22nd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate the following question: In view of the grave situation arising from the position regarding the Suez Canal, will the Government follow in the footsteps of Great .Britain and immediately bring the matter before the Parliament for the fullest discussion?
– As the honorable senator indicates, it is a serious and very important matter, but I assure not only him but also the whole Senate that the Government is exercising the greatest care, caution and wisdom in handling the matter.
– Has the attention of the Leader of the Government in the Senate been directed to a feature article in this morning’s “ Sydney Morning Herald “ under the caption “ Lives which end in loneliness, poverty and fear “? The article states that a survey has been made in Sydney of the appalling conditions under which aged people are living. If the Leader of the Government has read the article will he, even at this late hour, bring the matter to the notice of the Cabinet with a request that the provision that has been made be reconsidered? I might say that the Acting Prime Minister gave-
– Is the honorable senator asking a question or making a speech?
– I am explaining the position because of the impudent way in which the Leader of the Government has answered other questions.
– Order! Senator Cameron will ask his question.
– My question is: Has the attention of the Leader of the Government been directed to the article? If so, in view of the position set out in it, is he prepared to bring the matter to the notice of the Government with a view to having pensions increased and the living conditions of pensioners improved?
– The answer to the first part of the question is “ No “. Dealing generally with the second part of the question, I must remind the honorable senator that this Government has always been much more mindful of the needs of those in distress than any Labour government has ever been.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service aware that a surplus of labour, including skilled workers, is now available to certain industries in Queensland which until recently were short of labour? If he is aware of that fact, has his department informed the Government of the situation? Does the Government intend to take appropriate action in order to ensure that seasonal workers now in employment will not be unemployed in the near future?
– In reply to the honorable senator the first point I make is that my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, keeps in touch, practically from week to week, with the situation in each State. For instance, I received from him this morning a copy of the latest figures showing the numbers receiving unemployment benefit. The figures have moved in this way: 10,416 on 18th August, 10,177 on 25th August, and 10,333 as at 1st September. As I have said previously, 1 donot claim that the figures relating to unemployment benefit are a complete indicator of the employment position. However, thefact that they come so regularly before my colleague shows how closely he keeps hisfinger on the situation. As to the second part of the question, whether there is a surplus of labour in Queensland, it is material to note that the figures show that only 905 people in the whole of that State are in receipt of unemployment relief benefit. I express no opinion as to whether there is a surplus of labour in various industries. That must always occur from time to time. I cannot give the honorable senator a specific answer to the question about seasonal vacancies in Queensland. I canonly say, from my general knowledge, that these vacancies occur at different times throughout the year da that .State. .1 know, also, that my colleague quite regularly takes such steps as lae cao to meet the situation. Assuming that the statement made by the honorable senator is correct, although I have no detailed knowledge, 1 am certain that my colleague is doing everything possible to assist.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration whether he has seen the report in to-day’s press of a statement by Mr. Carver, the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, to the effect that last year 53,’000 Britishers came to Australia, intending to stay permanently, but that 30,000 of them left, and did nol intend to return. That means that three out of every five returned permanently to their homeland. In view of the Government’s statements about prosperity and housing, can the Minister make any suggestion as to why these people left Australia?
– I have not yet had an opportunity to read the press report averred to by Senator Grant. I will take an early opportunity to do so, and also to -discuss it with my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, so that I may give the honorable senator an effective answer. The implication in the question that three out. of every five British immigrants who arrived last year have permanently departed from this country seems to call for an effective answer, which I am sure will be provided for the honorable senator.
– Since .the Minister for National Development appears to be in close touch with the position of house building in Australia, can he indicate whether the cost of building houses in any part of the Commonwealth is showing a tendency to decrease? Can he say where these tendencies are strongest, and what is the likely -cause of the decrease? Is the recent legislation relating to the Commonwealth anc State housing agreement being implemented?
– I regret that am not quite prepared to answer the honorable senator’s question. This is a matter of very great significance, and I have asked officers -of the department to collate information on the subject. It is dangerous to anticipate what the figures will show. The only factual information I can give is that the statistics showed, for the quarter that ended on 31st March last, that there had not been a rise in building costs throughout Australia. 1 am aware of the fact that in Western Australia building costs have dropped very appreciably indeed. I have been told that the drop has been 20 per cent., but I cannot say whether that is correct. I also know that the State housing commissions say that building costs are falling and that they would like to build more homes while costs are lower; but it is dangerous to go on opinions in preference to accurate statistical information. My department is trying to get that information at present, and it is no easy task.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration aware that hundreds of Australians domiciled in Great Britain are desirous of returning to Australia but are prevented from doing so by financial difficulties? Is he aware also that many of these Australians have applied for immigration at Australia House, London? Is he further aware of the noncooperative reception these applicants met? Is it the policy of the Government in the administration of its immigration scheme to give preferential treatment to British and European immigrants? If not, why have bona fide Australian subjects in Great Britain been excluded from participation in the scheme?
– I am certainly not aware that the position is as represented by the honorable senator. He refers, I think, to Australians resident in London who are unable to return to this country because facilities are not made available to them. I do not know the circumstances in which these Australian nationals happen to be resident in London, nor do I know whether they would qualify for any immigration facilities; but I am certainly sure that every assistance that can be rendered at Australia House or by the Department of Immigration’ will be accorded to them. It is the policy of the Government to encourage, as a first priority, British immigrants to this country, and the honorable senator can be assured that that policy will be pursued as vigorously in the future as it has been in the past.
– I should like to preface my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer by reading the following note that has been addressed to me-
– Order! Is the honorable senator asking a question?
– Yes, and this letter refers to the matter about which I wish to ask the question.
– Order! The honorable senator is not in order in reading a letter in the course of asking a question.
– Then, let me say that I have received a request from one of my electors to ask the Minister representing the Treasurer if, even at this late hour, something can be done for pensioners who try to exist on £4 a week. The Minister will recall that a few days ago a petition containing many thousands of signatures was presented to this chamber. I now ask the Minister: Will he give the Senate an assurance that even at this late date he will take up with the Treasurer the matter of pensions with a view to granting an increase in pension allowances?
– I am completely unable to give the assurance that the honorable senator requests. The Government’s financial proposals are contained in the budget now before the Parliament. The honorable senator will have the opportunity to express his views during the debate on the Social Services Bill. During that debate also, the Government will have the opportunity to explain the reasons that actuated it in coming to its decision; but I remind the Senate that on the occasion of the last budget very substantial increases, indeed, were granted to recipients of social services benefits.
– That was just prior to an election.
– The total commitment for social services in this budget is a very appreciable proportion, indeed, of the total revenue of the Commonwealth. The Government is perfectly willing to debate the equity of the arrangement with the Opposition, or with other people who disagree with the Government on this issue.
– Is the Minister representing the Postmaster-General aware that, in the past, postal employees have been penalized for . not obeying regulations regarding the handling of mail? Is he also aware that the policy of working to regulations that is now being observed by the postal employees brings into sharp relief the level of co-operation, efficiency and service over and above what is prescribed by the regulations, that has been observed by postal employees during the last 50 years? As the Government has the power to adjust the wages of postal employees by regulation, will the Minister and his colleagues avail themselves of the regulations by taking steps to give wage justice to these men, who are protesting within the law against a wrong that needs putting right?
-r-As the honorable senator knows, this matter has been raised previously in the Senate. I am sure that he also realizes that the Postmaster-General keeps continually in mind the matter to which he has referred. The Minister will continue to do what he thinks is right in connexion with the current unfortunate regulation strike by postal employees.
– The question that I address to the Attorney-General and Minister for the Navy is supplementary to a question that I asked yesterday. This is the third week that this Parliament has met since the crisis on the Suez Canal arose. Will the Minister inform the Senate whether or not the startling statements on this subject that are made from day to day in the daily press are correct? When does the Government expect to be able to issue a statement of the actual position in relation to the Suez Canal? Will the Minister assure the Senate that the Parliament will be consulted before any definite action is taken in connexion with the Suez Canal dispute?
– I do not know what newspapers the honorable senator has been reading.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health by pointing out that certain private interests in New South Wales are providing scholarships for nurses to do postgraduate courses. That is to say, nurses who hold certain certificates are being encouraged to undertake post-graduate courses in order to obtain additional certificates.
– What is the question?
– Senator Hendrickson, I should appreciate it if you would keep order. I am quite capable of conducting the affairs of the Senate without your advice.
– In view of the fact that health is a national matter, and having regard to the wonderful contribution that nurses make in that field, will the Minister indicate whether the Commonwealth will consider subsidizing the provision of scholarships to nurses to undertake post-graduate courses?
– I shall be pleased to bring the honorable senator’s suggestion to the notice of the Minister for Health.
– In view of the importance of the international situation, and the desire of the Australian people to be fully informed about it, will the Leader of the Government in the Senate and his colleagues endeavour to inform themselves about the situation prior to each meeting of the Senate so that in the event of questions being asked by honorable senators on the subject, they may receive intelligent replies?
– I thank the honorable senator for the suggestion, and inform him that Ministers will continue to give intelligent replies to intelligent questions.
– For the benefit of the Leader of the Government in this chamber, who made some remarks about papers, I inform him that I propose to address a question to him, and in doing so to quote from Volume 214 of “ Hansard “, page 674, of 16th October, 1951, in which the Prime Minister is reported to have said -
The Australian Government informed the United Kingdom Government of its agreement in principle to the participation of Australian troops in the Near East.
I now ask the Minister whether the position is still the same, and whether Australia is committed to such participation. The question is important in view of what has happened since 1951 and the unpredictable consequences of what may happen. I desire to know whether that decision still stands, and whether the Prime Minister’s declaration in 1951 is still the opinion of the Government. If the Minister does not know the answer to my question, I ask whether Parliament will meet as soon as he and his colleagues do know anything on the subject in order to let us know what the exact position is.
– I have not recently discussed with the Prime Minister the statement he made on 16th October, 1951, but if the honorable senator will remind me of it when the Prime Minister returns, I shall take the matter up with him.
– Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate in a position to say whether there is any danger of war arising out of the Suez Canal crisis? Will he-
– How can the Minister answer such a question?
– Shut up, you troglodyte!
– Order! Senator Brown will sit down and remain seated. There is no need for this cross-fire in the chamber.
– Why doesn’t the Minister answer questions?
- Senator Grant will keep quiet while I am speaking. If Senator Brown has a question to ask, he should ask it. There is no need for him to attempt to be offensive to honorable senators sitting opposite him.
– I apologize sincerely for my fall from grace. Usually, I am an easy going sort of fellow. I now ask the
Leader of the Government in this chamber the following questions, and 1 do not want any interruption while I am speaking: First, is there any danger of war arising out of the Suez Canal crisis? Secondly, will the Minister assure the Senate that Parliament will be consulted before force is embarked upon to settle the issue?
– All honorable senators are fully aware that the situation is most delicate and serious, and, therefore, I sincerely urge them not to attempt to make light of it.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. In view of the chaotic state of affairs that has arisen in the Postal Department, is the Minister in a position to inform the Senate whether any negotiations have taken place about the dispute in the department, and whether any progress has been made towards effecting a settlement - apart from press propaganda and other propaganda?
– My answer to the honorable senator is similar to the answer that I gave to a question asked about this matter by Senator O’Byrne. The PostmasterGeneral is not unaware of the regulation strike that has occurred in the Postal Department. He is constantly in touch with senior officials of the department, and is reviewing the progress of the strike. I point out to the honorable senator that there are two sides to this dispute, and that there is a body of people concerned - the public - whose interests must be considered. Moreover, the Public Service Board and the Public Service Arbitrator are the authorities to decide wages and conditions in the Public Service, and it is not the policy of the Government to take sides in disputes about wages and salaries of public servants. The honorable senator was Postmaster-General in a previous government, and I am surprised to hear that he does not understand the position, or perhaps does not wish to understand it and wants to stir up strife among postal officials.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration aware that a journal known as “ Sloga “, published in Western Australia, is circulating throughout Australia? That publication contained until recently an advertisement under the heading, Sloga export and import policy “, and the address given in the advertisement is the same address as that of the publishers of “ Sloga “. The advertisement advertises facilities for sending parcels to Yugoslavia. I have before me receipts for two parcels, one for £16 and the other for £20. Those parcels have not reached their destination, although other parcels sent by the same person have arrived in Yugoslavia. Will the Minister inform the Senate whether inquiries can be made, if necessary in consultation with authorities in Perth, so that what appears to be a very lucrative racket will be cleaned up? The newspaper is published in the national language of the immigrants. Not only they, but also the persons for whom the parcels are intended, have been robbed. If necessary, I will give the Minister the receipts for £16 and £20, and also a copy of the newspaper.
– I did not know of the existence of the newspaper to which the honorable senator has referred, and have no knowledge of the other matters. I shall certainly bring these matters to the attention of the Minister for Immigration, and I am sure that he will set in train a full inquiry. The honorable senator might help his own cause further by calling on the Minister for Immigration, and putting the material before him personally.
– Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate aware that the overwhelming majority of people throughout the world desire peaceful solutions of international disputes? Will the Minister inform the Senate whether Australia will support a proposal to refer the Suez Canal dispute to the United Nations? That step was recommended by President Eisenhower, and is supported by all people who believe that the go-it-alone policy of sections of the British and French people is disastrous. Will we, on the other hand, acquiesce by default in setting a match to the tinder that could set the world aflame?
– Australia has played a noble and gallant part in two world wars and contributed heavily to final victory, and there is no more peace-loving nation in the world than Australia. The undoubted prestige of the Prime Minister will be directed towards maintaining peace in the world.
– I direct the attention of the Minister for the Navy to the tragic ‘drowning fatality that occurred at Lake George when five cadets, who were attached to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, lost their lives. The Department of the Navy made frogmen available for a few days, but they were unsuccessful in locating the bodies of the boys. Now that the weather is improving, will the Minister for the Navy give directions that the frogmen be sent back to Lake George, and that they remain there until their search has been successful? The tragedy has caused great sorrow to the parents of the cadets, and in many quarters I have heard severe criticism of the heartless attitude of the Department of the Navy in withdrawing the frogmen.
– I have not heard any criticism of the Department of the Navy in this connexion. On the contrary, I have heard much commendation of the unselfish and arduous work that was done by the frogmen. I do not know what the present situation is in this connexion, but I shall have inquiries made, and if the Department of the Navy can give any further help, that help will be given. ‘
– The question I asked the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral apparently was not understood. Will he give an undertaking to the Senate that he will confer with the PostmasterGeneral with a view to submitting an official report from the PostmasterGeneral as to the actual chaotic state of affairs in the department?
– Reading the press day by day I notice that the PostmasterGeneral issues press statements in regard to the various stages of this strike. I can only say that Senator Cameron’s question will be brought to the notice of the PostmasterGeneral as all questions directed to me as the representative in this- chamber of other Ministers are brought to their notice.
