22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 1 1 a.m., and read prayers.
– On 4th April last, Senator Anderson addressed aquestion to me regarding the booklet entitled “The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia “ at present on sale at Parliament House. He asked whether the Government would consider forwarding copies of this booklet to Australian embassies and consulates overseas; to recognized Australian travel agencies; to State directors of education; and to migrants at the time of their naturalization.
In reply I desireto inform the honorable senator as follows: -
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. Is a singularly unsightly scaffolding, which has been disfiguring the summit of Red Hill, Canberra, for several years, a structure erected by the Postal Department to support reflectors for a microwave communication circuit? In view of the fact that this structure has so far been unused, is it the intention of the department ever to use it, or will the need for the microwave service disappear with the recently announced decision to instal a modern coaxial cable between Melbourne and Sydney, through Canberra? If the microwave service plan has been abandoned, will the Postmaster-General give directions for the immediate removal of the scaffolding on Red Hill?
– I shall be glad to bring the honorable senator’s question to the notice of my colleague, the Postmaster- General.Naturally, I cannot answer it immediately, but I shall ask the PostmasterGeneral to give a considered reply as early as possible.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade. Yesterday, after waiting a month, I received answers to a question which I had on the notice-paper. I think the Minister will agree that those answers were not appropriate to the question. Section 33 of the Export Payments Insurance Corporation Act states that the corporation shall submit to the Minister quarterly statements with respect to -
Has the Minister any of these reports? If so, will he table them so that honorable senators may be advisedofthe activities of this corporation?
– I think it is fair to say that there has been a little teething trouble in the commencement of this corporation’s activities, because of the difficulty of getting some one with the particular kind of qualifications necessary to manage them. That difficulty has been overcome. The corporation is now in operation. I shall very gladly ask the Minister for Trade whether he has these quarterly reports, and if their tabling is contemplated, I shall arrange for it to be done as soon as I can.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry been drawn to an article published in the most recent edition of “ Muster “, containing a report emanating from the Tokyo correspondent of the Graziers Federal Council? 1 can hardly expect that the Minister has seen it. Therefore, 1 say that the report refers to Japan’s growing meat imports, because of the rapidly increasing tendency of the Japanese people to eat meat. It is stated that Japan shows a marked inclination to look to New Zealand, rather than to Australia, for these meat imports, and figures are cited in support of this contention. Will the Minister obtain a report on this matter from the Minister for Primary Industry, and advise me at his early convenience of steps taken, not only to preserve our interests, but to extend them if possible?
– I shall be pleased to refer the question to my colleague, Mr. McMahon, and obtain from him an answer for the honorable senator.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Trade been drawn to a press report of yesterday, relating to the textile and shoe trades? The report states -
Clothing already had arrived from Japan for the Christmas trade.
More than 1,000 textile workers throughout New South Wales had lost their jobs in four months, and another 1,000 were working short time.
Demand for Australian-produced articles, copies of which were available from Japan, had slackened . . Many warehouses considered the Australian lines “ too great a risk “…
The secretary of the Boot Trade Employees Federation, Mr. P. J. Walters, said sections of the shoe trade were threatened. Shoes from Japan were on sale retail at 14s. lid., against 25s. lid. for the equivalent Australian-made shoe.
– I make two general observations in reply to the honorable senator’s question. First, we have said ad nauseam in the course of the debate on the Japanese Trade Agreement that there is no increase in the volume of imports to Australia. Any imports from Japan come in substitution for imports from other countries. The Australian manufacturer still has his traditional protection by Tariff Board inquiries. I suggest that the development of Australian secondary industries has been the most romantic part of post-war development in Australia. It has occurred against a background of imports and protection by the Tariff Board. As to the first part of the question, which 1 answer last, it is, I suggest, very unfair indeed to attribute to the Japanese Trade Agreement a decline in employment - I think a figure of 1,000 to 2,000 employees was mentioned - when we have hardly reached the stage of goods coming into Australia under the agreement.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Repatriation, by saying that I understand that repatriation benefits are available to the members of the Australian armed forces who are serving in Malaya. Will the Minister inform me of the stage at which the members of the forces become eligible for these benefits? Does eligibility commence from the beginning of training for the replacement of the troops in Malaya, or only after embarkation? Are the members of the battalion that has been sent to replace the Australian troops in Malaya covered at present by the provisions of the Repatriation Act?
– I should prefer to look into the matter raised by the honorable senator and supply him with a considered reply at a later date rather than give him an off-the-cuff answer now. From memory, however, I should say that eligibility for benefits dates from embarkation. In order to make the position’ clear to the honorable senator, I shall supply him next week with a list of the repatriation benefits provided for these troops, together with an answer to the specific question he has asked.
– Will the Leader’ of the Government in the Senate say whether the Government is aware that conditions of drought, or near drought, are now a distinct possibility in most of the rural areas of Australia? Is it fair to assume that these conditions may soon cause financial embarrassment - a shortage of ready money - particularly to persons who are engaged in primary industry? Has the Government made a preliminary study of the steps at the national level that it should take to ease the financial difficulties so likely to arise? If so, can he indicate to the Senate the extent of such study, as well as any action resulting therefrom? Will the Minister indicate whether discussions between the Commonwealth and State Treasurers, the Central Bank and the trading banks in connexion with this matter have taken place, or are likely to take place in the near future?
– I assure the Senate that the very serious drought conditions that are prevailing in large areas of Australia are causing the Government - not only the Minister for Primary Industry - grave concern. I know that the matter has been examined, and is still being examined, minutely. Exactly what line or course the examination will suggest, I am unable to say at the moment, but I shall discuss the matter with my colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry, and supply the honorable senator with further information in due course.
– Will you also discuss it with the Treasurer?
– I preface a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate by stating that one of the most important problems which confronted the recent conference of Finance Ministers in Canada concerned the dollar world. A report that was published on the eve of the conference showed that the world faces a shortage of dollars, and that the dollar gap has widened at an alarming rate. An English economist suggests that a more serious recession is just around the corner, and that this will have a serious effect on the purchase of Australian primary products by sterling countries, and so increase unemployment in Australia. In order that the people of Australia may be fully informed on this subject, will the Minister, on behalf of the Government, make a statement at an early date on the discussions that took place in Canada in connexion with the widening of the dollar gap, and indicate the likely repercussions in Australia?
– I have no doubt that when the Treasurer returns from the discussions referred to he will give this matter full consideration and, if the circumstances warrant it, will make a statement to the Parliament.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Repatriation. I preface it by saying that, notwithstanding the attempts of Government supporters to misquote me from time to time, I have never had any intention or desire to reflect on the character or integrity of members of repatriation boards and appeal tribunals. I ask the Minister: What are the conditions governing the appointment of repatriation board members? Are the duties of a fulltime or part-time nature? For what period are members appointed? What remuneration is paid? Are members given any instructions as to their duty, or do they receive a completely free hand? Do the conditions which govern the appointment of repatriation board members apply also to the members of appeal tribunals?
– A repatriation board comprises three members, all of whom are ex-servicemen. One is chosen from a panel of names submitted by ex-servicemen’s organizations. The other two are appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Repatriation Department. Instructions on procedure have been drawn up by the department for the use of boards, and the commission itself. I should be very pleased to let the honorable senator have a copy of them. Members of boards are appointed for a period of two years. The member nominated by the exservicemen is paid on a part-time basis as is the other member. The chairman has other departmental duties and, naturally, is paid according to his position in the department.
– Do they perform fulltime or part-time duties?
– The work of the board occupies most, but not all, of their time. After all, practically every claim for a pension is first considered by a board.
One member of the Repatriation Commission is appointed, for a period of five years, from a panel of names submitted by ex-servicemen’s organizations on a federal level. He is a commissioner and has a full-time job. The position is at present occupied by Mr. J. C. Neagle, who was formerly the federal- secretary of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. Before him, there was Mr. Raymond. He, too, was a federal secretary of the R.S.L. He was preceded by Mr. Webster, also a federal secretary of the R.S.L. The three commissioners, that. I can remember have all been appointed from the. R.S.L. They are paid from departmental funds as commissioners and are eligible, for reappointment after a five-year period..
The entitlement, tribunals consist of three members, who perform a full-time job. Their period of office is five years. All three members have to be returned servicemen1. The president must be a solicitor or banister. Of the other- two members, one is’ nominated by a federal body of an exservicemen’s association and the: other is appointed by myself. They are appointed for. fives years. That is the general set-up of. the board, the commission and the tribunals.
Finally, there are six assessment tribunals. They comprise a chairman and two doctors. The medical men are specialists in the. cases being, heard.. The. chair-man of the tribunal is, selected from a panel of names submittedby an- ex-servicemen-‘s organization with federal affiliation. He is appointed for a period, of five years.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. By way of explanation, I would say that the 1956. report of the Australian National University, which has just been made available to honorable senators, omits any reference to amalgamation with the Canberra University College. Why? Will the Minister have prepared a short statement showing the total cost, including capital expenditure, of the Australian National University to the end of 1957? What has been the total cost of the Canberra University College since its’ establishment in 1929? As these two bodies have much in common, would it not be in the interests of Australian universities if they were amalgamated? Will the Government re-examine the position of the Australian National University, which is most insistent that it should be independent?
– I think it would be appropriate if the honorable senator raised this matter when we are discussing the Estimates. In the meantime, I shall endeavour to obtain the information sought by him so that I shall be able to reply to him then.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The three points raised by the honorable senator are covered by the following statement by the Minister for Trade: -
Very briefly, the import licensing replacement system in operation means that licences are granted in accordance- with, a firm’s ability either to sell or use imported goods. The actual day to day working, of the system is as’ follows. An importer who is. already a quota holder may take out licences in the current, licensing period (August/ November) up to a level which leaves him with valid import licences equal to twice what was his normal quota for’ this period. If he holds valid licences (import licences against which imports have not already, been effected) of a value greater than this ceiling, then he may not obtain any more licences until the valid licences he holds fall below this level. To put’ it another way, as fast as imports arrive, the importer can obtain new licences.
As an example,, an importer may have a quota for this period of £10,000, so that his. ceiling becomes £20,000. If his outstanding licence value is £12,000, he can immediately take out a licence for £8,000 to- take him up to £20,000.. As soon as he imports - that, is, his outstanding licence value falls - he may obtain licences to take him back to £20,000.
For the licensing period which begins on 1st December, and in all subsequent periods, the ceiling becomes twice the value of the firm’simports in the immediately preceding four months.
It is also proposed to allow new importers into the field for the items that fit into the plan which I have outlined above. As was announced on- 1st August in a public circular issued by the Department of Customs and. Excise, applications by new importers for the items concerned had to be submitted to the Import Licensing Branch at
Sydney by 31st August. These applications have now been examined and, except where additional information is required, advice has gone out to each firm of the value of the initiallicence authorized. After this licence has been taken outand until the end of November, ; the firm can secure a replacement licence equal to the value that it imports. As from the 1st December, the firm’s ceiling becomes twice the value of imports in the immediately preceding four months, or twice the value ofits initial licence, whichever is the greater. In subsequent periods, the ceiling in allcaseswill equal twice the value of imports in the immediately preceding four months - in other words, the system adopted for old importers will by then apply to new importers.
The successful operationof the scheme could be jeopardized by firms building up excessive stocks in anticipation of restrictions on imports being re-imposed in the future. The Department of Trade will guard against this happening by making periodical checks of a firm’s stocks in relation to its sales. Whenever such an investigation reveals that afirm is, in fact, holding excessive stocks in relation to its actual needs, there will be no hesitation in withholding licences until such time as the stock figures fall to a normal level.
