22nd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M, McMullin took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for Repatriation whether it is a fact that war pensions are taken into account as income when assessing age, invalid and service pensions. If so, will the Government consider abolishing the relevant provision as it applies to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-service personnel?
– It is quite true that all war pensions are taken into account as income when assessing social services benefits under the means test. That, of course, has always been the position. I point out, however, that in 1948 Parliament passed legislation which gave to the war pensioner less benefit under the Social Services Act than was given to a civilian who was in receipt of such forms of income as superannuation. That placed the civilian on a better basis than the war pensioner. Last year, this Government abolished what was known as artificial ceilings in regard to war pensions. That was of very great benefit to war pensioners, especially the totally and permanently incapacitated persons whom the honorable senator has mentioned. At the present time, a married couple in receipt of a total and permanent incapacity pension and a social services pension, if they conform to the requirements of the means test, receive not less than £15 a week from the Repatriation Department and the Department of Social Services. I point out also that such benefits as the education allowance for children, which is quite a reasonable allowance; the children’s pension or allowance; attendant’s allowance, if they have an attendant; the transport allowance, which runs into as much as £120 a year; allowances for the running of gift cars; and other allowances which totally and permanently incapacitated and blind ex-servicemen receive, are not counted as income. That is all on top of the £15 a week I have mentioned, which means that quite a number of these persons receive anything from £18 to £20 a week, and in some cases more. The Government believes that, in respect of war pensions, especially those for totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen, it has not been ungenerous or unmindful of the debt that the nation owes to cx -servicemen.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer, and I point out, by way of preface, that it appears that the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development has agreed to lend Australia £22,000,000 this year and a similar amount each year for five years, the money, of course, to be expended on the purchase of essential capital equipment for development. Can the Minister let the Senate know the terms of these loans, regarding interest and repayment? ls it possible to deal with the loans in one agreement, involving a single ratification by the Parliament, or is it necessary to have five separate annual agreements, each to be ratified separately? Does the Minister expect any sensible opposition, from any quarter, to the ratification of the agreements relating to the loans?
– I noticed an announcement along the lines mentioned by the honorable senator. It is my recollection that such loans have to be validated by act of Parliament. It will be necessary, therefore, for a bill to be introduced in this Parliament. Of course, if my recollection is correct on that point, all the details of rates of interest and periods of repayment will be contained in the legislation. I am not certain whether my colleague, the Treasurer, has made a statement regarding the loan in the House of Representatives. I shall speak to him during the day, and if a statement has been made, I undertake to make a similar statement in the Senate next week, which will give the information that the honorable senator seeks. As to the last part of his question, I entirely agree that no sensible person should oppose borrowing in this manner.
– My question is supplementary to that asked by Senator Laught, but it will omit reference to “ sensible opposition “ to such loans. Can the Minister representing the Treasurer say whether it is a fact that Australia is to borrow 50,000,000 dollars from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development? Is it correct, as has been reported, that this money will be used to purchase capital equipment not available in either Australia or the sterling area, for use on major developmental works, and also essential agricultural and industrial equipment? If so, will the Minister have prepared a statement setting out in detail the major development works for which equipment bought with this money will be used, and will he table, from time to time, details of all items, particularly agricultural machinery, purchased with this money? Is the Minister able to say whether this special loan will permit additional import licences 10 be granted to the extent of a part or the whole of the 50,000,000 dollars?
– The honorable senator flatters me if he thinks that I can reply to a series of questions like that without notice. However, I shall attempt to do so, although I should have preferred him to give me some notice beforehand, so that I might have had an opportunity to collect my thoughts. I believe it is correct that such a loan is to be arranged. As to whether the money is to be used to purchase capital equipment not available in Australia or Great Britain, the answer is, of course, “ Yes “. That is the whole purpose of such loans. The honorable senator has asked for a statement concerning the major development works on which the loan moneys will be used. I remind him that these borrowings are not restricted to the purchase of plant and equipment for governmental works. Having seen the schedules from time to time, I hazard the guess, rather than state the opinion, that a greater proportion of the money is utilized to purchase plant, equipment, and so on, for private industry than is used to purchase those things for governmental work. As to whether statements can be tabled, I have very grave doubts. There is a procedure under which representatives of a selected series of departments meet once a quarter to consider applications for dollar licences. These are very carefully scrutinized. A most voluminous schedule is submitted for approval by Ministers at regular periods throughout the year. I do not think this loan will permit further licences to be granted. Our import arrangements are fixed on a level of expenditure of £650,000,000; that is the total that we are willing to import in a year. This loan will provide funds to finance the flow of imports that we think is wise, but I do not think it will have any -effect on the level of imports.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing’ the Minister for External Affairs. Will the Minister obtain at the earliest possible moment a report on the present grave situation in Hungary? In the event of the report confirming press statements that Russian troops are being employed against the Hungarian people to defeat their legitimate aspirations for independence, will the Government take steps to raise the matter before the United Nations for action by that body?
– I have no doubt that my colleague, the Minister for External Affairs, is fully acquainted with the tragic situation in Hungary. The action, if any, to be taken by this Government will depend on the way in which the situation develops.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer, ls it a fact that in every loan obtained from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development provision has been made for the purchase of tractors, graders and earth-moving equipment from dollar areas for the construction of roads? Can the Minister inform me whether any State government has refused to use such equipment, purchased with ‘ money obtained through these loans?
– One of the main purposes of these International Bank loans is to provide overseas funds for the purchase of equipment needed for the development of Australia. Coming within this category are tractors, graders and earthmoving equipment for road work. I believe thai the States welcome an opportunity to obtain the overseas currency necessary for the purchase of equipment that they need.
– 1 shall direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, as the subject-matter concerns both the Department of External Affairs and the Treasury, ls it a fact that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial
Research Organization is not permitted to have its capital works undertaken by private enterprise? If this is so, will the Minister investigate the desirability of seeking competitive tenders from private contractors before any future building projects are commenced?
– 1 am not aware of the circumstances suggested by the honorable senator, but I shall have inquiries made and let her know the result.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has his attention been directed to the report of the committee appointed by the Menzies Government to investigate costs and profits in the shipping and waterside industries, which discloses that the net profits, plus rebates, in these industries, increased by 433 per cent.? ls the Minister aware that in the same period the average hourly rate of wages of waterside workers increased by 114 per cent.? Will the Minister ensure that these figures are given appropriate publicity in order to debunk the theory so often advanced by the Government, and particularly by Senator Spooner, that wages and salaries are the chief elements in rising costs and are pricing Australian producers out of world markets?
– 1 thank the honorable senator for the tribute he pays me for being the apostle of truth in the Senate. I have read the newspaper report and have noticed that my colleague tabled a copy of the report in the House of Representatives yesterday. I shall speak to him during the day with a view to having a copy tabled in the Senate next week. I have not had any word from him this morning. I shall have a copy tabled, and then we can have a look at the facts and see exactly what these statements are.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. As it appears that the Government is curtailing the production of military aircraft in. Victoria, would he suggest that British manufacturers of light aircraft for civil use consider using the skilled personnel at the aircraft factory in Victoria for the manufac ture of light civil aircraft, such as the Auster, for which there is a keen demand in western and northern Queensland, and I think also in the more sparsely populated areas of western New South Wales and other States? Aircraft of this class are used for station and taxi work. In view of the difficulties of importing aircraft of this type from both the dollar and sterling areas, because of import restrictions, a big contribution would be made to the economy if they were produced in Australia.
– I shall consider the suggestion that has been made by the honorable senator who will, I think, appreciate that as I have only recently assumed responsibility for the portfolio of Civil Aviation, I am not yet able to express any opinion on the matter. However, it occurs to me that, as the manufacture in Australia of the kind of aircraft that he mentioned has not been, apparently, a commercial proposition up to this time, it may not prove to be so in the future. Nonetheless, I shall be pleased to examine the proposal.
– The question that 1 shall direct to the Minister representing the Treasurer is supplemental to the question that was asked by Senator Laught in relation to the proposed loan to this nation by the International Bank. Does the Minister agree that the willingness of the International Bank to lend Australia £22,000,000 a year for five years demonstrates that confidence in this Government is felt overseas as well as in Australia?
– I do not think there is any doubt that Australia can take some considerable pride in the fact that it is - I am speaking from memory - the second largest borrower from the International Bank. That is a tribute, I think, to our national characteristics of honesty and stability, and an acknowledgment of the possibilities that lie ahead of this country.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior by stating that I have received a number of complaints from people in the Canberra area that they suffer inconvenience because all of the butchers’ shops here close between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., the only time at which it is practicable for many people to do their shopping. Will he investigate the matter, and see whether some arrangement can be made to overcome this inconvenience to the public?
– I shall be pleased to bring this matter to the attention of my colleague, the Minister for the Interior, and get a considered reply for the honorable senator.
– Will the Minister for Shipping and Transport inform me whether the Australian Transport Advisory Council, of which he is the chairman, has considered the formation of a national co-ordinating body to deal with Australia’s road requirements? Was this matter discussed at the conference of State road authorities that was held on 21st September? If it was discussed, was a decision reached?
– The formation of a national planning body was discussed at the last meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council, which was held in Adelaide. The proposal has been pressed in a number of forms by various organizations interested in transport and motoring. The forms in which it is supported vary in many respects. The council was of the opinion that the formation of such a body would be premature, at least until we had a firm plan to substantially increase the amount of money available to implement any one of the proposals. At the next meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council-
– When will it be held?
– It will probably be held in March, but the date depends upon the outcome of the Victorian transport case. At that meeting, the Ministers will consider in the light of the decision in that case, the important matter of exploring further avenues for raising money. Subsequently, the establishment of an advisory planning council will be further considered.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation: In view of the fact that Trans-Australia Airline’s finished last year with many Australian records for domestic airlines, including 359,000,000 passenger miles flown, 750,868 passengers carried, full recoupment of losses during the first three years of operation, a profit of £302,945, the lowest level of fares in the world and the carriage of a grand total of 5,500,000 passengers to their destinations without fatality, will he inform the Senate whether the Government will authorize the making available of further capital to this organization for additional aircraft, more suitable accommodation and the extension of its present facilities to enable it to continue its magnificent service?
– As indicated in the report released yesterday, there is every indication that, in the near future, further capital will be required for the purposes of re-equipment in the direction mentioned by Senator O’Byrne. I understand that, just prior to the time when the purchase of that re-equipment is to take place, the Australian National Airlines Commission will make its submissions to the Government; and such submissions will be given full consideration.
– I direct a further question to the Minister representing the Treasurer, following that asked by Senator Hannan, in connexion with dollar loans. I am concerned with the final act and deed in relation to those loans. I refer to the repayment of those moneys and I ask the Minister whether, in view of our current adverse trade balances with dollar areas, and as, unfortunately, it seems obvious that those adverse balances will continue and may even become greater, he is prepared to state that the only manner in which dollar . loans can ultimately be repaid is in increased gold production. If he disagrees with that, will he state how we propose ultimately to repay those loans? If, however, he agrees with my suggestion that the only way in which the loans can ultimately be repaid is in increased gold production, will he state whether the Government is prepared to assist the gold-mining industry to achieve increased prosperity?
– Great as is the respect and affection that 1 have for Western Australia, I am afraid I cannot go the full distance with the honorable senator in the views he expresses. I also regret to have to say that I think, it is a topic that I cannot very well debate at this stage. After all, the honorable senator, in effect, is asking me to engage in a debate upon the issues involved in his question.
– Can the AttorneyGeneral inform the Senate of the date on which he expects the Courts-Martial Appeals Act, passed by the Parliament on 10th May, 1955, to be proclaimed? Is he aware that the Government’s delay in having this measure proclaimed has given rise to a good deal of criticism on the part of returned service personnel and service personnel who believe, in view of the Government’s promise and in view of the fact that the bill has passed through both Houses of the Parliament, that they are being unjustly treated as a result of delay in proclaiming this measure?
– 1 am not aware of any criticism of the kind indicated by the honorable senator. However, I will see that the matter is attended to without undue delay.
– I ask the Leader of the Government whether Cabinet will shortly be making policy decisions on the defence structure of Australia. As speedy transportation of troops and supplies is vital to defence, will the honorable senator assure me that adequate consideration will be given to the construction of strategic defence roads, the cost being met from the defence vote?
– The answer to the first part of Senator Scott’s question is “ Yes “. I assure him that the defence of Australia is continuously under observation and review, and that all aspects - including I am sure the one raised by the honorable senator - will receive due consideration.
– I do not know whether I am in order, but I wish, by asking a question, to correct a mistake which appears this morning in the local rag - the daily newspaper that is published in Canberra. I do not know to whom to direct the question, but it refers to a mis-statement of fact. The newspaper reports that I made statements in this chamber yesterday which, in fact, I did not make.
– I think it would be much better if the honorable senator waited until the motion for adjournment of the Senate unless he can put a direct question.
– I shall abide by your ruling, Mr. President, but the only chance that I have of correcting this statement before the people of Australia - for it will not be corrected in the paper itself - is while we are on the air.
– Order! If the Senate is willing to grant leave to the honorable senator to make a statement he may do so.
– Yesterday, during the debate on the Appropriation Bill, I discussed the matter of car transport tor senators and members of the House of Representatives. 1 did not, at any time, make the following statement, which is reported in the “ Canberra Times “. this morning: - “ Highly-polished limousines “ of the Commonwealth Fleet should be made available to Senators and Members - not typists and office boys.
What I did say appears in “ Hansard “. I hope that she reporter from the “ Canberra Times” is in the gallery to-day to hear the statement that I did make, and I hope that he takes the political wool out of his ears so that he will not misrepresent me again. In the course of my statement on transport I said -
Secretaries to Ministers, Secretaries to departments, and typists and stenographers, have cars waiting to take them to their homes.