– On 4th September last, Senator Benn asked me a question relating to the cornering of supplies of potatoes, and I promised to obtain some information for him. The Minister for Primary Industry has advised me as follows: -
Inquiries by my department have not confirmed that supplies of potatoes are being cornered in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane for release later at excessive prices. The remaining old crop potatoes available at this time of the year do not keep well and with the extraordinarily high prices now ruling there would be considerable risk of financial loss in endeavouring to hold them until November, particularly as supplies of new spring potatoes should appear on the market very soon.
– I have received from Mrs. Lawson a letter of thanks for the resolution of sympathy passed by the Senate on the occasion of the death of her husband, the last Honorable John Norman Lawson.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Annual Report of the Tariff Board for year 1955-56, together with summary of recommendations.
Copies of the report are not’ yet available for circulation to honorable senators, but will be made available to them as soon as possible.
Debate resumed from 6th September (vide page 156), on motion by Senator O’sullivan -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- In speaking to this customs tariff schedule my mind goes back a few years to the occasion on which the Senate dealt with an agreement relating to timber at Bulolo. After having read carefully the Tariff Board report, I am still trying to find out how the members of the board arrived at their decision. However, I feel I must make some comment before this schedule is put through the Senate. The Government has the numbers to put it through the same as it had when it brought a similar bill previously before the Senate. That is Government policy and all I can do on behalf of the Opposition is to point out where we on this side think that policy is dangerous to Australia and the Australian economy, in the hope that the Government may recognize those dangers and make necessary adjustments. [ perused very carefully the evidence heard by the Tariff Board and found that it was taken from three or four different categories of people. There were those who favoured an increase in duty, those who wanted to remove certain duties and those who wanted everything to be duty free. It is most interesting to ‘see where some of the evidence came from. In the first instance, the evidence in favour of increased duties came from people who were vitally interested in that they held prominent positions in the community. Because of their ingenuity and sense of responsibility, it was considered they were right and proper men to be put in certain important positions, because they had the preservation of the public interest and economy at heart. However, when we look at the board’s report we find that their evidence has been completely over-ruled.
One of those gentlemen was Samuel Percy Hall, the assistant general manager of the State sawmills in Western Australia. He is a very prominent State servant who has at heart the interests of that State and the well-being of its timber industry. When we go a little further we have the evidence of Alfred Charles Shedley Deputy Conservator of Forests. His job is to see, in the interests of future generations, that forests are not depleted. He has a desire for the continuity of the industry. Those two prominent gentlemen gave evidence, and the Tariff Board considered that it was worth recording. That evidence is strongly in favour of increased duties. Then, we have a Mr. Fennell, who is secretary of an organization that has 30,000 members.
– Willie Fennell?
– I do not care how his name is pronounced, but he holds a responsible position and would not do so unless he was a man of outstanding ability who knew what he was talking about. He represents about 30,000 employees in the timber industry. Naturally, he would know the ins and outs of the industry and what effect a reduction of duties would have on the employees whom he represents. He strongly opposed any reduction of duties and as a couple of points he made are most interesting, I shall read the following paragraphs from his evidence: -
The importation of unrestricted quantities of overseas timber would hamper the further development of the Australian timber industry.
The Union strongly opposes the admission of timber cut to small sizes; existing Tariff provisions, otherwise, are generally satisfactory.
I shall deal with timber other than that cut to small sizes later, because there probably may not be any great objection in regard to it. We must take note of what a gentleman of that calibre says because, after all, he represents 30,000 employees in a country where unemployment is starting to grow. We cannot run away from the fact that unemployment is starting to grow, and we must take that fact into consideration. A little further, we come to another prominent gentleman by the name of Alexander Herbert Crane who is Chief Commissioner of Forests in Tasmania. This man has made practically a life study of forestry, and his sole ambition is to have the timber industry continued in perpetuity. Consequently, he knows exactly what he is talking about. In his evidence, he claims that the output of timber in Australia can be increased, particularly in Tasmania, above what has been produced in recent years, without injury to the forests, so that they can be maintained for generations tocome. We must consider this matter sanely. In all States of Australia there are forests that have never been milled. They have stood for hundreds of thousands of years - the trees growing up and dying out, and that is still going on.
– They must be remarkable forests to have stood for hundreds of thousands of years.
– Perhaps when the honorable senator speaks later he might be able to give us the benefit of his knowledge. Possibly, he can trace the history .of forests back to the time when the earth was created. My point is that each year millions of feet of timber decay and disappear if they are not cut. .So long as that goes on, valuable wood is wilfully wasted. Statements of that sort are backed by specialists, like Mr. Crane and the Deputy Conservator of Forests in Western Australia. The way to save forests is to cut the timber which is matured, and some years later to visit the same areas again and take out the timber which has matured in the meantime. If the timber, amounting to millions of feet, is cut, instead of being allowed to decay each year, there will be no danger of a shortage. There is no evidence that the present forests will be so depleted as to create a shortage, and cognizance must be taken of the statements of expert and experienced men. Care must be taken that future generations will not have to suffer a shortage of timber, but according to the evidence which I have mentioned that need not happen. On the contrary, the present output can be increased with safety.
I turn now to the evidence of those who want tariff duties to be removed from timber. It was given by persons whose interest was not in the development of Australia or the welfare of future generations, but in the making of personal profit. Mr. Albert Bruce, the secretary-manager of the Retail Timber Merchants’ Association of New South Wales, was one who gave evidence on this aspect. He represented business concerns that purchase timber from the saw-millers and retail it, and in the process make handsome profits. That is the sole purpose of their activity. They are not concerned with preserving the forests or in developing the interests of the State; consequently, their evidence can be discounted. One prominent witness, who should be concerned with the welfare of the forests, was Frederick Edwin John Haynes. He represented the New South Wales Egg Marketing Board. His only interest was to obtain cheaper timber for the few cases his board would need for the packing of eggs. He was not concerned with the fact that timber workers who might eat some of the eggs packed in those cases would be pushed out of their jobs. He is typical of the witnesses called to give evidence in support of removing tariff duties from timber.
Another section of evidence favoured the duty-free admission of timber into Australia from Papua and New Guinea. Where did the interests of these witnesses lie? Seven gave evidence, five of whom are owners or managers of timber mills or timber interests in Papua and New Guinea - not in Australia. They are interested only in making profits, and are not concerned with what happens to Australian forests. From a national point of view, their evidence is not of the type on which to base a sound judgment as to the welfare of the Australian, timber industry, because it is completely one-sided. They are concerned only with the industry in Papua and New Guinea, and with making profits for their shareholders.
– Papua is part of the Commonwealth of Australia.
– I am aware of that, and I will deal with that point later, but I ask the honorable senator to consider the labour conditions under which timber is produced in Papua and New Guinea.
– Has the honorable senator ever seen the labour forces in Papua and New Guinea?
– I have not seen them personally, but I have discussed them with Australian troops who were in New Guinea defending the Fuzzy-wuzzies. They would stake their lives on the integrity of the Fuzzy-wuzzies, and would not allow a word to be said against them. I. can speak with assurance, because my information was obtained from gentlemen who were in New Guinea on a very serious mission, and who found that the natives played their part in defence as gallantly as any soldier from Australia.
– There were no timber interests operating then.
– I am speaking about the Fuzzy-wuzzies, and that is what Senator Hannaford interjected about. According to this report another section of the community wants to have the duty lifted on plywood brought into Australia. They would like about 12,000,000 square feet admitted each year, but the manufacturers of plywood in Australia say that they can more than supply the plywood needs of our country. If an extra 12,000,000 square feet of plywood comes into this country it will lead either to undercutting of the price for Australian plywood, with consequent unemployment, or merely to an increase in the profits of shareholders in the mills operating in New Guinea.
– They have to sell somewhere.
– And I dare say they have markets in countries other than Australia. We know that they must sell somewhere, and the Canadian shareholders would have had that point well in mind when deciding to invest money in New Guinea. If they did not have markets elsewhere, they would not seek to exploit the natural resources of New Guinea. If the importation of this plywood will affect Australian markets, then 1 suggest that these people should cut down on their exports to Australia and do more to “capture markets in the other countries to which they are exporting. If the limiting of imports into Australia is going to have some effect on employment, then we must consider whether it will be more detrimental to the Australian timber workers or to those employed in New Guinea, to whom, we are led to believe, these industries are paying £33 a week.
The Tariff Board’s report goes on to say -
The timber industry in Australia has an importance beyond that revealed by its employment level of more than 30,000 people or by the value- exceeding £80,000,000- of its output. Although the character of the industry as an agency for opening up new areas has changed with the policy of the State Forestry Authorities to preserve forest areas in perpetuity, it has not completely lost its pioneering character in that it still provides a- means of establishing and maintaining communities in remote areas throughout the country. It is a desirable industry which should be encouraged and protected.
I remind honorable senators that that passage is written in the Tariff Board’s report; it is not simply a statement by me. The report continues -
The Board believes also that there is no intermediate stage between the present general level of duties and prohibitive duties at which advantages to the milling industry would be greater than the disadvantages to using industries and to the national economy as a whole. It therefore considers that the existing general level of the duties should remain undisturbed.
We could not have anything plainer than that. Here, it is appropriate to repeat that the Tariff Board realizes that the timber industry is of great importance to Australia and should be preserved because, to a certain extent, it still has the same beneficial characteristics as it had in years gone by in that it does lead to the opening up of new areas and the establishment of new towns. It supports communities wholly and solely on its own, as has been proved in every State in Australia. If we ruin the’ Australian timber industry by lifting duties willy-nilly, we can expect to have a number of small ghost towns throughout the Commonwealth in the very near future, and, certainly, the great majority of the 30,000 persons now employed in the industry will become unemployed. These things must be considered. The Tariff Board itself says that it considers that the existing general level of the duties should remain undisturbed.
It is now proposed that certain timbers from the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, on which a duty of 16s. 4d. per 100 super, feet was being paid, shall be admitted absolutely duty free. I submit that can only have a detrimental effect! not only upon the 30,000 people employed in the Australian timber industry, but also upon cabinet-makers and furniture manufacturers, especially when we realize that it is proposed to lift the duty of 6s. a door from imported fly-proof doors, doors manufactured by cheap labour.
– Manufactured by white labour.
– What a shock the honorable senator will get when I read that part of the Tariff Board’s report which deals with the. labour problem and the wages being paid to the native labour employed in manufacturing these articles. It is useless for him to make such a stupid interjection. We have the definite evidence in a document prepared, not by me, but by a responsible authority. A further point to consider is that if more industries are developed by the employment of native labour in New Guinea more people will be thrown out of employment in Australia. Let me deal n««w with costs.
– Give us the figures that you promised to give in connexion with labour.
– If the honorable senator will be patient I shall be glad to quote the figures, and if he cares to peruse the Tariff Board’s report he will see that the figures which I shall quote were given in evidence before the board. It is said by some that the Australian figures are based on a basic wage of about £16 a week. I challenge any honorable senator on the Government side to find any man who works in the timber industry in Australia for £16 a week. Why, repeatedly we see advertisements in the press seeking to obtain skilled men for sawmills and offering from £24 to £25 a week, with holidays with pay thrown in. The gentleman who gave this evidence slated that the costs in New Guinea were as high as in Australia. In some instances, they said, the weekly wage was as much as £33. At this stage, I should like to read some extracts from the Tariff Board’s report. The board stated -
Following are some of the more important points submitted by New Guinea interests in support of their contention that labour costs are higher in the Territory than in Australia: -
European labour cannot be obtained under £20 per week to start. There are added costs for housing, hospitalization and leave.
Of course, I agree with that; I am not disputing it. The statement goes on -
Let us analyse the figures. In the first place, as I have said, in some instances the Europeans earn £33 a week, after taking into account the provision of transport, holidays and so on. Let us say that the average weekly wage in Australia for this work is £16 a week. But, as we know perfectly well, labour cannot be obtained to work in the mills in Australia for £16 a week. It is evident that the Tariff Board should have made a closer study of Australian awards before reaching its conclusions. It must not be forgotten that, on the mainland, transportation is provided in many instances for workers in the timber industry. This adds to costs. It should be appreciated that timber getting is not an easy job, as anybody who has had experience of cutting, splitting, or hauling timber, or working in the timber mills, will readily acknowledge.
– Timber workers are usually good, healthy Australians.
– I know that they are good, healthy Australians. Indeed, I should be very disappointed if they were not. Nevertheless, it was not necessary for the men to whom I have referred to leave Australia and go to New Guinea in order to obtain work. In many of the outback mills in Australia, the timber workers - I am referring to white men, not cheap native labour - earn as much as £20 a week. The Tariff Board’s statement goes on -
– That is hooey!
– Nevertheless, this is the board’s statement. It continues -
That answers the honorable senator who was chip, chip, chipping like a chicken calling for its mother, wanting to know how much timber a native could chip out compared with a European. It will be seen that the 68 natives referred to are paid wages ranging from £1 15s.1d. to £2 10s. a week. Timber that is produced under those conditions is imported duty-free into Australia, in competition with timber produced here by men in receipt of wages of up to £20 a week. Who gets the benefit? Is it intended that New Guinea timber shall, to use the vernacular, chop the tripe out of the Australian timber industry, or is the purpose to provide increased profits for shareholders in the timber companies? The Government cannot have it both ways. The Tariff Board’s statement continues -
When the natives become skilled in the processing of plywood they are paid £20 a month. With training, the natives can do this work as skilfully as Europeans. Honorable senators should not get it into their heads that the natives cannot perform skilled work. During my recent visit to Africa, I was amazed at the variety of skilled work performed by natives. I saw them engaged in building palatial structures, airports and roads, and the native policemen were very efficient. With proper training, natives can perform many kinds of work as skilfully as Europeans. Let us consider for a moment the case of bus drivers. I have had some experience of travelling with native bus drivers, and have found that they are just as competent as are Australian drivers in this country and also most courteous. On one occasion, when a difficult and dangerous position had to be faced and a quick decision made, the native driver acted promptly and correctly, and averted a serious accident. Had he not done so, the bus would have overturned and some of the passengers would probably have been injured. That incident shows that these men can do the job, and that they have the mental and physical capacity to do it well. Much the same can be’ said of the fuzzy-wuzzies of New Guinea. Will any honorable senator who has come in contact with them say that they lack ability? Of course not. During World War II. they proved themselves to be men of good physique, and with mental powers and courage beyond the average. No Australian who served with them will deny that that is so. How is it that 1he -so-called backward people earn as much as £20 a month? They are paid at that rate because their employers know that they can do their work as well as any European could do it. Many of them are holding key positions. How can any Australian industry compete with a New Guinea industry, where entirely different conditions exist? Unless prompt action be taken, the Australian industry will be endangered, and good Australians thrown on the unemployment market, so that the profits of the timbergetters in New Guinea may be swelled.
I realize that we have a responsibility towards New Guinea, but that responsibility does not entitle us to exploit the resources of that country for our own gain.
