20th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
SOCIAL SERVICES CONSOLIDATION BILL 1952.
Senator BENN. - Is the Minister representing the Minister for the Army aware that alcoholic liquor is available to’ national service trainees at “Wacol training camp? Will he cause a strict examination to be made of all vehicles entering the camp area in order to prevent this evil? Is he also aware -that starting price operators provide, betting facilities at the camp for trainees? “Will he also endeavour to have this evil completely eradicated ?
Senator SPOONER. - I shall unhesitatingly bring this matter to the- notice of my colleague, the Minister for the Army. Experience has shown that most similar allegations that have been made in the past, in relation to other camps, have been found to be incorrect upon investigation.
Senator COLE. - Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Army seriously consider reducing the period of training for universal trainees, who are university students, from the stipulated period of 98 days to 68 days? The reason advanced for my request is that such training breaks into the academic year. In addition, in practically every instance, university trainees have already received considerable training in school cadet corps. Finally, such trainees have the necessary ability to assimilate the instruction that is given and to attain the required standard of training in a much shorter period than other trainees.
Senator SPOONER.- I shall bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for the Army, but I very much doubt whether the suggestion will be acceptable to him. All sections of the community must accept responsibility to undertake national service in an equitable way. Personally, I should need a great deal of convincing that one section of the community should be placed on a different basis from another section in relation to a national obligation, such as national training.
Senator WORDSWORTH.- Can the Minister for Repatriation inform me whether it is a fact that war widows in certain mainland States may receive medical treatment in. repatriation hospitals? If that is so, will the Minister consider making similar provision for Tasmanian war widows?
Senator COOPER. - It is true that war widows and their dependent children under sixteen years of age may receive medical ‘ treatment and benefits at the expense of the Repatriation Department. These benefits are granted on the recommendation of local medical. practitioners. In certain circumstances, hospitalization is provided for war widows in repatriation hospitals, but they are not’ admitted to such hospitals because of a general principle. Special circumstances must exist. For instance, there must be a vacancy in the hospital concerned. Repatriation hospitals, first and foremost, are required to provide for disabled and sick members of the forces. If there is a vacancy, and treatment in a repatriation hospital is recommended by a local repatriation medical officer, a war widow may receive treatment at the hospital. Some hospitals, however, have no facilities for female’ patients. I understand that the Hobart Repatriation Hospital very rarely has spare beds. Its accommodation is usually fully occupied by former members of’ the forces. That is one of the reasons why no provision can be made for the treatment of female patients in Tasmania.
Senator GORTON.- Has the Minister for Repatriation seen the report in the Melbourne Argus of the 26-th September relating to the pensions paid to war widows under the heading, “ War Widows paid only if morals approved “ ? Will the Minister inform the Senate whether there is any truth in the statements contained in the press report and, if so, what degree of truth there is in them and in’ similar statements that have been published in the press?
Senator COOPER. - I read this morning the newspaper report to which the honorable senator has referred. Section. 43” of the Repatriation Act. to which the report obviously referred, reads as follows : -
A board may reject a claim for a pension by n dependant of a member of the forces, Dimity terminate any pension granted to such a dependant, if the board is satisfied that the grant or continuance of the pension is undesirable.
That section makes no specific reference to the morals of war widows, but gives the commission power to terminate all war pensions and allowances that have been granted to dependants of ex-members of the forces. About 300,000 wives and children of incapacitated ex-members are receiving pensions and allowances from the Repatriation Department. They have never complained about the provisions of the section. If an ex-member of the forces who is in receipt of a pension should die, and his death is not due to the disability that he has suffered from war service, his widow would continue to receive the pension that was payable to her during his period of incapacity. It would not be replaced by a war widow’s pension, but may be replaced by a pension approved by the Department of Social Services. Section 34 of the Repatriation Act contains provisions in relation to the suspension of a pension payable to an ex-member of the forces. Discretion must be exercised in th( expenditure of public funds in order to ensure that all payments therefrom are legal, and that the recipients of pensions n.nd allowances are entitled to receive them. Section 62 of the Social Services Consolidation Act contains provisious in relation to pensions, which are somewhat similar to those of the Repatriation Act, hut are more stringent as far as widows are concerned. I have the utmost respect for Mrs. Vasey, the president of the War Widows Guild, who is reported to have stated -
We have certain knowledge that innocent women are being punished viciously by Repatriation Department officers. The officers can nui. on mere suspicion, and have cut off the pensions of many widows. The widows »re then left to bring up their families without the Government’s pittance. The officers believe information and hearsay which would never In; accepted as evidence in a Divorce Court.
Senator BROWN - I rise to order. Is it in order for the Minister to read a lengthy extract from a newspaper in answering a question?’ Only questionsand answers during the first half-hour are broadcast.
The PRESIDENT.- Order ! I am astonished at the point of order that has been raised by Senator Brown, whousually prefaces questions without noticewith lengthy statements. I shall not forget his reference to the limited period during which questions and answers arebroadcast.
Senator COOPER. - I shall cite the remainder of Mrs. Vasey’s reported statement from notes that I have before me. That statement continued -
The widows have neither redress nor appeal if their pension is taken away.
I assure the Senate that had Mrs. Vasey directed my attention to this matter it would have been dealt with most expeditiously and with full and completesympathy. My office has always been, open to Mrs. Vasey and other members of her association. I should be very glad if Mrs. Vasey or the Argus could inform me-
Senator Ashley. - I rise to order, Mr. President. I invite your attention to Standing Order 100, which reads as follows : -
In answering any such question, a Senator shall not debate the matter to which the same refers.
The Minister has been wasting the time of the Senate by debating this matter for ten minutes.
The PRESIDENT.- Order! A certain amount of latitude is always allowed a Minister in replying to a question. This is an important matter which has been highlighted in the press throughout Australia and I have allowed the Minister a. certain amount of time to state his case in order that this matter might be dealt with satisfactorily. I understand that the Minister has almost finished.
Senator COOPER.- More time is lost in this chamber by interruption on the part of the Opposition than I have taken up in making this statement. It probably hurts Opposition senators to have these facts brought home to them. Mrs. Vasey would have received every courtesy and help had she approached me on this matter. I deny that my department has spied into the affairs of war widows.
The Repatriation Department is not the custodian of the morals of those who receive pensions. I have given orders that no investigation of this kind is to take place unless-
Senator FRASER - I rise to order, Mr. President. Has the Minister asked for leave to make a statement?
The PRESIDENT. - No point of order is involved.
Senator COOPER. - I have given instructions that no investigations of this kind are to he made unless they are authorized in writing by the chairman of the commission or myself. That instruction has been carried out and no investigation is made unless the .case concerns an infringement of the law of the States.
– Last Thursday, the Minister for Shipping and Transport gave us a little homily on the need to support private enterprise. If the Government will take the action that I propose to suggest, it will give an opportunity to individuals to show some private enterprise by building their own homes. Many people who found it impossible to build houses because of restrictions and shortages of building materials invested their cash in government bonds. If -they want to sell their bonds to-day. they will have to do so at a considerable loss. Will the Minister representing the Treasurer urge the Government to consider paying to small investors who are now in a position to build houses, the value of their government bonds at issue price, provided that the money is expended in home-building?
– I should imagine that some people who were unable to build houses because of the shortage of building materials did invest their money in government bonds. The price of bonds has fallen, and probably if those people were to sell their holdings now they would receive less than they paid for the bonds. However, I made the point last week that, if those people had invested their money in shares or other securities, they would have to face an even greater loss should they wish to realize on their holdings to-day. I am afraid that any plan under which government bonds could be redeemed at their face value for specific purposes would be impracticable.
– Is the Minister for Shipping and Transport aware that the north-western portion of Western Australia is still largely dependent on shipping for regular supplies of perishable and other goods? Is the Minister aware that SS. Koolinda is to be laid off shortly for an annual overhaul, and will thus deplete the shipping service to the northwest of the State? Will the Minister consider favorably the return of SS. Dulverton to Western Australia to carry on the service while Koolinda is undergoing overhaul ?
– I have received advice from Western Australia that Koolinda is to be withdrawn for overhaul. I have instructed officials of my department that the matter is urgent and that Dulverton must be returned to the Western Australian service. Dulverton will be in Sydney shortly, and will then be taken over by the manager of the Western Australian company which operates the service on the north-west coast. .The transfer of Dulverton back to Western Australia will provide opportunity for shippers to consign steel and other cargo from the eastern States.
– On the 16th September, Senator Critchley asked me the following question: -
Can the Minister for Trade mid Customs give nic any further information in answer to aquestion that I asked on the 6th August last about the allocation of government contracts to the textile industry in order that employees may enjoy continuity of employment? 1 have in mind, particularly the Actil Cotton Mills, and the Mount Gambier worsted mills., both in South Australia.
The Minister for Supply has now furnished the following additional details of government defence contracts given to Australian textile firms during the financial year 1951-52:-
Woollen and worsted piece goods, 1,700,000 yards, value £2,955,000; blankets, 223,000 in number, value £508,000; cotton piece goods, 11,100,000 yards, which includes “about 4,000,000 yards of webbing, value £4,724,000; a total of £8,187,000. Most of these orders provided for production during the calendar year of 1952, but many contractors have been able to complete deliveries earlier than had been originally expected. Concerning the mills in South Australia mentioned by the honorable senator, the following contracts were placed during 1951-52 with South Australian mills : -
Australian Cotton Textile Industries Limited. - Orders for sheets, pillowslips and piece materials were placed to the value of over £540,000. it will be seen that this mill did receive a substantial share of total orders placed in the Commonwealth.
South Australian Worsted Mills Proprietary Limited, Mount Gambier. - This mill spins worsted yarn only and does not weave cloth or knit garments. Being a spinner, therefore, the mill does not participate directly in contracts for defence textiles as these contracts are placed for finished cloths and/or garments. This company does supply worsted yarn to weavers or knitters who hold defence contracts but no information is available as to the names of the spinners from whom contractors manufacturing service cloths &c. obtain their yarn.
Onkarparinga Woollen Company Limited. - This company supplies woollen and worsted cloths and has received contracts to the value of £ 310,000.
Davies Coop & Company Limited. - This company weaves cotton duck at its South Australian mills and received contracts to the value of £727,000.
It is mentioned that defence needs of textiles have not represented any more than a small proportion of Australia’s productive capacity and there are limitations to the extent to which production of service cloths can fill the gap when commercial orders are scarce.
I am pleased to say, as I am sure the honorable senator will be pleased to learn, that recent reports published in the financial columns of the press indicate that there has been a substantial improvement in the Australian textile industry.
– In an announcement by the Minister for National Development, which was reported in the press to-day, it was stated that the Joint Coal Board considered it necessary to close mines. I ask the Minister whether it is not a fact that the policy of the Government and the Joint Coal Board is to close mines which are producing coal of an inferior quality by depriving their owners of the protection and financial assistance of the Joint Coal Board, thereby making them sell their coal on the open market where they have to compete with the coal-owners whose coal is sold to the N.S.W. Coal Company at 6s. a ton net profit, irrespective of quality or cost of production? As a result of the policy of the Government and the Joint Coal Board will these mines be closed because they have no hope of competing successfully against the proprietors who are protected and have had their profits guaranteed by the Government through the N.S.W. Coal Company and the Join Coal Board?
– I know of no policy such as that which has been mentioned by Senator Ashley. The Joint Coal Board has submitted to the New South Wales and the Australian Governments a report in which it has made certain proposals. According to my recollection of the report it does not indicate that the board contemplates closing any mines. No such suggestion has been made by the Australian Government, and the only governmental statements to that effect are those which have been made by the New SouthWales Government. The report itself is a lengthy document and includes a number of proposals and suggestions. I shall give the report the serious consideration that it deserves. I have already discussed it at some length with the members of the Joint Coal Board, before whom I have placed certain ideas of my own to meet the situation that has arisen. Of course, I am not so vain as to believe that my suggestions will prove entirely practicable. After all, it is not possible for any one occupying my portfolio to obtain a complete grasp of the coal-mining industry, which has many ramifications. However, I do not feel any anxiety because of the embarrassment of riches presented by the fact that for the first time in a very lengthy period we now have all the coal that we need, and I do not share any of the apprehensions that are being expressed that, because we have too much coal we are on the verge of economic collapse. At the same time, I believe that the situation requires to be handled carefully, because there is -not the slightest doubt that the Communist leaders of the miners’ federation, who always endeavour to make every post a winning post, are trying to extract the maximum advantage from the present situation by suggesting that the development in coal production will cause unemployment in the industry. Let us wait and see whether that danger actually arises before we ‘become excited about it.
– On the 25th September, Senator Tangney asked me the following question: -
Will the Minister for Shipping and Transport inform me how many fatal accidents have occurred on the Australian roads during the last three years and the number in which motor cyclists were involved? What were the age groups of the motor cyclists concerned? What steps are being taken to reduce the toll of the roads and consequent wastage of young life? Is there any Australia-wide policy to increase road safety?
I replied then that an Australia-wide policy to increase road safety had been agreed upon by the six States, the Department of the Interior, and my department; that the authorities were greatly concerned about the dreadful loss of life on the roads; that standing committees were engaged almost continuously in considering safety measures and had submitted reports to the State Ministers, and that several of the States had introduced legislation to implement their recommendations. I pointed out that the next meeting of the Transport Advisory Council would be held in December, when all aspects of this matter would be considered. From the statistical information that is recorded by my department, I undertook to supply the honorable senator with the information requested. That further information is as follows : -
– In view of the fact that many recent public loans have been under-subscribed, will the Minister representing the Treasurer undertake to investigate the desirability of setting out in the prospectuses of future loans for governmental and public bodies,- the purpose for which the money sought is needed ?
– I think that the honorable senator’s suggestion is a most valuable one, and I shall bring it to the notice of the Treasurer.
– Has the Minister representing the Treasurer seen a report that of a recent loan of £1,000,000 floated by the Melbourne City Council, only £300,000 was subscribed, leaving the underwriters to find the remaining £700,000, notwithstanding the fact that the interest rate of £4 12s. 6d. per annum is the highest rate that has been offered by the council for more than twenty years? Has the Minister also noticed a report to the effect that yesterday a member of the Melbourne firm of J. B. Were and Son, when addresing a meeting, drew attention to the fact that investors in the Fifteenth Security Loan, which was raised last April, face a loss of £8 on each £100 invested if they wish to sell their stock now, and that some semigovernment loans issued about a year ago are now at a discount of £15 in the £100 ? The gentleman who made that statement also drew attention to the unsatisfactory nature of raising loans in the past. He indicated that because of the facilities for long-term investment, investors will reap a heavy profit over a period of years. In view of the Government’s protestations that public confidence has been restored, does the Minister not agree that :this is an indication that investors of small sums have lost faith in the Government and that confidence has not yet been restored? Will the Treasurer make a statement at an early date so that confidence may be restored in the financial structure of this country?
– I do not propose to traverse all the ground that has been covered by the honorable senator. His question dealt, in general terms, with the weakness that is apparent in the loan market. I remind him that, as is so frequently the case with economic trends, the loan difficulties that we are experiencing in this country are worldwide. Whereas in the past there were great centres from which traditionally loans could be raised, those funds are not now available, and there has been a consequent weakness in the loan market, not only in Australia, but also in London and New York. The basic reason is that, in an inflationary period, investors prefer to put their money into equities rather than securities which have a fixed rate of interest. The remedy, therefore, for the present state of the loan market is substantially dependent upon the correction of the inflationary trends within our own economy. There is general acceptance of the fact that we have turned the corner, and that we are entering upon a period of sounder and safer finance. If that be so, we can expect the loan market to strengthen. My own personal view is that Commonwealth loans at their present rate of interest and at their present discount are a first-class investment which offer an excellent return on capital to any Australian.
– Is it not a fact that when the Melbourne City Council loan to which Senator Sheehan has referred was floated there were two other issues on the market at a higher rate of interest, including Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited debentures at 5 per cent., which seriously affected the market? Does this not indicate that steps should be taken as soon as possible by the Australian Loan Council to ensure better co-ordination in the governmental and semi-governmental loan programmes ?
– I did not answer Senator Sheehan in detail because
I thought he was seeking an expression of opinion in general terms. Indeed, I should not have been able to provide him, off hand, with the detailed information that he sought. I am not aware of the circumstances of the Melbourne City Council loan. It is true, however, that there are other securities on the market at 5 per cent. It is quite obvious that co-ordination, timing, skill, care and judgment are essential to successful loan notation.
– “Will the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture make inquiries in order to ascertain whether manufacturers of agricultural machinery are holding such machinery, including tractors, in their stores and are not making it available to farmers, as was stated in the Senate last week? If that statement is correct, will the Minister inform honorable senators why such machinery is being withheld from primary producers? If it is incorrect, will he make a statement on the matter so that primary producers will not be misled?
– My information is that manufacturers of such machinery are now looking for customers. The Minister for Trade and Customs and I recently had an opportunity to visit a well-known firm in Geelong, where we saw tractors for sale but no buyers for them. I understand that that position prevails in most parts of Australia to-day. However, it should be made clear to primary producers that if they have difficulty in obtaining the type of machinery they require, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture will be only too pleased to help them to do so.
