22nd Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin) took the chair at 11.0 a.m., and read prayers.
–Can the Leader of the Government say whether it is a fact that the hire-purchase system burdens the purchasers of goods with excessive interest and insurance costs? Is it not also a fact that there is a strong body of opinion among members of all parties calling for legislative action to curb the rapacity of hire-purchase financial cormorants? Is it true that there are constitutional difficulties precluding action by the Commonwealth Government in this field? Will the Government set up a committee of investigation to probe all matters relating to hire purchase, with a view to making it a more normal and less predatory system of financial aid to purchasers?
– The honorable senator’s remarks are of a somewhat general nature, particularly when he refers in uncomplimentary terms to hire purchase generally. Some hire-purchase companies are rendering excellent service to their customers, and through them to the country. After all, a hire-purchase agreement involves a contract between the purchaser and the company. In reply to the honorable senator’s second and third questions, I point out that the Commonwealth Government is of the opinion that it has no constitutional power to control or regulate the financial operations of hire-purchase companies. I understand that discussions have taken place between the Commonwealth and State governments in regard to this matter. As to the setting up of a committee of inquiry, the position is that, as the Commonwealth Government believes that it has no constitutional powers to implement the findings of such a committee, it would be a waste of time to establish one. fir.- -[Ki]
– Can the Minister representing the Treasurer say whether it is a fact that the Australian Government desires to increase from 3 per cent, to 3£ per cent, the interest rate on moneys lent to the States for the purposes of providing housing, and can he say from what source the Government obtains the money that is subsequently lent to the States under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement?
– Negotiations are now proceeding between the Commonwealth and State governments for a new housing agreement. The proposal of the Commonwealth Government is that moneys made available for housing shall be lent at a rate of interest which is three-quarters of one per cent, below the long term bond rate. The result of that concession by the Commonwealth would be to subsidize the housing activities of the States by approximately £1,000,000 per annum. As it is contemplated that the agreement will extend over a period of 53 years, the total subsidy provided by the Commonwealth will be about £50.000,000. That is a very handsome contribution by the Commonwealth to the States, particularly when it is remembered that the houses built by the State housing authorities constitute a comparatively small proportion of the total number of houses that are built. I think, from memory, that the proportion is about 16 per cent. Therefore, considering the amount of money provided in respect of 15 per cent, of the houses, that is a very generous approach by the Commonwealth, particularly in view of the fact that the other 85 per cent, of houses have to be built by people who make their- own arrangements, and who are not subsidized in any way by the Commonwealth. In the second part of the honorable senator’s question he asks, where does the money come from? Again, the Commonwealth is acting very generously, indeed, because it is proposed to provide the housing money from that proportion of the total loan money which we are entitled to retain and expend for our own work* programme. The Commonwealth is foregoing that right, is standing by, and is giving the States loan money instead of using it for its own purposes. As well as all that, the Commonwealth is giving the States the very handsome subsidy that I have already mentioned.
– In directing my question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport I desire to make a brief explanation for the purposes of clarity. This morning’s press published accounts of an engine driver who was driving a train between Goulburn and Canberra being overcome by steam and smoke in a tunnel not far from this city. It was also stated that on the run between Goulburn a,nd Canberra, where tunnels and steep grades are encountered, engine crews are not provided with respirators. In view of the danger to engine crews, and because similar accidents may occur more frequently in the future - particularly in heavy weather when trains are travelling up steep grades through tunnels - and because of the success which has been obtained by providing train crews with respirators on the South Australian railways, particularly those travelling through the tunnels of the Adelaide hills, will the Minister ascertain why respirators are not used by train crews on the railway line between Goulburn and Canberra ? As everybody who has used that railway knows, very steep; grades are encountered on it and they add to the difficulties of men working on old and obsolete locomotives.
– My attention has not been drawn to the newspaper reports mentioned by the honorable senator. In view of what he has told me, I shall investigate the matter, and take it up with the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to ascertain why respirators are not provided for engine crews, if they are as necessary as Senator Critchley has indicated.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General. Some time ago, I asked the Minister a question about one of the out-of-date provisions of the Bankruptcy Act, and he stated that he proposed having it examined by a committee with the object of bringing the whole of it up to present-day requirements in accordance with everyday practice. Will the Minister inform me whether the committee has been appointed, and whether it is likely that the act will be amended during the current year?
– The committee has been appointed. It held its first meeting, I think, about a fortnight or three weeks ago, and although I cannot anticipate exactly how long the task will take, because it certainly is not an easy one, I hope that we may receive a report from the committee during the course of this year.
– Will the Minister representing the Treasurer inform the Senate- what is the earliest date on which increases of sales tax are chargeable on motor cars, commercial vehicles and motor parts ? What is the earliest date on which retailers can increase the prices of cigarettes, beer and spirits ? What is theearliest date on which a bank can raise’ the interest rate chargeable? Does the Government intend to announce the date from which the increased prices can be uniformly applied throughout Australia? Is the Minister aware that, in some instances, prices were raised immediately after the Prime Minister’s announcement that it was the Government’s intention to increase sales tax, excise, bank interest rates, &c. ? Did the Government take any action to protect the public from a premature rise of prices as a result of the announcement of its policy to increase sales tax, excise duties and interest rates?
– I think that, in the main, the questions that the honorable senator has asked are covered by the provisions of existing legislation. As it is rather difficult for me to remember the exact provisions, I answer the questions with some reservation. As far as sales tax is concerned, the law, as I recollect it, is that the increased rates operate from the time that the legislation is introduced into the House of Representatives.. . Sales tax legislation is introduced after the close of business for the day, and the new rates apply from the following day, in accordance with the provisions of the particular acts. I think, from memory, that what this means is that the sales tax is payable on the invoices in respect of the last transaction from a wholesaler to a retailer, so that all wholesaler-to-retailer transactions on the following day would carry the increased tax, but if there were transactions in respect of which the wholesaler issued invoices to the retailor prior to the bill coming down, but the retailer had not sold the goods to his customers, in those circumstances the customer would not pay the increased tax. As far as excise on cigarettes is concerned, in those States in which the control of prices is still operating it would be a matter for the Minister administering prices control to cover. I am not sure whether a specific date was arranged from which increased interest rates would operate.
– I think the Minister has missed one of the important points in my questions. This is a most involved matter, and every person in the community knows that price increases have not been applied uniformly. I ask the Minister whether the Government will make a full and complete statement so that the public can be informed when the higher interest rates, sales tax and excise will be leviable against them and whether, after that statement is made, the Government will be prepared to take action to protect the public in instances in which premature increases have been made?
– I thought that my reply would have indicated to the honorable senator that it is just not possible for the Government to make a statement which goes into the details of the position, because so many of the transactions are under the control of State governments. We just have to be sensible about these things. It is all very well for the honorable senator to try to make si party political point, but if he wants to do that he should go about it in a sensible way. The honorable senator’s approach is simply not an intelligent one.
Formal Motion fob Adjournment.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin). - I have received from Senator Henty an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The accumulation nf cargo in Tasmania owing to tuc recent waterside disputes.
– I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow at 11 a.m.
– Is the motion supported ?
Four honorable senators having risen in Support of the motion,
– I have taken this opportunity, on behalf of mv ‘Tasmanian colleagues and myself, to bring to the attention of the Government the great accumulation of cargoes awaiting shipment in Tasmania, and the serious im: pact this is having on the economic life of the State. I point out that one of the major factors of this problem is that for every ton of cargo per head of population that is moved by ship on the mainland States, five tons are moved in Tasmania, so that any hold-up or waterside dispute has five times the effect on the population of Tasmania as it has on that of any other State.
We are in serious difficulties because of accumulations of timber, cement, paper, butter, potatoes, fruit and, to a less degree, fat lambs. It was indeed fortunate for Tasmania that when the serious waterfront dispute developed a few weeks ago, owing to the good offices of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), the vessel Scottish Star came to Tasmania and loaded butter and lamb on the eve of that protracted strike. Had it not been for that far-sighted move by the Minister we should have been in most serious difficulties right from the commencement of that dispute.
By the end of April, almost 21,000,000 feet of timber will have accumulated at Tasmanian ports. Already some mills in the State have closed, and there will be a great acceleration of the closing down of mills if the shipping difficulty continues. Two thousand employees could be thrown out of work in the very near future because of the inability to move timber. There is an accumulation of 25,000 tons of cement, in manufactured and partially manufactured form, awaiting shipment. One kiln at the cement works has closed down, and unless urgent measures are taken, the other kiln will close, with a consequent rise in unemployment in the cement industry.
The paper mills on the north-west coast of Tasmania are living from day to day, as it were, because of inability to move their accumulated stocks of paper. The future of some 2,500 employees of this industry is at stake. Since the waterfront strike ended we have had to make representations because butter has been accumulating in the cool stores. Every available cool store has been used for the storage of butter which, because of the good season, is being produced at the rate of production of the flush spring period. There is difficulty, also, with potatoes and fruit.
At the beginning of the waterside dispute there was accumulated on the wharfs 7,500,000 feet of timber, which represented a little more than three weeks’ cutting. The average weekly cut is nearly 2,000,000 feet. During the whole period of the strike, 10,000,000 feet accumulated on the waterfront, but since the strike ended 2,000,000 feet has been shipped away, and it is expected that by the end of this month a further 6,000,000 feet will have been moved. In the meantime, a further 12,000,000 feet, cut in a period of six weeks, has come to the wharfs so that by the end of April it is expected that 21,500,000 feet, valued at £1,300,000, will have been brought to the waterfront for shipment.
The small mills cannot bear the financial strain imposed by this delay. They have to pay wages and royalties, and they are unable to sell their products which are awaiting shipment. The Department of Shipping and Transport has been most helpful in Tasmania, and has used every possible ship it could command to shift some of the timber. The real diff culty, however, is not in obtaining ships but in loading them. As a result of this accumulation, timber-workers are unemployed and some mills have had to close down. I ask the Government to consider using these unemployed workers on the wharfs to load timber into available ships. This would not affect the waterside workers because they are fully employed in handling other cargo. Once the timber is loaded the mills will be able to re-open and the timber- workers will resume their normal occupation. Some ports in Tasmania, and particularly Bell Bay, which is not often used for shipping, have ample space which can be used as marshalling yards. If the surplus timber were marshalled in such an area ships could be brought to the ports and three or four million feet could soon be shifted.
There is a rigidity about the conditions of employment on the waterfront which does not allow for special arrangements in a time of emergency, but the use of unemployed timber-workers would solve the problem. I have no desire to interfere with the regular employment of waterside workers, and this proposal would not have that effect. Timber is lying at all ports in Tasmania - Stanley, Burnie, Ulverstone, Devonport, Launceston and Hobart. It is estimated that, by the end of April, 2,300,000,000 feet will have accumulated at Stanley, more than 1,500,000 feet at Burnie, nearly 300,000 feet at Ulverstone, 300,000 feet at Devonport, 14,500,000 feet at Launceston and nearly 2,500,000 feet at Hobart, making a total of more than 21,000,000 feet. Some emergency measures should be adopted to avoid unemployment and the closing of the mills.
– The mills are not closed yet?
– Some of the smaller mills have been closed, and others will be closed very soon. The Tasmanian Timber Association has assured me that the majority of the mills will be closed within ten days or a fortnight.
As to cement, 25,000 tons of cement is manufactured, or is in a partial state of manufacture, at the cement works at Railton. Cement from those works is shipped principally through the port of Devonport. The waterfront gangs at
Devonport have a total strength of 175, but the effective strength is about 163. I have been told in good faith, and the information is reliable, that some of the waterside workers have gone from Devonport to Hobart because of the shortage of waterside workers there during the fruit season. Shifts are worked at Hobart in the fruit season, and the waterfront workers get a better return there.
Only this week the ship Kootara visited Devonport and called for four gangs. It was followed by Woniora, which called for three gangs, and was able to get only one gang of 22 men. That is the position. There is a huge accumulation of cement waiting to be shifted, and one ship could get only one gang of 22 men. If the management is forced to close the cement works at Railton because of the accumulation of cement, those who are employed at the cement works should be allowed to go to Devonport to help shift the accumulation of cement there so that the works will be able to start again. I believe that is a fair proposition.
Further along the north-west coast of Tasmania, at Burnie, there is a big paper mill, which employs 2,500 people, and it is carrying on merely from day to day. Every available space is filled with stocks of manufactured paper. Some of it is being freighted at great cost to other ports for export, but still the management does not know from day to day what the position is likely to be. Although the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) again came to the rescue of Tasmania by sending a ship there only recently to lift paper, the output is so great that stocks are accumulating again. It is not right that these great industries, which employ an enormous number of workers, should be unable to rely upon normal, regular shipping arrangements. Emergency measures must be taken to remove the accumulation of goods.
At Burnie and at Launceston, every available store has been taken for the storage of butter. Twice within a short period, butter has had to be stored because the manufacturers could not get it away. Again, it was possible to arrange for a small shipment to help reduce the quantity in one cool store at Beauty Point.
The space thus made available will be of some assistance but it will not last long. We cannot allow the great dairying industry of Tasmania to be imperilled. We cannot have the factories saying that they are unable to take the cream to manufacture butter because they have not any more storage. These matters are serious, and it seems to me that the persons responsible for moving these goods over the wharfs should realize that a state of emergency exists which is having a serious effect on the State of Tasmania. Emergency measures could be taken to get the goods away without disadvantage to the workers in any way. In some ports of Tasmania a ban exists on the working of a twilight shift. ‘Surely, the rules need not be so rigid that a twilight shift cannot be worked in a case of emergency when perishable goods are involved. Waterside workers could thus earn more money and move this cargo from Tasmania. They have brought about a dreadfully rigid state of affairs and one which should be examined. I am sure that most of these persons have at heart the economic future of the State. It means as much to them as to most people, because any deterioration in Tasmania’s economy will mean less work for those who work there. I trust that some action along the lines that I suggest will be taken with regard to butter.
My colleague, Senator Wright, has a great deal of information about the fruit industry, for which he has been working so hard over the last few weeks. He will raise that matter himself. My colleague, Senator Wardlaw, has been closely watching the potato industry, and he will raise that subject. Therefore, I will not touch on those two aspects of this matter, apart from saying that it is most urgent that potatoes should be moved from Tasmania because this year we have been experiencing perhaps one of the worst periods of blight which the State has suffered, and it is therefore necessary to have small shipments going out constantly so that they . may be removed from areas not yet affected before they become affected. In relation to fat lambs, but for the intervention of the Minister for Shipping and Transport, all of the killing facilities in Tasmania would have .had to close, and no more fat lambs would have been purchased for export, with a consequent reduction of export income and loss to the producers of fat lambs in that State. That position has been bo handled that it is no longer a menace. Tasmanian senators, feel great gratitude for the Minister’s help, which came in the nick of time to prevent a great calamity in that trade.