I ask honorable senators to recall the position in the timber industry in Australia before State governments imposed controls and took steps to protect our forests. I want to see that history does not repeat itself in New Guinea, by exploitation of its timber resources without regard to the interests of the country’s economy. The nearest market for plywood from New Guinea is Australia, and it is easy to visualize what could happen if the removal of duties on timber led to a price-slashing war and the government in office lacked the courage, as well as the power, to meet the situation. When the former agreement was before the Senate in 1952 the then Deputy Leader of the Opposition moved that a committee of the Senate be appointed to investigate every angle of the industry, and to present a report to the Senate. At that time, the government of the day said that the Australian industry would be protected. I draw the attention of the Minister at the table to the report of the proceedings in this chamber as .contained in “ Hansard “, volume 217, at page 1463. The Minister may choose to look at it to see what was said then when a definite guarantee was given, on behalf of the Government, that certain duties would be imposed in order to give every protection to the timber industry in Australia, and to timber workers and manufacturers using timber. Those duties remained in force until the Tariff Board submitted its report. I have studied the board’s report in order to see if it advanced any reason, other than a desire to increase the profits to shareholders, for lifting the duties on certain items. Any one who knows anything at all about timber will agree that a duty of 16s. for 100 super, feet of timber is a heavy impost. New South Wales is in a worse position than are the other States in this connexion because royally ant freight charges make the cost of timber higher in that State than elsewhere in Australia. That is a disadvantage suffered by New South Wales according to the board’s report.
I propose now to deal with flitches, but I do not intend to refer to each item. Honorable senators will understand what I mean if I state the position in relation to large flitches, and disregard the small timber. The duty on large flitches has been lifted. I do not so much object to that, because if the timber comes here as big timber to be cut in Australian mills, and made into plywood and veneers in this country, the timber industry and the manufacturers of goods using timber derive some benefit from handling the timber. The position is different, however, in connexion with box timber and plywood, and unless care is. taken the 30,000 employees in the timber industry will be affected, and in addition, perhaps, 50,000 employees in associated industries. Unless some check is placed on the importation of timber from New Guinea, the effect could be farreaching, lt may be possible for timber merchants to buy timber in other parts of the world. If the Government’s action were to apply to check the import of logs from Borneo and encourage it from New Guinea, I should not object so much. There are some types of timber which do not grow in Australia and which, therefore, must be imported. Some of them might be obtained in New Guinea, instead of from Borneo and other countries. I should have no objection to that, nor would those engaged in the timber industry and associated industries. It is a different matter, however, when manufactured goods are concerned. The position could be quite dangerous and, therefore, it must be watched closely. I bring these matters before the Senate and suggest to the Minister that, if he lacks the power now to meet the situation, he should take steps to do so before the position gets out of hand. I ask him to keep in mind the risk of harm being done to workers and manufacturers dealing with timber, and to do what is necessary to protect Australian industries. I am here as a State representative, and I defy the Minister to point to any section of the community in Tasmania that will support this recommendation of the Tariff Board. The sawmillers, the timber industry, the consumer and everybody else are opposed to the tariff on New Guinea timbers being removed, in fact, they believe that it should have been increased.
.- The native timber industry of Tasmania is of great importance to that State, and therefore, as a Tasmanian, I was much perturbed when I read the report and recommendation of the Tariff Board. Senator Aylett’s real argument in this debate is directed at the Tariff Board, because the whole of his speech was merely a statement that the board’s recommendation is not right. The Tariff Board is an impartial body, lt heard all the evidence from all the interested parties on both sides - and many of them were deeply interested - and then came to a decision and made a recommendation. Honorable, senators have been listening for almost an hour to a criticism of the board by Senator Aylett. Consequently, his speech had really nothing to do with the matter that is at present before the Senate.
I am interested in this matter because I am concerned to know what effect the abolition of the tariff will have on the native timber industry of Tasmania. The Department of Trade was kind enough to supply me with the figures of the quantity of timber that is coming into Australia at the present time from the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. That timber has been coming into this country duty free for a considerable time, and the bill that we are at present discussing is simply to validate that procedure, as all such decisions must be validated by the Parliament.
Senator Aylett has not objected so much to what he called “ logs “ coming from New Guinea. His objections were mainly in respect of timber other than logs. However, apart from logs, 1.1 per cent, of Australia’s timber imports is in other forms, and only 968 super, feet of 22,000,000 super, feet is dressed and partly dressed timber. The proportion is so small that the department could not supply me with the proportional figures. In logs, 2,503,265 super, feet of 38,000,000 super, feet is imported from New Guinea. That is only 6.6 per cent, of the total amount of timber that we use. In undressed timber, 2,953,000 super, feet of 266,000,000 super, feet is imported, or only 1.1 per cent, of the total used. Of dressed and partly dressed timber, we import 968 super, feet of 22,000,000 super, feet of the total used. The department has advised me that that is purely a negligible amount. Therefore, although the duty has been off this timber for some months, honorable senators will perceive that only a very small proportion of the timber that we use comes from New Guinea and Papua.
Two particular classes of timber, bent timber and that cut into shape and dressed or partly dressed, are imported; but we get from New Guinea only 790 super, feet of such timber. So, obviously, it is required by only a very small section of the trade. The total quantity of that kind of timber that we use is only 1,000 super, feet. Therefore, about 76 per cent, of that small category of timber comes from New Guinea. We import no tongued and grooved timber in a total quantity of 20,000,000 super, feet used, but of undressed timber for making doors we get 44,000 super, feet of a total of 44,000 super, feet. So, the whole of that category comes from New Guinea. 1 agree that this position should be carefully watched.
– If the quantity of timber coming from New Guinea is so insignificant, why was the duty lifted?
– As that is a matter of policy, I suggest that Senator Byrne should ask the Minister about it. The Minister will be far better able than I am to answer that question.
The Tariff Board made a long and impartial inquiry into this matter. It heard a number of witnesses. Certainly, it has not treated the matter lightly. It started to take evidence on 30th June, 1953, and did not make its recommendation until 17th February, 1955. Therefore, it gave almost eighteen months earnest consideration to this matter, and it has recommended that 12,000,000 square feet, of plywood should be admitted in the form of undressed timber. Another thing that heartens me in this matter is that the timber from New Guinea is softwood.
– What about the logs?
– They are softwood also. Therefore, that timber does not compete with the main supply of Tasmanian native timber, which is hardwood.
– Give me the hardwood plywood instead of softwood any day.
– If all Australians were of the same opinion as Senator Aylett, we would not need any timber from New Guinea; but, apparently, there is a demand, and we must meet that demand. By tar the greatest damage being done to the native timber industry is not being done by timber from Papua and New Guinea, but by timber from Malaya and Borneo. In recent months there has been a reduction of the quantity of that timber coming into this country, and we are now getting 41,000,000 super, feet less than we were getting some time ago. The figures indicate that the native timber industry in Australia is suffering severely from this competition. In Tasmania, mills are closing down and timber workers are being put out of employment. Some are unemployed now, and more are likely to be unemployed in the next month of so, even though the winter is over and, normally, we should look forward to an increase of trade. Although many large buildings are being erected throughout Australia, not a great amount of timber is used in them. The reduction of housing construction has caused the falling off in the use of timber.
Tasmanian production during the last three years has increased by nearly 30 per cent. In 1953, when the Tariff Board report was made, that State produced 113,000,000 super, feet of timber and, at present, it is producing 145,000,000 super, feet. In the present financial year, we expect to produce 150,000,000 super, feet. In view of the great increase of production in Tasmania, I suggest that the Department of Trade should seriously consider the quantity of timber that is being imported from Malaya and Borneo and try to limit it further so that the native timber trade will not to be interfered with. We in Tasmania have nothing to fear from Papua and New Guinea. I know that the Government has the power to reimpose duties, just as it has power to take them away, and it should watch the position closely to determine how much timber is coming into Australia from New Guinea from time to time. I think that is a sound suggestion, and it should be adopted, lt must be done if those imports are going to interfere with the native timber industry of Australia. In Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and. New South Wales - particularly in the first four States - the native timber industry is most important.
I direct attention now to one or two matters that were raised by Senator Aylett, who disputed the findings of the Tariff Board. The actual amount of money that is paid to a native worker in the New Guinea mills, after taking into account all amenities, including hospital treatment, is £10 18s. lid. a month. That is not much more than £2 14s. a week.
– Read the paragraph right through. Go on, read it.
– I want to read one paragraph that Senator Aylett did not read. He will accept the Tariff Board’s report as irrefutable evidence when he wants to do so, but it is another story when he does not want to accept it. I will read a part of the report that he did not read. If he accepts part of the report as irrefutable, I will submit a part of it that is my way. I do not know whether the honorable senator can read, but I shall read a paragraph that he missed entirely. That is paragraph (c) which states -
Native labour is not cheap, mainly because of the relatively greater number of natives required to do similar work performed by a given number of Europeans.
– That is not true of Bulolo.
– The parliamentary mission that went to Bulolo stated that it saw only two native workers in the plywood mills there. It is estimated - in the report that from six to eight natives are required in New Guinea to do the work of one European. If we take seven as an average, it costs more than £77 a month for the ‘native workers to do the same amount of labour that one white man would do. I noticed that Senator Aylett refrained from citing that fact. He read only the sections of the Tariff Board report that suited him.
I believe that this matter should be kept under close review. I agree that we must help to develop New Guinea. It is part of our territory, and the United Nations has charged us with its administration. It has been alleged that we are not doing our job there. My principal argument is that the timber that is coming from Malaya and Borneo is seriously upsetting the Tasmanian industry. There are signs of improvement, however. I have listened with interest to the statements that have been made by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who administers the Commonwealth and State housing agreement. His recent statements have given us hope that the housing position will improve rapidly. If the number of houses constructed rises to anywhere near the maximum of three years ago, when 80,000 houses were completed, I am sure that the Tasmanian timber industry will get the impetus that it needs. Combined with the benefit from the reduction of import licences, it should help to overcome the present problem affecting Tasmania. The industry is in the doldrums at present, and the position could become worse. Therefore, I believe that the position should be watched closely, and we should inject as much money as we can afford into the housing programme, and so increase the demand for native timber.
.- The bill that is before the Senate is the result of a recommendation that was made to the Commonwealth Parliament by the Tariff Board. First, we should examine the bill, and see just what it proposes to do. Portion of it provides for the importation into Australia, free of duty, of 12,000,000 square feet of plywood on a A-in. basis. It will also permit the importation of logs, spars and sawn and dressed timbers. It is all very well to examine the Tariff Board’s report and read there the evidence that was given for and against the admittance of the timber into Australia free of customs duty. Honorable senators can draw their own conclusions from that evidence, but in examining it, we must put ourselves in the position of the Tariff Board. To do that, we must go back to the agreement that was ratified by the Parliament in 1952. It is known as the New Guinea Timber Agreement Act 1952. Under that legislation, a company known as Commonwealth-New Guinea Timbers Limited was formed. The agreement was the most lop-sided ever endorsed and made legal by this Parliament. Clause 14 is related specifically to the timber produced by the company I have named. It states -
If customs duty is paid upon the importation into Australia of the plywood, veneers, logs and other products of the Timber Company, and is not remitted, the Commonwealth will pay to the Timber Company a subsidy upon the exportation of those products from the Territory for entry into Australia of an amount or at a rate determined by the Commonwealth from time to time, but the amount of subsidy paid shall not exceed the amount of customs duty paid and not remitted.
That clause shows that Commonwealth-New Guinea Timbers Limited could send to Australia all its products up to, I believe, 12,000,000 square feet.
– It is 8,500,000 square feet.
– Of course, the company is limited in the quantity of timber it can harvest, but it could send to Australia its processed timbers. However, if the company is compelled to pay duty on that timber, the Commonwealth Government is bound to reimburse the company under clause 14 of the agreement. What would the Tariff Board do if it had that information before it, and all the requests from other timber companies operating in Papua and New Guinea for the elimination of customs duty? The Tariff Board would say, in effect: “ On the one hand we have the big manufacturer of processed timber - Commonwealth-New Guinea Timbers Limited - free to send its products into Australia free of customs duty. Are we going to penalize the other manufacturers in Papua and New Guinea? “
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
-I was dealing with the Tariff Board’s recommendations and had referred to one which was specifically mentioned by the Minister for the Navy (Senator O’Sullivan) in his second-reading speech.I. had finished dealing with clause 14 of the agreement made in1944 between the Commonwealth Government and the New Guinea Gold Mining Company Limited. In his second-reading speech, the Minister said - i feel sure that the action proposed should prove of material assistance to the economic development of Papua and New Guinea.
Let us examine that statement. It is high time that this Senate should object to being issued with such poppycock. We should protest against such statements in secondreading speeches. How is the measure going to improve the economy of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea without weakening the economy of Australia? The proposal is to admit plywoods and timber products of the Territory into Australia duty free. If we are to improve the economy of Papua and New Guinea, which, incidentally, is not constitutionally part of the Commonwealth of Australia, then we will affect the timber industry in Australia to that extent.
I am concerned about the measure as a whole. The residents of Papua and New Guinea are not required to pay income tax. They have no government, no representation in the Australian Government or in any other government, and for that reason they do not pay income tax. One would think, by some remarks that have been made in the Senate, that the Australian public is not required to support New Guinea in any way monetarily. The real truth is far from that. I do not know whether honorable senators are aware that for the year 1952-53 the Australian public was required to provide the sum of £4,887,896 for the ordinary services and for the administration generally of Papua and New Guinea. In the following year, the sum amounted to £5,820,000. It has gone up pretty well ever since. In the following year it was £7,322,000, and in the Estimates we will be dealing with during the next week or two the sum estimated as necessary to provide for the services of New Guinea is £9,000,000. That money will come out of the pockets of the Australian public and will go, goodness knows how, into the hands of the Administration in New Guinea and will be spent perhaps in the ordinary way.
We have a situation in which the Australian Government is a party to bringing into this country free of customs duty the products of companies and other people operating in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea and, at the same time, is calling upon the people of Australia to support the people of that Territory. Naively enough the Minister’s second-reading speech finishes with the statement - i feel sure that the action proposed should prove of material assistance to the economic development’ of Papua and New Guinea.
That is pure poppycock. Senator Aylett dealt very fully with the measure as a whole, and I do not propose to say much more. He stressed the importance of keeping our eyes open to future developments in the timber industry in Australia and the necessity to watch the operation of this measure in the future in order to see whether any great increase occurs next year and the following year in the quantity of timber imported from Papua and New Guinea
I know of my own knowledge that at the present time plywoods coming from New Guinea are being sold on the retail market at higher prices than Queensland products are being sold. While that situation obtains, perhaps no strong objection will be taken by those engaged in the timber industry. The quality of the Queensland product compares favorably with that of the product from Papua and New Guinea and, as 1 say, at the present time the Queensland product is being sold at a price considerably lower than that of the products being brought in from Papua and New Guinea. 1 am concerned from the employment aspect. The timber industry is important so far as the employees are concerned, and I desire to see the operatives in it kept in their employment. I do not want to learn of their being deprived of their employment as a result of this measure which completely exempts from customs duty the timber products from Papua and New Guinea.
