the Government should hold a half interest, or for that matter any interest at all, in a company or trading concern on which it may have to rely for assistance during a war effort? The greater proportion of a war effort comes from private concerns. Indeed, I consider that most responsible people would prefer that activities should be spread out and carried through to a successful conclusion by private concerns rather than that the Government should have to enter upon all transactions necessary in a war effort. The truth is that when Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia) was formed in 1946, the need for the Government to have a financial interest in this company ended. It had served the purpose for which it was formed, and had done magnificently. In that year, the government of the day made other arrangements for vital overseas wireless communications, and transferred them from the company. Thereafter the company was a vastly different concern from the company that had existed prior to the formation of Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia). From that stage onwards it was purely a manufacturing and trading concern, in the activities of which the Government could not have any more interest than in its competitor around the corner. What was the position of the company at that stage? It then had eight subsidiaries, namely, the Goulburn Broadcasting Company Proprietary Limited; the Grafton Broadcasting Company Proprietary Limited ; the Warwick Broadcasting Company Proprietary Limited; the Fiji Broadcasting Company Limited; the Australian
Radio Technical Services and Patents Company Proprietary Limited, a holding company for patent rights; Manufacturers Special Products Proprietary Limited, supplying electrical and radio components; Machining and Electrical Company Proprietary Limited, manufacturing and selling electrical equipment, mainly motors and generators; and Telephone Manufacturing Co. (Australasia) Proprietary Limited, supplying telephone equipment. It owned those eight subsidiaries completely. What sort of activities are they for a government to be involved in? In addition, it had a shareholding interest in nine other companies. There “was no purpose in the Government holding its interest in those companies. All that the Government was concerned- about was the goods that Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited supplied to it. That company tendered for government requirements ; sometimes it got contracts, and sometimes it did not. The real test in connexion with this transaction should be applied in the following manner. As to-day the Government does not own those shares, would any sane person suggest that the Government should raise £2,000,000 by additional taxation in order to buy S50,000 shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited? There would be no difference between a transaction of that kind and the Government raising £2,000,000 to purchase shares in the Myer Emporium Limited, David Jones Limited, Tooth and Company Limited, Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, or any other public company. What has happened with this company? It has prospered and expanded over the years. Every step forward that the company has taken has meant that the Commonwealth has had to find more money in order to take up its proportionate interest. True, it has been a good investment at every stage in the proceedings. But is it the function of the Government to make investments? Are we to go to the people of Australia and say, “ We expect you to pay so much in taxes; when we receive that money we shall invest it advantageously and see what income we can get”? That is the kind of transaction that the Opposition advocates when it opposes the sale of the
Government’s shareholding in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. It is nonsense for the Opposition to suggest that the shares were sold below their value at 45s. each because the market price a few days earlier was 53s. 6d. Anybody with any practical experience of the operation of stock exchanges knows that it is not practicable to get as high a price for a large parcel of shares as for a small parcel. In truth, the Government made an advantageous sale. We got a fair and reasonable price for the shares. Although the market for shares has fallen lately, I for one am quite sure that the persons who bought those shares will reap considerable benefit from them in the years to come.’ It was merely a common-sense transaction. The Government had no practical interest in the activities of this company from 1946 onwards, when its wireless activities were transferred to the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia). What the honorable senator has not mentioned is that when the Chifley Government was in office in 1946 it contemplated doing the very thing that the present Government has done.
– That is not true. The honorable senator should prove that statement.
– When the matter was being considered by the Chifley Government in 1946, it contemplated selling the shares in the company, but it deferred doing so because of a series of transactions relating to the reconstruction of the company. The time was not opportune to sell. No one would desire that after an association covering a long period of years anything should be done to affect the welfare of the outgoing associates. The difference between this Government and Labour administrations is that Labour governments talk of doing sensible things, whereas the Menzies Government does them. In this transaction, the Menzies Government has done a sensible thing which will benefit the country as a whole, as the’ future will show. I move -
That the question be now put.
Question put. The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 11 a.m.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Senator McKenna) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be granted to Senator O’Flaherty on account of ill health.
Debate resumed from the 26th September(vide page 32), on motion by Senator Cooper -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– Yesterday, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) carried this bill to the second-reading stage, and the Senate is now debating the motion that the bill be read a second time. The benefits provided in the bill are in a relatively limited category. Although the Minister referred to certain other benefits which the Government has in mind, I notice that they are not mentioned in the bill now before us. It is suggested that they will be the subject of regulations to be issued later. The main benefit, and the one which will cost the most money, is the alteration in the special rate pension which is to be increased from £7 a week to £8 15s., an increase of £1 15s. In view of that increase it is proposed that there shall be a similar increase in the rate of medical sustenance payable to ordinary rate pensioners when they go into hospital. The pension payable to amputees under the Fifth Schedule is to be increased by £1 15s. a week, so as to put them on the same basis as special rate pensioners. The domestic allowance for certain classes of widows has been increased from 10s. to £.1. 12s. a week, an increase of £1 2s. The regulations, we are informed, will provide that a widow under 50 years of age, without children under sixteen years, but who is permanently unemployable, will for the first time benefit under the provision just referred to.