– Is the Minister representing the Treasurer aware that severe drought conditions which exist in the Kimberley district, in the north of Western Australia, have caused heavy losses of stock, and that the mortality rate of cattle has been described as “ alarming “ ? Can he state whether the Western Australian Government has requested the Australian Government to assist it financially in the provision of drought relief in the stricken areas? If it has, will the Minister state the amount of financial assistance that has been sought by the Western Australian Government and the amount, if any, that has been granted by this Government? If the Australian Government has not been so requested to provide, will the Minister recommend to the Cabinet that the position be investigated with a view to giving relief and conserving herds by providing agistment and transport for stock?
– I do not know whether the Western Australian Government has requested the Australian Government to provide drought relief in respect of the Kimberley district. I am certain, however, that if the Western Australian Government has made such a request it will be accorded the sympathetic consideration which it deserves. I am not prepared to give an assurance that I shall originate the matter, because applications of this kind must first come from the State concerned to the Commonwealth.
– On the 23rd September, Senator McMullin asked me a question concerning the Underwriting and Insurance Company Proprietary Limited. The Minister for Health has now furnished the following reply : -
The Underwriting and Insurance Company Proprietary Limited has not been registered by the Commonwealth as an organization for the purposes of the Hospital Benefits Regulations. Membership of that company, therefore, does not entitle the subscribers to receive the Commonwealth additional hospital benefit of 4s. a day. The subscribers will, of course, continue to be eligible for benefits payable by the company from its own funds in terms of its contracts with them
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
Does the agreement submitted to the Government of Tasmania relating to public hospital benefits include a clause providing that the extra benefit of 4s. per day will be payable by the Commonwealth only if a charge is made to the patient in a public ward of the hospital?
– The Minister for Health has supplied the following answer : -
No such clause is included.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health -
– The Minister for Health has supplied the following answers : -
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs say whether his colleague proposes to make a statement concerning the attitude of the Government to the recent acceptance of the so-called “ Eden Plan” by the Assembly of the Council of Europe in regard to the formation of a proposed Federation of Western European Nations? If he does, will he ensure that the statement is also made in the Senate, so that this important question can be debated in this chamber ?
– I shall inquire from the Minister for External Affairs whether he proposes to make such a statement. I have no doubt that if he does make a statement, he will arrange, as he usually does, to have it delivered in the Senate at the same time. .
– Will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General take action to prevent the transfer of a nonofficial post office from Cahors-road, on the north side of the railway line at Padstow, New South Wales, to Farradyaroad. on the south side of the railway line, until an official post office is built? Can the Minister say whether a site has been acquired for the new official post office?
– I shall direct the Postmaster-General’s attention to the honorable senator’s question and obtain a reply as soon as possible.
– In view of the lateness of the hour, I ask that further questions be placed on the notice-paper.
– Before calling on questions on notice, I direct the attention of honorable senators to the fact that, in a period of 45 minutes, only twenty questions have been asked and answered. It should be possible to deal with questions without notice at the average rate of one every minute or one every minute and a half. I ask honorable senators and Ministers to be more concise in future so that the best use may be made of broadcasting time. My task at question time is difficult, but I believe that, with the co-operation of honorable senators, it should be possible to expedite considerably the asking and answering of questions.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
-The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : - 1.From the 1st July, 1951, to the 30th June, 1952, 52,757,862 lb. of tea were imported into Australia from Ceylon, India, Indonesia, China, Malaya and Africa. The average price per lb. for this tea was 4s. 5.778d. c.f.e.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following answers : -
Debate resumed from the 25th September (vide page 2104), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be. now read a first time.
– When the debate was interrupted in accordance with the sessional order on Thursday last, I was comparing the social services benefits provided in the present budget with those provided by the Labour Government. It is interesting to recall that, prior to the last general election, the leaders of the non-Labour parties, referring to social services benefits, said -
The existing pension rates will be. maintained and reviewed according to the cost of living.
I emphasize the words “existing rates will be maintained “. Last week, I cited figures to prove that, during the regime of the Labour Government, the age and invalid pension represented approximately 35 per cent, of the basic wage, whereas, after allowing for the increase of 7s. 6d. a week provided in the present budget, the pension will represent not more than 28 per cent of the existing basic wage. Those figures constitute material evidence that the Government has not maintained the value of the pension paid by the Labour Government.
I pass now to a consideration of child endowment. In 1947, the Labour Government increased child endowment by 2s. 6d. a week, and when it left office in 1949 child endowment represented approximately 8 per cent of the then basic wage of £65s. a week. The present budget entirely disregards the need to increase the rate of child endowment to meet increasing costs. The amount paid now represents less than 5 per cent of the existing basic wage. As I am not a mathematician I cannot calculate the precise percentage, but it is between 4 and 5 per cent. It takes but little analysis of the family budget for the average citizen to realize the tremendous hardship that is imposed on those with large families because of the Government’s failure to increase the rate of child endowment. In order further to illustrate my point, I cite the following comparative figures which I have compiled to show the prices of general food items in 1948 and 1952 : -
All of these items are listed in the C series index. In 1948, the total cost of these items amounted to11s. 5d., or a little more than the rate of child endowment; in 1952, it amounted to £1 7s. 8½d. Thus, the total prices of these commodities have increased by almost 150 per cent, since 1948. These figures forcibly illustrate the fact that the worker to-day is experiencing the greatest difficulty in meeting his family budget. Despite the increased costs of these commodities the child endowment rate has remained unaltered, and as a result the purchasing power of the family income has correspondingly dwindled. As the basic wage has not been increased by 150 per cent since 1948, it cannot be contended that wages increases alone are responsible for the increased prices of these commodities.
– “Why did Labour oppose the introduction of endowment of 5s. a week for the first child in every family under the age of sixteen years ?
– Labour opposed that provision on the grounds of equity. The payment will be increased to 10s. a week when Labour again gains control of the treasury bench. The age pension has not been equated to the cost of living. The standard of living of age pensioners in South Australia has fallen so greatly that the newspapers of that State have appealed for public support of a fund to assist the pensioners at Christmas-time.
I am pleased that the Government has decided to increase the unemployment benefit. The previous Labour Government maintained full employment, but unhappily, unemployment is now manifesting itself. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) promised the people during the 1949 general election campaign that if the anti-Labour parties were elected to office, existing pension rates would be maintained and reviewed according to the cost of living. Labour introduced the unemployment benefit of £2 10s. a week, which, in 1945, was equal to 50 per cent of the then basic wage in South Australia. Furthermore, the effective purchasing power of that amount was then much greater than it is to-day. The basic wage has risen to £11 4s. a week in South Australia, of which the increased unemployment benefit will be only 45 per cent. Mr. Monk, the President of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, has stated that, in order to restore the previous ratio between the unemployment benefit and the basic wage, the benefit should be increased to £6 5s. a week. The Government has failed to honour many of its pre-election promises in relation to social services. With one or two exceptions, it has not maintained Labour’s standards. I am glad that the Government has abolished the means test in relation -to adolescent invalids. This will greatly assist that unfortunate section of the community. I urge the Government to ameliorate the plight of blinded people who are unable to earn any income. The pensions that are paid to many of these unfortunate people who are inmates of institutions, are insufficient to defray the cost of their maintenance, and they are obliged to expend their meagre savings for this purpose. This is a tragic state of affairs.
From time to time I have advocated the provision of physiotherapist treatment for age pensioners. In reply to a question that I directed to the Minister acting for the Minister for Health in this chamber I was informed that although age pensioners may receive free medical treatment, they are not eligible for free physiotherapy treatment either at a practitioner’s rooms or in their own homes. I was informed by the Minister that physiotherapy treatment was available at public hospitals and that the Government did not contemplate making it available elsewhere. I ask the Government to pause for a moment and review the situation. In South Australia I believe that we have only one public hospital to attend to all the physiotherapy requirements of pensioners. Age pensioners suffering from rhumathoid arthritis and other disabilities who have borne the heat and burden of the day are morally entitled to treatment similar to that which is received by age pensioners who require medical treatment. Those pensioners are entitled to have a doctor call upon them at the expense of the community. Many age pensioners who require physiotherapy treatment are not able to move from their homes. They may call a doctor to treat them medicinally but, very often, physiotherapy treat- ment including heat-rays and massage is essential. This treatment has often had amazing results. I cannot see the equity of making medical treatment available to pensioners and denying them the right of free physiotherapy which would restore them to reasonable health. The cost of travelling to and from hospitals is considerable. Many pensioners have miles to travel to hospital and when they get there they find a queue of people, hundreds of yards long, waiting for treatment. They would have to wait all day for physiotherapy at a public hospital and the treatment that they would receive would be very meagre. I again appeal to the Minister to have this matter examined with a view to making provision for qualified practitioners of physiotherapy to visit these unfortunates. Physiotherapy is administered by registered practitioners whose profession is an adjunct to the medical profession. The persons engaged in it render a great service to’ mankind.
I should like to summarize what I have said concerning this budget. Despite all the proclamations that this is an incentive budget it will fail to stabilize the economy and in due course we shall witness even further inflation. As I have explained, the basic wage is harnessed to the price structure, and unless the price structure is stabilized the basic wage cannot be stabilized. Increases in the basic wage fail to put more spending power into the hands of the community. As a result of the spiral of inflation, taxation rates are higher. Wages have lost their purchasing power. Despite the fact that the national income has increased, the workers’ degree of participation in that increase has been negatived. They have little purchasing power with which to stimulate business activity and help to maintain full employment.. This year the community will have to pay increased taxation amounting to approximately £400,000,000. That amount will be withdrawn from the purchasing power of the community. Greater unemployment will be generated. It will cost the Government approximately £254 a year to keep each unemployed person who, if he had been employed and earning the basic wage, would have had approximately £600 to spend. The difference between those two amounts will go out of circulation. The Government has dishonoured its election promises by failing to maintain the value of social services benefits. Even had these benefits been maintained at their previous value, more purchasing power would have been placed in the hands of the community.
The Government has also hamstrung national and defence projects and development by the restriction of credit and the reduction of State loan programmes. Labour used bank credit to such an extent during the war and afterwards that at the 30th June, 1949, the value of treasurybills outstanding was £123,280,000. The value of treasury-bills issued by the Labour Government in 1942 was £78,731,000. In 1943 treasury-bills to the value of £178,769,000 were issued. In the following year the issue was valued at £84,030,000. Subsequently, the amount outstanding became £343,280,000. Why did the Labour Government put that amount of credit into circulation? It did so in order to stimulate and maintainthe development of our war potential. The Labour party believes the utilization of credit is justifiable in peace, as in war.
During war-time Labour was unable to redeem the treasury-bills it had issued because it had no surplus revenue with which to do so. However, within two years of the end of the war, Labour was able, in 1947, to redeem outstanding treasury-bills amounting to £65,000,000. _ It is significant that in that year an interim increase of the basic wage by 7s. a week was granted by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The fact that our economy was able to absorb that enormous increase is another proof of the soundness of Labour’s administration. During the following year, 1948, Labour redeemed another £70,000,000 worth of treasury-bills. The decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to reduce Standard working hours a week to 40, which was announced in 1948, is a further proof of the prosperity enjoyed by this country under Labour administration. The unanimous decision of the judges of the court, as expressed by the Chief Judge, Mr. Justice Drake-Brockman, made it quite clear that the court was satisfied, after a most searching inquiry into all relevant economic ‘data, that the Aus tralian economy was never in a more sound or prosperous condition. In 1949, which was Labour’s last year of office, the Government redeemed treasury-bills totalling £85,000,000, and when it vacated office only approximately £123,000,000 of treasury-bills remained to be redeemed.
Those figures prove conclusively that Labour was able to preserve the economic health of this country, notwithstanding the enormous financial drain made upon it by the phenomenal expenditure incurred during the war and the unprecedentedly high expenditure involved in rehabilitating Australians in the immediate post-war period. Contrast Labour’s management of our finances with the sorry record of the present anti-Labour Government. Although the Government issued £45,000,000 worth of treasurybills last year, it has declined to issue any treasury-bills this year, notwithstanding the urgent needs of the various State governments and semi-governmental bodies. I think that that fact alone is an admission by the Government of the people’s lack of confidence in it.
The budgetary proposals of the Government fail also because they do not provide any positive incentive to our primary producers to increase the production of foodstuffs. Any student of international affairs realizes that if we are to avoid starvation, we must increase our production of foodstuffs. The present rate of production is not sufficient to feed adequately even the present population of the world; but the population of the world is now increasing by 15 per cent, annually, so that our rate of production is becoming increasingly less adequate. The distressing fact is that to-day Australia, which was formerly one of the world’s chief producers of food, is now producing only 11 per cent, of world requirements.
The present Government has endeavoured to excuse its tragic failure to provide proper encouragement to Australia’s primary producers to increase production by referring again and again to the dollar loan that it has negotiated. However, it is abundantly clear that the real effect upon Australia of that loan will be, not to provide proper incentives for increased production, but to place
Australia in bondage to American international investors. Finally, I say that not only will the present disturbing and dangerous trends in our economy continue so long as the present Government remains in office, but, furthermore, that its budgetary proposals will merely aggravate our present difficulties and dangers.
– I preface my remarks by stating that although I had originally not inlanded to visit Canberra this week, L made a special journey of 2,100 miles to-day in order to hear Senator Evan deliver the concluding remarks of the speech that he commenced on the 25th September. Needless to say, I was not only astonished by many of his remarks, but I was also shocked at the ignorance lie revealed of the present Government’s efforts, particularly in the direction of increasing food production. Later in my speech I shall endeavour to enlighten him.
I was also astounded by the general inconsistency in the criticism of the Government expressed by members of the Opposition throughout this debate. For example, Senator Ryan attacked the Government for not having increased social services and repatriation pensions and benefits sufficiently. However, senator Cole, who preceded him in the debate, took the Government to task for having imposed allegedly excessively high taxes. Obviously one criticism cancels out the other. The Opposition would show to much better advantage in this debate if its members displayed some consistency in their criticisms of the Government. If more liberal social services are to be provided, obviously more money will be required ; and more money means higher taxes.
Senator Ryan mentioned, in passing, that the rate of taxation is far too high at the present time and has never been higher. When Senator Cole spoke last week be stated that on an income of £1,000, a single person without dependants is now taxed at the rate of 5s. 4d. in the £1, or a total of £184 for the year. Actually, the amount should be £135. The rate to which the honorable senator referred is that which applied during the last year of the Labour Administration.
At that time - 1949-50 - such a person paid a tax of £184, and in 1948-49 he paid £228. I suggest that before honorable senators opposite criticize the Government because of its taxation measures they should make sure that their statements are correct.
At the present time, a person without dependants who has an income of £2,000 a year is obliged to pay a tax of £468.. Senator Cole stated that such a person is taxed at the rate of 9s. 6d. in the £lr or a total of £936 14s. for the year. I point out to the honorable senator that in 1947-48, when Labour was in office, such a person was liable to pay a tax of £682, and in 1949-50, £593. There has, therefore, been a considerable reduction of taxes since this Government took office. Senator Cole also stated that a person with an income of £5,000 a year will be obliged to pay 14s. lid. in the £1 under the present budget proposals, or a total amount of £3,750 for the year. In fact, the total amount will be only £2,088. In 1947-4S, when Labour was in office, it was £2,600, and in 1949-50, £2,405. Honorable senators will appreciate that the present rates of income tax are lower than those in operation before the Labour Government was booted out of office by the electors because of its maladministration.
For the benefit of Senator Ryan and other honorable senators opposite, I wish to refer to the endeavours of this Government to increase food production during the last six or eight months. I shall commence by referring to the deferment of provisional tax legislation. Provisional tax was introduced in 1944 by the Labour Government in order to bring persons other than salary and wage earners within the pay-as-you-earn system. I do not say anything against the provisional tax system because I believe that it is a good one. However, it has its weaknesses. It was not until a year of high income was followed by a year of low income, such as last year, that it became obvious that anomalies would occur. Honorable, senators will remember that in 1950 the price of wool rose phenomenally. When the price began to decline, it became clear that if 1951 provisional tax was assessed on the income of 1950, primary producers would suffer.
The: Government, therefore,, decided tha* wool-growers- should he permitted to defer payment of 40/ per cent, of their provisional tax. The, necessary legislation was introduced ki’ a matter of. months after the decline of wool, values.
The 4f0’ per cent deferment provision applies’ also to- primary producers who have incurred’ loss because of fire or flood. Because’ the- incomes of farmers’’ and’ business- people vary from- year- to year, they are in a different position from salary and wage earners, and for that reason the Government decided that adifferent method of assessment of provisional’ tax is. required.. After a great deal of consideration, it evolved the. selfassessment method. By this- means, a primary producer or a business person is allowed nine, months in which to assess ki’3 income for the year.. On the 31st March,, the person concerned is required to make an estimate of his income for the cu>r vent year together with a provisional tax assessment on that income. He then decides whether he will’ pay the provisional tax arrived at by himself or accept the assessment of the taxation- authorities: The legislation provides’ that if a person deliberately endeavours to evade payment of any money properly owing to the department he shall be liable to a fine of 10 per cent. of the tax that he has endeavoured to evade. It is also necessary that this assessment should be within 20 per cent, of his income, as ultimately disclosed.