.- My reason for entering into this debate is, perhaps, a little different from the reasons given by Senator Henty and Senator Benn. Most of the general aspects have been covered very fully. The measure itself raises a very important principle. We must be continually vigilant when considering matters appertaining to production in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. The company in which the Commonwealth has shares-Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Limited - started off very efficiently having a tremendously valuable asset in the Bulolo timber stand, and having the benefit of an organization which was previously set up for the purpose of gold dredging, which also was a profitable enterprise. It has the advantage of not paying taxation under a reciprocal agreement between the United States of America and Australia, which is something not enjoyed by people living in Australia. Then, the company has the great advantage of a choice of New Guinea native labour. Senator Kendall really should take part in this debate because of his knowledge of the conditions that exist in Papua and New Guinea.
I pay tribute to this company for the way it treats its employees. During the time I was in the Bulolo Valley I saw, perhaps, the most contented group of workmen that one could see anywhere throughout the Commonwealth, and certainly in any part of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. The company has special men in the highlands who select intelligent and strong natives for this particular branch of industry in New Guinea. Those men are trained at schools, given medical instruction and as a result are doing a fine job in assisting to lift the standard of living.
I suppose we might also call what is being done an attempt to detribalize the New Guinea native. The purpose of the policy is to procure men of high ability suitable to be trained for this particular industry. The native boys are shining with good health, are well fed and in good spirits. A wonderful employer-employee relationship exists.
Another important factor is that this industry is highly mechanized. One could almost say it has reached the highest pitch of automation of any timber industry in the Commonwealth of Australia or its mandated territories. The New Guinea residents - citizens, we really should call them - have reached a high degree of efficiency in handling mechanical equipment. It is of no use for Senator Henty to quote from this report. I challenge the statement that eight New Guinea natives are needed to do the work of one white man. That is a fallacy. In this sort of work they can drive bulldozers, haul timber and handle machinery just as well as Australian timber workers - and I say that with all respect to the Australians. Their rates of pay vary, according to their standards of efficiency, from £2 a week for the most efficient to 25s. a week for partly trained natives, and those who are not so mentally or physically active. I see in this report a fundamental attack on Australian living standards. Timber in New Guinea is becoming big business, and it is part of our responsibility to help Papua and New Guinea to develop it. According to a local New Guinea newspaper report, the company will produce 32,000,000 square feet of plywood this year. The bill provides for the admission into Australia of 12,000,000 square feet, free of duty. In his second-reading speech the Minister said -
The limitation of duty-free admission to 12,000,000 square feet per annum was recommended by the Tariff Board, but I understand that this issue is again before the board and that an increase in the quantity to be admitted duty free is being sought.
Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Limited has an asset which is almost infinite. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to see the Bulolo timber stands know that the production of timber in this area represents gold for the taking, but markets must be found for it. Australia is assisting this industry by remissions from taxation, and this measure proposes to lift duties payable on its products. I want to impress on Government supporters, however, that the point has been reached when the use of cheap labour must be reviewed.
As can be seen from the returns of this company, it is earning big profits. It is true that the Commonwealth shares equally in those profits, but the shareholders of the Bulolo section of Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Limited are nearly all investors connected with an American and Canadian organization. Consequently, half the profit from this company’s activities goes to other parts of the world. The Australian market will absorb 75 per cent of its products, if the present proportion is maintained, but the remaining 25 per cent will go to the United States of America. If the company’s output increases to 32,000,000 square feet, which is practically double last year’s production, and if it increases again to 64,000,000 square feet the following year, how will the Australian timber industry compete with it? This company is using efficient natives who have been specially selected for the job, and they will be working in direct competition with Australian workers.
In the early part of the century this problem arose in a more drastic way in the State represented by the Leader of the Government (Senator O’Sullivan). Native labour was brought to Queensland to work in the cane-fields. They were known as kanakas. They were a profitable investment to the owners of the sugar plantations, but the Australian people revolted against their employment.
– They were brought from the South Pacific islands, not from New Guinea.
– That may be, but the same principle of using cheap labour was involved, and it was this practice which gave birth to the White Australia policy. We cannot justify the White Australia policy morally, or in principle, except that, on economic grounds, we are entitled to exclude native labour in New Guinea or in countries to the north of Australia, from engaging in work in competition with Australians. I challenge this bill on that account.
I hope that the Tariff Board will give Parliament an opportunity to consider carefully whether the increase in the quantity, of timber proposed to be admitted duty-free into Australia should be agreed to. I should like to consider, also, whether the wages of the native men working for Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Limited should not be increased to Australian levels when they are doing work equal to that performed by Australians. It is a great Australian principle that workers doing equal work should receive equal pay. If that principle is observed in New Guinea it will raise the living standards of the natives, and at the same time remove a challenge to Australian economic standards. Instead of underpaying native labour, judged by Australian wage rates, Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Limited should pay according to its capacity as revealed in its returns last year.
The second-reading speech of the Minister is simply a veneer to cover the by-law relating to item 21. This deals with plywood, and as the Minister said, this item has been qualified by the provision “ as prescribed by departmental by-laws “. That means that if the department receives a recommendation from the Tariff Board, and multiplies the quota of 12,000,000 square feet by three, thus increasing the quantity to be admitted to 36,000,000 square feet, that amendment need not come before Parliament for approval. Honorable senaators know that regulations can be implemented without the knowledge of the Parliament.
One effect of this measure will be to grant this New Guinea company a tremendous concession. It has an enormous asset to exploit, but, indirectly, its activities present a challenge to the Australian timber industry, and particularly to that of Tasmania. I direct the attention of the Senate to an opinion on the Tasmanian timber industry given by Mr. Crane, Chief Commissioner for Forests in Tasmania, who said -
Adequate protection for the Tasmanian timber industry is necessary at all times for the reason that stable marketing is fundamental to -
the development of forests and the inclusion in productivity of large areas of mountain forests otherwise useless to the national economy;
the protection of a major asset in regrowth and plantations; and
the maintenance of employment and community welfare.
He concludes by saying -
The present level of duties under the Items being reviewed is considered to be satisfactory but any proposal to reduce such duties would be opposed.
That statement represents the view of Tasmanian people generally, even though it may be parochial, who are anxious to maintain the welfare of their own industry. Competition from cheap labour areas presents a challenge, and in this case, when New Guinea is starting on the road to big business in the production of veneers, plywoods and sawn timbers, the whole situation must be examined with an eye to the rights of the Australian timber industry.
– in reply - I am very happy at the general reception that has been accorded this measure. As honorable senators know, the bill really gives statutory effect to what has been in operation already for some time. Actually, the hearing of the Tariff Board out of which this legislation arises began first in April, 1954. The board made its report in 1955. Following upon that, the proposal was put forward in the House of Representatives and here in May, 1955. I am sure honorable senators know that when there is any change in tariff or excise, it usually takes effect as from 9 o’clock the following morning and the proposal is effective for a period of six months. Unless it is validated, it then lapses and the practice in the past has been to keep on validating until an aggregation of measures comes up, as is the case here, and they are then put into statutory form.
– Would it not be much better if these things were discussed when first brought in?
– lt has always been the practice of this Government for the Minister in charge to invite discussion. It has been his practice to tell the House that the matter may be discussed at that time and to suggest that, perhaps, honorable senators might prefer to defer discussion until the validating measure is brought in. Sometimes, they are discussed ad hoc as they are brought in. but the general practice has been to defer debate until an aggregation of proposals is brought forward, when debate is invited and welcomed. Fortunately, our tariff policy is one of those national items which, I think, transcends party politics. We have an Australian outlook towards it. The protection of our industries, and our export and import fiscal policies are bi-party questions. The reason why part of this was not brought down earlier was that permission had to be obtained under our international obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. That was not obtained until May, 1956. I repeat that all this has not been just dragged out of the wisdom of the Government; the proposal simply seeks to give effect to the Tariff Board’s report. In that report, which has been made after an open inquiry at which all interested parties were invited and encouraged to give evidence, the Tariff Board says that it was established beyond reasonable doubt that the production of native timber was not sufficient to meet the requirements of all six States. Some States certainly produce more native timber than they require, but the aggregate production of all the producing States is not sufficient to meet the full requirements of Australia. In those circumstances, and as timber is a very important item in the building of homes and other forms of production, the Tariff Board recommended that it would be wise to allow timber to come in duty free. We have adopted that recommendation.
Another aspect which, although it does not come within the normal jurisdiction of the Tariff Board, is a responsibility of the Government, is the question of the development of New Guinea. New Guinea is not a foreign country. The soil on its hills and plains has been enriched by Australian blood shed there during World War 1. and World War II. We have an obligation to develop New Guinea. Although it is not actually a colony, it is part of our responsibility, and I do not think we should regard it as a foreign country. We have the responsibility of developing and maintaining it, and I repeat that in two work) wars our blood has been shed in living up to that responsibility. This is one particular line of activity which will develop it and bring wealth, comfort and improvement to the natives there. At the present time, the Australian Government is spending more millions of pounds in the development of New Guinea than we are getting out of it, even in terms of its production, and I think both sides of the Parliament are prepared to accept that position. That also is a matter entirely outside the question of party considerations.
Another point that was mentioned by Senator Henty is that the type of timber we are importing from New Guinea is not competitive with the native-produced timber. Oregon, which we import from America, although a soft timber, does ‘compete in some respects with our hard timbers, but the timber we get from New Guinea is not competitive. It is complementary to the Australian production rather than competitive with it. All of that notwithstanding, up to the last fiscal year, the total timber imported under the proposal we are now discussing amounted to onefifth of 1 per cent of Australia’s total production.
The point mentioned by Senator Aylett was a good one, but I assure the Senate that if circumstances change the native timber industry will not be thrown to the wolves. Appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that the Australian native timber industry shall be allowed not merely to survive but to survive in a reasonable, adequate and profitable way. I thank the Senate for its reception of the measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Debate resumed from 12th September (vide page 278), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the following papers be printed: -
Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure, and Estimates of Expenditure for Additions, New Works, and other Services involving Capital Expenditure, for the year ending 30th June, 1957,
The Budget 1956-57 - Papers presented by the Right Hon. Sir Arthur Fadden in connexion with the Budget of 1956-57, and
National Income and Expenditure 1955-56.
Upon which Senator McKenna had moved by way of amendment -
That all the words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof; - “ the Estimates and Budget Papers 1956-57 tabled in the Senate are unacceptable and should be rejected because they seek to implement policies which are seriously detrimental in their effect on the interests of Australia and for which the Government deserves to be censured “.
.- When time cut short my speech last night I promised that, on resuming, I would deal briefly with hire-purchase and time-payment systems in the United States of America. It is a great country.I spent many years there in the days of my youth.
– How old are you now?
– I do not mind saying how old I am. I am 71 years of age but, I suppose, 701 in experience; I should not like to estimate the position in relation to intelligence. I am very humble, and I would not think of placing myself on the same level as the golominkas on the other side. Honorable senators will have to consult a dictionary in order to ascertain the meaning of that word.
– Could not the honorable senator explain its meaning to us?
– No, except in private. I have a great regard for the United States, whose people both think big and act big. I remember on one occasion meeting a general - no, I think he was an admiral, although there is not much difference - at luncheon. It was my privilege to make a short speech of welcome to this important person. I told him of my appreciation of the outlook on life of the people of the United States. I said that they were not afraid to do things in a big way. They also used big words. That was true, because the Americans call a navvy a pick and shovel stiff, a lift an elevator, and a car an automobile. I admire in the Americans the characteristic of frankness. When I was going to work one day I passed a tobacconist’s shop on the window of which was printed in gold letters, “ Step inside; Dudley will rob you decently “. Even when I was in the United States, the Americans were a very advanced people. It is now 40-odd years since I left that delectable country.
On one occasion I was in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, and witnessed the laying down of roads at an astounding rate. If my memory serves me aright, they laid 1 mile of road a day, despite the fact that nobody appeared to work hard. Each man had his own particular job. Thousands “of tons of stones were brought up from the beach on wagons. The various roadmaking machinery was then put into operation, and one could literally see the road growing. What is happening in Australia now in road-making does not bear comparison with what I saw in America 40 years ago. But that is by the way. I wish that we in Australia could copy the Americans in such matters as road-making.
I remember going down to California, where I was struck by the system of fruit packing, particularly of pipless navel oranges. Of course, we now grow a similar variety of orange in Australia. The fruit was delightfully packed. Only recently, I read a newspaper report to the effect that the Americans now wash, wax and polish potatoes before packing them. I could not imagine anything like that being done in Australia, even with potatoes selling at half a crown a pound. It reminded me of the story of the Cockney who was selling gooseberries near Petticoat-lane, in London. The gooseberries that I saw on display there were different from those to which we are accustomed in Australia inasmuch as they had hair on them. The vendor was shouting out, “ Fourpence a pound gooseberries “. A woman came along and, picking one up off the barrow, said, “This is dirty”. He replied, “ Gor blimey, missus, what do you expect? Do you want me to shave and wash them for 4d. a pound? “
I have related these stories for the purpose of enabling myself to settle down to a discussion of the hire-purchase question. Hire purchase is growing in intensity in Australia faster than any of us, including the economists and statesmen on the other side, will admit, and it is adding to the cost of commodities of every description, including motor cars, refrigerators, clothing and furniture. I ask the serious-minded gentlemen on the Government side, who do not like listening to my stories, whether it is not a fact that the development, both in this country and in America, of the hirepurchase system has added to inflation, and will make inflation worse the more it develops. I should like supporters of the Government to direct their attention to that aspect of the matter.
America is further ahead than any other country in the field of hire purchase. A statement that was printed in America about two years ago sets out that millions of families in that country pay in from £40 to £100 a month, in addition to their timepayment instalments, on motor cars, television sets and so on. The productive capacity of the United States is so great, and the need to sell the goods produced is so strong, that traders are now selling, on time payment, with new refrigerators, or other frozen food apparatus, about £100 worth of frozen food. The amount is payable not to the company from whom the refrigerator is bought, but to the bank. The acceptance companies in America are growing fast and strong, just as similar organizations, however designated, are growing in Australia. Here, and in America, the banks also are coming into this business. In some instances, the hire-purchase documents are handed over to a bank, to which repayment instalments are made. There is also in America what is known as a credit ceiling. In Australia we have charge accounts. In America, a bank manager might say to a customer, “ You can have a ceiling account of 1,000 dollars “. Thereafter, the customer can obtain certain goods without the need to make payment other than instalment payments to the bank of so much a month. Honorable senators are accustomed to deductions for insurance, retiring allowance contributions and taxation being shown on their monthly statements. What I am about to say is probably far-fetched, but if the American principle were adopted and expanded, so that there would also appear on our statements deductions in respect of motor cars, refrigerators, frozen food, clothing and so on, in due course we would have a form of capitalist communism under which, instead of getting wages and salaries, we would receive only a monthly statement showing the amounts that had been paid on our account to the various companies. Of course, we shall be relieved of our financial troubles, but we shall also be relieved of our wages and salaries. The modern trend is so to organize things that the future is mortgaged, with the result that many thousands of people in this and other capitalist countries, instead of enjoying the freedom which should rightly be theirs, become the slaves of a capitalistCommunist state. That is because, instead of the freedom which honorable senators opposite claim results from competition, the existence of monopolies removes competition.
