20th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service by referring to a report which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 9th October to the effect that His Honour, Mr. Justice “Wright, of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, had announced a new system for dealing with disputes on the waterfront, under which a five-man board of reference has been set up, consisting of two members from either side of the industry, with a chairman to be agreed upon, or, failing agreement, to be appointed by the Registrar of the court. His Honour also announced that the local representative of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board will no longer act as arbitrator in waterside disputes. Is the Minister able to make a statement of the factual circumstances leading up to this changed setup? If he is not able to do so at the present time, will he make a statement as soon as possible regarding the terms of His Honour’s judgment and the reasons on which it was based ?
– I am not in a position at the’ moment to make a statement with regard to this matter, but I shall ascertain the precise circumstances and endeavour to furnish the honorable senator with the information he seeks early next week.
– Oau the Minister foi1 Trade and Customs say whether it is a fact that the refusal of the Government to conduct an inquiry into the recent leakage of budget information is due to fear because a highly placed public servant, upon whom a degree of suspicion lias been cast because of the cloak of silence thrown over this matter by the Government, has indicated that in order rn clear his name, if an inquiry is initiated, he will tell ‘ all he knows, which may prove very embarrassing for the Government ? Can the Minister also indicate the evidence that is required to warrant the holding of an inquiry, other than the sworn testimony of Mr. Irish, who is a director of Associated Newspapers Limited, and who, during a recent hearing before the Supreme Court in Sydney, stated on oath that he had a good idea of company tax reductions in the budget, and that he had had certain discussions in Canberra which made him realize that the tax reduction would be close to 3s.? Can the Minister inform me which persons in Canberra, other than the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Secretary to the Treasury, would be in a position to disclose budget information before ir was released to the Parliament?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is “ No “, the reason being that the Government refuses to be stampeded by a deliberate misconstruction of evidence. The apparent objective of the honorable senator is to smear people in responsible positions.
– On the 14th October, Senator Amour asked a question concerning the issuing of import licences for the importation of shirts from Hong Kong. The honorable senator also referred to shirts from that source being “ dumped “ in Australia. I now supply the following additional information in answer to the honorable senator’s question : -
As the honorable senator is aware, it is not the policy of the Government to use the import restrictions for the deliberate purpose of protecting local industry. There are weighty reasons, both domestic and international, for this policy. The Government has recently taken other steps to ‘facilitate the granting of protection to local industry. 1 refer to the proposed enlargement of the Tariff Board. Nevertheless, as every manufacturer in Australia realizes, the import restrictions have provided incidental protection to Australian industry.
With particular reference to shirts, the import licensing position is that shirts are under category B, which is subject to the most severe restriction, namely, 60 per cent, of base year imports of category JB commodities. Within the scope of available category B quotas, importers may take out licences for any category B commodity from any country except the ‘ dollar area and Japan. As I implied from my initial reply to the honorable senator’s question, an inconsiderable quantity of - shirts is being imported from Hong Kong. The statistics which I am about to quote illustrate not only this point, but also the degree of incidental protection which the import restrictions have given Australian shirt manufacturers.
In 1951-52, customs clearances of shirts from Hong Kong amounted to approximately £27,000. In 1952-53, this figure was reduced to approximately £6,000 reflecting the imposition of import restrictions on the 8th March, 1952. Since April this year licences issued for shirts from Hong Kong against available category B quotas have amounted to approximately £12,000. It is not possible to say what part of these licences represent rayon shirts as distinct from shirts of other materials. If the shirt manufacturing industry considers that the existing duties on shirts are inadequate and submits a case to this effect, T shall have it examined with a view to referring the matter to the Tariff Board for determination of a level of protection appropriate to the current circumstances.
The honorable senator also referred to the question of dumping. I must point out that the question of whether goods are in fact being dumped in Australia is quite distinct from the question of whether goods are being imported against valid import licences in pursuance of the Government’s import control policy. If the importation of shirts from Hong Kong is seriously affecting Australian industry, and if evidence is produced that the goods are being sold at less than fair market value or less than a reasonable price, I shall have the matter investigated with a view to action being taken under the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act, if warranted. This is, of course, the legislation which, as 1 remarked in my initial answer to the honorable senator’s question, T hare invoked on a number of occasions since I have been Minister for Trade and Customs to safeguard Australian industry from unfair competition.
– I address a question to you, Mr. President. Yesterday, you ruled, I am sure with the concurrence of the great majority of honorable senators, a certain question out of order on the ground that it was offensive. Unfortunately, that question has been published in a section of to-day’s press. As publication of such matter can do only harm to Australia’s good name, I should like to know whether you have any authority to request or prohibit the press from publishing any question or remark made in the Senate that you rule to be struck off the record as being offensive.
– I have no authority to give any instructions to the press in respect of a matter of the kind to which the honorable senator has referred.
– I ask the Minister forNational Development whether it is a fact that the Atomic Energy Commission contemplates giving the sole right toa company registered in an overseas country to develop large areas in the Northern Territory and to produce uranium concentrates for which the price to be received will be approximately £500 a ton for percentage concentrate.
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is “ No “.
– The question that I wish to direct to the Minister for Repatriation relates to a plea that I have made to the Government to establish a. fund for the maintenance of war cemeteries, and a statement that was made by the Minister in that connexion. I understood that the Minister referred only to the local cemetery, and assured the Senate that everything was all right financially. I do not want to be misunderstood in this matter. I have not condemned appeals made by private bodies. While I believe whole-heartedly with those appeals, I consider that the maintenance of war cemeteries is a national responsibility. Will the Ministier inform the Senate whether he has read an advertisement in to-day’s Canberra Times, which reads -
For funds to erect Headstones on the Graves of ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen buried in the Canberra General Cemetery, whose relatives either are unable to defray the cost, or cannot be located.
Without diminishing the excellent charitable work that these people are doing by organizing funds, will the Minister urge the Government to establish a fund for the care and maintenance of war cemeteries which, as I have mentioned, is a national responsibility? I remind him that my previous appeal to the Government in this matter was supported, not only by Senator Tangney, but also by Senator Mattner.
-I haveseen the advertisement in the Canberra Times to which the honorable senator has referred. When I spoke on Wednesday night about the maintenance of war cemeteries, I was well aware of the Canberra appeal and the desire of many sub-branches of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia to accept responsibility for looking after the war graves. I did not say that I was not prepared to look into the matter. I told the honorable senator that itwould receive consideration. It is my belief, however, that many of the exservicemen’s organizations in this country would resent Government interference in the work that they consider to be their responsibility. I wish it to be clearly understood that I have expressed my own personal opinion as a returned soldier, not the Government’s opinion of the matter that was raised by the honorable senator during the second-reading debate on the Repatriation Bill.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior inform the Senate whether he has read a press report of a statement by the Premier of Tasmania to the effect that he is negotiating the sale to a Commonwealth department of an empty factory at Campbell Town, which was established by the Tasmanian Government at a cost of £11,730? Is any Commonwealth department interested in this white elephant?
If so, what is the price asked by the Premier of Tasmania, and who will value the property on behalf of the Commonwealth?
– I shall refer the honorable senator’s question to the Minister for the Interior and obtain a reply for him.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Health furnish the Senate with any information in connexion with a particular kind of virus influenza known as sleeping influenza that is reported to be prevalent in New South “Wales and other States? Has this kind of virus influenza been classified? Is it possible that through that medium, a mild form of encephalitis is being introduced into Australia from Asian countries? “Will the Minister have inquiries made by the Department of Health and inform the Senate what action has been taken to check the spread of that type of virus influenza?
– I am aware that the type ‘of influenza to which the honorable senator has referred has been prevalent in Queensland and New South Wales. I shall ask .the Minister for Health to furnish a. reply to the honorable senator’s questions.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
Is it a fact that a new vaccine has been developed at the Pittsburgh University to prevent poliomyelitis? If so, will the Minister have inquiries made with a view to making this new vaccine available in Australia as soon as possible?
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following reply to the honorable senator’s questions: -
Studies directed towards the development of an efficient vaccine suitable for mass immunization are being carried out at Pittsburgh and other centres in the United States of America. The Commonwealth Department of Health has a specially trained medical officer ‘ in the United States of America observing these research developments with a view to keeping Australia abreast of the latest developments.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following reply to the honorable senator’s questions : -
As far back in the post-war schemes as 1947 the labour needs of the rural industries were receiving priority in the planning of the immigration programme. Considerable numbers of former displaced persons were placed <<n farms and on development work in rural ureas. More recently, the selection of experienced rural workers from both Holland and West Germany, under our migration agreements with those two countries, has resulted in increasing additions to our rur.il labour force. This selection is being continued, together with a more limited number from Austria, Greece and Trieste under special financial arrangements which we have with the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration in respect of those countries.
Apart from migrant workers introduced under the bilateral agreements and other assisted passage schemes specifically to meet the labour needs of the rural industries, a substantial proportion of other migrants enter rural employment after arrival. From 1949 to June, 1953, almost 50,000 permanent new arrivals, both assisted and full fare, indicated that their intended occupation in Australia would be rural. This was 17 per cent, of the worker component of all permanent new arrivals during that period, which approximates the proportion of the Australian population so engaged.
In addition to this direct contribution towards the labour needs of our rural industries, the immigration programme has also been used to build up the labour force in those secondary industries whose output is essential to increased primary production. Migrant labour has in this way assisted significantly in increasing the output of agricultural implements, fencing wire and so on.
The honorable senator may be assured that within the limits of the programme in which we are operating, wewill continue our efforts to attract migrant ruralworkers to meet the needs of Australian farmers.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The Minister for Social Services has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions: -
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
Treasurer see that the most modern turbo-jet and jet aircraft manufactured in the United Kingdom are given preference over aircraft manufactured in other countries?
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions: -
– I present the first report of the Standing Orders Committee.
Ordered to be printed.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) agreed to -
That consideration of the report be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McLeay) read a first time.
Senator McLEAY (South Australia -
Minister for Shipping and Transport) [11.28]. - I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to provide the legislative backing that is necessary to enable the Commonwealth Government to play its part in a proposed joint Commonwealth-State plan for the orderly marketing of Australian wheat of the next three crops including that about to be harvested. This plan requires the collaboration of the States and before it can become operative, the States will need to pass legislation that will be complementary to the Commonwealth legislation. This course of action has been agreed upon between the Australian Government and the governments of all the States after a long series of negotiations, covering the stabilization of the wheat industry, the orderly marketing of wheat and the question of Australia’s adherence to the new International Wheat Agreement. It is a continuance of orderly marketing on lines which, in the marketing sense, are almost identical with the system under the Australian Wheat Board of the last five years, but without the provision of stabilization. It is appropriate at this point to explain the fundamental difference between plain orderly marketing, as such, and stabilization. Orderly marketing of wheat is now accepted to mean one central authority, authorized by legislation to accept aLl Australian wheat, to market it to the best advantage within Australia and overseas, to pool the returns from all sales, and to pay all suppliers for wheat delivered on the basis of the net pool return per bushel. In wheat industry usage, stabilization goes beyond that. The organized marketing machinery is the same, but there must then be imposed upon it specific uniform State domestic price provisions, and the stabilization features of a Commonwealth guaranteed price for exports, a. stabilisation fund, and an export tax to support the stabilization fund up to a certain point. When the stabilization fund is exhausted, the guaranteed price must be supported from Commonwealth revenue.
The current five-year plan will end with the marketing by the Australian Wheat Board of the 1952-53 crop. Negotiations between the Australian Government, the six State governments, and the wheat industry, through the medium of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, have been aimed at devising a further plan for the stabilization of the industry to commence with the harvesting of the 1953-54 crop. This legislation is the outcome of protracted negotiations with the States and the wheat industry. The negotiations commenced on the basis of an expressed desire of the wheat industry for an orderly marketing and stabilization scheme, and an agreement by the Australian Government and each of the six State governments that were, in principle, in favour of that arrangement. There was one clear qualification to this, which was that stabilization legislation which involves tax upon growers’ wheat, and the withholding of their funds, would be subject to approval of growers, through a ballot. The Commonwealth stipulated that qualification and the growers desired it.