Debate resumed from 2nd October (vide page 335), on motion by Senator Cooper -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in theaffirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I refer to clause 7, which reads -
The amendments effected by sections four, five and six of this Act apply in relation to an instalment of pension falling due on the first pension pay day after the commencement of this Act and to all subsequent instalments. and move -
In clause 7, leave out the words “the commencement of this Act “, andinsert “ the 1st day of July, 1957 “.
I foreshadowed this amendment in my second reading speech. I remind the committee that the payments to be authorized by the bill are actually adjustments of the value of pension rates. We on the Opposition side believe that, as the Budget is introduced late each year, the principle of restrospectivity should apply to any increases of payments which are actually adjustments to offset the declining value of money. Asa matter of principle, we believe that such payments should be retrospective to the beginning of the financial year.
The higher payments that are provided in thebillare badlyneeded by the less fortunatemembers of the community who are in receipt of pensions. I hope that honorable senators will grasp ‘this opportunity to make a generous gesture to the pensioners, and that they willsupport ray proposal that the paymentof the higher rates of pension should begin on 1st July.
– I support the amendment that has been moved by Senator O’Byrne. Several days ago, honorable senators on the Government side of the chamber gave us lectures on matters of principle, andI shall relate their remarks to the amendment that is before the committee. The purpose of the amendment is to adjust pension rates from 1st July. Nothinghashappened since 1st July to change the circumstances affecting those in receipt of pensions. Inflation has not been retarded and the cost of living has not fallen. If the higher rates of pension proposed in the bill are justified now, they were justified on 1st July, If the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) has a good answer to that argument, honorable senators would be interested to hear it.
The Minister cannot claim that the Governmenthas insufficient funds to make the (paymentsretrospective, nor can ne say that this proposal will upset the Budget. The Treasurer(Sir Arthur Fadden) has budgeted for a surplusof£120,000,000. Therefore, there is adequate finance to make the pension (payments retrospective to 1st July. Some honorable senators on the Govern- ment side of the chamber gave us and the Government a lecture on matters of principle only this week. The Opposition believes that, as a matterof -principle, the retrospective payment of pensionsto 1st Julyisjustified. If theex-servicemen are worthy of higher pensions now, they deserved them on 1st July. There is a principle involved. That cannot be denied. If the finance isavailable to-day - and the Government has got the money - then it is possibleto make the payments retrospective to 1stJuly. I repeat that a principle is involved,and we shall now be able to see whether those honorable senators on the
Governmentside who argued aboutprinciple whenwe weredealing with the Commonwealth Grants Commission Bill 1957 on Tuesday are prepared now to support the upholding of a principle in order to do justice to returned servicemen who fought to keep this country free. A vital issue is at stake here, and, unless the Minister can give us a valid reason, I cannot see why the proposed payments cannot be made retrospective to 1st July.
– The practice we are following in connexion with this matter is the normal budgetary practice of governments. This is not something that is brought in suddenly by the Government in an effort to make some profit by delaying the payments to returned soldiers of increased pensions or paying them less than they are entitled to receive. This is just the normal practice that is followed by whatever government may be in office. I do not agree with the two honorable senators who have argued that the new payments should be made retrospective. I cannot see that any principle is being violated, and for that reason the Government is not prepared to accept the amendment.
– When speaking to the motion for the second reading of the bill, I indicated that I would support the amendment that had been foreshadowed by Senator O’Byrne unless the Minister was able to give very firm reasons why I should not do so. In my view, the fact that it has not been the practice to make payments retrospective to the beginning of the financial year is no reason why that should not be done in the future. I do not think the Minister has given any valid reason at all, or any sound explanation for refusing the amendment, and under those circumstances I shall be forced to support it.
– I rise to intervene only briefly in the debate on the amendment because I expressed my view about it in my second reading speech. I do so in order to record in “ Hansard “ a rebuttle of the acrobatic use of words by Senator Aylett who, in a short tirade, abused certain honorable senators for standing for principles in one debate and opposing the upholding of a principle in another debate. Let it be recorded for all time that although I took no part in the debate on the Commonwealth Grants Commission Bill 1957 some of my colleagues affirmed the principle of parliamentary control over the spending of the nation’s money. That was the sole principle involved, and we are carrying out that principle now in debating the payment of repatriation benefits.
– I support the amendment. It is true, as the Minister says, that it has not been the practice to make these payments retrospective to the beginning of the financial year, but it is also true that more privileged sections of the community have enjoyed retrospectivity when their payments have been adjusted. We of the Opposition strongly support the principle of making payments to the most needy sections of the community - and they include recipients of social service benefits - retrospective to the beginning of the financial year.
I remind honorable senators that in the early years of the operation of basic wage adjustments it was necessary for the government or one of its instrumentalities to move before any upward adjustment could be made, but when the adjustment was to be downward the government had no hesitation in introducing legislation immediately for that purpose. That applied also to the payments of pensions and other benefits. I submit that, on principle, any alterations of benefits should be made retrospective, and that, for all budgetary purposes, the 1st July is an appropriate date.
– Was it an appropriate date when Labour was in government?
– Yes, it was every bit as appropriate as it is now.
– And Labour carried it out?
– No, we did not, but it would seem that the Minister argues that because Cain killed Abel in Adam’s time that sort of thing should be condoned today. The amendment is moved with a view to establishing a principle, and I point out that improvements in legislation are not always due solely to action by a government; sometimes they are effected because the Opposition has been virile and strong enough to ensure that anomalies in the law were remedied. After all, not only must the law be just; it must be interpreted with justice. At times honorable senators on the Government side have argued that the
Opposition, if it persists in debating proposed improvements in benefits, will delay the granting to the pensioner of his extra 6d. That is a horrible argument to use in times such as these. If the amendment is accepted, I give an assurance that Labour, when in government, will make such payments as these retrospective to a given date. We shall put an end to making of such issues a political football; we shall put an end to the practice of delaying proposed increases in order to save expense. The people involved are just as entitled as the Government is to know what their budgetary position is to be for the ensuing year. Both the housewife and the soldier are entitled to know what they will be able to spend during the year.
This is not a political issue. The question is not what the present Government does or what our party does; it is simply the establishment of a fair and just principle that the recipients of pensions and social service benefits shall have their increases made retrospective to 1st July, because the present economic position warrants it. After all, the Government is not giving away anything; it is giving these people only what inflationary conditions have compelled it to give them. That being so, I submit that the new payments should be made retrospective to 1st July so that these people may be able to budget for the ensuing year. They are entitled to at least that consideration. The Government does not propose giving them any more than they are entitled to have from it. Further, to establish a given date for such adjustments as these would avoid the adoption by the Government of the specious argument that because we were debating the establishment of a principle we were delaying the payment of these moneys to those in need of them.
The .Government should accept the amendment. It should accept the principle, just as we do. What is more, we say that if given the opportunity we shall put that principle into effect.
– There is one point that the mover of the amendment has overlooked. What he suggests will operate very well indeed provided the pension is to be increased. But if, by any chance, circumstances warranted a reduction in pensions, would the mover of the amendment argue that recipients should be responsible for the repayment of amounts they had been overpaid as from 1st July?
– Have you ever known of such a reduction in the history of repatriation? Of course, you have not!
– All I am asking is whether the mover of the amendment would argue that his principle should be followed if the reverse position were to apply? After all, reductions have been known. I remind the Opposition that a Labour government has been responsible for reducing pensions on some occasions.
– Do not be silly!
– I am not silly. You talk about principles, and accuse people of lack of principle. The principle we are discussing now is the allocation of certain sums of public money to a particular cause. I speak from a little experience when I say that the returned servicemen are quite satisfied to have their case debated in this Parliament, to have the Parliament make its decision, and to accept payment from the date when that decision is given. In these circumstances, they know exactly where they stand. They know that they will never have to refund one penny. They know that they are justly entitled to a certain payment and that it will apply for twelve months. I oppose the amendment. The current practice has worked well in the past. This is one of those fundamental principles that have been accepted by governments of all kinds, and what has been said by honorable senators opposite in an effort to obtain a little cheap publicity is just arrant nonsense.
– I feel that there are some general considerations relevant to the amendment proposed by Senator O’Byrne that might well be canvassed now. For some time, those who have been concerned with the form of the financial documents presented to the Parliament and the time of their presentation have been giving consideration to the possibility of the presentation of Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure before the commencement of the financial year. At the present time, an increased benefit such as is proposed under this bill is the innocent subject of the vagaries of the Parliament, and of the traditional method and time of presentation of the financial papers. It seems to me that such an important matter should not be subjected to such vagaries. Departments which have responsibility for construction - the Department of Works, for example - are embarrassed in their works programmes because they do not know what their allocation of funds will be until the expiration of three months of the financial year for which the funds are allotted. Therefore, it would appear to be more rational to give them, if possible before the commencement of the financial year, an indication of the amount of expenditure that they could incur, so that they could plan their works programmes for the whole period of twelve months.
A similar principle is, to some extent, implicit in the matter which we are now considering. If the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure could in some way be brought before the Parliament before the commencement of a financial year, increases of this nature could,, as a matter of form and’ routine, operate, from the commence^ ment of the financial period, as logically it might be considered that they should operate. When- we are forced into the situation that a benefit is not payable until the enabling legislation has been finally accepted, two, three or four months after the commencement of the financial year, the procedure is extremely untidy. If that were the only consideration, we would not worry unduly about it. But this procedure does result in some loss by the people entitled to the increased benefits proposed’. I say that merely as a general observation. It is not enough to say that these people will get the benefit of the increases as from the date of the passage of the legislation, and that the financial year is only a measure of time. Such problems, as this, would not arise if the Parliament could better arrange its business and its. forms, and procedures, so that the form and content of the financial documents, as well as the time of presentation, were brought more into harmony with good, efficient and streamlined business administration.
– Is not the Budget presented to the House of Commons in April?
– Yes. In many parts if the British Commonwealth the Budget is presented before the commencement of the financial year. In some places, only estimates of revenue or estimates of expendi ture are1 presented, but in some instances the whole of the financial documents are submitted.
– In those instances, how would they make the estimates?
– That is one of the practical problems involved. It goes to the degree of. accuracy of the estimates. One would have to be prepared to accept a slightly greater degree of inaccuracy in estimates if they were made at an earlier stage. I d’o not think that an earlier presentation of the financial documents is at all impracticable. That is the first point that I make.
My second point is that when it becomes necessary to increase or reduce benefits, the time at which that increase or reduction takes place is only the point at which action is ultimately taken on a situation which developed at a prior stage. The increases made by industrial tribunals date, with more logic, from the time of the filing of the first document in the court. That is regarded as the earliest time when bodies under those jurisdictions can determine that a real claim exists. Nobody can say that the legislation before us is designed for any purpose other than to give statutory recognition to a position which developed a considerable time ago. It would not have developed necessarily as recently as 1st July. It may have developed three months or six months prior to 1st July. It may have developed one month after the passage of the last bill to increase the benefits. In that case, pensioners have had to wait for almost twelve months for the new legislation.
I do not see why we should be bound, in defiance of logic and fact, by the procedures of the Parliament. I would say that, generally speaking, the principle of retrospectivity in legislation is not good, but I cannot see that mere adherence, academically, to a principle in a matter where, by adherence, we deny justice, is in any circumstances completely justified. I think that we should not regard these matters from the point of view of the general undesirability of retrospectivity in legislation when we are delaying justice, so far as we can give it, to a big section of the community. That would be a poor and rather illogical approach to the matter before us. For those two reasons - because to some extent we are making these men the victims of the poor procedures we follow in this Parliament, and because tribunals much less important than the Parliament, have been able, by the application of common sense, to overcome this difficulty - I do not think we should support this procedure. In those circumstances, I think that the amendment proposed by Senator O’Byrne -should be adopted.