I have raised this matter because it is of grave urgency. For every ton of cargo moved by sea in mainland. States, five tons are moved by sea in Tasmania. This State depends entirely on shipping to move its goods. Any blow which strikes at the Australian maritime industry strikes five times harder at Tasmania. Competent authorities in the State have informed me that they have adequate ships. The difficulty is in turning them round. I have brought this matter before the Senate this morning to ascertain whether the Government can take some measures to right a position which is so rapidly deteriorating that it will deal a serious economic blow to our State, which is something we should take steps at all times to avoid.
– I support the motion moved by Senator Henty. I believe that it is right that in this Senate we should focus attention on the handicaps suffered by Tasmania because of its insularity. The organization of the waterfront and of the watersiders makes a particular impact upon Tasmania’s trade. Senator Henty dealt with the important subject of interstate trade in timber, paper and cement, but there is one trade in which Tasmania takes special pride and which has been established for more than half a century. As the honorable senator pointed out, I have focussed my attention for several weeks past upon the apple industry. There is a unique trade in fresh fruit, under an arrangement by which Tasmania takes advantage of the United Kingdom and European markets in the only twelve weeks that are left vacant in those markets by local production, or fruit from America. We, in Tasmania, take particular pride in the fact that commercial men in that State, as far back as 1906, were able to pioneer a trade, and establish a regular connexion with overseas shipping interests, which enabled them to time their programme so precisely that fruit from Tasmania is landed in the United Kingdom and European markets in the only weeks that those markets are receptive to it. That has been done since 1906, even in the days of unreliable refrigeration.
In the post-war period of that trade we have experienced the greatest difficulties, due to the congestion that exists in Australian ports. The problem is not simply that of loading fruit in a particular port, because vessels carrying fruit have to go to other Australian ports before arriving at the apple loading port, or after they have loaded their apples, according to the construction of their holds. The difficulty is due to the variety of cargoes carried. If a ship meets with delay at any port, the whole schedule of the vessel is disorganized. Further, it is essential not only that the ships shall arrive in United Kingdom and European ports during those particular twelve weeks, hut also . that they arrive at evenly spaced intervals, so that they will not all discharge their cargoes at the one time, in the same port, and thus flood the market. It is also essential that the time occupied in the voyage between Tasmania and the port of discharge shall be predictable by the organizations responsible for selling the fruit. My information is that those markets demand the most careful planning. A great deal of attention has been given to the programme of fruit-carrying vessels, and their arrival in the United Kingdom at intervals which will allow the fresh fruit they carry to be absorbed by the market.
I remind the Senate that people who trade in fresh fruit are dealing with a commodity that cannot be kept beyond a certain time. If it is kept beyond the proper limit, it reaches the market at a time when it has to compete with European-grown fruit, and when prices are not so good. The timing of deliveries in this trade is of the essence of the whole business, and vitally affects the returns to producers. The orchardists of Tasmania are being subjected to unprecedented expenditure because of the everincreasing cost of production; yet very little has been done to stop costs from increasing. One enterprising orchardist told me that it cost him fi for every case of apples that he produced and landed on the Hobart waterfront before it was loaded on to a ship. He told me that the cost of pruning, ploughing and cultivating generally, and boxing, packing and transporting the fruit, had risen so much that the actual cash return was small compared with the total cost. It is imperative that this Parliament should do everything possible to encourage the continuance of the producers in this industry, which has been so long established and has proved capable of exporting fruit to the value of from £4,000,000 to £7,000,000 a year. Many orchardists have staked all their assets in this industry from which they gain their livelihood and in which many workers are employed.
We have allowed to grow on the Australian waterfront a group of people who are under the heel of Communist control. The fact is clear that for the last two months that group of workers, under the control of Mr. Healy - I refer to members of the Waterside Workers Federation - are the victims of Communist policy. Their operations have been subjected to dictatorship by Mr. Healy for the last two months, not for any industrial purpose, but to serve the ends desired by the Communists. It is time that we took action against this dictatorship. Every Australian mind should be focussed on an examination of conditions on the waterfront. The actions of this group are destructive of the commerce of this country, and therefore this is a tremendously important matter.
Before I refer particularly to conditions on the waterfront at Hobart, I wish to draw attention to the following extract from the annual report of the Waterfront Industry Commission of the sister Dominion of New Zealand for the year ended the 31st March, 1955:-
The substantial improvement in rates of work and turn-round of shipping brought about after the 195.1 strike has been maintained during the year ended 31st March,. 1955. Kates of work have increased slightly as compared with last year with a corresponding increase in profit earned under the cooperative contracting system, which reached an alltime record distribution of £929,700, equivalent to ls. 9.75d. per hour. There were no stoppages of work through, industrial disputes, and the only lost time was through two un authorized extensions of stop-work meetings, one at Auckland and the other at Wellington, involving a loss of only 2,574 man-hours, as compared with 14,308,612 man-hours worked. The number of days spent on the New Zealand coast by overseas refrigerated vessels was approximately the same as last year, but as the average tonnage handled per vessel increased it is estimated that, compared with last year, there has been a saving of. 2£ days per vessel for vessels discharging and loading and lj days per vessel for vessels loading only. The average tonnage of cargo handled per ship-working day, which increased from 302 tons in 1952.-53 to 402 tons in 1953-54, further increased to 420 tons for the year ended 31st March, 1955.
It is further stated in the report that the average movement of cargo per man per week - or whatever the unit is - increased from 1,055’ in 1951 to 1,605 last year. That shows what a working force of Anzac origin is capable of doing if the Labour party will give it leadership, and if the Government will give it proper regulation. If we could rid the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia of its Communist control, we would solve all our troubles.
– Surely Senator Wright does not blame the Labour party for this trouble?
– Senator Harris recently indicated that he wished to turn the attention of the Senate to another matter. I say to honorable senators that the problem I am dealing with is the important problem which must be solved, and I ask them to place emphasis on the proper aspects of it. Recently. there was a total stoppage of shipping on the Australian waterfront, and that stoppage terminated about the second or third week of February. The strike led to congestion of shipping and cargoes, and, in consequence of that, the fruit export industry was retarded by about a fortnight. When ships arrived to begin the loading of fruit, through the kind offices of Mr. Roach, who paid two visits to us, more artificial and superficial disputes were engendered in Hobart on the subject of pallet loading. They caused a very, very attenuated effort on the waterfront for the following ten or fourteen days. That dispute was about the number of men to be employed in a gang - the federation insisting on 27 and the shipowners asking for 21. That was the very dispute which, had been settled by arbitration at Port Huon, a neighbouring port, last year. When I tell honorable senators that, they can perceive the complete baselessness of the dispute. I say that that trouble was fomented by Mr. Roach
We find that when loading does get under way, all sorts of pretexts are put forward to make the men go slow in deliberate defiance of orders. That has happened so much that three or four gangs are dismissed one day, two more gangs on the next, and so on. It is only by the utmost efforts of conciliation that the men are induced to resume work. But then, when . they do resume work, we have a further sorry situation. The Tait committee has said that a provision written into the Stevedoring Industry Act, namely, that with the consent of the Stevedoring Industry Board, at ports where sufficient registered labour is not available other labour may be recruited, has been allowed to become a dead letter. I repeat that the Tait committee has stated that that provision has become a dead letter, and it imputes responsibility for that not only to the Stevedoring Industry Board, but also to the Government. The Hobart wharf quota is fixed at 1,150 men. The number of men available in that port is about 850, and none of those men are available for evening gangs during the pressure of the fruit season, even if other cargoes have accumulated which must be moved at the same time as the fruit. I ask the Senate to give the utmost emphasis to this problem, and try to solve it.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– Senator Henty, in moving this motion of urgency, said that he was speaking on behalf of his Tasmanian colleagues. Perhaps he may have paid other honorable senators the courtesy of consulting them on this important motion, but I waa not consulted. On other occasions, Tasmanian senators have met from time to time, because for a long while they have been trying to grapple with matters concerning the fruit industry and the timber industry, and also shipping and the clearing of surplus cargoes from Tasmanian wharfs. It appeared to me that
Senator Henty is trying to turn a most urgent industrial problem into a political stunt. Nevertheless, I shall overlook that because I sympathize very much with the plight of the timber industry in Tasmania. I also sympathize with some of the smaller Tasmanian millers and shippers who have been squeezed out of the industry because, over the years, only big concerns like K. D. Atkins, Henry J ones and Company Limited and others could get shipping space regardless of hold-ups on the waterfront. It is very important that that should be kept in mind while this matter is being discussed.
I believe that what Senator Henty has brought before us, and what Senator Wright has said, has put the searchlight of inquiry on this Government’s inadequacy and ineptness in dealing with the supply of adequate wharf facilities and snipping space. The Tait report has highlighted the Government’s dithering and inability to cope with this most important problem. Senator Henty said that the timber employees should be able to take part in loading timber on the wharfs. Perhaps he may think that people can be transferred freely from one industry to another, but he should remember that there are certain principles followed by those who work in industry which act as guides to prevent workers in one industry from infringing on the work and rights of employees in other industries. Similarly, Senator Henty might have big butter interests on the north-west coast, and be very careful to protect them, but in getting his butter away from Tasmania, he must not infringe the rights of other persons who also want to ship their products away. His suggestion that members of the Timber Workers Union should be taken down to scab on the wharfs should not be adopted. It would not serve any good purpose, but would result in additional discontent and unrest in industry. We must consider both sides of the question.
Senator Wright endeavoured to focus attention on a particular factor in this problem which is of vital importance to the Tasmanian fruit industry at present. It is evident from the interim report of the committee of inquiry that the Commonwealth has failed to make any definite move since the war to bring about better industrial relationships. So move has been made to improve employer-employee relationships on the wharfs, having regard to the casual nature of waterfront employment, and to the fact that employees frequently change from one employer to another. Paragraph 90 of the report highlights this important factor in the following words: -
As long ago a.-t the middle of 1950. both tHe employers’ organizations and the Federation filed logs of claims with the Arbitration Court. I’.n both cases the log was most comprehensive and claimed the laying down of conditions of employment and of work on the waterfront which covered a very wide area. Since then, both logs have been amended and added to from time to time. The Arbitration Court has not yet, six years later, really come to the actually hearing of these logs although it has hoard numerous applications with regard to them, and as to particular matters which it has treated as urgent has entered upon a hearing, and in some cases made orders. We do not propose to attempt to allocate the blame for this sorry state of affairs. No doubt the parties are both to blame to some extent, and indeed an inference should be drawn that, for its own purpose, one or other of them has not been always willing to expedite the hearing of the logs and the making of a new award.
F say that this Government, which is supported by both Senator Wright and Senator Henty, has been responsible indirectly for this state of affairs. It is well known that waterfront employment is of a casual nature. Over the years, the waterside workers have tried to obtain for themselves security of employment. They have no guarantee that if, in order to cope with the present conditions on the waterfront, quotas are increased or outside labour is used they themselves will not become redundant. These matters have been mentioned in the Tait report, paragraph 28 of which reads, in part -
In regard tei redundancy, there can be no doubt that there are serious problems involved.
Neither Senator Wright nor Senator
Henty referred to this factor.
– Only through lack of time to do so.
– The paragraph continues -
As we have found, the first element to be considered in fixing a port quota is the number of workers that will be required to meet the needs of the shipping that will be in the port in the immediate or foreseeable future.
Before the present crisis occurred, other matters concerning the waterfront were settled at a round-table conference, mainly through the efforts of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) and the representatives of the Australian Council of Trades Unions. The waterside workers’ representative attended a conference arranged by the Huon fruit-growers and said, “ What do you want us to do ? “ They then put the case from their point of view, and the following day the waterside workers offered to work the ships.
– Do not distort plain facts.
– I contend that, to a large degree, the Commonwealth has been responsible for the uncertain conditions on the waterfront, because it has not augmented the inadequate private shipping services to Tasmania. Due to the age of some of the ships plying to Tasmania, loading is difficult. The shape of the holds is old-fashioned, and, in addition, the facilities on many of the wharfs are primitive. The Government stands indicted for not remedying this matter, which is so vital to Tasmania because, unlike the mainland States, Tasmania is not connected by rail with other States. Successive Ministers for Shipping and Transport should have taken steps to increase the size of the Commonwealth shipping fleet, and sent Commonwealth ships to Tasmania to relieve the bank-up of cargo. But what is the position? The Commonwealth line of ships has an uncertain future. In addition, instead of the private shipping lines building modern ships for the Tasmanian trade, they are waiting to catch the crumbs from the Commonwealth’s table at a cheap price.
This problem is so important that every member of this chamber, particularly the representatives of Tasmania, should strive to solve it, not on the party political level, at which Senator Henty directed his remarks, but on an equitable basis. Had Senator Henty advised the representatives of Tasmania on this side of the chamber that he intended raising this matter, we could have arranged to deal with it cooperatively, as we co-operated in relation to the berry fruits industry and other industries in Tasmania in the past. This matter is too big to be made a political issue. We should get together to ensure that adequate arrangements will be made to ship the goods that are accumulating on the wharfs in Tasmania. In addition to dealing with the immediate problem, we should set a pattern that will guarantee to the Tasmanian producers in the future the shipment of their goods to the markets of the world. The quality of Tasmanian products is such that they can hold their own in any market. We would get much further by approaching this problem mutually and co-operatively, instead of members of one political party endeavouring to score an advantage over those of another party.
– I endorse without qualification the remarks of Senator Henty and Senator Wright on this subject. I resent Senator O’Byrne’s imputation that Senator Henty brought the matter forward in an endeavour to gain a political advantage. I am sure that the matter has been raised solely in the interests of Tasmania. As the small shippers and primary producers of that State depend largely on the shipping service, we should like to receive from Senator O’Byrne a little more sympathy and support for positive action than has been forthcoming from him in the past,.
Previous speakers have dealt fairly fully with most of the commodities that have accumulated, such as timber, apples, cement, paper, butter, and fat lambs, but it is about potatoes that I want to speak particularly. The recent season has been perhaps the best Tasmania has experienced for 50 years, but unfortunately, localise of the trouble on the waterfront we are unable to take full advantage of the good conditions. I do not know whether the waterfront dispute was engineered - I have my private opinion on that matter - but it has, nevertheless, put Tasmania on the spot, because we are unable to take advantage of the mainland market opportunities. We in Tasmania produce mostly perishable goods, such as potatoes, and it is necessary to place those commodities on the market at the right time. It is impossible for that to be done without adequate transport. Therefore, the position on the waterfront is of vital importance to Tasmania. We are heavily dependent on sea transport.
Because of production difficulties in Tasmania this year, we are likely to lose 50 per cent, or b’O per cent, of our potato crop. I refer to the incidence of blight. That is a seasonal matter, of course, but nevertheless it will result in a very heavy loss indeed. That being so, the potatogrowers are not looking forward to further losses on account of shipping difficulties. Our markets, of course, are mainland markets. 1 agree wholeheartedly with the American idea that home markets should be developed as much as possible. Approximately 90 per cent, of Tasmania’s primary production is shipped to mainland markets. That being so, we are dependent on the goodwill of the people who sell our potatoes in Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle and other ports on the mainland coast. We have almost completely lost our Brisbane market for potatoes because of shipping difficulties. One of those difficulties arises from the fact that larger ships are being sent to Tasmania, ships that are difficult to load, with corresponding difficulty in unloading at the other end. Usually, it takes from two to three weeks to unload and load a Dclass ship. E-class ships, and those of a similar kind, which carry between 7,000 and 10,000 bags of potatoes, are most suitable for our trade. They can slip into port, load quickly, and get the produce to the market without loss of time.