I take it that the Minister will agree that benefits to those pensioners should operate from the same date as the benefits for which provision is made specifically in the bill. Service pensioners arc to be paid an additional 10s. a week. The allowance for a wife is to be increased by 6s., from £1 4s. to £1 10s., and a child’s allowance is to be increased by 2s. 6d., from 9s. to lis. 6d. There is an increase in the property bar for service pensioners from £750 to £1,000, and I have no doubt that the provision will be extended to the civil field. There can be no objection to the proposed increase in the exemption of the surrender value of life insurance policies from £500 to £750. “We do not object to the new ceilings which are to set a limit to the amount receivable under civil and war pensions combined. The Minister referred to increases which would be paid to Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme trainees, but that is not provided for in the bill. The total cost of the increased benefits over the whole field is estimated at £3,250,000 a year. Apart from the matters which I have already traversed there are minor provisions extending benefits to the children of pensioners mentally afflicted.
Having, for the first time in my history as Leader of the Opposition, refrained for five minutes from criticizing the Government, I now propose to be critical. I refer honorable senators to the opening sentence of the Minister’s speech in which he said -
Having regard to the increased cost of living during the last nine months the Government proposes to increase the rates of pensions and allowances payable to pensioners who are mainly dependent upon such pensions and Allowances us a means of livelihood.
That amounts to a frank admission on the part of the Government that it has abandoned all pretence of putting value back into the £1, and of reducing the COS of living, things which it promised to do in December, 1949, and again in April of this year. Now, the Government frankly acknowledges that the cost of living has got beyond its control. It is apparently hopeless and defeatist because it is fixing increased pension rates that will run for at least one year, and probably longer. There could be no clearer indication to the people that the Government has dropped the reins, and is now utterly hopeless and helpless. The Minister attributed to the increased cost of living alone, the increases which it is now proposed to grant to restricted categories of war pensioners.
The Opposition believes that the Government, having allowed inflation to gallop away, should increase all service pensions, because all pensioners arc equally affected by the increased cost of living. If it is necessary to increase pensions for special ra.te pensioners, surely it is also necessary to increase proportionately other kinds of war pensions. Therefore I move-
That all words after “bill” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “be withdrawn and redrafted to provide adequate increases in all classes of war pension benefits “.
I refer honorable senators to Clause 12 of the bill which reads as follows: -
Sections 10 and 11 of the act deal with special rate pensions for totally and permanently, incapacitated persons, and. with special rate pensions for amputees. The date upon which the increased benefits shall become payable to those categories is specified in the bill, but the benefits to other categories shall become payable on a date specified by the Minister in the Gazette. I should like the Minister to say why the benefits will not become payable to both classes at the same time. Is it intended that the dates shall ‘be brought together in due course?
I suggest that the cost of living will go on increasing during the present financial year, and it is certain that further costofliving adjustments will be made to the basic wage. That, in turn, will be translated into higher costs, lt is surely proper that the increased benefits should become operative from the beginning of the financial year or, if not, from the date on which the budget proposals were introduced. On present indications, it seems that the budget debate in the House of Representatives will continue for a considerable time. Indeed, it may well be some time in November before the measure becomes law. I put it to the Minister that it would not be fair to those who are looking forward to receiving higher pensions to have to wait until late in October or early in November before receiving any benefit. It would be much better if the Minister were to accept my amendment to withdraw and redraft the bill to provide adequate increases for all classes of war pensioners, and also to provide that the benefits shall operate from the 1st July, or from the date when the proposals were introduced.
Subject to those comments, the Opposition has no desire to delay the measure. Indeed, it will facilitate the passage of the bill, unless the Government is prepared to accept our amendment and withdraw and redraft the bill.
– in reply - I appreciate very much the way in which the Opposition has received the bill. I know that members of the Opposition, as well as the Government, wish to do everything that is possible for the servicemen and their dependants for whom provision is made in this measure. Indeed, an obligation rests upon us to afford them the most generous treatment possible, a fact which was in the mind of the Government when the bill was being prepared. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has suggested that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted so as to provide for proportionate increases to all war pensions. That proposal was considered very carefully by me and my department, by the Cabinet and by servicemen’s organizations, and it was eventually decided that, having regard to the critical economic state of the country, it would be best to confine the increased benefits for the time being to totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, and those capable of earning only very small incomes. It was decided that war widows with children of school age or younger should be placed in a position similar to that of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen.