As was the case in the original scheme in 1948, the ballot would, of course, be in the form of a vote for or against a comprehensive legislative programme, including State and Federal legislation. This, obviously, necessitated agreement between the governments concerning the legislation they were prepared to pass. The Commonwealth made clear in detail its position in thi3 connexion. The conditions of such an arrangement are highly important to wheat-growers, because they would thus have the protection of a guarantee, as well as the obligation to contribute to a stabilization fund. The taxpayers are at least as interested in the arrangement, as they, finally, are the guarantors. Therefore, the terms upon which the Commonwealth was prepared to assume this guarantee responsibility were worked out in close consultation with the wheat-growers’ representatives. They were also, at all times, under the close scrutiny of the Treasury, and final responsibility for them was always with the Commonwealth Cabinet.
The States, although not parties to the guarantee obligation, were at all times kept fully informed of all those negotiations. They were given full opportunity and, in fact, were invited, to express their views upon the ‘ provisions. The Commonwealth’s offer to guarantee a return of cost of production on 100,000,000 bushels of wheat exported in each of five years, and the conditions attached to that offer, were set out in definite terms, and the offer was explained to the members of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation in the presence of the State Ministers at a meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council. This offer was, of course, subject to the approval of growers, through a ballot.
Another organization, the Australian Primary Producers’ Union, which has a wheat-grower section, has been informed of the agreement reached between governments in these negotiations and has taken the opportunity to advise the Commonwealth and the Australian Agricultural Council of the views of the wheat section of that organization. The States desire that any ballot should be taken by them, as was done on the last occasion, and the Commonwealth has agreed to this course.
All the States were in agreement regarding their legislation except on the question of the local selling price. It is common knowledge that this point produced a deadlock which lasted for some months. The fact that a ballot has nol been taken on stabilization is, therefore, not due to the unwillingness of the Commonwealth to assume the guarantee, hut to the fact that practical circumstances, which are not connected with the Commonwealth’s position, and over which the Commonwealth had no control, have prevented a ballot from being taken.
Once it became clear that, due to the time factor, it was no longer possible to conduct a ballot, pass the requisite legislation and have it operating in time to handle the incoming harvest, all the governments and growers then turned their attention to consideraton of the kind of orderly marketing structure which could be established without a ballot - that is, to orderly marketing without the stabilization guarantee provisions. The members of the Australian Agricultural Council decided, on the 1,6th June, that the possibility of having legislation passed after the conduct of a ballot, and before the harvest commenced, could no longer he relied upon. The council unanimously decided by resolution that, to meet this situation, there should be concentration upon an orderly marketing plan of a kind which could be established without a ballot of growers. That explains why a guaranteed price stabilization arrangement is therefore not a part of this legislation.
The difficulties and delays which attended the endeavour to reach unanimity between the States on the question of a domestic selling price as a part of this orderly marketing plan are so well known that I have no intention of dwelling upon them. The important point is that unanimity has been reached, thus enabling this legislation to be presented to the Parliament. It provides the basis upon which it will be possible to maintain orderly marketing and to ratify the International Wheat Agreement. Passage of the legislation, both Commonwealth and State, is therefore of the utmost urgency because, until this bill and the complementary State legislation have been passed, no statutory authority will exist to receive, for realization, the coming wheat crop. I am informed that wheat is already being harvested in Queensland and that the harvest will be in full swing in Queensland and northern New South Wales within the next few weeks.
Upon a request of all the States, made some months ago, the Commonwealth authorities drafted for their consideration a suggested State bill of a uniform character which would be complementary to the Commonwealth bill. The States have had this draft legislation for some time, and Commonwealth and State officials have had an explanatory conference. The Australian Government, the Australian Agricultural Council, representing all the States, and the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, have all held the view that it is in the best interests of wheat-growers and of the Australian economy that an .international wheat agreement should continue, and that Australia should be a participant. In fact, one of the prime objectives of the negotiations has been to provide a basis for participation. A separate legislative proposal will deal with this matter, but I point out that without a central marketing authority for export wheat, the obligations, which devolve upon Australia through membership of the Internationa] Wheat Agreement, are considered not to be capable of practical administration. The continuance, therefore, of the Australian Wheat Board in the terms of this, and complementary State legislation, will make it possible for Australia to ratify the International Wheat Agreement. Indeed, the three-year period of this legislation is designed to synchronize with the period of the extension of the International Wheat Agreement.
Before proceeding to explain the bill. I wish to make it clear that without some arrangement of this kind, an impossible marketing situation would have arisen. There would have been different wheat prices for flour and bread operating in the several States, different prices for stock feed and strong pressure from every quarter for the export of maximum quantities of wheat at the higher export price. There would have been no authority competent to regulate exports, and in any event, the satisfactory administration of an export quota and permits arrangement would have been an almost impossible task. The problem of who should bear the cost of supplying wheat to Tasmania at the Australian domestic price, and foregoing the higher overseas export parity, could not be equitably resolved. Moreover, the patterns of interstate trade generally in wheat and flour would have become distorted owing to the operation of varying wheat prices, and the problem of carrying over stocks would have been unmanageable. Generally, a most disorderly marketing situation would have been created and the industry itself would have been split asunder. In contrast to that spectacle of chaos, the Australian pool now contemplated will provide order and equity. The Australian Wheat Board, with years of experience in which general satisfaction has been given to the wheat-growers and the flour-milling industry, will provide a stable basis upon which the financing of the crop can be calculated. Further, the pool realization assures an equitable return to each grower ; Tasmania can be supplied at the Australian price without problem; flour millers will have a convenient and assured supply; and the International Wheat Agreement can be ratified and administered. These comparisons give some picture of the issues at stake in the recent deadlock. In such circumstances it would have been quite impossible for Australia to accept any commitments under the International Wheat Agreement.
The joint Commonwealth-State marketing arrangement now proposed is not embodied in a completely new act, but is being provided by an amendment of the principal act. Complementary legislative action will need to he taken by the States to ensure (a) a uniform homeconsumption price for wheat; and (&) the direction of all wheat to the Australian Wheat Board for receiving and marketing on a common pool basis.
I shall now make a few comments upon the details of this orderly marketing plan. The plan is intended to cover the marketing of the next three Australian wheat crops, commencing with the crop which is now about to be harvested. During that period the States, by individual legislative action, will direct all wheat to the Australian Wheat Board established and maintained under Commonwealth legislation for marketing for consumption within Australia and for export realization on a common pooling basis. Growers will be paid a first advance by the Australian Wheat Board after delivery of their wheat and will receive further payments as sales of wheat take place. When the pool is wound up, they will have received the full net per bushel return available from the operations of the pool. A feature of the negotiated arrangement is that Western Australian growers will receive from the pool realizations an additional amount above that received by growers in other States which will equal 3d. a bushel on the quantity of wheat exported from Western Australia overseas. This was a part of the negotiated arrangement under which the Western Australian growers and Government were’ willing to come into the common pool. That amount represents approximately the freight advantage which normally attaches to overseas wheat exports from Western Australia due to the shorter freight haul from Western Australia to the main overseas markets.
It is common knowledge that there was delay in reaching unanimity between the States on a uniform domestic selling price. Finally, the following price formula was agreed upon: - The price in respect of a wholesale sale of bulk wheat of fair average quality free on rails at a port of export will be the International Wheat Agreement price or 14s. a bushel, whichever is the lower. However, if that price should be less than the cost of production, the price will then be an amount equal to the cost of production. The ways in which the International Wheat Agreement price and the cost of production are to be determined for the purposes of the plan are outlined in this bill. The price of 14s. a bushel provides some incentive towards the very desirable objective of further expansion of this great industry which has a very important bearing on the economic welfare of this country. Before I conclude I shall make, further comments on that aspect. I direct attention to the important fact that, whatever the International Wheat Agreement price may prove to be, the assessed cost of production will remain the rock basis of the plan. If, for instance, the International Wheat Agreement price should fall to the minimum of the price range provided in the agreement, and the assessed cost of production should exceed that figure, then the cost of production will be the home-consumption price for the purposes of this plan.
In the course of these general negotiations, a special arrangement was approved to meet the problem of enabling wheat produced on the mainland to be sold in Tasmania at the common Australian price. For years this has presented a most difficult and unresolved problem. On occasions, the Australian Wheat Board has met the freight at the cost of wheat-growers who have bitterly, and with justification, resented that being done. On occasions, the Tasmanian Government has met the freight, and as an emergency decision, on occasions, the Commonwealth Government has met the freight. This freight is extraordinarily high and has been, I understand, of the order of 3s. 6d. a bushel. The arrangement which has now received general approval is that the agreed price at which wheat will be sold on behalf of growers will be loaded by a further ltd. a bushel, which amount will be kept in a separate fund in which wheat-growers will have no equity whatever, the fund being used to meet the cost of Tasmanian freight. This loading will attach to all wheat sold on the Australian mainland and in Tasmania.
I shall now examine the basis on which the cost of production is actually assessed. The cash costs involved in wheat production have been assessed by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics on the basis of a comprehensive Australia-wide survey carried out on soundly established survey techniques. The bureau assessment of these costs has been scrutinized and endorsed by a representative of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation and also by a representative of the State
Ministers of Agriculture. There is, however, a second category of cost items which includes such matters as the amount to be allowed as remuneration for the farmer himself, the rate of interest on asset values and judgment on the appropriate yield to be used for the purpose of determining a fair cost of production per bushel of wheat. These are matters on which governments must make judgments. As cost of production was to be the basis of the Commonwealth stabilization guarantee, the Commonwealth Government made its decision on these matters. ‘ The State Ministers of Agriculture in the Agricultural Council accepted those decisions also as the basis of cost of production. To the degree that cost of production is in the formula of State domestic price determination, the States aipo had an interest in the calculation. The final figure that was determined as a result of these decisions, together with the technical assessment of cash costs, is lis. lid. a bushel as at November, 1952. This assessment has been agreed upon as being reasonable by all State Ministers of Agriculture. This figure will be varied in accordance with the annual movements in the costs of production as assessed by a wheat costs index committee, and approved after consultation between the Commonwealth Minister and the six State Ministers of Agriculture.
I need hardly refer to the fact that, traditionally, wheat has always been Australia’s second greatest industry. Unfortunately, at a time when additional Australian production has been urgently needed and export prices have been so highly remunerative, it has declined in relative importance to some other industries, particularly in relation to wool. In the immediate pre-war years, from 1936-37 to 1938-39, wheat contributed 19 per cent, of the total export earnings of Australian rural industries, and 14 per cent, of total export income. In the post war years there has been a decline in the relative values both of production and of exports. In 1952-53 earnings from wheat constituted 13.1 per cent, of all rural export earnings, and 10.6 per cent, of all export income. The decline would have been more noticeable and serious were it not for the fact that we have had a run of good seasons, which has enabled the effect of a serious decline in acreage to be offset to a degree by high yields.
Last year wool provided almost exactly one-half of our total export income. Traditionally wool has been subject to sharp price variations. Since the end of World War I., wool prices have fallen over one to two-year periods, on six different occasions, by more than 20 per cent. To-day, a fall of 20 per cent. i:i wool values would represent a reduction of our total overseas income of some £S0,000,000, which would certainly cause some repercussions throughout our economy.
It is obviously in the national interest that, without reducing the value of our wool production, we should plan to lessen our dependence upon it by stimulating production of alternative income earners. Wheat is obviously the outstanding alternative, and it is clear that wheat production could be increased without reducing wool production. Ithas been calculated by agricultural experts that wheat acreage could be in creased to at least 13,000,000 acres without a return to cropping in marginal areas. On present knowledge, the increased wheat acreage would largely come in new high-yielding areas of Queensland, the northern part of New South Wales, and other districts where ley fanning methods can be practised with high yields. It is clear, therefore, that it is in the best interests of the Australian economy as a whole to restore the wheat industry, and expand it to a position of greater importance than it has ever had before. We must remember, in addition to the importance of wheat to our export income and our ability to finance essential imports, that the export of more wheat from Australia will make a positive contribution towards easing the major economic problems of the sterling areas as a whole, and effect a saving of scarce dollars, which can best be used to finance the purchase of essential developmental equipment rather than immediate consumer needs. The dollar expenditure of the sterling area as a whole on wheat alone was the equivalent of £140,000,000 sterling in 1949, and £119,000,000 in 1950. It was £245,000,000 in 1951, the year of the
Indian famine, when more than £100,000,000 sterling worth of dollar wheat had to be imported into India.