There should be a weekly shipping service for the transport of perishable cargoes from Tasmania to mainland ports. We had such a service in previous years. I think the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) will remember that during his recent visit to Tasmania evidence was given in Hobart that a regular weekly shipping service from Hobart to Sydney had operated for a number of years. It now takes two or three weeks for a ship to turn round and make the trip. That, of course, is due to slow turn round. I believe that the recent waterfront strike was brought about solely by the Waterside Workers Federation. I am not one who always blames the workers for industrial disputes. Indeed, I have a very high opinion of Australian workers, particularly wateraide workers. I think that they are as good as any other workers, provided that they are allowed to work. If they are’ not allowed to work, that becomes a different proposition altogether. It cannot be denied that continual pinpricking and stoppages on the waterfront have added to Tasmania’s difficulties.
It is interesting to note the trend of acreages under crop in Tasmania. In 1944-45, we had 343,000 acres under crop. That was stepped up until, in 1953-54, which is the last year for which figures are available, it had risen to 455,000 acres, or an increase of approximately one-third. The value of production in that period increased from £9,000,000 to £14,000,000, so that we are really making an effort to cope with the increased demand of mainland markets for Tasmanian perishable goods. It is also interesting to note that in the past, when we had adequate mainland markets and sufficient transport, there were 80,000 acres under potatoes. Owing to difficulties on the waterfront and the slow turn-round of ships, by 1953-54 that acreage had shrunk to 34,000 acres, and f believe that this year it probably will be no more than 25,000 acres. As honorable senators know, delivery is part and parcel of a contract. Unless it is possible to state a time of delivery which will accord with the buyer’s requirements, the whole deal will fall to the ground. During the period to which I have referred, the number of dairy cattle in Tasmania increased from 75,000 head to 102,000 head. Butter production doubled during the period. Because 90 per cent, of our primary production goes to mainland and overseas markets, shipping is vital to the dairying industry also.
I notice, on referring to export and import statistics for Tasmania, that exports are falling in comparison with imports, and it so happens that this year our imports are greater than our exports. That position also provides food for thought. It has been brought about by circumstances over which we have no control, particularly the position on the waterfront. During the last six months I have taken particular note of conditions on the waterfront at Darwin, Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart,
Launceston and the smaller ports of Tasmania, and I have been interested to see the difference in the unloading position at the various ports. One of the great difficulties on the waterfront arises from the fact that the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board has what it calls “ domestic arrangements “ with the watersiders. I believe that it is those arrangements which cause most of the difficulties at the ports to which I have referred, because after those domestic arrangements are made, the provisions of the award also are applied. The waterside workers seem to be particularly adept at getting all they want from the employers. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a shipowner. Instead, there are shipping companies, which comprise many shareholders. Some of the companies are in a very small way. I saw an example of these domestic arrangements at Darwin, where the waterside workers work from S o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night. Because of the extreme heat, they are unable to work a continuous shift, and they have an arrangement with the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board that they should work two hours on and two hours off, so that they actually work four shifts of two hours each between 8 o’clock in the morning and 10 o’clock at night. Despite the fact that the waterside workers have received that concession, they insist on strict application of the award provision that they must have twenty minutes off for smoko after they have worked for two hours. Therefore, the waterside workers at Darwin work for one hour 40 minutes and spell for two hours twenty minutes. For that, he receives 17s. 3d. an hour, continuous, or £9 15s. 6d. a day, and if he works at that rate for five days a week h.b is earning at the rate of nearly £2,500 a year. That sort of thing is going on throughout Australia.
– He receives that, amount only if he is continuously employed.
– He gets paid, whether he works or not, on the day that he is engaged and when he is working continuously he earns at the rate of £2,500 a year. I am speaking of the difficulties in various ports throughout
Australia, and I have personally visited the Tasmanian wharfs to see what goes on. On a recent occasion I was at the wharf at Launceston with the Minister, and one conclusion I came to was that more Labour is not required on the waterfront - certainly more workers are. To have gangs consisting of 22, 23 or 27 men is absolutely ridiculous. A gang of fifteen or sixteen is ample to do the average job adequately on the waterfront. I say that from my own observations. In 1939, the average size of the gang was fifteen and I have taken the trouble to turn up records for that period. It is well to remind the “Waterside Workers Federation of the facts. In 1939 a. fifteen-man gang could unload 24 tons of average cargo in an hour, under whatever conditions obtained at that time. To-day, working under the control of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, a 22-man gang unloads 11 tons of average cargo an hour. When the waterside workers can explain away that discrepancy, I will listen to them. It must be noted, also, that much more mechanical equipment is used on the wharfs now than was the case in 1939. The stage ha3 been reached when the watersiders and the shipowners cannot come to any reasonable agreement. Even if they came to terms those terms would not be observed for long. If the Government tries to lay down conditions of employment on the waterfront, I hope that some account will be taken of the fact that anybody placed in control must be able to deal with the question from the point of view of the shipowners, as well as from that of the watersiders.
Many of the past difficulties have been created by shipowners, and I do not blame the waterside workers entirely. If I were asked for an opinion I would say that there should be permanent employment on the waterfront. Every man is entitled to a permanent job, and if the waterside workers really appreciated the extent of the damage to the economy of Tasmania caused by their strikes, they would be more willing to abide by a reasonable agreement with the shipowners.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Reid). - ‘Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I support the motion because it gives the Senate an opportunity to discuss a problem which is having a serious effect on Tasmanian exporters. This debate will enable honorable senators also to bring to the notice of the Government some of the difficulties involved in Tasmanian shipping, and also to suggest how they can be overcome. I agree with Senator O’Byrne that this is not a matter of party politics. The honorable senator said that the major timber companies in Tasmania were able to obtain a monopoly of shipping space. The former Minister for Shipping and Transport, the late Senator McLeay, overcame that problem by appointing the Chief Commissioner of Forests in Tasmania to deal with any dispute over shipping space, and for the specific purpose of ensuring that the minor timber companies should be given a fair proportion of it.
The present problem in Tasmania is the over-abundance of exportable products on the wharfs and in the stoves awaiting shipment. The important, export, season is now at its height, and there have been various hold-ups and strikes on the wharfs. I will not say who is responsible for these strikes, but in my humble opinion, and in all fairness, I consider that three parties are culpable, some of them more than the others. Last year, the shippers did not treat the Waterside Workers Federation fairly in relation to the pallet dispute, which arose at Huon and simmered throughout the winter months. They were not co-operative in the negotiations for the introduction of pallets and the size of pallet gangs on the Hobart wharfs. The subsequent dispute in Hobart had serious consequences. The big stick was wielded, and the waterside workers properly protested, but unfortunately at great cost to the apple-growers.
The Government is culpable also because it has not made sufficient practical progress in its legislative action in respect to conditions on the waterfront. This is one of Australia’s major problems, and is of immense importance to Tasmania. The Waterside Workers Federation must bear a fair share of the blame in respect to strikes. Many petty stoppages have occurred but when the workers have been ordered back to their jobs after a fair hearing of their claims by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, they have, instead of working hard, waited around to find another petty excuse for a further stoppage. These hold-ups at this particular period of the apple export season have been most disappointing, particularly because they have been caused bv minor grievances.
The Waterside Workers Federation is controlled by a militant executive in Syd- ney, and this is a serious matter for Tasmania. If that State were to secede from the Commonwealth, Tasmanian waterfront troubles would immediately be solved, but unfortunately, that is the only benefit which the State would derive from secession. I believe that, because the workers of Tasmania have had a remarkable history of freedom from strikes for the past eight to ten years to my knowledge. The coal-miners in Tasmania set an unexcelled example of continuous work throughout the war years. The trouble arises in Tasmania when the workers there are involved in disputes that originate in the central executives on the mainland. We have seen militant organizers go to the wharfs in Tasmania and stir up trouble. Therefore, frankly, I do not blame the individual unionists ov. the Tasmanian wharfs for the strikes.
Senator Henty suggested that when goods for export accumulate, the producers, such as the timber millers and cement workers, should be allowed to volunteer to work on the wharfs to move the cargo they have produced. In that way, they would maintain continuity of employment to the benefit of their families and themselves. When their produce is shipped away, they can go back to work to produce more. Besides, it is not only Tasmanians who are handicapped by these accumulations of cargo in Tasmania. The Tasmanian products concerned are exported for use on the mainland, and if they are not being shipped, somebody on the mainland of Australia or overseas is being inconvenienced. The longer disputes last, the greater will be the harm done. The Government should do all it can to get more flexibility in the arrangements for work on the waterfront so that in times of crisis, when troubles arise, workers will be available to clear the wharfs.
I do not think that the big stick should be wielded over the Waterside Workers Federation. I sincerely believe that, if a plan such as that proposed by Senator Henty were put to the watersiders in Tasmania decently, clearly and fully, they would agree to it. I remind honorable senators that the States of Queensland and New South Wales have been stricken by terrible floods in recent weeks. Everybody who could do so has volunteered to work to alleviate the effects of this national disaster. Nobody has complained that he has been asked to work beyond the hours set for his job. Many have volunteered to work all hours, and some have performed great acts of bravery in saving animals and belongings.
I am not drawing the long bow when I say that a national disaster is developing rapidly in Tasmania because cargoes are not being moved from the wharfs. Senator Wright pv.t the position for the applegrowers very clearly and forcefully. If the apples are not exported, the growers will not be paid for their product. If they do not get paid, they will not be able to pay those who supply them with apple cases and other accessories for the trade. The orchard employees will not be paid because the orchardists will be bankrupt, in many cases. The timber mills and the manufacturers of other goods will be similarly affected, and the effect will be widespread. The people are in dire straits, and the position is getting worse. I believe it is time that we put it to the unions that they should come to the aid of their fellow Tasmanians because, ultimately, the.y themselves will suffer.
Tt is a pity that more common sense and reason could not prevail in matters like this, because I remind the Senate that, as a result of the trouble on the waterfront and shipping disputes, more freight is being shifted from Tasmania by air. That freight is being lost to shipping, and will never go back to it. In one respect, the watersiders have a monopoly of the trade because timber and other bulk cargo cannot be transported by air. T do not criticize the waterside workers for striking when they have a justifiable case, but when they take action beyond all reason, they are harming their own industry. They should wake up to that fact, and it is the duty of the Government to have a spokesman to put these matters to the waterside workers. I am not an idealist, and I know that some honorable senators will say, “ Fancy going to Jim Healy “, but I do not think it would do any harm.
I am glad that the matter has been brought to the notice of the Senate and the Government, and 1 hope that some definite action will be taken. I hope, also, that there will be a spirit of cooperation between the shipowners, the employers and the waterside workers so that the calamity that is overshadowing Tasmania may be averted.
– I realize that the motion which the Senate is discussing is directed more towards waterside labour performance and the necessity for introducing emergency waterside labour arrangements in Tasmania, than it is to shipping itself. Nevertheless, it was more or less inevitable that some reference would be made to shipping during the debate. It came as no surprise to me that Senator O’Byrne should have attempted to use the opportunity presented by this debate to criticize shipping arrangements and, particularly the conduct of the Australian Government with regard to the provision of shipping for Tasmania generally and, in particular, since the end of the disastrous waterside strike. In his characteristic fashion, Senator O’Byrne went to extremes, and tried to blame the Commonwealth Government for the lack of wharf facilities. Clearly, the provision of those facilities is a State function. If any one is to be blamed in that regard, surely Senator O’Byrne, in all fairness, should direct his complaints to the Premier of Tasmania, Mr. Cosgrove.
He went from that point to state that the Australian Government had contributed to Tasmania’s plight because it had not, over the years, had an eye to the necessity for providing adequate shipping for Tasmania. I have pointed out time and time again, and so also did my predecessor, that the performance of this
Government in connexion with shipping far exceeds the performance of the preceding Labour Government, and the commercial results of the shipping conducted by this Government have been far in advance of any ever achieved by the previous Government.
As to the present position, when the end of the recent disastrous waterside strike was in view, this Government took active and positive steps to ensure that the difficulties of Tasmania would be alleviated, as far as possible. No one but a complete nitwit would imagine that the effects of such a strike could be entirely corrected within the space of a few days or weeks after the dispute has ended. I look forward to the day when all Tasmanians, on a completely nonparty basis, will show that they realize the importance of shipping to their State by at all times impressing upon waterside workers and all other interests connected with shipping that any interruption to shipping can have only the most damaging effects on the welfare of Tasmania and its people. As I have said, after the strike the Government took active and positive steps to introduce remedial measures. It set up a committee which consulted with the shipowners. The committee consisted of officers from all the departments interested in overseas and interstate shipping. It included representatives of the Department of Shipping and Transport, the Department of Trade and the Stevedoring Industry Board, and it went into conference with the shipowners and exporters and worked out a system of priorities to move cargoes in their right order.
In respect of Tasmania’s overseas trade, the highest priority was naturally given to fruit - apples and pears - and to butter. I should like to deal, first, with the position in regard to apples and pears in order to indicate that if there is any lack in shipping it does not arise from the non-availability of ships, but from the use to which the ships are being put or are being permitted to be put. During the first period of the export season from the 24th February to the 15th March, an export allotment of 385,000 cases was made. Ships have taken all of this approved programme, with the exception of one ship, Pipiriki, which is now loading some days late. At a conference held a day or two ago, the allocation for the second section of the season, from the 15th March to the 30th April, was fixed at 961,000 cases of apples and 128,500 cases of pears. The Apple and Pear Board advised me that exporters are completely satisfied with the allocation, provided the shipping allocation is used on time. There is, in fact, additional space available to shippers of fruit should it be needed, but the chief consideration will be, as in the past, whether that space is used to the best advantage of Tasmanian exporters.
– February varieties cannot be shipped at the end of March.
– The position is that shipping has been provided. Whether the cargo is shipped on time is another matter. There was an accumulation of butter at both Launceston and Burnie and the Department of Trade has made arrangements for Brisbane Star to commence loading 10,000 cases of butter on the 26th March and for Port Napier to commence loading 20,000 cases on the 3lst March. Those two shipments will clear all Launceston stocks of butter. In respect of Burnie the Department of Trade is to-day discussing with the Oversea Shipping Representatives Association the possibility of obtaining a ship to clear the accumulation of butter from Tasmania. No other instances of dissatisfaction or complaint in respect of the export trade from Tasmania has been brought to my notice; and I repeat that so far as shipping is concerned, adequate provision has been made.