When the Australian; Labour party was in office, depreciation on plant and machinery at the rate of. 40 per cent, for the first year only was allowed, after which the. ordinary rate operated. In am endeavour to assist primary producers, the present Government introduced an entirely different system. I suggest that the Opposition has. no. reason to tell the electors that this Government has done nothing for the farmers. The Australian pir Hilary producers, know well that the present Government has- done more than- has any other government to increase food production. The present depreciation allowance of 20 per cent, for each of five years applies not only to farm machinery but also- to certain buildings, such as those erected by farmers as quarters for employees. It, also applies to- certain plant, such as irrigation sprinklers, and to wire for fencing..
To assist primary producers further, the Government. has decided to abolish the 10 per. cent, special, income: tax levy which was- imposed last. year, when conditions were entirely different, from, those of tc-day. Because the: Government, appreciated that, inflation had. then reached! a high level-,, it decided to drain off approximately £H4,.00Or00O’ of surplus’ spending” power. The 10/ per cent., tax levy/ was designed for this purpose. Because of” the- measures which the Government has taken to combat inflation, this year it. hasbeen able to reduce taxes’ by removing, the- 10 per- cent. levy.. A further concession that will be of considerable value to. many taxpayers, is: the deduction of £50/ a year in. respect- of fees paid for the education of children.
– Not enough.
– I do- not say that: it is. enough ;. butt this is the first Government that has: attempted to ease in this way the financial, burden of parents whose children attend private schools. The Labour Government of which Senator Sheehan!, was a supporter, did not attempt to- tackle this problem duringits eight years of. office although it had” simple opportunity to dc so*. Apparently honorable senators opposite were a littlebit too dull to appreciate, the need- foi; this concession. We- are awake to- thesethings. This is. a step in the right, direction. I heartily agree with SenatorSheehan that it does not go far enough, and I hope that the1 concession will beliberalized as time, goes by, but the Government is to be congratulated upon, having taken the first step.
The land tax is- to be abolished. The story of this tax is familiar to us all.. The tax was introduced in 191ft with, the object of breaking up large estatesthroughout the Commonwealth. That object was never achieved, and realizing, that,, the- Government has decided toabolish the tax and thus, give relief amounting to approximately £6,000,000 a year to land-owners. Legislation has already been passed to modify the salestax. The number of classifications has been reduced from six to four, and. the- maximum rate has been reduced from 66$ per cent, to 50 per cent. The 25 per cent, rate has been abolished. The remaining rates are 12-J per cent., 20 per cent., 33^ per cent., and 50 per cent. That is a notable achievement in one year. As a further encouragement to primary producers to increase production the Government has decided to allow farmers to spread insurance payments on live-stock over a five-year period instead of making all such payments taxable in the year in which they are made. I challenge the honorable senator who claimed that the Government had done nothing to increase primary production to point to any administration in our history that has a better record in this field than that established by the present Government during the last nine months.
– The primary producers are on strike against the Government.
– The primary producers know that for the first time in their lives, they are being really looked after. Senator Paltridge and I spend a lot of time in the country districts of Western Australia as other representatives of that State do, and we know that farmers, realizing how good this Government has been to them, are settling down to increase production. I do not suggest that wheat production will be increased this year, because unfortunately the wheat-growing areas of Western Australia have experienced one of the worst seasons in history, but I am sure that, if this Government remains in office, and is allowed to continue its policy of encouraging primary production, there will be no scarcity of foodstuffs in the years to come.
I have dealt with the eight points that I set out to cover. I have also dealt with Senator Ryan’s speech. I propose now to devote a few minutes to a matter which I consider to be most urgent. Foi defence reasons, if for no other, every endeavour should be made to encourage a flow of population from the cities to the sparsely populated country areas, particularly the north-west of Western Australia. The part of Western Australia situated above the 26th parallel has approximately one-sixth of the area of the Commonwealth, yet only 6,880 people live in it. In 50 years, the population has increased by only 676. People will be induced to go to those remote regions only if they have some incentive to take their capital out of the cities and put it to work in the development of this country. In the north-west of Western Australia there is an organization known as the Northern Rehabilitation Committee, which has advanced the following proposal : -
It is proposed that all territory north of the 26th parallel in Western Australia . . . shall he declared a tax free area for a period of 20 years for all wage and salary earners.
That all business enterprises whatsoever operating in the defined area be they mining, pastoral, pearling, fishing, whaling, store or hotel keeping, or any other business whether Limited Liability Companies, Partnerships or individual owners, whether resident or nonresident in the area defined, shall have 60 per cent, of their income which is derived from the specified area free of tax. The remaining 40 per cent, shall also be free of tax provided it is invested, at the discretion of the owners or owner, within the defined area. However, should this proportion not be reinvested in the defined area it would become taxable.
The proposed period of twenty years is most important. Schemes to encourage the development of the Northern Territory by granting exemption from tax of income earned in that region have failed because the five-year limits set on the concession have been too short. At the end of each five years an investigation has to be made, and the continuance of the concession depends upon the opinion of the government then in office. The result is that individuals and organizations engaged in commercial undertakings in the Northern Territory have taken all the money out of their enterprises as quickly as possible and invested it in the cities. In these circumstances, balanced development of the Northern Territory could hardly be expected. The Northern Rehabilitation Committee proposes that the tax concession should continue for twenty years and I believe that if the Government were to accept that proposal, many people now in the cities would be induced to take up pastoral leases in the northern- regions. There are many such leases in good rainfall areas, particularly in the Kimberleys. However, the north-west of Western Australia need not depend solely upon the pastoral industry for development. In the Nullagine area there are rich undeveloped deposits of minerals. The pearling industry which has been established on the north-western coast of Western Australia for many years could be considerably expanded. The production of pearl shell in 1950 was 353 tons, or only one-third of the production in 1910.
– The wrong men are in the industry to-day.
– I quite agree, but some of them will be out of it before long. In the same period, the number of sheep in Western Australia north of the 26t.h parallel dropped from 2,271,095 to just over 2,000,000, and the number of cattle from 653,949 to 509,225. Gold production in 1950 was 6,700 ounces compared with 8,000 ounces in 1910. Clearly this part of the Commonwealth is drifting back. I hope that some day, a government will be courageous enough to face up to its responsibilities in the north-west of Western Australia. I cannot imagine a Labour government ever doing that, because the area is too far from the cities in which Labour’s main interests lie. I have said that the northwest of Western Australia contains some of our richest mineral deposits. I know that to be true because I have been through the area. Although the existence of vital minerals in this part of the Commonwealth was known as far back as 1924, nothing was done to win them for defence purposes even although they were scarce during the war. I am not accusing any particular government; this matter is above party politics. No one will deny that Great Britain and the United States of America were searching the world for chrome during the war years, yet at Coobina we have probably the richest chromite deposits in the world. The quantity of ore in the field is estimated at 30,000,000 tons. A survey should be made immediately so that the exact extent of the field may be determined, and steps taken to secure this vital mineral for ourselves and our allies. Other minerals exist in large quantities in the north-west but the extent of the deposits has never been assessed by the Mines Department. Large quantities of manganese, deposits of tin that assay 10 lbs. to the cubic yard, and large deposits of copper are known to exist there. One man who is working a lead . deposit about 100 miles from Port Hedland is making £50,000 a year without difficulty. The great problem in the area is caused by the insufficiency of its population. During the last three years, because of the increased prices of minerals, many new claims have been pegged out but remain unworked. It is the responsibility of the Government to assist prospectors to develop these deposits.
– I thought that the honorable senator believed that such matters should be left to private enterprise.
– In normal circumstances I do. Money provided by the Government to’ develop these deposits would be repaid in a very short time.
The Northern Rehabilitation Committee has discussed the development of the arca with successive Australian governments. It could not expect very much assistance from Labour governments but it is hopeful of better treatment from, the present Government. If we are to increase the population and improve the productivity of the northwest - if we are to improve its fishing potentialities, its mineral deposits and its pastoral and farming lands - the Government must grant the income tax concessions which the committee has requested on behalf of those who live in the area. If the necessary developmental capital is provided, sufficient labour will be attracted there. The committee has emphasized the importance of income tax concessions not only to encourage those who have invested their money in the north-west but also to attract others to go into the back country and exploit its natural resources. Many honorable senators opposite have never been in the north-west. I am more venturesome; I have been through it and am well aware of its possibilities. Those who are prepared to work in areas remote from the amenities of .the capital cities and provincial towns should be encouraged to do so by the grant of income tax concessions or by complete -exemption from income tax. The Government will, I am sure, realize its responsibility in the matter. If it adopts the recommendations of the Northern Rehabilitation Committee the future of the north-west will be assured.
– Before I proceed to discuss the budget and the matters arising out of it that so deeply concern Australians to-day, may I say that I support the plea made by Senator Scott on behalf of the north-west of Western Australia. The Government would be well-advised to grant income tax concessions to the residents of not only the north-west of Western Australia but also other areas remote from the large centres of population who have to carry additional burdens because of their isolation. Such encouragement as the Government can give to them will eventually bear fruit. What could the Government lose by granting their requests for income tax con.cessions? In the long run it would reap in additional taxation a much larger amount than it at present receives from areas in which, as Senator Scott has pointed out, production has dwindled to one-third of what it was 30 years ago. It is a tragedy that production should decline to such an alarming degree. I agree with Senator Scott that this matter should be considered on strictly non-party political lines. The honorable senator is in an extraordinary fortunate position in that he is a supporter of the Government and as such his representations should be given the closest consideration by it. In regard to tax concessions for those in remote areas, and on that point alone, do I find myself in agreement with the honorable senator.
When Senator Scott referred to the subject of taxation my mind went back to the reception given to the budget by Government supporters when it was first introduced by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). I found it difficult to understand their jubilation. Apparently, they genuinely believed the budget to be a good budget. When they cheered the Treasurer they were not obviously waving a party flag, nor were they whistling in the dark to bolster their flagging spirits.
They honestly believed it to be a good budget. When I discussed it privately with many of them, they asked, “ Is it not a good budget ? “ Even now, some weeks after its introduction, when they are not so sure that it is a good budget after all, they still defend it. I believe the budget to be an even more tragic document than was the budget of 1951, which was responsible for most of the difficulties that now confront us.
Senator Scott has claimed that the Treasurer has reduced taxation when in fact the Government will collect this year almost £300,000,000 more than was collected by the Chifley Government. It is of no use for honorable senators opposite to contrast the income tax levied on an income of £1,000 this year with that imposed in earlier years and in that way attempt to prove that taxation has been reduced. Because of the existence of inflation, which the Government has done little to prevent, the basic wage, which is the truest indicator of the value of money, has been doubled. To-day, the basic-wage worker pays in taxation sixteen times as much as he paid in 1949 when the Labour Government was in office. So much for the specious claim of honorable senators opposite that this Government has reduced taxation.
Senator Scott also referred to the great reductions that the Government has effected in the sales tax. Last year the Government budgeted to collect from that source no less than £117,000,000 compared with £40,000,000 collected by the Chifley Government in its last year of office. Actual collections amounted to £95,000,000 only, because the Government by its ill-directed policies, has killed the goose that laid the golden egg. This year Government supporters have stumped the country trying to convince the people that the Government has greatly reduced sales tax and has simplified its imposition by reducing the number of schedules of commodities on which sales tax is imposed. What do these great reductions amount to? It has reduced the tax by £”7,000,000 on the basis of last year’s collections. If the goose that laid the golden egg can be resuscitated it will collect in sales tax this year £S8,000,000 compared with- £42,000,000 collected by the Chifley Government in 1949.
– On a much larger turnover.
– The turnover has been vastly increased because of the existence of inflation. I am frankly astonished that Government supporters should continue to hail this budget as a magnificent piece of work. Surely they realize that increasing prices and mounting costs constitute the greatest problem that confronts Australia? The budget does not provide incentive for any Australian to do more than he has done previously. Honorable senators opposite contend that inflation is being conquered because goods are in plentiful supply. That is a completely fallacious assumption. The Government’s failure to conquer inflation is amply demonstrated by the fact that in New South Wales the most recent basic wage rise amounted to no less than 13s. a week. Basic wage increases are made to compensate for rising costs of the commodities included in the C series index. It is the duty of the Government to endeavour to stabilize the basic wage, not by an approach to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court for a reduction of wages, but by reducing costs. The basic wage represents the minimum wage sufficient to maintain at a reasonable standard of comfort a man, wife and one child. I do not believe that Government supporters desire to reduce the living standards of the workers, but when they support applications to the court-
– Who is supporting an application to the court?
– Every supporter of the Government stands behind the application by the representatives of the employers to reduce the basic wage and ignores the fact that the prices pf commodities that are included in the basic wage regimen are uncontrolled and highly inflated.
I approach the consideration of these problems with a good deal of trepidation. I am not normally a calamityhowler, but if the actions of this Government have had one effect upon me it has been to turn me from a good optimist into a bad pessimist. I know what is going on behind the scenes.
– What is the greatest factor that contributes to high costs ?
– At present, wages constitute the greatest factor.
– Now, as always.
– I do not agree with the honorable senator. When the Labour Government was in office and the basic wage was only £6 9s. a week, wages did not constitute the principal contributing factor to high costs in many industries. Not one retail store in the principal cities of the Commonwealth has made a profit since January of this year. Many are paying small dividends to their shareholders, but an examination of their balance-sheets will reveal that not one has made a profit this year. Their greatest problem is caused by the large amount of money they have to pay out in wages.
– Is not the problem that is confronting retail stores caused by the fact that they have too many goods in stock?
– No ; it is caused by mounting costs. Although the Government has no cure for inflation, it is of no use for the Government to leave inflation to cure itself.
– Has the honorable senator a cure to suggest ?
– I have ideas on the subject, but apparently the Government has not one. By his silence the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) tacitly admits that the Government has no ideas on the subject. That, at least, is an admission of the Government’s ineptitude. This country has been reduced to the status of a mendicant. Whereas a few years ago Australia was able to lend money to enable other countries to purchase its wool, now it has to borrow abroad. The Treasurer announced after his return from overseas recently that he had been unable to borrow money from the United Kingdom, but that he was hopeful of being able to borrow a relatively small amount from Switzerland. In view of Australia’s strong financial position several years ago, this is a tragic situation. In effect, the Government indulged in a drunken splurge for a period of nine months, during which goods valued at about £1,200,000,000. were imported. Many of those goods could have been manufactured in this country. Suddenly the Government realized its desperate situation and imposed drastic import restrictions. Why did not the Government study the manner in which other countries had approached the problem?
For many years past, Australia has had a substantial credit balance in New Zealand. During the last financial year Australia exported to New Zealand goods of a value of approximately £37,000,000, and imported from that country goods of a value o£ approximately £7,000,000. Increased prices are now costing us out of our important overseas markets. During a recent visit to the countries to the north of Australia I learned that tinned Australian fruit is practically unsaleable in Singapore and Hongkong because of its high price. Australia’s exports of jam have decreased in the last twelve months from about 20,000,000 lb. to 13,000,000 lb. Instead of making unilateral arrangements with the countries with which Australia had credit balances, the Government abruptly stopped imports. The result has been that New Zealand has said, in effect, “ If Australia is going to buy our goods of a value of less than 25 per cent, of the goods that we buy from Australia, we shall reduce our imports from Australia “. New Zealand has now raised a trade barrier against Australian goods.
During the last financial year Franc bought Australian goods of a value of about £40,000,000, but Australia bought from that country goods of a value of only about £5,000,000. When France reviews its trading figures it will probably decide to reduce its imports from Australia. The Government wielded a double-edged sword by first permitting almost unrestricted imports, and then stopping imports abruptly. It has done great harm to the people of this country, by increasing the inflationary tendency. It has made bad friends of the countries with which Australia has traded in the past.
Countries from which Australia has curtailed its imports have reduced the quantity of goods that they import from Australia. .Confidence in this country has been absolutely destroyed.
When the budget was brought down the supporters of the Government stated that it was the incentive budget, which would restore confidence. Perhaps the best economic barometer in the community is the stock exchange. Just before the budget was introduced the stock exchange quotations moved up gently because the people probably considered that the Government’s budgetary proposals would provide real incentive. Since then, however, the official stock exchanges quotations have dropped considerably, because the investing public of Australia were not pleased with the budget. In this morning’s press it was reported that a recent Victorian loan of £1,000,000 had been under-subscribed by more than £600,000. How can Australia proceed on this basis ? That sort of thing did not happen during the whole of the previous Labour Government’s term of office, but now it appears to be the order of the day. The only exceptions that I can remember were the loans that were raised comparatively recently in Queensland and South Australia. The first man who wailed at. the wailing wall was the Treasurer, who announced out of the blue at the last conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers that the outlook for government loans was bad. On. the following day the quotation for government £100 stock dropped to £92. I have before me a report by the RheinischWestfálische Bank, which was formerly known as the German Bank. It reads -
When credit is made cheaper, this makes the costs of production and storage fall, and it may also he reflected in a corresponding drop in the prices of goods. The result is -to improve the chances by expanding sales. For that reason many people regard the lowering of the discount rate as a means of stimulating economic activity. They point out that this step has long been desired by industrialists and traders, and that it should now help to turn the economic trend upwards.