During the post-war years, until 1951-52, the wheat-farmers sold enough wheat to meet Australia’s own flour needs, and an ever-increasing amount for stockfeeding purposes, at a price equal to the bare cost of production figure. The stabilization plan that was introduced in 194’8 involved a very great concession by the wheat industry of Australia, by providing for home sales at the cost of production, as determined by the original formula of the Simpson Cost of Production Committee. Until 1952-53 these sales were effected at prices consistently less than 50 per cent, of those ruling for free wheat in the world market. In the four-year period up to and including 1951-52, the net pool returns, f.o.r. ports, have actually been less than the 14s. 3.7d. a bushel figure for 1947-48, although costs of production increased during the five-year period following 1947-48 from 6s. 3d. to lis. lid. a bushel. The wheat acreage declined from 1.3,900,000 acres in 1947-48 to 10,100,000 acres in 1952-53.
Due to the initiative of this Government, and its provision, in these circumstances, of a subsidy to the stock-feeding industry, some improvement was effected both in the .1951-52 net returns and in the 1952-53 season. The final return, f.o.r. ports, for the 1952-53 season, is expected to be about 15s. 5£d. a bushel. There is striking evidence of a recovery in the area sown to an estimated 10,800,000 or 11,000,000 acres for the coming season, due, no doubt, in part at least, to expectations of more equitable treatment in relation to homeconsumption sales. The case for an incentive price to induce further expansion of this great industry is clear-cut, and, as I have mentioned earlier, the home-consumption price formula under the new plan is intended to go some way towards providing that incentive. At the now proposed price, wheat will continue to be available for use in Australia at a price at least 20 per cent, below current export values.
It has been a great relief to all governments in this country, and all sections of the industry, that an orderly marketing plan has been evolved finally, because its adoption will enable Australia to ratify the International Wheat Agreement without misgivings.
Even though the plan covers a period of only three years, its existence will provide a sound foundation for discussions between governments and the industry about the long-term future of wheat marketing in this country. I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Sheehan) adjourned.
In committee: Debate resumed from the 15th October (vide page 627).
That consideration of the proposed votes for the Attorney-General’s Department, Department of the Interior, Department of Works, Department of Civil Aviation, Department of Trade and Customs, Department of Commerce and Agriculture, Department of Social Services, Department of Shipping and Transport, Department of Territories, Department of Immigration and Department of Labour and National Service, be postponed.
Department of National Development.
Proposed vote, £906,000.
– I am taking the rather unusual course of initiating the debate on the proposed vote for my department, because the department’s affairs have been the subject of inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Commitee of Public Accounts. The committee’s report is relevant, because it will influence honorable senators very largely in their consideration of the departmental Estimates. At the outset, I wish to say that the report of the committee on the affairs of my department is inaccurate, and the comments that have been made in the report may result in erroneous conclusions by honorable senators. Therefore, I shall now state my views on the matters that have been mentioned in the report, so that any honorable senator who disagrees with my opinions will have an opportunity to challenge them. I bear a. responsibility, not only to myself, but also to the officers of my department inth is matter because, as honorable sena tors are aware, departmental officers are bound traditionally not to criticize Ministers or other members of the Parliament. Therefore, I hold the view - whether rightly or wrongly - that, my department having been unjustly criticized, I would be a poor kind of Minister if I were not prepared to place the facts, as I see them, before the Parliament. That is the position, stated in general terms. However, it is of no use for me to speak in general terms. I shall make specific statements. Many comments in the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts on the Department of National Development have created impressions that the department is inefficiently conducted, that it aimed at extending its activities, and that it misrepresented to Ministers cir- cumstances in relation to its transactions. I am sure that honorable senators will agree that those are grave charges, which the committee should have substantiated in its report, but, as it did not do so,I, as the responsible Minister, bear a responsibility to place the department’s views before the Parliament. Paragraph 15 of the report of the committee in relation to the Department of National Development contains this comment - .. acting under its own interpretation of the Order–
That is, the Administrative Arrangements Order - the Department was able to go to the Public Service Board and obtain additional employees… and then to submit estimates … to the Treasury for necessary funds. In the result, over the space of three years its expenditure has grown
The relevant figures are mentioned. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the following comments that appear in the report and in each case I shall quote the number of the paragraph -
There are other references of a similar nature, but I do not propose to deal with them in detail. I have referred to some of them to substantiate my expressed opinion that the report is a hostile one. It is very critical of the department and for that reason I am justified in putting the opposite point of view because 1 believe that the report is unduly hostile and unduly critical. I advance that opinion with some feeling of embarrassment because I believe that the committee has a very useful function to perform. Despite anything that I might say of the committee I, personally, shall support its further activity. However, I believe that the views that I shall express will cause the committee to approach its functions differently from the way it approached the examination of my department.
The first general statement that has been made by the committee is that the department is an expanding department. To use a term with which all honorable senators are familiar, it is an empirebuilding department in the opinion of the committee. That reduces the attitude of the committee to homely terms that all honorable senators will understand. The committee referred in its report to the increasing cost of running the Department of National Development. In paragraph 3 of the report, the committee has given the expenditure of the department year by year. It has stated that the expenditure was £771,042 in the first year, £984,109 in the second year and £1,256,000 in the third year. In the last year, that is the year 1952-53, the actual expenditure of the department was £1,197,196. That is less than the figure that has been quoted by the committee because at the time that the committee made its report, it did not have details of the actual expenditure. Its report gives the actual expenditure for two years and the estimated expenditure for the third year. I introduce the new figure for the purposes of accurate comparison.
– It is still an estimated figure?
– No, it is the actual figure and completes the comparison of actual expenditure over three years. The total expenditure of the department for the three years is divided into two sections. They cover the activities of the department proper and the activities of the Bureau of Mineral Resources which is a section of the department. For those three years, the expenditure of the Bureau of Mineral Resources was £282,309, £480,148 and £698,148 respectively. Those figures are significant because if the expenditure of the bureau is deducted, the total expenditure of the department upon all its other activities was £488,733 in the first year, £502,779 in the second year and £499,048 in the third year. Therefore, instead of the Department of National Development being an expanding department in its functions and expenditure, the contrary is the case.
– Why did not the Joint Committee of Public Accounts know about that? Could it not discover those facts?
– I wish to put the case as I see it. I support the principle of the committee very strongly. The point that I wish to make is that the committee must go about its duties in a more efficient manner than it has done in the past in relation to my department. I have replied first to the caustic comments that were made by the committee about the expansion of the department and its expenditure by showing that for all practical purposes the department’s expenditure did not increase over the three years.
– On the Minister’s figures, the expenditure increased by £11,000.
– I claim that for all practical purposes, it has not increased. I want to present the general picture. My next point is that necessarily one must relate expenditure to staff when considering the report. On page 6 of this report, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts presents a table showing the details of the permanent and temporary staff of the department from the 30th June, 1950, to the 30th June, 1953. That table is inaccurate. It shows the total staff of the department at the 30th June, 1953, as 61S, but the correct total is 575. The staff of the department has been overstated by 43, and that is a material difference.
– Where did the committee obtain its figures?
– The report con- . tains an annotation that the figures were supplied by the Public Service Board. The actual employment figures of the department, with which the Public Service Board agrees, are 575 instead of 618.
– At what date?
– At the 30th June, 1953.
– Then the Joint Committee of Public Accounts is useless.
– It is not useless. It is a good committee, but it has to learn by experience.
– Footnote (c) under the table on page 6 of the report states that the figures show the establishment approved by the Public Service Board as at the 30th June, 1952.
– I do not understand the honorable senator. In regard to the staff, I think that my argument will lead honorable senators to the conclusion that the only sphere of the department’s activities that has increased has been that of the Bureau of Mineral Resources. Disregarding the staff of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, the staff of the Department of National Development at the 30th June, 1951, numbered 470; at the 30th June, 1952, it numbered 298 ; and at the 30th June, 1953, it numbered 283’. It cannot be suggested, therefore, that this department is an empirebuilding organization. If it is an empirebuilding department, it deserves to have some increase in its empire if it has been able to expand its activities and at the same time reduce its staff from 470 to 283.
– Has the reduction in staff been due to reduced activity?
– It has been due to re-organization within the department. I hope that I have established that the department has not increased its expenditure and that the department, apart from the Bureau of Mineral Resources, has very substantially reduced its staff.
The expansion which has taken place in the department . has occurred in the Bureau of Mineral Resources. The expenditure of the bureau has increased from £282,309 in 1950-51, to £480,148 in 1951-52 and to £698,148 in 1952-53. So it will be appreciated that the whole expansion of the department has taken place in the Bureau of Mineral Resources. Practically the whole of the expansion within that bureau has been due to two factors. The increased expenditure that I have mentioned was occasioned by operational expenses and the two main items in operational expenses are geophysical expenses and coal exploration expenses. The expenditure on coal exploration increased from £14,043 in 1950-51, to £76,158 in 1951-52, and to £222,000 for the year ended the 30th June, 1953. The amount provided in the Estimates for the current year is £62,000. Coal exploration was a part of the programme to find and develop Australian coal resources. For the three years ended the 30th June, 1953, coal ‘to the value of £12.000,000 was imported into Australia The Parliament approved of the payment of subsidies o.i the importation of that coal totalling £3,850,000. Even after having imported that coal Australia did not have enough and the real cost to thy nation of the lack of coal would be difficult to estimate.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– I rise only formally, Mr. Chairman, so that my action will enable the Minister to continue his speech.
– I appreciate the courtesy that has been extended to me by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). I do not think that anybody would seriously suggest that the expenditure of £14,000, £76,000 and £222,000 in successive years followed by a reduction of expenditure to £62,000 was too great an expenditure in view of the national need for coal. What we have to ask ourselves is whether the money was properly and economically spent. The Joint Committee of Public Accounts has said that the money was not well spent because the department established organizations of its own and that, instead of employing private contractors, it carried out- work with its own men in a less economical way than the work could otherwise have been done. However, the committee has not referred to the manner in which the department was authorized to undertake this work. The department’s instructions resulted from a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. It was allocated its share of a general programme embracing the State Department of Mines, the Bureau of Mineral Resources, and the Joint Coal Board. It is necessary to mention the part of the programme that was allocated to the Bureau of Mineral Resources. But the department had specific instructions that it was not to employ private drilling plants because there were not sufficient available. The private drilling plants that were available were to be left for use by the Joint Coal Board, the Snowy Mountains Authority and other bodies that had drilling work to do. The department was told that its contribution to t.Le work was to superimpose another organization on existing organizations. The department prepared requisitions for four drilling plants for this work, and the Minister approved of their purchase. Then, after reflection, the Minister told the department to increase its requisition to eight drilling plants and order them immediately overseas so that better progress could be made with the work.
I believe that what I have already said is a reasonable answer to the criticism concerning coal exploration. I think that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts has dealt far too harshly with the department in the course of its criticism. Between 1951 and 1953 the staff of the Bureau of Mineral Resources was increased by 74 persons. Of that number, 22 were placed on coal exploration work, 41 on the search for uranium and eleven on other work. That ties in with the figures I have already given showing the increase of expenditure on geophysical work. Surely I do not have to argue to honorable senators that a department which expended £47,000 in the first year, £100,000 in the second year, and £130,000 in the third year on the search for uranium should not be subject to criticism. I believe that those are facts which the Joint Committee qf Public Accounts itself should have unearthed. To be fair, the committee should have stated those circumstances. Speaking subject to correction I do not think that the word “ uranium “ is mentioned in the report.
– After all, it was the ordinary prospector and not government officials who located uranium.