Senator LAUGHT (South Australia) fi 1.53]. - I desire to focus some attention on clause 4, which contains the proposed new First Schedule. Clause 4 states -
The First Schedule to the Principal Act is amended by omitting the scale and inserting in its stead the following scale.
A series of ranks and figures are set out in four columns. The headings of the columns -are, “ Rank or rating of the Member “, ** Pension payable to Widowed Mother on Death of Member “, “ Pension payable to “Widow on Death of Member “, and “ Pension payable to Member upon Total Incapacity “. Then there is set out the various ranks of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. On studying the schedule, one gets the impression that, in the case of a widowed mother, on the death of a member the pension rises according to rank. I should like the Minister to tell me why that is so. Why should the need of, say, a widowed mother of a colonel be greater, from the point of view of repatriation, than that of the widowed mother of a private? Then, sir, you will observe from column 3 of the schedule that the stepping in the case of a widow of a deceased member is less steep. The widow of a private receives £9 15s. per fortnight, and the widow of a naval lieutenant receives a similar amount. But the widow of an officer of higher rank receives slightly more.
Let us now consider the position when total incapacity of a member occurs. In the case of a private, an amount of £10 5s. per fortnight is payable, but for a naval lieutenant, and equivalent ranks, the amount payable is £10 9s. 6d. I am rather puzzled to understand the reason for the increase. I quite understand that there must be differentiation between the pay of members of the several ranks of the services - and a very big differentiation, too, according to the degree of responsibility devolving on them - but I am quite puzzled about the reason for the great differentiation in the rates of pension payable to widowed mothers of deceased members of various ranks. As a similar position obtained when Labour was in office, there must be some reason for it. If the Minister would tell me the basic reason, that would help me considerably in my consideration of the bill.
.- The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) has stated no valid reason why the proposed increases should not be granted retrospectively from 1st July. Obviously, the Minister was aware, prior to the commencement of this financial year, of the budgetary proposals in connexion with repatriation benefits. The fact that increases were contemplated would be known to the departmental officers when the estimates were being prepared.
It is not a matter that has arisen suddenly since the Budget was brought down, because the budget speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) contains a reference to increases of repatriation benefits. Therefore, that factor would be taken into consideration, and provided for, when the Estimates were being prepared. That must be so, because the Minister could not know the date on which this measure would be introduced. As he intended to introduce it early in the . sessional period, the only fair, just, and logical basis on which the Minister could prepare his estimates was that the proposed increases would be payable from 1st July.
Whether, in fact, the Minister did work out his estimates of expenditure on the basis of the increased benefits being paid throughout the financial year is beside the point, because this is a matter of principle and justice, and money to meet the increased payments is available, ft is not as though the payment of the increases from 1st July would cause a deficit in Commonwealth finances. There are ample funds available to pay the increases from 1st; July, even if that were not provided for a couple of months ago. I submit that the Estimates were prepared on the basis of the increases being paid from 1st July, and that they should commence from that date.
Neither the Minister nor any other honorable senator opposite has stated that increased benefits were not justified from 1st July. No supporter of the Government has contended that there has been a change of circumstances since 1st July which would render it impracticable for the increased benefits to be paid from that date. [ reiterate that if the increases are justified now, they are justified from 1st July. Nobody has denied that that is so, and I do not think that the Minister would now deny it. I hear Senator Scott interjecting. I am not concerned about what he is saying, because up to now he has remained silent; unlike other honorable senators, he has not stated whether he considers the payment of the increases from 1st July is justified. For all we know, he may not be in favour of the increased benefits, but I sincerely hope that he is. I hope, also, that he will tell us of any reason he knows why the increases should not be paid from 1st July.
The Minister stated that it was customary for increases of repatriation benefits to be paid on and from the first pension pay-day after the amending measure received the Royal assent. I remind him that it has also been customary for the present Government to apply increases of salary retrospectively in other spheres. Therefore, as a matter of principle and justice, retrospectivity to 1st July should be applied in this instance. lt was ludicrous for Senator Mattner to imply that any previous government had reduced the rates or repatriation pensions. No government has ever reduced the rates.
– The Labour government reduced the rates in 1931.
– We never reduced war service pensions.
– Yes you did.
– Do not be foolish. Inflation has reduced the purchasing power of pensions.
– Mr. Minister, you voted in this chamber for the reduction in 1949.
– That was never brought in.
– If the increases are justified now, I contend that they were justified on 1st July. If a mistake was made in 1931-
– There was no mistake.
– I say that if a mistake was made in 1931, there is no justification for repeating it. Two wrongs never make a right. Senator Mattner also mumbled something else, which I did noi catch, but probably it was just as erroneous as many of his other statements, and that is the reason why he has not repeated it. However, I shall let that go.
The payment of the increases from 1st July would make no appreciable difference to the Government’s finances, but it would make a big difference to the ex-servicemen beneficiaries. 1 claim that payment of increases from 1st July is justified. If it were not justified, we should not be battling for it. Neither the Minister nor any other supporter of the Government could convince me that it would not be just to apply the increases retrospectively from 1st July. If Government supporters consider that that would not be just, why do they not stand up in their places and say so? If they consider that justice demands that the increases shall be granted retrospectively from 1st July, let them vote accordingly, as a matter of principle and justice.
– I strongly oppose the amendment. There is no justification whatever for the contention that this payment should be made retrospective to 1st July. In the first place, it is not the normal practice. Payments cannot be made until the relevant legislation has been passed by the Parliament. Moreover, there is not a dire need to pay this extra sum to the pensioners. I consider it a pity that the bill has evoked so much discussion. I had expected that, as it was fair and reasonable, the Opposition would be content to refer pleasantly to the magnificent work which, it is generally agreed, the Minister has done in this field. I am especially convinced that there was no need for a political discussion on the question of pensions.
Senator Mattner’s contention that a reduction in pensions might occur is quite feasible. The Scullin Government reduced pensions, but it was never suggested that a refund should be made of pensions drawn while the enabling legislation was being put before the Parliament. I see no reason why the principle of retrospectivity should be applied in this case either. I oppose the amendment.
– I wish to correct the wrong impression that may have been created by Senator
Wardlaw’s suggestion that it is not normal to make retrospective payments of the kind suggested. I can quote many precedents which show that he is wrong. When, recently, we had before us a bill for the purpose of increasing the salaries of members of the Commonwealth Grants Commission a lengthy debate on the matter of principle took place - yet those increases were to take effect as from the date specified in the determination, being a date not earlier than the 1st day of July last.
– I rise to order. Is Senator O’Byrne in order in referring to a matter that has been before the Parliament in the current session?
The CHAIRMAN (Senator the Honorable A. D. Reid). - The honorable senator is in order in making a passing reference to something in another bill which is relevant to the matter before the chamber.
– I shall not proceed further with that example, but shall refer to the Judges’ Remuneration Bill, to which assent was given on 9th June, 1955. Under it, the increased salaries were to operate from 1st January, 1955. Senator Wardlaw says that there is no justification for retrospectivity in this instance, but I remind him that we are making fish of one and flesh of another. Similarly, the increases in the salaries of members of Parliament were also made retrospective. My colleagues and I believe that once that principle has been established it should apply to all avenues of budgetary expenditure.
The bill makes, not increases, but adjustments. The Government claims that it is continuously reviewing pension rates. Any such review should automatically take effect from the first day in the financial year. Senator Wardlaw said that there is no dire need to pay the proposed increases.
– I did not say that. I said “ retrospectively “.
– The Government would not have introduced this legislation if there had been no need for it. It has been brought down to offset the fall that has occurred in the value of the pension. The Minister pointed that out quite sympathetically and plainly in his second-reading speech. Therefore, there is a dire need for an adjustment of the pension rates.
Now that Senator Wright has come into the chamber I will repeat that the salary increases referred to in the Commonwealth Grants Commission Bill, in respect of which he submitted a great argument on a matter of principle, are to be made retrospective to 1st July. We believe that the Government should make this increased payment to the special rate pensioner retrospective as a first step in establishing the practice of applying annual reviews of pensions as from the first day in the financial year.
I was very pleased to hear the very clear case put by Senator Byrne, and I have no doubt that in due course the Government will put aside political considerations and make these payments retrospectively, as a matter of practice. The time for such an improvement is long overdue. Senator Marriott referred to the fact that, although it is now October, we have only just received the Budget, the proposals in which, in practice, take effect from the first day of the current financial year.
We believe that we should take a stand on this matter and establish, as a principle, the retrospective payment of pension adjustments which, after all, are merely made to honour the Government’s promise of periodical reviews. We have almost come to the stage where reviews are made annually, and the increased payment should be given effect from the beginning of tha financial year.
Senator Wardlaw says that it is not the normal thing to do, but I remind him that it is becoming the normal thing to do. It is happening in the case of the salaries of judges, commissioners and members of Parliament. Last year, sales tax remissions were made retrospective, involving enormous refunds to businessmen. If it can be done for them surely it can also be done for the totally and permanently incapacitated members of the community. I do not want to go too deeply into the subject, but I point out that the full effect of the increase will not be felt because of the existence of a means test on the social service content of the full pension. For that reason alone, we should make a gesture and pay the increases as from the beginning of the present financial year.
– I wholeheartedly support the amendment. On reading the. Budget speech of the Treasurer I learn that, without imposing further taxation, the Government expects to receive an additional £107,000,000 in revenue this year, and that the only call on ‘that sum will be the distribution of £28,000,000 to companies and ordinary taxpayers. I do not think it is asking much of the Government to accept this amendment, which will involve the expenditure of only £1,400,000 from a Budget surplus, after the concessions given in the Budget, of £100,000,000 in round figures.
– The honorable senator knows there is no surplus.
– Who prepared the Budget? That is stated in the Budget speech.
– The honorable senator knows there is no real surplus.
– This is what the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said -
On the basis of existing legislation, revenue from taxation in 1957-58 is estimated to be nearly £107,000,000 greater than revenue last year. Collections from all forms of taxation are expected to increase, but the greater part of the total increase is attributable to income tax on individuals.
– That does not mean there is a surplus.
– The only additional expenditure, compared with last year, is £28,000,000.
– Why does not the honorable senator read the whole pf the Budget speech?
– If honorable senators subtract £28,000,000 from £107,000,000 they will obtain an amount in the vicinity of £80,000,000. On the statement of the Treasurer, I believe that this amendment is quite justified.
Last night the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) made an attack on me for being, so to speak, political when discussing this question. I have never at any time used the plight of ex-servicemen or age pensioners for political purposes. This is not a political matter. We did expect during the war years that the prosecution of the war would be treated as a nonpolitical matter, but we found that the people who occupy the treasury bench today were the greatest critics of the Government charged with the prosecution of the war. In reply to the Minister, I take this opportunity of saying that on no occasion since I have been a member of the Senate have I raised the questions of age pensions or ex-servicemen’s pensions for political purposes. All I ask the Government to do is to look at this matter from a humane point of view. An interjection was made when Senator Aylett was speaking this morning to the effect that the Australian Labour party had reduced ex-servicemen’s pensions. It is true that the Scullin Government did reduce ex-servicemen’s pensions, age pensions and interest rates, but no speaker from the Government side has explained to this generation of electors why it was necessary to reduce social services then. The reduction was necessary because of the maladministration of antiLabour governments from 1916 to 1929. I sound a note of warning by saying that pensions and social services may have to be reduced again. This Government is going along the lines that the Bruce-Page Government went along when it brought this country to financial ruin in 1928 and. 1929. Australia was bankrupt then because the. Bruce-Page Government and the Hughes Government had mortgaged and pawned the assets of the nation to money lenders on the other side of the world. That is why it was necessary in 1929 for the Scullin Government, faced with a hostile Senate, to reduce pensions. There were only three Labour senators then.