And this is the point-
I am not saying that they arc not entitled to them,-
I emphasized that remark. I continued - but I think it is ridiculous that members of the Parliament have not the same privilege.
Proceeding, I said -
I do not wish to see this privilege taken from those who already enjoy it
I want the reporter from the “ Canberra Times “ to take note of that at least. My motto is, anything I have I will hold until such time as it is forcibly taken away from me. I say quite frankly, as I said last night, that officers of the departments do work excessive hours. They are brought to Canberra and must stay here while Parliament is in session, awaiting the discussion of departmental matters. They probably arrive home with large bundles of files and are entitled to transport. 1 believe, as I said last night, that Ministers and their wives are entitled to transport. In this time of speedy travel such things are essential. All that I asked of the Minister was that members of both Houses should at least enjoy the privileges granted to departmental heads, secretaries to Ministers, and typists.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration by stating that a stipendiary magistrate, in delivering judgment at Port Adelaide two days ago, I think, made some very adverse comments on the use being made of the brides immigration scheme. Will the Minister have an investigation made with a view to having the girls who are being brought io Australia properly protected so that no suggestion of any kind can be made that they are the subject of a white slave traffic because of our system of fetching them here?
– I shall submit that question to the Minister for Immigration and give the honorable senator a considered reply.
– I wish to preface a question to the Minister for National Development by saying that at the opening of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited’s steel-rolling mill in Western Australia yesterday, the chairman, Mr. Syme, told guests that the company had experts overseas studying the latest method of smelting iron ore with non-coking coal like that produced at Collie. In view of the high cost of carrying the raw materials for the manufacture of steel, largely consisting of iron ore, manganese and chromite from Western Australia to Newcastle and Port Kembla, thus increasing the price of steel, can the Minister say whether the Government is co-operating with the Broken Hill
Proprietary Company Limited in an endeavour to find a method of producing steel with Collie coal?
– That question involves great technical issues which have been the subject of examination by the steel industry, not only in Australia but overseas, for a considerable period of years. Some hopes are held that a process may be developed which will enable coal which is now classified as non-coking coal, to be so treated as to produce coke required for steel-making purposes. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the Joint Coal Board, and a number of governmental agencies throughout Australia are making their contribution to this research. Most of the work is being done overseas, and I think that the leader in the inquiry is the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited which has so much to gain by it.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I have been supplied with the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions: -
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following reply to the honorable senator’s question: - 1 and 2. Parliamentary appropriations are not generally restricted to expenditure in any particular State and the Treasurer’s statement of expenditure therefore presents to Parliament the total expenditure in respect of each vote. The Treasurer’s statement is compiled from individual payments which are brought to account through the Sub-Treasury in each State and in each Commonwealth Territory. The presentation of another statement showing the payments brought to account through each Sub-Treasury would be a major undertaking as it would involve representing, in another form, for the year ended 30th June, 1956, the voluminous statement of expenditure which was published recently. In any event, any such analysis would be of very doubtful value. Payments brought to account through a particular Sub-Treasury may include, for eample, payments to interstate or overseas creditors. Furthermore, expenditure may be incurred in one State in respect of equipment and supplies which are used for projects in another State. Conversely, some Commonwealth payments, such as subsidies, which may be made in one State may be of benefit also to other States. In short, the payments which are recorded in any Sub-Treasury do not purport to indicate the expenditure which may be attributable to Commonwealth activities or services in that State or Territory. The Treasurer has therefore asked me if the honorable senator would reconsider his request; alternatively, arrangements will be made for him to inspect the returns for the year ended 30th June, 1956, from the Sub-Treasuries, of expenditure brought to account through their offices.
asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The Minister acting for the Minister for Trade has advised me as follows: -
The wheat arrangement referred to formed part of a large transaction under which the United States Government is to supply India with surplus farm products valued at 360,000,000 dollars, including the cost of freight. These goods are to be supplied over a three-year period. The amount of wheat included under the agreement is approximaetly 130,000,000 bushels. The full details have not been released, but it was concluded under the United States Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act. Payment will not be made in dollars but in Indian currency, the greater part of which will be made available to the Indian Government for certain development schemes.
Attached to this general arrangement is an undertaking by the Indian Government that it will buy, over the same three-year period on commercial terms, at least 20,000,000 bushels of wheat annually. Of this amount, 5,500,000 bushels must be bought from the United States, but there is no restriction on the source of the remainder of the 20,000,000 bushels.It will be appreciated from the terms of payment that this arrangement for the supply of surplus United States farm products is an intergovernmental agreement and is not a commercial transaction.
– On 17th October, Senator Ashley asked the following question: -
I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. In view of the fact that the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Limited is the largest of its kind in this country - it had a revenue of over £3,000,000 last year, including the Government subsidy of approximately £700,000 which it distributed - is the Minister aware that at a recent election of the council of this fund in New South Wales the name of a non-existent medical practitioner was included on the ballot-paper? Having regard to the necessity for protecting the interests of the public, and in view of the fact that the rightful objection by a member to the validity of the ballot-paper was overruled by the fund executive, will the Minister for health institute an inquiry into the conduct of the election?
The Minister for Health has now furnished the following reply: -
I am informed that on 10th September, 1956, the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Limited, at a meeting held in accordance with the New South Wales Companies Act and the fund’s articles of association, declared a ballot for the election of medical members of the New South Wales State executive. It appears that, owing to a typographical error, the name of Dr. R. A. R. Green was listed as Dr. R. A. A. Green. No complaint was made to the fund by Dr. Green. Another medical practitioner in an undated letter to the fund requested that the ballot be declared null and void. After obtaining the advice of Queen’s Counsel, the fund decided that a new ballot was unnecessary.
– On 18th October, Senator Aylett asked the following question: -
I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health whether he can provide statistics for the last financial year showing the total amount paid by contributors to registered hospital and medical benefit funds, also the total amount paid to all societies handling these funds, and the amounts paid out in claims for hospital and medical services. If the Minister has not these statistics readily available, will it be possible for him to obtain them in the near future, and give them to the Senate?
The Minister for Health has now furnished the following reply: -
The total amount paid by contributors to the registered medical and hospital insurance organizations for the last financial year is not available The amounts paid by these organizations to contributors for the year ended 30th June, 1956 were -
Bill received from the House of Repre- sentatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henry) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this brief and simple bill is to raise the existing maximum limit of horse-power of tractors on which bounty is payable under the Tractor Bounty Act. This act at present provides for the payment of bounty on tractors, other than crawler tractors, produced in accordance with certain prescribed conditions for sale for use in the Commonwealth or a territory of the Commonwealth during the three-year period which commenced on 24th October, 1955.
The existing rates of bounty rise from £80 to £240 according to the horse-power of the engine. The maximum rate of £240 applies to tractors with a belt pulley horsepower exceeding 40 but not exceeding 55. The bill under discussion proposes the extension of the range of tractors to which the maximum rate applies to cover those having a belt pulley horse-power exceeding 40 but not exceeding 70.
The only manufacturer receiving payment of bounty is Chamberlain Industries Proprietary Limited, Western Australia. This company produces tractors which come within the maximum bounty scale, but has had to restrain the power of the engines used in order to qualify for bounty. It appears better not to limit the power of a tractor when farmers and other users could doubtless, on occasions, take advantage of the extra power which could be made available. The amendment proposed, therefore, appears both logical and desirable.
It has been decided that this amendment should have application to tractors produced from 24th October, 1955 - that is. the date from which provisions of the act were extended for three years by legislation passed earlier this year. I commend the bill for favorable consideration.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cooke) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 25th October (vide page 901), on motion by Senator Cooper -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– If it is the wish of honorable senators, that course will be followed.
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!
– I am very pleased that the Minister has made this suggestion, because 1 shall now be permitted to make some comments on the Broadcasting and Television Bill (No. 3) 1956, the second-reading - debate on which was concluded rather hurriedly yesterday.
The Opposition offers no objection to this Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) Bill, because it will extend repatriation benefits to certain persons’ who, although they have rendered yeoman service to this country, have previously been denied those benefits. The bill is not as comprehensive as we would have wished. All honorable 1 senators, particularly those who are exservicemen and have consequently been more closely in contact with ex-service personnel, realize that there are many persons in the community who are not receiving the repatriation benefits to which they should be entitled. However, the Minister and the Government are to be commended for extending repatriation benefits to certain ex-service personnel who have, for years past, been denied those rights. Included among the persons who will benefit are members of the Australian defence forces, who serve in Malaya or Singapore, or who form part of the British Commonwealth contingent in the Far East Strategic Reserve. The benefits to be conferred upon them will be very similar to those which were provided in repatriation legislation in 1950 for members of the forces serving in Korea. It is interesting to note that, according to the second-reading speech delivered by the Minister, it is necessary to amend several acts in order to confer benefits upon these persons. They all have a connexion with repatriation benefits to which these members of the permanent forces will become entitled. That is an example of how wide are the ramifications of repatriation, and of how many acts must be consequentially amended when an amendment to the legislation affecting repatriation benefits to service personnel or ex-servicemen is made. The Minister said -
The procedures for determining claims for pensions under this bill will be exactly the same as those which apply under the Repatriation Act. The Repairiation Commission will administer the new act and the repatriation boards and the entitlement and assessment appeal tribunals will have jurisdiction in determining claims.
It would be foolish to try to express an accurate opinion as to what kind of claims will come before the commission or the appeal tribunals, but the Opposition sincerely hopes that the increased number of persons eligible for repatriation benefits will not increase the waiting time for the hearing of appeals. I know that the Minister has done everything possible to have the waiting time reduced. The Minister said also that regulations would be made - covering such matters as the provision of medical treatment, the payment of medical sustenance, .he provision of benefits under the Soldiers’ Children Education Scheme and under the Disabled Members’ and Widows’ Training Scheme. Such provisions will follow the similar ones already in operation under the repatriation regulations.
It will be interesting to see what effect these regulations have on those already in operation. I do not suggest, for a moment, that they will create any great anomalies. The Repatriation Act is difficult to administer, and what anomalies do exist are insignificant compared with the amount of good that flows from the act. The Minister will appreciate that that is a handsome admission from one such as myself who, year after year, has fought the commission because of anomalies that existed.
As the Minister pointed out this morning, this measure relates to amendments to be made to the Broadcasting and Television Act, the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act, the Estate Duty Assessment Act, the National Health Act, the Reestablishment and Employment Act, the Repatriation Act and the Social Services Act. Yesterday, the bill to amend the Broadcasting and Television Act was rushed into the committee stage, and I “was not able to make comment on it. However, seeing that the amendment to be made by that measure is only consequential to the amendment made by the bill now before the Senate. I shall not make further comment. The list of proposed amendments emphasizes, as 1 have already said, the wide ramifications of i he Repatriation Act. The amendment to i he Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act could easily create unusual circumstances in relation to applications for compensation. It is proposed, by the amendment, to provide that compensation shall not be payable under that act in respect of injuries or disease for which pensions are payable under the Repatriation (Far East Strategic Reserve) measure. Similar provisions exist already in the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act in relation to war pensions payable under the Repatriation Act. My fear is that because of tropical conditions which servicemen have to endure, particularly in Malaya and similar countries, entirely new types of claims for compensation may be .presented to the Repatriation Commission.
The other amendments mentioned are necessary to comply with provisions of the Repatriation Act already operating. The Opposition is in full agreement with the concluding part of the Minister’s secondreading speech, in which he says that the bill confers substantial benefits on members of the forces.
– I was pleased to hear Senator Critchley say that no opposition would be offered to the passage of this bill. It would be difficult to present any opposition, because the measure extends to regular soldiers who are not engaged in all-out warfare, but who from time to time are engaged in military operations, greater benefits than they would receive if they were solely on garrison duty in Australia or some other country where military operations were not taking place.’ The bill recognizes that these persons, although not entitled to protection under the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act because they are regular soldiers, are - because they have been sent to Malaya or Singapore, where fighting takes place from time to time - entitled to greater protection than they would receive under the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act. Consequently, this bill will be welcomed by returned soldiers’ organizations generally, and by the public. Servicemen who may be subjected to special danger will receive special compensation.
The amending bills referred to by Senator Critchley are purely machinery measures. It is necessary to amend the
Broadcasting and Television Act so that these servicemen may enjoy- the rights- accruing to ex-servicemen from World War 1. and World War II. in relation to the obtaining of broadcast licences. That is a simple amendment. It is necessary, also, to amend the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act to ensure that these men will not be entitled to a pension in respect of the same illness under both the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act and the measure now under consideration.
Nothing in this bill calls for lengthy argument, and obviously there is no difference of opinion between the Opposition and the Government supporters. I commend the Government for its realistic action in extending, under this measure, benefits to the dependants of servicemen who may be killed, and to servicemen who may contract disease in the course of operations which are not undertaken in an actual war.
– in reply - I appreciate the fact that this bill has met with the approbation of Opposition and Government senators. Speaking briefly on the one amendment to the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act, I point out to Senator Critchley that it is very difficult to say beforehand just what will take place. Cases will have to be dealt with as they arise. I am sure the honorable senator will agree with me that the medical history sheets of members of the forces now on active service are kept in greater detail than was the case during the 1914-18 war. Even after a period of twenty years a soldier’s medical history sheet will show the disabilities he suffered during his period of service in the Malayan campaign. I do not think any great difficulty will be experienced, if such action is justified, in linking a soldier’s disability with a disease or injury from which he suffered during the campaign.
The benefits provided under the Repatriation Act are more liberal than those provided under the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act and the soldier would be entitled to the greater benefit. The Government is doing all it can to ensure that these men shall be covered to the greatest possible extent.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
In committee: Consideration resumed from 25th October (vide page 901).
Bill reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill (on motion by Senator Cooper) read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Senator Cooper) agreed to -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Bill read a second time.