– That is an oversimplification. During my trip abroad I had an opportunity to consult the relevant authorities in Great Britain and the United States of America, and I can only say that, in those countries, an extraordinarily high opinion is held of the work that has been done by the Bureau of Mineral Resources in searching for and locating uranium in Australia. It is a task that presents the greatest technical and scientific problems. Whilst I am unable to speak on purely technical matters, I can judge the atmosphere in which comments are made, and I repeat that wherever I went, there was tremendous commendation of the work of the Department of National Development in searching for and locating uranium deposits. I hope I have established to the satisfaction of honorable senators the fact that the general tenor of the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts does not do justice to the Department of National Development.
There are a few specific matters in the report to which I should like to refer. Paragraph 22 states that the department had been able to venture into many fields. One is entitled to ask, “ With what staff ? “ The department did not increase its staff or its expenditure. If it was able to do what it did simply by using a little imaginaton, my comment is, “ God bless it “. Paragraphs 26 to 32 contain a series of statements about coal-drilling exploration. It is stated that the department was stimulated into those activities. I have told honorable senators that whatever the department did was done under ministerial instruction. Surely it was up to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts to find that out before making its report. Paragraph 29 of the report, which is shown as a statement by the committee is, I understand, a complete extract from the evidence given by the Secretary of the Department of National Development, Dr. Raggatt.
I turn next to the criticism of the purchase of the deep oil well drilling plant. That matter is referred to in paragraph 33 and successive paragraphs of the report. The report contains a series of statements which I think can be fairly interpreted as expressing the view that the department misled its Minister and that it obtained a very substantial appropriation of money from the Government, not to purchase a new plant, but to modernize or repair an existing plant. The committee ended this phase of its report on the pious note that the department would do well, when it wanted anything, to submit a statement showing the original estimate, the amount required for the current financial year, the amount expended to date, and the amount needed to complete the transaction. One does not become involved in the purchase of plant worth £320,000 lightly. I can say that on each occasion when the matter came before me, the specific qualifications that the committee say should be observed, were observed. When I was asked to approve the expenditure of £124,000 back in 1951, the information that the committee suggests should be made available, was made available to me almost word for word. I was told the original estimate, how much had been expended up to that time, and how much was needed to complete the transaction. Speaking subject to correction, I put a minute on those papers that I would like to see what my predecessor had done in this matter. I am informed that the very paper which contained that information, and my decision, was submitted as evidence to the Public Accounts Committee. It is not a very pleasant situation when a responsible department is accused by a parliamentary committee of misleading its Minister although the committee had before it facts which show that no such thing occurred.
Much emphasis is laid on the claim that the money was voted originally for the modernization of a plant and not for a new plant. I have read the papers and, to a bright critical mind out to cause difficulty and not wishing to act fairly and impartially, that may appear to be so. The papers in the early stages are headed “ Modernization of deep oil well drilling plant “. However, in the body of the papers it is stated clearly that the existing plants are useless and must be scrapped. It is quite patent to me that new plant was contemplated. Those papers were marked by my predecessor, after a long conversation with Dr. Raggatt, “ I agree to this recommendation “. I shall require a lot of convincing before I believe that a five-page or sixpage memorandum, followed by a long discussion and a ministerial decision, arose out of an atmosphere in which the Minister was being deceived in connexion with a matter he was being asked to approve. Three months later there was a further memorandum from the department to the Minister.
– When was that?
– Approximately in June, 1950. That letter referred te “ our earlier memorandum concerning the purchase of a new oil deep well plant”. There is, in this chamber, an independent witness, because a series of Ministers has been concerned in the matter. I do not know what Senator Armstrong’s recollection is, but he must be able to make some contribution concerning events which happened in 1949, when the previous Labour Government was in office,, and when a general policy decision t» prospect for oil was made.
-Order ! The Minister’s time has expired.
– Again I intervene, for the same purpose as formerly.
.- On the 27th August, 1951, I received a memorandum which stated, in respect of this plant, that the estimated aggregate expenditure was £320,959, the expenditure approved to date waa £196,668, and that additional expenditure required was £124,291. The memorandum continued that this plant was to be used for a specific purpose, and that there was an arrangement that it would be leased on condition that the Government’s rent would be 17£ per cent, of the value of the plant, that the lessee would purchase the consumable stores that go with the plant, that there was to be a programme to commence drilling early in 1953, and that the operational costs were to be borne by the three bodies concerned - the Australian Government, the State Government, and the company which would undertake the drilling.
I am not dealing with the question whether it was right or wrong to purchase this plant or to drill in Western Australia ; I am dealing with the insinuation that the authority was wrongly obtained. I take up the cudgels on behalf of my department and say that the report is more than unfair.
I refer now to paragraph 3S of the report, which is in the following terms : -
For some years large oil companies had been interested . . . and inquired of the department whether its new plant would be available. The company was told of the Government’s plans for drilling at Nerrima, and thereupon it made its own arrangements to get plant . . .
In paragraph 77 of the report the following statement appears : -
The Western Australian Petroleum Company . . , repeatedly inquired about the plant between 1950 and 1952, before it decided to. buy its own drilling plant.
When I read that statement in the report I was very angry, because, for the last year or so, I have been trying to sell the plant. I wondered how these inquiries could have come to my department without my knowing about them. When I challenged the officers of the department, I received the answer that no inquiries were made, although, in 1950, an oral inquiry whether the plant was available was made of the department. At that time it was committed to the Freney Kimberley Oil Company, and I was told that that was the extent of the inquiry.
– Only one inquiry ?
– One inquiry. I was so disturbed that I sent for the papers that had gone to the committee. Perhaps
I should be fair to the committee and say that when one reads those papers it is possible to read into them the interpretation that there was more than one inquiry. The presentation to the committee of the facts concerning that incident was not at all well done and could lead to the inference that a number of inquiries were made. On further investigation, I found that the Secretary of the department gave evidence before the committee and that, because his evidence was not well expressed, it gave the impression that there had been several inquiries. The committee then sent a request to the department for amplification of the Secretary’s evidence. At that time the Secretary was away somewhere else. When the department received the inquiry it said, in effect, “ We have never heard of these inquiries. What is it all about? Who has wanted to buy this plant ? “ The department then sent back to the committee a reply which the Secretary did not see. As I have said, the evidence of the Secretary could give the impression that a number of inquiries were made, whereas in fact only one was made.
This matter raises the important question of the approach that should be adopted by the committee in attacking the honour of senior public servants, as it has done here. Having regard to the contents of this report, I consider there is justification for suggesting - although I am loath to do so - that heads of departments and senior officers require legal protection in presenting evidence to the committee. I believe that had this incident been referred back to the Secretary with a request to explain its meaning, the explanation given would have been satisfactory and would have obviated this criticism.
Paragraphs 45-48 of the report contain criticism of the Division of Industrial Development. Again, I think that that criticism is answered by the staffing position of the department. In 1950, there were 322 officers. That number had fallen to 305 in 1951, to 191 in 1952, and to 166 at the beginning of this year. At the 30th September last, there were 132 officers. Having regard to the fact that a particular section of the department was reorganized in that way.
I think a little charity on the part of the committee would have been more appropriate than unjust criticism.
– Is the Minister referring to the Bureau of Mineral Resources ?
– No, I am referring to another section of the department which was criticized. I think that what I have said answers that criticism and that there is no need for me to elaborate my remarks. However, I wish to refer also to paragraph 85 of the report, in which the committee expressed the view that a firm decision regarding the retention or disposal of this deep oil well plant should be hastened. That comes a little hard from my point of view, because I have spoken to most of the leading oil companies throughout Australia, and- also to some in America, and have endeavoured to persuade them to come into the field and use this drilling plant for the purpose for which it was purchased. I do not think it is unfair to say that there is not a responsible person in the oil industry in Australia who does not know that this plant is available and that the Government wishes to sell it upon the condition that it is used for drilling for oil in Australia. No question of government policy is involved. A plant which will drill to a depth of 13,000 feet cannot be sold like a hat from a rack. This plant was purchased for a specific purpose and can be used only for that purpose. Before it can be sold, it is necessary to find some one who is prepared to undertake the initial investment and also to back that investment with an additional £1,000,000 or more, which would be required to set up the organization involved.
I think that I have said sufficient to indicate my sentiments in this matter. I hope that I have not expressed myself unpleasantly. It is always difficult in such matters to divorce personal feelings from one’s idea of the correct thing to do. I should, perhaps, be abnormal if I said that I am not sensitive to criticism of my department and my own prestige and standing as a Minister. I should like the committee to appreciate that I have entered the fray a;nd made these statement not so much because of my own feelings in the matter but because of a desire to do justice to the officers of my department.
– The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) adopted a most unusual course in embarking upon a defence before he had been attacked.
– A most welcome innovation.
– The Minister himself indicated that it was unusual.
– And a very good idea, too.
– I am not contesting that point. In his answer, the Minister used the strongest terms concerning the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, which was published and made available to honorable senators in August last. In common with other honorable senators, I have perused that report. At the time of reading it, I was disturbed by much of its contents, and I was most interested to hear the reply of the Minister to-day. In order that honorable senators may be able to grasp the nature of the complete conflict between the viewpoint of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and that of the Minister, I propose to refer to the terms used by the Minister to describe the report. Hn said it was inaccurate and unfair and led to misleading conclusions. He also said that his department had been unjustly criticized and that the committee had attacked the honour of senior public servants. Those are exceedingly strong terms to use.
– He also said that it was an unduly hostile report.
– Yes. The Minister then embarked upon a justification of those general statements. No matter how restrained, physically, he may have been in his utterances, I doubt if any Minister could have used stronger terms than those with which he described the report. That his words were not roared out to the committee but spoken in temperate tones does not alter the fact thai they represent a most powerful attack upon a joint committee of this Parliament. I do not say that the Minister is not. entitled to meet an attack upon his department. The Opposition recognizes the need to give him the fullest opportunity to state his views.
– Would the honorable senator go further and say that it is his responsibility to do so?
– I think that the Minister has a responsibility to his department, not to conceal anything that is wrong, but to defend it if it is unjustly attacked. I think that the Minister has made out a case for the Joint Committee of Public Accounts to answer. In presenting his case he has indicated that the main functions of his department have been expanded only slightly as far as expenditure is concerned and that the 3taff of the department has been reduced. He has pointed out that, in respect of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, money has been expended en explorations for coal and uranium, two vital matters in our economy. Ho has indicated also that, during a period of three years, the staff had increased by 74 persons, 22 of them working o.n coal exploration, 42 allocated to uranium exploration, and eleven being concerned with the general purposes of she bureau. I feel that the Opposition should suspend judgment in this matter whilst there is an opportunity for the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, or any representative of it, to answer the Minister. It seems to me that, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts having made an attack, and the Minister having replied to it, it is proper for the Opposition to await some comment from a member of the committee.
Sitting suspended from 12Ji5 to 2.15 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I pointed out that the Minister for National Development had made a complete contradiction of what purported to be statements of facts contained in the fourth report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. That joins a very serious issue between the Minister and committee. I also indicated that the committee, so far as the Opposition was concerned, should reserve judgment upon that conflict until the Joint Committee of Public Accounts or “its representative - two members of the committee are present in the chamber at the moment, whilst the third is absent owing to illness - has replied to the issues raised by the Minister. The committee may have a complete answer to offer to the Minister’s statement. Members of the Opposition do not know, but we should be very interested to hear the various direct challenges to the committee raised by the Minister met by the committee, or its representatives; whether, as the Minister said, the committee is incorrect in what it alleges to be facts, and whether it is unfair or has drawn wrong conclusions. These are very serious allegations and, of course, they must be probed to the finish.
At this stage, I should like to direct attention to the fact that the Minister, although he had extensive time, has not dealt with all phases of the committee’s report. There is, for . instance, the primary comment by the committee that goes to the very foundation of the Department of National Development which is to the effect that its charter, which empowers it to embark upon various activities and undertakings is vague, too wide and too general. If that is the case, one can imagine that many of the ills of the department as postulated by the committee stem from that foundational fact. On that point, after directing attention to particular functions set out in the administrative order relating to the department. dated the 2nd July, 1951, the committee points out that some of those functions have ceased, that others have had only nominal operative effect and that some of the functions are expressed in general terms, whilst the meaning of others, for example, “ Promotion and production of liquid fuels “, is vague. The committee added in paragraph 21 of its report -
It was agreed by the departmental witnesses that’ the statement of functions should be more precisely drawn.