The Leader of the Opposition ha3 stated that the Government has only now realized that the cost of living has risen during the last nine months. I assure the honorable senator that the Government has been well aware of, and has observed with dismay, the manner in which costs of all kinds have been rising. One .would indeed be unobservant if he did not notice the manner in which the cost of living has risen; it is reflected in the quarterly adjustments made in the basic wage. The Government realizes its obligation to assist incapacitated exservicemen and war widows who of all sections in the community are least able to withstand increased living costs.
The Leader of the Opposition has proposed that the bill be withdrawn with a view to the provision of additional benefits to all those persons who receive pensions and allowances under the Repatriation Act. I remind the honorable senator that no fewer than 503,000 members, wives, children and dependants receive benefits under that act. It will be recalled that the act was completely overhauled in November last and that many anomalies, to which attention had been drawn for a number of years without avail, were then corrected. Following that review, the whole range of pensions, allowances and benefits was increased, the increases representing the largest that had ever been made by any government since the principal act was passed in 1920.
– The Government is penalizing the pensioners now.
– The honorable senator and members of the Labour party should be the last in this chamber to talk about penalizing ex-service men and women.
– We did more for them than has thepresent Government.
– I leave a decision as to the accuracy of that statement to the wisdom of the people. The increases in pensions and allowances made in November last amounted in total to more than £6,000,000. We have now introduced a bill to grant further increases totalling £3,500,000. Despite these figures, Senator Nash has suggested that the present Government had done, and is doing very little for ex- service men and women. This Government is honouring its obligation to a very deserving section of the community.
– It did so yesterday.
– In the budget, which was introduced in another place yesterday, the Government has given practical expression of its determination to shoulder its responsibilities. Notwithstanding the threat of war to this country and other democratic countries, the Government is determined to honour its obligation to those who gave, not their lives, but their health and their limbs in the defence of this country. Therates of pension and allowances paid to them will be increased to enable them at least in part to meet the burden of additional living costs.
– Those additional costs have to be borne by every person in the community.
– That is true, but unlike most members of the community who have enjoyed increased wages, salaries and earnings, most seriously disabled repatriation pensioners are dependent upon their pensions. Very few of them are in full employment. This bill has been introduced to assist them to carry on. The Government is not prepared to withdraw it. I appeal to the Opposition to co-operate with the Government in giving the bill a speedy passage so that ex-service men and women and war widows will be able to receive the additional benefits provided in it as early as possible.
– We have assisted the Government by curtailing the secondreading debate on the bill.
-I appreciate that fact, and I am glad that the Opposition has treated the bill as a non-party measure. No time has been fixed for the commencement of the higher rates, and accordingly an early passage of the bill is desired. Honorable senators will recall that the amending legislation introduced in the Parliament in November last provided that the new rates were to apply on and from the 2nd November, but that some time elapsed before the measure came before the Senate and was ultimately passed by the Parliament. On this occasion an amending bill has been introduced on the second day of the present sittings. No delay should take place in disposing of it. The increased rates will apply as soon as the bill receives the Royal assent.
The Leader of the Opposition has referred to service pensions and allowances. These are paid by the Repatriation Department in conjunction with the Department of Social Services, and accordingly the increased rates will be paid on and from the date on which increases in social services pensions are paid to civilian pensioners. War pensions are paid solely by the Repatriation Department and the increased rates will become operative as soon as practicable after the bill has received the Royal assent. I commend the bill to honorable senators and ask for their co-operation in its early passage. If further explanation of any particular feature of the bill is desiredI shall be glad to furnish it during the committee debate.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator McKenna’s amendment)be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Tuesday, the 10th October next, unless sooner called together by the President.
The following papers were presented : -
Broadcasting Act - Australian Broadcasting Control Board - Second Annual Report, for year 1949-50.
Commonwealth Bank Act - Appointment - M. B. Moorfield.
Papua - Report for 1949-50.
Public Service Act - Appointment Repatriation Department - F. C. H. Ross.
Public Service Arbitration Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1951 -
No.64- Australian Broadcasting Commission Staff Association.
No.65 - Federated Clerks’ Union of Australia.
No.66 - Postal Overseers’ Union of Australia.
No.67 - Hotel, Club, Restaurant and Caterers Employees’ Union of New South Wales; and Federated Liquor and Allied Trades Employees’ Union of Australasia.
Services Trust Funds Act- Royal Australian Air Force Welfare Trust Fund - Annual Reports by Trustees for year -
War Service Homes Act - Land acquired at Caringbah, New South Wales.
Senate adjourned at 4.52 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 27 September 1951, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1951/19510927_senate_20_214/>.