In those days, Senator McCallum, who is interjecting now, was a member of the Australian Labour party. I ask him not to interject. The Scullin Government was faced with a hostile Senate. There were only three Labour senators. The others were members of the United Australian party, the Nationalist party or whatever name the present Liberal party had in those days. I forget the name; there have been so many. At that time, 23 members of the Senate refused-
– The honorable senator is wrong again.
– I may be one or two out, but the majority of the senators then were allied with the antiLabour forces. I am not wrong there. The anti-Labour majority in this chamber refused to give to the people’s elected representatives, the late James Scullin and other members of his party, the right to put into operation legislation which would have nullified’ any efforts to reduce social services. When the legislation to reduce exservicemen’s pensions came before the Senate, the present Minister for Repatriation, a member of the anti-Labour forces in the Senate, voted to reduce the pensions. He was a party to reducing ex-servicemen’s pensions in 1931. That reduction was said to be necessary to bring about economic equilibrium and to put this country on an even keel. The Minister interjects. He cannot take it. He can give it, but he cannot take it. I say to the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty), who is also interjecting, that what I am stating in this chamber is true. Despite all the parrot talk about pensions by my friends opposite, they cannot deny the truth of what I am saying, although they interject and insinuate that it was a Labour government, at the wish of the Labour party, which reduced age pensions and exservicemen’s pensions. We were forced to do so at that time, and every member of the Liberal party supported us.
Government senators interjecting,
– They cannot take it, but I do not mind. My statements are going on record in “ Hansard “, and anybody will be able to query them if he so desires. This country is again becoming financially embarrassed. I have heard and read in the press that delegations are going overseas to sell Victoria. Who could not sell Victoria? Who could not pawn a £20 watch for a dollar? But the day will come when we have to redeem Victoria, if we want to keep it as part of the Commonwealth of Australia. That is the day when we shall find ourselves in the same position as we were in 1928 and 1929.
– Get back to the bill.
– I am dealing with the bill. Honorable senators opposite accuse the Labour party of reducing ex-servicemen’s pensions. The Lord has been good to this Government. He has sent bountiful seasons to the Commonwealth of Australia. AH that is necessary to put this Government in the same financial position as that in which the BrucePage Government found itself in 1928 is a drought. The Government would then be faced with the same problems asthose which faced Jimmy Scullin at that time. If the Government is sincere and desires to do something to assist exservicemen arid those who have been unfortunate enough to be maimed in defending this country - some were maimed, but have not been fortunate enough to receive pensions - it should at least accept the amendment moved by Senator O’Byrne. The cost to the Government would be only £1,400,000 in a Budget totalling £1,300,000,000. That is not much to ask. Salary increases have been made retrospective. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber are not asking for much when they ask the Government to accept the amendment moved by Senator O’Byrne and give an extra few pounds to those people who were maimed while defending Australia.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator O’Byrne’s amendment) be left out.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– Senator Laught has asked for some information in relation to clause 4. It will be noted that the variation in the pensions shown in columns 3 and 4 of the schedule is not as great as that shown in column 2. When the Repatriation Act was passed in 1920, the difference between the pensions payable in relation to the various ranks was greater than it is at the present time. The policy of the Government has been to iron out the difference as much as possible. The pensions shown in columns 3 and 4 have been reviewed many more times than have the pensions shown in column 2. lt will be noted that the pension payable upon total incapacity is £10 5s. for all ranks from that of an army private to a lieutenant. It rises slightly to £10 9s. 6d. for a captain; to £10 19s. 6d. for a naval lieutenantcommander and a major; to £11 9s. 6d. for a naval commander, a lieutenant-colonel and a wing commander; to £11 18s. 6d. for a naval captain, a colonel and a group captain; and to £12 ls. for all ranks higher than that. The variation in the Australian pension is very small in comparison with that of the United Kingdom and America, where commissioned officers are paid a higher rate.
The variation in the pensions payable to widows, as shown in column 3, is greater than that revealed in column 4. At the various reviews, we have not been able to bring the pensions closer together; to do so would perhaps mean a reduction in some cases, and we do not wish to reduce any of them.
The lowest pensions are shown in column 2. Under the regulations, those pensioners can get a higher rate by the addition of other benefits, some being payable under the social services legislation and some under the repatriation legislation. But that depends upon their financial position. As time goes on, we shall gradually bring the pensions payable to the various groups of widowed mothers more into conformity, as has been done in the case of the pensioners referred to in colums 3 and 4. The rates shown in columns 3 and 4 have been more or less stabilized at that level.
I wish to reply now to statements that were made by Senator Hendrickson. It is true that 1 was in this Parliament in 1931; in fact, I was here in 1928. I was a member of the Senate during the financial emergency in 1931, a very difficult period. The Australian Country party, of which I am a member, and the United Australia party had a majority in the Senate. We were not the government but, of course, the legislation of the government of the day had to pass through the Senate to be implemented.
Under the Financial Emergency Act, various reductions were made in salaries and other payments, and the Repatriation Act came under review as well. The Treasurer was Mr. E. G. Theodore. From memory, I believe that he asked for a reduction in repatriation benefits totalling about £1,000,000. I was one of those who approached Mr. Theodore and asked whether a soldiers’ committee could decide exactly how the reductions of pensions were to be made because we thought we knew where they would cause the least hardship. Mr. Theodore gave us permission to make proposals, and a committee was formed of supporters of the Government and the Opposition and also senior members of exservicemen’s organizations outside the Parliament.
At first, we recommended reductions totalling about £875,000, but they were not accepted. We had to reach the target of £1,000,000. We increased the amount involved in our proposals by about £100,000 and placed our recommendations before Mr. Theodore. He was not keen to accept our recommendations but eventually they were accepted, and the reductions of pensions were made. I believe I am correct in saying that the pensions of former members of the forces were not reduced. This happened a long time ago, but I believe that the whole amount of reductions was taken from dependants and other payments which, in our opinion, could bear reductions best.
A bill to implement those recommendations came before the Senate. I was one who voted for it because I knew very well that if it was not passed, we would riot get any pensions at all. Naturally, I thought it best to support the bill - which had been brought down by the Government and not bv the Opposition - because I had been a party to the proposals, particularly on the side of the ex-servicemen. I am not apologizing for having voted for that bill because T believe that we saved the day bv pressing for the adoption of our proposals at the time and voting for the measure that gave effect to them. That is the history of the matter. We had before us the evidence of the Governor of the Bank of England and, so far as the Opposition was concerned, we had the best advice we could get. Senator Hendrickson has told honorable senators his version of what happened. I have given the committee the facts.
– The million dollar question on the bill was asked by Senator Laught in relation to the proposed amendments to the First Schedule to the principal act’. This schedule includes provision for the pensions payable to a widowed mother or a widow on the death of a member, and the rates vary according to the ranks and ratings of the members. I am sure that every Australian who has served overseas since World War I. would have been interested to read the reply that was given to Senator Laught by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) had it been a better answer. I am reminded of the words that have been set to the officers’ mess bugle call. They are -
Officers’ wives get puddings and pies But soldiers’ wives get skilly.
Under the First Schedule to the bill, the widowed mother of a member below the ranks and ratings of leading seamen, corporal and relative ranks and ratings will receive £4 10s. a fortnight on the death of the member, but the widowed mother of a member with a rank higher than a captain in the Navy, a colonel or a group-captain, will receive £8 6s. a fortnight. The explanation given by the Minister was that he hesitated to alter these provisions because some of the pensioners might suffer a reduction.
The million dollar question has had a tuppence a pound answer. It would be simple to make an adjustment by raising the payments that are made to the dependants of the lower ranks to an amount upon which a person can exist. In these days when everything is being increased, there is no need for anybody to suffer a reduction in the adjustment of an anomaly. The Minister has agreed to the adjustment of other categories, but, in this case, he will not adjust the rates for the lower ranks because such an adjustment might lead to a reduction of some amounts. That is an unsatisfactory answer. I should like the
Minister to explain why something cannot be done. The Opposition is anxious to help him. Would it not be possible to suggest a course that will not lower the amounts payable to anybody, but will leave a more reasonable margin between the rates payable to the dependants of the lower ranks and the higher ranks? If the Minister would agree to increase the rates for the dependants on the lower scale, the Opposition would be satisfied and the Minister’s qualms of conscience would be allayed. The Minister has an opportunity now to correct an anomaly that has existed since 1920. Opportunity knocks but once, and I ask the Minister to grasp it now.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill presented by Senator O’Sullivan, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act first came into operation in 1940 and has since been amended on seven occasions. Within the last five years the act has been amended four times and the main purpose of each of these amendments was to authorize pension increases for incapacitated Australian mariners and widows of Australian mariners equivalent to the increases granted to ex-members of the forces and war widows under amendments of the Repatriation Act.
Pensions payable under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act to Australian mariners and their dependants are maintained at the same level as those payable to corresponding classes of pensioners under the Repatriation Act. The latter act is being amended to implement the Government’s decision to increase pensions of incapacitated ex-members of the forces and war widows and provision has been made in the bill to grant similar increases under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act.
A pensioner who is totally and permanently incapacitated receives a special pension at the same rate as is specified in the Second Schedule to the Repatriation Act, Australian mariners who are totally but not permanently incapacitated are granted pensions at the rates specified for general pensions in the first schedule to the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, while a partially incapacitated pensioner receives a pension at a rate equivalent to such percentage of the general pension rate as corresponds to the percentage of his (incapacity.
Provision is made in the Repatriation Bill 1957 for the amendment of the second schedule of the Repatriation Act to increase the rate for special pensions by £1 5s. a week from £9 15s. to £11 a week. In -accordance with section 22a of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, the (increased special pension rate will be automatically applied to a totally and permanently incapacitated Australian mariner who is in receipt of a special pension. It is consequently unnecessary to include provision for this increase in the bill now under consideration.
Totally incapacitated mariners in receipt of pensions at the general pension rate specified in the First Schedule to the act at present receive pensions ranging from £9 10s. to £11 6s. a fortnight. This class of pensioner will receive an all-round increase of 15s. a fortnight. The fortnightly rates will thus be increased to amounts ranging from £10 5s. to £12 ls.
The existing scale of pensions payable to widows of Australian mariners ranges from £9 to £10 16s. a fortnight. These pensioners will also receive an all-round increase of 15s. a fortnight and the rates will then be increased to range from £9 15s. to £11 lis. a fortnight. The Government has also decided that the domestic allowance paid to certain widows who are in receipt of pensions under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act should be increased from £1 14s. 6d. to £2 a week. Provision for this increase is not included in the bill, however, as it will be authorized hy a regulation amendment.
The amendments included in clauses 3. 4 and 5 of the bill are drafting amendments only and will not vary in any way the existing application of the provisions of the sections concerned. The bill includes provision for the amending act to come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal assent and for the increased pensions to become payable on the first pension pay day occurring after the act receives the Royal assent.
The bill is recommended for the favourable consideration of all honorable senators.
Sitting suspended from 12.49 to 2.15 p.m.
– This measure is complementary to the measure relating to war pensions which has just passed through the Senate. It covers seamen who were engaged in the merchant navy during the war and who are eligible for pensions similar to those which are payable to ex-servicemen. Although the members of the Opposition feel that amendments should be made to this bill similar to those we proposed making to the previous bill, to provide for retrospectivity and to make other adjustments, we believe that it would be useless to move them, because the Government has shown that it is not prepared to accept such amendments. So that the seamen will be able to receive these increases at the earliest possible moment, and so that the Senate’s time will not be wasted, we shall not oppose the measure.