Within a short period of the end of the war Germany has again become a factor in the trade and commerce of the world. That country is trying to reduce its overdraft and interest rates, but Australia is encouraging an increase of rates. In thelight of history, a depression cannot he avoided when interest rates rise. Although we are battling hard to prevent a depression from occurring, if interest rates are permitted to rise another depression will be inevitable.
The frozen deposits in the Commonwealth Bank have been reduced from £550,000,000 to £185,000,000. I had considered these funds to be a bulwark which, if properly and wisely used, would save this country. Not very many people clearly understand the effect of credit restriction. It is very involved.
– I think I know one who does not.
– It would be more to the credit of Senator Henty if he knew one person who does understand credit restriction. I advocated publicly that frozen assets should be returned to the private trading banks which were physically short of money and not in a position to carry the tremendous burden consequent on almost unrestricted imports. I had thought that if the return of frozen assets to the ‘private banks were handled correctly, it would lift us out of the rut by maintaining employment and production, and by keeping goods moving from the factories into the retail stores and into the homes of the people. Although £365,000,000 has been returned to the private trading banks, within a period of three months, there is very little evidence of all that liquid money having gone back to the trading banks. The Government has handled the matter extraordinarily badly. I do not think that the Government has returned too much money to the private trading banks, but I should be very disappointed if more money were returned to them at present. I had hoped that frozen assets would be the hypodermic needle with which the Government would be able to stabilize Australia’s economy, but there is little credit available for anybody. Properly handled, the return of this money could have assisted the revival of industry and restored the confidence of the community. The return of each £10,000,000 or £15,000,000 should have been publicized in the newspapers. Because the Government has maintained an air of secrecy about the matter, the people have lost heart. Dp to date there has been no benefit to -the business community from the return of this vast amount to the banking system.
– How did the honorable senator obtain the figures?
– They were published. However, when I asked the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) a question about this matter recently, his reply indicated that he considered the matter was still hush hush. It is not sufficient for such important announcements to be printed at the bottom of the financial pages in the press only once a month. The Government should try to restore confidence to the community. Not more than 1 per cent, of the people know that the large amount that I have mentioned has been returned to the trading banks. If the matter had been the subject of propaganda published by the newspapers, it would have instilled confidence in the people, because there should not be restriction of credit when such a large amount of money is flowing back to the trading banks.
I come now to the subject of public works. The effect of the curtailment of these works will be felt foi- many years. I do not believe that many people realize that related events of the last twelve months have made a scar on the body politic that will remain for the next ten years. During the last week a lad who wished to become apprenticed to a motor engineer sought my assistance. I contacted every substantial engineering firm in Sydney, either in person or indirectly, but none of them had a vacancy for a mechanic. Twelve months ago they could not obtain boys to undertake apprenticeships, and in many instances schools were asked to encourage boys to enter various trades. It is almost impossible to apprentice a lad to the motor engineering trade in Sydney to-day. I do not know of the position in other trades, but perhaps it is similar. I understand that this dreadful state of affairs is general throughout Australia. In a community in which men want work and great national works require to be constructed those works should be carried out because they are revenue-earners and nation builders. The Minister for Water Conservation and Irrigation in New South Wales has issued a statement in which he announced that a great many works in New South Wales had been completely stopped. He said that if he could have had the same amount of work done as had been done in his department last year, every water conservation work would have been completed within five years. But because of the reduction of this department’s financial allocation, not one project would be completed for twenty years and others would have to be abandoned. How can a community tolerate a state of affairs such as that? It is a sin. A man who is constructing a hospital project worth nearly £4,000,000 told me that he could have completed the project in four years with the amount of money that was to have been made available to him but that his financial allocation for this year had been so reduced that he had had to reduce his 8 taff and dismiss foremen. He added that the hospital would not be completed for twenty years at the present rate of construction.
The Government has said that people are. living beyond their means. Does that statement imply that no more hospitals or dams can be built and that expansion must stop? Because certain goods are now available for purchase, apparently some one has told the Government that ii has conquered inflation. Senator McMullin, who decorates the chamber as no other man does, said that inflation had been conquered because goods were in free supply. That is an incredible method of reasoning. Of course goods are in free supply. In answer to a question which he was asked this afternoon, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), said’ that he and the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) had visited an industry in Geelong and found no shortage of tractors. There were thousands of tractors but there were no buyers for them. Does the Government contend that the problem of inflation has been solved because there are thousands of tractors’ at Geelong? Apparently some one who advises the Government thinks so. In a factory in New South
Wales there are tractors worth over £1,000,000 awaiting sale. The industry has not been able to sell many tractors in the last six months. The banks had had to carry the indebtedness of the company concerned, and the tractors stand idly in the manufacturers’ yards while we want more food production. Yet the Government considers that the problem of inflation has been solved.
– They are repainting the tractors in order to make them look new.
– If they did not repaint them they would disintegrate. The production of bricks and cement is declining.
– Rice pro duction is declining too because the Premier of New South Wales stuck his nose into it.
– He did not stick his nose into wheat, yet the area under that crop is now 40 per cent, less than it was in 1947. This afternoon Senator Scott remarked that the production of pearl shell had been reduced by a third since 1910. There are 500,000 fewer sheep in north-western Australia. The whole community is sick because of the physic that has been given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) during the last two years.
The assets of the Commonwealth are being sacrificed. Apparently, the Government regards this as good statesmanship. It is selling the assets of the Commonwealth that have been painfully built up during recent years. When the
Opposition moved the adjournment of the Senate in order to discuss the shale industry at Glen Davis the Minister said that the Australian Aluminium Production Commission at Bell Bay wanted the equipment from Glen Davis because it could not make aluminium without such plant and that the commission would give a good price for it. The plant is now to be auctioned and it has been found that nobody wants it. It will probably be sold as scrap. The Government has destroyed yet another Australian industry which might have been valuable in the years to come. It has sold its interest in Commonwealth
Oil Refineries Limited in a most desperate and filthy manner. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) denied that this matter bad reached a stage, at which it had been given detailed consideration by him or the Cabinet. Then, when the proceedings of the House of Representatives had ceased to be broadcast, he announced, during the debate on the adjournment of the House, that the Government’s interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had been sold. That action was in accordance with the lack of courage that has typified this Government. The Government is hawking its shipping line from port to port and when it brings its price low enough private .companies will buy it, just as a private company bought Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. If it had not been for the opposition which was expressed to the. Government’s disposal of TransAustralia Airlines, it would have sold its interest in that organization. This Government reminds me of a drunkard reaching the end of his binge, going from pawn shop to pawn shop, selling his last remaining articles in order to keep himself on the spree a little while longer. The Government is realizing its assets in order to bring a few more pounds back into its budgets. It wants to be able to tell the people that it has desocialized the country although it was a government of a similar political colour to this which acquired the interests which the Government is now selling. As the Government parties socialized these industries in the first instance, and the Government has now decided to desocialize them, I do not know who will get the marks. ~No doubt the people of Australia will decide that.
The Government should give its most urgent attention ,to the problem of reducing costs in industry, otherwise it will not be possible to stabilize the basic wage. How can costs be reduced in industry? J suggest that the Government should reintroduce the 40 per cent, depreciation allowance which, in a breach of honour, it took from industry. The Government realized that this type of allowance would be an encouragement to primary production because it introduced a depreciation allowance of 20 per cent, a year for five years in respect of farm buildings and other items. The Government has accepted this principle. Why has it not applied it to secondary industry, which is just as important as primary industry? The .two must live and build together. There is no doubt that the 10 per cent, depreciation allowance provision was abused, but it would be easy to prevent abuse. I know that many industrialists bought beautiful motor carsand claimed the depreciation allowance in respect of them. But why nol draw up a schedule of those items on which the depreciation allowance, of 40 per cent, .shall be available, Shipping companies ‘have found that the money that they have put aside over the years to provide for the depreciation of their ships has been insufficient to replace them when they have worn out. Industry cannot install modern machinery with the amount of money that it has provided for depreciation. The Government should also reduce the impact of taxation wherever possible. I wanted the federal land tax to be abolished, but it was a very grave error of judgment on the part of the Government when it decided recently to remove the tax. If the Government had £6,000,000 to spare it could have helped to stabilize the basic wage by putting that money to much better use than the remission of land tax. That action will not assist the economy of the country very much.
The Government will have to examine its own expenditure very closely. The Government has told the Premiers of the States to examine the. priority of their works. From February to June of this year those Premiers who have visited Canberra have walked up the steps of Parliament House and seen at least nine men working on the King George VI. Memorial. Why were those men doing that work which could have been done in ten years time? How can the Government request the States to terminate less essentia] work when every Premier who has walked up the steps of Parliament House has seen those men working on the memorial? The works that are being carried out for the Australian Government should be closely examined. I saw a structure being erected for tho
National Library. I believe that it is a vault for books. Surely its construction could wait for a few years. The Government should take very possible action to reduce costs. It should substitute a purchase tax for the sales tax. Sales tax is collected at the point at which the goods pass from the wholesaler to the retailer. After the retailer buys his goods he fixes his profit as a percentage of their wholesale cost plus the sales tax. The Government should substitute a purchase tax for the sales tax for the collection of which the retailer should be responsible. The Government has plenty of economic advisers. Their role is not to formulate economic policy; their function is to do the hard work of investigating economic conditions, ascertaining the real problems and suggesting solutions of them. It is always the duty of the government of the day to make the necessary decisions. Although it requires a lot of courage on the part of any administration to make a thoroughgoing overhaul of accepted economic policies, I think that the effort would be well worth while. For one thing, I think the Government should review objectively the whole policy and incidence of customs and excise taxation.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with an amendment.
In committee (Consideration of House of Representatives’ amendment) :
Clause 23 (Application of Amendments).
House of Representatives’ Amendment - -
Leave out the clause, insert the following clause in lieu thereof: - “ 23. Pensions at the rates payable under the Principal Act, as amended by this Act, are payable from and including the second day of October, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-two.”.
Motion (by Senator Cooper) proposed -
That the amendment be agreed to.
– On behalf of the Opposition I intimate that it does not oppose the amendment, because, following a private discussion that I had with the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), I understand that our concurrence will accelerate payment of the increased pension rates. However, I deplore the fact that the Government has not seen fit to increase still further the pension rates concerned and to make the new rates retrospective. Some considerable time ago the Government announced that the increases contemplated under the bill would become effective early in August of this year. Two months have since elapsed without the date of payment of the increases being fixed, and pensioners have expressed considerable dissatisfaction. I suggest that the Government might have shown greater anxiety to give pensioners the benefit of these increases by giving priority to this measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported ; report adopted.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I had dealt briefly with current economic trends, and I had brought to the notice of the Senate the state of affairs that has arisen in the major States in connexion with their public works projects. In reply to an interjection by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), I said that a number of corrective measures could be adopted. Admittedly, the present economic situation is so critical that the Government is compelled to gnaw at the edges of the problem rather than attempt to administer any major remedy. When I suggested certain corrective measures that could be taken, I had in mind that the Government must accept the principal’ responsibility for the present spiral of rising costs, which is the chief bugbear of our economy.
In most States the major problem confronting the governments is the unsatisfactory financial condition of their railway systems. For example, the Railway Commissioner of New South Wales has to contend next year with an increased expenditure of £8,000,000. Of that huge sum, no less than £4,000,000 will be needed to meet increased wages. The dilemma in which he is placed indicates the desperate need for some measure r,o restrain costs from increasing and to stabilize wages. I have already pointed out that it is neither just nor equitable to reduce wages if costs are left uncontrolled because, after all, the basic wage is determined primarily by fluctuations of the cost of living. It is vital, therefore, to control costs, and with that end in view I make a number of suggestions to the Government.
First of all, I believe that it is vitally important to restore the former tax concession which exempted industrialists from paying tax on 40 per cent, of the value of their plant. During the 1951 election campaign the Australian Labour party undertook to restore that concession if returned to office. Athough the antiLabour parties profess to. be the friends of industry they have not restored that concession. Admittedly, many unscrupulous industrialists have taken unfair advantage of the concession, but I believe that opportunities for evasion could be reduced by compiling a careful schedule of the types of plant in respect of which the concession could be ‘properly claimed. Because of our comparatively Small labour force, it is of vital importance to the economy of this country that our industrialists should employ the most modern equipment. In order to encourage them to do so the Government should offer them every reasonable concession.
One result of the failure of this Government to restore that former tax concession has been that many large industrial firms are continuing to employ obsolete and inefficient plant because they have not been able to accumulate sufficient reserves to replace it with more modern machinery. We had a very good example of that recently, when a shipping firm announced that;, because of the depreciated value of money, it had been unable to accumulate sufficient money to build a new vessel to replace a very old ship that had been providing a valuable shipping service for many years. The firm stated that it had no alternative but to discontinue the service formerly provided by the old vessel.
I also pointed out that it is necessary to reduce the incidence of taxation wherever possible, and. I mentioned particularly the important subject of sales tax. The landed cost in Australia of a motor car may be £600, but by the time customs duties, agents’ commission and advertising and other expenses are added, the price of the car is probably about £1,100. The ultimate purchaser of the car is required to pay sales tax, not “upon £600, the original landed cost of the car, but upon the inflated price of £1,100. That is typical of the many economic injustices suffered by members of the community, and is the kind of matter I had in mind when I suggested earlier that the Government should request its economic experts to make a thoroughgoing investigation of our present economy.
Undoubtedly, one of the major problems confronting us is the reduction of our general costs structure. Our present system, which permits an almost unlimited number of “middlemen” to exact their profit from imported goods before they are sold to the public, is responsible for the unwarrantably high cost of so many goods to-day. An article which is landed in Australia at an inclusive cost of, say, £100, may be liable to customs duty of perhaps £20. Unfortunately, by the time it has passed through half a dozen hands the member of the public who purchases it has to pay about £200 for it. The first impetus given to the price increase spiral is the imposition of £20 customs duty when the article is landed here.
Senator -Maher. - But that has always been the case, and obtained even during the Labour regime.
– That is so, but the impact upon the national economy of thai system has never been so damaging as it is in our present perilous economic position. I am not purporting to place before the Government detailed plans for reducing the present high level of cost, nor is it my function to do so. I am merely adumbrating a few proposals that I feel should be examined by the Government’s economic advisers with a view to reducing the present inordinately high cost of living.
In the first place, the Government should appoint one of its economic experts to investigate the whole effect upon our economy of the ‘ present incidence of customs duty. The first thing that the Government would have to determine is the amount of revenue that it needs to obtain from customs duty. Suppose it requires £62,000,000 from that source. The investigating expert would then have to devise the best means for obtaining that money from customs duty. In other words, he would advise the Government what method of raising that money would inflict the least harm on our economy.
Senator Maher, who interjected a few moments ago, said that many of our present economic injustices have continued for a long time. Of course, they have! May I remind him that some of the injustices under which the Opposition in this chamber are suffering have also continued for a long time ? For example, the motion of dissent from a ruling of the President (Senator Mattner), which was submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) many weeks ago, has not yet been debated. The mere fact that something wrong or imperfect has continued for 50 years is no justification for our not attempting to correct it now.
I do not minimize the difficulty or the complexity of the economic problems confronting the Government, and, as a responsible member of the Parliament, I realize the need for the Government to obtain sufficient revenue from customs and excise duties. However, the point that I am endeavouring to make is that it should be possible for the Government, by employing its expert advisers on economic research, to obtain the revenue that it requires without increasing the general cost structure. Another important economic problem that should be investigated is1 the incidence of pay-roll tax, which adds greatly to our industrial costs.
The Government has already announced its intention to discontinue the system of uniform taxation. One inevitable result of that decision will be to increase the aggregate amount collected in taxes from the community, and thereby increase the cost of living. It is sheer cowardice for the present Government to abandon the present system of uniform taxation. Indeed, its decision to do so is but another instance of its cowardliness ever since it assumed office in 1949. “ Selfassessment” is a very nice term. It instantly commends itself to all of us. When the self-assessment method of tax assessment was introduced we said to ourselves, “ This is a good thing. It will save trouble and expense because the work of accounts will be much less “. The result is, however, that accountants have much more work to do than they had previously. In fact, twice the work is now necessary. It is almost impossible for the ordinary small business man to handle tax matters.” That is another burden which the Government has placed on industry, and which should be removed.
Many business concerns at the present time find that they are unable to pay their income tax and are obliged to go to the Taxation Branch to ask for time to pay. Sometimes the department graciously consents, and at other times it does so not quite so graciously, but in each instance it charges 6 per cent, on the amount of unpaid tax. If will not allow companies to, go to banks and obtain overdrafts for the purpose of meeting their tax commitments. It insists that 6 per cent, must be paid on unpaid taxes.