At least on those vital points it would appear that the department and the Joint Committee of Public Accounts are in accord. Does the Minister appreciate the seriousness of the attack by the committee contained in those paragraphs? Does lie acknowledge that phase of the committee’s report to be accurate? If so, what steps does he, or his department, propose to take in order to clarify the department’s functions so that no longer will there be any vagueness, or justification for a doubt as to whether the department is to embark upon practical proposals, or whether it is to act in an advisory and consultative capacity and undertake general promotional activity instead of engaging actively itself in such undertakings? That seems to be one of the great defects at the bottom of the department. Is it to undertake development, or is it . merely to sponsor development? That is the fundamental point. I invite the Minister to indicate where, in his view, the emphasis lies in his department. Is it to engage in projects, or is it to promote projects and merely stimulate activities and act in an advisory capacity towards the end of national development? I repeat that the answer to that question lies at the foundation of the department, and it is no doubt the cause of whatever ills may exist in the department. The Minister has not dealt with that phase of the matter.
The next point that I “desire to make relates to the committee’s statement regarding surveys that the department conducts. The committee, in paragraph 59 of its report, states -
The Committee was informed that “ a large part of the activities of the Division “ is concorned with making a wide variety of surveys and investigations into industry. They are undertaken for a variety of reasons, including the provision of information asked for by private industrialists, or to help the Government or institutions. Some of the material collected in making such surveys’ may later be published by the Division,. in the series “Brief Reviews of Industry “.
That is very trenchant criticism of the department’s “ brief reviews of industry “. The committee, in paragraph 61 of its report, states -
The information is collected by officers going round industrial, commercial and public undertakings and interviewing persons engaged therein. The Committee was not able to obtain any clear statement of the way in which departmental decisions were reached about the order in which surveys were to be made, nor how many officers were to be engaged in making them. In fact, the Department said it was not possible to give the Committee any idea of what each “ Brief Review “’ cost. The inference can be drawn that the approach of the Division is that it has a certain staff and so much money for salaries and incidentals, and it works blindly on projects as long as there is money in its vote.
I pose the question to the Senate: Gould there be more trenchant criticism of any department’s administration than is contained in those words ? I may be in error, but I do not recall that the Minister, in the mass of the matters that he put forward, adverted to that- criticism, or faced up to it. I now invite him to do so. The committee concerned itself particularly with that phase of the department’s activities. In paragraph 68 of its report it amplified the position in the following words : -
Another publication that has come under the notice of the Committee is the quarterly review called National Development, which is produced in the Public Relations Section of tin’ Department of National Development. It is priced at 2s. (Id. a copy or at 10s. for an annual subscription. This is a very elaborate and costly production and is another means of using the material collected by the Department of National Development.
The committee, in paragraph 69 of its report, states - lt i? clear to the Committee that considerable man-power, material and equipment ure used in producing publications of this character that are generally taking the place of the more sombre annual reports. The Committee brings the matter under the notice of the Parliament as one way in which substantial savings might be effected.
In short, the charge made by the committee is that there is no plan to determine the order in which surveys of this nature should be undertaken, that they are undertaken blindly and not to the extent of the needs of national development in this community but simply to the extent that officers and money are ‘available for such activity. That is very trenchant criticism of an important phase of the activity of the Minister and of his department, and the Minister must face up to it in the course of this debate regardless of other matters upon which he may join issue with the committee. The committee, having dealt with the sale of the oil plant and with the department’s policy of coal exploration concludes paragraph 79 of its report with this statement -
With the conclusion of the programme of coal exploration, the department is faced with losses, and has been left with camps and equipment on its hands that it is trying to sell.
Paragraphs 80 and 81 of the committee’s report state -
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) suggested that a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts might offer some statement in reply to the remarks that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) has made in respect of the committee’s fourth report -which deals with the Department of National Development. I point out that that report was subscribed to unanimously by members of the committee. It has been presented to both houses of the Parliament in accordance with the provisions of the act under which the committee has been constituted. The ‘ Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has given an undertaking to the committee that he will consider the recommendations made in its reports and will ascertain what steps can be taken to have them implemented. The Treasurer said that he would then report to the committee on the progress that he had made. It is felt that until that process which is now the established practice has been completed, comment in the Parliament upon the report would not be appropriate. The following minute stands on the books of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts -
It was agreed that the members of the committee would not reply in the Parliament to any criticisms, ministerial or otherwise. Members would be free to point out that the Treasurer had undertaken to see that effect was given to its proposals, and comment should be deferred until the Treasurer’s reply is received.
– When did the committee make that decision?
– On the 14th October.
– A couple of days ago?
– That ib correct ; the decision was made at a recent meeting of the committee. In view of that decision, members of the committee believe that it would not be proper for any member of it to comment on the report at this stage. When the committee receives from the Treasurer the report that I have indicated, after he has consulted with the department, the committee will consider whatever comment the Treasurer may offer.
– I was very interested in Senator Paltridge’s remarks. I note that the decision of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, which, if it were a matter of principle, one might have expected it to make at the inception of its activities, was not reached until two days ago. I suggest that at that time the committee was aware that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) intended to make a reply in this chamber along the lines of his speech this morning. The members of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts in this chamber have met with a complete contradiction of their unanimous report, so that none of them could be embarrassed by reason of the fact that he was a dissentient. Senator Paltridge has told us that each member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts approved the terms of this report, and in those circumstances there could be no embarrassment to any or every member of that committee who stood up to it. I can appreciate the point that the Minister has introduced new matter, and that there has not since been time for all of his assertions to be checked, but as soon as that can be done, I think it is encumbent on the Joint Committee of Public Accounts to examine critically the statement that the Minister has made to-day. If necessary, it should see the officers of the department again, and, as a matter of urgency, during the current sessional period of the Parliament, bring back another report and move a motion that will enable this chamber to debate the issue adequately. I think that that should and must be done. When I spoke last I referred to matters in the report upon which the Minister made no comment. The committee referred in its report to mistakes of judgment that had a cumulative effect and led to unwise decisions that tended to he progressive. Paragraph 81 of the report reads -
Somewhat similar is the problem presented by the Division of Industrial Development. The Division has been built up to collect a store of facts about Australian industry, and its prospects of expansion. But the Department could give the Committee no idea of what the various aspects of work of the Division cost. The measure of the success of the Division appeared to be what it spent, and not what its various activities, cost. Furthermore nothing had been done to enlist thu interest of the several industries in undertaking their own research so that the full cost would not fall upon the Government.
That is a most trenchant criticism of the activities of the Department of National Development. The criticism was continued in paragraph 82, which reads -
The foregoing illustrations present a common pattern. In each case, an approved project has produced results quite different from what the Department expected. Some members f.i thu Committee feel that the attitude with which the Department approached these project-: showed a lack of realism, and savoured Koo much of an expectation that something would turn up to justify the expenditure involved.
That again is a most trenchant and damning criticism of the activities of this department, made by a joint committee of both Houses of this Parliament on which members of all parties in both Houses are represented. The committee’s conclusions are expressed coldly, and in measured language. The Minister dealt solely with the field of development in the manner in which it best suited his department. He has not faced up to the issues that have been raised so acutely by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. I think that I am right in saying that the Minister did not, ‘ advert to another aspect of the matter, that is mentioned in paragraph 83. A very strong recommendation was made by the committee in that paragraph, which reads -
The nature of the work of national development is such that vast expenditure can so easily fail to produce any commensurate return. For this reason, the Committee recommends that the Government should give close attention to the activities of the Department. Some members of the Committee would go so far as to suggest that there should be associated with the Department an Advisory Com mittee comprising representatives of the Prime Minister’s Department, the Treasury, the Public Service Board and the Department. Such a Committee (and a similar one has recently been appointed in connection with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority) should help to provide a reconciliation between the demands of efficient and economical administration, and the claims of scientific expansion.
That recommendation for the appointment of an advisory committee is not one that is expressed to be the unanimous finding of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, but I should like to know the Minister’s reaction to the proposal. After all is said and done, after the damning indictment that is expressed in this report of the activities of the Department of National Development, the best thing that could happen would be to establish an authority with general oversight of the department, lt should function at least for a period, until some confidence in the administration of the department has been restored. This report strikes a complete blow at the confidence that the public of Australia is entitled to have in the department.
– The Leader of the Opposition has ignored my assertion that that comment was inaccurate.
– The Minister has not dealt specifically with a number of points. They have yet to be answered by people who have collated the information. I do not attempt to join issue with him in that connexion, because neither I nor any other honorable senator, who is not a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, has available to him at the moment the evidence upon which the finding of the committee was based.
– The evidence is available.
– I understand that it is available now, but I think it will be appreciated that there was no opportunity to peruse it during the suspension of the sitting, so that nobody except those who have read the evidence, or who have grown up with the development of the situation that led to the presentation of this report, could reply to the Minister’s attack. It is a mere question of fact. The Minister has challenged the committee’s report on questions of fact most acutely. I am very eager to see this matter resolved. Other conclusions of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts are contained in paragraph 84, which reads -
The Committee did not attempt to assess the value to Australian national development of the work done by the Department, but is of the opinion that it is essential that the Department should be restrained in selecting projects and vigilant in seeing that value is obtained for what is spent.
The committee summarizes other conclusions in its final paragraph.
– How does the Leader of the Opposition suggest that the committee can, withjustification, say that the department should be restrained, and soon, when in the earlier part of the sentence it states that it did not attempt to assess the value of the work done?
– That is what the committee says. It did not attempt to assess the value of the work done, but reached the conclusion that the department is too enthusiastic and not discriminatory enough. The committee has made that position completely clear. There is no mistaking the meaning of this portion of the paragraph -
The Committee … is of the opinion that it is essential–
And its wording is very strong - that the Department should be restrained in selecting projects and vigilant in seeing that value is obtained for what is spent.
In the light of that allegation, the Minister should attempt to justify the activities of his department in the respects that have been adversely commented upon in this report. The final paragraph of the report commences -
Other conclusions of the Committee are -
That the functions of the Department and its several divisions be defined with greater precision.
The Minister might tell us during the course of this debate whether he agrees with that conclusion, or with the next conclusion -
That the scope of the gratuituous services supplied by the Department be examined.
Does the Minister agree that gratuituous services should be cut down? Does he accept the recommendation of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts that, in relation to research which is being undertaken directly by the department, outside industry should be encouraged to embark upon its own research, at its own expense ? The next conclusion of the committee, contained in paragraph 85, reads -
That care be taken to avoid duplication by this Department of work done by State and by other Commonwealth Departments.
Does the Minister acknowledgethat duplication exists?
– Where, at any stage in its report, has the committee alleged that there is duplication?
– I am not aware that the committee has done so.
– Then, what right had the committee to come to a conclusion about that matter?
– That is an issue between the Minister and the Joint Committee of Public Accounts.
– That shows how outrageous is the report. The committee has stated a conclusion about a matter that is not mentioned elsewhere in the report.
– The Minister is taking the opportunity to be even more trenchant in his criticism of the report, than the report is of his department. That only emphasizes the point thatI have made, that it is encumbent on the Joint Committee of Public Accounts to justify this report now. If it cannot do so now, it should do so at the earliest possible minute, but certainly during the life of this Parliament.
– In effect, what has to be decided is whether the Joint Committee of Public Accounts wants a. committee to be appointed to supervise it, or whether the department wants a committee to be appointed to supervise it.
– If the Minister’s allegations about the irresponsibility of the committee - its failure to establish facts, its presentation of incorrect evidence and incorrect information to this Parliament, and the drawing of wrong conclusions from those facts - are true, then there is such a damning indictment of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts that the question of its continuation on its present duties should be very seriously considered by the Parliament. Either the Joint Committee of
Public Accounts is right, or the Minister is right. If the Minister is right, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts has rendered no service to the Parliament. It is on very severe challenge from the Minister at this stage. I regret that as recently as two days ago - on the eve of this development - and I am going to suggest a development which the members of the committee knew was pending-
– That is a most important aspect of the matter.