.- I desire to support the bill which, as has been stated by Senator O’Byrne, is complementary to the previous bill and gives to the seamen, tardily, a measure of justice. I am very glad that in this instance the rights of seamen and their dependants will be protected by statute law, because the revelations made recently by Mr. Justice Foster in the Arbitration Court, of the circumstances in which the rights of seamen in other matters had been tampered with by illicit agreements between shipowners and Communist leaders of certain maritime unions, indicate that there is a necessity for ensuring that seamen’s rights will be preserved. I shall not debate that question on this bill, first, because it is not germane to it; secondly, because the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) and the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) have stated that the Government is examining the present position; and, thirdly, because I hope to have something to say about Mr. Justice Foster’s revelations at a later date. Our party will then propose that a royal commission be appointed to inquire into the circumstances and that any offenders discovered be dealt with, if necessary, under the Secret Commissions Act.
Therefore, I content myself with supporting the bill and saying that it gives me great happiness that seamen - who follow their vocations in circumstances of difficulty and, at times, of danger - will, in this instance, at any rate, have their rights securely preserved.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 3rd September (vide page 105), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the following papers: -
Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure, and Estimates of Expenditure for Additions, New Works, and other Services involving Capital Expenditure, for the year ending 30th June, 1958;
The Budget 1957-58 - Papers presented by the Right Hon. Sir Arthur Fadden in connexion with the Budget of 1957-58; and
National Income and Expenditure 1956-57, be printed.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) had been prepared to open this debate for the Opposition and to propose an amendment to the motion. Unfortunately, a leg injury prevents him from undertaking the task to-day. In the circumstances, I move the following amendment -
Leave out all words after “ That “, insert “ the Estimates and Budget Papers 1957-58 tabled in the Senate should be rejected because they are an integral part of the Government’s implementation of policies detrimental in their effects on the defences and development of Australia, on the living standards and employment of the Australian people and wasteful of national revenues “.
I anticipate that during the course of this debate honorable senators on the Government side will tell us that the Budget is a very good one and that the economy of Australia is in a very sound condition. No doubt, while making statements in that strain, they will know in their hearts that they are talking with their tongues in their cheeks. They know that at this very moment not 50 per cent. of the Australian people would agree with them in that contention. One thing that the Australian people have regretted is that they sacrificed the opportunity of allowing the Australian Labour party to implement its policy during the past eight years, during which Australia has suffered through inflation. The Budget now before the Senate is the worst that has ever been introduced in the history of this Parliament. The economy of the Commonwealth is now suffering from a coronary thrombosis and, in its outer regions, from acute rheumatism.
– You have been saying that for eight years.
– Now I say it again. If the honorable senator will remain quiet for a moment or two, I shall give him very good reasons for having made that statement.
– Every one of the eight Budgets cannot be the worst.
– We know that if we are to have services appropriate to the Commonwealth’s general condition, some form of taxation must operate. Every honorable senator on this side of the chamber fully understands that the Government must have revenue to provide its services, but a government should always do in a business-like way the things that it is required to do. The Government will collect in taxation £81,000,000 more this year than it collected last year. We are not surprised, of course, that £61,000,000 of that sum will come from individuals, while companies will pay £6,000,000 less in taxation than they paid last year. That is the picture. That symbolizes pretty well the Government’s attitude over the years. Never mind the people; never mind the individuals! It does not matter if a drought is raging through the country. The losses that wage-earners suffer during periods of unemployment and the inroads that inflation makes into their earnings do not matter at all. The Government’s attitude is to continue to make the individuals pay.
It is a very interesting experience to examine the recent report of the Commissioner of Taxation and to ascertain for oneself the numbers in the various groups which pay income tax. We find that the great majority of them are in the wageearning class - in certain brackets of income. If we analyse the figures, we will find that tradesmen who are in receipt of a little more than the basic wage constitute the greatest number. I should say - and I think that more than 50 per cent, of the electors of the Commonwealth agree with this statement - that this Government has always shown two outstanding qualities since it took office in 1949. One is its skill in the collection of revenue, and the other is its skill in the spending of that revenue. It has a record that has never been equalled.
– That is right.
– I am glad to have Senator Vincent’s endorsement of that statement. This year, the Government expects to collect revenue of £1,321,700,000. Actually, it will collect in revenue £87,000,000 more this year than last year, and it will expend £87,000,000 more.
One of the things that is noticed on an examination of the Budget is that departmental expenditure has taken wings again. Once more, it is on the up and up. Last year, departmental expenditure amounted to £55,960,900; this year, it will go to the level of £61,313,000. That is an increase - of departmental expenditure, mark you - of £5,352,100. Can honorable senators opposite sit in complacency and watch the Commonwealth Public Service keeping on growing and growing and spending more all the time? Every member of this chamber knows that we must have the Commonwealth Public Service, but it must be conducted in an efficient and an economical manner.
One of the jokes of the Budget is the expressed intention of the Cabinet to conduct an inquiry into the staffing of departments. I say here and now that not one member of the Cabinet is qualified to make such an investigation. The result of any investigation the Cabinet makes will be an immediate move to increase staffs. We have seen that happen before. I remember when a large number of public servants was sacked. What happened?
– You complained about it. In hypocritical wrath, you complained about it.
– This Government sacked the public servants. Senator Vincent cannot deny that the vacated positions were again filled soon afterwards.
– That is not right. We did not fill them.
– It is most noticeable that the Ministers, both those in this chamber and those in another place, are becoming very contemptuous of Parliament. As a matter of fact, when I see a Minister in the King’s Hall I customarily walk behind him, because he appears to me to be of the nature of a representative of the King of Saudi Arabia, who may commence at any time to hand out gifts of gold watches and precious jewels. Ministers are rapidly becoming contemptuous of the powers and the forms of the Parliament. That means that they are on the way out; and it will not be very long before they are out.
The Government has ruined its own prestige. The people of Australia have no trust in it. This assertion will be put to the test very soon because within the next eight, perhaps twelve months - I will be generous - it will be necessary to raise loans totalling £500,000,000. That is not a small amount. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) will endeavour to raise that amount of loan money in the Commonwealth. I am greatly concerned about this aspect of the matter - perhaps more concerned than the supporters of the Government, because associated with loan funds is the development of Australia through the channels that are exercised and controlled by the State governments. I am concerned about the living standards of the people of Australia, and I know that unless progressive development is taking place all the time, it is difficult to maintain our living standards. Coupled with that is the necessity, by means of expending loan money to keep the Australian public employed. Those are the factors that concern me.
When I look at our loan liabilities, I become very apprehensive, first, about our future living standards, and secondly, about the employment of our people. I shall not quote statements by the Treasurer at length, but I direct the attention of honorable senators to the fact that the right honorable gentleman stated in his Budget speech that, at the present time, the Government is unable to assess the loan money requirements of the States, but that monthly advances at an annual rate of £200,000,000 are being made to the
States for developmental purposes and capital works. The Treasurer went on to say -
Besides the £150,000,000 of 3i per cent, securities of which conversion has already been sought, further loans totalling some £265,000,000 will fall due during the remainder of the financial year.
Honorable senators have only to total those amounts in order to see the Commonwealth loan picture at the present time. There are the amounts of £200,000,000, £150,000,000 and £265,000,000. On top of that, I think, a loan of £20,000,000 will fall due in London in April, 1958. The grand total is £635,000,000. Fortunately for the Commonwealth, there is at call an amount of £110,000,000, which was invested to meet some of the conversions. If we take £110,000,000 from £635,000,000, the Commonwealth’s loan liability is £525,000,000 in this year. Is it any wonder that the Treasurer speaks of a formidable redemption problem? It is indeed formidable, and can have very serious consequences for the welfare of the Australian people.
I repeat, the Government has destroyed any faith that the people might have had in it. The public is certainly not likely to subscribe freely to the proposed loans. When the Government came to office it could obtain all the loan money that it needed at low rates of interest. Loans were raised at 3i per cent.; but to-day the money will not be forthcoming even at 5 per cent. Semi-governmental instrumentalities, such as electricity authorities, which are performing work that is vital to our economy, are raising money with Government approval at an interest rate of 5i per cent. How can we expect the people to invest their savings in Commonwealth loans if the Government has not confidence in itself?
I might be pardoned for telling honorable senators a little story that should interest the Minister, because, even with his great knowledge of financial matters, he will find it impossible to explain away. Honorable senators know what a trust account is. I invite them to listen to me for a few minutes while I describe the conundrum that faces Government in its task of raising sufficient loan money for its requirements. Not so very long ago two trust funds - one of which was the Defence Equipment and Supplies Trust Account - were in existence. It is quite proper for the Commonwealth to have trust accounts so long as they are legally constituted and are operated efficiently. They serve a useful purpose, but apparently the Government found that it no longer needed a Defence Equipment and Supplies Trust Account. It had also another trust account which was known as the Strategic Stores and Equipment Reserve Trust Account. The first amounted to £20,000,000, and the second to £48,637,000. At the end of last year they were still in existence, but the Government then decided that they were not necessary.
Honorable senators know that when money in a trust account is to be devoted to some other purpose it must be put back into Consolidated Revenue and then reallocated. The two trust accounts to which I have referred were, in fact, transferred to Consolidated Revenue and re-allocated to the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve. But in the process £2,500,000 was lost.
– How do you make that out?
– The precise sum was £2,521,378.
– Did the AuditorGeneral pick it up?
– If he did not, it will not be very long before he does. If a safebreaker stole £2,500,000 from the Treasury, the news would be flashed all over Australia. The front pages of our newspapers would be black with large type announcing that thieves had got away with vast sums. The story would be flashed on television in Sydney and Melbourne, and given prominence by every broadcasting station in the Commonwealth. In the transfer of funds to which I have referred there was no physical robbery, but, instead, robbery in another and more subtle form. I mention it to show why the Australian investor has no confidence in this Government. The money in those two trust accounts was not, of course, in £10 notes, or anything of the kind, but in Commonwealth inscribed stock. It was transferred to the Loan Consolidation Investment Reserve, and in the process £2,500,000 disappeared.
– Were the trust accounts closed?
– Yes, definitely.
– Is the honorable senator sure that there was no residue?
– I ask Senator Hannaford to accept my assurance that there was absolutely nothing left in them - they were as bare as my pocket. If honorable senators wish to test the truth of what I am saying I shall give them the precise reference in the Budget papers. The inscribed stock was shown in the trust funds at face value, but the transfer was made at market value, and £2,500,000 had to be written off as a consequence. Those securities did not leave the possession of the Government, but this large sum of money went down the drain.
In the next month or two the Government proposes to go on the loan market and try to raise more than £500,000,000. Does it expect the people of Australia to have unbounded confidence in its stability? Of course, Government supporters, who do nol associate with the man in the street, as do my colleagues and I, would not know what the people are saying about them. [ can assure the Government that the people have no confidence in it whatever.
There is another reason why the Government’s loans will not be fully subscribed, and why it runs grave risk of being in financial difficulties in the next six months or so. For some time now hire purchase companies have been operating throughout the Commonwealth on a large scale. They are legally constituted. Nothing could be said about their legality, but a great deal could be said about their practices. I do not wish to say it to-day, but I will say that this Government is doing the work ordinarily undertaken by bankers. With one exception, all of the private trading banks are greatly interested in hire purchase. All hire-purchase establishments are not tied to the banks, but those which are not must seek their finance on the open market. They get it by offering the public 12 per cent, interest on short-term loans. Then there are longer term loans at 12i per cent. How is the Commonwealth Government to compete against rates of interest of that kind? These hire-purchase companies are practising usury of the very lowest order.
We have this situation and I intend to spend a minute or two in discussing it. Farmers on the north coast of Queensland engaged in the sugar industry require tractors and other farming implementsSome of them have assets to the value of £30,000 or £40,000, but when they go tothe banks to raise a loan in order to buy the tractors and other farming implements, they require, they are refused. What do. they do then? They go to the hire-purchase companies. I put this simple and easily understood proposition to honorable senators. If the hire-purchase companies have to pay a rate of interest equal to 12 per cent a year for their money, it stands toreason that somebody is going to get it in the neck when he goes to a hirepurchasecompany to borrow money.