With regard to interstate traffic the position is more interesting and rather more complicated. Here we see in bold relief the problem of the turn-round of ships and its effect on cargo movements. In a moment or so I shall cite instances to show that although ships have been sent to Tasmania, their full employment has been precluded by conditions of waterside labour and other factors which contribute to the slow turn-round of the ships. In fairness, I should say that the loading of interstate ships has been hampered not only at Tasmania ports but also at other ports, particularly Sydney, where three ships due to sail for Tasmania were held up because of weather conditions. But shipowners and all interested in this question point to those instances as classic examples of the slow turn-round of ships being the principal factor in retarding the movement of cargoes rather than the non-provision of ships. Let me instance just some of the difficulties which have occurred. Tatana arrived at Launceston on the 22nd January with approximately 1,200 tons of general cargo. It was held up by the strike until the 15th February, but obtained no labour after the resumption of work until the 17th February. The vessel eventually departed from Launceston for Melbourne on the 29th February with approximately 1,300 tons of cargo. That ship, which should have been in port for three or possibly four days, had its stay extended to ten or eleven days. Adelong arrived at Hobart on the 1st March with approximately 3.000 tons of steel, general cargo and sugar. It could get no labour on the 2nd March. The following days were Saturday and Sunday, and the 5th March was Labour day, which was a holiday. On the 6th March the vessel could work only three gangs.
– Where was that?
– This was at Hobart. On the 7th March it got five gangs and it is still working with six gangs. At Burnie, watersiders went on strike to-day. Apparently, some men were asked to transfer from a timber to a general cargo gang. They refused and were suspended until Monday. Other waterside workers are on strike and have said they will not work until those suspensions are lifted. We are talking in this chamber to-day about all getting together in one big happy family in order to solve Tasmania’s difficulties. Here, surely, is a case, frivolous in the extreme, which demands immediate corrective action. That is what happened yesterday and to-day at Burnie.
– What was their objection to transferring from one gang to another?
– I understand that was their objection. One of the first effects of this cessation of work at Burnie has been in respect of cheese, lard and pork from the Duck River Co-operative Butter Factory Company Limited, which has been the subject of continuous representation from my colleagues from Tasmania. Delungra was due to load this cargo of cheese, lard and pork from the factory, but when the waterside dispute became apparent, rather than delay the ship it was despatched yesterday short-loaded by 100,000 super, feet of timber plus this other cargo from the Duck River Cooperative Butter Factory Company Limited. It will lift this cargo on its next voyage. I simply cite those instances to point out that the problem is not lack of shipping but the use to which the shipping made available has been put. That factor is not only creating Tasmania’s problem but also aggravating it at a time when every Tasmanian should be co-operating to overcome the difficulties with which that State is confronted.
I notice that Senator O’Byrne has returned to the chamber. I put it to him as bluntly as I can that if he is sincere and really wants to tackle this problem, as he says he does, one approach to the problem that he ought to make is to insist, through the Australian Labour party and affiliated unions, that waterside labour, which has such a direct bearing on the welfare of Tasmania, should not engage in these frivolous hold-ups and strikes. I invite Senator O’Byrne, who complained so bitterly about this matter, to take the opportunity presented to him to-day to get in touch with the waterside workers at Burnie and urge them for the good of Tasmania to return to work until the present accumulations of cargo have been lifted.
Sitting suspended from 12.^7 to 2.S0 p.m.
– Before the sitting was suspended, I was referring to the action taken by the Department of Shipping and Transport to relieve the accumulation of cargo which had piled up in Tasmania as the result of the strike. During this debate some interesting statements and figures have been given with regard to timber, cement and potatoes. I propose now to give those senators who referred to those commodities some details of the arrangements which are in train to relieve the position. I shall deal first with timber. At the present time six vessels are loading 1,425,000 super, feet of timber. Coming now to cement, I point out that since the end of the strike 1,648 tons of cement have been lifted from Devonport. It was expected that Eugowra would have lifted 550 tons of cement on the 7th March, but when advice was received that no labour would be available till the 15th or 16th March, that arrangement was cancelled. Honorable senators will see that it is a repetition of the same old story. Eugowra, is now fixed to load wheat from Geelong to Devonport on the 24th March, and will lift 550 tons of cement on the return voyage. In order to relieve the situation, the Australian Shipping Board has arranged for Carcoola to be allocated to lift wheat from South Australia. That vessel will commence the task about the middle of April. This action will relieve Nilpena and Noongah which have been engaged in the carriage of wheat for other trades, and these vessels should materially assist in lifting timber, cement and paper from north-west Tasmanian ports. Nilpena is due in Stanley early in April to load timber, and will continue in thi north-west ports trade lifting timber, cement and paper. These ships can lift up to 500,000 super, feet of timber on each voyage. Coolabah was put into the Tasmanian trade by the Australian Shipping Board, and is due in Sydney to-morrow with a cargo of potatoes and paper. 1 am unable to say what quantities of those commodities will be carried.
Senator Wardlaw .spoke about shipments of potatoes. He will be interested to know that Hans P. Carl will leave either Burnie or Devonport about midApril with from 30,000 to 50,000 sack? of potatoes, and that Kini will leave for Sydney early in April with between 14,000 and 15,000 sacks. Late in April, Wanaka and Kootara will leave for Sydney, each carrying from 15,000 to 20,000 sacks of potatoes. At the present time Enfield is in Burnie with a cargo of coal. When the coal has been discharged, the vessel will lift 6,000 sacks of potatoes for Newcastle. The programme I have mentioned covers all the current requests for the shipment of potatoes.
It should be obvious to honorable senators that the Government and the Australian Shipping Board, as well as the Tasmanian Traffic Committee, are fully seized with the importance of maintaining a proper and adequate trade with Tasmania, and realize the serious position which has arisen as the result of the major strike, which is now being aggravated by a series of industrial disturbances of a minor nature which have taken place since the major strike was theoretically settled. The solution of this problem does not lie entirely in the provision of shipping; it lies in the proper and adequate use of the shipping that has been made available. Everything that I said this morning, and that other honorable senators have said, with the possible exception of remarks made by Senator O’Byrne, indicates that this problem can be solved if goodwill and common sense are brought to bear, and if every one with a sense of responsibility will devote his best efforts to seeing that frivolous and irresponsible stoppages of work do not occur.
– This was a proper matter for Senator Henty to raise, because the question of congestion on the Tasmanian waterfront is of concern not only to Tasmanians but also to all who are concerned with the Australian economy. I agree with honorable senators who have referred to Tasmania’s complete dependence upon shipping for the transport of goods and people. Tasmania has no alternative methods of transport - rail and road - which are enjoyed by the mainland States. Most speakers were objective and fair in addressing themselves to this subject. I say at once to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) that I am most gratified to know that he is so concerned about the present position. We, on this side, are happy to have his assurance that what appear to be complete arrangements for shipping have been made. I congratulate the Minister upon his interest and activity. I agree with him that once adequate shipping is available it is a matter of the adequate and proper use of that shipping. In considering that aspect of the problem, we must be careful not to concentrate all thu blame for delays upon the waterside workers. The blame falls into a number of categories, as any one who knows anything about the arrangements is aware.
Let me mention, by way of illustration, what happened in the port of Hobart during the past few days. On Monday Port Napier, which was loading fruit for overseas, had its men sitting down for four hours waiting for fork-lift trucks which were engaged in loading interstate vessels. It was not the fault of the watersiders that half a day was lost. That delay occurred because of inadequa te provision for loading facilities; and that is a matter for management. That happened on Monday of this week. On the same day, waterside workers had to sit down for four hours because cargo in proper rotation was not available for them to handle. There was ample fruit available to be loaded for Rotterdam, but fruit for London, which had to be loaded, first, was not available. Again, therewas a delay of four hours. One honorable senator this morning referred to Adelina, and therefore I draw attention to a report in the Hobart Mercury yesterday, that the hold-up in discharging cargo had been caused by congestion in the sheds. The prevention of congestion on the wharfs is a matter for management. The arranging of cargoes in suitable order for loading, and its quick removal, is also a matter for management. I admit that the congestion arose primarily out of the waterfront dispute and strke, but this particular problem arises from the fact that there had been congestion of both outgoing and incoming cargo. This, I repeat, is a matter for management, whch should see that loading and unloading flow smoothly. The fourth instance which occurred as recently as last week was in relation to Warringah, at Macquarie Point, Hobart. The shipowners declined to allow the men to work at night. When there is congestion on the waterfront, one would expect that the management would permit the men to work overtime. In the case I have mentioned, the owners, no doubt for reasons which seem good to them, did not permit the working of overtime. That kind of thing is going on all the time.
It is idle for anybody to think that the whole of the blame can be thrown on the waterside workers. Senator Wright laid the blame fairly and squarely on the waterside workers, and said that there was a group, on the waterfront under Communist control. He said that the waterside workers were the victims of Communist policy. Now, what are the facts about the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia? The federal council of that union consists of about 40 odd members of whom only two are Communists. Therefore, it will be seen that the organization is neither Communistdominated nor Communist-controlled. The federation certainly has a Communist secretary - an avowed Communist. That is indisputable, but it does not help relations in this great industry to make a statement about communism that is wholly incorrect and is generally misunderstood. In Tasmania, each branch of the Waterside Workers Federation is affiliated with the Australian Labour party, and I know each of the branches and visit them regularly. Through my Contact with them I know that not one of the branches has a Communist upon its executive body. Therefore, I would say that Senator Wright’s allegation in relation to the Waterside Workers Federation is completely incorrect.
– The stoppages on the waterfront that have occurred this year can be explained in no other way.
– I do not consider that it is fair to say that at all. In relation to the recent trouble over pallets, Senator Marriott indicated that the federation had not been treated properly. There had been no prior consultation with it, and conditions proposed in relation to the size of the pallet were different from those that were the subject of an award at Port Huon. That is an instance in which goodwill and common sense, for which the Minister has just made a plea, could well have been applied.
– Senator McKenna should not mistake the underlying cause when it is as serious a matter as communism.
– I do not accept that at all, and I join with the Minister in making a plea to Senator Wright to try to get that out of his mind, and to take a wide view of the whole picture of the work on the waterfront. If he does that, he will find that the whole blame for disputes does not rest on the waterside worker, and that there are many other contributing factors. If he allows his mind to dwell on that factor alone, he will not have a complete and true picture of this great industry, and the repetition of statements of the kind that he has made today will do more than anything else to worsen relations in the industry.
Allegations’ that the waterside workers of Tasmania are Communists or are pulled by the nose by Communists, are equally offensive. That is not the proper explanation of the trouble, and I implore Senator Wright to discard that approach. I am sure that he will agree with me that, by and large, there are no better citizens and no better Australians than the men who work on the Tasmanian waterfront. I say that without any hesitation at all. In the apple season the Waterside Workers Federation sends from 250 to 300 men each year to help in the emergency caused by the need to get fruit away quickly. That has been done year after year as a matter of federation policy through the federal council. The union asks men to go over to Tasmania, and indeed it ensures that they do go over, to help in the fruit season. Tasmania is indebted to the federation for this assistance. There are only about 120 men from the mainland there at present, but that is due to the fact that there is congestion on the waterfront at Sydney and Newcastle, partly as a result of the recent strike, but largely as a result of the bad weather. There is an enormous tie-up of cargo, because it is impossible to work ships in the torrential rain that New South Wales has been having day after day for some time past. Because of all those difficulties the Waterside Workers Federation has sent only 120 men to Tasmania to help with the great rush that is experienced each year there during the fruit season.
The Minister referred to a stoppage at Burnie, and asked Senator O’Byrne to use whatever influence he might have to ensure a settlement of that dispute. The honorable senator and I myself took this matter up, during the luncheon adjournment, with the Waterside Workers Federation at Burnie and we learned quite a lot about this particular matter. It appears that this is a case where, if only a little of the goodwill and common sense that the Minister so wisely seeks had been employed, trouble would not have arisen. It appears that Delungra was working at Burnie. A number of genera! cargo gangs were picked up to discharge and load paper. Then they were put on to loading timber. Loading proceeded with gangs of fourteen men, according to the provisions of the award. Then the employer discovered that a small quantity of meat and other products had to be loaded, and ordered the fourteen-man gangs to go over and work with twelve new men who had been picked up at 1 p.m. Six men were added to each of two gangs to make up two gangs of twenty. When that was mooted the federation officials pointed to a provision in the award which provided that at the outset of work sufficient men must be picked up to do the complete job.
The officials warned the owner that he should abide by the award and said, “ There will be trouble if you take this action because the twelve men should have been picked up in the morning, and not asked merely to work four hours “. The owners persisted and the men refused to work. In normal circumstances those men would have been rostered on first next morning, but they were suspended and the employer called for five gangs and an extra twelve men only. When the men were suspended the whole 300 men in the port decided that if some of their number were to be suspended over a matter which involved a breach of an award - they may be wrong but that was their view - they would all be suspended. Those men have been suspended until Monday, and all the men on the waterfront in that particular place walked out until Monday.
I should imagine that this case is one where goodwill and common sense might have been applied. The owner *was warned that his projected action would cause trouble, and if at that time he had said to the men, “I concede the principle, but what about doing it without prejudice to your claims in order to help us out ? “, I believe that the men might have given him a ready response and got the job done. But the action that I have outlined was taken, the men were suspended and work stopped. Following our talks with the leaders of the men we expect that an appeal against that decision will be made this afternoon, and perhaps the Minister might intervene at this stage to ensure that a little of the common sense that we both applaud is brought to bear on this matter.
I believe that an opportunity for reconsideration will be offered during the afternoon by the waterside workers, and if the Minister gets the opportunity Tie might intervene to ensure that a just solution is reached. If that is done we might have the men back at work to-morrow and, instead of losing Friday and Saturday, save two days. Senator O’Byrne immediately backed up the proposal made by the Minister to get that port working and speed up the cargo from that particular area.
Another matter that I wish to speak about has relation to amenities. I have gathered from the Minister that the matter of amenities is entirely one for the States.
– Port amenities?
– I am referring to amenities for the waterside workers. They are, of course, the immediate concern of harbour boards and so on, which function under State statutes. On the subject of amenities, I refer particularly to the lack of amenities at Devonport, where there is an old wooden shed which is completely inadequate for the purposes for which the men use it. The lavatory accommodation is unutterably filthy. I, personally, would not use it at all. I walked into the rooms where the men wash and shower. Frankly, I would not - I am speaking with great deliberation - use those quarters. There is a broken board with three old taps running into three chipped and battered enamelled washbasins for the men. The shower room is an absolute disgrace.
Section 13 of the Stevedoring Act sets but that it is the function of the Stevedoring Industry Board to provide firstaid equipment, medical attendance, ambulance facilities, rest rooms, sanitary and washing facilities, canteens, cafeteria, dining-rooms and other amenities for waterside workers. Although this is not the immediate responsibility of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), I suggest that he might invite the board to have a look at the facilities at Devonport.
– That comes within the province of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt).