.-I direct the attention of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to the provisions of this bill, the effect of which, as I understand it, is to apply an exemption introduced in 1947 for the benefit of deceased estates of war service personnel to persons who are killed on service with the Far Eastern Strategic Reserve. In 1947, Parliament, taking into consideration the economic position of that day, decided that the appropriate amount of the exemption was £5,000. It is extremely disappointing to find that when the Minister’s attention was directed to an exemption of this sort, he did not take the opportunity to raise exemptions of that character generally under the Estate Duty Assessment Act to bring them into conformity with present-day economic conditions.
I realizeI am going outside the scope of this bill, but I express my regret that the Estate Duty Assessment Act has not been amended to provide for exemptions appropriate to present-day values. In1 947, a widow could buy a house for £1,500, whereas to-day the whole of the £5,000 will be necessary for the purchase of a house. If a soldier leaves a house, furniture and a few odds and ends, his widow will have the happy privilege of paying, in return for his sacrifice, estate duty on the sum in excess of £5,000.
The committee is dealing with a particular application of that exemption. It is true that in 1953 we extended the general exemption to apply to Korean casualties, but we left the amount at £5,000. It is appropriate that we should now reconsider the amount of the exemption. I should think that on impulse the Minister might say, “Yes,I shall make it £15,000 and take the risk with my colleagues “. I should like to see the germ of such an experiment introduced into the Senate, and I adopt this placatory approach which I think will appeal to the Minister.
– See the Prime Minister.
– No. Let us amend the bill and increase the exemption limit of £5,000 to £15,000. it would be unworthy of us to allow a sum that would buy only a suburban cottage as an exemption for the widow of a man whose life had been sacrificed in circumstances in which his service to his country put him at a great disadvantage economically compared with civilians, for whom there are many profitable opportunities at the present time. Service in the forces in time of peace entails much more sacrifice compared with one’s fellows than does service in the world war when all serve shoulder to shoulder knowing that, in general, able-bodied men who do not share in the general sacrifice are the “ spivs “ and profiteers. I suggest that it is not beyond the capacity of the Senate to take the opportunity to amend the bill and give effect to my suggestion. I do not move an amendment. I appeal to the Minister to adopt a suggestion and move it himself.
– I am very appreciative of Senator Wright’s remarks. Let us all focus our attention on what has happened since 1942 when the government of the day realized the need to increase to £5,000 the exemption applicable to the estates of men whose deaths were attributable to service with the forces. At that time the general exemption limit was fixed at £2,000 if the estate went to a widow or children and £1,000 if it went to collaterals or strangers in blood. Three years ago the Parliament increased the general exemption to £5,000 if the estate went to a widow or children and £2,000 if it went to collaterals or strangers in blood. Senator Wright has highlighted the fact that the exemption applicable to the estates of men who die on active service or whose deaths are attributable to service is still only £5,000. I also wish to direct the attention of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to that fact. I ask him to consider whether this exemption is adequate in view of the enlightened approach by the Parliament three years ago in respect of the exemption applicable to the estates of civilians. This is a matter well worthy of favorable consideration. A large amount of revenue would not be involved. I ask the Minister to state his own views on the matter and, if necessary, to make the appropriate representations.
– We are indebted to Senator Wright for the manner in which he has stated a case for increasing the exemption for the benefit of widows and dependants of men whose deaths are due to service in the Far East Strategic Reserve. I appeal to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to give earnest consideration to Senator Wright’s most humane request. As 1 have said, we are indebted to him for his promptitude in directing attention to the very grave anomaly that exists. I, personally, appreciate his definition of sacrifice both on the field of battle and in the everyday adventures of life at home. I appeal to the Minister to give the matter earnest consideration and, if he is not in a position to make a decision immediately, to agree to the adjournment of the debate so that he may have an opportunity to discuss the matter with the Government’s advisers. Failing that, it may bc necessary for us to move an amendment to give effect to Senator Wright’s suggestion.
– I shall deal, first, with Senator Laught’s observation that the existing exemption of £5,000 applicable to the estate of a man whose death is attributable to service in the armed forces is inadequate. I do not think any one can say exactly what is, or is not, adequate in these matters. A man who is killed defending his country gives all, and no one can say what recompense would be adequate for his wife and children. We can do only what we think is reasonable. When all is said and done, the Parliament merely represents the people and gives effect to their wishes. I think that, since 1918, it has consistently been extremely generous in meeting the needs of returned servicemen from World War I., World War II., Korea, and Malaya, and that it intends to deal generously with men who serve in the Far East Strategic Reserve.
The exemption applicable to the estates of deceased servicemen has been gradually increased to £5,000. Senator Wright knows more about the law applicable to estate duties than I do, and he should know that this is not the full extent of the exemption available. I am informed that section 18A of the principal act gives a general exemption, and that a total exemption of up to £10,000 will apply to the estates of men whose deaths are attributable to service in Korea or Malaya, or as members of the Far East Strategic Reserve. So it is incorrect to say that such estates would be entitled only to a miserable exemption of £5,000. I am sure that all honorable senators are sympathetic in this matter, but we have to face realities. I am informed by one of my advisers from the Treasury that the matter is at present under consideration. Various Treasury committees consider matters referred to them, and this is one of the matters which has been so referred. I cannot, by a stroke of the pen or a word, make the figure £15,000. But I assure honorable senators, as I am sure they appreciate, that this matter will receive the sympathetic consideration of the Government.
.- I rise only to acknowledge the action of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) and to comment upon the suggestion of Senator Critchley. I raised this matter for a purpose, and proper debate will be deterred if, on such occasions, party considerations are immediately obtruded. I am quite sure that I have only to mention that point.
– That is my only hesitancy.
– Quite. I do not like to raise a matter so small in its application, but I am heartened to be assured that genuine consideration is being given to the adjustment of the amounts of exemption to make (hem appropriate to the present level of the economy. I hope that, with the encouragement he has received in this chamber, the Minister will have his way. In due course, if nothing further is presented to us by the Government, it will be open to any senator to bring in a bill to make adjustments which are considered appropriate.
– I appreciate the action taken by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). He has been a Minister or the Leader of the Opposition while I have been a member of the Senate, and I think he will agree that I have always objected to any repatriation matter being considered on a party basis. I do not propose to change my attitude. I realize the importance of the matter. I have listened with interest to the Minister’s statement, which, as usual, was keen. He has always felt very deeply about repatriation matters and I know that his assurance on this issue will be honoured as far as humanly possible. I urge him to take the action suggested as soon as possible. For the reasons stated, I shall not proceed to move the amendment I mentioned earlier.
– I thank the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) for the consideration he has given to the suggestions made here this morning.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill (on motion by Senator Cooper) read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill (on motion by Senator Cooper) read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill (on morion by Senator Cooper) read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 25th October (vide page 903), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition offers no objection to this bill, and will do everything to facilitate its early passage. .This measure, and the several bills which the Senate has just passed, are made necessary by the Government’s decision to re-organize our forces serving in Malaya as the Australian component of the strategic force there, and the reaching of an armistice in Korea in July. 1953, resulting in the majority of Australian forces being withdrawn from that area. As the Minister has said, as operational areas in fact no longer exist in Korea, the provision in the act concerning service in that area becomes a dead letter. This amending legislation provides that benefits under the War Service Homes Act will be available to qualified ex-servicemen who served in Malaya or Korea or to their dependants, if they become entitled to a repatriation benefit in consequence of death or incapacity. That is the main purpose of the bill.
I welcome the fact that at long last people who have rendered valuable and, in many instances, heroic services to the nation in war-time, are eventually to become eligible for repatriation and war service homes benefits; but I am concerned by the effect that the widening of the eligibility provisions under the War Service Homes Act will have on the large number of applicants for war service homes who have already been waiting an unconscionably long time for finance to be provided to them to build or purchase war service homes. I hope that my fear that the increase of the number of persons eligible for war service homes consequent on this measure may lengthen the waiting period for applicants whose applications have already been approved, will not be borne out. I hope that the War Service Homes Division will keep this possibility in mind, and attempt to prevent the occurrence that I fear, and will continue to bend its energies to shortening what is, in my opinion, an unnecessarily lengthy delay in the finalization of applications.
An interesting feature of the legislation is the extension of its provisions to cover persons who had service in various types of ships during World War 11., such as members of the crews of troop transports and hospital ships, and canteen workers on Royal Australian Navy ships, and so on, who could not formerly qualify for war service homes benefits, as they did not fall within the legal definition of “ eligible person “. 1 fear that it is not much of a compliment to members of this Parliament, on either side, that that anomaly has been allowed to exist until now, because the persons concerned were subject to the same degree of war risk during their service as were other personnel in our defence forces. I welcome this feature of the bill as a most desirable amendment of the existing law. We wish the bill a speedy passage.
– I rise with much pleasure to support this bill, and to say how glad I am that the number of persons eligible to benefit under the War Service Homes Act is to be extended by it. The bill provides that war service homes benefits will be available to qualified exservicemen or their dependants who are entitled to a repatriation benefit in consequence of death or incapacity. A pleasing feature of the bill is that the eligibility provisions will now apply to people who had service in various types of ships during the last war, such as members of the crews of troop transports and hospital ships, and canteen workers on Royal Australian Navy ships and so on, who previously, although they served under equally hazardous conditions as did sea-going personnel already covered by the act, have been unable to benefit under its provisions because they did not legally fall within the definition of “ eligible person “.
Like Senator Critchley, I, too, am concerned over the long delays in the provision of finance to persons whose applications for war service homes have been approved. I know that these delays cause great difficulties to applicants. However, I think we can take pride in the fact that in the last few years of this Government’s term of office more war service homes have been built than in all the years since the principal act has been in operation. The provision of war service homes has been of great benefit to this nation.
Whilst fully appreciating the problems that extension of the provisions of this legislation to cover ex-members of the women’s services would cause, 1 have felt for a long time that there is a great deal of concern over the fact that many exmembers of those services are not eligible for those benefits. The principal act defines “ Australian soldier “ - a very proud term - as - a person who . . . served in the Naval, Military or Air Forces of any part of the King’s Dominions, other than the Commonwealth, . . .
The definition also covers a person who - is or was a member of any nursing service maintained by the Commonwealth in connexion with the Defence Force of the Commonwealth or any part thereof accepted or appointed for service outside Australia;
The act defines an eligible person as a person who is an Australian soldier and who-
We have many ex-servicewomen who played an excellent part in overseas service as well as in Australia. The bill is to cover persons who served in various types of ships under equally hazardous conditions as those under which regular seagoing personnel served, and 1 remind the Senate of Greece, Crete and some other very sticky places where the nursing services played a magnificent part under conditions quite as dangerous as those faced by servicemen. But women who served in these places cannot qualify as eligible persons for war service homes because, usually, they have no dependants in the way that a married man has dependants. Many of them have maintained dependent parents or other relatives, but as time has gone on those dependants have passed away and the ex-servicewomen no longer have even that claim to eligibility. We come to the point where these women need a home, but there is no way in which they can qualify as an eligible person. I have spoken to departmental officers about this matter and have had a sympathetic hearing, but there are, I understand, innumerable problems associated with it. At the same time, I do not believe that the number would be great but the assistance would be most helpful.
– Would it not be necessary to make the term “ dependent “ applicable to males also if something were done for the women?
– 1 agree that that problem arises. It is only one aspect of the question that would require serious consideration. We do not want to take away anything that is already given to those who have been in the services.
– What we have we hold.
– That is our attitude. But, surely, some consideration could be given at least to assisting specific cases, because I know that everybody appreciates the work that was done in the wars by the women’s services. I have always appreciated the provision in the War Service Homes Act, which states that a dwelling house includes -
A house or building used or to be used by a person who is included in paragraph (b) or (d) of the definition of “ Australian Soldier “ as a hospital, sanatorium or nursing home;
I have been informed by some senior officers that, in the case of former war nurses, the difficulty might be overcome if the house or dwelling place that was required was to be used for s-;ch a purpose. Everybody recognizes the valuable work that is being done by district nurses, whose work makes available hospital beds for other patients. If a former war nurse wished to care for some patients in her own home, or go out and do the work which is being done in private homes by district nurses, she would be rendering a fine community service and could still have the advantage of owning her own home. I do not want to create difficulties, but I should like to see an attempt made to assist the women to whom I have referred so that we can repay some of the debt we owe them for their war service.
.- 1 support the bill, and congratulate the Government on the measure of justice that it will give to persons who so richly deserve it. I must say, however, that I share the fear of Senator Critchley that, with the extension of repatriation facilities to more persons, there may be even longer delays in having cases determined. I suppose that I am not alone in receiving a considerable number of letters from ex-servicemen who are in real troubl’e because of delays in getting homes. Some of them are further involved because they have become desperate, and have sought help from loan sharks, who charge them extortionate rates of interest for temporary financial accommodation until they obtain loans from the War Service Homes Division.
Reference has been made in this chamber on many occasions to these extortionate rates of interest. I have heard spokesmen for the Government reply that the matter has been investigated, and the Government believes that, while such things should be condemned, there are not many such cases. Even if there were only one case of the kind, I believe that it would be too many. I believe, also, that the experience of other honorable senators who have received complaints of this nature, indicates that there is a considerable number of cases where ex-servicemen are the victims of loan sharks who take advantage of their need because of the grave difficulties that face them in obtaining credit. It is a terrible situation when persons who have risked their lives for their country are taken advantage of by others who probably .took no risks, stayed at home and made money. They are now lending that money at extortionate rates of interest to ex-servicemen, who have been forced in desperation to get temporary financial accommodation because they cannot wait until they obtain their loans from the War Service Homes Division.
I suppose the answer is to provide more money for war service homes, and I suggest that the Government should consider this matter and make inquiries, particularly from organizations that represent exservicemen, about the evil to which I have referred. As the Government is now extending the benefits over a wider field, I hope that it will be as generous as possible in making finance available for war service homes. 1 commend the bill, and congratulate the Government on the measure of justice it proposes to give to a number of very good Australians.