– Has the honorable senator any information as to the amount of money involved and the hire-purchase institutions that are raising money at 12 per cent.?
– I could show the honorable senator the advertisements.
– How much money have these hire-purchase companies obtained at that rate of interest?
– The Minister has asked a very pertinent question. I thank him for asking it. I made it my business to investigate two or three of these hire-purchase companies, and I found that they were in a very solid financial condition.
– Not the 12 per centers?
– Many of the 12 per centers are. I do not wish to divulge their business, because I found it out in a surreptitious way, just as other honorable senators do. I found that they were solid concerns. Some actually control retail houses.
– In what States are they operating and accepting deposits at 12 per cent.?
– Senator Wright has asked a reasonable question. They are operating inter-State. If he is interested, I will be happy to show him their advertisements. I do not say that their notes are as good as Commonwealth bonds, but they are sound financial propositions.
– Some of them.
– I would say all, because I know of their business activities and I know that they operate on a sound basis. As a matter of fact, they cannot very well lose. What I am grieved about is that although we have a banking act, when we raise the question of the business ramifications of the hire-purchase companies we are told that the Commonwealth Government has no power to deal with them. They are developing into a social evil. There may lave been a time when they were of some benefit to the people of Australia by making funds available to them to buy certain essential, household commodities, but that time is passing rapidly. Whether the States have reached the stage when they will do something about the charges and actions of hire-purchase companies, 1 do not know, but the Commonwealth has a banking act -and the Commonwealth Government should make every effort to obtain the co-operation of the States to bring the whole of the hirepurchase companies operating in Australia within the ambit of that banking act so that some control can be exercised over their actions.
– They are in the banks.
– We know that they are in the banks, but, at present, we just cannot touch them. Some of them are more or 3ess the back doors of banks. If a person makes a request for a loan in one part of -a bank, he is refused, but in another part of the bank premises he can negotiate a 3oan at a higher rate of interest.
– Does that include the “Commonwealth Bank?
– It is not called hirepurchase in the Commonwealth Bank, but although that bank operates in this field, it does so within the limits of decency. Evidently, Senator Vincent has not been investigating the business activities of some of the hire-purchase companies.
I am concerned with the progress and development of Australia. Farmers who require plant to carry on the work of their farms, in the interests of production, should mot have to pay these high rates of interest. This state of affairs will operate against the Commonwealth Government in the near future. The Government is facing a financial difficulty. I would say that treasury-bills will have to be issued within the next six months to tide the Government over the financial crisis that faces it.
– That will make inflation worse.
– It will make inflation worse. Although the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and other Ministers have stated, on numerous occasions, that inflation has been allayed, that is not so. Costs are increasing at a rate of 6 per cent, to 7 per cent, annually, and those increased costs flow back through commercial, industrial and financial channels and cause further inflation. The Government is contributing to that state of affairs. As I said when I moved my amendment, the Opposition opposes the policy of the Government. We oppose its economic policy - that is, if it has one. So far, I have not been able to discover it. The policy of the present Government is to allow things to drift - a policy of laisser-faire. Its attitude is, “ Let things go, everything will be all right. The price of wool will be up again to-morrow and will get us out of our difficulties “. How fortunate this Government has been since it took office! How lucky for it that the price of wool has gone up on each occasion when it has been -confronted with a crisis!
The Government has been contributing to increased costs. Perhaps high costs are not very important as far as our local markets are concerned, but we have to consider our exports. No matter what primary products are exported, some labour has been performed on them. Labour costs have been increasing and operating against the sale of our primary products overseas. It is not that increased wages have raised the living standards of the wage-earners. As a matter of fact, some wage-earners are worse off to-day than they were in 1949, before this Government took office.
One of the items in the cost structure of the Commonwealth is rent. Let me give, honorable senators the Government’s history in respect of rent. In 1955-56, it paid £615,000 by way of rent for buildings in the various States used to house Commonwealth departments. In 1956-57, it paid £816,000- an increase of £201,000 in one year. This year, it is proposed to pay £892,000 in rent, or £76,000 more than last year. The Government is contributing to inflation all the time. I would point out that as it is constructing buildings to house its staff, there ought not to be a greater demand by the Commonwealth Government for rented buildings. There should not be a necessity for the Government to rent the floor space that it has used in the past, having regard to the constructional programme carried out in the past year.
When I opened my remarks, I said that this was the worst Budget that this Government had ever presented. There is a very simple way of putting the Budget to the test, and that is to measure it against the things with which the people of Australia are mainly concerned and to ascertain whether it offers them any relief from the situation in which they are placed. If you were to conduct that test, Mr. Acting Deputy President, you would arrive at the same conclusion as that which I have reached.
What is the situation in regard to the consumption of food? Yesterday, I listened to the debate on the Japanese Trade Agreement, and I followed the Australian Country party’s policy. The policy of the Australian Country party is to find markets all over the world, including Australia, for our primary products, to sell those products upon the highest markets, and to import as much merchandise as possible at the lowest prices. That is the party’s policy in a nutshell. Australian Country party members talk about cheap shirts, cheap clothing, cheap footwear and other cheap commodities; but goods imported in that manner are the dearest in the long run for the Australian people. When Australian Country party members, in their blindness, advocate such a course, they do not know what they are doing.
In the twelve months ended 30th June, the consumption of butter in Queensland fell by 260 tons.
– By how much did the consumption of margarine rise?
– I shall come to that. I thank the honorable senator for mentioning margarine, because he has opened up a very interesting subject. The figures that I have quoted are not mine, but were supplied by the Queensland Butter Marketing Board. In the previous year, the consumption of butter had fallen by 250 tons. If honorable senators who are members of the Australian Country party had any knowledge of economics, they would know that the best market is the local market and that, if we are to retain the local market, we must maintain suitable economic condi tions. We must adopt a policy of full employment and obtain an equitable wage for all wage earners.
asked to what extent the consumption of margarine had risen. Let me tell him that no housewife or mother will substitute margarine for butter because margarine is the cheaper of the two commodities. Because of the calory and vitamin A content of butter, a mother will buy butter for her children as long as she possibly can. I know that for cooking purposes margarine can be substituted for butter with satisfactory results, but I am speaking more particularly about the use of these commodities for eating. I repeat that during the last financial year the consumption of butter in Queensland fell by 260 tons. The cause was an economic one; the people just did not have the money to pay for butter.
– They are paying too much for other things.
– The honorable senator might have a point there. I suggest that he develop it at a later stage.
– How much more margarine was used in Queensland in that period? The honorable senator has not yet given us the figures.
– The Queensland Butter Marketing Board did not furnish me with that information.
– But has the honorable senator the figures?
– I shall put it this way: The population of the State has increased, but the consumption of butter fell by 260 tons in that year.
– I follow that.
– And it fell by 250 tons in the previous year. Why are the people eating less butter? One reason is that there has been a greater measure of unemployment in Queensland during the past two years than previously.
– But they are drinking a lot more beer, bless their hearts!
– Well, the Minister collects the excise.
– The consumption of beer has dropped by 3 per cent.
– Not in Queensland.
– 1 am not concerned at the moment with the quantity of beer the people consume. I said earlier that we should measure the Budget against the things with which the people are mainly concerned, and they are all concerned with having sufficient nutritive food. Every Opposition senator, when advancing the policy of the Australian Labour party, advocates the provision of sufficient nutritive food for every member of the community. Yet, in Queensland, where the population is increasing, the consumption of butter, which is rich in calories and vitamin A has fallen. I repeat that the cause of that fall in consumption is an economic one. Queensland covers a large area, and all the people would not decide, without knowing what one another was doing, to consume less butter unless there was a good reason for doing so.
I now wish to refer to another food item that is of great importance. A few weeks ago, the price of meat in Queensland was increased. I have nothing to say against the increase, because prices there are controlled by a prices commissioner.
– The price of lamb was reduced by Id. per lb. yesterday.
– That does not make much difference; the price has not fallen to the old rate. There was probably good cause for increasing the price of meat recently; I am not here to debate that matter. However, all the butchers saw an opportunity to make a few more pence, and increased their prices accordingly. Two or three days later, they had to reduce their prices to the old level and one can now see posted in the shops, particularly in the inner suburbs of Brisbane, notices reading “We are not charging other than the old prices “. Immediately the new prices were charged, less meat was consumed. Trade fell off, and the butchers had to revert to the lower prices. The butchers tell us that they fear having to pay greater wholesale prices in the future because the people have not the money with which to pay the higher prices.
I repeat that the cause underlying the decline of butter consumption and the need to revert to the old prices for meat is an economic one. Because of economic conditions, people are now sacrificing their health. They are not protected against the charging of higher prices. Some time ago, the Labour party advocated a price-fixing scheme, but it was rejected.
Housing is another matter in which the people are greatly concerned. Provision is made in the Budget for an increase from £30,000,000 to £35,000,000 of the allocation for war service homes. But what is the real situation? The War Services Homes Division has been functioning for a number of years, and collects approximately £7,000,000 per annum in interest on the loans that have been negotiated. So, when the Government makes available another £5,000,000 for the construction and purchase of war service homes, it does not allocate as much as it receives in interest on its loans.
– Does that sum represent interest only, or interest and repayments?
– The sum of £7,000,000 per annum is interest on the loans that have been negotiated by the War Service Homes Division. The Government receives £7,000,000 a year in interest.
– The honorable senator is not expecting us to be so simple as not to know that interest is payable by us on the money that is put into war service homes?
– I am aware of that. The Government is not making any great call on other revenue when it has £7,000,000 coming in by way of interest each year. I know that interest has to be paid, but the £7,000,000 that the Government receives in interest is more than it is adding to the sum that was available last year for war service homes. The amount was £30,000,000 last year and £35,000,000 this year.
– The extra £5,000,000 will be very welcome.
– I know the demand. Nobody need inform me on that point. I know also that other groups in the community are demanding houses, but what has the Government done for the States? All the States have their housing programmes and their organizations to build homes and let them to the people. In 1955-56, this Government made £33,000,000 available to the States for housing. In 1956-57 it reduced the amount to £32,000,000, and this year it has reverted to £33,000,000. although the average cost of a house has increased by £157. That means that fewer houses will be constructed this year compared with 1955-56. The demand is greater to-day than ever.
The Commonwealth Government is bringing to Australia between 110,000 and 115,000 immigrants a year, but no extra amount is made available to the States for housing. What will happen? Whole families are living in small humpies; some are homeless; others are almost without shelter, and the demand for houses is growing greater as time passes. We on the Opposition side believe that every family unit is entitled to a home. We say that the home is the basis of a living standard, lt is futile to talk about living standards unless the family unit has a home.
– It is the basis of society.
– That is true. The situation is becoming worse. The States have fixed priorities for those who require homes. Those who are ejected into the street have top priority, but there are no homes for them. If they are forcibly ejected, they have to remain without shelter. The Government’s proposals and policies fall to the ground when they are measured against the requirements of the people. Housing is one of those requirements. Sufficient nutritive food is another. On both points the Budget is an abject failure.
I direct my attention now to education. The time has arrived when the Commonwealth can no longer remain actively outside the field of education. It will have to go beyond the Territories that it occupies and take a greater interest in the educational facilities that are now administered by the State governments. The reason is this: We have in the Commonwealth Parliament the principal legislative body of Australia. We have uniform taxation, and the Australian Government has the first call upon Commonwealth revenue. Education must have greater attention from this Government. All the immigrants who come to Australia do not represent additions to the labour force. They represent an economic force. Families are coming to Australia, and nobody can assess now the number of children of school age who will arrive in Australia this year. A colloquial saying that was common once was “ as full as an egg “. To-day it has been altered to “as full as a State school”. The schools are overcrowded and under-staffed. Secondary education is being neglected, and goodness knows what condition the universities are in. Nobody knows, because the Commonwealth Government recently set up a body to investigate university requirements.