– Wherever the responsibility lies, something should be done immediately at Devonport. It is futile to expect the men to carry on with their work when conditions are such as I have described. I know that there are difficulties associated with the matter because, the control of land at ports being vested in harbour boards and so on, it is not always easy to obtain complete agreement. However, I stress the urgency of the situation at Devonport. I think that a good purpose has been served by raising the matter in this chamber. In view of the fact that the whole industry will shortly come under consideration, I should like to receive the Minister’s assurance that the matter will be approached without prejudice against the Waterside Workers Federation. Let us see whether, by the exercise of a little good sense and understanding, better amenities and facilities can be provided for the industry.
– Unfortunately, I have not been in the chamber during the whole of this debate, and, consequently, I have not heard all of the remarks of previous speakers. I was unavoidably absent attending an important meeting. I am sorry that I could not enter the debate until this relatively late stage. However, I do so now because of my concern about the urgency of the situation in Tasmania. Without the slightest doubt, the present state of affairs there is hitting everybody.
As a primary producer myself, I shall direct my remarks to the point of view of primary producers, who are being hit hardest of all. When I refer to the primary producers, I mean the small men. I do not refer to the big wool barons, against whom honorable senators opposite usually direct criticism when they talk about men on the land. According to my friends opposite, most men on the land are great big wool barons; but I am talking about the small men. In Tasmania, the primary industries are in the hands of small men - men who own only 100 or 200 acres of land, and do most of the work themselves.
The livelihood of the apple-growers and potato-growers depends on their being able to ship their produce away. . Most of them work many more hours a week than do the waterside workers, and usually for much less return. They are the people who need sympathy and help. Unless these fellows are able to get their primary produce away they will go bankrupt. 1 invite honorable senators to think what it means to a man running an apple orchard, who spends the whole of the year producing .the crop, and whose sole income is lost when his produce cannot be shipped abroad, but is left on his property or at the wharf. He has not a penny of income, and is ruined. As Senator Wright pointed out, a man’s crop of apples could be ruined by a delay of two or three days in shipment, because in that time the apples could rot. The small primary producers deserve consideration by both the shipowners and the waterside workers. I realize that much of the present trouble on the waterfront in Tasmania dates back to the recent strike, but in addition, there are several other reasons. One is the lack of shipping, and another is delay in loading available ships.
As I said at the beginning, I have entered this debate at a rather late stage, after both the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) have participated in it. The Minister pointed out, I understand, that many ships had been sent to Tasmania. Actually, enough ships were sent. If they had been properly worked, the pile-up of commodities would not have been so considerable. Therefore, the root of the trouble is the manner in which the ships have been worked, and the time taken for turn-round. Of course. there is nothing new in this problem. I should like to read to honorable senators a few extracts from notes of a shipping conference that was held in the Public Buildings, Launceston, on the 22nd July, 1946. The notes could almost relate to a current conference. They read as follows : -
Before the war, vessels . . . averaged 50 or 01 return trips per year, running ;i regularly weekly schedule which was only interrupted by extreme weather conditions and the need for annual overhaul. Today—
That is ten years ago - . vessels average a trip each fortnight, but not more than 30 trips per year. The rate ot cargo handling is barely half what it was in 1939 - when no informed person would agree that waterside workers were hard worked. Gangs have been increased by 25 percent or more, and limitations of all sorts apply. Mechanism is not the answer, unless there is authority to ensure that any plant installed be used to the maximum capacity. Bluntly - ships are being loaded and unloaded at nut more than one third the rate that could be expected without imposing the slightest physical hardship on any average man.
To digress for a moment, the Leader of the Opposition, when speaking of the trouble at Devonport, said that the shipowners could well have approached the men and asked them to work the ships without prejudice to their claims. I think it is fair to say that, by the same token, the waterside workers could have approached the shipowners in that spirit. T do not think that blame lies only with the waterside workers. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) that there are faults on both sides. The last excerpt that I wish to read from the document to which I have referred is as follows: -
Those who have no responsibility and who have no training in organization and management are dictating how work shall he done, with no consideration for the well-being of the State, but with an unfortunate outlook ofbeating the community.
Those words were written ten years ago, when there was not all this talk of communism.
– Who wrote that report?
– I shall let the honorable senator read it. It was the result of a conference held ten years ago in Launceston, in the days before all this talk of communism. I am somewhat inclined to the same views as those of the Leader of the Opposition in this matter. As I have said previously in the Senate, I do not think there is one Communist in the ranks of the honorable senators opposite, nor do I think there is a real Communist among the waterside workers of Hobart. I think, however, that at Hobart there are many men who are deliberately strirring up trouble, men who can be called militants. In my opinion, there are some very good men among the waterside workers. Incidentally, one of them upset the Australian cricket eleven by good bowling at Launceston recently. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the waterside workers represent a. fair sample of the Australian community, although it is obvious that there are disruptive elements among them. Speaking as a primary producer, I can say that the primary producers of Tasmania are becoming very fed up with waterfront troubles, because those troubles affect their livelihood. Most primary producers appreciate that in the waterfront trouble there are faults on both sides. They do not admit that the waterside worker, compared with the rural worker, is overworked or has extremely bad working conditions, although that may be true of certain ports. The primary producer believes that the waterside worker is treated as well as the average Australian worker is treated. He also believes that the waterside worker receives more pay than does the man who works on the land.
The primary producers of Tasmania want to see this waterfront trouble brought to an end. If things come to a showdown, which they probably will, the primary producers are fully prepared to go down to the wharfs and load their produce in order to get it out of the State. If the waterside workers try to stop them from doing so, there probably will be bloodshed. It should be remembered that the primary producers are just as capable of organizing themselves as are the waterside workers. I do not make these comments in a belligerent way at all. As I say, the primary producers have had enough of these rolling strike tactics and will ta.ke matters into their own hands unless something is done. I hope that talks, and perhaps certain action by the various governments, will remedy this position, because I can see in it the elements of a great deal of trouble. I agree entirely with Senator Henty about the urgency of this Tasmanian shipping position. As honorable senators are aware, shipping services are of vital importance to Tasmania because it is an island State. I hope that the matter will be taken in hand and. that those who have the power to do something to end the trouble will exert their best efforts.
– The aspects of the matter to which I direct my attention more particularly are the comments that have been made in relation to the work force on the wharfs, with which my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), of course, is concerned, and such matters as affect the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. I think that the mover of the motion before the Senate accepts the proposition that a good deal of the trouble which Tasmania is facing at this moment is the direct result of the long strike that we unfortunately suffered in the early part of the year, and acknowledges that that led to accumulation of cargoes and all sorts of difficulties .which cannot be overcome in a hurry and which require certain measures to be taken, perhaps somewhat unusual measures, in order to deal with a quite unusual situation. So far as the Government and government instrumentalities are concerned, I think that they have been doing all they could do to overcome the difficulty. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) has indicated clearly that all possible steps have been taken to ensure that as much shipping as possible is made available- to Tasmania for the removal of cargoes from Tasmanian ports at this time.
So far as the labour force is concerned, the information I have is that steps have been taken, and are being taken, to add to the quotas at a number of the ports. For example, at Burnie, 52 new members of the quota are in the course of being medically examined. In other words, they have been accepted subject to medical examination.
– There were 300 applicants.
– I do not know what the number of applicants was, but I am told that the quota is 300 and the actual strength 246, and that 52 men are now being medically examined before adding them to the work force. The same kind of thing is taking place at Hobart. There is a shortage of the quota there, and steps are being taken, through the medium of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, to see that the Waterside Workers Federation fulfils its obligations in regard to adding to the quota at that port.
Senator Henty made some comment about Devonport and suggested, as I understood him, that a number of the waterside workers at that port had moved away to Hobart. The information I have is that the position, as at to-day, does not bear out that contention. I have made inquiries, and the latest information I have is that to-day there are 154 men there. It is true that, since receiving that information, we have had news of this unfortunate stoppage at Devonport, but, as I say, the labour force is stated to be 154 as at to-day, with a port quota of 173. I understood the honorable senator to say that the labour force at Devonport had got down to about 22 at one stage, the others having gone away to Hobart.
– No. I shall correct that position when I reply.
– I think I remember now that the honorable senator stated that at Devonport they had worked four shifts for one ship and had only one gang left for another ship, which indicated that the number of men available was very much below the quota. At any rate, those are the port figures for to-day, and they indicate that the number of men there is almost equal to the quota. A series of disputes has occurred in Hobart concerning the number of men in the gangs, and the Commonwealth authority has dealt with them as expeditiously as possible. Mr. Justice Ashburner was in Hobart on Thursday and Friday of last week and he is expected to hear argument in relation to the dispute, in Sydney, either this week or next.
Possibly it will be next week. In the meantime, the men are working on a 21 -man basis.
Senator Henty suggested using timber workers to load the surplus timber in the event of timber mills having to close down owing to the accumulation of timber on the wharfs. The honorable senator will probably realize that such a proposal would involve careful judgment because, in some circumstances, it could accentuate the problem rather than solve it.
– There would have to be agreement between the two groups of workers.
– Exactly. It would involve agreement not merely on the part of the timber workers, but also on the part of the waterside workers. I assure the honorable senator, and other honorable senators who have spoken, that the various suggestions they have made to deal with the difficulties confronting Tasmania will be brought to the notice of the Minister, and I am confident that he will give them most sympathetic consideration. Members of the Government all appreciate the dependence of Tasmania upon shipping and the importance to Tasmania of the speedy despatch of its cargoes at this time of the year. Tasmanian representatives may be assured that the Government and its* agencies will do everything possible to bring about this result.
.- in reply - I thank the Senate for the way in which it has dealt with this motion, and I thank the speakers from both sides of the House for the contributions they have made to the debate. They have appreciated the vital importance of this matter to Tasmania. I wish to reply to some points raised during the debate. One related to the holding of timber in Tasmania. I remind the Senate that large importations of timber from Borneo and Malaya are likely to prejudice the future of our timber trade for many years if our timber cargoes are not shipped away expeditiously.
Senator O’Byrne said that there were few post-war ships on the Tasmanian run. The Australian Shipping Board and private companies have placed more ships on the run to Tasmania than anywhere else in Australia, and the honorable senator’s argument is entirely unfounded. There are three new Holyman ships. One Huddart Parker vessel and three new ships provided by the Australian Shipping Board are now plying between Tasmania and Melbourne. The Australian Government and private enterprise have both done their best to provide adequate shipping for Tasmania. The problem is not one of insufficient shipping, but of the turn-round of shipping.
Senator O’Byrne accused me of raising this matter in order to gain a miserable political advantage. I assure honorable senators that I raised it as a matter of great urgency because of its importance to the economy of Tasmania, and I am gratified that with one exception - and the honorable senator is that only exception - the motion was treated in that spirit by all honorable senators who spoke. Another unjustifiable assertion by Senator O’Byrne was that I had interests in the butter market in Australia. That is completely untrue. I have no interest in the export of butter from Tasmania. I have 250 shares in a co-operative butter factory in Tasmania, which I took up some years ago, and if they have been of any assistance in building up that factory I am glad. But I have nothing to do with the export of butter from Tasmania. Only a person with a miserable soul such as the honorable senator must have would make such an allegation without first ascertaining the facts. His action in making such a suggestion is beneath contempt.
He also completely misconstrued my proposal for co-operation between the Waterside Workers Federation and unemployed timber workers to move only the surplus timber. I did not say that the timber workers should act as “ scabs “ as the honorable senator so kindly suggested. I said that while this accumulation was on hand, and timber mills were closed, it would be in the interests of both timber workers and waterside workers for the timber workers to clear the wharfs of timber. Then, when the timber mills were then able to resume operations, the timber workers would naturally resume their occupation. The employment of timber workers to shift the timber from the wharfs would be purely a temporary measure, and would be undertaken only with the full approval of themselves and the waterside workers. The honorable senator’s suggestion of “ scabbing “ is a clear indication of the standard of his intelligence.
I appreciate particularly the contribution to the debate by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). In view of the assurance by the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) that in the near future the Government will introduce effective legislation to deal with waterside work, I ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion - by leave - withdrawn.
Debate resumed from the 21st March (vide page 363), on motion by Senator O’Sullivan -
That the following paper be printed: -
Economic Measures - Statement by the Prime Minister dated 14th March, 1956.
SenatorWILLESEE (“Western Australia) [3.18]. - Last night, I mentioned that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) had been trying, in another place, to defend the Government’s proposals by saying that they were not an attack on the small man. He asserted that ‘the Government had looked after the workers and those on smaller incomes. He made an extraordinary statement, which he had taken from the text of the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) during the federal election campaign last year, to the effect that in 1949. under a Labour government, a worker earning £600 a year was paying £26 5s. a year in tax, but under the present Government a man
Ranting £600 a year would pay only £11 5s. a year in tax. He held that up as an example of what the Liberal Government is doing to help the smaller wageearner.
I am astounded to find responsible persons advancing such a puerile and foolish argument. They try to relate the £1 of 1949 to the £1 of to-day. They argue as if the Prime Minister had fulfilled his promise to put value back into the £1. If he had done so there would be some substance in their argument, but the fact is that a person earning £600 in 1949 would be receiving approximately double the basic wage, which then would be a handsome income. He would not have been a small wage-earner, because no margins were then being paid which would enable him to earn the equivalent of twice the basic wage. Only persons earning incomes much in excess of award rates or from private business would receive £600 a year. It is alleged that the Chifley Government was taking from a person on almost double the basic wage, £26 5s. a year in taxation. The basic wage to-day is £12 15s. The Prime Minister has boasted that this Government is taking from a man on the basic wage only £11 5s., and he has given that as an example of the way in which the Government is looking after the small man. That is a silly argument. The person who put it into the Prime Minister’s statement should be sacked, and the Minister for Immigration, who repeated it, should be ashamed of himself for using that example after studying it.
I wish to direct attention now to Commonwealth bonds, although Senator Gorton expressed the hopes and ideas of every member of the Australian Labour party when he dealt with that matter. This is a vital question. It goes far beyond a few people losing a few pounds. Why do people put their money into government bonds in preference to other investments? They do not do so because bonds offer a high rate of interest. Anybody could get a higher rate of interest on some other market, but bonds have been known as gilt-edged securities because the government of the nation is prepared to back them. The little person who has £200 or £300 to invest, and does not know anything about the business world, would be to scared to put money into even solid industrial shares. Investors in that category prefer to invest in government bonds because they believe they are safe, and they offer a reasonable rate of interest.
The Prime Minister tried to explain away the Government’s action in withdrawing support from the bond market, but the effect of the Government’s action was to destroy faith in the Government of the nation. As a. classic example of understatement, the Prime Minister said that he thought that loans would be hard to fill. Certainly the loans will be hard to fill, because people who put their money into Commonwealth bonds have found that their value has depreciated, whereas practically all other kinds of investment have appreciated.