– in reply - In view of the interest that this measure has raised in the chamber, 1 propose to reply now to some of the comments that have been made by honorable, senators. I have been pleased to notice that they have not been made in a critical vein. Apart from the provision for extending the benefits of war service homes legislation to members of the Far East Strategic Reserve, this bill is designed to remedy a defect in the original draft of the act. The intention of the measure was to make members of the mercantile marine trading between ports in Australia and overseas eligible for war service homes. When we examined the measure, we found that men who had served on a troopship were not enlisted or attested and were not on ships trading between Australian ports and overseas. They were engaged on specific duties. That applied also to canteen workers on Australian ships of war. They were not on the ship’s articles, and were not enlisted or attested for military service, but were employed by civilian contractors, in some cases. In the final analysis, there was nc corner of the War Service Homes Act within which we could bring them.
I thought that that was wrong, and suggested that we should give them war service homes, but the departmental officers, in their righteousness, pointed out that we had to administer the act as it stood.. Therefore, it is necessary to amend the act. That will increase the number of applicants, but we cannot allow that consideration to affect us. These men are clearly entitled to qualify, and if we have to add a few more to the. list then it is just too bad for those on the list. In fact, I am certain that they would; be the first to admit that these people should be. given their legal rights.
I turn now to the matter raised by Senator Annabelle Rankin. I am one of the first to admit that there is a strong case for the nursing sister of World War I. who is not married, who has no dependants, who is now getting as old as I am and who wants a home in which to live. But we have to remember that the war service homes scheme presents such extraordinarily generous terms in interest and repayments that the demand for these homes has exceeded all expectations, and is difficult to meet from Government resources.
Moreover, we cannot consider war service homes in isolation, because the Government’s resources must be allocated equitably over a wide field. We must consider the requirements of the Navy, the Postal Department and all other Commonwealth departments and activities. We have done what we could, that is to the limit of our resources, in the field of war service housing. Therefore, if we admit the nursing sisters mentioned by Senator Annabelle Rankin, we cannot, with justice, omit the members of. all the other women’s services of both wars, and we cannot with justice omit a qualified bachelor. The net result of all those considerations is that to admit the nursing sisters would substantially extend the field of eligibility. I do not think that it would be possible to justify what 1 should like to do through personal inclination, that is, to make nursing sisters from World War I. eligible for war service homes.” I do not think that such a move could be justified in logic and argument, and we cannot cater for that type of applicant as distinct from members of other services.
– The criterion of overseas service could be applied.
– Members of other women’s services would come within the category.
– But not so many.
– A large number. I shall now deal with the matter raised by Senator McManus. about rates of interest. There has been a good deal of exaggeration on this point. I subscribe to the view that those who charge high interest rates to exservicemen for the temporary period about, which we are talking, must find it hard to live with their consciences. But this matter must be considered broadly. An examination that the Government has conducted has shown that 50 per cent., of the applicants for war service homes are getting their money at the interest rate of 5 per cent., or the bank rate of 5i per cent. Fourteen per cent, are getting it at rates between 5 per cent, and 10 per cent.; 33-J per cent, are paying 10 per cent, interest; and only 2f per cent, are paying a rate of interest in excess of 1 0 per cent.
– That is outrageous.
– It is all very well for Senator Brown to say that it is OUt,rageous Let us consider the practical position. If a man knows that his loan from the War Service Homes Division will be available in eighteen months, he can consider whether it will pay him to obtain temporary finance and move into his home immediately. The only way in which such a system could be changed, would be to provide all the money required to give all applicants their loans immediately, and that is beyond the financial resources of Australia. Consequently, we have to face these facts fairly. We could not, with justice to other interests in Australia, provide all the money needed to place the War Service Homes Division on a 100 per cent, efficient footing. I do not think that anybody would subscribe to the view that we should stop making money available for civilians under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, and that we should give all our money to the applicants for war service homes. That suggestion carries the argument to an illogical limit, of course, but it shows the type of problem involved.
We have provided as much money for war service homes as we believe we can equitably provide in the national interest, having regard to the claims of other categories of persons. The majority of exservicemen obtain temporary finance on a reasonable basis, and to the overwhelming majority of them it is a boon to be able to conclude their transactions with the aid of the temporary finance eighteen months earlier than they would have been able to conclude it if this, arrangement, were not in operation.
I have pointed out that only 2$ per cent, of the applicants have paid more than 10 per cent, interest for their temporary loans. What are we to do about this temporary finance? Are we to stop it in order that we may do something for the very small group who are paying the high interest rates? The effect of these high interest rates can also be exaggerated, because the temporary finance is required only for twelve months or fifteen months; and many of the applicants who pay interest at the rate of 10 per cent, or more are much better off by getting immediately into their own homes and paying the high interest rate than if they continued to pay high rents and had other outgoings. I thank the Senate for the support given to this measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Senator ASHLEY (New South Wales) [12.5). - 1 should like the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) to explain the enormous increase in the deposit for a war service home. I have raised this question before, but very little information has been forthcoming. It has been increased by more than 100 per cent. The Minister has made a very good case for the moneylending sharks. Let us now have an explanation of the reason for the deposit that is required at the present time, which is more than double what it was before. It has caused ex-servicemen inconvenience and has not reduced the time taken, as has been admitted by the Minister, to acquire a home.
– There is no doubt about the ability of our good friend, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), to submit a good case for the money lenders. A few weeks ago, there was brought to my notice the case of an ex-serviceman who had raised a certain sum of money to build a home, and who later found himself in difficulties. He came to me. I approached the relevant department, but was told that, because he had obtained the money from a bank, it could not help him. To get out of his difficulties he would have to sell his home, which was not quite finished, or make arrangements for somebody to take it over. I should like some explanation of the reason, given by the department for not being able to help him.
Surely, a government consisting of Christians and not usurers could find some means of assisting ex-servicemen who are forced to pay a huge interest rate of 10 per cent, or more. The Minister says that we cannot afford to issue money for this purpose. Seeing the Government is building, homes, which are an asset, and seeing it can waste millions of pounds on the St. Mary’s project, which is being constructed on a cost-plus basis, and on many other military projects, as many of the tories have pointed out, surely the small number of ex-servicemen who are compelled to pay the usurious rate of 10 per cent, or more could receive some assistance from it. Why does not the Minister, with all his powers of argument and logic, place the matter before Cabinet and put up a fight for ex-servicemen who are compelled to pay such high rates of interest to those people - I do not know whether they are Jews; they certainly are not Christians - who are charging -10 per cent., 12 per cent., or 15 per cent.? When 1 built my first house, I went to a bank - I shall not mention the name of it, because to do so at the present time might not be fair - and was charged an interest rate of 8i per cent. I thought the rate was absolutely extortionate, but I had to pay it.
– How long ago was that?
– It was a long while ago. lt must have been well over 30 years ago.
– The rate was 8 per cent, then?
– It was really 8i per cent. The interesting point is that certain action was taken by the State government. I have not the details now, but-
Senator Laught interjecting,
– I beg your pardon?
– The honorable senator is raising the matter.
– Do not be stupid! The honorable senator, with all his brilliance as a lawyer, cannot remember such details over all those years. I cannot remember the exact details, but certain action was taken. I admit that I do not know whether it was taken on a Federal or a State level. However, interest rates came down to 6 per cent. I remember it well, because the rate of 8i per cent, that I was paying was not reduced. My wife was told about this reduction one day, so she went to the bank and had a row with the bank manager. She discovered that he was the superintendent of her first Sunday school. He put up as good a case at that time as the Minister puts up now. It is remarkable how these people with high morals can put up an argument for usury and be followers of the lowly Christ who turned the usurers out of the temple. There can be no argument for it.
– Do not be so silly.
– It is not silly.
– Of course it is silly.
– What is silly?
– There is another intellectual golomynka from South Australia.
– I nearly called him a troglodyte.
– It is not ridiculous.
Senator Hannaford. - Do not look at me. I was not interjecting.
– I shall apologize.
– I should think you would.
– I apologize deeply and most profoundly to the honorable senator from South Australia.
– How very profound!
– It was Senator Pearson who interjected.
– Oh, it was Senator Pearson? He is a very good friend of mine. Of course, he is being facetious. Some honorable senators are serious when they interject; others are facetious. Being somewhat facetious myself sometimes, I have a soft spot in my heart for friend Pearson. How can any person justify charging an interest rate of 10 per cent, or more to an ex-serviceman who, because of certain difficulties, has not been able to get money from the War Service Homes Division? He is compelled to pay that price. I do not care whether it is for eighteen months, eighteen years or eighteen hours; no argument can be adduced by any intelligent Christian senator to justify the charging of an interest rate of 10 per cent, or more to an ex-serviceman.
– I rise to order. I do not think the honorable senator has the right to reflect on honorable senators on this side of the chamber by saying that, if we do not agree with his arguments, we are not Christians.
– I have never said that honorable senators opposite are not Christians. I was pointing out how difficult it would be for any Christian to justify an interest rate of 10 per cent, or more. 1 should not like to stand in my place in this chamber, as Senator Spooner with his sophistry and powers of argument has done, and seek to justify charging that interest rate to ex-servicemen who gave of their best for this country. It is not beyond the capacity of this Government to produce more money at this stage to ensure that these men shall have the necessary money lent to them at an interest rate of less than 10 per cent. All the argument in the world will not convince me to the contrary. We know that under our banking system money can be issued, that failure to produce money at certain times is only a matter of expediency and at other times one of policy. Money can be produced. We know that the Government can liquefy frozen assets. Australia’s assets are big enough and our taxation powers are great enough to enable the Government to issue money for the purpose of lending it to ex-servicemen at the reasonable interest rate of 2± per cent, or less.
– Having listened io recent utterances, I wish to make a brief contribution to the debate. I have already expressed my great concern in this chamber about the way in which some ex-servicemen are being exploited in the matter of interest rates during their waiting period. The rates that are being charged, which are as high as 15 per cent, and 16 per cent., are completely unconscionable, and are a disgrace to those who are exacting them. I wish to put one thought to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) with a desire to be helpful. The Commonwealth has no power in the field of homebuilding as such. It may enter this field only because this is a repatriation service. lt derives its power, accordingly, from the defence head of power, which has been upheld repeatedly in the courts. Since that power exists, there is also power to do anything incidental to the execution of the power. Surely the determination of terms and conditions applying to the acquisition of homes, and the setting up of ex-servicemen in homes, is incidental to repatriation! I suggest, very seriously, to the Minister that the Commonwealth may have power, under the defence power, to legislate against the extortionate rates of interest that are being exacted in what the Minister claims to be a relatively small percentage of cases. I do not care how small the percentage is. If that is being done, even to a few people, it is something with which the Government should be concerned, and 1 think that the Government should look through its armoury to see whether it has some protective mechanism.
– Could not the States control this matter?
– The States could do so. They have power to determine interest rates, lt is true that that is within the jurisdiction of the States, but I am suggesting that, in this particular matter, it is the immediate and primary responsibility of the Federal Government to protect ex-servicemen.
– Would the honorable senator not say that that was also the responsibility of State governments?
– I frankly admit that the States have the necessary power, but I maintain that the protection of exservicemen is the particular responsibility of the Commonwealth Parliament. 1 trust that that will not be denied. I do not think that, if something unconscionable is being done, it is sufficient for the Commonwealth to say, “ The States have power to deal with it. Let them do it “.
Since the States have not taken action to prevent this practice, the next and obvious step is for the Commonwealth to ask, “ Well, have we the necessary power “ ? I suggest to the Minister that, as the States have not moved, the matter is the responsibility of the Government of which he is a member.
– The point is, have we the power to do anything?
– That is the very point I am making. 1 am saying that we have complete power over defence, and that the courts have upheld our power to repatriate, long after a war has ended, the men who served in the forces. That power goes on for years, lt has continued ever since World War. I. as an extension of the defence power. The High Court of this country has upheld that power specifically, and has pointed out that a condition that is most essential to the defence of the country is that men who are prepared to enlist and risk their lives in its defence should be promised certain things and have expectations of security if they should be injured. The High Court has pointed out that if those conditions were not forthcoming, there would be few volunteers for service in the forces. That power has been upheld in a number of cases, so that it is the defence power under which the Government legislates concerning homes for exservicemen. Apart from that authority, the Commonwealth has no power to legislate in respect of homes. Therefore, this bill that we are now discussing derives its constitutional authority from the defence head of power operating in peace-time, and I am asking the Minister whether the Government has considered the fact that, under the defence power, it may regulate rates of interest chargeable to ex-servicemen in connexion with their repatriation.
– Does the honorable senator think that the ex-servicemen would like that to be done?
– I think that the Minister ought to examine the position. I should say that an ex-serviceman whose need is such that he is prepared to pay interest at the rate of 15 per cent, or 16 per cent, would welcome intervention, from any quarter, that would relieve him of the necessity to pay such an” extortionate rate of interest.
– The ex-servicemen need money.
– That may be so, but the opportunity exists for the sharks to come in, and it is clear that some of them are taking advantage of it. If this Government has power to act, it should exercise that power.
– I know the difficulties that are involved, and I do not think that it would be possible to get ex-servicemen to support such a move.
– I am putting the position to the Minister, and I again ask whether the Government has considered invoking power that it may have. If, on inquiry, there is ground for belief that it has such power, I ask whether the Government will exercise it.
– As the bill contains no reference to interest rates, I refrained from discussing that matter at the second-reading stage. However, since the matter of interest rates has now been raised, I hope that the Minister will reply to the comments of Senator
Ashley. When the Minister was replying to the second-reading debate he said something to the effect that we should not exaggerate the rates of interest that are being charged. 1 assure the Minister that honorable senators on this side of the chamber appreciate that there are many applicants for war service homes to whom finance is the least important problem; but we are concerned - and I am sure the Minister is also concerned - with the plight of exservicemen to whom finance is a great problem. As I have said on previous occasions, I have had nothing but courtesy from officials of the War Service Homes Division in Adelaide. I know that those officers feel the same way as I do about this problem of finance.