– The Joint Committee of Public Accounts tied the hands of its members in this Parliament-
– Yes, it was done with premeditation. There is no doubt about that. The final conclusion of the committee, set out in paragraph 85, reads -
That, in presenting its estimates to the Parliament, the Department should indicate either in thu specific items or sub-divisions or by thu use of footnotes, the precise projects upon which it proposes to spend its appropriation.
– Why should my department adopt a procedure different f rom the procedure of other departments ?
– Obviously the Joint Committee of Public Accounts viewed the Department of National Development in a slightly different light from the way in which it viewed other departments, and it has embarked upon a most serious criticism of the Minister’s administration of his department. I have posed a number of questions that were raised by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, which I consider the Minister has not yet answered. In due course, when he is ready to do so, I shall 1 -p pleased if he will answer the points that I have raised.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has stated that none of the members of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts present in this chamber is prepared to get up and justify the charge that has been levelled against the committee by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). I suggest that two days ago, when that committee made a decision that it would not enter into this debate, which it knew was coming forward, it over looked the very important factor that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts is responsible, not to the Treasurer, but to this Parliament. This is the place where the committee’s report should be debated, not in the office of the Treasurer. The Leader of the Opposition is most disturbed about the report. During the last weekend I read the whole of the evidence, which was kindly supplied to me by the secretary of the committee. I have read the whole of the transcript consisting of hundreds of pages of sworn testimony that was given by witnesses who were called by the committee. I have had some experience in the evaluation of evidence and I reached one conclusion only. I have no hesitation in saying that, broadly speaking, the conclusions of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts as indicated in its report are not substantiated by the evidence. I have not much time to go into that proposition, but I suggest that any honorable senator who takes the trouble to study the evidence will come to that conclusion also. The only possible way to evaluate the conclusions that are contained in the committee’s report is to read the evidence and I say without hesitation that the conclusions of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts are not founded on the evidence. In the short time available to me, I want to demonstrate that proposition. I direct the attention of honorable senators to one of the most important sections of the report dealing with the drilling for oil. The report states on page 8, in paragraph 33 -
The deep-well plant acquired for oil exploration is represented in the accounts of the department by a sum of £320,000.
On the same. page, at paragraph 35. the report continues -
Two of the three plants had to be combined to drill 6,300 feet at Nerrima and with care, it was thought the bore might reach 7,300- feet. New geological and geophysical evidence suggested the need for deeper drilling, and in 1947 the Bureau of Mineral Resources began inquiries about the availability of rotary drilling equipment “ required for the purpose of modernizing Commonwealth oil-boring plant “.
I pause there to direct the attention of honorable senators to the reference to Nerrima. If honorable senators study the evidence that was given before the committee, they will discover that it was not because of the Nerrima proposition that the department required deep-well boring plant at all. The comments of the committee emphasize the word Nerrima Anybody reading the report would conclude that the plant to which I have referred, costing £320,000, had been obtained for the’ express purpose of drilling for oil at Nerrima and that, after it was acquired, the department decided that it would not drill at Nerrima Further, it would be concluded from the report that, as a consequence, the Government now has a useless plant on its hands. I believe that is a fair statement of the contents of the report. It states in paragraphs 39 and 40 -
Subsequently, results of further geophysical surveys suggested that Nerrima was not a satisfactory site, so that in the upshot, the Government has been left with the plant on its bands. The plant has never been used and is in store in Melbourne.
The only inference that could be drawn from that statement has, in fact, been drawn by the newspapers and by everybody with whom I have discussed this matter. It was understood from the committee’s statement that the department acquired the plant for the express purpose of drilling at Nerrima. and that, as it had not drilled there, it had locked up the plant. Those inferences are not borne out by the evidence. The evidence shows that approval of the purchase of the plant was given during the financial year 1948-49. At that time it was the intention of the Government to use the plant anywhere in Australia because private companies were not interested in drilling for oil. The evidence reveals that the department particularly, favoured two very large regions in “Western Australia -the north-west and the Kimberleys - where, the plant was most likely to be used. It was never acquired for drilling at Nerrima
– Why should the department undertake oil drilling at all?
– Because the evidence is that no private company was prepared to do it.
– But private companies have been doing so for twenty years to my knowledge.
– They have not undertaken deep drilling. There has been none in the last 50 years. The honorable senator does not know what he is talking about when he states that private companies have been drilling for oil.
– They have been drilling to 4,000 feet. What about the drilling activities in New Guinea?
– There has never been a deep-well drilling plant in Australia before. I shall now turn to the evidence that was given before the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. I suggest that honorable senators must compare the report with the evidence, and I shall read some of the evidence because it justifies the statements that I have made. In evidence that was given before the committee on the 9th July, 1953, recorded at page N.4, Dr. Raggatt stated -
The primary decision by Cabinet and thu Minister in the first place that it would be desirable to test a site was based on more general considerations than that. You will find in the papers that when Cabinet gave this general consideration, they agreed with the recommendations that the policy that had been followed previously of assisting small companies had not yielded useful results, and that it was becoming more and more apparent that the search for oil would require a technical background on the part of operators, and the Cabinet strengthened the Bureau to carry out more geological work in conjunction with the State Government. But the Commonwealth also said that if none of the large oil companies could be persuaded to follow up places where the Government’s advisers considered something should be done, the Government should be in a position to do that drilling itself. I admit that in saying that we also said that we at that time had two area? in mind which our continued work would justify testing, and those areas, although not mentioned, were definitely understood to be the north-west of Western Australia and the Kimberleys, but it was not related sit that time to a bore specifically at Nerrima
The evidence recorded on page N.6 shows that Dr. Raggatt had realized that the committee had been misinformed or was not coming to the proper inferences or decisions as to the true position because he constantly returns to this particular matter. The evidence stated -
– I gather in the submission of one of your former chiefs to the Minister of the day in 194!) it was laid down, either by the Bureau or the department, that the surveys showed two areas to be worth testing by drilling and that those officers confidently expected to get results. You keep coming back to this: You did not buy some-_ thing expensive that might be used somewhere, but had in mind the idea that the old plant was not good enough and you wanted new equipment to go down below 7,500 feet?
Dr. RAGGATT; Yes, it was bought in the belief that there were areas well worth testing and no company was doing the job.
– It would be far more satisfactory if you bought this plant for a specific purpose rather than merely to have it available.
Dr. RAGGATT. ; I agree with you that the Government approved the .purchase of the plant on the representations that we thought two areas in Australia would be worth testing, but we did not buy it to bore at Nerrima.
Again Dr. Raggatt emphasized that point. But if honorable senators read the evidence, they will note that the committee did not appreciate it. The report of the evidence continues -
Mr. THOMPSON. If it were not those two ureas, what were the other areas?
Dr. RAGGATT. ; When we say the Kimberleys, we are talking about a very large part of the country, but when we talk about Nerrima that is only a spot. That is the distinction that I. am trying to get the Chairman to make for me.
Dr. Raggatt made further reference to the matter on the 9th July and the recorded evidence at page N.19 reads -
– You have been good enough, Dr. Raggatt, to submit a new statement to the committee which we have put into our evidence as an exhibit in place of your previous statement. The .statement that you bad nut the Kimberleys in mind . . .
Dr. RAGGATT. ; I had not Nerrima in mind.
– The principal points of understanding are that the plant was purchased us ii matter of general policy and not specifically for drilling in the Kimberleys. You did buy it with the Kimberleys in mind?
Dr. RAGGATT. ; As one of the areas.
– You say that you did not say that?
Dr. RAGGATT.; The plant was not purchased with the idea of drilling specifically at Nerrima.
– Could it have been anywhere in the north-west?
Dr. RAGGATT. ; The Kimberleys was one of the areas. You, Mr. Chairman, read out the operative clause this morning when you read the submission to the Minister.
On the following page of the evidence, the record shows that the chairman had at last arrived at the conclusion that Dr. Raggatt had been trying to convey to the committee for some days, to the effect that the plant was not for drilling at Nerrima. The record of the evidence states -
– You will withdraw this letter and send the committee another letter which will be clearer than that which we already have. I am satisfied that the inference that we draw was not justified in the specific way that we took it. There was a certain ministerial approval in this matter and also recommendations that you made in 1949-11150 ?
In spite of that, we find the very damning, very silly and very inaccurate conclusion by the committee that is recorded in paragraph 39 of its report, which reads -
Subsequently, results of further geophysical surveys suggested that Nerrima was not a satisfactory site, so that in the upshot, the Government has been left with the plant on its hands.
That is an inaccurate and incomplete finding. I suggest that if any honorable senator is interested, he should study this evidence and he will reach the same conclusion as I reached. I could support further comments with the evidence but I shall not have sufficient time. I direct the attention of honorable senators to various conclusions of the committee that are published at page 12 of its report. The first recommendation to which I shall refer is that relating to alleged duplication of functions. In paragraph 85, the committee expresses this conclusion among others -
That care be taken to avoid duplication by this Department of work done by State and by other Commonwealth departments.
To my knowledge - and I have been associated professionally with the mining industry for twenty years - neither the department nor its predecessor ever duplicated the work of the States. The conclusion of the Public Accounts Committee leads me to the inference that the committee itself does not realize the manner in which the Australian Government, the State governments, and private mining ventures are correlated into one pattern of industry in Australia. Each of them has a separate function. Each does it, and understands it. The only people who do not seem to understand it are the members of the Public Accounts Committee. I can speak with experience of this matter, and assure honorable senators that there is no duplication so far as I know. But that is not the point, nor is it particularly relevant. The point I wish to make is that there is not one word of evidence in the sworn testimony given before the committee that suggests there is any duplication. The Public Accounts Committee is a quasi-judicial body. It takes evidence on oath, and it must conform to the legal principles involved. I believe that every member of the committee would admit that its findings must be based on the evidence that is given before it.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired. I call Senator Armstrong.
– I rose to reciprocate u good turn that was accorded to me in this debate by moving for an extension of time for Senator Vincent, because he has a great deal of information and has apparently read the evidence.
– That courtesy was not extended to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). The debate has revealed first the attitude of the Public Accounts Committee itself. I think that the resolution that was carried by that committee to the effect that its members should not answer any criticism of the committee’s reports in this chamber or in another place has placed the members of that committee in an invidious position which it will be difficult to sustain. The report of the committee can be debated at the will of honorable senators. Apparently if honorable senators praise the Public Accounts Committee the members of that committee may rise and join in the debate. But, under the terms of the resolution of the committee they must remain silent if criticism is levelled at the committee. That decision has brought about a position of the utmost difficulty which it will be impossible for those members to sustain. That fact has developed from the debate which took place to-day, and the trenchant criticism of the committee by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). The Minister said that his remarks were mild. No doubt he spoke in a low tone. But his words were strong. Senator Vincent said that the committee is a quasi-judicial body which takes evidence on oath and that from it one must expect a high standard of behaviour. When the Public Accounts Committee is accused by a responsible Minister of being hostile and inaccurate and unduly critical, its members are placed in an extraordinary position because, under the terms of its resolution they cannot answer these charges.
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the whole future of the Public Accounts Committee may be affected by what is happening in this chamber to-day. Without having any of the evidence given before the committee, I would say that a number of criticisms that were levelled by the Minister could possibly be answered quite easily. 1. think that the Minister made at least three very strong points. They concerned the employees of the department, the expenditure of the department, and the deep-drilling plant. On all these matters, according to the report, the committee has some sort of answer. But apparently there is no member of the committee present to make that answer. If the charges of the Minister are not answered I think that they must be accepted. Prom the report of the committee it would appear that the figures that it used in relation to the number of staff employed by the Department of National Development, were obtained from the Public Service Board. The committee could not reasonably have done more than ask the Public Service Board for these figures.
– Why could the committee not have asked the department for th em ?