I shall cite a few figures to show what a hopeless position the State governments are in because they have insufficient funds for education. We, as members of this Parliament, are interested in this matter. Every member of the Australian Labour party has fought over the years for increased educational facilities. We have advocated that education should be free from the kindergarten to the university, and we will continue that advocacy. I know it is easy to make these statements when speaking on the Budget, but I want to unfold before honorable senators the unhappy picture that confronts the State governments.
In 1949, government schools accommodated 810,000 pupils. In 1957, the enrolment had increased to 1,250,000. The Commonwealth Government is not making sufficient funds available to the State governments for the construction of schools. The number of children enrolled in Queensland in 1945 was 173,000. It has been increased since then by 47 per cent. To-day,, there are 254,000 children attending State schools in Queensland and the situation is similar in the other States. There is a call for more funds to improve the schools, build new schools and equip them properly. At present there are 177,000 pupils enrolled in technical schools. Senator McCallum. and others who are interested in secondary education could tell honorable senators, of their own knowledge, that there is a shortage of accommodation in the technical colleges also.
I turn now to another interesting matter - the finances of the universities. There was a time when the Australian Labour Party was not greatly concerned with the universities because very few of the fraternity associated with the party had the good fortune to attend a university, but we have passed the horse-and-buggy days. If we are to advance with other nations and keeppace with them, we must concentrate more on technical education. It is not sufficient: to have funds available for development. We must have technical knowledge also, so we turn to the universities. An examination of the finances of the universities operating in Australia at present shows that fourteen government grants represent 49 per cent, of their total income. At that time, the fees accounted for 30 per cent, of the income of universities. The balance, of course, represented gifts. Ten years later, in 1924, government grants amounted to 47 per cent, and fees to 26 per cent, of the total income. In 1934, government grants amounted to 35 per cent, and fees to 36 per cent, of the total income. I come now to 1944. In that year, government grants amounted to 46 per cent, and fees to 19 per cent, of the total income of universities, while in 1954 government grants had risen to 74 per cent, while fees amounted to 1 1 per cent, of the total income of the universities. The stage has now been reached when one can say that the universities should be financed completely by the Commonwealth. Perhaps it is well known that at the present time the government grants are made through the agency of the States; but the funds come originally from the Commonwealth.
– Does the honorable senator say that 76 per cent, is Commonwealth money?
– I say that 74 per cent, is. First of all, the Commonwealth Government makes funds available to the States, and the States then make them available to the universities.
– Does the honorable senator say that 76 per cent, of university finance in Australia is provided from the Commonwealth Treasury?
– The figure I quoted was 74 per cent., and I say that definitely comes from the Commonwealth.
– But you said it was government revenue.
– I said it was government grant.
– Commonwealth Government grant?
– We know that it is not a direct grant from the Commonwealth Government. We know that, through the operation of income tax reimbursements and other things, money goes from the
Commonwealth to the States for State purposes and the State governments make grants to the universities. The Commonwealth has also made grants to the: universities.
– Of course it has, but not to the extent of 76 per cent.
– The total government grants, both State and Commonwealth,, represent 74 per cent, of the total income of universities. How are the States operating? How are they living to-day? They are living on funds that have been madeavailable to them by the Commonwealth. Their own sources of revenue, such ascharges, fares, freights and other things,, are very limited.
– Money collected ontheir behalf.
– Exactly. It comes to> those places indirectly from the Commonwealth.
– It is not a very logical argument, all the same.
– I say that it is a logical argument. I say that if the universities are living on government grants - and they are - and those government grants represent 74 per cent, of their total income, the Commonwealth Government should accept full responsibility for them. Perhaps it would .not cost the Commonwealth another penny to take over the whole of the universities and make them free to the people of Australia. At the present time, the Commonwealth grants scholarships and assists the poorer boy in the community toattend a university. That help should be given on a much wider scale.
Let me deal now with another matter. We are all concerned with economicsecurity. Every member of the community, all companies, all associations operating throughout the country and, indeed, alf countries of the world are concerned with economic security. It grieves me to think that in July last there was a drop of 4,700’ in the employment force of the Commonwealth. I am one of those who, back in the years of the depression, stood in a position in which it was possible to see the faces of 10,000 men answering a call to fill four jobs which would last for three weeks. I should say that 50 per cent, of the menin that group of 10,000 had been unemployed for four years and that another 25 per cent, had been unemployed for as long as six years. Amongst those 10,000 men were many young men of 20 and 21 years of age who had never done a day’s work in their lives, who had never earned any income whatever since leaving school. I do not want a return of those conditions. That is why I shall fight to the utmost to retain in the Commonwealth conditions which will enable our people to be employed constantly.
Our employment force is now falling all the time. I know that drought in Queensland and other States is causing some unemployment, but it is not causing all the unemployment which exists in the Commonwealth to-day and the agreement with Japan which was signed recently by the Government is not going to help the employment situation in the Commonwealth one iota. Here, it is interesting to note what the Department of Customs and Excise expects to receive by way of customs revenue this year. Last year, it received £68,500,000 by way of customs revenue. This year, it expects to receive £74,000,000, an increase of £5,500,000, and at least some proportion of that increased revenue will come from duties collected on goods imported from low-wage countries such as Japan. The result of the Japanese trade agreement will be to flood the Australian market with goods manufactured by lowwage labour.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood). - Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
Senator MCCALLUM (New South Wales) 13.22]. - Contrary to Senator Benn, I think this is a good Budget. Senator Benn’s general thesis seems to have been that there is in this country a large number of things which should be done but which are not being done and for that reason this is the worst Budget that has ever been introduced. I admit that a number of the deficiencies he has pointed out exist, and I shall argue that they should be remedied, but that does not mean that I am in any way condemning the Budget for this year.
We are going through a period of growth, and many new needs have arisen. Standards are rising all round, and it is impossible adequately to give all the services that are required. I shall take one point that Senator Benn laboured - that of our educational needs - and deal with it, I hope, a little more thoroughly than he has done and show that this Budget is not to blame for the situation he has described. First, however, I shall answer one or two of the smaller points that do seem to be an indictment of the Budget, yet which have no real validity. In saying that, I assure the Senate that my tongue is not in my cheek.
The total revenue of the Commonwealth has increased, yet taxation has been reduced, I think, by something like £57,000,000. That reduction of taxation took place in avenues where it will induce investment and alleviate unemployment. The pay-roll tax, which I have always attacked and wanted to see abolished, has been reduced, and I hope it will be further reduced. However, many services have been increased. I shall not refer to the various bills with which we have just dealt. Service, age and other pensions are to be increased, we believe, by as much as available revenue will enable us to increase them, and as justly as possible under present circumstances.
We are to increase very greatly the provision for homes for the aged. 1 think that we can take particular pride in that assistance, because, after all, it is the invention of this Government. I am not saying that other governments might not have found similar ways of relieving the position of old people, but undoubtedly the subsidization of homes for the aged has been one of the happiest things ever undertaken. In common with many other honorable senators, I have visited homes of all types belonging to all religious and other groups, and we all feel that spending money on institutions to help people who can no longer help themselves is far better than giving direct State aid. Payments to the States are to be increased, and while it is true that the needs of the States are now greater, these payments could not be further increased under the present circumstances.
I wish to come to those points of the Budget which I shall either praise unstintingly or criticise a little. It will be criticism not for the sake of fault-finding, but in the hope that in a subsequent Budget something better will be done. I refer first to the promise that the standard gauge railway line between Wodonga and Melbourne will be built. That is a great triumph for private members of Parliament. I give to members of the Opposition whatever credit is duc to them. 1 do not know how extensive their activities were, but I have read their report and in all main points it agreed with the report of the committee of which 1 was a member. 1 refer with very great pride to the committee which we all rightly associate with the name of a gentleman in another place, Mr. Wentworth. 1 was a member of that committee, as were Senator Hannaford and Senator Maher. It was not a parliamentary committee and did not have the usual amenities or receive the fees given to parliamentary committees. Acting on its own, it travelled from place to place.
– At its own expense.
– At its own expense. We enjoyed the trip fully, all the same. It was a hard-working trip. We interviewed commissioners, engineers, traffic managers and working railwaymen. We travelled, I think, in everything that will go on a railway track. We travelled in the best car on the Overland. We travelled in the little car which railway officers use. I actually travelled for some 50 miles, sitting next to the driver, in a diesel engine. We really did investigate that problem very thoroughly and, after a good deal of discussion, our report was unanimous. It was written by the chairman, Mr. Wentworth, in a magnificently convincing style, and I congratulate the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and the Government on adopting that report and on beginning what should never have been necessary but, being necessary, should have been done before this Commonwealth was founded. I am satisfied that when we have unified the track from Sydney to Melbourne we shall unify the track to Perth, and ultimately the whole Australian railway system will be brought up to date. That will be a very direct effect of this Budget. The amount of money to be spent on this project is very modest, compared with other expenditure, but from it the Commonwealth will reap a very great gain in the future.
J wish to refer next to the Library. Here, instead of referring to something that has been done. I suggest something that might be done. One of the great problems is to get our National Library and the Parliamentary Library on a proper footing. The Parliamentary Library, which was founded shortly after the beginning of the Commonwealth, has grown into a great National Library. Its first service is to provide a reference and general reading library for members and senators. I, for one, say that it performs that function quite well. In addition, it has taken on, one by one, other functions. It is a library for the Commonwealth departments; every department uses it. I was told that during the war it was a very valuable supplement to the military libraries. By agreement with 100 other governments, it has an exchange of books and documents which enables it to provide service for everybody in Commonwealth territory who is interested in government or who really needs such a service. Since 1952, it has taken over archives. These are most important, not only for future historians but also for the functioning of departments. Very often it is found that when a new activity begins in a department, the new kind of administration can be established without great difficulty if the archives have been well preserved and the officers know what was done some years before.
The Library has a reference research branch on matters of Australian history and literature and what we might call, generally. “ Australiana “. That is available to students of all types, including those from universities and others who are simply pursuing their own hobbies. There is a free lending service to people in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, and any other place which is purely under the control of the Commonwealth Government, as distinct from the State governments. Finally, the Library has built up a great film section, which is valuable to members of Parliament and to the States. 1 believe that all States - certainly some of them - borrow from it regularly. lt collects and circulates documentary and other types of film which do not appeal particularly to commercial picture theatre proprietors but which have a great educational and utilitarian value.
Last year a committee, consisting partly of parliamentarians, and partly of librarians and others, was appointed to inquire into the future of the National Library. The chairman was Sir George Paton. the ViceChancellor of the Melbourne University. Having been associated with him on the committee for some weeks, I can say that he is an admirable chairman and a man with a most acute mind. I hope that every honorable senator will read that committee’s report, because it stresses the vital urgency of getting our Library properly arranged. The recommendation of the committee is that, for the present, as long as the Parliament uses the National Library, the Library shall continue to be under the control of Parliament. I fully support that principle. As a matter of fact, I very reluctantly agreed to the recommendation that part be taken away from the control of Parliament, but force of numbers, and apparently force of evidence and opinion, was against me, and ultimately we came to the conclusion that Parliament should retain under its control only that portion of the Library which was used by members, and that the other public library must be separated from it. That is the recommendation to which I have agreed, but. it cannot take effect without infringing our rights in our own Library until a library building is available. That is a very important matter for consideration. I do not know whether the solution is that a totally new building should be provided for the Library or that some existing building should be used. I do not intend to make any suggestion on that matter at the moment, but the Library must be in a separate and distinct building, otherwise that recommendation cannot be implemented.