I know of young ex-servicemen with large families - in one instance, the young couple concerned have six children - whose applications for war service homes have been approved but who have obtained interim finance for their homes at exorbitant rates of interest. Those are people with limited incomes, and they are the ones to whom these high rates of interest cause great hardship. In many cases, these exorbitant rates of interest mean that they are not able to furnish their homes adequately. Many ex-servicemen in this position were living with their relatives, or in rooms for which they had to pay rent while their homes were being erected. I appeal to the Minister to do something to protect exservicemen from these exorbitant rates of interest, because they impose hardships to which ex-servicemen should not be subjected.
.- Recently, I informed the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) that the fact that the War Service Homes Division was unable to give a guarantee to an exserviceman that he could obtain temporary finance from a financial institution was giving rise to complaints that were becoming more and more numerous. This, to me, is a classical example of the law of supply and demand, in which this Government believes so firmly. The policy of the Government has resulted in a delay between the approval of an application and the making of the advance, during which the number of those demanding homes increases and the suppliers play “ hard to get “. The people who charge these high rates of interest know very well that the ex-servicemen who approach them are being pressed by their wives to exercise their undoubted right under the War Service Homes Act to apply for assistance to obtain a home.
As honorable senators are aware, housing costs have sky-rocketed during recent years, and the average cost of a home to-day is between £3,500 and £4,000. The cost of building or buying a house to-day is a! least £3,500. Many of the building contractors who formerly built houses for exservicemen who obtained finance through the War Service Homes Division have ceased to do so because of the inordinate delays in obtaining payment.
The ex-serviceman is in a difficult position because he cannot obtain assistance quickly from the War Services Homes Division. If a house that is a bargain comes on to the market, by the time the division’s assessor is ready to make an inspection, the house has been sold to another person, tn many instances, a person who has a house to sell that can be regarded as a bargain would prefer to sell it to an exserviceman, but generally he cannot afford to wait for payment until the War Service Homes Division has made an advance to the ex-serviceman. In those circumstances, the dealers and the agents get the pick of the houses that come on to the market. An ex-serviceman who wants to buy an existing house has to wait until the bitter end. so to speak - and there are no bargains at the end of the trail.
Other honorable senators have referred to the time that elapses between the making of an application for assistance to the War Service Homes Division and the granting of a loan by the division. In that interval, the ex-serviceman is in a cleft stick. He is open to exploitation. Money lenders and others have him at their mercy. This debate will serve some purpose if it has the effect of directing the attention of the public to the numerous cases of hardship that occur. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) wishes to pass lightly over this matter. I assure him that in many cases I have assisted exservicemen in their efforts to get from the War Service Homes Division a guarantee that a loan will be made within, say, fifteen months, but I have found that it is just as difficult to get a decision from the War Service Homes Division as from the Department of Trade, the Department of Primary Industry, the Department of Customs and Excise and other departments. There is a great deal of vacillation by government departments at the moment, due to the uncertainty of Government policy. The War Service Homes Division has a very good reputation, but it is being dissipated rapidly by indecision and vacillation.
The shortage of funds for war service homes must be attributed to the policy of the Government. The War Service Homes Division is doing its best, but it cannot get anything definite from the Government. It is being asked to carry the baby in this matter. In some instances, an exserviceman’s approach to the War Service Homes Division for a loan is his first contact with a Government department. His reaction is, “ What have I struck here? “ He knows that his friends, Joe Brown and Bill Smith, are living comfortably in nice homes, but he finds that when he applies to the division for a loan to build a home for himself, there is a hole-in-the-corner attitude. He is told that he cannot have a loan from the division then, but that if he arranges to obtain temporary finance there is a good chance that he will get a loan from the division eventually.
The criticisms of the Government thai have been voiced so ably by the honorable senators who have spoken in this debate may have done something to alleviate the plight of the many ex-servicemen who are waiting for loans from the War Service Homes Division. Every ex-serviceman has an undoubted right to a house. An irrevocable promise was made to ex-servicemen during the war that, after the war, they would be provided with facilities to obtain adequate housing accommodation for their wives and families. I believe that the provision of the additional money that is required would not materially affect our already unstable economy. There are human beings in great need. By neglecting such an important aspect of rehabilitation, the Government is not only creating confusion in the minds of ex-servicemen, but is treating them unjustly. I hope that the Minister will make special representations to Cabinet on this matter and that he will try to make his colleagues realize that widespread discomfort and frustration ari? being caused by the stringent economic policy which the Government is applying to this section of the community. I hope that steps to ameliorate the plight of these people will be taken by the Government in the near future.
– I think it is fair to say that if I had taken a point of order, the remarks made by some honorable senator would have been ruled to be out of order. The bill contains certain provisions, and we should address ourselves only to those provisions. Senator Critchley, in opening the debate, recognized that to be the situation.
– It would be quicker to take the bill clause by clause.
– We are taking it as a whole, are we not?
– We are taking it as a whole.
– I do not think the Chair would uphold the Minister’s point of order.
– It would be upheld by Senator Reid.
– Order! That is a reflection on the Chair. I ask Senator Grant to withdraw his remark.
– I withdraw it. You are a very good Chairman. I am sorry.
– I did not raise the issue because I believe that war service homes are pf great importance. I do not want to restrict debate on that subject. The other point I wish to make is that I resent - I would like Senator Brown to pay me the courtesy of listening to me.
– I am listening to you, but I do not have to look at you all the time.
– I resent a statement from a person such as Senator Brown that I am putting to this committee the case for the money lender. I am putting to the committee the case for the ex-servicemen. I am proud to be an ex-serviceman, and I should take a great deal more notice of Senator Brown if he also were an exserviceman. I think it is a poor approach to the matter to say that I am here to put the case for the money lender. I am being as fair and as equitable as I can.
Senator Ashley raised the question again of increased deposits. It is true that the limit of the loan available is £2,750. So, because building costs have increased and a house costs more, a greater deposit is required. That is one side of the picture. The other side is that incomes have increased and, by and large, people are in a position to make larger deposits than previously. The fact that so many people are waiting for finance for war service homes shows conclusively that the payment of larger deposits is not beyond the financial capacity of ex-servicemen.
Reverting to the question of interest, 1 again stress, in reply to Senator McKenna, that I very much doubt whether any group representing ex-servicemen would want the Government to make any change in existing arrangements other than the major change of providing more money. A sum much greater than £30,000,000 is required. Another £5,000,000, if provided, would not do much to reduce the size of the waiting list.
– What do you estimate the unsatisfied demand for war service homes to be, expressed in terms of money?
– I could not answer that off the cuff, but it is a very substantia] sum indeed. If the appropriation were increased by as much as £15,000,000, there would still be a long waiting period for exservicemen. One has to remember that the attraction is not only in the low interest rate; it is also in the long period of repayment, the administration of the scheme by “ diggers “ for “ diggers “, and the low insurance premiums that are payable. These features make the War Service Homes Division the first port of call for an exserviceman who wants a home. We are making up the leeway; we are making progress. In spite of all the objections about high interest rates during the waiting period, an ex-serviceman, of course, is in a much better position than is a civilian. He knows, first, that his advance will be available in fifteen months. The civilian either gets an advance from a bank or an- advance is refused; he cannot be placed in a situation where he knows an advance will be available to him in fifteen months. The exserviceman has in his hand the letter of advice that an advance has been approved, and he is able to raise temporary finance in the meantime. I will not be put in the position of defending the man who lends money to ex-servicemen at a high rate of interest. If Senator Brown is fair, he will admit that in my original speech, I said that I should not like to have to square with my own conscience the lending of money to exservicemen at high rates of interest. I should be angry if 1 were put in the position of defending it. We must look at the position realistically from the viewpoint of what is best for ex-servicemen. This situation applies only to about 50 per cent, of those persons who obtain war service homes. The remainder take group homes, and so on. Of the former, only a comparatively small proportion pays a high rate of interest. The question of what is a high rate of interest opens a wide field of debate. I should think that not more than 2 or 3 per cent, of the ex-servicemen pay in excess of 10 per cent.
I think that I have extended courtesy to the Senate by letting it debate a subject that is not within the four corners of the bill. As we have a long list of items on the business sheet to be considered I conclude my remarks and move -
Thatthe question be now put.
Question put. The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Spooner) proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
– I agree entirely with the bill brought down by the Minister, but I want to register my objection to certain statements made by the Minister. The Minister has explained to the Senate that the cause of all the trouble is the lack of money. He has also tried to prove to the Senate and to the returned soldiers who are awaiting homes, that some concession is to be granted as a result of this bill. All that is to be done is to enlarge substantially the number of ex-servicemen awaiting homes. No more money is to be made available. In fairness to returned servicemen from any war, including World War II., surely some of the £108,000,000 surplus shown in the budget could be made available to exservicemen who have homes in view. They have to buy them from “ spec “ builders, and if they want to take advantage of the war service homes legislation they have to obtain temporary finance elsewhere at a very high rate of interest.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– The Minister tries to make out that this Government has done more for ex-servicemen than has any other government. It is only right that ex-servicemen of the Korean war should be treated similarly to ex-servicemen of both world wars. However, returning to the subject of war service homes, I point out to the Minister that speculative builders want their money as soon as the work is finished. I could speak at length about the case of an ex-serviceman I know, a married man with three children, who has had to pay 12 per cent, interest on an outside loan because his war service homes loan would not be available for twelve months.
I am not blaming either the Minister or the division for the present state of affairs, nor doI excuse previous governments. But, surely, more money can be allocated to the War Service Homes Division, in view of the fact that it is expected that revenue will exceed expenditure by £108,000,000 this financial year. I urge the Minister to bring this matter before the Cabinet. 1 am sure that he is sympathetically inclined, as probably is every other member of the Cabinet, to this subject. Something should be done to save our ex-servicemen from the vultures who are charging them excessive rates of interest on building loans. I should like the Government to consider floating a special loan to provide for the building of more war service homes. If it did, I am sure that the people would fill it within 24 hours. If more money were provided by this means, many exservicemen could go ahead and obtain homes. They should not be placed in the position of having to borrow money from outside sources it should be made available to them as soon as their loans are approved.
I come, now, to a second important aspect of this matter. The deposit payable by an ex-serviceman on a three-bedroom house has been increased to £750. How does the Government expect an exserviceman, who returned to industry only in 1946, to have that amount of money? In many instances, ex-servicemen have had to spend their war gratuities on things that they urgently needed for themselves and their families. I. trust that the Government will take steps to ensure that sufficient money shall be made available to the War Service Homes Division- to enable that body to make money available to ex-servicemen for homes as soon as the loans are approved.
.- Knowingly or unknowingly, the Minister- for National Development (Senator Spooner) has misrepresented the position in relation to war service homes, because ample manpower and materials are available for the construction of homes. What is physically possible is also financially possible. Misrepresentation of the kind that the Minister has indulged in only confuses exservicemen and other people who do not know the facts of the matter. I emphasize that an abundance of both man-power and materials is available to provide homes, not only for ex-servicemen, but for all workers who need them.
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the purpose of a thirdreading debate is not to afford to honorable senators an opportunity to make second second-reading speeches.
– Under which stand ing order is the Minister taking this point?
– I am basing my submission on rulings that were given by Senator Givens, when he was President of the Senate in 1926.
– He has passed out.
– That is so, but his rulings remain,, because they were very sound. Unless debate on the motion for the third reading of a bill is confined to reasons for or against the third reading, it would be possible for an honorable senator to make two second-reading speeches.
– I have not made one.
– Senator Cameron had the opportunity to do so. I submit that the debate on the motion for the third reading of a bill should be restricted to points arising out of the second-reading debate; otherwise, the third-reading debate could go on ad infinitum.
– Will the Minister cite the ruling on which he relies?
– As I said a moment or two ago, there is no standing order which says what can or cannot be done during a third-reading debate. However, I submit that, as the position must be governed by common sense, obviously there is no necessity for a specific standing order providing-
– I, also, desire to raise a point of order. I understand that the Leader of the Government is advancing his submission-
– Order ! I shall hear one point of order at a time. Senator O’sullivan may continue.
– 1 now have before me, “ Rulings of the President of the Senate” Volume IV., for the period 1913 to 1926, and I am happy to say that my recollection was correct. In 1926, Senator Givens gave two rulings on this matter. Ruling No. 64, at page 8 of the volume I have mentioned, reads -
On the third reading of a bill, clauses may not be discussed in detail.
Ruling No. 65, on the same page, reads -
Debate must be confined to reasons for or against the third reading; the repetition of arguments advanced in earlier stages is not in order.
As I said before, the reason for these rulings is obvious; it is to prevent honorable senators from delivering . two second-reading speeches.
– The Minister has quoted two rulings - Nos. 64 and 65 - that were given in 1926 by the then President of the Senate. Let us have a look, again, at ruling No. 64. lt is as follows: -
On the third reading of a bill, clauses may not be discussed in detail.
Surely the Minister does not contend that Senator Cameron was discussing the bill clause by clause?
– He was not discussing the bill at all.
– I submit, with respect, that that ruling is not applicable in this case. The other ruling, No. 65, reads -
Debate must be confined to reasons for or against the third reading; the repetition of arguments advanced in earlier stages is not in order.
I submit that Senator Cameron was advancing a case against the third reading of the bill. With the greatest respect, I submit that the Attorney-General (Senator O’sullivan) has not established that the arguments advanced by Senator Cameron were a repetition of those already adduced by him or any one else. If the AttorneyGeneral could tell me who submitted arguments the same as or similar to those advanced by Senator Cameron, there would perhaps be some merit in his case.