The economic development of the United States is such that it produces such vast quantities of goods that the country is forced to adopt a socialist policy, notwithstanding that it claims to be intensely capitalistic, in order to dispose of those goods. It is for that reason that capitalistic America subsidizes its farmers and makes grants of millions of dollars to other countries. Modern capitalism is frequently compelled to get rid of its surplus commodities by adopting a policy of subsidies and charity. We know what happened under the Marshall plan, and now there is a similar movement in Australia under the Colombo plan. I should like to know the value of the money and goods that the capitalist country of Australia has given to Asian countries. We are adopting a form of communism, which honorable senators -opposite claim is abhorrent to them. Those who have studied the economic history of America know that it is one of the countries of the world which have developed home markets successfully.
So successfully has the home market of the United States been developed that that market has become saturated. That is true particularly of the motor vehicle market. America is. producing so many millions of motor cars each year that manufacturers have to have sales drives from time to time in order to dispose of their products. Some time ago a friend of my daughter, who married a very nice American man, with a fair amount of money, wrote a letter in which she included a photograph of a beautiful car that she drove. She told my daughter that her husband also had a beautiful car, but that now the car manufacturers were pressing them to buy a third car - a small vehicle in which they could “ nip into the city and out again “. If they succumb to the pressure, it will mean that that family, consisting of a man, his wife, and two children, will have three motor cars. The writer of the letter went on to say that on Sundays they frequently set out by car to go into the country to enjoy God’s fresh air. They sometimes travel as far as 70 miles from home. She said that as far as the eye could see, before them and behind them, there was a succession of beautiful motor cars travelling bumper to bumper. That is how they enjoy their beautiful country. What a stupid system it is! Millions of dollars are expended in providing roads and by-passes so that the owners of beautiful motor cars may travel from place to place at from 80 to 100 miles an hour. The competition between car manufacturers and, indeed, in almost every branch of industry in America, is becoming greater every year.
With the home market saturated and no longer in need of development, American producers, for the last 20 or 30 years, have sought markets in other countries in competition with the world. That is what happens in every capitalist country. We hear from time to time a great deal of the need for competition, and often 1 have listened to honorable senators opposite speaking in that strain. When we know how monopolies work, some of their statements are indeed laughable. With the growth of monopolies there is a diminution of competition, sometimes resulting practically in its abolition. In the world’s markets American producers have reduced their prices to such a degree that Australia and other countries have difficulty in disposing of their products. The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) has recently visited the United States and Britain in an attempt to meet the situation that has arisen. In America the problem of production has been solved, but the problem of distribution still remains. I have here a cutting from the “ Melbourne Herald “, on 4th September, with the heading ‘ United States pampers farmers “. The cutting shows what is being done by the United States and how other countries have raised objections. Such countries as Australia. Mexico, New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands have told the authorities in Washington that their national economies are suffering because of the subsidizing by America of its products. The trouble is that in all capitalist countries the time comes when there is need to get rid of surplus goods.
Some petty-minded gentlemen would solve our economic problems by taxing single men more, whilst others would take money compulsorily from youths, and place it in banks. The facts are clear for all who run to read. As the economic system develops there must be a new orientation of the parliamentary outlook. It is not sufficient merely to potter with these problems. Something greater than these petty so-called solutions is required. According to a newspaper extract which I hold in my hand, a spokesman of the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that during the current financial year the Government will have spent about 900,000,000 dollars in subsidies. The United States Government pays farmers to produce commodities of every description, but frequently they are not all used, and sometimes large quantities are burned or used as manures. How we can compete with America under those conditions I do not know. The newspaper extract goes on to say that, as at January, 1955, the total loss to the Government since it began to subsidize farmers in 1931, was 8,469,000,000 dollars. Honorable senators will see from those extracts what Australia is up against. Such contradictions are inherent in capitalist countries, all of which are seeking to sell more goods than they buy. The United States is trying to assist other countries to reach a higher standard of economic organization and development, but one inevitable result will be that those countries will become America’s competitors in the world markets.
There was a time when it was customary to belittle Germany, and to say that it could not compete with the tight little isle in the North Sea, but Germany bought machinery from Britain and developed its industries, until the time came when Germany was a strong competitor of Great Britain. To-day, despite the fact that Russia controls East Germany, West Germany is one of Great Britain’s strongest competitors. Great Britain at one time held Australia as a colony, but this country developed until to-day its industrial power has become so great that in some goods such as steel, it is becoming an important competitor with the Mother Country. Therefore, we are up against an economic system that is growing and spreading just as an oak tree grows from an acorn. The oak tree grows little by little, spreads its limbs and develops into a great tree, and in due course dies away.
Although we have stated this principle over and over again during the last 50 or 60 years, I repeat that in the economic life and history of all countries we see the process of birth, growth and decay. Within our own lifetime we have witnessed the development of industrial capitalism. In former days the economic system took the forms of chattel slavery, serfdom and industrial capitalism, but to-day we have monopoly financial capitalism. We have seen this system develop in our own short lives. We in the Labour party are thinkers; we do not just blabber and blurb about little matters - although, of course, we must deal with every-day affairs - but we seek fully to understand what is happening in the world so that we can face our difficulties - not with blatherings, prejudices and stupidity - but by the organized power of centralized government. By that power we seek to avoid the excesses of other countries.
Russia went to the extreme Left and established communism. Undoubtedly that great country has done wonderful work economically, but in doing so millions of its people have been destroyed. We do not want that to happen here. In China the same forces are at work, and there is intense economic organization. The young people are filled with great pride and enthusiasm, and some petty-minded people think that they can stop this awakening of China; but China is going through the same type of development that Russia went through. In due course, like the floods that come and go, communism, as we know it to-day, will die away, and even now in that great country there is growing a great urge towards freedom. We cannot destroy that desire for freedom in the human soul. In developing their communistic system the Russians have had recourse to the intelligentsia of their own and other countries, and that intelligentsia - which is growing every day, because we read in the newspapers that Russia has three or four times the number of technicians that America or England has - will see the evils of the totalitarian State and will become a mighty force in the development of a system which will give freedom to the people of Russia. It is inevitable that that should be so.
We in Australia suffer as they do in Russia, where the government and governmental controls prevent the people from learning the truth about their own and other countries. The same sort of thing happens here, because if honorable senators ask Senator O’sullivan - who is the -Leader of the Government in this chamber - questions about current affairs, he cannot tell us anything. The truth will prevail, however, and the more that we know of Russia, China and Hitlerite Germany, and the methods adopted to impose totalitarian systems on the people, and the mistakes that were made in those countries, the better it will be for Australia. If we know all that, we shall be able to avoid the mistakes made by those people and instead of going through a period of heart-breaking and souldestroying dictatorship, we shall organize our industrial and political system in such a way that we shall give the greatest amount of freedom to our people and develop our country to the greatest possible extent.
I believe in the policy of my party, and 1 am still enthusiastic about it, despite my years. I believe that we have a mission to perform despite the fact that here and there we find dogs at our heels barking and biting. The Australian Labour party has a mission to perform. We understand economic development, and I know that we shall in due course convince the people that we can bring about peace and security in this country without destroying that freedom which has been so hardly won by thousands of our fellow men in the past. Let us preserve freedom as much as possible, but let us give security to the people. Instead of damping down imports and mucking about with the economic system, let us use every ounce of energy in the country as has been done in America, China and Japan. I recently read a report in the press to the effect that the Japanese Government is going to move a whole village of 12,000 people - I think the name of the village is Manakuma - to Paraguay where Ernie Lane and his brother Bill Lane went 50 or 60 years ago. I have also read that about 25,000,000 Chinese have been passed over the border before their due course of life had been, run, and I do not applaud China for that. But it is a fact that China and its people have wakened. The Yellow River in China, the river of sorrows, is about 3,000 miles long, and through the long history of China millions of people have been swept away and drowned by floods from the river. The Chinese Communist Government has started to build 46 dams to control that river.
At present, in South Australia, there are great floods, but with the administration divided between six States and one Menzies Government, we have taken no effective action. We have thousands of soldiers, and workers of every description, and yet we allow a flood to destroy millions of pounds worth of goods, destroy fruit trees and homes and agricultural land, and cause want and misery. What do we do about that in this democratic country? We just potter about. Hundreds of good Australians went voluntarily to the flood areas and assisted the people there, but if we were a bigminded people we would not have bothered about hostility between the State and federal governments, but would have sent thousands of soldiers down there to build up the levees and save the country from inundation. I agree with many of the remarks made by Senator Buttfield when she recently spoke about the floods in South Australia. I believe that we should make that country safe from floods, just as the Chinese are making the country about the Yellow River safe from floods.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator O’Byrne). - Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– It is with pleasure that 1 rise to support this budget. Despite the wailings that have come from honorable senators on the Opposition side, there are many good things in this budget, and it is time the people of Australia were told about them. One would think, listening to the Opposition, that there is nothing in thi budget to benefit the people. I shall refer to many things that the people have long wanted, and that are provided for in these budget proposals. As a supporter of the Government, I congratulate the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) on this budget, and on the record he has set, as this is the ninth budget that he has presented.
I congratulate honorable senators who delivered their maiden speeches in this chamber last night. All of us enjoyed the rare treat that they provided, and I believe that the new senators will add lustre to the debates in this chamber.
The budget is a responsible and sane budget, lt shows clearly that the Treasurer accepts fully the responsibilities of his position. That applies also to the members of the Cabinet. It is good for us to remember at this time the problems that faced Australia when this Government was elected to office. Those problems were very serious. Some of them have already been mentioned, but we should remind ourselves of them. There were shortages and rationing of many commodities. The housing problem was at its worst, and we even had to import coal. Petrol was strictly rationed. This Government promised to overcome those difficulties, and it has kept its promise. The country is now in a much happier situation after passing through some of the most momentous occasions in our history. To-day, thanks to the leadership of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), Australia stands high among the nations of the world, and we should be proud of it. Those are the things we should remember, instead of listening to the wailing of honorable senators on the Opposition side. I am proud of this Govern ment, and of the Treasurer.
Let me now mention certain points in the budget. Particular attention has been paid to income tax, and I direct attention to the benefits that will be granted to families by the concession for education expenses. This Government will always be remembered as a family man’s government because it has always had a particular care for the needs of families. As early as 1952, the Government introduced a concessional allowance for expenses incurred by a taxpayer in the education of children under 21 years of age. At first, a limit of £50 was set for each child, but, realizing the importance of this concession, the Government raised the maximum amount in 1953 to £75. The scope of the concession was widened to include any expenditure necessarily incurred in connexion with the full-time education of a child, and that is very important to the family unit. The Government was not content with that concession, however, and has decided that the maximum deduction allowed should be raised from £75 to £100. Many parents will be pleased by that additional benefit.
I have been particularly interested in the assistance that is to be given, by way of tax concessions for gifts, of £1 and upwards, to organizations which are concerned with the welfare of the community, such as the Royal Australian College of Surgeons, the Royal Australian College of Physicians and the colleges which are concerned with the training of nurses. A question that was asked to-day showed clearly that the people are thinking of those who wish to train for those professions. Those groups will receive valuable assistance through the tax concessions on gifts that are proposed in this budget.
I was also pleased to note that the timber industry is to be given assistance by tax concessions for money expended on the construction of roads and bridges giving access to timber stands. That has been a problem of some concern to the people in the timber industry, and I am pleased that this assistance is to be given.
We are also pleased to note that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) has again considered the problems of families, as this Government has frequently done previously in all fields: There is a provision in the budget to increase the rates of education allowances, payable under the soldiers’ children education scheme, by weekly amounts ranging from 5s. for children of twelve to fourteen years living at home, to £1 7s. 6d. for students undertaking professional training and living away from home. That is another provision of which we should be proud, because such concessions go right into the homes and assist family life.
The National Welfare Fund is very important, and I am pleased to note that assistance is to be given to civilian widows. Ever since I was first elected to the Senate, I have sought assistance for civilian widows, particularly when their youngest child reaches the age of sixteen years. That is recorded in “ Hansard “ and in other documents. Civilian widows are faced with a big problem when the youngest child becomes sixteen. Often the widow is in her middle 40’s, and is not able to get a pension until she reaches the age of 50. That has often meant tragedy for widows, particularly for those who have stayed at home to care for their children as they should. They are then faced with what I have called previously the blank years during which they receive no pension. It is hard for them to find an occupation, because they have not been employed for some years. Often those widows are in indifferent health. I read with pleasure that special provision is to be made for them. The Government proposes to ensure that a widow who loses her entitlement to pension when between the ages of 45 and 50 because her youngest child, or only child, attains the age of sixteen years will immediately become eligible for a widow’s pension of £3 7s. 6d. a week, subject to the appropriate means test. Instead of having to wait, as she had to wait previously, during those long years until she reached the age of 50, she now gets that assistance, and I believe that it is tremendously important. t am also pleased that in respect of widows, with one or more children under sixteen years of age, at present receiving a pension of £4 5s. a week, it is proposed to increase the pension by 10s. a week for each child after the first. That, too, will be of tremendous assistance. A similar increase is proposed for invalid pensioners. In that instance, the pension, which is a maximum of £4 a week, will be increased, subject to the means test, by 10s. a week in respect of each child after the first. Of course, such pensioners already receive an allowance of lis. 6d. a week in respect of the first child. Those increases will be of great assistance to recipients.
I shall now speak for a moment about what I believe is a very real problem in this community. I believe, as I feel sure all honorable senators do, that the problem of aged people is something to which, we must give a great deal of thought and which we must face in many ways. We all realize that with the aid of modern science, medicine and medical care, people will have an increasingly longer expectation of life. Consequently, they will need care and attention for longer periods than is now the case, and we shall have to approach the whole problem of age on a much wider basis. I do not pretend to have the answer to this problem but it is something that all people must consider - governments, State and Federal, and possibly municipal councils, and voluntary organizations. As life is prolonged as the result of advances made in medical science, we must endeavour to ensure that the additional years shall be happily filled. I do not think we can approach this problem simply as one that touches the pension field: there is much more involved in it than the provision of a pension whatever the amount of that pension may be. It is primarily a human problem and it must be dealt with accordingly.
– It is a problem of giving service.
That is so. No matter on which side of politics we are, no matter what organization we are interested in, we should give some thought to this problem. In the United States of America - I regret I have not the relevant publication with me - real efforts have been made to find ways in which people might enjoy themselves by engaging in some kind of recreational occupation or in occupying themselves as they may wish. Such activity gives them a feeling that they have a sense of responsibility in doing something they enjoy. It provides not only physical assistance but also mental assistance, and ensures to them a means of happiness in their later years. That is what we must consider. The problem is something bigger than simply providing pensions. We must look also to the problem of loneliness and consider the assistance we can give in this field.