– That is not quite accurate.
– It is as accurate as any one in this chamber can state the position. I shall develop that theme. The legislation provides that overdrafts shall not be used to pay overdue taxes.
– That is not correct.
– It is absolutely correct. In order to pay the 6 per cent, interest, it is necessary for the firm to earn income at the rate of almost 12 per cent. That means that a tremendous burden is being placed on industry. I point out that if the Taxation Branch wishes to purchase business premises for its own purposes it takes possession of the property and pays only 3 per cent, on the money which it owes to the owner of the property. It will be futile for Senator Maher to say that that also happened when Labour was in office. I point out to the honorable senator that in those days business firms could approach banks for credit and could obtain loans to pay their tax commitments.
– What happened if they were not able to find the money?
– They were able to find it because there was then, public confidence. I suggest that if the Government wishes to restore confidence it would be wise to examine these matters to which I have referred.
The lack of confidence in the Government has almost ruined our export markets. The only way in which we can obtain value for the products of our secondary industries is to manufacture them overseas. Already we have outpriced ourselves on our home markets. For more than 150 years Great Britain amassed wealth by exploiting British brains and technical “ know-how “ in other countries of the world. The United Kingdom was struck a heavy blow when it was forced to use its dollar holdings before America came into World War II. Its overseas incomes disappeared and its economy was placed on a completely different level. Australia is now at a stage of its history when it should encourage Australian industry to move into South-East Asia. I have had the pleasure to see in Singapore two outstanding Australian industries developing wealth for this country. The first is the great Australian Consolidated Industries Limited, which has established glass-making plants in Singapore and which employs nearly 1,000 people there. It plans to commence production of bottles and glassware in Bangkok this month and eventually to manufacture glassware in Indonesia. The other firm is the Hume Pipe Company (Australia) Limited. Honorable senators may remember that for some years Mr. A. J”. McLachlan, who is the 1-o.ad of that firm, led the Government in (he Senate. This is a tremendous business in Singapore.
I suggest that we should establish outside of Australia a branch of every possible business undertaking that is operating here, and use Australian brains and “ know-how “ overseas in order to build up our economic strength. Internal costs of production are increasing so rapidly that our secondary industries cannot compete with those of other countries of tie world, which is a tragic position. I have seen a letter from one of the big companies in Singapore to which I have referred, which stated that it could absorb all the excess metal products that are difficult to sell in Australia.. However, it costs 25 per cent, more to take goods from any part of the east coast of Australia to Singapore than it does to take them from London to Singapore, which is twice the distance. Consequently, the merchants of the United Kingdom are moving into that market which should be exclusively Australian.
When the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) made his budget speech recently he stated that the turn-round of ships is now faster and that congestion on the wharfs has eased. I point out that the excuse repeatedly given by shipping companies for increased freights has been congestion on the wharfs and slow turnround of ships. Trade is a complex matter, and some tough gentlemen engage in it. I am inclined to think that freight charges have been deliberately increased on the Australian coast in order to give protection to goods coming from the other side of the world. While the Australian Government is content to sit idly by, such a state of affairs will continue, but for the future of Australia it is necessary that freight costs - should be decreased. It is of little avail for the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) to blame the Communists for high costs. I agree that a percentage of high costs is attributable to Communists, but I suggest that most of it is due to dilapidated wharfs, archaic loading facilities, and so on. In my opinion, Australian shipping companies have increased freights far too much.
On the question of restoring confidence in our economy, I suggest that the Government should do something about government loans, although I admit that I am not quite sure what should be done.
After all, this Government dealt a deathblow to the loan market when the Treasurer went to the wailing wall and told the people that there was no confidence in the loan market. However, one or two things might be done which, although expensive, may ultimately be cheap. I think the Government should consider making government loans available to probate. Because the economy is in a desperate position at the moment, desperate measures must be taken. Another suggestion is that government loans should be convertible at current interest rates. The Government destroys overnight the equity of people who trust it and invest in government loans, and then wonders why the public will not subscribe to subsequent loans. The investor of £1,000 who finds that his investment is now worth only £900 says to himself, “ They will not rob me again “. The same reasoning is applied to semigovernmental loans. Despite the fact that semi-governmental bodies offer the highest rate of interest of the last twenty years their loans are not filled. I contend that almost any measures are warranted in order to restore confidence in the loan market.
– Many people who acquired government stock at a heavy discount would gain a great advantage if the honorable senator’s plan were adopted.
– They should not be allowed to acquire it at a great advantage. That is a problem for the Government to solve. I suggest also that government securities might be used to pay taxes. However, with a government such as this, it is not possible to determine the nominal value of government bonds from one month to the next.
When I say that the major problem of this Government lies in its leadership, I am not being in the slightest degree personal. If a man accepts responsibility as Prime Minister or Treasurer, he automatically accepts the possibility of being criticized. In our present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) we have one of the greatest speakers of all time. That fact constitutes one of our greatest problems. The right honorable gentleman has been making speeches and has not worried about who has been carrying out hi# instructions.
– He can wipe the floor with the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt).
– In speeches !
– j. rise to a point of order. I suggest that the honorable senator is grossly out of order in casting a reflection on the Prime Minister.
– Order ! I do not think that Senator Armstrong has transgressed. I leave the matter to his very good judgment. After all, I assume that he is aware of parliamentary procedure.
– Thank you, Mr. President. I should not transgress in that direction for the world.
– It is part of the “ Commo “ plan. There is a whispering campaign against the Prime Minister.
– I am not whispering. I am shouting my remarks to a relatively full attendance of honorable senators. I repeat that the Prime Minister is a wonderful speaker. When the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) contends that the right ^ honorable gentleman is a. better speaker than the Leader of the Opposition, I instantly give in. I agree that he is a much better speaker. It is very nice to see loyalty, but it is a little . tragic when it is misguided. I admire the qualities of the Prime Minister as a speaker. The golden words fall from his lips like the water flows over the Niagara Palls. There is no limit. This country needs some one who will give us action. I am reminded of what was said years ago by a rising young cleric, Sydney Smith, about, a great British Prime Minister. His words were as follows: -
I must say he was one of the most luminous eloquent blunderers with which any people was ever afflicted. For fifteen years I have found ray income dwindling away under his eloquence, and regularly in every session of Parliament he has charmed every classical feeling and stript me of every guinea. At the close of every brilliant display an expedition failed or a kingdom fell . . God give us a stammerer!
Tremendous problems face this nation to-day, and, quite frankly, I believe that a stammerer might be able to solve them.
We have had two and a half years of eloquence, and where has it got the nation? The people are completely bereft of confidence. Their hopes for the future have been dulled for the first time in fifteen years. Although we need many more hundreds of thousands of immigrants to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the development of this land, the tempo of the immigration programme is being slowed. The wheels of industry, too, are slowing. Production is declining instead of increasing. Men and women who have the will and energy to labour are out of work. Great public works programmes, including water conservation and hydro-electric schemes and the extension of our railway systems, are being abandoned. The Australian people now realize that the blame for all this rests upon the eloquent blunderer who has brought this country to the verge of very difficult times.
.- The failure of any Government supporter to seek the call when Senator Armstrong concluded his speech indicates that honorable senators opposite have given up the ghost. They have altered their tactics. We heard a fine oration from Senator Armstrong, who stated arguments that have not been advanced by either side during this debate. ITe presented his case from the viewpoint of a business man and honorable senators opposite are apparently unable to say a word in reply. It is clear that their complacency has gone. There was a time when the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), for instance, would give a brief “No” or “ Yes “ in answer to a question. Now he takes the opportunity when the proceedings of the Senate are being broadcast to make long explanatory speeches about questions. Other Ministers follow his example. “ Dorothy Dix “ questions are being asked by honorable senators opposite. In reply to one such question to-day, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) took nearly a quarter of an hour to give an explanation which was sheer propaganda from start to finish. Ministers who hitherto have always assured us that, politically, everything in the Govern ment’s garden was lovely, have apparently changed their opinion. They have discovered that the electors are “not likely to agree to return them to office. A team of experts from the ranks of the Government parties will go to the Flinders electorate shortly to whip up popular support. The Government did not worry about other by-elections. Its attitude was “ The people will back us up “ ; but it now finds that the people are not backing it up, and it is making an effort to raise its own stocks.
I am most concerned at the Government’s action in seeking finance overseas. The budget forecast that a 50,000,000 dollar loan would be raised. We have already had a 100,000,000 dollar loan, not all of which has been expended. Once again we are being assured that dollar loan funds will be used only to purchase capital equipment that cannot bo manufactured in Australia or obtained from the sterling area; but I say emphatically that some of the goods that I have seen . brought to this country from America could be manufactured in Australia. I have also seen operating in Great Britain earth-moving equipment of a type that we are told can only be purchased in the United States of America. Why is the’ Government buying this equipment from the United States of America? I do not question the sincerity of the Government’s belief in its objective, but I differ from honorable senators opposite about the merits of that objective. I believe that behind the American dollar loans to this country, is a desire on the part of certain interests in the United States of America to get control of our economy. Certain conditions are being attached, to the dollar loans. It is said, of course, that the loans are being obtained from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. That bank arranges the loans, but the money comes from American financial institutions. Since our dollar loans commenced, there has been a remarkable sequence of events.
We have found that American interests are poking their noses into the development of our uranium resources. The Government, of course, assures us that it is making all the necessary arrangements to protect Australia’s interests, but I have seen an American plant which supposedly was unobtainable anywhere else in the world, and every item of that plant could have been mann.factured in Australia. We are paying 1,000,000 dollars for that plant to treat the ores from our uranium deposits. I have said before in this chamber ‘ that in. the separation of minerals Australian technique is second to none in the world. Australian authorities on this work have written treatises that have been published throughout the world, and certain methods that have been evolved here have become standard practice in other countries, including the United States of America. I refer particularly to the separation of the refractory ores. Why do we need American plant to handle our uranium? I repeat that every bit of that plant could be manufactured in Australia. We even have facilities to carry out the electrolytic processes involved in mineral separations. Admittedly the bombardment of fissionable material is a different matter, but we need no American help in the provision of equipment and plant to produce uranium. Throughout the oil age we have been unable to find oil in this country. The one small source of petrol and other power spirits that we did have at Glen Davis has been closed down by this Government. It is true that the spirit was being produced at high cost, but the smashing of that “project leaves this country entirely dependent on imported oil.
Australia’s uranium deposits are probably greater than those of any other country. I have seen reports on uranium finds overseas including countries where fissionable material is found in pitch blende and I still believe that the Australian deposits, are superior; yet the Government is making arrangements to have them exploited by the United States of America, not for the benefit of Australia, but for the benefit of certain American interests who wish to control the economic destinies of this and other countries. Apparently one condition of the dollar loans that has been laid, down by the United States of America is that the Australian Government must get rid of government enterprises. That is why the Government is selling its interest in organizations such as Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, which honorable senators opposite have supported for so long. The parties which now form the Government were also in office when Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was established in 1921.. To-day, because of the machinations of certain overseas interests, honorable senators opposite are prepared to sell vital public undertakings. The excuse is that Commonwealth participation in organizations such as Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is of doubtful constitutional validity; but no one has challenged the Commonwealth on that matter, and so nobody knows whether the Commonwealth has acted constitutionally or not. It is always possible, of course, to find one lawyer who will say one thing, and another lawyer who will say something else. The fact remains that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has operated for more, than 30 years without challenge. The explanation now given for the sale of the Commonwealth’s shares is, “ We do not believe in public enterprises, so we propose to hand the matter over to private enterprise “.
I am pleased that at least the Government has decided to allow an Australian mining company to exploit the uranium deposits at Rum Jung!?. It should, go further and stipulate that processing plants used for the separation of uranium from the other ores contained in the deposits shall be manufactured in Australia and not imported from the United States of America. The deposits at Rum Jungle contain large quantities of copper and other ores which should be extracted in Australia with Australian-made equipment. The value of the copper alone should enable the processing company to extract the uranium without cost to the Government. At a time when many Australians are looking for work we. should not export, the ores from Australia in an unrefined or untreated state. The same remarks apply to the uranium deposits at Radium Hill and adjacent areas in South Australia.
We have been told that the Government is protecting Australia’s interests. I am sure that the Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, will go to the greatest lengths to protect the interests of the people of his State; hut the Commonwealth has overriding powers in this matter. The machinery and equipment used for the extraction of uranium at Radium Hill and adjacent areas was imported from the United States of America. It should have been manufactured in Australia. I trust that the Government will issue directions that the refractory ores mined at Rum Jungle and elsewhere shall be extracted in Australia and that Australian-made plant shall be used for the purpose.
Recently you, Mr. President, received one of the copies of the Magna Carta, known as the inspeximus copy made in 1297, for preservation in the archives of the Parliament. On that occasion appropriate speeches were made about the importance of the principles of Magna Carta under which every Britisher was protected against imprisonment without trial. We are jealous, and rightly so, of those principles; but the freedom inherent in them is being denied to many Australian citizens. To-day, young men are being imprisoned without trial. I refer to the exercise of the military power against young boys who have been called up for national service training. Provision has been made in the Defence Act that those who conscientiously object to the rendering of military service may appear before a civil judge to explain the reasons for their objection. After hearing the case the judge may order a conscientious objector to serve in a combatant capacity or in a non-combatant capacity, or he may direct that the man concerned be exempted from military service. After a conscientious objector has been instructed to serve in a non-combatant capacity he is handed over to the military authorities and immediately loses his freedom. At present there is a national service trainee in Holsworthy camp who has been fined on two occasions because he has refused to wear a military uniform. The young man has not been CoUrtmartialled nor has he been given an opportunity to explain why he refuses to wear a military uniform. He was moved from Woodside camp, near Adelaide, to Holsworthy where he has been subjected to treatment of the kind that those who support the Government contend is meted out to certain persons in Russia, China, Korea and other countries.
– The man concerned has appeared before a court.
– Yes, and he was fined; but since he has been handed over to the military authorities he has again been fined.
– He was not fined by the court.
– I wonder whether the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) has examined the case. (Senator Kendall.- It is as well that there are not too many young men of his kind in Australia; otherwise the honorable senator would not be here. He does not know what he is talking about.
– The boy first appeared before the court and was fined for having refused to comply with the law. I do not quarrel with that decision. Subsequently, he was handed over to the military authorities and, although he has not since been courtmartialled, he has been fined and virtually isolated at the correction camp at Holsworthy.
– What would the honorable senator, have done in similar circumstances ?
– Government supporters have at all times upheld the right of appeal. This boy has been punished simply because his religious belief makes him abhor war and fighting of all kind.
– He was not asked to fight. He was given non-combatant duties.
– He is being coerced to don a uniform and learn to fight.
-Hear, hear !
– It is all very well for Senator Maher te 3ay, “ Hear, hear ! “ He should uphold the principles of Magna Carta and insist that the Government should grant to this boy the right of appeal against decisions made against and penalties imposed upon him. Does the Government think it will be able to break down the lad’s resistance by isolating him in a correction camp? This boy prays night and morning to his Maker to give him strength to withstand the iniquities that have been heaped upon him. Honorable senators opposite are so enamoured of war that they are prepared to condone the Government’s action in denying elementary justice to those who disagree with them. Why should a lad be penalized simply because he practises the axioms of Christianity as he understands them?
– Australian soldiers are fighting in Korea for the preservation of the principles of freedom under which a conscientious objector to military service is given every consideration.
– The honorable senator knows that I firmly believe that our boys should never have been sent to Korea. That is not the issue in this matter. The question at issue is the justice of granting a right of appeal against penalties imposed on young men who conscientiously object to undergoing military training.
An investigation should also be made of conditions that exist in the so-called correction camp at Holsworthy. I do not make any charges, nor shall I indulge in the sort of wild statements that were made by some honorable senators opposite about correction camps in Europe during the war. I am well aware that high Army officers will assure us that everything is as it should be in our correction camps. I am not satisfied with that assurance. An investigation should be made to ensure that improper practices are not followed.
– What is wrong with the practices that are followed at the correction camps?
– I do not make a specific charge. I urge the Government to have the position investigated.
– How could it be altered?
– The name correction camp “ could be altered.
Honorable senators interjecting,
– Order ! I hope that it shall not become necessary for me to administer correction in this chamber.
– Much has been said about the inflationary trend. I shall now direct my attention to an aspect, of the matter that has been mentioned only superficially by Senator Armstrong. I refer to the special accounts of the Commonwealth Rank. Last year the Government encouraged imports into this country in order to combat inflation. I believe that supporters of the Government sincerely thought that that was a desirable course to follow, but the private trading banks were unable to provide to the business community all of the finance that was necessary to meet their import commitments. Arrangements were then made for amounts to be transferred from the special accounts of the Commonwealth Bank to the private banks. It is true that that money did, in fact, belong to the private banks, but until then they had been required to pay interest on amounts advanced to them’ from the special accounts. Within a period of three months approximately £250,000,000 was transferred from the special accounts to the private trading banks, in order to enable the business interests to meet their import commitments. The Government then found that the encouragement of imports had not had the effect of reducing the inflationary tendency, and it thereupon drastically curtailed imports. In the first place, the Government’s action in bringing in large quantities of imported . goods-
– The Government did not import the goods.