– I think that it should have come out in the evidence of the department that those figures were not correct. I think that the department should have established that fact.
– An appropriate question would have had to be asked first.
– Whether a question was asked or not it was vital that the committee should have this information. The Public Service Board gave figures to the committee. The Minister has said that those figures are wrong.
– The department also gave the relevant figures to the committee. But the committee ignored the figures of the department. It went elsewhere and obtained wrong figures.
– That is an important point. This is the first time that that fact has been revealed in this debate. The Minister for National Development did not stress that point this morning. I am trying to assess the position. It seems to me that the committee might be justified in not taking all the blame. According to the committee, the Public Service Board supplied these figures. In other words, it would appear from that information that if anybody is at fault it is the Public Service Board It is extraordinary if the Public Service Board gave a parliamentary committee employment figures which were wrong to the extent of 60 bodies. The Public Service Board said that the department had 618 employees.
– One would expect the committee to have checked the figures.
– Somebody should have checked the figures. According to the report that I read and according to the statement of the Minister, the Public Service Board gave the figures that the committee accepted. The Public Service Board is very much at fault if those figures were incorrect.
In connexion with the expenditure survey I think that a reasonable statement was made by the Public Accounts Committee. The committee used the official volumes that were available to work out that expenditure. The report said that the final expenditure for 1952-53 had been estimated at £1,256,000. But did the committee have the figure that the Minister mentioned when it made its estimate? I do not think that the committee should be criticized if it uses official figures which are subsequently found to be wrong. But I am not an advocate for the committee. Members of the committee are present and they should be its advocate.
– Let them speak.
– Yes. If they remain silent when a criticism of the committee is made they will bring about a very difficult position. Apparently I am the best advocate that the committee has at the moment. However, it seems that even at short notice one can justify some of the things that the committee has said and to which the Minister has objected.
I make a plea to the members of the Public Accounts Committee to justify their report. I think that any honorable senator who has been a member of a parliamentary committee in the past has been willing to reply to any criticism of a report of his committee. The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee sits in another place and the vice-chairman of the committee sits in the Senate. Those two responsible men should be in a position to make an answer to the charges against the report of the committee. Under the resolution that was carried by the committee its members are not forbidden to discuss the report, but they are not permitted to reply to any criticism. That is an extraordinary state of affairs and I hope that it will not continue.
– I wish to correct a misapprehension. Before entering this building this morning I had not the slightest knowledge that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) had any intention to refer to this matter.
– The Minister had already publicly criticized the report.
– I had no knowledge that the Minister intended to make this criticism to-day. The vicechairman of the Public Accounts Committee has been ill in Brisbane for the last fortnight, so I do not think that he would have the slightest knowledge that the criticism was to be made. Personally, I have no hesitation in accepting the challenge to substantiate the findings of the committee, but in view of the fact that voluminous evidence waa taken in the course of several days by the committee I claim the right to peruse that evidence and give a considered reply to the criticism of the Minister. I am not in a position to justify the report on the basis of the few notes that I now have.
– The honorable senator did not suffer from that disadvantage when he was a party to the report.
– The committee had the evidence before it when it made its report, but I have not the evidence here. I shall read the report and examine the evidence that was given to the committee, because I think that the criticism of the Minister requires a reply.
– I can imagine that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) is worried by the report that the Public Accounts Committee has furnished. I appreciate his difficulty. The complaint that is contained in the report could not have been made against a Labour government. The Department of National Development was established by the Menzies Government. In the course of his remarks in this chamber, I understood the Minister to state that the activities of his department had been superimposed upon those of other organizations, although I am not sure what he intended to convey by that statement. Never has such a scathing condemnation of any department been made in this Parliament as that which was made by the Public Accounts Committee. That committee was appointed by the Government.
– And the Opposition.
– Senator Vincent, who is so eager to defend the Government, said that during the week-end he read all the evidence that was given before the committee. I was informed that he had read some of the evidence.
– I have read 300 pages of foolscap, which is more than the honorable senator has read.
– The honorable senator may have been able to do that because he has more time than I have. This report has made certain charges against the department in relation to its expenditure. In 1950-51, the total expenditure of the department was £176,000 and it has increased each year until this year. The report of the committee condemns not only the Bureau of Mineral Resources, but the whole of the Department of National Development. The Minister referred to a publication issued by the Department of National Development for 2s. 6d. a copy or an annual sub scription of 10s., but he did not refer to another publication to which reference is made in the committee’s report. Paragraph 51 of the committee’s report states -
The functions of the Division have been changed substantially since they were first elaborated in 1947-49, but the Division claimed that its most important function has been the studying of the structure and operations of the manufacturing industries of Australia.
The report then proceeds -
Paragraph 53 states -
The evidence presented to the Committee showed that the Division was and had been doing many other things which occupied much time and man-power, and this, irrespective of whether there was clear authority or not.
Apparently, therefore, even in such minor activities as publications, unwarranted expenditure has been incurred, and this has been condemned by the Public Accounts Committee. The Minister did not seem to know by whom certain figures had been supplied to the committee. Those figures were supplied by the Department of National Development itself. The Minister denies that, but I claim it to be true, and I hope the Minister will clear up that point. The report continues -
So the Division became accepted as the competent organization to make investigations for the Industrial Finance Department of the Commonwealth Bank . . .
Are we expected to believe that the Division of Industrial Development is the proper authority to make such investigations? We all know that the Commonwealth Bank has on its own staff of financial and economic experts who are quite competent to advise the bank on the work of the Industrial Finance Department. The committee’s report tells up also that the Division of Industrial Development became accepted as the competent organization to make investigations for the Capital Issues Board and the National Resources Planning Board. The report continues -
It became also the channel for distributing scientific reports obtained from Germany, for the provision of a microfilm service to industry of drawings obtained from overseas.
The division seems to be the flunkey of everybody. The report further states -
It assisted to select and place in Australia loading German and other overseas scientists and it prepared material for briefing Australian representatives to overseas conferences.
Surely the various departments which send representatives overseas have their own specialists who are in constant touch with the affairs of those departments and are therefore competent to give Australian delegates to overseas conferences all the advice and assistance they need. Paragraph 55 states -
Again, it was noted that the Division undertook the “ sponsorship “ of applications for obtaining such things as import licences, export licences from the United Kingdom and the United States of America, shipping space, overseas travel by industrialists, priority passages for technicians, building permits and telephones.
What is the Department of Trade and Customs doing? Is it not qualified to handle all matters relating to import and export licences? Reference is made also to telephones. In New South Wales particulary, telephones are very hard to get, and if the Division of Industrial Development has anything to do with that matter one can hardly be impressed by its activities. Yesterday I produced a document which showed that telephones could be obtained in the electorates of certain members of the Liberal party. I am sorry I did not know then that the Department of National Development was associated with the provision of telephones. Paragraph 56 of the report states -
In many of these cases it seemed to the Committee that the Division went to unnecessary lengths as an “ agent “ for clients . . .
Undoubtedly it has gone to unnecessary lengths. Obviously the Public Accounts Committee must have had before it adequate evidence on which to base its strong and scathing report on the Department of National Development. No member of this Parliament, unless he is completely biased on this matter, will suggest that the committee, which includes a majority of Government representatives, has gone out if its way unreasonably to condemn the activities of a Commonwealth department. The report of the committee was unanimous. Surely no one will suggest that all the Government members of the committee are prejudiced against this department. Probably their only knowledge of the department has been gained through the committee’s inquiries. The committee has made what it considers to be a faithful report. It is regrettable that the report condemns the department of which Senator Spooner is the administrator. I do not glory in anybody’s misfortune. I deplore the position the Minister is in : but there is more to it than that, and 1 should like an answer to the queries I have raised. Two days before the report was tabled in the Parliament, members of the committee were apparently muzzled. It seems that pressure was brought to bear on them and they were told that they must not discuss the report in the Parliament and must not criticize the Department of National Development. Why has that action been taken? It reminds one of action taken by the Government recently in connexion with another matter, but I shall not discuss that now. This report must be taken seriously. Paragraph 58 states -
No one will be found to cavil at the view that it is highly desirable for some one to be able to answer inquiries about the potential resources of Australia-
That is something in favour of the department - . . but it is one thing to tell aninquirer where he can get the information, and another to use transport, equipment and man-power in getting it for him. Much of the .work associated with some activities has diminished, as in the case of inquiries on behalf of Capital Issues Board, but the Committee is of opinion that there is room for more discrimination than has been shown by the Division. It requires little imagination to realize how costly these activities can be in man-power, accommodation and equipment.
Finally, I shall deal with paragraph 70, which states -
Reverting to the inability of the Department to assess the cost of producing any one of its “ Brief Reviews “, it is not enough to know the actual cost of printing any particular review; the main components of cost-the time occupied by the administrative and investigating staff plus the cost of such things as transport, equipment and accommodation should be readily available. . . .
Complaints were made in this chamber yesterday about the volume of material that honorable senators find in their postal boxes. We receive countless booklets and brochures from many departments.
-Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– When I spoke earlier I referred to the recommendation in paragraph 84 of the report of the Public Accounts Committee relating to the allegation that there was duplication between the activities of the Department of National Development and those of certain State departments. I mentioned that there was no evidence of such duplication before the committee. There are, however, at least two passages in the evidence given by Dr. Raggatt to the effect that the Department of National Development does not undertake work except at the request of the States and in collaboration with the State Departments of Mines. From my recollection, that is the only evidence relating to this particular recommendation. There was definitely no evidence that duplication existed, although one member of the committee said that he believed it to exist. I am forced to the conclusion, therefore, that the committee had already made up its mind on this matter before it took evidence and that it was not in any way concerned with the evidence that was given. One of the committee’s conclusions was -
That the scope of the gratuitous services supplied by the Department be examined.
Some evidence was given in connexion with that matter, and the committee discussed it at length. With great respect to Dr. Raggatt, a man for whom I have the utmost regard, I think he forgot that he was giving evidence to people who were not very well acquainted with mining and the various factors that go to make up this peculiar and complex industry. For instance, he did not explain to the committee that the services and facilities offered by the Mines Departments of the States and by the Department of National Development are in fact in competition with corresponding services of other countries. Mining is a peculiar industry in this respect. Not only is it hazardous, but it is also highly speculative. People with money to invest in mining are naturally attracted to those countries which provide the best facilities and the most information relating to mining for minerals. In other countries of the world, particularly Canada, the United States of America, and certain European countries, such as France and England, an enormous amount of mining information is gratuitously made available by the governments concerned. A far greater quantity of information is provided in those countries than is provided in Australia. I think that the Public Accounts Committee was not aware of this side of the picture, or else the information was not properly presented to the committee. The gratuitous provision of services goes to the very basis of mining investment. Without such services there would be no mining activity in this country at the present time.
I have some Canadian figures in front of me which may be of interest to honorable senators. In Canada, in the last ten years, no fewer than 1,196 wells have been completed in exploration for oil. Not one has been completed in this country. More than 4,000;000 feet of drilling was done in Canada in the course of exploratory work for oil during those ten years. Not 100 feet has been completed in this country during that time. Approximately 40,000,000 dollars have been expended on such work in Canada, much of it by the Canadian Government. In addition, a great deal of gratuitous information has been given to the companies concerned. I suggest that not one foot of drilling would have been undertaken in Canada, and no oil would have been recovered, had not the Canadian Government taken the initiative and supplied gratuitously services of the kind complained of in this country by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. In my opinion, the report of the committee in this respect represents a dreadful condemnation by a body which does not understand the first principles of mining investment. I feel strongly on this matter because I have had some experience of mining. I know what is required by a mining company before it will put even 2s. into a mining venture. Certain services are required, and if such companies do not obtain them here they will go to Burma, Canada or some other country. With the greatest respect to the Joint
Committee of Public Accounts, I suggest that it did not devote its mind at all to an aspect of the matter which, I t Kink, is absolutely fundamental.
Again, on page 12 of the report, the committee has been responsible for a most unfortunate recommendation. Paragraph S4 of the report states -
The Committee did not attempt to assess the value to Australian national development of tile work done by the department . . .