I have always been very concerned about age pensioners who live alone, perhaps in a room for which they pay a rental, and have no one to care for them. That is one of the greatest problems facing us and I urge the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) to find some way in which that section of the community can be assisted. They may include people who are in indifferent health. I urge that further consideration be given along those lines 1 am particularly pleased with one very excellent provision in the budget. The Government proposes to consult with the States with a view to introducing in 1956-57, a scheme for subsidizing, on a £l-for-£l basis with the States, voluntary organizations conducting home nursing services. This is a splendid step forward. I am sure most honorable senators are acquainted with the work of the home nursing services. The grand Blue Nursing Service in my own State conducted by the Methodist Church readily comes to my mind. The nurses go into the homes of ill persons who, in many instances, are aged. There may be no one who can really care for such persons. We all know what it is to be ill and, worse stil>, what it is to be ill and alone. We know how some one is needed to ease the pain, to shake the pillows and make the bed a bit more comfortable so that the patient can settle down. That is what these nurses do. They not only bring care and help to patients but also give them a feeling of security, and, I think one can’ say, safety also, because the patient knows that the nursing sister will be back at the time she said she would come and that she will give the needle or medicine to ease the pain. Organizations that are doing work of this kind need a tremendous lot of help. The provision made in the budget in this respect is one great way in which this Government is helping in this very important field of social services, particularly in the care of age and invalid pensioners. I am sure we all support that provision and will be glad when the scheme comes into operation. I feel sure that the State government!! will also assist.
One of the greatest steps this Government has taken has been in the provision of housing for aged people. I remember so well, as you do, sir, when that legislation came before this chamber. That simple, small bill introduced the required machinery to assist those various homes and settlements for aged people. Honorable senators will recall particularly the provision to enable aged couples to live together in the latter years of their married lives in the comfort and security that is provided by religious and charitable organizations. I am glad to say that already 140 applications have been approved, accounting for an expenditure of ‘£1,623,395. As a result, the number of people to be accommodated will be 2,759. That is a wonderful thing for a government to have done. If any honorable senator who has visited any of these splendid homes for aged people, as I have done, and seen the cottage system working, knowing that it is being assisted by money provided under budgets of this Government, he will feel as I do that here is further evidence that this Government realizes the need for the housing and care of aged people. Not only has the Government realized that need; it has done the job of providing assistance, and that is the important thing. That is something with which we should be proud to be associated.
I should now like to speak about something in connexion with aged people, about which I have thought for a long time. I cannot give the answer to the problem and, unfortunately, I cannot even tell honorable senators how to work it out. Perhaps, I cannot even make it sound real to honorable senators; but I desire to express this thought because I want everybody to think about it. The solution to the problem may not come within the province of the Commonwealth Government; it may more properly be the concern of philanthropic bodies or State governments, I do not know. If honorable senators will bear with me for a short time, perhaps what I have to say may sow the seed of some idea which will be of benefit. I suppose that many honorable senators have faced the problem of bringing ill people, particularly in big States like Queensland or Western Australia, long distances by railway to a base hospital where they can receive special treatment. We know the problem of hospital beds to-day; we know the great need there is for them and how soon a hospital bed is required again. We bring a person many hundreds of miles because he needs some particular treatment which can be given only in a hospital. This age pensioner is kept in bed for some time, and given the treatment necessary up to that point of time. If he lives in the city he can be sent home and can return to the hospital; as and when further treatment is required. Virtually, he is then an out-patient. But if he lives somewhere on the border of Queensland and the Northern Territory, it is a long way for him to travel back to the hospital. Two alternatives present themselves - a long expensive journey for an old, sick man, or a further stay in a hospital bed when there is really no need for it for the time being, so that he will occupy for some weeks hospital accommodation that could have been available to another patient. I cannot say what the hospital would decide to do in such a case.
I wish to pass on to the Senate a suggestion for its earnest consideration. Could a small settlement of cottages be established within reasonable reach of hospitals, similar to the cottages for aged persons, where a pensioner patient could stay with wife or husband, as the case may be, during the period of out-patient treatment? Such patients would not be permanent occupants for the remainder of their days as are those who occupy the cottages for aged persons, and the scheme would enable husband and wife to be together at a time when medical attention is vitally necessary to restore the patient to good health. I know of several cases in which patients- - one of whom lived at Darwin - would not. stay near the hospital to receive out-patient treatment because that would involve separation from the only person in the world who mattered to him, his wife. Not only would such cottage accommodation enable old couples to be together, but it would also solve the problem of bed accommodation at the hospital. I hope that some day, somehow, a scheme will be devised to bring this proposal to fruition. These old people will not have many more years together, and in time of sickness everything possible should be done to provide them with proper medical attention, and ensure that they will not be separated. The cottages could be used again and again, and would be a means of assisting many aged persons in their time of need of medical treatment.
I add my congratulations to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) upon the presentation of this budget, and commend him for the courage which he has shown at all times. It is always easy to do the popular thing, but it is a courageous and responsible Treasurer who does the right thing for the country. That has been the principle which the Treasurer has followed. ‘ As we go forward into another financial year I am confident that Australia will advance into an era of wonderful development and great prosperity. A government that considers the needs of all sections of the community, particularly those who require economic assistance, that appreciates the economic problems Of the family and is alive to the needs of the defence of this great country will ensure the welfare of this young nation, which once more is showing that it can take its place nobly and well among the nations of the world.
– I offer my congratulations to the three new senators who made very worthwhile contributions to this debate. It is always refreshing to have new members come into the chamber and offer their views, particularly in a budget debate. They are full of enthusiasm and have high ideals, because they have not yet suffered the frustrations which inevitably come after years of membership in Parliament.
– lt seems that my friend, Senator Wright, has not suffered frustrations, but like many of us, as time goes on, he will be engulfed in them, lt has been pleasing to hear the new senators put forward their views clearly and with enthusiasm. I sympathize with them because of their optimism. They are under the impression that their Government will do something, lt has been strange to hear older supporters of the Government offering their congratulations to their Treasurer on a magnificent budget. I suppose one becomes used to these twists and turns of political casuistry, but one occasionally feels like Alice in Wonderland upon hearing congratulations offered for a magnificent budget which contains nothing. I suppose that is all part of our parliamentary experience.
– Government senators ought to be apologizing for the budget.
– I should have thought so, too, but as I have said, we become used to this synthetic enthusiasm over the efforts of the Treasurer which, as my colleague suggests, merit disapproval rather than congratulation. The new senators obviously feel as others felt when this Government first took office. There was a spirit of enthusiasm abroad because of its promises that it would do something worth while. I recall the time when this Government offered itself to the people of Australia, and announced a magnificent policy of what it intended to do.
– Hear, hear!
– I endorse the applause of Senator Wright, lt was a magnificent charter.
– The Government has done it all.
– I do not agree with my friend. The Government is all done, and it has not done much. Let us examine what the Government put to the people of Australia some six years ago. I have no doubt that if the Labour party had been able honestly to submit such a programme it would have won a good deal of approval, but at that time, when inflation was on the move, members of the Government party said that they knew how to prevent further inflation and how to put value back into the £1. That has become a rather hackneyed phrase over the last few years, and we must be realistic in considering the programmes that are put forward. Even at the risk of offending, I must point out the programme upon which the Government won the approval of the people of Australia. It said it would put value back into the £1. That was a very fine promise, and if it could have been carried out something worthwhile certainly would have been done. As the people of Australia were suffering from fairly heavy taxation at that time, the promise to reduce taxation held a great deal of appeal. The Government said still further that there was no need to increase pension rates because, when value was put back into the £1, the effective value of pensions would rise automatically and that sounded most attractive. The Government also said that it knew how it would be possible to abolish the means test and promised to do that within a couple of years. Certainly, the programme it offered to the people six years ago was most attractive and I have no doubt that at that time there might have been some members of the Government party who believed that the Government had the ability to carry it out.
Over the last six years, we have seen what the Government has done about putting this programme into effect. At the outset, it said, “ It takes a bit of time to do what we promised to do. We cannot expect to do it all in five minutes, and we need time to straighten things out “. We were prepared to accept that, but after a couple of years the Government said, “ Things have become a little worse. We have not been able to arrest the drop in the value of the £1, but we shall get round to that later. In the meantime, we shall have to increase taxation for a little while and we will remove some controls although we shall have to reimpose them later but, all in all, things will be all right in a year or so “. That is the type of story we have been hearing year after year. One would expect that, just as a person who has been sold a gold brick by a confidence man would be wary when that confidence man returned and offered to sell him the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the post office clock, the people would be cautious when the Government put forward these programmes; but, extraordinarily enough, time after time since 1949 the people of Australia have elected the Government on those programmes. Time after time, the Government has gone blatantly before the people with these programmes and, apparently, has succeeded in deluding them into believing that eventually something would be done.
That brings us to the present budget. Honorable senators on the Government side have been telling us what a good budget it is. In actual fact, it makes no attempt to do any of the things which the Government has been promising to do over the years. It makes no attempt to cope with the problems with which the Government said it was capable of grappling and to which it claimed to have the answers. It makes no concession to the poor people of the community, and, in all the circumstances, one marvels how honorable senators on the Government side can congratulate the Government on a budget which clearly indicates that the Government is bankrupt of ideas, that it has not been honest in the promise it has made to the people of Australia over the years, and that it has no faith in the future of Australia. One of the new members of the Senate accused the Opposition of being Jeremiahs because we complain about the way in which the Government is carrying on its activities. He said that our attitude does not tend to promote confidence in the future of Australia. If anything can be said to be calculated’ to destroy our faith in the future of this great country, it is the document which has been presented, to us by the Treasurer on this occasion. When we find inflation increasing at a higher rate than ever before, when we find our overseas funds running low, our defences in a state of unpreparedness for immediate mobilization and our roads crumbling and unable to carry the ordinary traffic moving between our capital cities, and when our old people, who are suffering great hardships, are denied even cost of living adjustments, we cannot be expected to have great confidence in the future of our nation.
I submit that the Treasurer has presented to the people of Australia a budget which clearly shows that the Government has no answer to the problems confronting this great country and that the Government has failed to grapple with those problems. The Government has said that it disagrees with the views put forward by the Labour party, that it does not believe in controls or in planning. I submit that in a modern community, if we fail to plan we shall soon reach a state of chaos. The Australian economy is rapidly approaching that condition now. Unless we have clear thinking and clear planning for the conservation and development of our national resources, there is a danger that we shall drift into a state that will be calamitous for the people of the nation. I say this not as a Jeremiah nor as an extreme pessimist. I say it as a warning to those people who think in terms of what was possible 30 years ago, when it was possible to carry on more or less with a policy of laisser-faire and still muddle through fairly efficiently. In a modern economy such as ours, it is impossible to develop unless thought and planning are put into effect and unless we impose the controls necessary for the carrying out of those plans. I was somewhat amused to hear Senator Annabelle Rankin say that when this Government took office, the nation was suffering from all kinds of shortages, and that there were black markets, and so on.
– That is right.
– It is perfectly true,’ of course. But the fact is that we had been through a major war during which all of our resources were devoted to the prosecution of the war.
– This Government came to office four years after the war terminated.
– Six years after the present Government came to office there were-
– No black markets!
– Let me remind Senator Scott, who is interjecting, that there was greater chaos after six years of this Government’s administration than when it came to office four years after the end of the war. The honorable senator said that, six years after this Government came to office there were no black markets. I point out that, if a person is fortunate enough to-day to have an import quota, he can make a profit of from 15 per cent, to 20 per cent, by merely handing over his import licence to another person.
– That is business!
– I suggest that this is the worst kind of black marketing that has ever been carried on in Australia, and it is condoned by the Government. The extraordinary thing is that this Government, which has the power to issue import licences, allows advertisements to be inserted in the daily press offering up to 15 per cent, and 20 per cent, for the right to use an import licence issued to somebody else.
– The Government is protecting the profiteers.
– I am very concerned with the fact that the Government has allowed a situation to develop in which black marketeers can use government regulations in order to carry on their nefarious activities. It might be true that, in the days of shortages, ‘ there was some black marketing carried on in Australia, but it was not condoned by the government. The black marketeers were not assisted by the government, as those who are trading in import licences to-day are assisted. I remind Senator Scott that in Australia, four years after the end of the war, there was full employment. There was a stable economy ^ and there had been only a relatively small rise of prices during the ten years from 1930 to 1940.
– Was there full employment in 1949?
– Have a look at the figures.
– Senator Scott is perfectly entitled to look at the figures and to cite them, but if he proposes only to shout interjections across the chamber to the effect that full employment did not exist in 1949, 1 can only shout back at him that that condition did obtain then. Indeed, during the whole of the time that Labour was in office, it managed to maintain a state of full employment. Furthermore, Labour was instrumental in having the full-employment objective written into the Charter of the United Nations.
– Have a look at what Mr. Haylen said.
– I do not know what Mr. Haylen said, nor do I know what the Duke of Wellington’ said in 1850, but I do know that what I am saying to the Senate this afternoon–
– Is it the truth?
– It is as near to the truth as what the Government has put forward. If Senator Scott thinks that what 1 am saying is illogical, he has a perfect right to rise in his place and say so. 1 was endeavouring to point out to the Senate that Australia, having emerged from the war period, and having settled down to a stable economy, this Government said in 1 949, “ We can make things better than they are “. In the period that it has been in office, the Government has had ample opportunity to do the things that it said it would do. There have been excellent crops, very good prices, and the wool clips have been a record.
– And, at the last election, the Government obtained a bigger majority than ever!
– That may be so, but as I have said before, even the fellow who sells gold bricks can get away with it once or twice, and I suppose that this Government has not yet been found out. What really worries me is the thought of where Australia is going under the present Administration. Having taken over the reins of government at a time of great prosperity, and having had ample opportunity to do something towards the development of Australia, honorable senators opposite have fallen down on the job. The budget offers no hope to the people of Australia, no encouragement, and no assistance to those on fixed incomes and in the low-income groups. The only concession that the budget offers is a miserable amount of about £2,000,000 in relation to taxation deductions for school fees, which does not affect the low-income earners in any case. I should like to see the low-income earners able to spend £300 a year on the education of their children.
– But about £229,000,000 has to be found for the repayment of loans which will soon mature.
– So what?
– Does not the honorable senator believe that provision should be made to redeem those loans?
– I think that the Government should have made adequate provision for that purpose during the last six years. In view of the good seasons that have been enjoyed during that period, the Government should have the game by the throat.
– Particularly as the loans will be repaid in inflated currency.
– That is so. If we were unfortunate enough now to suffer a severe drought, or if the price of wool dropped, this country would be in a serious plight.
– My word, it would!
– Senator Maher agrees with me that we would really be in difficulty then. I see no reason to congratulate the Government on the budget. On the contrary, I believe that if this Government remains in office for much longer the people - of Australia will find their economy in such a tangled mess that even a Labour government would have great difficulty in restoring stability. Quite frankly, I am disappointed with the Government’s performance during the last twelve months, and I am disappointed with the budget. I believe that if, instead of introducing the budget, the Government had carried on by means of a supply bill, nobody would have been any the worse. I should like to say that I want to help the Government. That has been my desire for some time.
– It is beyond help.
– The first matter on which I should like to assist, not only the Government but also the people of Australia, is in connexion with the recurrence of disastrous floods, bush fires and other national catastrophes. Last year, I raised for discussion in this chamber the subject of recurring floods in the Hunter Valley.