– But those arguments were available.
– They may have been available. No one is arguing that point. I know that I am attempting to put up a case against the Attorney-General, but I am referring to the actual wording of the ruling. I suggest, with respect, that the only ruling that can be given is not on the question whether the arguments were available at the time, but rather on the point as to whether Senator Cameron indulged in repetition of arguments already advanced.
– Does that mean advanced by other honorable senators?
– It does not even say that.
– But it does not exclude them.
– No, but I do not know that either the Attorney-General or I have any right to read words into it. I submit, with the greatest respect, that the point of order’ taken by the AttorneyGeneral is not valid.
– Speaking to the point of order, I suppose the tendency in the course of constitutional development has been that certain steps in the passage of a bill have become no more than formalities. I presume that was not contemplated originally, either constitutionally or historically. For example, the first readings of bills in most cases become mere formalities. The Standing Orders provide for extended speeches, in certain cases, on the motion for the first reading if any honorable senator should wish to exercise that right; but, generally, the practice has been not to take advantage of that opportunity. In most cases, the third reading of a bill is regarded as somewhat of a formality, but historically it is not necessarily so. I do not see why any honorable senator, because he has stood by and to some extent observed such a convention, should be prevented from regarding the third reading as being of equal importance with that of any other stage of the bill. I agree that the standing order and the interpretation given by President Givens is salutary, but nevertheless, whilst some honorable senators may elect to speak on the second reading others may elect to speak at a later stage of a bill, a stage which is not to be treated as a mere formality.
– But they may not repeat arguments advanced at a prior stage.
– I was coming to that point. I do not think anybody necessarily repeats any other person’s arguments. I do not think that is within human competence. Every honorable senator, when presenting a case, presents arguments according to his own approach to the situation. To that extent, the words in the standing order would be virtually untenable and illogical. Every person presents arguments which are dictated by his own milieu. The motion for the third reading of a bill is covered by the Standing Orders; at that stage amendments may be moved, for instance, for the withdrawal of the bill. In other words, the whole contemplation of the Standing Orders is that the third reading is not a formality. On this occasion, we do not intend to regard it as a formality, for one purpose if for no other. We took a stand on this matter on the second reading. We regard it as a highly important matter on which the Government, in our opinion, is not measuring up to its political and social responsibilities.
– But it has already passed the second reading stage.
– Sometimes we demonstrate our attitude in other ways within the Standing Orders by forcing divisions, divisions which, perhaps, we cannot win, but which demonstrate on our part a strong, confirmed and determined attitude in relation to some question before the Chair. On this occasion, we have decided that our attitude shall be determined by speaking on the motion for the third reading, not repeating arguments adduced earlier, but adding to them and supplementing them. Therefore, I submit that the point of order taken by the Attorney-General is not well taken.
– A very important principle is involved in the point of order. When introducing this bill, the Minister asked the Senate to agree that so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill being debated without delay. The Standing Orders provide that when the report from the committee to the President is adopted, the bill is to be read a third time. That means that after a bill has been read a first time and a second time and passed through the committee stage, and after it is reported to the President that the bill has been considered in committee, the time has come for a full consideration of the first and second readings, and the committee stage. In other words, honorable senators are given a further opportunity to consider the bill on the motion for the third reading. If the Chair rules that the third reading, to all intents and purposes, is superfluous - a mere formality - I submit that would cut across the whole intention of our parliamentary procedure. I submit that the third reading gives to honorable senators an opportunity, after the bill has been read a first and second time and after it has passed through the committee, to consider other aspects. Therefore, Senator Cameron is quite in order, and the point of order should not be upheld.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. IVf. McMullin). - While not ruling that
Senator Cameron is out of order, 1 think that when speaking to the motion for the third reading honorable senators should, as far as possible, confine themselves to new matter or the correction of misapprehensions arising in debate at an earlier stage. If Senator Cameron keeps that in mind, he will be in order; if he revives the debate that has taken place on the second reading, he will be out of order.
– The new matter to which I direct attention is that homes can be provided, and that it is no excuse to say that it is not financially possible to provide them. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) has emphasized that lack of finance prevents the Government from providing these homes. The new aspect to which I am directing attention is that the main point is whether manpower and materials are available.
I was proceeding to show that similar positions have arisen in the past. I was about to say that I was elected to the Senate in 1938 and that at that time the very arguments used here to-day by the Minister for National Development were adduced against providing money for urgently needed homes. We were told thenthat finance was not available. Then 1939 came, and although money was not available for home-building, it immediately became available for war purposes. Those who are now ex-servicemen were then provided with food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, housing and everything else to a far greater degree than many of them had enjoyed in 1938. What is the position now that they have returned from their war service? They are told again exactly what they were told in 1938. They are told that finance is not available for homes. I emphasize that the men and materials are available; and that is the all-important consideration. What is physically possible is also financially possible. The exserviceman who is provided with a home is paying two interest bills - one on his home and the other on the war debt. Many exservicemen, having fought for this country are virtually denied homes, and must pay interest to the money sharks who capitalize on the weaknesses of the law.
The reality of that cannot be ignored, and I warn the Government that the more difficult it makes the ex-serviceman’s task of getting his own home, the more difficulties it will encounter itself. The present overall position is bad enough, but the Minister’s attitude contains the inference that the Government intends to do no more in the way of providing houses than it is obliged to do. The Minister says that he is an ex-serviceman; but he has not at heart the interests of ex-servicemen who are not so fortunately placed as himself. If he had, his approach to this question would be very different. 1 do not want to delay the passage of this measure and merely put forward my views for the consideration of the Government.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 18th October (vide page 726), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition raises no objection to this bill, though it provides plenty of scope for discussion. The simple fact is that the construction of a new railway has rendered redundant the old section between Hawker and Brachina. Down the years, lengthy discussions, conferences and royal commissions, in which both the South Australian Government and the Commonwealth Government have been concerned, have taken place in regard to this section of the line. Authority for the construction of the new standard gauge railway from Stirling North to the Leigh Creek North coal-field is contained in earlier Commonwealth and South Australian legislation. The new line is the outcome of a royal commission, which was appointed because of the wide differences between the South Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government and those whom the railway was serving. Both governments agreed that the findings of the commission should be accepted, and this new line is the result.
The bill gives the Commonwealth Railways Department, or in other words, the Commonwealth Government, power to do what it likes with the section of line that is now redundant. If one has due regard for the service that this section has ren dered to that part of South Australia north of Quorn one must come to the conclusion that the expense involved in uprooting the line and the three associated sidings is hardly worth while. 1 recall that when 1 entered the Senate one of my first jobs was, together with my colleague, Senator O’Flaherty, and other South Australian members, to make representation seeking improvements and new trucking facilities at the Hookina siding. Hookina, which in those days was only a small township, is very much affected by construction of a new railway line on the other side of the ranges. I do not speak in any parochial sense - for it is true of our older settlers everywhere - when 1 say that the early occupants of that area were second to none in helping to develop South Australia. I shall not call them “ pioneers “ because that term tends to be used these days in speaking of earlier generations. One cannot but marvel at the change that has taken place in a few short years.
I do not doubt the wisdom of our very able Commonwealth Railways Commissioner in deciding to operate a line, more suitable and more economical, on the other side of the ranges. Indeed, if Leigh Creek had developed in the early days at it has now there would probably have been no line on the eastern side. But one cannot help feeling sad for the older people who, having worked so hard there for so long, will no longer be able to see the old R.T.’s and R.X.’s puffing along the line - perhaps stuck up half way between this town and that while a billy of tea was prepared.
The Minister tells us that those living along the redundant section will have no more than 10 miles to travel by direct route to the nearest portion of the line. That is true, but the travelling of a direct route in some of that county is tantamount to climbing over the top of Parliament House.
The township of Quorn has been hit very” hard. It has been a very progressive town, and its people, who have been of a generous and independent nature, have made it, despite the greatest of problems, a very pleasant centre from the point of view of hospitalization, education and civic pride. Everywhere one can see evidence of good citizenship, which we all want for the development of this country.
The town’s hospital has been good. Its schools are good. Its business has been good. The late Honorable R. W. Foster, a Quorn resident, pioneered many of the advancements that were made there in the early days. As far as I know, his descendants are still in business in that town. Big stock sales are held regularly in Quorn as a result of the existence of the rail facilities. Such sales have had a big effect on the business activity of the town, besides creating employment. The business of the markets will not be depleted to any great degree by this new line, although it will be necessary to go a certain way around to get to the markets. The rail men themselves, as fast as possible, are being removed to Port Augusta or Stirling North. At present, transport and accomodation problems at Port Augusta are acute and it is an economic problem for the Railways Commissioner to find transport for his employees from Quorn to Port Augusta. However, there are signs that, as time goes on, the commissioner will overcome that difficulty.
It is with some concern and more than a passing feeling of sadness that I look upon the closing of this part of the South Australian railways. I suppose it is only an intimate knowledge of the surrounding country and the conditions that can make one feel this way about the closing of a railway after many years. These people have suffered a hardship. I urge the Minister for Shipping and Transport, in all sincerity, that when the opportunity arises, he lose no opportunity of doing what he can to persuade the Government to establish some form of industry in this area. I understand that representations have been made by the South Australian Government and all members of the South Australian Parliament, particularly those who know the locality well, on this matter. They have a very intense feeling on the subject and are using every endeavour to ensure that the right and decent thing is done for the beautiful town of Quorn.
There is only one other point that I want to raise: In a South Australian paper, published yesterday, I notice a report that the
Leader of the Opposition in the South Australian House of Assembly had drawn the attention of the Premier to a report that the Federal Government had introduced this legislation. A part of the report read -
He asked if any action by the State Parliament would be necessary to enable this to be done and what was the future of the narrow gauge line between Brachina and Copley. The Premier replied that the closing of the Hawker-Brachina section was covered by State Parliament legislation but presumed the Commonwealth would also close the Brachina-Copley section which would be a duplication of the 4’ 81” line, but would ask the Crown Solicitor to investigate whether the proposed bill was within the rights of the Commonwealth.
That indicates the attitude of the South Australian Government. I have not much fear on that point, because the State and the Commonwealth have co-operated throughout the years in this regard. The enthusiasm of the South Australian Parliament has made modern progress possible in this area. It has resulted in the erection of the power house at Stirling North and the development of Leigh Creek brown coal, which has been a god-send to the State, whether it be a socialized enterprise or not. I feel sure that the Commonwealth can expect no serious opposition from the South Australian Government. I have no more to add except to express my sadness at this change. My memories are of trains travelling through these ranges for many years. If this were the proper place to do so, I could entertain the Senate with tales of drovers, stockmen, firemen and cleaners, in the good old, tough old days on that northern track.
– 1 desire to support the bill. 1 appreciate the remarks made by Senator Critchley, particularly in regard to his association with the north. It is sad to see a railway line fall into disuse anywhere. But, in the matter under consideration, we have the knowledge that the 41 miles of rails and equipment will be used in the maintenance of the existing railway. In other words, there will not be waste; the existing track will be put to good use. However, we must face the facts, both engineering and economic.
I propose to address several remarks to the Senate on that aspect. First, I shall take up the point raised by Senator Critchley with regard to what happened in the South
Australian Parliament two days ago. I read, in the “ Adelaide Advertiser “ yesterday, that the Crown Solicitor has been asked by the Premier of South Australia to investigate whether the bill which had been introduced into this Parliament was within the constitutional rights of the Commonwealth. There is absolutely no doubt on that score, because section 3 of the Northern Railway (Alteration of Route) Act 1950 of South Australia reads -
The recommendation of the commission-
To which Senator Critchley referred - on the question referred to it shall be binding upon the State, and the construction of a standard gauge line of railway between Stirling North and Brachina on the route recommended by the Commission shall be deemed to be a discharge of the obligation of the Commonwealth under the agreement to convert to standard gauge that part of the Port Augusta to Alice Springs railway which lies between Stirling North, and Brachina.
So there appears to be no doubt at all about the constitutionality of this bill. I agree with Senator Critchley that there has been co-operation between the State and the Commonwealth in connexion with this matter in the past, and I see no possibility of litigation on whether the Commonwealth has power to pass this bill.
On the economic side, it can be stated that for the twelve months ended 31st March, 1956, the passengers conveyed from the three stations referred to by Senator Critchley numbered only 147 - less than half a passenger a day. The goods traffic amounted to 236 tons, and the general revenue was of a corresponding order. So we must face the economic facts. Reference has been made to the effect of the change on the station people in that area. I understand that there are five stations to the east and ten to the west of this 41 miles of track. Those to the west will be convenienced by the new line. However, the new line will be more inconvenient to those stations in the east than the old line. We cannot provide for all eventualities, and I think the Senate will see the reason of this proposal.
Of course, this proposal has not been prepared by the Minister alone. In bringing this bill before the Parliament, he is fortified by the report on Commonwealth railway operations for the year 1955-56, which has just been handed to us. Therefore, there is justification for this bill. As a matter of fact, I feel that the Minister has a duty to act on such a factual report. I agree with Senator Critchley that the town of Quorn should be considered in this matter, but I feel that the rehabilitation of employees on this section of railway and the rehabilitation of employees on the lower section, who will be affected because the railway will not run through their towns, such as Quorn, are being well cared for by the Commonwealth authorities. The bill before us does not specifically refer to this 41 miles of railway. It refers to a power to be given to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, which may be used in relation to any Commonwealth railway, whether it is between South Australia and Western Australia, in the Northern Territory, or even in the Australian Capital Territory. Consequently, we, as a Senate, should approach this matter from the stand-point of whether or not such a power should be granted by Commonwealth legislation. The first use of this power will be made to close the 41 miles of railway of which I have been speaking. I believe that the bill should be supported, because this is a proper power for the commissioner to have. Powers such as this are incorporated in the legislation of most of the States, which, of course, have been running railways for almost a century. I ask the Senate, therefore, to support the bill. It is unfortunate that certain people will be adversely affected by it, but I, as a South Australian, believe that it is right and proper that we should support this bill. I believe that the materials that will become surplus because of the closing of the line can be used to good advantage for other purposes.