I suggest that that is a most extraordinary statement, in view of the fact that the paragraph continues - but is of the opinion that it is essential that the department should be restrained in selecting projects and vigilant in seeing that value is obtained for what is spent.
Those two propositions are completely and mutually exclusive. How any responsible committee could come to the. conclusion that this department has not been vigilant in selecting works, when the committee did not attempt to assess the value of the projects that the department has attempted, I fail to understand. I emphasize that the committee must reach its findings in accordance with the evidence given before it on oath, not on extraneous sources or opinions expressed by members of the committee, or facts known only to them. It is obliged, as is any judicial body, to base its findings on the evidence given before it. Not one word of evidence was given to the committee to indicate that this department was not vigilant in relation to the projects which it has attempted or selected. The committee overlooked the fact that, in the short space of three or four years, this department has opened up the open-cut mining industry in New South Wales. Could anybody estimate the real value of that project? Has it been a failure? The committee also overlooked the fact that if it were not for the department’s exploration work in north-west Australia, a private company would not at the present time be expending millions of dollars in drilling for oil there. Did the committee appreciate that it was this department which was responsible for the exploratory work in Arnhem Land which resulted in bauxite discoveries upon which have been founded the aluminium- industry of this country? Did the committee assess the value of that work? Was the committee aware that, at Mount Isa, this department was substantially responsible for the exploratory work which opened up very large ore bodies of lead, zinc and copper ? Does the committee know where Mount Isa is? Is the committee aware that this department was associated with a £40,000,000 oil refinery project at Kwinana, in Western Australia? Is it aware that, without the work of this department, the Kwinana project would not exist? Finally, is the committee aware that only because of the efforts of this department we have now a very prosperous uranium mining industry in this country?
The Public Accounts Committee has not given us one word of evidence to suggest that any of those projects has failed. Yet it has had the impertinence to state, in a considered document, that the department should be restrained in selecting projects. Restrained by whom? Does it suggest that it should.be restrained by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts? Does it suggest that a body consisting of city dwellers, clerks, or accountants, should tell a group of people who have more knowledge about the mining industry than anybody else in the country, where they should go and explore for minerals? The whole proposition is preposterous.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that the development of Mount Isa has not been assisted by the Queensland Mines Department?
– I suggest that the Department of National Development has been much more concerned in the development of Mount Isa than the honorable senator appreciates. After all, the department undertakes projects that have been referred to by the States. The functions of the department have been explained by Dr. Raggatt and not understood by the committee, otherwise it would have appreciated the fact that the department is not able to move into Western Australia, for instance, or any other State, of its own volition. Everybody who knows anything at all about mining is aware of that fact, but obviously the committee did not grasp it.
When one reads the evidence given before the committee, one gains the impression that the committee is counsel for the prosecution, as well as judge and jury. At the same time, the members of the committee frequently give evidence themselves. Any one with knowledge of what should be done cannot fail to be. disturbed at the manner in which this evidence has been taken. The evidence is given on oath. The committee is a quasi-judicial body. When the character and reputation of a person are attacked, as they have been attacked in this document, he should have an opportunity to rebut the attack. An opportunity has never been given to Dr. Raggatt to deny, on oath, the allegations that have been made against him, or to bring evidence to rebut any of the allegations made in this report. That is a dreadful state of affairs, but it is nevertheless true. Dr. Raggatt is a man of the highest reputation. Indeed, in mining circles throughout the world he is highly regarded. Yet he .has been accused of some ridiculous things, including unfair and deceitful conduct, without being given an opportunity to rebut those accusations. What sort of a committee is the Public Accounts Committee?
– I take it that the honorable senator is against the committee ?
– He condemns the committee ?
– I am not condemning the principle of public accounts committees at all. I think the principle is an excellent one. I have supported it in the past and always will. However, that does not mean that I consider that the methods adopted by this Joint Committee of Public Accounts in dealing with the Department of National Development were proper. I condemn the committee for those methods. I suggest, for its consideration that if, in future, it proposes to attack the character of a man, such as the head of a department, it should not only inform him of the fact, but also give him an opportunity to be heard and to be represented by counsel if necessary. The committee should give serious consideration not only to that suggestion but also to the manner in which the evidence is given. If honorable senators read the evidence they will see that every one of the six members of the committee indiscriminately crossexamined each witness. The truth cannot be ascertained by an indiscriminate attack such as that. Those are star-chamber methods. I suggest that, in giving evidence before this committee, witnesses are entitled to be protected as well as examined.
Honorable senators might well ask why I have spoken so strongly. This matter has nothing whatever to do with the Government. The Public Accounts Committee is a non-party committee. Members of the Opposition serve on it, and have subscribed their names to its reports. I agree with some portions of this report, but I am seriously concerned with the impact on the mining industry of the incorrect statements contained in it. I come from a mining community, and I suggest that this report could do incalculable harm to that industry. That is why I contend that an impartial authority should read this evidence and assess it in terms of the report of the committee. I am sure that if that is done, the Government will ignore the recommendations of the committee entirely.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– Honorable senators have just listened to a remarkable discourse by Senator Vincent in support of the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). The Joint Committee of Public Accounts is an all-party committee, the majority of its members being supporters of the Government. The appointment of the committee was agreed to by the Australian Labour party. 1 remember a little while ago many persons, including honorable senators opposite, asking for such a committee to be appointed. Now that it has been appointed, it has reported that the Department of National Development is most inefficient and should not do certain things. The report suggests that certain questionable transactions have occurred, and the Minister for National Development has repudiated the suggestion, lt seems to me that there is something radically wrong somewhere. Criticisms have also been made in some of the other reports of the committee. Those criticisms have been used in this chamber and in another place. A member of the committee with a predominant personality on the committee put it over the other members of that body and said, in effect, “We will not say a word about this matter in the Parliament “. So, the members of that committee are not prepared to stand up and defend themselves or their mates in this matter. That is a reprehensible attitude for any member of a committee to adopt.
The committee took evidence from witnesses on oath. Apparently, each member examined that evidence. However, according to the Minister, the committee’s report is of no consequence. The Minister implied that the members of the committee were irresponsible and incompetent and unable to sift evidence. Senator Vincent, who, apparently, has had access to the minutes of the committee, has made exactly those charges. The committee, in effect, has indicted the Minister and his department. If that indictment stands, the Minister must resign or be kicked out. The logical conclusion to be drawn from the committee’s report is that he is not capable of controlling his department, but allows his officers to put all sorts of things over him. On the other hand, the Minister says that the members of the committee are a lot of irresponsible “ nosey-parkers “ who are seeking all sorts of information. Either the committee or the Minister and some of his department must go out. I do not like “ nosey-parkers “ who, like McCarthy in the United States of America, delve into all sorts of matters and convict persons without giving them a chance to answer any charge that is made against them, but form conclusions on purely hearsay evidence. I believe that the Public Accounts Committee in this matter is exactly in that position. I make that statement because I have first-hand knowledge of the activities of the Bureau of Mineral Resources.
– The honorable senator should be a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts.
– I refuse to be a “ nosey-parker “. I have declined all opportunities to be appointed to committees and that is why I am still an ordinary garden variety senator. I have some knowledge of the activities of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, and I know that the head of it, long before any honorable senator ever thought of the matter, was convinced that uranium deposits existed in Australia. I do not criticize the department on the score of its expenditure. What I object to is that the Minister has taken every opportunity’ to criticize socialistic enterprise, yet this department, which is under his control, has itself applied socialistic principles. The bureau utilized government-owned plant for prospecting and in the conduct of geophysical and aerial surveys. The Government applies the same policy on the coal-fields when the other fellow will not undertake such work. But, at the same time, the Government permits private enterprise to derive the value of the result of such work. The Department of National Development purchased oildrilling plant at a cost of £320,000 and made it available to private enterprise. My point is that the department itself should utilize that plant because oil, like uranium, if it is discovered in this country, should be exploited solely for the benefit of the nation. However, when private enterprise did not want the plant, the Government allowed it to lie idle for a considerable period. Whilst the Government was prepared to purchase expensive plant and make it available to private enterprise it refused my representations to make limited financial assistance available to a. small body of people who were entitled to redress I repeat that as a result of the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts on the .administration of the Department of National Development, either that committee or the Minister and some of his department must go. I suggest that further consideration of these Estimates should be postponed in order to give to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts an opportunity to explain its side of the case.
.- Whatever honorable senators on either side of the chamber may say about the controversy that has arisen, I believe that all of them will agree that the debate which is now taking place is primarily the sort of debate which we ought to have and of which many more should take place in the Senate. Whether the Public Accounts Committee be proved ultimately to be right or wrong, or partly right and partly wrong, whatever the future may show, the debate so far has completely justified the existence of a public accounts committee. The debate is not a justification, or condemnation, of the committee’s report, but it is a complete justification of its existence in that it has enabled us to have a debate of this kind. T greatly regret the reported decision of the committee not to continue with this matter but to leave it as it stands at the moment; because, if the committee follows that course it will have inflicted on itself a most grievous wound. There is a principle of very great moment involved in this. The committee was appointed by the Parliament, and it is obliged to make its report to the Parliament. If it is to help to give the Parliament, as distinct from the Executive or the Public Service, a fuller and more detailed control over the expenditure and administration of the various departments, it is essential that the committee should not fall under Executive control of any kind. I do not believe for one moment that the Government has attempted to place any restriction upon the committee. I think that the committee has been ill-advised enough to place these restrictions upon itself. If it persists in doing so it will have created a precendent that in the future may well prevent similar committees from fulfilling properly the functions they may be appointed to perform. I urgently ask it to reconsider its decision and allow its members to reply to the trenchant case that the Minister has made out in this chamber, and to put before us material that we have not now got a full statement of evidence, of charge, rebuttal of charge, and answer to rebuttal - so that we can have a proper debate on the merits and demerits of the respective cases of the department and the committee. Whether or not that can be done will depend on the decision of the com- mittee. I appeal again to the honorable senators who are members of the committee to ask its chairman, in view of the fact that the principle of parliamentary control now and in the future is involved, not to leave this matter at a stage at which the Treasurer is under no compulsion to comment or act on the report given to him and at which, if he does not so comment or act, the matter will apparently be dropped by the committee and not reported to the Parliament. Here is a chance to return some sovereignty to the Parliament. The matter is in the hands of the committee and I ask it to take the action that I have urged.
– I believe that to-day we have made history in the Senate. We are considering the proposed vote for the Department of National Development, and the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), like a man facing a criminal court who is asked if he has anything to say before being condemned to death, has risen in the Senate and made a personal statement in relation to the fourth report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, which criticizes his department. That committee is comprised of honorable members and senators from both sides of the Parliament. It was appointed by the present. Government and its chairman is no less a person than Mr. F. A. Bland, formerly Professor of Public Administration at the University of Sydney. Its deputy chairman is a very competent legal man and all its members are capable persons who have sworn, as members of Parliament, to render service to the people of this country. The committee has produced a very full report, which has been in the hands of the Minister, but has not been debated in this chamber until the very deathknock, when the Estimates have come up for consideration. The committee has made statements that are in keeping with statements that honorable senators have made throughout the debate on the Estimates. Sworn evidence can be placed before the Government in relation to very grave deficiencies in the department. The Minister’s answer was not specific. It was only a generalization to the effect that there was no basis for the charges made. It was a general denial.
This reportwas compiled from sworn evidence derived from official documents which was submitted to the committee. The report is most damaging to the Minister and the Government generally. According to the report, the Minister’s department has certain responsibilities, which are listed in the report as follows : -
The authority for these functions is contained in certain acts, which are listed in the report.
The following papers were pre sented : -
International Labour Organization - Statement in relation to the conventions and recommendations adopted by the International Labour Conference at its Thirtyfourth Session, Geneva, June,1951.
Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of Air - R. W. Murphy.
War Service Homes Act-Supplemental Agreement, dated 17th September, 1953, between the Director of War Service Homes and the State of Western Australia, amending the Agreement entered into on 17th July, 1934.
Senate adjourned at 4.3 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 16 October 1953, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1953/19531016_senate_20_s1/>.