Any one who has had an opportunity to see the distress that follows these great calamities must have come to the conclusion that the Government should do everything possible to prevent a recurrence of such happenings in the future. Recently, there was a motion for the adjournment of the Senate in order to discuss floods. I suggest that we have talked about the matter far too long, and I am afraid that that most recent discussion is now merely a matter of history, because 1 see no evidence that the Government has taken to heart what it was told, or recognizes that it is necessary to do something about these national disasters. From time to time, Australia is visited by bushfires, floods and droughts, which, all honorable senators will agree, are national calamities. I suggest that the Australian Government, which controls the money of Australia and is now more powerful than any previous government has been, ought to be giving directions to the nation, and by its administrative acts setting an example of planning and development with a view to protecting the country against these devastating tragedies. The Government has shown no resolute intention to do anything in this field. When a flood or other calamity, such as the flood which is causing much destruction in South Australia at the present time, occurs, it is not sufficient merely to discuss the matter and express sympathy with those who suffer, and then forget the whole matter. The time has come for the Government to tackle these problems and, therefore, I suggest to the Government that during the present financial year plans should be developed to prevent, as far as possible, the devastation caused by floods and other such occurrences. Honorable senators will recall that during the war we had in operation a scheme providing for war damage insurance. Under that scheme, people whose property was damaged as a result of war were granted some compensation. Something along similar lines might well be considered by the Government in connexion with these recurring disasters. I do not know whether it is a matter for the Department of National Development, but some government department should tackle this problem, and present a report to this Parliament before the next budget session. If that were done, the people of Australia would be given some reason to hope that effective action was at least contemplated.
Now that so much is being said about the possibility of another war, I am appalled to find how our defences have drifted. It is tragic to realize that, at the moment, the main highway between Melbourne and
Sydney is little better than a bush track. Honorable senators will remember that during World War II. that road was used daily by a great number of defence vehicles. Should another war break out, that highway and, indeed, many other roads in this country, would be vital links in our defence. Therefore, it is appalling to realize that, at the moment, it would be well nigh impossible to move a body of troops from Sydney to Melbourne by road. I suggest that, whatever Minister is in control of that aspect of our defences, he should assist the States to put our roads in good condition. When this matter is raised in this Parliament it is customary for Ministers to adopt an escapist policy, and say that roads are the responsibility of the States. I suggest that that is merely shelving the problem, without facing it. This Government has the power to raise the finance that is needed, and it ought to assist the States with the grave problems associated with ensuring that the nation is in a condition to fight a war, if necessary.
I desire now to say a few words regarding the plight of age pensioners, and their relationship to this budget. For a year they have tried to exist on a meagre pittance of £4 a week, while all the time the prices of commodities have risen alarmingly. Recently, I went into a shop in Newcastle and bought a potato. I admit that it was a fairly large potato, but it cost me 2s. I felt that I should have bought it on the lay-by system. We should not expect these old people in the community to live on the pittance granted to them a year ago.
– Onions cost ls. 9d. per lb.
– The prices charged for foodstuffs are frightening. A few weeks ago we had the extraordinary spectacle of a number of old people coming to Canberra and being prepared to sit on the steps of Parliament House all night, in the cold, in order to bring to the attention of the Government the pitiable state in which they and other pensioners were placed. Anybody who is prepared to spend a cold night in August or September outside a building in Canberra must feel that he has a sound case to present. Unfortunately, it is true that £4 a week is not sufficient to buy food and provide the other necessaries of life, and so, when I hear Ministers say that Australia’s problems are due to its great prosperity I feel that they hold some extraordinary views at a time when hundreds of thousands of our people have to go cold and hungry.
Senator Annabelle Rankin advocated the provision of more homes for the aged. I agree with her that that should be done, but I could not understand her reasoning, or her statement that between 2,000 and 3,000 houses had been provided by the Government. The honorable senator claimed that that was a magnificent achievement on the part of the Government. I say that until the Government can house all the old people in Australia, and feed them, none of us has anything of which to boast. If we are so povertystricken, or so over-prosperous, that we cannot find a few shillings to enable old people to have enough to eat, there is something wrong with our administration. Senator Annabelle Rankin put forward some views on housing, and following along her line of argument I would suggest that the Government could well set up a joint committee of this Senate to deal with housing and so help to solve the housing problem. I well remember the work of the Social Security Committee, on which the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) who is at present in charge of the Senate, rendered most valuable service. He and I were colleagues for many years on that committee. We tackled many social problems, and we were able to present many worth-while reports on them to the Parliament. We sifted a whole lot of evidence, and ultimately made recommendations which were adopted by the Parliament. If the Government sincerely wants to do something to help the aged, it should set up a joint committee of the Senate to investigate their problems and make recommendations to the Senate. The Government should then carry out whatever recommendations were made.
Widows and other recipients of social service benefits have been completely for.gotten in this budget. Moreover, the budget will do nothing to add to the progress of Australia, because it merely indicates that we are no better off than we were twelve months ago. In fact, we are a little worse off, and the Government does not expect that things will be any better in the next twelve months. It will merely try to hold our present economic position. Australia is a young country, rich in mineral resources, and with great potential pastoral development. It has a great immigration scheme. It is, altogether, in a most favoured position, and with any sort of wise administration at all we should be able to be at least a little better off each year. However, in the present budget the Government can offer no hope to us at all for any improvement in the future. It cannot say to those who have been struggling along on pensions, “ At least we can give you the little extra that it now costs you to live “. The Government cannot say to the pensioners that next year things will be better, and that our social services and developmental programmes will help all concerned. The Government does not say that within months it will be able to give relief to the people. It offers no hope at all.
– The position is that there is no position.
– I am afraid that that interjection is a bit too deep for .me, but it is probably perfectly correct if my friend Senator Grant says it. I now intend to offer a few suggestions upon which 1 hope the Government will take some action. During past years I have from time to time asked the Government to set up a committee on national development. I believe that this Parliament should be the agency to oversee the planning of Australia, and that the Parliament should work out a continuing plan which would be carried on from year to year. I suggest that the Senate could be used as a reservoir from which to draw committees whose work would be the drawing up of plans for the national development of this country.
– Hear, hear!
– I knew that my friend Senator Scott would agree with that proposition. I also ask the Government to investigate the possibility of preventing the recurring natural disasters that overtake our people from time to time. Senate committees could be used also to investigate the social problems inherent ‘in our present system. Those are the three suggestions that I make to the Government for the improving of our economy. If the Government will accept them and do something about them before the next budget is presented to the Parliament, it will at least have done something to assist in the development of Australia.
I hope that in the coming year people on fixed incomes will receive some relief. None of us can be complacent, and say that those to whom we have paid pensions year after year on the most meagre scale have received all that they should get from this country. Although the age pension was increased last year it was not increased to a fair pension, and under this budget we are merely holding the position. This year the people on fixed incomes will be forced to carry the increased cost of foodstuffs. That is not fair in a young country like Australia, which should be rich enough to care for those who are not able to care for themselves. Therefore, I urge that some relief should be given to the age and invalid pensioners as early as possible. lt is not possible for this nation to go on much longer with an unplanned laisserfaire economy. The Government must face up to its problems, and whether it likes controls or not it has to plan our economy and apply the necessary controls wherever they are found to be necessary. In that way it will give to the people some hope and encouragement that in the coming year things will be better. Professor Fitzgerald who recently returned from China has told us that the people of China believe that they are now doing something to build up their nation, and that they therefore have confidence in China and a desire and determination to work hard. It is of no use to tell the Australian workman that things are bad and that we have to freeze his wages. If we want him to increase his production we have to infuse the same spirit into him as that which now animates the Chinese. That is the feeling that if he works harder he will participate in the rewards of his effort. If he offers more to his country, his country will give him something better. We have to convince our people that we are really advancing, and so give them some encouragement to settle down and work hard. They should understand that by building more and more into Australia they are building a better home for Australians.
Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) [4.251.- At the outset, I wish to congratulate the . honorable senators who delivered their maiden speeches in this chamber last night. All honorable senators were of the opinion that they acquitted themselves very well and, as time goes on, they will make a valuable contribution to the debates. I am sure they appreciate that, from now on, they will be subject to the cut and thrust of debate which all of us give and receive. I assure them, however, that in this chamber we maintain a measure of dignity and decorum which is not so evident elsewhere.
The debate that is now in progress stems from the budget which was born on 30th August, when the Acting Prime Minister and Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) delivered his budget speech. It has been called a holding budget and I think that is a fairly good description of it. The budget documents really portray an examination of the national economy, and this debate is similar to that occasion in the United States of America each year when they have an address to the nation. The budget estimate shows that revenue in the current financial year will reach the astronomical figure of £1,230,000,000. That is an increase of £99,500,000 on last year. The budget provides for a surplus of revenue over expenditure of about £108,700,000. That surplus is to be directed to the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve. The figure of £108,700,000 has been subject to some debate by the Opposition.
– And by supporters of the Government, also.
– That is true. We have to .examine this proposal in the correct perspective. The plain truth is that, during the current financial year, loans amounting to about £259,000,000 will fall due for conversion or retirement. That money was lent by the people of the nation during World War II. The fact is that a prudent treasurer must have some regard to the future in this connexion. The private sector of the economy is able, during an era of prosperity, to offer attractive terms for the borrowing of money and obviously, the Government in those circumstances will have difficulty in converting £259,000,000.
Some reference has been made to the hire-purchase companies which are inviting the people to lend them money at substantial rates of interest. Senator Brown spoke critically of those institutions. It should be appreciated that they are an essential part of a prosperous economy. Because our economy is prosperous, the hirepurchase companies can put that money to work because the community at large can afford to pay a rate of interest considerably in excess of the rate that we, as a government authority can offer. Under our Constitution, there are some difficulties in dealing with hire-purchase companies. The States, which have no written Constitution, have all the authority in the world to deal with hire-purchase companies, but they have failed to do so. Some State governments are of the same political colour as honorable senators on the Opposition side. That applies to New South Wales, where the problem is the greatest.
In addition to providing for loan conversions totalling £259,000,000 in this financial year, the Commonwealth Government must be prepared to meet the demands of the States. The Commonwealth’s contribution to the States this year will be about £243,700,000, an increase of £23,200,000 over the previous year. The Commonwealth also gives to the States all the money it can borrow. The Commonwealth, in the interests of the States, has been trying to carry on its own works from revenue. The plain fact is that Australia is a prosperous, developing nation. Some reference has been made to unemployment, but I remind honorable senators that the unemployment ratio in Australia now is about one-half of 1 per cent.
I examined the figures this morning, and I noticed a very significant point. Putting aside the period in 1949 when there was a coal strike and 600,000 persons were out of work, the unemployment figure in 1.949, when the Labour Government was in office, was about equal to the present figure. The number of unemployed registered was about 10,000. I need not remind honorable senators that a very important member of the Opposition in another place has made an historic reference to unemployment. He said that for all intents and purposes an unemployment figure between 4 per cent, and 5 per cent, can be regarded as a normal full employment figure. He had in mind, I presume, the fluctuation in employment because of the seasonal nature of our industries. It is fair comment to say that to-day, despite all that has been said in this debate, we are a prosperous and developing nation. I quote from the White Paper on National Income and Expenditure 1955-56, at page 8, as follows: -
The total increase in personal income in 1955-56 was £252,000,000 or 7 per cent, over the 1954-55 level. Of this amount, increased payments of taxation absorbed £28,000,000 leaving persons with an increase of £224,000,000 in disposable income.
The basis of anything I have to say is that we are, in fact, at this point still a prosperous, happy and contented nation. We have our economic problems, and one would be unwise not to recognize them. However, although this is the budget debate, and I am permitted under the Standing Orders to talk on any given subject, I shall resist the temptation to do so. I feel that I should direct my humble consideration to actual issues.
The two issues with which I wish to deal are, first, that we have reached a situation in which we have an adverse trade balance; and, secondly, that we have had over a period of years a high rate of inflation. Those are the two economic ills with which we are confronted. An adverse trade balance is not peculiar to Australia; indeed, at present, it is almost a world-wide phenomenon in the free world. If it is any comfort to honorable senators opposite, it exists in countries such as Norway and Sweden which have almost socialistcontrolled governments. It exists also in Eire, and most certainly in England. Last night, Senator Brown gave us a dissertation on what Sir Anthony Eden had to say about Britain’s trade balances. So, the problem of an adverse trade balance is not something peculiar to Australia.
I have read, as no doubt other honorable senators have, that certain economists say,’ “ Do not worry about it; let it run, let it flow and it will adjust itself in the ultimate “. Of course, that would be a cruel thing to do because in the process of adjustment the economy of this country would take a terrific thrashing; and when that happens the humble person, the person who can least afford it, ultimately takes the knock. Reducing the problem to a simple form we can liken it to the case of a fellow who is spending money at the rate of £20 a week when he has an income of only £15 a week. He is borrowing £1 a week and has £100 in the bank. Every week he drops back about £4. While he has a little bit of money in the bank he can keep going, but when his savings bank balance drops to less than £4 he is finished. He must then cut his coat according to his cloth. We do not want to get into such a position. We have to strike a figure and see that our overseas balances do not fall below it, bearing in mind that we need, on our present budget figures, something like £800,000,000 to buy overseas the things we require. We must have a floating balance. Our international reserves, I understand, are at the figure of £335,000,000. I do not think we should let them fall any lower.
– How are we going to stop them from falling?
– I propose to make suggestions along that line, but I must admit that that is the 64 dollar question; it is the question that the whole world is asking - “ How do you do it? “ One can only make his contribution. During the year our floating balance fell by £73,000,000,” despite heavy import restrictions. There was a time when our overseas balance was over £1,000,000,000. Nobody in his true senses would have suggested that we should have left it at that figure. To have done so would have been to act like a fellow who has a huge savings account but never uses any of his savings to obtain some of the comforts and enjoyments of life. That huge balance was accumulated during the war years when we built up overseas reserves. In the expanding years after the war it was proper and sensible that we should use some of that balance; and in doing so we reduced the balance.
– We gave, first, £35,000,000 and then £55,000,000 to Great Britain. That is what the Labour Government did.
– I think we have reached the stage at which we should not reduce the balance any further. This Government is attending continually to that problem. It has been trying to strike a balance by imposing import restrictions. We all know that whilst, in the short run, import restrictions may be apparently effective, in the long run the answer to the problem is not at that end at all, but rather requires us to build up our exports so that we can have more to spend overseas. One honorable senator opposite, I think it was the Leader of the Opposition (Senator
McKenna), said that a godsend to Australia would be the finding of oil in this country. That would mean that we would automatically have greater overseas funds at our disposal.
– We would not have to spend money overseas on oil.
– As Senator Cooke says, we would not have to spend so much overseas.
– Essential industries are in the same category.
– That is right. The budget papers suggest that the amount necessary to provide for our annual overseas expenditure would be something like £1,000,000,000, whereas, at the present time, we are earning at the rate of about £800,000,000. As I have said, the desirable thing would be to increase production. Without increased production, particularly production of exportable goods, this country must face a chronic import crisis. There can be no doubt about that. The longrange answer to the problems of our London funds and our dollar pool is not import licensing, but increased exports and a continuous and adequate inflow of overseas capital.