I was interested to hear Senator Gorton suggest the issue of something like war savings certificates. I remember that Senator Kennelly made a similar suggestion during the last budget debate, and Senator Henty took him to task severely for so doing. I believe, however, that that is the only possible action to take. I do not care whether the savings certificates are in the same form as the war savings certificates. They could be offered for various amounts at a reasonable rate of interest, and people would be encouraged to invest in them as gilt-edged certificates. That would assist to restore confidence in the minds of investors in the Government of Australia, f believe that this is a matter of great urgency. We must restore the bond market, and maintain it at an appropriate level. We must hold the confidence of the people, so that they will not come to believe that not even the bond market is safe.
I am not interested so much in the person who is out to amass large sums of money. Those people are able to obtain, and pay for, good advice, and do not invest in bonds. The people who invest in bonds are those who want to invest a small amount in gilt-edged securities, just in case of emergency, or because they are regarded as safe. Organizations such as insurance companies And building societies also invest a proportion of their funds in the bond market just in case their other investments should fail - which is most unlikely.
During this debate, the subject of hire purchase has been belted around. The Prime Minister has shown palpable weakness every time he has mentioned this matter. Whatever we might have said of the horror budget at the time it was introduced, it was a more honest approach to the problem than is this supplementary budget. The horror budget imposed direct taxation, which meant that the whole community was affected in varying degrees, and everybody shared the national burden.
If a similar strong attack had been made on the hire-purchase problem, something might have been achieved, but a few months ago the Prime Minister said he had made an appeal to the hirepurchase organizations not to profiteer. I sympathize with the directors of those companies because, under State laws, a director is faced with the responsibility of protecting the shareholders. He is not there to help anybody else, or to act for the good of the country, but to represent the shareholders. That means that his job is to make money for the shareholders, providing the business is being conducted in a legal way. Therefore, the directors to whom the Prime Minister appealed have found themselves compelled to protect their shareholders, while, at the same time, the Prime Minister has been asking them not to make so much profit. Such a move by the Prime Minister was bound to fail, because the Government did not invite all who are engaged in that type of business to meet in conference. Those who were not there naturally felt that they were not bound to do as the Prime Minister asked.
There are more ways than one of handling this matter. A check was placed on hire purchase by the previous Labour Government when it initiated the industrial loans section of the Commonwealth Bank. Persons who wanted to buy a truck, or who sought to raise a small loan to purchase the articles that are usually obtained by hire purchase, were able to obtain finance through the Commonwealth Bank. It provided active competition with the hire-purchase organizations. The Prime Minister made a promise earlier that; the Commonwealth Bank would go into active competition not only with the banks, but also with other financial institutions. The thing to do is to provide an alternative to hire purchase. The people should be given a place where they can obtain a loan of £100, or £200, by way of a personal loan, and the business should be put on a proper banking level. That was how it Was done under the
Labour Government’s arrangement. The banker looked at the client, and if he decided that he was a person of good repute, a loan was made.
That provided competition with the hire-purchase organizations, and the way is still open for this Government to enter that field. It could be done to-morrow morning. There could be competition with the hire-purchase organizations, and they could be forced back into line, because the people will not pay exorbitant rates of interest when they can obtain finance at a reasonable rate of interest. The Commonwealth Bank did not give cheap money. I believe the loans were made at 12 per cent, on a reducing scale, or at 5 per cent, flat rate, but it was cheaper than other forms of finance, and offered competition to the sort of business towards which the Prime Minister has shown weakness.
The right honorable gentleman said that the constitutional position was weak, and he dismissed the matter in a few lines by saying that the Commonwealth had no constitutional power. For a long time, the right honorable gentleman has been promising to appoint a constitutional committee. He made that promise, not at the last election, but at the general election nearly two years ago, yet no move has been made by the Government in that direction. No approach has been made to the State governments to hand over power to the Commonwealth or to apply State laws to the amount of interest that can be charged for hire purchase. The Australian Labour party has never denied that hire purchase is a normal process of business in Australia. It has helped the people we represent, and many honorable senators as well, because the average person does not easily accumulate enough cash to pay outright for those expensive items which are essential to housewives. They are not luxuries. The problem with hire purchase is that it is ruining the loan market, and high rates of interest, amounting to usury, are being charged to clients. It is time that the Government stepped in. It Ls within the power of the Government, without any alteration of the Constitution, to attack this problem in several ways. Lack of constitutional power has been the complaint of the Government for a long period but it has not yet made an approach to this party to give it any assistance in that matter.
I cannot fathom how the proposed increase of interest rates will help to reduce the volume of hire-purchase transactions. If the Government hopes that by raising the bank interest rate to an average of 5£ per cent, it will curb the activities of hire-purchase companies, which are now advertising in the press that they will pay up to 12^ per cent., obviously it will not be in the race. If the bank rate is still further increased the hire-purchase people will outbid it on the money market. The main point about increasing interest rates in an expanding country is that it does not curb luxury industries because they are the very interests which can pass on that increase in the prices of the commodities they sell. The conservative businessman, the really good businessman, who matches his expenditure against his income will not do that. It has been proved in other countries that when interest rates have been raised an impetus has been given to that section of the community which presses down the more desirable sections such as secondary industry. When that process continues for a number of years the result is that money is transferred from essential industries to luxury industries. I repeat that I cannot fathom what advantage will be gained by increasing interest rates.
I should also like to know how the banks are going to average interest rates. They are to be allowed to charge an average rate of &i per cent. In the words of the Prime Minister they can differentiate between different types of industry. A bank manager can say to Jimmy Jones. “ We will charge you interest at 5 per cent.”; and he can say to Billy Smith, “We will charge you interest at 6 per cent.”. How that is going to work out. I do not know. Evidently at the end of a certain period the hanks will merely tell the Government that they have averaged their interest rates at 5^ per cent. But who will dictate the rate tha* will he charged to this or that client 1 do not know.
– That will be a possibility. Government senators have defended the proposed increase of interest rates as a measure that will avoid the floating of treasury-bills, because treasurybills in themselves are inflationary. I am particularly interested in the fact that since 1952 this Government has introduced into the economy the device of floating loans to which the public are not invited to subscribe. Since 1952 these loans have amounted to £411,000,000. I would be interested to know how they are filled. If my guess is right I would say that they are really another way of issuing treasury-bills. That is, the Government goes along to the bank and says that it wants so many millions in a particular year, and I suspect that a cheque is merely written out for the amount. In other words, instead of the Government floating treasury-bills, the banks which subscribed to loans of the kind I have mentioned have created new money to an amount of £411,000,000 since 1952. That is exactly the same as issuing treasury-bills. Therefore, to say that this new device is a way of avoiding floating treasury-bills is not true.
– Has the honorable senator any proof of that startling allegation?
– I have.
– How about giving it to us?
– The honorable senator, being a supporter of the Government, should be aware of that fact. The more one examines this supplementary budget, the more inexplicable it becomes and the more one comes back to the discrepancies that have been disclosed by honorable senators on this side of the chamber, the more the Government’s proposals must be condemned as being dishonest. It was cowardly of this Government to bring these measures forward now when it did not mention them during the last general election campaign, and gave no indication of them in the last budget. The Government is dishonest in making these proposals under the guise of checking inflation whereas its primary purpose is to raise another £.115,500,000. The proposals we are debating are completely contemptible because they will place burdens upon the shoulders of the people least able to bear them. Their full force will be felt by the decent little citizens of the Australian community.
– I support the financial proposals contained in the Prime Minister’s statement and I hope, in the course of my remarks, to make a few constructive suggestions and to answer criticism of the kind that has been made not only from the Opposition benches but also in the press and in other quarters outside this chamber. The first thing to remember in considering any action by this Parliament is that it has a limited sphere of action. Much of the criticism, particularly that which is heard on the kerbstone, seems to imply that any government can do anything to help any distressed citizen, and that the Federal Government in particular is more powerful than any other government. Of course, the facts are, with regard to many of the matters that affect the ordinary citizen, that the Australian Government is less powerful than State governments. State governments, in relation to some of the matters that have been discussed here to-day, have direct power which they are not exercising. I shall refer later to that aspect specifically.
I regard all these proposals as shortterm measures, not as something that can cure the continually recurring crises - not exactly crises but difficult situations - that arise because of a drop in Australia’s funds in London or a decrease in exports. These taxation measures must be considered in relation to the Government’s new policy of launching a definite trade drive. The re-organization of the ministry for that purpose and other changes that have been made are a vital part of Government policy. A very determined effort is being made to build up our export trade and you, Mr. President, because of your great knowledge of these matters, probably know better than any other honorable senator that that is the only possible cure for our present problem. If our exports increase sufficiently to enable us to pay for our imports, we would not have these recurring difficulties. It has been stated, both in this chamber and in the press, that the proposed taxation measures are not intended to curb inflation but to raise revenue. The two things are not distinct.
– By raising revenue the Government will curb inflation. Senator Gorton dealt with that aspect clearly and fully yesterday. The honorable senator who has just concluded his speech asks “ Why ? “ I think it would be better if honorable senators opposite were to possess their souls in patience and allow a speaker to develop hia reasoning in his own way, unless the reason for their interjections is to cause confusion.
– Is it always members of the Labour party who interject?
– I hope, Mr. President, I may resume after Senator Willesee’s second speech and Senator Grant’s two-hundredth interjection. If we did not have this very necessary revenue we would have galloping inflation. Obviously, the public services, both those of the Commonwealth and those of the States, come largely out of revenue raised here. If we do not raise sufficient revenue, or if we do not get money by way of loans, obviously public services can be paid for only by using what is, in effect, fresh money - the issue of treasury-bills, or in some other way issuing further purchasing power. The object of taxation is to prevent that. Put in another way, the object of taxation is that the budget shall be balanced; and to balance the budget is one of the most effective anti-inflationary measures that can be taken.
Another point which must be considered is that, although it may be perfectly true, as some critics have said, that certain measures tend to have an inflationary effect, they may also have a deflationary effect. The science of economics is a very intricate and difficult one, and one of the best-known principles, which is understood by those who have attempted to follow it, is that certain actions which can be taken will act in one direction for a time, and then work in a reverse direction. That is the opinion of those who have studied the science of economics.
One action of the Government has been criticized. Some people have talked of sales tax in a vague and general way as though all increases of sales tax on all articles have the same effect. That is not so. The Government has imposed additional sales tax on a selective basis. I, perhaps, would not have selected for higher taxes the articles which have been selected, but I have no doubt whatever that there was a careful scrutiny of the particular articles and commodities on which the rates of sales tax have been raised. There has been very unfair comment about one particular tax - that relating to petrol. It is assumed that that tax will be entirely and purely inflationary. If petrol is used for certain purposes only, that could be so, hut one definitely deflationary effect is the tendency it will have to decrease the use of motor vehicles for pleasure and for ordinary purposes. If it does so, the effect will be deflationary. As I am discussing the tax on petrol, I point out that it should be remembered that there is no tax increase on crude oil, or oil used for diesel engines, or on kerosene used in farm vehicles. When we look at the articles of consumption, we will see that there has been a clear attempt to avoid taxing articles in the C series index which might have the effect of influencing the basic wage.
– That is where the honorable senator is wrong.
– Ignoring the honorable senator’s interjection, and resuming my argument, I repeat that there has been a definite attempt on the part of the Government to avoid increasing the tax on articles which affect the C series index. Although it is true that tobacco and one or two other articles have been affected, and also that there may be some indirect effect on the C series index because of increased transport costs and other things, in the main the effect will not be so great that it becomes inflationary.
I come now to the matter of interest, which has been discussed by some people with a complete lack of knowledge, and hy others with a partial lack of knowledge. I refer not only to the speeches of members of this Parliament, but also to some of the unfair criticism which has appeared in newspapers which purport mot to support the Labour party. We are not raising interest rates ; we are simply not depressing them to the degree that we have been depressing them of late. No person understands interest rates if tie has the idea that a government can control every action of every person in the community and leave nothing to free choice. Our economy, thank heaven, is still a partly free economy. There have been many interferences with the normal flow of goods, and with normal merchandising, but it has not come solely from, one party or group; it has come from all directions. Possibly, the first serious interference with a free market was made in the interest of manufacturers. That began long before the Labour party was in existence. But a free economy presupposes a market where goods are bought and sold freely. The whole of our economy proceeds from that assumption. If honorable senators cannot grasp the essence of the law of supply and demand, I think they had better not take part in a discussion of economic subjects.
Senator Grant interjecting ,
I cannot hear Senator Grant’s interjection. He said something about monetary capitalism. I am talking of economics and not of the theories of Karl Marx or of the economic heresies with which Senator Grant saturated his mind 50 years ago, and from which he has never been able to free himself. I am talking of the -science of economics that began with Adam Smith, and has received its greatest improvement in recent years from Lord Keynes and those who agree with him. “To talk of economics as though there was something of the teaching of Karl. Marx in the science and also something that differs from that teaching, is like taking medicine prescribed by a doctor at the same time as one takes something prescribed by a quack. Marx was not an economist. He was a theorist with some new-fashioned ideas which simply are foolish, judged by any one who follows the policies of the classical economists. Unless a person accepts as true the law of supply and demand, he is not dealing with economics at all, but with some fantastic theory which a few people may have, but which has nothing to do with a country’s economy.
Having dealt with these stupid interruptions, let me get back to the law of supply and demand. That law operates wherever there is a free market. I was trying to develop the point that although the free market is disturbed in this country, and in every country where there is a free market, by various laws and hindrances applying to different situations, none of these things can destroy the working of the law of supply and demand. All they can do is to suspend its operation for a time, and for a purpose. For instance, an engineer can suspend the law of gravity by pumping water up a hill. He can break the natural law that water finds its own level, but he cannot pump all the water in the world up all the hills in the world at the sanktime. The same thing is true of the law of supply and demand. That law applies to interest and to money just the same a? it does to any other commodity. The simple fact about interest is that it is the hire that a person pays for money thai is lent to him. If there is a greater demand for money, it is perfectly natura’ for interest rates to rise. In such circumstances, they should rise. For certain purposes a government may find if legitimate to keep interest rates down artificially, as for instance, to assist the purchase of homes; but some one must pay for it. The money must come from somewhere; and where it comes from is ultimately the taxpayer’s pocket. Those people who say that we should have kept down the rate of interest - whether it be the bond rate, the overdraft rate or any other rate - are simply saying that the taxpayer should subsidize all the people who get loans at the lower rate of interest. If we understand that point and accept it, we can put up a case for keeping down the interest rate, but we cannot keep it down for everybody.
The Government has been trying to preserve the face value of bonds by buying them up itself when they have come on to the market. That practice, to a certain and limited extent - it may be even to the extent that Senator McKenna referred to yesterday - is legitimate. But it is obvious to anybody who has studied what has been going on in respect of the bond market, that we have passed that legitimate point. We were not spending merely £1,000,000 or so a year on keeping up the value of bonds. I do not know, accurately, how much we were spending, but I do know that £95,000,000 worth of treasury-bills were issued in respect of the bond market within a very short time. Now, is it sensible to borrow money from the public, issue bonds in respect of it, and then pay out government money to preserve the value of the bonds on which we borrowed? Talk of the economy of taking in one another’s washing! Gilbert never thought of anything so absurd.