In conclusion, I pay a tribute to the Minister and his department for the forward outlook that the Commonwealth Railways undertaking has adopted. I have inspected the railways in the Darwin area and between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta, and I know that the services are being run efficiently. I believe that the bill is well worthy of support, from both the economic and engineering points of view.
.- My comments on this measure will be very brief. I do not share the nostalgia displayed by previous speakers who spoke of the original installation of this 3-ft. 6-in. gauge line in South Australia. It may possibly have been instrumental in opening up vast areas of land, and it may have done a good job in bringing goods to and taking them from the area, and in this way have contributed towards the development of Australia as a great nation. I, however, in supporting this measure, rejoice at the passing of a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge line. In Tasmania we are burdened with a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge railway, and we realize the desirability of the eventual abolition of all 3-ft. 6-in. gauge lines, and, for that matter, all 5-ft. 3-in. gauge lines. The lack of a standardgauge railway throughout Australia is holding back the development of this country. I suggest that we should have a standardrailway gauge of 4-ft. 8i-in., which seems to be the international gauge, and the most economical one.
While the Government is fully justified in abandoning this line and in selling the rails and equipment, I should like to impress upon it the need to assist the States to administer their railways as efficiently as the Commonwealth Railways are administered. The Commonwealth Railways have reached a high standard of efficiency, mainly as the result of the use of diesel-electric locomotives, and they have proved to be of great value to Australia. It is a great pity that the States have to struggle along with uneconomical, over-capitalized steam locomotives, when they know what can be done with diesel-electric locomotives. It gives one much pleasure to read the report on the operations of the Commonwealth Railways and realize that at least one of Australia’s railway systems is paying its way. Indeed, the Commonwealth Railways made a handsome profit last year. I personally have enjoyed the very good service that is given on the Commonwealth Railways, particularly on the Alice Springs line, on which one passes such old towns as Oodnadatta, which we read about in early accounts of the establishment of the overland telegraph service. Passengers who travel across the desert on the Trans-Australian Railway have only the highest praise for the service provided. I believe that we should endeavour to achieve a greater degree of co-ordination between the Commonwealth and the States in connexion with our railway systems. We should aim at the abolition of all 3-ft. 6-in. and 5-ft. 3-in. gauge lines, and concentrate on the introduction of a standard gauge for the whole of Australia. The railways could then get on with the job that they were originally in tended to do, which is the transport of bulk goods, and the employees would not be burdened with the morale-breaking feeling that they are working for a losing proposition, and that they can never run their services at a profit.
While I support the Government’s intention to close this 41 miles of railway line, negative though the approach may appear to be, I strongly suggest that it should tackle the problem of standardization of rail gauges, and that it should introduce diesel electric locomotives in the State railway services, either by financing the State governments so that they may purchase these locomotives, or by lending locomotive units to the States. We might then have all our Australian railways on a paying basis. I commend the Government upon its introduction of this measure, and 1 wish it success.
– I am afraid that I cannot take the same view of this bill as that which has been taken by previous speakers. If the purpose of the bill were merely to close this one railway line, it might have my approval, but the bill seeks to give to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner power to close any Commonwealth railway line without consultation with or approval by the Parliament. That is a very different matter from closing one specific railway line, particularly when we consider the repeated demands by the metropolitan press to close any railway that is not a paying proposition.
It has been stated by a previous speaker that this legislation is similar to legislation passed by the States. I can assure the Senate that no railway in Western Australia can be closed unless a special bill is passed by the Parliament for that purpose. Although the number of lines in the Commonwealth Railways system is relatively small the system may expand, and, if this bill is passed, the commissioner will have power to close a railway - conditional, of course, on his obtaining the consent of the Governor-General. The closure would not, however, have to be approved by this Parliament.
It was mentioned by, I think, Senator Laught that the passenger traffic on this particular railway was of very small volume. I think he said that it carried only about 140 passengers a year. I am not concerned with the passenger traffic. I think that the same argument could be applied in connexion with almost any branch railway line, because, generally speaking, they are inconvenient, the services are slow, and most people travel by car instead of by rail. What I am concerned about is the fact that the railway also carried fifteen horses, 1,519 cattle and 5,506 sheep in the year. It is obvious, therefore, that the railway gives property-owners in the district a facility for sending their stock to market. That, to my mind, is a major consideration, particularly when one remembers the statement of Senator Critchley that a range of hills or mountains lies between the new railway and the old. one. Consequently, the settlers on the side of the range where the old line was built apparently have to get their stock across the range to the new line. That is a fact that must be borne in mind. In my State no line would be closed until an all-weather road was built to take its place, so that farmers would not be financially embarrassed in getting their stock to market because the line was closed.
I am concerned about the commissioner’s power to close a line without the -matter being dealt with in Parliament. Honorable senators from South Australia or from New South Wales, where the Commonwealth might have built a line, could give this Parliament information which would enable it to appreciate the significance of a measure which provided for the closing of a line. I was somewhat amused to observe the reference, in the Minister’s secondreading, speech, to the great importance that South Australia places upon contracts and agreements relating to this railway. They are not quite so concerned about agreements they entered into to run the MelbourneAdelaide express to Port Pirie to feed the trans-Australia line service. I remind the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) that South Australia, many years ago, entered into an agreement to provide this service, but no attempt has been made to fulfil it.
– The South Australian people say they have no rolling stock.
– That may be so, but the trans-Australian railway is losing passenger traffic as a result of South Australia’s not observing that arrangement. If the South Australian Government provided an extra train to Port Pirie the passenger traffic on the trans-Australian railway would be greatly increased. This bill relates to a short length of line, and consequently may not be of major importance, but 1 regard as a matter of great concern any proposal to close a railway line which serves settlers, unless adequate alternative provision is made.
.- The subject of this bill relates to a portion of South Australia with which 1 have had a long association and, consequently, in which I am greatly interested, lt is in the northern part of the State. The bill brings to truition a plan that was adopted some years ago. Senator Seward expressed his fears about the proposal to close the line mentioned. He was apprehensive, also, that a measure of this kind would enable the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to close any line, but he conceded that the approval of the GovernorGeneral would be required before that could be done and that approval would be sought only after careful consideration by the Minister for Shipping and Transport. I am confident that there is no danger that railway lines will be closed indiscriminately while the present Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) is in charge of railways.
The part of this line to be closed is between Hawker and Brachina, a distance of 41 miles. Some years ago, the proposal to close this line was considered by the Federal Parliament, and legislative backing was given to the appointment of a royal commission which was a joint responsibility of the Commonwealth and South Australian State Governments. The hearing took place in Adelaide, and lasted for a considerable time. The commission recommended that a new line from Stirling, which is adjacent to Port Augusta, be built along the western side of the Flinders Range as far as Brachina. I do not know the exact distance, but it was to be of standard gauge. This route was chosen to obviate the necessity of hauling heavy trains through the Flinders Range. The old line came down from Brachina to Quorn through what is known as the Pichirichi Pass to Port Augusta. It was a difficult line to maintain, and was costly because of the grades involved. Considerable trouble was caused by floods from time to time. Although many of the creeks traversed by this line are often dry, during the monsoonal rains they flood and cut the line. lt is interesting to note that the cost of that royal commission was very high, and when I learned that it amounted to £25,000 I was somewhat staggered. A great deal of that cost was represented in legal fees and other incidentals. By to-day’s standards that might be considered to be a cheap inquiry, but in view of the comparatively minor matter to be considered it was very dear. I regarded this royal commission as something of a sop to the South Australian Government. It was quite apparent to me, as a layman, that the building of the line was fully justified, because the old line was out of date, and there was little need for an expensive inquiry. Some of the legal luminaries in South Australia reaped a rich reward from that commission but, to the South Australian Government’s credit it must be said that it incurred very little expense because it was represented at the royal commission by the State Crown Solicitor. However, that is all over and done with, the royal commission’s recommendations have been carried out and the line has been constructed along the western side of the Flinders Range from Stirling and joins the old line at Brachina. Subsequent legislation was passed to provide that a 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge line should be built from Brachina to the Leigh Creek coal-field. Recently, I travelled along that line and I was satisfied that the building of it was fully justified. It is being run efficiently and cheaply. The loads of coal that come to the Port Augusta power station are enormous. I do not know the actual tonnages.
– It is proposed to haul 6,000 tons.
– The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner suggested from 4,000 to 6,000 tons and said that it could be stepped up to 7,000 or 8,000 tons. When one sees the length of these trains one is well able to believe that. I believe that the closing of this line is a minor matter and is fully justified. I am not suggesting that the people who live in the vicinity of this railway from Hawker to Brachina, a distance of 41 miles, will not suffer any inconvenience. They will suffer inconvenience, but I do not think it will be very great particularly in view of the fact that only a small quantity of goods is moved from the sidings along the line. They are only sidings. There is Hookina and one or two others. The quantity of material shifted from these sidings is very small. Last year only 147 passengers travelled on the line and the goods traffic on this 41- mile stretch totalled only 236 tons. Livestock carried consisted of fifteen horses, 1,519 cattle and 5,000 sheep. Revenue derived from the line was less than £3,000 whilst the cost of maintenance and operation was approximately £74,000. Considering the matter on an economic basis the line should be closed.
Senator Seward said that before we close a line we should be certain that roads are available to take its place. I can tell him that good roads exist in this locality. Livestock can be shifted without difficulty, and goods can be moved by lorry quite effectively. With a good railhead at Hawker, stock can be quite easily moved the short distance involved. No real hardship exists. The alternative of utilizing the standard gauge line, which is only a short distance to the west, is also open to the people living in the district. Admittedly, the country is hilly but it is not so mountainous as not to be negotiable. I do not think the aspect of inconvenience should enter into the matter very much.
It is not necessary for me to speak at greater length on this matter. This subject has exercised the attention of most people because it involves the highly contentious question of whether we should standardize our rail gauges or proceed with the extension of existing lines. To-day, one of the problems facing not only South Australia but all the other States as well is the enormous and staggering losses that are being incurred by our railway services. The standardization of railway gauges would play a very important part in rectifying the financial difficulties that now confront the States.
I am very interested in that aspect of railway matters. I am not an authority on railways, but recently I had the pleasure of being a member of a committee which investigated these matters, and I have gained an insight into railway operations which I previously did not have. In connexion with the Central Australia railway I am glad to know that the construction of the 4-ft. 8i-in. gauge is being proceeded with most effectively as far as Marree.
There does not seem to be any immediate prospect of the line being carried any further, but I hope that, eventually, it will extend into central Australia. As a matter of fact, I think the obligation of the Commonwealth under the Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910 to build a line right through to Darwin should receive the consideration of the Senate. It would link up with the line at Birdum. The suggestion that a line should be built from Birdum to Dajarra, in Queensland, is justified, but the extension and development of the central Australian line from Alice Springs to Birdum through the mineral country would also be justified.
– Because some magnificent ore bodies which, according to surveys, exist in that region could thus be exploited. Such a line must be built if we are to utilize the mineral resources that undoubtedly exist in South Australia. I am interested in this subject, and I hope all honorable senators will become equally interested in it. Shortly, a report will be submitted to the Parliament, and I am sure honorable senators will be most interested to read it.
The closure of the line between Hawker and Brachina is fully justified. I regret that it will cause some inconvenience to a few individuals, but, in the long run, it will save money and will cause no real hardship to the people living in the area.
– in reply - Briefly, I desire to express my appreciation of the fact that the bill has been well received on both sides of the chamber. Mild criticism emanated from Senator Seward, but I can assure him that the practice to be now introduced is in line with a statutory practice that exists in South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, and a practice which is actually observed in New South Wales and Victoria, although no legislative authority exists in those two States. I further point out that the very nature and geography of the Commonwealth railways should further diminish the likelihood of closures of the type which Senator Seward obviously fears. Such fears do not pose a question of practical importance at all.
Senator Critchley stated that, possibly, the dismantling of the line would be unwarranted. I assure him that the rails to be taken up will be put to immediate use in the maintenance of the line north of Marree. That is one of the reasons why the Government requires these rails.
– They would not be of much use now.
– 1 think they will be all right. I appreciate how Senator Critchley feels about the closure of this line in relation to Quorn, but I point out that a service will continue to run from Quorn to Hawker and will ensure that Quorn shall not become the ghost town which, apparently, he fears it might become. I, and other honorable senators from Western Australia, have had some experience of ghost towns. Travelling through our gold-field areas, we see constant reminders of towns which were once of great size, but, because of the closing of mines, are now ghost towns. Quorn will not decline in that fashion as a result of the closing of this railway.
I have noted with very great pleasure indeed the complimentary comments made by honorable senators about the administration of the railway and its successful operation. I shall be delighted to convey them to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 19th October (vide page 789), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– When this bill was last before the Senate I outlined the benefit that I thought it would have not only for the wheat industry and those engaged in it, but also for the Government, which has accepted certain obligations to the wheat industry under other legislation. I suggested that the situation which existed in Australia in relation to wheat stocks some twelve months ago had passed and that the carry-over after the current season’s harvest was not likely to be of embarrassing proportions. I stated that I thought that the carry-over at this time next year was likely to be some 50,000,000 bushels. That would not be an embarrassingly large carry-over for Australia. Unfortunately, however, there are still huge surpluses in other major wheat-exporting countries, particularly the United States of America, Canada, and the Argentine. On 12th September last the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), who represents in this chamber the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), supplied me with certain figures relative to carryovers in answer to a question that I had asked on notice. The United States carryover at 30th June, 1955 - the latest date for which information is available - was 1,020,700,000 bushels; the Canadian carryover was 493,700,000 bushels; and the carry-over in the Argentine was 77,900,000 bushels - a total of 1,592,300,000 bushels. Those are indeed large carry-overs, and so long as they exist they constitute a constant threat to wheat prices generally.