– I withdraw that statement. The Government only abolished capital issues .control, removed restrictions on credit, and gave to the business community an open go to import goods, in the belief that that would have a deflationary effect and result in reductions of prices.
– Does the honorable senator blame the Government for the increase of wool prices 1
– -No ; wool has nothing to do with the matter, except that had the banks received the proceeds from the sale of our wool overseas they would have been able to finance the imparts. To-day, by means of the Commonwealth Bank Board, the private trading banks exercise control over the Commonwealth Bank. The huge withdrawals from the special accounts of the Commonwealth Bank caused secondary inflation. Each of the measures that the Government has introduced to combat inflation has failed, and now it intends to try something else. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) stated in his budget speech - . . the main objects of the proposed amendments will be to remedy certain dangers inherent in the current provisions relating to the special account system, and to ensure that the trading activities of the Commonwealth Bank do not involve unfair competition with the trading banks.
At the time that the Treasurer made that statement only £192,000,000 remained in the special accounts, which had been reduced by almost £400,000,000. There was no apparent danger from a paltry £192,000,000 remaining in the special accounts.
I consider that the Government’s proposal to bring down a bill in relation to the special accounts of the Commonwealth Bank is a subterfuge to conceal its real intention, which is to transfer the control of the Commonwealth Bank to the private trading banks. Everyone who has had dealings with the Commonwealth Bank knows perfectly well that that bank does not engage in unfair competition with the private trading banks. Prior to the 1949 general election the private trading banks had made it clear to the Liberal and Country parties that they wished to obtain control of the Commonwealth Bank, and already they are dictating the policy of the Government parties. I am convinced that some of the measures that have been taken by the Government, ostensibly to curb inflation; ‘have been inspired by the private trading banks.
More men are now carrying their swags through the country districts in search of work than at any other time since 1938. When I was driving to Canberra from Adelaide to attend this sitting of the Senate, I saw at least two or three swagmen on the outskirts of almost every town. They were carrying not the old-type swag, but suitcases and military kitbags. When I asked some of the men where they were going they told me that they were walking to places where they believed that employment was available. ‘ I firmly believe that the present serious unemployment position has been brought about by the dictation of the financial institutions to the Government parties. It is of no use for supporters of the Government to contend that the unemployment situation is not serious. The Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) admitted about a month ago that approximately 40,000 men were unemployed in this country. I have read a report to the effect that another 19,000 applicants for employment have been registered since the Minister made that statement. Whenever questions are asked about the unemployment situation Ministers slur over the position and cite figures in relation to the number of persons who are in receipt of unemployment benefit. On the occasion to which I have referred, the Attorney-General also stated that about 12,000 persons were receiving unemployment benefit. The Treasurer has referred several times to the number of persons who are receiving unemployment benefit instead of to the number of applicants registered for employment. In the past it has been possible to ascertain from the Commonwealth Employment Service at the end of each month the number of registrations for employment. However, it is not now possible to ascertain the figures monthly.
– The practice still obtains.
– I have been unable to obtain the monthly figures for some time past.
– They have been circulated to honorable senators.
– If that is so, Ministers should be able to cite figures of registrations for employment rather than the number of persons in receipt of unemployment benefits. Supporters of the Government cannot dodge the issue, because honorable senators who come into contact with the workers know that unemployment is now prevalent. It is true that in some instances persons may be unemployed for only short periods, but I point out that the loss of wages for only a week reduces the standard of living of a worker, and will ultimately reduce the standard >of living of the people generally. I believe that that conforms with the policy of the financial institutions of this country and of the Government.
The Government has not taken any constructive action to restore value to the £1. As unemployment increases, the people will become even more distrustful than they are at present of governments and parliamentary institutions. If the. Government continues .to apply its present policy it will lose the confidence of more of the people and ultimately force them into a revolutionary process. They will seek some other way of overcoming their difficulties.
This afternoon, in reply to a question, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) gave an illustration of the attitude of mind of the Government when he said that he believed that Commonwealth loans at the market price, which is about £15 below their original price, were a very good investment. In other words, people who can buy bonds now make a good investment at the expense of the people who subscribed during the years when the country was in trouble and the Government floated war loans and security loans. Some of these people may now be out of work and if they sell their bonds they will lose £15 in every £100 that they had saved. If that is the idea behind the Government’s policy I cannot subscribe to it. The Government has stated that there should be a return to private enterprise. Yet Senator Scott has said that the Government should finance the operations of private enterprise in the north west of Australia. The Government should finance private enterprise! Senator Scott desires that the Government should take the risk of losing its money while private enterprise takes the profits. Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited shares are now being sold at half their actual worth.
– They are not.
– The last balance sheet of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited shows that the company had about £12,000,000 worth of assets, yet the Government proposes to sell its shares in the company for about £2,000,000. The Government’s shares should be worth at least half of the company’s assets. But the Government has sold its interest in this company to organizations which, will combine to rip more profit out of the people than they are getting to-day. The Government believes in that policy because it believes in private enterprise. The Government decided to alter the control of the Commonwealth Bank in order to assist the private banking institutions to exploit the people. The Government believes that the Commonwealth Bank should be used, not for the development of the natural resources of this country, but to help the private banking institutions to issue credit and exploit any development that might take place for private enterprise which is not concerned with the welfare of the people. The Opposition will do all that it can to stop this from taking place although there is little that it can do as an Opposition. We might be able to induce one or two Government supporters who have .some feeling of human kindness to realize that the Government’s policy is wrong. But most of the Government .supporters do not think about these matters and I do not consider that they will help us to defeat the objective of the Government. As a result, the Government will bring about a greater lack of confidence on the part of the people. Government supporters may ask how the country is to be developed in view of the fact that the necessary finance cannot be obtained from loans. The actions of the Government have resulted in the loan market failing to respond to its request for money. I do not think that any government at the present moment could obtain all the loan money that it requires.
– The Minister for National Development himself said that that was a test of confidence in the Government.
– Yes. The Government will have to extend its use of national credit whether it likes doing so or not. It did that last year because of the exigencies of the occasion, although it did not like taking such action. It had previously used every possible argument against the Opposition when we suggested that more credit should be used. The Government has now admitted that it might have to use a little more. It will have to do so. There is no other way out. The Government cannot stop the development of this country because that would bring about a revolutionary situation. When the Government looks for a way out of its difficulty it will again embrace the socialist idea. The private banks will force it into that position so that they will be’ able to dictate the policy pf the country at a later date. The banks visualize the return of a Labour government and they want to be able to dictate to ‘ that government as they dictated to the Labour Government in 1931. On that occasion the Government could not resist the demands of the banks, because they had control of the finances of this country. They are trying to gain that control again. The Government believes that it is right that they should do so. The Government will be forced to rise the national credit and it will not uac its revenue for the purpose of cancelling out that credit as the Labour Government did. It will allow the banks to, cancel it out by supplying the Government with loan money. The banks are gradually working the Government into that position, not because they love it but because they hate Labour and they think that they may be able to use their influence in the future to make the people abandon the Labour party. They always steal the goose that lays the golden eggs. When they do this they will force into existence a more revolutionary party than ours. The Government and the Parliament will gradually be eliminated aud something else put in their place.
I have heard it said by university lecturers that there is a governing class and that they train it. AH over the world, governing classes are receiving some little kicks from ‘ behind. They are learning that they are not governing quite as well as they used to govern, and that they are not able to do everything that they want to do, because when they have gone a certain way they clash with a governing class in some other country. The result is war, and after wars come degradation and despair. The situation develops until there are world wars, more people maimed, more trouble in the homes and more degradation. This state of affairs is brought about by people who believe in private enterprise. Senator Wright ridiculed the control of prices. He said, in his inimitable style, that the Roman Empire had introduced prices control and that it had disintegrated. He said that prices control was of no use in those days and that it was of no use in these enlightened days. He did not mention that prices where fixed in the RomanEmpire only for the benefit of the ruling classes and their henchmen. It did not apply to the mass of the people. The Opposition advocates prices control - or cost control - on behalf of the whole of the people for the stabilization of the economy. We do not consider that prices control can restore the value of the £1 - even to its 1949 level. That is not possible. But it could stabilize the economy and it would not then be necessary for the courts to reduce wages. The fact is that prices and costs can, and should, be stabilized, even at to-day’s levels, although admittedly those levels are too high. Prices and costs are dependent, of course, upon the prices of the commodities set out in the regimen on which the cost of living is determined for the purpose of fixing the basic wage. .
If the anti-Labour parties really wanted to stabilize our economic structure they would do two things. First, they would re-introduce economic control by the Commonwealth Government. Secondly, they would abandon their policy of untrammelled freedom for private enterprise to do as it likes, replacing it by a firm policy of outright government enterprise. I remind them that although the Prime Minister stated sometime ago that he had devised the solution of our economic problem, no successful corrective action has yet been taken by the Government.
Our economy is concerned principally with the price of commodities and goods produced in this country, and our general cost structure is not greatly influenced by the price of imported goods. With the exception of sulphur and one or two other commodities that still require to be imported because no substitutes for them have yet been devised in this country, we are, or should be, completely independent of the prices of imports. If we can satisfactorily control the prices of goods manufactured in this country, it follows that we shall be able to bring our price structure under control.
When I prepared the notes for my speech I included in them quite a variety of words to condemn the inconsistencies, ineptitude, and breaches of faith of this Government. However, I have abandoned the expressions I had intended to use, because since then the press has published certain articles which employ a much wider vocabulary of criticism. than even I had intended to use. For example, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, which I had occasion to criticize some years ago, has roundly condemned the Government. The heading of the editorial in to-day’s issue of that newspaper reads : “ Artie’s thimble and pea trick” - which prompts me to speculate whether any of us have yet been able to find the pea under any of the thimbles. The article states: “The Federal Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) stands unchallenged as Australia’s greatest confidence man “.
– Does the honorable senator believe that statement?
– I believe every word of it. I think the Treasurer is juggling the thimble and the pea all the time in his taxation policy. I commend the rest of the article,’ which contains some choice comments on the Treasurer, to the attention of honorable senators opposite. Quite recently I had occasion to draw the attention of the Minister representing the Treasurer to an article that appeared in the Sydney Sunday Herald, which stated -
Fadden has forsaken more principles. Sir Arthur Fadden has let himself be pushed further along the road to repudiation of his expressed principles - the principles for which a once-trusting nation elected him to office. There is evidently no point at which he is prepared to make a stand.
I ‘point out that that criticism emanates, not from members of the Labour party or from the “ have-nots “, but from a newspaper whose shareholders will receive considerable taxation concessions from the Treasurer. Apparently, however, they are still concerned at the fact that he has repudiated his principles.
It will not be long before every member of the present Government will have openly repudiated the principles on which he was elected to office. Every move that the present Government has made has been a failure, and the proposals contained in this budget will also be failures. The Government has been forced into this position by the financial controllers; and it ought to have the courage either to implement its own policy or to resign and enable another political party to implement an effective policy to stabilize the economy of this country.
– I congratulate members of the Government because, notwithstanding the frightful economic problems confronting it, and in spite of the lesson learned from recent by-elections that it has forfeited the confidence of the people, they have still retained their sense of humour. If they had not done so they could not possibly have called this an “ incentive budget”. The only incentive for the people provided by this budget will be to stimulate them to get rid of the present Government at the earliest possible opportunity.
What an amazing spectacle we are witnessing in this chamber to-night! Honorable senators opposite are so enthusiastic about their Government’s proposals that they do not even rise to commend them. The Government’s claim that its proposals will give something to the people of Australia can only be equalled by the claim of a thug, who, having assaulted .and robbed his victim of everything he possesses, presents him with the price of a meal, in order to prevent him perishing from starvation, and then claims credit for his kindliness. Last year this Government presented budgetary proposals involving the collection ‘of approximately £1,040,00,0,000. The present budget provides for raising only £950,000,000! Because of this remarkable reduction the Government has the audacity to refer to it as an “ incentive budget “. No wonder honorable senators opposite have ceased to take part in this debate. In the circumstances, they are probably right, from their point of view, in remaining silent.
The anti-Labour parties, which have now been in power for nearly three years, were elected on the promise that they would restore value to the £1, reduce taxes and increase the purchasing power of wages. At election time the anti-Labour parties glow with promises like the proliferation of leaves on a deciduous tree in the springtime. However, when election time passes the promises fall away like the leaves of a deciduous tree in winter.
Not only has the present Government failed utterly to fulfil many of its promises, but under its enlightened leadership, Australia again has, for the first time in many years, a pool of unemployed. Whenever we seek information from Ministers about the degree of unemployment in this country, we are fobbed off with assertions that the proportion of unemployed in this country is not so great as that in other countries. However, I advise members of the antiLabour parties not to be too complacent, because the result of a number of recent by-elections in various States demonstrates that this Government has completely lost the confidence of the people. A good indication of the national feeling was supplied in the State electorate of Ashfield in New South Wales. Although that seat was never previously held by a Labour candidate, Labour had not difficulty in winning it at the very recent by-election.
The present Government has undoubtedly set out to establish a pool of unemployment. The Liberal party and the Australian Country party’ do not believe in full employment. Indeed, that fact is quite clear from the utterances made by various honorable senators opposite from time to time in this chamber. They have stated that full employment is undesirable and dangerous. It is significant that on every occasion that members of the Opposition in this chamber have referred to the degree of unemployment in Australia, honorable senators opposite have endeavoured to evade the issue and to minimize the degree of unemployment. The Melbourne Herald of the 15th September, states, in big headlines, that fewer people now have jobs. An article under that heading reads as follows : -
The number of people in jobs in Australia declined again in July. The latest employment bulletin .by the Commonwealth Statistician reveals this. At the end of July two and a half million had jobs. This is 19,000 fewer than in June and 73,700 fewer than in November 51. The number of people getting unemployment benefit rose from 8,294. in June to 13,6S0 at the end of July. The number in jobs has been decreasing since November, but until July the greater decline was in employment of women as the result of sackings of married women. In July the reduction in the number of male employees - 13,800 - for the first time exceeded the reduction in the number of women employees - 5,200.
I have read that article to indicate to honorable senators that unemployment is definitely increasing. It is small consolation to the people who are losing their jobs to be told by responsible Ministers that a greater degree of unemployment exists in other countries. When the Australian Labour party was in office from 1941 to 1949 it was able to maintain full employment.
As proof that the present Government has deliberately set out to create a pool of unemployment, it is only necessary to refer to the fact that in the House of Representatives on the 22nd February, 1949, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who was then Leader of the Opposition, said that price increases are caused by several factors, two of which concern the worker. Those two factors are inadequate production effort, due to full employment, and the 40-hour week. He also said that “full employment, splendid as it is, tends to reduce production effort per head “. On the 14th May, 1952, the Melbourne Herald published a report which reads as follows : -
Not since the war have so many sought jobs. There are more people looking for jobs in Melbourne than at any time since the end of the second world war. At the same time,, the number of jobs available is falling.
In answer to questions asked in the Senate on this subject recently, the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) stated that the number of persons them receiving unemployment was approximately 13,000 and that the number of jobs available was approximately 31,000. I pointed out to die honorable senator that those figures were fictitious because certain employers adopt the practice of requesting the Commonwealth Employment Service to supply them with a larger number of employees than they actually need, the reason being that they will be able to exercise a selection when the prospective employees arrive in answer to the positions which have been advertised.
I am sure that even little Audrey would burst her sides laughing at the claim that this is an incentive budget. It seems to me that the only people who will benefit from its provisions are the big landowners of Australia, to whom the Government is handing back between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000. Yet the Government considers that it cannot increase the pensions of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, and war widows. Not long ago in this chamber honorable senators witnessed a most interesting spectacle in connexion with land tax. A Tasmanian senator, Senator “Wright, to whom I usually refer as “ Senator Not Wright “, had the temerity to move an amendment to the legislation which had been introduced by the Government he supports. His amendment was supported by other Tasmanian senators on the Government side of the chamber. Yet, within 24 hours, all those Tasmanian senators crawled back into this chamber and voted against the amendment. They had been dressed down in the corridors, one by one, by the Attorney-General. I suggest that that incident reflects great credit on the persuasive powers of the Attorney-General. There is no doubt that he excelled on that occasion in the role of loading lady in “ Corridor Capers “.
– That scene has been given a very nice finale in this budget.
– It was a wonderful scene. Although the AttorneyGeneral excelled in the role that he played, Senator Wright, in the part of the clown, reached greater heights than ever before.