I deplore the drop in the value of bonds, particularly its effect on small holders, and on those who bought bonds in war-time in the belief that they were securing their money. Some of the suggestions that have been made in this chamber, and in another place, are very sound, and I agree that we should have something in the nature of certificates which could be given to people with a guarantee that they would get their money back within a short time. However, the difficulty with bonds is that people, in order to get higher rates of interest, bought long-term bonds instead of buying short-term securities or investing their money at fixed deposit. It is all very well to say that those people did not know the ways of the world when they did that, but we cannot breed strong characters by protecting people from all the vicissitudes of life. Every adult person who makes a decision should be prepared to abide by the consequences of that decision. I dare say that honorable senators here to-day have made investments, which have not turned out well. That was a pity, but there was nothing that they could do about it. lt was impossible, ludicrous and suicidal to go on pretending that we were borrowing money when all that we were doing was issuing fresh currency through the Commonwealth Bank or other government agencies.
– The bonds are not securities now.
– The point that I. am making is that we are lessening our control over interest rates. We are not ceasing to control them altogether, because, otherwise, interest rates would have risen to higher levels than at present. We are not trying to control interest to the foolish extent of making a pretence of borrowing. This comparative failure of the bond market, deplorable as it is, is one of the reasons why we must rely on revenue, and why taxes should be increased in order to raise that revenue. There must be saving in this community, and if voluntary saving is not taking place, then the Government must find some way of bringing about saving.
There are certain public works, both Federal and State, which must be carried on, and if they cannot be carried on in any other way they must be paid for out of revenue. What I have deplored, and what I have tried to alter, is the fact that there has been no determined attempt to give back even a modicum of essential taxing power to the States. I have spent much time on this matter; I have talked to my colleagues, and I have written articles in an attempt to urge that the Australian Government should restore some measure of taxing power to the States. For a long time, I believed that we should restore the income tax power to the States, but slowly - because I do not change my mind lightly - I am beginning to realize that that is rather visionary. I doubt whether public opinion in this country is really in favour of restoring income tax power to the States.
I know that the State Premiers pretend that they want taxing powers, but they are reluctant to accept them. Whatever party they may belong to, the State Premiers are willing to accept largess from us. They are willing to take all the credit for what we do, and still to pretend that we are treating them rather scurvily. All members of the Australian Parliament should deplore that attitude, because to-day we get the blame for many conditions that are not brought about by the Federal Government. Six years ago, a Labour government was getting the blame; at present we are getting the blame, and the time may come in the remote future when a Labour government will again get the blame. For that reason the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States in regard to taxing powers should be settled. If we cannot give back the income tax power, we should select certain other taxes - as many as we can - to be earmarked for State use, and throw the field thus vacated by the Government open to the States.
I come now to one matter upon which it is very difficult to make myself quite clear. It is obvious that one of the causes of our financial difficulties is the large flow of immigrants to this country. Upon the method of dealing with that, the only definite suggestion that I make is that there should be an inquiry. It is very easy to suggest that the number of immigrants should be reduced, but there might he very powerful arguments against that course being followed. We desire to build up a large population in this country as rapidly as we can, and it may be the correct policy to keep our immigration flow at the present rate or,, indeed, to . increase .it. However, I do suggest that there has not been a sufficiently comprehensive impartial inquiry into that matter.
The departmental viewpoint is well known, and resolutions are constantly passed by various bodies which have been set up to welcome immigrants, to the effect that we want as many people to come to this country as possible, and that we should not allow the flow to weaken. That may be true or not, but I suggest that there should be an impartial inquiry to discover whether it is true. We should get all the facts about immigration, and ascertain the exact effect that a large intake of immigrants has on this country.
With our existing capacity for saving, and our existing capital, the flow of immigrants is too large, but if we can import sufficient capital goods, then we can safely continue the present rate, and perhaps even increase it. I believe that the Government’s taxation measures, unpalatable as they may be, including the increase of interest rates, are partly designed to attract capital from foreign countries and let people overseas know that Australia is a safe country in which to invest their money. If that is so, then our capacity to absorb more immigrants will be improved.
I now desire to place one figure before the Senate which may give some ground for hesitation. If any one questions this figure I shall have to verify it, but it was given to me from an official source. I believe that the total increase of the population of the United States of America is 1.7 per cent, per annum, and that the American authorities consider that that is the highest safe figure. Our present increase of population is 2.5 per cent, per annum, and that includes the intake of immigrants and our natural increase. Another matter that is rather disquieting is that although our population is increasing, we are continually losing good citizens. There is an exodus nf about 30,000 Australians each year. Some of those who leave eventually come back, because some are young people who go abroad to work or study. However, many of those who leave do not come back, and we are thus losing very valuable citizens. It is worth inquiring why we are losing those people. The question arose of direct taxation versus indirect taxation, and I think it is well worth considering. It is true that direct taxation has one great advantage over indirect taxation in that it distributes the burden according to income. Those persons on the lowest income grades can be exempted, or assessed at a very low rate, whilst those in the highest income groups can be taxed at the highest rates. Up to a point, that is a sound policy, but in my opinion income tax has become too great a weapon in the hands of a centralized government. There are many evils associated with it. One is, as I interjected during the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) last night - not because I doubted the truth of what he was saying, but in order to give him another thought on the matter - that there is opportunity for concealment. Senator McKenna said that he did not think, with the efficient. Taxation Branch of to-day, that there was concealment. That, in itself, is another danger, because if the Taxation Branch has to equip itself with what is, in effect, a private police force to see that there is no concealment, the central government is exercising power which, I think, is undesirable.
I would say that there are people, wealthy people,’ in this country who do conceal a large part of their income. They are not the best or most desirable people. New South Wales senators might recollect a taxation case some years ago in which it was shown that a very wealthy man had concealed his income to the extent of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Apart altogether from illegal concealment, all kinds of means are now adopted by certain people to obtain deductions in respect of expenditure on various items. This can be regarded as legitimate. A number of ex-taxation officers now prepare income tax returns privately in the form in which they know they will be passed, but which enables the persons for whom they are prepared to retain a large proportion of their income.
These are positive defects in relation to income tax, but there is another defect. We must have private savings. They have come in the past largely from what used to be called the middle class or, in England, the upper middle class. This class was composed of persons who saved every year, and so supplied a stimulus to industry. But they can no longer save to the same extent as formerly, because of the higher income tax. Of course, income taxation has had some very good effects. It has got rid of many injustices. It has destroyed the old privileged class of the eighteenth century and the greater part of the nineteenth century. I have always been a strong advocate of graduated taxation, and fairly high taxation, but not beyond a certain point. It is totally absurd, in my opinion, to impose taxation at the rate of 19s. 6d. in the £1. When that stage is reached, a government might as well confiscate straight out a large part of the person’s possessions.
– There might just as well be imposed a capital levy.
– I agree with Senator Kendall. Certain forms of indirect taxation are good, provided the tax can be collected readily, without the necessity to have a large army of public servants for that purpose. By this means, it is absolutely certain that the Government receives the tax. It is a very good thing if a government can get somebody else to collect taxes. I strongly favour getting everything we possibly can dona by persons other than government officials, because the large departments, with armies of public servants, are becoming an increasing burden on the community. It would be possible to have the Taxation Branch very efficiently extracting almost the last penny from the rich, and yet costing more by its extraction methods than it collected in tax. That would be folly. Therefore, certain taxation measures should not be rejected because they impose indirect and not direct taxation.
The eight professors from whom theGovernment sought advice have been criticized from all angles - because they were long-haired, because they had had no practical experience, because they were theorists and so forth. I happen to know very well three or four of them. It might interest honorable senators opposite to learn that one of them is an enthusiastic supporter of the Labour party and also, I think, a member of a branch of that party. Certainly, they are not all of the one political colour. There are socialists and strong individualists among them. Collectively, they were an expert team. The Government did not accept all the advice they gave, although it accepted a good deal of it. I think that their advice was right because, as I said at the commencement of my speech, or tried to say in the midst of a lot of clamour from the Opposition, which rather interfered with my argument and, for a moment, made me lose the thread - economics is a very intricate and difficult subject. There are a great many subtle changes and subtle movements, which cannot be understood from a superficial survey. If I may use a metaphor, I think that I could steer a small boat into Sydney Harbour and bring it safely to Circular Quay, but I would not attempt to bring in a large ship. I should want Senator Kendall or some other person of equal, expert knowledge of pilotage, depths, shallows and currents to bring it in.
When I said earlier that means other than taxation could be employed to achieve the same effect, there was derisive laughter from the honorable senator who preceded me in this debate and who, I am glad to note, lias left the chamber. Evidently, he did not try to understand what I was saying. It is definitely true that some of the things the Government might want to do, or might have to do, would have only one effect, but a man who constantly studies all the trends of the economy might say, “ Yes, up to a certain pont such a course will have a certain effect, but beyond that point the effect will be the opposite “.
I think we have among the advisers to the Government men of just that capacity. I shall cite a personal experience. When I first came here, I met and had a long talk with an old friend of mine, who happens to be among these ten economists. I said, “ How can we do so and so ? “ He said, “You cannot do it”. When T asked why we could not do it, he gave me reason after reason. Subsequent events proved that his reasons were absolutely t right. I shall not tell honorable senators exactly what he said, because it is on’; of those things that could be used as a stick to beat us with. But it is literally mie, and I advance it as evidence of the capacity of the expert to give good advice. The Government must accept the responsibility, as it has done, and it must use the experience not only of these theoretical experts, but also of people who understand the day-to-day business of the world. The Government acted wisely in -getting opinions from bankers, wholesalers and retailers, as well as from leaders of the trade union movement, and other people who understand every aspect of life. Certain honorable senators opposite sneer when we say that we have sought advice in the interests of the little men as well as the big men. This Government constantly seeks the opinions and advice of people who understand every type of person in the community. This supplementary budget, as it has been called, was framed in the light of that advice.
There is just one other matter to which T want to refer, and that is hire purchase. I fully agree with those who say that certain areas of the hire-purchase field are inflationary, and that an excessive use of hire purchase is inflationary and should be curbed. The Commonwealth Government has done what it could to curb that excess. Without con stitutional power to legislate, it has called together members of the hire-purchase companies and has asked them voluntarily to agree to certain measures which, I think, will have considerable effect. One of those measures is to increase the deposit that is asked in hire-purchase transactions; another is to shorten the term, and I think that a third condition that should be insisted on is that every hire-purchase firm should clearly state, in language that can be understood by the ordinary person, exactly what the hirer will be called upon to pay. I think the real trouble is that people enter lightly and easily into these contracts, seeing only that they can get the article they want by paying so much a week, and not doing the simple arithmetic to work out the enormous interest they are obliged to pay. I deplore the huge returns that some of these bodies are receiving.
I think that, partly by agreement and partly by State legislation which every State could enact without any instruction or consultation with the Commonwealth, this position could be remedied. I conclude by saying that I believe that these economic measures, taken all together, are sound and will help to curb inflation. I shall not indulge in extravagant language and say that they will reverse the inflationary process, but I believe that they will have a dampening effect on the inflationary tendencies and will help to restore the good name of the commercial world and of our economy abroad. To that extent, I approve of them and am prepared to support the measures that will be brought forward to implement the Government’s policy.
Senator CAMERON (Victoria) [4.12 J. - We are dscussing economic measures of the Government which can be likened to a supplementary budget. This supplementary budget has been called a horror budget, but I prefer the term “ panic budget “. Its introduction indicates to me the truth of Senator McCallum’s contention that economics is a very difficult subject and that very few people know anything about it. The truth of that has become all the more obvious because of the efforts that the supporters of the Government have ‘made to justify these socalled economic measures. These proposals were anticipated before the recent general election and, indeed, were one of the reasons why the election was held so early. Those who have studied the economic position and have a background of practical experience know perfectly well that this situation with which We are now faced was bound to develop. The Financial Review of the 3rd November last, in referring to a statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said -
In making this call for a “ clear authority *’ to take “ steady and firm action “, the Prime Minister implicitly accepts an obligation to indicate in its election speeches the kinds of action that circumstances might force him to take. These, it may be said, have already been suggested, but there may be a tendency in the election to leave unsaid, for obvious political reasons, many things bearing on the economic situation which require to he emphasized again and again.
The article continued -
Clearly the Prime Minister cannot campaign on the “ fact “ of an economic crisis. That would be dangerous politically.
That is perfectly true. The Prime Minister saw that a certain position was about to develop, but he did not explain its causes, as the supporters of the Government are now attempting to explain it, because it was politically dangerous for him to do so and would have meant the loss of the forthcoming election.
There are many authorities on this subject to which I could refer, but I propose to quote now a Melbourne authority, Mr. Staniforth Ricketson, who is the chairman of J. B. “Were and Company Limited. In his chairman’s address at the eighteenth annual meeting of the Jason Investment Company (Australia) Limited, he said, under the caption, “ What does the future hold ? “-
Until the result of the Federal elections is known and there has been a disclosure of the Government’s further plans, it will be difficult to arrive at any reasonable assessment of the future trend of the economic affairs and investment conditions in Australia. If the statements contained in the Budget Speech and in the Prime Minister’s exposition to Parliament mean anything, they certainly imply that, backed by a mandate from the people, the Government will pursue its objective with increased vigour and determination, and that its measures will be far more drastic and far-reaching than any so far anticipated.
So the Government clearly had in mind what it intended to do. What does it intend to do now? It is attempting todeal with a state of practically unchecked inflation. In order to indicate to honorable senators what I mean by “practically”, I propose to* refer, briefly, to statements that I made early last year. At that time, I said -
The cause of inflation is the issue of paper money greatly in excess of the amount of gold which could be in circulation if there were no paper money, or, in other words, the expansion of the volume of purchasing power without a corresponding expansion in the volume of commodities available for sale.
That, I suggest, is a definition of inflation which cannot be successfully challenged.
All the supporters of the Government who have spoken on this subject, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, have referred to inflation in such , vague and ambiguous terms that it is obvious that they do not understand what they are talking about. Despite their lack of understanding, they try to mislead others. What are the effects of inflation? We can see them occurring to-day. Inflation results in increased prices of commodities, increased indirect taxation, such as the Government now proposes, increased rates of interest, and reduced purchasing power of wages, small salaries, pensions, fixed incomes, savings and bonds. Indeed, all the things to which I referred twelve months ago have now come to pass. In addition, inflation has the effect of slowing down production and increasing unemployment. That is exactly what is happening now. The production of coal is slowing down, and so is the production of wheat, dried fruits and many other commodities, simply because consumption has not been allowed to keep pace with production. That is the fundamental anomaly. When there are increasing surpluses of foodstuffs of all kinds, and of secondary products, under existing conditions, there is a lack of purchasing power. There must be adequate purchasing power in order to stabilize the economy of the nation and to enable consumption to keep pace with production. When inflation takes place it reduces exports, increases imports and creates an unfavorable balance of trade in overseas countries. That is exactly what had taken place long before the Government decided to have the federal elections last December as I warned the Senate that it would. Inflation is a fundamental cause of industrial unrest and strikes.