This situation has given the present Government, and particularly the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), and every one associated with the Australian wheat industry, very great anxiety. I am very glad that the Minister for Trade has done everything humanly possible to reach an understanding with the United States on the methods that may be adopted by that country to dispose of its huge surpluses. With the indulgence of the Senate I propose now to read some remarks on this matter made by the Minister for Primary Industry at the last meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council, which consists of the Commonwealth Minister, who is chairman, and the State Ministers responsible for agricultural matters. The Minister for Primary Industry said -
The United States Government, in its efforts to move accumulated stocks into consumption, has adopted a wide range of devices-
I want the Senate to note particularly the word “ devices “ - including gifts, barter transactions and sales for payment in the currency of the recipient country. There are also three party deals in which the United States makes grain available to one country in return for which that country exports goods to a third country. The third country then receives a long-term United States loan equivalent to the value of grain.
All these techniques include features which make competition on normal commercial terms extremely difficult.
The importance of concessional sales arrangements -
These are sales of the type to which the Minister had just referred- is illustrated by United States exports in 1954-55. In that year no less than 50 per cent, of all United States wheat shipments were made under non-commercial arrangements, and even the 50 per cent, sold commercially was subsidized by an average of 75 cents per bushel.
I ask the Senate to take particular notice of the last sentence. I think those observations will convey to honorable senators some idea of the real difficulty with which we are confronted and of the threat to the Australian industry which is inherent in this sort of thing.
– Is there nothing in the International Wheat Agreement to prevent that?
– There is nothing in the new agreement embodied in this bill to provide any specific means by which this sort of thing could be controlled. The United States Government has discussed the matter with the Australian Government on various occasions, and once or twice has indicated that it was prepared to discuss dumping - or, perhaps, one should say irregular methods of sale - with the Australian Government before it engaged in that sort of thing on a large scale. However, the matter is still the subject of discussion, and I commend the Minister for Trade on what he has done.
I think that in view of the situation in relation to surpluses in other countries, which I have mentioned, the United States is now seised of the difficulties which these surpluses present not only to other exporting countries but also to itself. As we all know the United States Government has supported wheat production by various devices, such as price-support programmes, which have resulted in the production of wheat on a rather uneconomic basis in that country. Doubtless it now feels almost as much embarrassed by its large production as do Australia and other exporting countries. I think it is evident that the United States is now discouraging wheat production on such a large scale. It is withdrawing some of the inducements which it previously offered to United States wheat-growers, and I think the acreage under wheat in that country is declining as a result. Consequently, 1 am not at all pessimistic about the future of wheat in the markets of the world. Indeed, sales of Australian wheat are improving. They are very satisfactory in view of the present world situation. I want to repeat what 1 said on an earlier occasion. Although the volume of wheat covered by the International Wheat Agreement has been reduced, the agreement gives some security and offers some hope to Australian wheatgrowers and to the Government, which has entered into certain obligations in respect of export wheat.
With the permission of the Senate, I shall refer to another matter which I think, can be appropriately discussed under this legislation, that is, the quality of wheat that we offer for export. For a long time, we have been satisfied with what is known as the fair average quality standard of wheat. it is neither a particularly low standard nor a particularly high standard, but it has been of great benefit to us and has satisfied overseas purchasers up to the present time. No difficulty has been experienced in selling Australian wheat, provided it has been of the fair average quality standard.
Apparently, buyers have now objected io wheat merely of a fair average quality standard, and whether we like it or not, we must face the fact that our job is to supply the world with wheat of the quality - baking quality and so on - which buyers demand. The South Australian Director of Agriculture, Dr. Callaghan, whose name is a household word in Australia, recently visited United States of America and Canada. Dr. Callaghan was formerly the principal of Roseworthy College, and he built that college up to a very high standard. He is also a wheat breeder of no mean repute and is well qualified after his trip abroad to express an opinion on this matter. He has been cited in the press as saying that we should adopt something along the lines of the Canadian method of grading wheat and offering it according to quality. Although we must pay great attention to anything said by Dr. Callaghan in this regard, I am not - and I am sure he is not - unconscious of the difficulties that such a step would pose in South Australia. I have no need to develop that point; indeed, I have not the time to do so. Wheat growers and their organizations are familiar with the difficulties, particularly at this stage, in South Australia, where we are about to embark on a bulkhandling system.
World requirements can be met by a method other than that suggested by Dr. Callaghan. It may not be a better method or even as good a method as grading the wheat, but an alternative method - and” perhaps a simpler method - is available. .1 am sure that our fair average quality standard of wheat could be raised by simply concentrating on the varieties which meet the buyers’ requirements. I suggest that our seed wheat farms and those institutions which supply wheat for seed to farmersshould refuse to supply or produce those wheats which are held in poor regard by our customers and should concentrate on. breeding wheat which would meet their requirements. This method may take a little longer than the Canadian method. I know that the people whom I have mentioned direct their efforts on those lines at the present time. An effort should be made to combine the high-yield varieties and the high-baking varieties. In the course of time, and over not too many years, thestandard of our f.a.q. wheat could be effectively raised so as to make it more attractive to those people with whom we transact business.
Everybody concerned should investigate this problem. The Australian Wheat Board, the various departments of agriculture, the Department of Trade at Canberra and everybody who has anything to do with the selling of Australian wheat should go intothis matter thoroughly. Australian wheatgrowers have very little to fear from competition which is not of an artificial type. I have referred to the type of competition in which America is inclined to engage. But we in Australia are fortunate that we can produce wheat and do produce wheat at a cost which makes it possible for us tomarket it successfully in competition with other countries, anywhere in the world, notwithstanding our freight differential, provided the competition is on a commercial basis. We can take great comfort from that. It is a credit to the wheatgrowersthat the cost has been maintained at a satisfactory figure. It is a credit to the- scientists who are advising us at this time, to the wheat-breeders, to the departments of agriculture, to the machinery firms, to the Government and to everybody concerned with the industry. Wheat is one of our major export commodities. Australian wheat and wool can compete quite satisfactorily with wheat and wool grown in other countries. 1 have very much pleasure in supporting the bill. As 1 said last week, I am sorry that in this agreement the volume of wheat has been reduced by one-third and that we have to face also a reduction in prices, both maximum and minimum. I suppose that both are inevitable, and that we must accept the best bargain that we can get. Therefore, because the bill will give legislative effect to the agreement that has been made, 1 have much pleasure in supporting it.
– I wish to make one or two comments on the International Wheat Agreement. In case all honorable senators do not understand the position, I inform them that this arrangement provides for the export of part of the surplus wheat of Australia at given prices. In the second-reading speech of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) I again find some inaccuracies - more of a propaganda nature than giving the actual facts of the events that have occurred. I shall tell him about them, because I do not think it is right for him to tell us that a minimum price set for Manitoba wheat at 1 dollar 50 cents is equal to about 12s. f.o.b. on our eastern seaboard. It is not. Anybody who can work out 1 dollar 50 cents at the exchange rate between Manitoba and Australia will know that it would not amount to 12s. a bushel. The Minister, when he is putting these matters before us, should give us accurate figures. The same comment applies to the maximum amount payable. The maximum amount fixed al Manitoba is 2 dollars, and that is not equivalent to 18s. f.o.b. on our eastern seaboard. We should have the accurate figures so that the farmers who are interested in them will not be misled by statements that are made here.
We have been told that this agreement is almost precisely the same as the previous one. It is true that the principle is the same, but its effect is not the same as that of the agreement prior to 1953. Since 1953, one of our best customers has been lost. Great Britain is not a party to this agreement. The result is that the quantity of wheat that will be sold has been reduced from about 45,000,000 bushels to about 30,000,000 bushels under this agreement. That constitutes only about one-third of our surplus wheat. We ought to get a proper, accurate and truthful statement of the position regarding this wheat agreement, so that we shall be in a position to compare its advantages or disadvantages with those that existed under similar agreements in the past. Since we will not export under this agreement more than about half of our exportable surplus of wheat the Government, through the Department of Primary Industry and the Department of Trade, and in association with the organizations representing wheat-growers, flour-millers and gristers, should set about finding additional markets in which we can sell gristed products made from our grains. Senator Pearson has told us that America is making some arrangement to send support-price wheat into some of the eastern countries. In fact, America is already sending wheat to those markets. It is a strange commentary on things that we in Australia are buying some of the products made from wheat that is gristed in America, or from wheat gristed in Australia under American patents covering such proprietary lines of breakfast foods as semolina, which claim to give people vim and vigour. By gristing a great deal of our wheat we could give employment to many Australians in gristing mills which are either lying idle or not operating at full capacity to-day. There is no doubt that there are markets for such products in the eastern countries that are our near neighbours. When I was visiting those areas I saw for myself the opportunities that exist there for sales of Australian wheat products. Similar opportunities for the sales of the products of other Australian primary industries also exist.
I suggest that the Government should consider immediately sending a trade mission to the eastern countries to conclude orders for gristed wheat products. The mission could go to India, China, Japan. Formosa, the Philippines, Siam, and even j further afield to the Arab countries, with the object of exploring the possibility of getting firm orders for gristed wheat pro-
I ducts. In the meantime we should be setting in operation machinery which has [ been lying idle in wheat-gristing mills which are not working to full capacity, and some of which have even been closed down. We are supposed to have an export credits guarantee scheme for the purpose of providing credits for the export of such products. I say to the Government, “ Get the machinery going, appoint a chairman of the corporation, and get the necessary money to make the scheme a success “. By doing so the Government would enable the huge quantity of wheat that is in store throughout the length and breadth of Australia to be disposed of. A great deal of it could be gristed and sent in the form of secondary products to the eastern countries that I have mentioned, and its sale there would augment our overseas balances. We could earn millions of pounds in that way.
– But how are they going to pay for it? Tell me that.
– I suggest that the honorable senator should have a talk with Senator Pearson, who is a practical man, and who will tell him about the great quantity of wheat stored in Australia. He will also tell the honorable senator that it is possible for us to lose quite a lot of that wheat because of certain storage factors.
We are not doing everything possible for the workers in all branches of the wheat industry. We should be trying to sell our surplus wheat overseas. It is impossible for Australia to compete against America in respect of ordinary wheat sales, because America has a support-price for its wheat and can give away every bushel of its exportable surplus without detriment to the American economy. So we cannot compete against the Americans in the field of export of wheat as such. But we can compete against America or any other country in the sale of products made from gristed wheat. I instance semolina as one of those products, of which there is a wide range. The same thing applies to flour. We could export flour to eastern countries in greater volume than we do now. For a long time we exported a good volume of flour to India but, because American support-price wheat is going to India now, the Indians are not buying so much Australian flour as they bought before. They find it better and cheaper to take American support-price wheat and grist it in India. But there are markets in the east for Australian flour. We need a trade mission to go to the east and get orders so that we can set in operation machinery in Australia that is at present idle or not working at full capacity. This would not only give employment to more Australians but would also augment our balances overseas. I hope that my suggestion will be accepted.
.- lt gives me great pleasure to support this bill, and I should like Senator O’Flaherty to know that it also gives me great pleasure to confirm the truth of the statements made by the Minister in his second-reading speech. It will be recalled that a senator on the other side of the chamber suggested quite categorically that the price quoted by the Minister was not correct, and that, when asked to state what he held to be the correct price, the honorable senator did not do so.
My remarks on the measure will be directed to the provision relating to the quota of 30,000,000 bushels, bearing in mind all the time the fact that the income of our own rural industries is declining. When this Government was elected to office in 1949 it said that its policy in respect of primary production would be one of orderly marketing with producer-control. How successful that policy has been is reflected in the position of the wheat industry today. Before my friends of the Opposition remind me that we have had ten good seasons I should like to say that I admit frankly that I give the Government no credit for those good seasons. Even honorable senators opposite could not control the seasons. But there are other factors which have had a very direct bearing on the success of the wheat industry for which the Government must be given credit, because no industry producing an exportable commodity can prosper on good seasons alone in the face of fierce world competition. Following its policy of producer-control in close collaboration with the leaders of the industry this Government has done its utmost to secure an international wheat agreement in the best interests of this country. There has been much muddled thinking about, and idle criticism of, the negotiations. It has been said that if more care had been taken, and more lively interest displayed in the negotiations, Great Britain would have joined in the agreement, but I remind honorable senators that Great Britain also stood out of the previous agreement. On that occasion also, the Government and the leaders of the industry were criticized. They have made it abundantly clear, however, that every effort was made to secure the signature to the agreement of Great Britain, which is the greatest importer of wheat in the world.
We must accept the fact that, although the agreement under discussion will reduce our quota from 45,000,000 bushels to 30,000,000 bushels, it is the best agreement that could be obtained. All responsible sections of the industry are prepared to admit that. What, then, will be the effects of the agreement on our economy? There are two prongs to our economy - the overseas and the domestic trade. As Senator Pearson has rightly said, our overseas markets for wheat are being adversely affected by the development by the United States of America of a policy of dumping its products here, there and everywhere.
– Senator O’Flaherty does not seem to mind that.
- Senator O’Flaherty would be a suitable chairman for a semolina company. He does not speak for the industry.
– Senator Wade is not speaking for the industry, either.
– I have been waiting for weeks to speak on this matter, but I did not like to interrupt Senator Hendrickson. I do not say that Senator Hendrickson does not know anything about wheat, butI gathered from Senator O’Flaherty’s remarks that he is interested only in semolina.
– I am not interested in semolina; I know nothing about it.
– I thought so.
– I mentioned it only as an illustration.
– I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Senate adjourned at 3.59 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 26 October 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1956/19561026_senate_22_s9/>.