Despite the fact that unemployment is growing daily, the Government exhorts the people to produce more commodities. It is no so long ago that two of Australia’s foremost military experts - the Prime Minister and, the Treasurer (Sir Artur Fadden) - told us that we had only two or three years in which to prepare for war. In view of that pronouncement, I cannot understand why the. Government is now retarding production. Indeed, it is actually sabotaging Australia’s war potential. It proposes to sell or to give away the ships which belong to the Australian people. I cannot imagine anything that would be of greater benefit to the nation in the event of war than a fleet of ships owned and operated by the Government. The Government is also doing its best to clip the wings of Trans-Australia Airlines. The private airlines of Australia are holding a gun at the head of the Government and are demanding certain concessions, to the detriment of Trans-Australia Airlines. In addition, the Government has disposed of the Glen Davis oil refinery. It has given away to private individuals and its supporters the people’s shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. It has sold the people’s shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited.
I suggest that the Government is acting in a manner similar to that of a defeated military force. It is adopting a scorched policy in favour of the vested interests who returned it to ‘power because it appreciates that the -people of Australia have lost confidence in it, and it will not be in power much longer. Further evidence of that fact will be provided on the 18th October, when the by-election is held in Flinders. It knows that it has not long to remain in office, and is intent on doing as much damage as possible before it goes. In my opinion, the disposal of the assets to which I have referred has been undertaken in the interests of the interests which put the Government in power.
One could be pardoned for thinking that if this is really an incentive budget honorable senators opposite would attempt to prove the truth of that claim. However, despite the justifiable criticism of the Government by honorable senators on this side of the chamber, and the attacks that have been made on the budget, honorable senators opposite have remained silent. Apparently they are acting under the orders of their leaders. Perhaps they have been told that “ least said is soonest mended “.
I do not suggest that import restrictions are not Sometimes necessary, but surely a responsible government which was in office for almost two and a half years before it introduced such restrictions must have known the trend of the imports position. If it found that restrictions were necessary, surely it is reasonable to expect that arrangements would be made to taper off the restrictions in a proper manner when circumstances permit that to be done. But no; the Government was prepared to let things drift. It did not have a clue, and apparently it did not have a care. Suddenly, it realized that the position was desperate and it clamped down on imports almost overnight. That action caused chaos and confusion at the very time when the Government was pleading, for increased production. We are frequently told by Government supporters that the Australian Loan Council is a democratic body consisting of representatives of the States and of the Commonwealth. It is remarkable, therefore, that, at the council’s last meeting, the unanimous wish of the Premiers that loan allocations be increased was ignored by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was able to dictate its policy to the States with the result that the States were unable to obtain their legitimate requirements of finance. Surely, if the Australian Government were sincere in warning the people that war might be upon us at any moment and in appealing for increased production, it would have used its influence at the Australian Loan Council meeting to ensure that essential State works were not abandoned or severely hampered by lack of finance. In Victoria, the refusal of the Commonwealth to accede to the request of the State Premiers necessitated the dismissal of men from essential undertakings which had been carried on under various governments for many years. I have no doubt that the position in the other States is just as bad.
Surely the Government must realize that projects such as water conservation and hydro-electric schemes are essential if production is to be increased. The following report of the Australian Loan Council’s meeting in May of this year was published in the Melbourne Age: -
Canberra, Friday. - The States ure not likely to have more than £200,000,000 to carry out public works in the 1052-53 financial year.
The amount will consist of a £125,000,000 underwriting guarantee by the Commonwealth from revenue plus what can be obtained from the loan market.
Is it not reasonable to expect that, if money is not obtainable from ordinary revenue sources or from loans, the facilities of the Commonwealth Bank will be used to bridge the gap between the available finance and the loan requirements of the States and the Commonwealth? Could anything be more important to our defence, or to the Government’s plan to increase production, than projects such as those at the Eildon Weir and Morwell, and improved transport facilities in Victoria? Yet we see the extraordinary spectacle of the Government, on the one hand, imploring the Australian people to produce more in order that inflation may be countered and, on the other, denying the States the funds that they require to increase production. Another press report of the Australian Loan Council meeting to which I have referred carried the headlines “ Elat Rejection of State Proposals. Higher Tax and Bank Credit refused”. We all know, of course, that the private banks will not permit the Australian Government to use bank credit. To-day, the private banks are dictating government policy as they did when the Scullin Government was in office during the depression. However, whereas on that occasion the activities of the Commonwealth Bank Board were widely publicized, to-day we seldom hear what the newly established board is doing. Apparently, it is doing just what the previous board did but prefers to remain in the background. Another Melbourne newspaper report of the proceedings of the Australian Loan Council meeting wa.5 headed “ States Bolt on Loans.
Mli Mil- Set; Defy Menzies”. The Government is apparently quite prepared to sacrifice the development of Australia in the interests of the private banking and financial institutions which quite obviously are dictating its policy. Credit restrictions imposed by the Government have made it quite impossible for many people, including large numbers of ex-servicemen, to get the homes they so urgently need. The restriction of loan allocations to the States is making it almost impossible for thousands of exservicemen to be settled on the land; yet we are told that an increase of primary production is an urgent necessity. Figures have been cited to show that Australia faces the unprecedented position of being unable in the not distant future even to feed its own population, far less export food to Great Britain and other needy countries. Merely because this Government is tied to orthodox financial methods, it refuses to use the credit of the national bank at the very time when money is urgently needed for the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land, and for vital developmental works which would do much to bolster our primary production. Any one who has travelled throughout the Commonwealth knows that huge areas await closer settlement. The first essential is an assured water supply. That can be provided only by means of water conservation and irrigation schemes. Ample man-power and materials are available, and if the Government would face the facts and realize the importance of this work, money would be available too.
To develop this country we must be progressive. We cannot continue to rely solely on orthodox methods of finance. The Government should realize that the people of Australia have lost confidence in it. That is evident by the lag in loan subscriptions. Recent loans floated by the Government have had to be underwritten by the Commonwealth Bank. The Government was elected on promises which it knew could not be fulfilled, which it never intended to fulfil, and which it made no attempt to fulfil. Instead, it has done immeasurable damage to this country, particularly by cer- tain actions that it has taken recently,, and it will do further damage by certain actions that it proposes to take in the near future. Members of the Government will go down in history as guilty men. Cabinet Ministers, particularly those who made the decisions, should be tried for treason. They are prepared to give away the people’s assets. An endeavour is being made now to sell the Commonwealth shipping line, just as the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was sold by an earlier government of the same political complexion. Although the ships were sold for a song on that occasion, even the song was not forthcoming when payment was due. We got a little more than the first line of the chorus. When Labour was in office, members of the present Government parties never tired asking us whether we had a mandate from the people to do certain things. I ask honorable senators opposite now whether they were given a mandate to sell the people’s ships, to sell the people’s shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and to close down the Glen Davis shale oil project ? The people were not consulted about any of those transactions. The Government’s shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited were sold for 42s. each when their market value was 53s. Commonwealth participation in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had been carried on under governments of various political colour for 30 years. The people’s shares were sold at the behest of the big oil companies. Those who voted for Government candidates at the last general election have lived to regret their action. In my extensive travels during the last few months I did not meet one person who was willing to admit that he or she had voted for the Menzies Government. The unpopularity of the Government will be reflected in the result of the Flinders by-election on the 18th October.
Not long ago, when Senator Armstrong paid a tribute to the debating ability of the Prime Minister, I recalled that when the right honorable gentleman was asked whether he would seek power from the States and from the people to introduce Commonwealth prices control, he replied,
It is only beating the air to talk about prices control”. The right honorable gentleman should know, for he has never done anything but beat the air. The right honorable gentleman may be a brilliant debater, but there his ability ends. No honorable senator opposite will deny that the promises made by Government spokesmen in 1949, and repeated in 1951, have not been honoured. Not one member or supporter of the Government can claim that it received a mandate to sell the assets of the people in the Commonwealth shipping line, in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and in Amalgamated “Wireless (Australasia) Limited. ‘ This Government is adopting the scorched earth policy that is normally adopted by a retreating defeated military force. Its members and supporters realize that* there is nothing to justify its continued occupation of office. It does not want its supporters to participate in this debate because it does not want, to be committed by anything that they may 9/ in justification of the budget when it faces the electors in .”Flinders.
The budget may be described as the second horror budget of the Menzies Government: but because it contains slight remissions of taxation and provides for slight increases of social services benefits and other payments, honorable senators opposite have acclaimed it as an incentive budget. The Government realizes the perilous position in which it ha3 been placed for a long time. It knows that the people of Australia have lost faith in it and that it is on the way out. It has no hesitation in disposing of the people’s assets to enable it to pay its debts to those who were responsible for its election to office, completely disregarding the fact that by so doing it is jeopardizing the future of Australia. That the Government realizes that it is doomed is evidenced by the failure of Government supporters to attempt to justify the budget. They know and the people know that in the interests of Australia it is high time the Government vacated the treasury bench.
– At this late stage of the debate I do not desire to embark upon a critical analysis of the Government’s budgetary proposals. In spite of the chorus of praise with which the budget has been hailed by Government supporters, they realize in their hearts that it will do nothing to arrest the drift that has taken place in our economy since the Government has been in office. In 1949, when the Chifley Government left office, Australia was enjoying a period of great prosperity. Ir is true that at that time prices showed a tendency to rise, but immediately after the Menzies Government had assumed office they began to skyrocket. In 194SJ the leaders of the non-Labour parties told the people that if they re-elected the Chifley Government their liberties would be placed in jeopardy. They said, “ Do not trust the Labour party”. The people were misled and elected the Menzies Government, with the result that in less than three years hundreds of thousands of them have lost their employment.
I derive no pleasure from indicting the Government for its misdeeds. I realize that the problems that face it are great and are difficult of solution. I condemn it because it has been content to deal with the effects rather than the causes of the drift in our economy. It has increased certain social services benefits and other payments to enable pensioners to meet steeply rising costs, but it has taken no positive action to get at the root of the trouble. Of what use is it to increase social services benefits and other payments if the value of the increased payments is diminishing daily? The press just two years ago stated that the great problem that faces the Menzies Government is the task of stabilizing the fi. Mr. Chifley in his day warned the Government that the diminished purchasing value of the £1 was at the root of all its difficulties. “When the history of this Government is written it will be recorded that the Government was responsible for great suffering and tribulation among the people because it changed a sound economy into an unstable economy. If time permits me to do so, I shall cite facts and figures to prove that when the Labour Government left office in 194.9 it was taking statesmenlike action to deal with the problems that confronted it and that since then the purchasing value of the Australian £1 has deteriorated to a degree never previously experienced in our history. Industrialists, manufacturers and businessmen throughout the community who were impressed by the promises of the leaders of the nonLabour parties that if they were elected to office in 1949, and again in , 1951, they would put Australia’s economy on a stable basis, regret their misplaced confidence in the pledged word of the members of this Government. Over and over again the Government has repeated its promise to stabilize the £1, but it has made little or no attempt to do so.
The Government’s latest administrative blunder was its decision to sell the people’s interests in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, on the ground that Government investment in such an enterprise is a socialistic venture. It has sold the assets of the people to the oil monopolists who are now in a position to hold the country to ransom. What prompted the Government to make that decision? How can it justify the sale of its shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited on the ground that Government investment in such an enterprise is a socialistic experiment ?
Many persons who have worked hard all their lives and invested money in Government loans have been forced to realize on their investments at a great loss in order to make ends meet. A retired farmer of my acquaintance had to dispose of his holdings in Government loans at a discount of £15 per cent in order to meet his commitments. Many Australians who worked hard all their lives to provide for their declining years have had their savings whittled away as the result of the policies applied by this Government. The import restrictions imposed by the Government were most stupid. In an endeavour to justify the Government’s import policy recently Senator Gorton contended that the country had derived some benefit from it. The honorable senator knows as well as I do that it was physically impossible for such a policy to succeed.
– 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.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I appreciate the keen desire of the Senate to hear me further, although I should have been quite happy to continue my remarks tomorrow. I cannot understand the desire of honorable senators opposite to depart from the normal procedure.
– They are inconsistent about everything.
– Yes. During the first three post-war years employment in industry in this country increased by 100,000 persons. During that period £140,000,000 of new capital was invested in Australian industry, including about £70,000,000 from overseas. Ever since the then Labour Government relinquished office, the country has been slipping back. The Chifley Government knew that Australia’s position was deteriorating, and that all sections of the people would have to work harder in order to maintain our standard of living and values. The trade unions agreed with Mr. Chifley that if Australia was to get put of the doldrums all sections of the community would have to pull their weight. During the present Government’s term of office the economic position of this country has deteriorated considerably. A number, of foreign countries are now getting back into production, and unless greater efforts are made by all sections of the Australian community our standards will be lowered. Although the workers of this country are not altogether blameless for the present state of affairs, I do not consider that supporters of the Government should blame them for all the ills with which Ave are beset. Inefficient and extravagant managerial methods have contributed greatly to our economic difficulties.
Senator Wright made an unworthy criticism of the manufacturing industries of this country. When I was a young man Australia’s- hopes for future prosperity were centred on the primary industries. It was then considered that the secondary industries were relatively unimportant, but it has been proved that no country can develop without manufacturing industries. When Australia’s population was much smaller than it is now, peasant farming was the order of the day, and the farmers exported most of the production. The Government has adopted a defeatist attitude in relation to the manufacturing industries. In order to restore balance to our economy, the Government should develop the primary industries rather than injure the manufacturing industries. It has deliberately injured the manufacturing industries, although they have, done a very good job. They have been faced with problems similar to those that have been experienced in the past by the primary industries. As they have been unable to work at full capacity their costs have risen, just as the costs of the primary industries have risen.
It is not long since Australia’s slogan was “ Populate or perish “, but the -story of our immigration programme has been a sorry one indeed. The. Government now says to Great Britain, in effect, “ We are sorry that we cannot carry out our undertaking to provide jobs for immigrants “ although only several months ago it stated that man-power, not money, was our real problem. At that time the supporters of the Government stated that if we had additional men and material there was nothing to prevent a lot of work from being carried out. Thousands of immigrants have been brought to this country, at a cost of more than £1,000 a head. The Government parties obtained considerable support from Queensland at the 1949 general election, because they promised to develop that State in the interests of defence. However, very little development has been undertaken there by the Commonwealth. On the other hand, the Queensland Government has undertaken huge irrigation and hydro-electric projects in order to develop North Queensland, where it is hoped to provide, rural employment for thousands of people. The Australian Government has not recognized these undertakings as national projects. It has not offered assistance to the States, the development of which would mean very much to Australia. The Government has broken its promises. Is it any wonder that people are disappointed and disgusted with the situation? Queensland alone, if fully developed, could support the whole of the present population of Australia. The work of development must be done. It has been done in the United States of America and it can be done here. We have a magnificent country, but we are neglecting our opportunities.
The Government is interminably quarrelling with the States. Why can itnot adopt a policy of co-operation? The Labour Government had differences of opinion with the States, but after the Premiers had met one never heard the bickering and constant disputation which occurred after the last Premiers conference. One would think that the Australian Government was dealing with six foreign countries instead of six of our own- States. Where does the Commonwealth obtain the money that it pays to the States? It gets it from the people of the States and the States need that money for their development. The fact that the Government has given the State governments some millions of pounds more this year than it gave them last year is of no assistance: to the States because of the degree to which costs have increased.
If the States do not carry out the work that has to be done who will do it? It is a sorry state of affairs. The National Government has no power to carry out these works but it could discuss with the States the projects which should receive priority. The Government ha3 done nothing in this respect. There has been constant political quarrelling for the purpose of gaining political kudos out of the situation. That is not the way to develop this country. Whatever government we have, it is essential that we should undertake national works.
The Government has arranged importations from dollar areas. It is unnecessary to buy tobacco with dollars. All the tobacco that Australia needs could be grown in Queensland and the Northern Territory. Australia once had to import sugar and pay ls. per lb. for it. Now the sugar industry exports nearly half a million tons of sugar a year and sells sugar to the people at prices much below those charged in any other country. , The Government has claimed that it has required tobacco manufacturers to include a greater proportion of Australian tobacco in their production. I should like to know the actual effect of the Government’s action in this respect. Certain men and women have worked hard to produce tobacco in Queensland but when they have tried to sell it the manufacturers have not wanted it. In many cases, excellent tobacco with no fault, has not been purchased. The Government should ensure that manufacturers should take the product of north Queensland, but it has done very little to help these producers. So far as the Government’s financial policy is concerned I believe that action is required to get people into a different frame of mind. I indict the Government for having made no approach to the workers in connexion with its problems. How many large industrial concerns in this country give incentive payments to their employees? Very few. If greater production is to be achieved the people who produce the wealth must be given a fairer share of the profits. The Government contends that the workers are not working hard enough. The workers, on the other hand, consider that the Government has failed to meet its responsibility.
I deprecate the shabby treatment that has been meted out to the United Kingdom by the Government. Before theGovernment took office Australia imported its heavy machinery from the United Kingdom in order to save dollars. In the last year of the Labour Government 39 -per cent, of Australia’s imports were machinery, but thisyear machinery constituted - only about 13 per cent, of our imports. The Government has not concerned itself with the needs of Australia. I consider that the Government’s treatment of the United Kingdom has been quite wrong. For many years conferences have been held in order to bring about better trade relations between the various countries.. The Government’s treatment of the United Kingdom must have been a terrific blow to that country. Overnight, the people of the United Kingdom were told that they would have to curtail their exports to Australia. It was inevitable that, in limiting exports to the. value of goods imported in a base year, the Government should have done a great injustice to some importers whilst it has done a great favour to others. It is physically impossible to administer a policy of that kind fairly.