Honorable senators representing Tasmania have been deprecating the waterside workers’ strikes, and the militant attitude of intelligent workers. What else can they do with a Government, most of whose members are ignorant of the causes of inflation? But all the time, the waterside workers and others have been feeling its effects. They may not understand the causes, but they know that, so far as their savings bank accounts are concerned, the pound which they deposit now is not worth as much as the pound they deposited twelve months ago, and the Government has no remedy for that situation. All it proposes to do is to make bad worse and, unless the unforeseen happens, its proposals will lead ultimately to an economic condition similar to, or worse than, that which existed in the ‘thirties. To condemn workers merely because they rebel against the effects of an insidious form of legalized robbery is totally wrong. Inflation means that the inflationists receive goods and services for practically worthless lists of paper, and inflation has benefited the private banks, acting in collaboration with the Treasury, to the extent of millions of pounds. A counterfeiter is in the same category. If he succeeds in passing his counterfeit notes, he receives goods and services for worthless pieces of paper. If he is detected, and found guilty, he goes to gaol. The legalized counterfeiters are doing exactly the same, but the difference is that whereas their counterpart goes to gaol, they come to Parliament, and the process is continued ad infinitum.
What does the Government propose to do ? It demands increased production and reduced costs, but the fact is that Australian production is greater than the market can absorb. The Prime Minister has spoken of reducing costs. Costs are in two categories - real and inflated. The real cost of practically everything to-day assessed either in terms of labour time or gold, was never lower, but the inflated cost was never higher. Senator McCallum has been repeating the old platitudes that were spoken years ago. His speech reminded me of a saying of the late John Burns, then a member of the English House of Commons who resigned from the Government because he was opposed to World War I. When he was asked to defend his action, he said -
Most people are either slaves of shibboleths or prisoners of phrases.
The honorable senator was repeating over and over again what he had read in the press or heard over the radio, or what somebody else has said. It is obvious that increased production will not solve the present problem, and that costs cannot be reduced without reducing the living standards of the workers down to those of native labourers in the mines of South Africa, to which reference was made in an earlier debate.
So far as I can judge, there will be further trouble between the Government, and the Australian workers. Senator Wordsworth said that if the workers take up a strong stand there will be bloodshed. That was a deliberately provocative statement. When I was a boy, I recall a strike which occurred on the waterfront in 1890, and the instruction to the troops called to deal with the strikers, by their colonel, named Tom Price, was “ Eire low and lay them out “. In my long and varied experience I have found that a military mind is not a sympathetic mind. A sympathetic mind tries to understand the other fellow’s point of view as well as its own. Consequently, it is one that considers the thesis, the antithesis and ultimately the synthesis. But the military mind is colloquially known as the “ onetrack mind “. If a technical description were applied it would be described as that of a political paranoic. Men with minds like that are placed in responsible positions of government, and their attitude to their fellow men is, “ If you do not act as we instruct you, we will either gaol or bayonet you “. That is the provocative attitude taken up by the Government, and as the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) said, it has been responsible for many unnecessary strikes.
I have always acted on the principle of conference and agreement if possible, but the Government is acting on the assumption that it can speak ex cathedra, and that no one may question its pronouncements. The workers are expected to be mental dependants or mental followers of their so-called superiors in Parliament, or on the bench of the Arbitration Court. If the Government continues to follow that line it will have much more difficulty in dealing with the workers in the immediate future than it has had in the past.
The Government has decided to increase both direct and indirect taxation. The Government believes that it can do anything with taxation. It can tax any proposition out of commission and subsidize any other proposition out of the proceeds of taxation. How does it work out? In all countries, ultimately, there are two extremes of society, and in between there are the working men. In Melbourne alone, there are at last 9,000 or 10,000 decent working men and their families who are denied adequate housing. Any amount of money can be provided for palatial hotels, clubs, offices and residences, but no one can provide homes for the workers. The reason is that the better the housing that is provided for the workers, the higher are the costa of production and the lower are the profits. If housing is of poorer quality, costs are lower and profits are increased.
Indirect taxation provides for a flat rate of tax. The Government has spoken of equality of sacrifice, and claims that it advocates taxation according to ability to pay. Those expressions are used by supporters of the Government, by the press and by the banking institutions and others to mislead unfortunate men and women who do not know any better. They do not know any better because the education system, State as well as denominational, only teaches them to be efficient workers on the job in the interests of the owners of capital. They have no knowledge of economics. Senator McCallum was honest enough to say that he had no knowledge of economics. Economics is defined as the science of production and distribution of wealth. If you know something about production and distribution of wealth, it does not take very long to find out how poverty is caused. The average worker is fooled and robbed from the cradle to the grave.
Coal miners came to Canberra yesterday to demonstrate. They have felt the effect of what is happening, but few of them realize the cause. They demonstrated. I marvel sometimes at their acquiescence. When I appeared in the State Arbitration Court in Western Australia before World War I., I always pointed out that my chief difficulty was the readiness with which such a large number of workers acquiesced in their subjection. That acquiescence is due to a lack of knowledge. If they knew, or had only an elementary knowledge of, what there is to know about economics and politics, most of the honorable senators on the Government side of the chamber would not be there. When we look at Parliament as it is constituted, we are looking in a mirror and seeing the reflected intelligence of the voters. When members of Parliament say they do not know this or that, they are simply reflecting the intelligence of those who were foolish enough to vote for them.
When I say indirect taxation is, in effect, a direct tax, I mean to imply that it is imposed deliberately to tax the unfortunate people’ who are practically unable to protect themselves. I refer to the pensioners, the lowest paid workers and similar groups. The overall effect is to limit sales. Those on small, fixed incomes, such as pensioners and superannuated persons, have to pay out practically all the money they receive. They even get into debt. Several surveys have been made by the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence, in Melbourne, of the circumstances in which age pensioners and others live. The brotherhood gave details of the articles those persons huy, and pointed out that in every instance, the pension was not sufficient to maintain them under reasonably decent conditions. The casesubmitted by the brotherhood has never been disproved. It has been ignored by this Government.
The Government ignores everybody who is not likely to cause it trouble. It takes notice only of those among the workers who are likely to give it trouble, such as the waterside workers and the seamen. Now another category is coming into the picture. I refer to the captains of ships. Soon the entrepreneurs will join them and, ultimately, their numbers will be increased by the lowerpaid public servants, such as the teachers. School teachers on the lower salaries can hardly live on their pay. Mass deputations from the teachers of New South Wales waited upon the Labour Government to direct attention to their plight. No notice will he taken of them. They can live on a near-starvation level until they organize sufficiently to compel the Government to do something about it. I have said many times, when addressing workers in all parts of Australia, “You will get any amount of sympathy, but you will get no practical relief because you are dealing with men who are bankrupt of principle”.
All things yield to pressure. If there is no pressure, there is no result. That is the position of the workers in this and every other country. Because the workers are beginning to bring pressure to bear upon governments in other countries, they are getting some recognition, and that will be the position here, also. I have told the union to which I belonged years ago that we are in a position where we are practically indispensable ; yet the employers and the Government are prepared to ignore us. They will not listen to our claims for increased pay and better working conditions. There is only one alternative, to withhold supplies; and we did that. If we had not done that we would not have got anywhere. The same thing applies to-day. The present Government is taking far too much for granted. Most members of the Government think they can treat the worker of this country as he was treated years ago, but I am warning the Government that that cannot be done. It can place on the statute-book all the suppression laws it likes, but the introduction of a law is one thing and its administration is another. A law may be 100 per cent, power on paper but when an attempt is made to apply it, its effective power is very much below its paper power rating. That is how things are working out at the present time.
Let us consider the company tax of ls. in the fi. That will be passed on in the prices of commodities. Honorable senators need only to go round the shops, as I do, to observe the extent to which prices arc continually increasing.
Whether taxes have to be passed on or not, whether increases are justifiable or not, prices are raised to the maximum level wherever possible. There is no such thing as altruism so far as the owners of capitalism are concerned; such an attitude is purely and simply affectation, the same as it is with honorable senators opposite. The Government may pretend to be sympathetically disposed towards the workers who disobey the dictum of St. Paul - “ Slaves be obedient to your masters,” is the Old Testament; and “ Servants be obedient to your masters “ is the New Testament. That is the dictum of St. Paul and it is the principle on which employers and this Government operate. As I said before, the capitalist works on the principle of maximum production and maximum profits for the owners of capital, and minimum consumption for the non-owners. That is the origin of the minimum wage. Now the minimum wage in terms of commodities is being reduced because man-power is being replaced by machines, and it will be reduced to an even greater extent by automation. The minimum is becoming less and less, and the overall fact is that slum and gaol populations are increasing.
– In what State?
– The honorable senator would be better in gaol than he is here.
– It would be much more interesting than being here listening to the honorable senator who is speaking.
– There has been an increase in gaol population of 27 per cent, in Victoria and New South Wales. There has also been an increase in gaol population in every capitalist country including England, America, France and Germany. The mentally ill population has also increased. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), when referring to the foreword of the Stoller report, disclosed that there are 10,000 mentally ill persons in Australia for whom beds cannot he found in mental institutions. What is the Government doing about that?
As I have said, the company tax is merely a token tax, because it is passed on to the consumers, and indirect taxation is in the same category. The people who pass these taxes on in prices and rents do not themselves pay the taxes. The landlords of thousands of houses in Melbourne have recovered their capital cost six or seven times over during the last SO or 60 years, but rents are still going up. The landlord is being paid over and over again for the service he renders, but a worker gets paid only once. Both indirect and direct taxation will adversely affect workers who have to rear and educate their children.
According to the Prime Minister’s statement, the sum of £120,000,000 will be obtained as additional revenue as a result of this proposed increase of taxation. That may be so, but who will find that money ? The workers, who are usefully and gainfully employed in essential production and services, will pay the lot. They are those who create all the wealth. For all practical purposes they provide the wherewithal for the whole of society, including honorable senators who sit in this chamber. They provide the wherewithal by which the whole community lives. It is they who will pay the whole of this increased taxation proposed by the Government. Provided the worker is foolish enough to carry this burden, it will mean that his standard of living will be considerably reduced, and, apparently, that is exactly what the Government wants, although it does not say so.
I have referred to the fact that this is, in effect, a panic budget. The same kind of budget was introduced in the 1930’s, and I was here in Canberra at the time. Among the professors of economics, so-called, at that time were Professor Copland, the late Professor Giblin, the late Professor Shann, and Professor Melville, who is still alive. On the 23rd May, 1931, proposals were submitted similar to the measures this Government now proposes. Those proposals were discussed between the 25th May and the 11th June, and were unanimously endorsed by the representatives of the Federal and State governments. “What happened? An economic crisis occurred. It is worth while recalling what was said about that economic crisis. I quote now from Dr. Alexis Carrel’s book, Man the Unknown, at page 258. He approached the economic crisis at that time as a biologist, not as a politician or an economist. He said -
The superb edifice of American finance and economics suddenly collapsed. At first, the public did not believe in the reality of such a catastrophe. ‘ Its faith was not disturbed. The explanations given by the economists were heard with docility. Prosperity would return . . .
That is what the Prime Minister has promised. Dr. Carrel went on to say -
But prosperity has not returned. To-day, the more intelligent heads of the flock arc beginning to doubt. Are the causes of the crisis uniquely economic and financial? Should we not also incriminate the corruption and the stupidity of the politicians and the financiers, the ignorance and the illusions of the economists ?
He could repeat that with emphasis if he reviewed the position in Australia and other countries to-day. The Government is running true to form. By introducing these methods it is attempting to reduce the living standards of Australian workers and to worsen their conditions of employment. The Government will not take any notice of what can be proved beyond all doubt that the effective wages of the workers to-day were never lower. It is only a matter of simple arithmetic to prove that. To-day, it takes a worker in receipt of £18 a week 60 hours to earn the price of a tailor-made suit of clothes. Before the ‘thirties, he needed to work only 24 hours to buy a ready-made suit. In those days a man could obtain a substantial three course meal with a plentiful supply of bread and butter and several cups of tea, if required, for 6d. His earnings then were about ls. 3d. an hour, so the meal represented less than half an hour’s work. A first-class meal could be obtained for less than an hour’s work, the price was then ls. Now the former meal costs 6s. which means that he has to work more than half an hour to pay for it. And a good three course meal costs from 10s. to 12s., which at a rate of pay of 8s. lOd. an hour for a waterside worker, is a good deal more than his earnings for an hour. In terms of labour time wages were never lower.
Yet we hear economists and politicians, especially Ministers of the Crown as ell as the press saying that costs must come down. They mean that profits must be increased because the more you reduce costs the more you increase profits. I say that if the Government attempts to enforce the payment of taxes which will bring in £115,000,000 or £120,000,000 in a full year at the expense of the workers of this country it will meet with more trouble than it can cope with.
Finally I say that the Government has been guilty of gross deceit. It knew the position that was developing long before the election campaign started but it did not tell the people of it until after the election. It hoped that it would be more strongly entrenched in the Senate than it is likely to be after the 1st June and that it would have full power to give effect to its policy. Not only was the Government guilty of deceit, but it had also been guilty of gross misrepresentation. Some people would use the word “ corruption “ but I prefer to speak of gross misrepresentation. The Prime Minister said that Australia was passing through a period of unprecedented prosperity. Obviously he had in mind those who were making colossal profits. In February, the Financial Review reported that 18 per cent. was the average profit made by 949 Australian companies. It is true that there is unprecedented prosperity for those who possess capital, but it is not true in the case of many thousands of workers who cannot obtain homes or hospital accommodation or schools for their children, nor is it true of age pensioners. However, if honorable senators opposite think that they have clear consciences in this matter I leave them to their consciences.
.- There are one or two matters in the economic statement presented to the Parliament by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to which I desire to refer, and I also wish to refute some of the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber (Senator McKenna).
The first thing I want to say about the Government’s proposals is that they are merely short-term measures. When the next budget is introducecd other steps must be taken to bring together the shortterm and the long-term policies of the Government, which are designed to deal with the inflationary pressures that exist to-day. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later date..
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon.
To the President of the Senate of Australia.
The Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Viet Nam, on the occasion of its first meeting held in Saigon, sends its greetings to the President of the Senate and to the Australian people. The Vietnamese people intend to co-operate closely with all other people in the world in the work of consolidating democracy and in the defence of liberty and of universal peace.
I propose to send an appropriate acknowledgment to the President of the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Viet Nam.
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!
Motion (by SenatorO’Sullivan) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Tuesday, the 1st May next, unless sooner called together by the President by telegram or letter.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave of absence be granted to every member of the Senate from the termination of the sitting this day to the day on which the Senate next meets.
Senate adjourned at5 p.m., till Tuesday, 1st May next, unices sooner called together by telegram or letter.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 22 March 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1956/19560322_senate_22_s7/>.