I direct the attention of Opposition senators to that aspect because we will probably part company in our* views from now on. The investors, of course, require not only an assurance that their capital investment will not be socialized, but also the certain knowledge that there will be reasonable dividends. It is axiomatic that we want overseas capital, but clearly we should not get it if this threat of socialism is hanging over the heads of those who expect to get reasonable dividends from their investments. That means that both sterling and dollar funds must be available to pay dividends earned by foreign capital. In other words, we must be very careful in the scheme of things not to frighten overseas capital away because we need it in this young, developing country. We certainly need all the help it can give us. The problem that we are facing is tied up with Commonwealth-State relations. We say that we are governed under a federal system, but actually, we are under neither a federal system nor a unified system. We are in the position where we suffer the ills of both, and the good of neither. I propose to point out that many of the problems associated with our overseas trade balances and our internal inflationary trends stem .from the fact that there is not a proper relation between the Commonwealth and the States. The States are a real factor in the problem of inflation, and also in the shortage in our overseas funds. The time has surely come when the States should realize where they are going, particularly in regard to uniform taxation and constitutional reform. Until those matters are settled these current problems will not be solved.
In regard to export industries, the Commonwealth possesses power only over marketing. In reality, the States and not the Commonwealth control output and production from our secondary and primary industries. Although the vital question is increased production, the answer is that the States have the constitutional power, the wherewithal and the knowledge to bring that about. Our national income is influenced largely by the States. The Commonwealth, by its banking policy, controls the volume of money in circulation, but the overall volume of money, which is the national income, is regulated by the value of primary and secondary production. That illustrates the vital influence of the States in these matters.
In the problem of inflation the key to the situation again is held by the States. They cannot solve it entirely but their relations with the Commonwealth are fundamental to the solution. Every businessman knows that the main ingredient of cost inflation is rising wages. Wages represent something like 70 per cent, or 80 per cent, of the cost of any given item. Increased freights, electricity charges and taxation are also fundamental factors, and they are all State problems. The State governments have a vital influence on a wide range of economic functions, and can play an important part in the prosperity or recession of this country. They can make major contributions towards stability and real wages; on the other hand, they can set off a mad spiral of inflation.
I invite honorable senators to examine the wage position in New South Wales. Some years ago, just prior to an election, the Premier of that State, Mr. J. J. Cahill, in order to be on side with his supporters, took the control of wages from the Arbitration Court and legislated for quarterly adjustments, which had been abolished by the court. Despite the fact that some years previously he made public utterances which are well known to New South Wales representatives in this House, in which he said it was pointless and not in the best interests of the workers to have quarterly wage adjustments, which were like a dog chasing its tail - suddenly, before the elections, he had a complete reversal of form, and took the control of wages out of the hands of the arbitration court. He came to the recent economic conference in Canberra and said that automatic adjustments were not a significant factor in price rises.
Does Mr. Cahill seriously suggest that the recent 7s. increase in the basic wage in New South Wales has had no effect on prices? That rise cost the railways of New South Wales £1,000,000 and the tram and bus services £200,000. The overall State wages bill rose by 2,100,000, and private industry had to pay a much greater amount. At the moment, the New South Wales Parliament is debating the State budget, in which has been revealed the fact that railway fares have increased, overall, by 33-J per cent., and in certain specific instances by 100 per cent. These results are positive proof that the 7s. increase in the basic wage has had a specific effect upon the economy of that State. It is futile to say that a rise of wages has no impact upon the State’s economy.
As late as this week,, the Government of Victoria decided to abolish quarterly cost of living adjustments, which is an indication that it has seen the error of its ways and has come to realize that the continuing spiral of rising costs must lead to bankruptcy. That will be the inevitable fate of New South Wales if it continues quarterly basic wage adjustments.
– What about prices control?
– I shall deal with that later, and the honorable senator will be kept busy preparing a reply to the facts that I shall present. Transport costs have a tremendous impact on our economy. They represent 40 per cent, of all costs, and are largely controlled by the States. I have already pointed out that in -New South
Wales an overall .increase of 33-J per cent, has been made. Since 1944-45, deficits in New South Wales transport have amounted to £47,000,000. That astronomical amount of revenue has been poured down the drain as the result of shocking mismanagement. Had the transport system been run properly a large proportion of that money could have been devoted to education and health services. Instead, the Squandering of the people’s money in this Way has brought New South Wales to financial breaking point, and has been a major factor in inflation in that State.
No one can suggest that the cost of electric power is not an influence on inflation. New South Wales, because of its socialized control of electricity supply, has been responsible for wasteful expenditure. Taxation is another factor in inflation, and I remind the Senate that in New South Wales a land tax has just been imposed. Land tax will return to that government about £5,500,000.
– And still the companies are doing all right.
– Senator Grant must agree that by its very nature this is a tax upon the big retail firms in the City of Sydney. It will yield £5,500,000 annually and, surely, the honorable senator is not so simple as to imagine that the business people will stand that expense. Every housewife who goes into a retail store in the City of Sydney will contribute towards it.
– Is not that true of any tax?
– Of course, it is; but the real point here is that land tax is inflationary because it is added to the cost of commodities. And this tax is being introduced by the Labour Government of New South Wales! That Government has also imposed additional tax on hire purchase. That tax, also, will not be borne by the hire-purchase companies; it will be another burden on the humble man and woman who cannot afford to pay cash. It is simply taxation of the workers, and is inflationary in its effect.
Let me deal now with the inflationary effects of wasteful expenditure on public works. I do not think there can be any doubt that if a State spends millions upon millions of pounds unwisely, imprudently and wastefully such expenditure must have a colossal inflationary effect. The story of wasteful expenditure by the New South Wales Government of money raised by the Commonwealth Government in taxes levied on the people is tragic. If any State has in train public works on which millions of pounds have been spent and which remain unfinished, and therefore are providing no return for the capital outlay, the result clearly must be inflationary. If, all over the State, there is a series of such works, all competing for workmen, cement, bricks and other materials, the inflationary effect is tremendous, because such competition adds to the cost of the work. Let me quote one or two classic examples of wasteful expenditure. First, we have the eastern suburbs railway on which the Government of New South Wales has spent something like £2,500,000 to date. The present rate of spending is about £50,000 a year, and there is no return from that expenditure. It is estimated that the railway will be finished in 100 years’ time. Could any one imagine anything more inflationary than that?
– When will it be earning revenue?
– It will not earn revenue until the first train runs over it. So, the taxpayers of Australia are being taxed to provide money for something that is not productive. Then, we have the Sandy Hollow-Maryvale railway which is revived during every election campaign. To date, the Labour Government of New South Wales has spent about £2,000,000 on that project. Between elections, the rabbits overrun the railway, and everything that has been done is ruined. Then there is the Glenbawn Dam project. That work was commenced in 1946. Originally, it was estimated to cost £1,500,000, but so far the New South Wales Government has spent £7,900,000 on it and estimates that it will have to spend another £6,000,000. All that expenditure is a complete waste of public moneys in that there can be no return from these projects until they are completed. To that extent, wasteful expenditure on public works is highly inflationary. The people in the areas in which they are being carried out must be fairly gullible because the Government seems to win succeeding elections by turning first sods, laying foundation stones and so on in those areas; but the effects of this policy are disastrous to the economy of Australia.
To return to my main theme, because of wasteful expenditure on public works, the States are definitely contributing to the inflationary spiral. If the Commonwealth Government hopes to solve the problem of inflation, it must face up to the issue and realize that we must have either a federal system or a unitary system, that we must not have the evils of two separate systems one pulling against the other. As I have pointed out, it is clear that cost inflation is the State governments’ offspring, created by political juggling with wages, wasteful public works, the high cost of socialized electricity, the exorbitant cost of public transport, failure to promote increased productivity and severe State taxation combined with the discredited uniform tax system. Orderly development cannot take place in Australia when governments are pulling in opposite directions. Certainly, it cannot do so when a State government, such as the New South Wales Government, exhibits absolute disregard for the national consequences of its actions. Orderly development demands team work. If we do not get that team work, and get it quickly, we shall throw this continent into such a state of financial disorder that it will take us at least one, if not two, generations to recover. Above all else, the seven governments in Australia must resolve to co-operate as a team and to stop pulling in opposite directions; and I do not discount the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government in this connexion.
I turn now to the other side of the picture, the suggested solution of our economic ills as put forward by the Opposition. The Evatt Labour party suggests a controlled economy. Senator Tangney asked what I would suggest doing about prices control. The Labour party has suggested that we should have control of prices, profits and capital issues. I do not think I have heard any mention by honorable senators opposite of control over wages. The Labour party advocates a controlled economy as a solution of our problems. . In 1944, of course, the present Leader of the Labour party (Dr. Evatt) was Attorney-General in the Chifley Government. That Government asked the people by means of a fourteenpoint referendum for all sorts of temporary controls.
– No, they were to be permanent controls. .
– Whether the controls were to be permanent or temporary, the plain fact is that the electorate refused to give the Government the powers that it sought. In 1948, the Labour Government again asked the electorate by referendum for power to control prices and rents, but the proposal was rejected. At the recent economic conference in Canberra, Mr. Cahill, the Premier of New South Wales, stated a case for a controlled economy, but it is significant that, although the New South Wales Parliament has since been in session for some time, it has made no attempt to reintroduce prices control in that State, notwithstanding Mr. Cahill’s assertion that that was the panacea tor our inflationary ills. The facts of life are, of course, that we have no constitutional power to impose the controls that were suggested by Labour.
– Surely, the honorable senator is referring, not to the facts of life, but to the facts of the Constitution?
– Under the Constitution, if any political group or party opposes the granting of powers by means of a referendum, there is no chance of the referendum being carried. Dr. Evatt is conducting only a sham-fight. He knows perfectly well that there is no chance of a referendum to reintroduce a pricecontrolled economy succeeding. A pricecontrolled economy could be achieved only if each State agreed to delegate its prices power to the Commonwealth. Already, Victoria has stated that it will not have a bar of it. The Opposition knows perfectly well that there is no chance of getting the electorate to agree to a controlled economy because the people have vivid recollections of what happened under prices control before. The great electorate of Australia knows what it means to live under a price-controlled economy. The people know that the cost-plus system and prices control are fallacious remedies and do not confer any advantage on the workers of the community. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
RETIREMENT OF Mr. F. H. A. SMITH.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin). - Honorable senators are no doubt aware that we are about to lose the services of Mr. F. H. A. Smith, who is retiring this day, on the eve of his 60th birthday, after long and loyal service. Mr. Smith has served the Parliament for a period of 29 years. This service began with the Parliamentary Refreshment Rooms in September, 1927. Mr. Smith joined the Senate staff as an attendant in 1940, and he has served honorable senators well for more than sixteen years. He became President’s Attendant in 1948, and in 1951 he was promoted to the position of Special Attendant, which is the position from which he is now retiring.
Before joining the parliamentary service, Mr. Smith was a civilian employee of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, from 1921 to 1927 and so, in all, he has had continuous service with the Commonwealth for more than 35 years.
As honorable senators know, Mr. Smith rendered gallant service in World War I., and was wounded in action. We wish him well, and trust that he will enjoy a long and happy retirement.
– by leave - On behalf of the members of the Government, I endorse your remarks. Mr. President, in relation to Mr. Allen Smith, who has had a long and continuous period of service with this Parliament. Most members of this chamber have known him for a long time - some for longer than others - and we are indebted to him, not only for his many courtesies to us as individuals, but also for the splendid manner in which he has served the interests of the Senate as a whole. I am sure that all honorable senators join with the President in wishing both Mr. Smith and his wife good health and happiness in the years ahead. I understand that it is their intention to live at Manly, in Sydney. Of course, there is another Manly - in Brisbane - which’ also is quite a nice place.
– Some say that it is nicer than the Manly in Sydney.
– That might be so. However, Mr. Smith has decided to go to Sydney to spend his period of retirement.
We all wish him and his wife well and trust that he will enjoy many happy years of leisure.
– by leave - In the unavoidable absence of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), and Senator Kennelly, who is the deputy leader, I take this opportunity to associate the Opposition with the kindly remarks which you, Mr. President, have made about Mr. Allen Smith. We of the Opposition concur in what you have said about the efficient service that he has rendered to the National Parliament, and it is with genuine regret that many of us who have known him for many years realize that the time has come for him to retire. Of course, that time inevitably comes in the lives of all of us, if we live on this side of the Jordan for long enough. We wish Mr. Smith and his good wife success and good health in the future. I understand that they propose to take their leisure at a place called Fairlight, near Manly. We hope that, in truth, a fair light will shine upon them for many years to come.
– by leave - I should like to associate my party with the good wishes that have been expressed to Mr. Smith on his retirement from the parliamentary service, after a long and honoured career in this place. We have heard that he intends to retire to Sydney; I am sure that he could have shown a little better judgment, as did Mr. Green, the former Clerk of the House of Representatives, by retiring to Tasmania. However, we wish both Mr. Smith and his wife every happiness in their retirement.
– by leave - I should like to pay a personal tribute to Mr. Smith on the eve of his retirement. I well remember that, when I first came into the Senate over thirteen years ago, and when there was no other woman in this place, Mr. Smith, as well as other Senate attendants, went out of their way to see that I had every comfort and amenity that was available in Parliament House. Mr. Smith also gave me an insight into the actual working of the parliamentary system over the week-end before the parliamentary sittings commenced. Such initial kindnesses are never forgotten. Mr. Smith continued to render good service to me over the years.
I should like, particularly, to pay a tribute to the. work done by Mr. Smith in his capacity of postal officer of the Senate. On several occasions when I have made inquiries about delayed mail, he has gone to no end of trouble, incurred great personal inconvenience, and worked long hours getting in touch with other postal officials in an effort to trace my mail. That is only one of the many services that he has rendered. It is in keeping with the service that we have received from the members of all the staffs in this building. . Unfortunately, it is only on such occasions as the retirement of an officer that we see fit to pay tributes to their loyal and efficient service. All of us remember the many occasions on which they have gone to a good deal of trouble to serve the Parliament without thought of their own convenience. Mr. Smith has set a fine example in this respect. Personally, I wish him well in his retirement, and I hope that he and Mrs. Smith will enjoy greatly improved health at Manly. If not, I remind Mr. Smith that Western Australia has many wide open spaces, and that we shall be happy to welcome him and his wife there, as some little payment for his loyal and efficient service in this Parliament for many years.
– by leave - I desire to associate myself with the sentiments that have been expressed by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) and other honorable senators in paying a tribute to Mr. Smith. I remember how kind he was to me when I first came into this Parliament in 1946, and since then I have seen his work in this Parliament, where he has performed his duties quietly and discreetly. His retirement makes us realize how the years go by, and how Father Time catches up with us. Mr. Smith has reached the age of 60 years. I hope that he and his wife will enjoy many happy and healthful years of retirement. Knowing him as an old soldier, I know that he will keep battling on. Although he will no longer meet with us here, I am sure that he will carry away with him many memories which will give him great pleasure in his retirement.
Motion (by Senator Cooper) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
Senate adjourned at 5.18 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 13 September 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1956/19560913_senate_22_s9/>.