I have a friend in Canberra who contributed to a superannuation fund and retired about three years ago on £6 10s. a week. The basic wage in Queensland was then about £6 7s. a week. The basic wage is now nearly double that amount but this man’s pension has remained at £6 10s. a week and he finds great difficulty in making ends meet. The first duty of the Government is to protect people such as this and the investors of Australia. Many people invest in loans for patriotic reasons. It may surprise honorable senators opposite to learn that honorable senators on this side of the chamber have refused to accept interest on government bonds which they have held. Yet, Opposition senators were called Communists in 1949. No leader has “been more maligned than the late Mr. J. B. Chifley. I can never forget that, even if I can forgive it. In order to gain -power, this Government was prepared to do anything. The people trusted it and now they are sorry. They will seize the first opportunity to remove the present Government from office. The Government has no mandate from the people to dispose of its interests in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and its action in this respect is outrageous. I have here a digest which deals with the subject of productivity as a source of strength. It states -
Productivity, therefore, is the source on which the whole nation can draw to achieve economic betterment. Yet, crucial to the success or failure of translating improved productivity into a better standard of living is the ability to translate the benefits of improved productivity into economic betterment for all. By producing more at less cost it is possible to increase profits as well as wages without increasing prices.
The document stresses that if we are to have a standard of living it has to be earned. We cannot secure a higher standard of living unless it is earned by the people themselves. I think that the Government should take the lead by introducing measures designed to provide for the greater security of this country. To date it has certainly failed to give us any real lead in our difficulties.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) put -
That the question be now put.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved . in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This measure authorizes the appropriation of revenue for the ordinary services of the various departments. The bill provides for an appropriation of £276,504,000 for the services of the year 1952-53, to which should be added the amount already granted under Supply Act No. 18 of 1952, namely, £149,028,000, making a total of £425,532,000. This is the estimated expenditure from annual appropriations for ordinary services for the year 1952-53, as set out in the second schedule to the bill. The expenditure proposals of the Government have already been covered in the budget speech and it is not proposed to deal now with the various items in detail. Any explanations that may be desired by honorable senators will be furnished at the committee stage.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) put -
That the debate be now adjourned.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I am amazed by the attitude which honorable senators opposite have adopted to-night. Although the Senate has not sat for much longer than three weeks this year, the Government is trying to force through the Parliament a bill which seeks authority for the appropriation of £425,532,000. I can only assume that in doing so it is attempting to evade criticism because of its recent activities. In my opinion, the action of the Government in this connexion calls for the most severe censure. When honorable senators on this side of the chamber ask questions during question time on matters of grave importance, they cannot obtain replies from the responsible Ministers. Apparently the only matters to which adequate replies are given, and which are fully ventilated, are pre-arranged questions, or “ Dorothy Dixers “.
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable senator must address his remarks to the bill before the Senate.
– That is correct.
– I am dealing with an appropriation bill, which, as far as I understand, covers almost anything-
– Order ! The honorable senator must deal with items referred to in the bill. He is not permitted to travel from Dan to Beersheba and then to retrace his steps.
– This bill seeks authority for the appropriation of revenue for the ordinary services of the various departments. I claim that I am entirely in order in referring to the activities of the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) because his department comes within the scope of the bill.
The second-reading speech of the Minister for National Development is a very obscure document. It occupies only half a sheet of paper. Yet the bill seeks an appropriation of £276,504,000 for the services of the year 1952-53, to which must be added £149,028,000 already granted under Supply Act No. 18 of 1952, making a total of £425,532,000. Recently, when I sought information concerning a certain government department, the responsible
Minister answered me by making completely irrelevant references to communism and socialism- To-day, when I asked a question concerning the coal position in Australia-
– I again rise to a point of order. I contend that the honorable senator must confine his remarks to the appropriation of funds which is contemplated in the bill. The first-reading debate, of such a measure covers a much wider field than does the second-reading debate.
– I do not for a moment contest the point that has been made by the Minister for National Development and upon which you have already ruled, Mr- President, but I think that it is correct to say that this bill covers the activities of all departments for the current year. Surely, it is proper for an honorable senator to criticize the administration of any one of these departments in the course of commenting upon the appropriations proposed to be made in respect of the current financial year. The only difference on this occasion between the latitude that is allowed in debate on the motion for the first reading and the motion for the second reading is that whereas on the motion for the first reading an honorable senator may discuss a matter that is not at all relevant to the bill, on the motion for the second reading he must confine himself to matters that are strictly relevant to the bill. That allows almost unlimited scope for discussion when the activities of every department are under review. ‘So long as an honorable senator does not range away from departmental activities, I suggest that whilst your ruling Mr. President, is strictly correct it still permits a very wide scope for debate.
– I rise to order.
– Order ! The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) has already raised a point of order. I ask Senator Ashley to resume his speech, but I point out to him that he must confine his remarks to matters that are .relevant to the bill. All honorable senators will realize that it is extremely difficult for the Chair to draw a line of demarcation in a debate on a measure of this kind. Therefore, I ask them to hear with me in the matter. I shall not permit honorable senators to wander far and wide from subjects that are covered by the measure, but shall oblige them to confine their remarks to the proposed appropriations and to the departments to which those appropriations relate.
– I appreciate your tolerance, Mr. President, in this instanceIt is obvious, of course, that the Minister for National Development does not desire that an honorable senator be permitted to criticize the Government. I point out that recently the Government, as a well-wisher of the big coal mim owners, issued instructions through the Joint Coal Board that a profit at the rate of 6s. a ton shall be paid to coal producers. The price of coal in this country is to be correspondingly increased. Earlier today, I asked the Minister for National De velopment whether he had seen a report in the press to the effect that in the opinion of the Joint Coal Board it has become necessary to close down a number of coal mines. The Minister replied thai that report was not correct.
– I rise to order. 1 submit, Mr. President, that the honorable senator must confine his remarks to the financial requirements of the Joint Coal Board and that, consequently, he is not entitled to deal with administrative matters that come within the ambit of the bill.
– I rule that Senator Ashley is in order, because the pro- posed appropriation for the Department of National Development includes an amount in respect of the Joint Coal Board.
– The press report to which I have referred stated that mines that were producing coal of poor quality should not be permitted to remain in operation, and would in future be denied the protection and financial assistance previously made available to them by the Joint Coal Board. Consequently, such mines will either be obliged to find a market for their coal or to cease operations. The Minister said that the Joint Coal Board had not intimated that it was intended that any coal mine should be closed. However, he implied indirectly that that view was held by the board. Small mines which will have no hope whatever of competing with big coal proprietors will not be able to continue operating, particularly when the big coal mine owners will now be guaranteed a clear profit of 6s. a ton regardless of the quality of coal that they produce. I am most perturbed about the possibility that some coal mines will be forced to close down. My apprehension in that respect has been voiced by the Minister of Mines in New South Wales, Mr. Arthur, who has requested the Minister for National Development to confer with him on this matter. That is a proper request. In spite of what the Minister has said in this chamber, every Minister in the New South Wales Government will substantiate the fact that that Government has been considering this matter. In those circumstances, I cannot understand how the Minister for National Development would be unaware of a matter of such grave importance and which will involve an expenditure of millions of pounds.
It is estimated that approximately 50,000 tons of coal is being produced weekly in ex-cess of current requirements. The Minister says that the Government is not embarrassed- by that fact because it has arranged to stock 1,000,000 tons in dump. Already, more than 600,000 tons is in dump in New South Wales, most of it being stocked in the western district. The greater proportion of that coal is of poor quality, but it will cost at least 25s. a ton more to land it in Sydney than to bring coal from the northern field to that port. That coal will cost at least £4 a ton landed in dump. When the policy of this hit-or-miss Government, which has put a blight upon the Australian economy, is implemented in respect of coal, £4,000,000 worth of coal will be in dump in Australia six months hence and very little of that coal will be sold. A little over a week ago I exposed the patronage that this Government is bestowing upon the big coal mine owners who provided it with financial support during the last two general election campaigns. Obviously, this is the pay-off in return for that- support. I repeat that the Government has arranged to pay to the coal mine owners a clear profit of 6s. a ton after taxation and incidental charges of all kinds have been taken into account. Obviously the Government, in implementing its policy in this respect, will close down only the small mines. Subsequently, it is proposed that the Government will pay a subsidy to the big coal mine owners on all export coal on the ground that the present high cost of production in this country justifies the provision, of such a subsidy. At the same time, the Government proposes to reduce open-cut production by over 1,000,00.0 tons a year. Yet, only a week ago, the Minister boasted that opencut production would be increased to 5,000,000 tons a year. Contracts entered into between the Joint Coal Board and certain open-cut companies will have to be terminated.’ The overseas contractors will be looked after but the Australians will suffer. Yesterday I spoke with the representative of an English company, George Wimpey and Company, who came to see me about something that I had said in this chamber about opencut production. This English company has been favoured with the patronage of the Menzies Government. It has a contract for the production of 2,400,000 tons of open-cut coal. It will not go out of production, but Australian companies will. The Labour Government was responsible for the introduction of open-cut mining in this country and for vast improvements in methods of underground mining. Its scheme to mechanize the coal mines has been primarily responsible for the record coal production for which this Government claims credit to-day. Open-cut mining was introduced as a temporary expedient until sufficient coal could be produced from the underground mines. It was proposed that when open-cut mining ceased, the earth-moving equipment used for that purpose and valued at many millions of pounds, should be transferred to other works such as water conservation and irrigation schemes. Unfortunately this is not possible due to the economic policy of this “Hit or miss “ Government which has restricted loan allocations to the States. Honorable senators will recall that at the last meeting of the Australian Loan Council, the State Premiers asked for certain allocations, but the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) refused to carry out the wish of the council. He became a financial dictator of Australia.
– Order ! The honorable senator is now dealing with a matter that is beyond the scope of the bill. He has already had considerable latitude, and I have listened to him with tolerance. I ask him to confine his remarks to the measure that is before the Senate.
– I shall deal with (he Department of Labour and National Service and the effect of unemployment on our economy. As unemployed persons are entitled to draw the unemployment benefit, which is a social services payment, I submit that I am entitled also to refer to social services. When the Prime Minister arrived back in Australia after his last visit overseas, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) announced, presumably as a welcome home to his leader, that there were only 37,000 unemployed in Australia at that time. That was entirely incorrect and misleading. The Minister also said that, in 1947, there were 83,500 people unemployed. The Minister made those statements in an address to the University Club in Sydney. He went on to say that his department was being contacted daily by big industrial firms which were putting expansion schemes into effect and were seeking an assurance that the necessary labour would be available for those projects. That was three or four months ago. The Minister also said that an oil refinery would be built in Western Australia which would employ 4,000 men - rather cold comfort for the 100,000 or more unemployed in the other States. I was rather surprised at the Minister’s statement that 83,500 people were out of work in 1947, and I obtained the relevant figures from the Commonwealth Statistician. I discovered that, in 1947, only 18,620 people were unable to secure employment: The figure that the Minister used included 14,179 people who had been temporarily laid off, 18,096 who were sick, 3,108 who were off work as the result of accidents, 475 who were not working because of industrial disputes, 223 who were voluntarily unemployed, 468 who were changing jobs, 22,014 who were resting, 2,245 who were off work for other causes, and 3,346 whose reason for being off work was not stated. As I have said, the actual number of unemployed at that time was 18,620. The Minister not only deceived the electors as he and his colleagues did when they made certain promises in 1949 and 1951, but also he deceived the Prime Minister who used the figures in the House of Representatives. Apparently the Minister does not care whom he misleads so long as his propaganda goes out. One frequently sees in the press references to the improvement in the unemployment position. At present between 20,000 and 30,000 men are employed in the sugar industry in an area extending from districts north of Cairns to the Richmond, the Clarence and the Tweed Rivers in New South Wales. The sugar season will finish at about the end. of November. Excepting for a few men who will remain doing repair work in the sugar mills, there will be no further employment in the industry from that time. In the pastoral, industry, which employs from 25,000 to 30,000 men, there has been a great change in continuity of work. Shearing will commence in June or July this year, but during the war it commenced in February, March or April. Therefore, there was a greater spread of working time in the shearing industry during the war than there will be this year. Consequently, at the end of 1952, 25,000 to 30,000 men usually engaged in the shearing industry, and between 20,000 and 30,000 usually engaged in the sugar industry, will be unemployed from January to April of next year. It has been their practice to work on the various public works of the States in which they reside during the slack season in the sugar and shearing industries, but they will not be able to do so this year, or in future years if the Government’s policy be maintained. Not only has the Government reduced the volume of Commonwealth public works, but it has also imposed financial restrictions on the States and prevented any expansion of State public works. The Government’s policy is reflected in each department of the Government. When this matter reaches the committee stage’ I shall expand my views. However, I must say now that I am surprised that the Government has shown such indecent haste by bludgeoning this bill through the Senate.
I appreciate your tolerance, Mr. President, and the manner in which you interpreted the various points of order that have been taken against me. Surely we have not arrived at a stage when an honorable senator can be made to sit down because he has said something against the Government. I now wish to refer to an incident that took place in this chamber a few days ‘ ago. A “ Dorothy Dix “ question was asked in which reference was made to me on three occasions. It was asked by an honorable senator who should have known better. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) made a scathing reference to my capacity as a Minister. I wish that he were here to hear me now. I desire to tell him that he is known on this side of the Senate as “ Double S “ - short and shifty.
– Order! 1 allowed the honorable senator a certain amount of indulgence, and I hope that he will respect my attitude.
– Surely, if accusations are made against me I am entitled to reply to them. I was a Minister of a Labour government for eight years, and I hope that when Senator McLeay relinquishes his office he will do so with as clean a record as I did.
Motion (by Senator Pearson) put -
That the question be now put.
The Senate divided. (The PRESIDENT - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title).
Motion (by Senator Spooner) put -
That the Chairman do report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 2.15 p.m.
Business of the Senate.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I desire to express my complete disapproval of the tactics employed by the Government in its handling of the Appropriation Bill. On the 6th August, the Senate met for one day and adjourned until the 10th September. The Senate now has before it a bill of such importance to the Australian people that almost every honorable senator desires to express an opinion upon it. The Opposition is prepared to continue the sitting until every honorable senator who desires to speak to the bill has done so, but the Government has gagged the debate. Since the suspension of the sitting for dinner, Government supporters sat dumb in their places, knowing that the Government would gag the debate at a later hour to-night. I sincerely trust that the Government will have regard for the fact that the Senate has been in recess for many weeks this year. The budget involves an expenditure of many millions of pounds, and the Senate is about to enter into detailed consideration of the Estimates, which deal with the various items of that expenditure. The only serious rival of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) as a mover of the gag is his henchman, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), and they both have a worthy lieutenant in the person of the acting Government. Whip, Senator Pearson. I hope that discussions in committee will not be curtailed and that every member of the Opposition will at least have an opportunity to express his views on the very important matters to which the Estimates relate. I again express my complete dissatisfaction and utter disgust with the attitude of the Government. One can reasonably and safely assume, in the circumstances, that Ministers and their supporters cannot take it because the Government has presented for 1952-53 a budget that is completely distasteful to the Australian people.
– I, too, enter my protest against the proceedings in this chamber to-night. The Senate is supposed to be a house of review. Honorable senators were elected for the purpose of representing the various States. Unfortunately, this House is now evolving itself into an instrument of bureaucracy. The policy of the Labour party, which contemplates the abolition of the Senate, obviously is correct. After the exhibition that we have witnessed here to-night, the Senate appears to be absolutely useless and its proceedings involve a waste of public money. Furthermore, those proceedings are treated merely as a joke by irresponsible persons-
– Order ! The honorable senator is out of order in reflecting on a vote of the Senate.
– I am not reflecting on a vote ofthe Senate.
– I have ruled that the honorable senator is out of order.
– I am reflecting, not on any. vote that has been taken in this chamber, but upon the members of the Senate and their conduct. Their conduct has been absolutely shameful and I think that, if the people of Australia could only see what goes on here, the Senate would not remain in existence much longer.
– Wait until we have television.
– The sooner we have television the better will it be for Australia. The people will realize then that their money is being wasted and that they are being taxed to keep this instrument of bureaucracy in existence. I protest emphatically against the conduct of honorable senators and the decisions they have made.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act - National Security (Industrial Property) Regulations - Orders - Inventions and designs (3).
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Postal purposes -
Maules Creek, New South Wales.
Papua - Report for 1950-51.
Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations -
Statutory Rules 1952, No. 78.
Public Service Arbitration Act - Detcrmina- tions by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1952 - No. 61 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance - -1952 - No. 9 - Advisory Council.
Senate adjourned at 12.3 a.m. (Wednesday).
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 30 September 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1952/19520930_senate_20_219/>.