I now wish to discuss our immigration policy, which is one of the most important parts of our overall policy. It is quite certain that some of the things I say will be misunderstood, because it is a policy about which misunderstanding seems to be chronic. Unfortunately, the idea has grown that one either accepts the immigration policy as enunciated at the present moment by the department or is an enemy of immigration. If one makes any criticism at all, he associates himself with some other type of criticism which happens to be made. “Well, that is the sort of thing that happens with regard to topics, but it seems to me that it should not happen with regard to this subject. I believe that the migration policy is sound. I believe we are right in saying that we should take in each year as many as we can possibly absorb.
– There should be employment available for them.
– If the honorable senator will allow me to develop what I am saying, it is even conceivable that he will agree with some of my remarks. I shall continue on my own line.
– There must be employment.
– Apparently Senator O’Flaherty would like to see the train going off the line instead of straight ahead. In any migration system, limitations always exist. Sometimes migration schemes have gone recklessly ahead and have produced very great evils. If we are wise, we will try to avoid them.
I am going to begin by trying to answer some of the more stupid prejudices, showing that they are on a wrong basis. There are people who put forward the doctrine that we are doing wrong in bringing in a proportion of people - some say any number of people - from the continent of Europe, and they interpret the demand for British migration to mean almost exclusively British. The British Isles were peopled by a great miscellaneous collection of people who arrived at different times. I have been very amused in reading Defoe to find some lines in which he attacked the current prejudices of his time. The lines were written about 1700. The particular enemies of the true-born Englishmen at the time were the Dutch, who happened to be unpopular because the King was a Dutchman - I mean, unpopular with those people, of course. Defoe, in a political pamphlet in defence of King William, derided what he called the true-born Englishman. I ask honorable senators to remember that these lines were written in the early part of the eighteenth century and possibly, in those days, some of the rhymes were correct, though they may seem wrong to-day. Defoe wrote -
Forgetting that themselves are all derived’ From the most scoundrel race that ever lived; A horrid crowd of rambling thieves and drones, Who ransacked kingdoms and dispeopled towns: The Pict and painted Briton, treach’rous Scot, By hunger, theft, and rapine, hither brought; Norwegian pirates, buccaneering Danes, Whose red-hair’d offspring everywhere remains; Who, join’d with Norman French, compound the breed
From whence your true-born Englishmen proceed
If we soberly follow the history of England we shall see that she profited very greatly down the centuries by immigration, especially from Scotland. But the important point is that all these groups arrived, in the main, in what we might call assimilable proportions. The Normans dominated for a while, not because they were superior in numbers but because they were a superior caste. Before the Normans, came the Danes, and they were soon assimilated. Possibly the group that was assimilated more completely than any other was the French - strange to say in view of the intense antagonism that had existed for a long time between England and France. I say England and France, not Great Britain and France. It was strange that so many Frenchmen should have been assimilated. There was the Norman conquest, a stream of Huguenots from the sixteenth almost to the eighteenth century, a great stream of royalists at the time of the revolution and then, during the nineteenth century, steady groups of people coming for several reasons - trade and otherwise. That was an excellent piece of assimilation and it happened largely without propaganda - without the sort of thing that has happened in other countries.
I want to contrast that with American migration. We are often told to follow the American pattern blindly. In some ways, I think we are following it; in some ways, we are taking warning from it. The early population of the thirteen colonies that left the British Empire in the eighteenth century was mainly English. There was a very small Scottish, Irish and Welsh infusion, and some French and some Dutch in New York State, but in the main it was pure English. It was not until the ‘thirties of last century that any considerable European migration began. From then on for the rest of that century they came in enormous numbers, and I say without hesitation that at times the flood was too great. Many came in numbers which could not be assimilated, nor was any serious attempt made to assimilate them.
– Does the honorable senator mean that the number was too great?
– I am afraid I shall have to develop my theme in my own way. T am not good at the catechism method of developing a topic. What happened was that employers wanted cheap labour, and they got it from Ireland, Germany and Italy. Many people left their own country because the conditions there were unsuitable for them. Both in the great cities and, to a less extent, in the country areas, there grew up various groups. I do not know New York City particularly well, having spent only one day there, but people who do know tell me that to-day it is honey-combed with little groups that have not yet been assimilated. I remember that during World War I. there was a constant cry against the hyphenated American, so-called. Back in the ‘nineties there was a bitter racial feeling throughout the northern states. In 1856, so great was the resentment of native-born Americans of British stock against the immigrants that a political party was actually formed on the basis of stopping the flow of migration, making these people second-class citizens, and preventing them from occupying any civic position whatever. While that party had no great electoral success, it did look for a time as though it was going to become one of the major political parties. In 1 856, it nominated - as its candidate Millard Fillmore, an ex-president of the United States of America, a man who had finished his political career and who had, up to that time, been a man of very great standing in the community. It was popularly known as the “ Know-Nothing “ party, because the answer -of all its candidates to questions as to their methods was that they knew nothing about them. It was d very bad type of political party. The point I want to make is not that we should stay our efforts to get all the immigrants we need, but that we cannot afford to neglect consideration of the atmosphere into which they come and the way in which they will become a part of our community. It is not enough simply to preach sermons of tolerance and say our people should not behave in that way. The American people should not have behaved as many of them did, but America still suffers from what I might describe as a kind of indigestion. It is like a boa constrictor which has swallowed an enormous meal and has not yet fully digested it.
It is possible that the figure of 115,000 a year, which has been set as our immigration goal, may be a little too high. Whether it is or not, the time has come to demand a proper measurement of the immigrant intake. I know that the Department of Immigration is very efficient. I have great confidence in its officers, and I know many of them personally. I know how completely false is the loose kind of charge that we so often hear made against them. People will insist upon saying that the department is deliberately trying to bring in immigrants from particular countries. For purely compassionate reasons, I have endeavoured to help people bring in relatives from particular countries, and in one case it took four years. I think that my action was right, for this man, though an invalid and of no particular value to the country, completed the family unit. It would surely have been inhuman to have excluded him when the rest of the family was here, and the department finally came to that conclusion also. At no time did I receive a complete refusal, but I heard all the arguments about quotas, a place in the queue, and so on. Therefore, if I am charged with accusing the department of deliberately encouraging migration from any part of Europe in preference to migration from the British Isles, I hope that I shall be acquitted of the charge at once.
However, we should, so adjust our immigration machinery as to ensure that we get a larger number of people from the British Isles. I do not, for an instant, want to preach any kind of racial superiority. Such doctrines are absurd, but there is such a> thing- as ease of assimilation. People who come from countries- with institutions similar to- our own, and. who have grown up in- an atmosphere similar to our own, are more, likely to become one with us than, are people from- countries with traditions that are: altogether alien to ours.
I have, interested, myself in immigration ever since I have been a member of this Parliament. I have attended many naturalization ceremonies and meetings of national groups from Europe. I have the greatest liking and admiration for the immigrants whom’ I have met. In the main they are of good type, but our policy cannot succeed’ if we bring in too many, if we bring in those who cannot be absorbed, or if we neglect, as an honorable’ senator opposite has. reminded us, the question of employment.
– What does the honorable senator understand by the term “ assimilation “.
– Simply the capacity to fit into the community so that there shall be no strong antagonisms between people, either as individuals or as groups. I certainly do not mean that immigrants should speak or behave exactly as we do, or eat and drink everything that we eat and drink. In fact, one of the great benefits that we are deriving, from immigration is diversity in our manners and speech, and in our eating and drinking habits. This is all to the good, and at naturalization ceremonies I always stress the fact that the immigrant, though expected to renounce his former ruler, is not asked to renounce any of his traditions, or any of the things that he believes to be good. I always say, “ I hope that you will not renounce your language, but will learn to speak ours also “. Indeed, there are some of my immigrant friends with whom I am very happy to try to speak in their own language. I do not wish to be misunderstood, and I thank Senator Byrne for his question. I do not want it to be thought that I want the immigrant to become a particular type of Australian. The more varied our life, the richer it will become; but the ability to talk with us freely, and to accept our political institutions, is an important part of assimilation - an unfortunate word, but I cannot think of a better word at the moment.
– It is a physical rather than a chemical amalgamation.
– What about “ integration “?
– That is another hateful, word. I think too - and here I am only drawing a bow at. a venture - that some of us might try to think up some way of breaking new ground in> immigration, policy. I realize, that a. badly planned scheme can easily end in costly failure, but I would welcome any scheme- to develop the Northern Territory, or establish a little settlement in the Kimberleys of northwestern Australia - if that were possible - as part of our immigration policy.
About: eight years ago a scheme was put forward for the settlement! of- a Jewish group in the Kimberleys. I was impressed with the scheme, but apparently the great objection was that it envisaged one national group only. Candidly, I do not think that the presence of a national group in the Kimberleys would harm the rest of us simply because its traditions were not akin to our own dr that, insofar as we came in contact with each other, any damage would be done. The government of the day rejected the plan which, in general, I approved, because it might create a colony which would regard itself as a kind of independent nation. The scheme was very soundly thought out, and I was rather sorry that it was not tried. That may seem to contradict some of the other things that I have said, but I feel that every concrete scheme submitted should be closely examined.
I agree with Senator Benn that insufficient money is available for the use of the education authorities in the States. I am not going to say merely that education is a State responsibility. To some extent the States have not allocated the funds made available to them as well as they might have done, but they have a very good case for additional assistance to contend with the pressures brought about by immigration. Part of the problem in the schools is attributable to the natural increase. Just after the war there was a marked increase in the birth rate, and many of the young children who are now crowding the schools come from our own Australian families. However, immigration has undoubtedly added to the difficulties of the schools.
Though I do not support the view that the Commonwealth should take over education, or should be directly responsible for the exact amount that is spent on schools in in each State, I think that there is a case for an additional grant - over and above what might normally be needed - to offset the impact of immigration. That, of course, fits into the general pattern of the Budget, and must accord with the limits imposed by sound finance. It cannot be done by making money, or easing credit. It must be backed by savings or loans. The fact that the immigration policy produces strains and stresses in education, hospitalization and other State services should be taken into account in all financial dealings between the Commonwealth and the States.
There is one other matter on which I wish to make a slight criticism of the
Budget. I regret that more ample provision is not made for civilian defence. I was one of those who, at the beginning of the year, went to Mount Macedon and saw the fine instructional work that is being done by the school that has been established there. I believe that civilian defence concerns not only the Commonwealth and the States, but also local governing bodies and private associations. In the event of any kind of hostilities - I am not going to raise the bogy of total war, which I think stupefies people rather than wakes them up - it will be necessary to take urgent measures to protect our people. Then there are other smaller national emergencies, such as floods, fires and droughts. I believe we should build up, through our local bodies, voluntary services, co-ordinated in each State and co-ordinated finally by the Commonwealth Government. More money is needed for that. I repeat what I said last year, and what I have certainly said many times in many other places. This is one of the important things that the Government should take in hand as a part of our defence programme.
I congratulate the Treasurer on introducing this Budget. I am sure that it is the best that he and the very able officers of the Treasury are able to do at the present moment. No Budget can be perfect. Not all the claims and pressures that are put forward can be met, but this Budget is much better than I expected. It has reduced taxation, increased social service benefits and will not in any way have a detrimental effect on the economy. It will affect the general economy to the good by encouraging investment, although not to the extent, perhaps, that some of us would wish. It will alleviate unemployment and help all of us to share in the prosperity which, despite what the Jeremiahs may say, does exist under this Government.
– I am afraid I am unable to share the enthusiasm of Senator McCallum for the Budget, f venture the opinion that many other people throughout Australia do not share his enthusiasm. The pensioners, particularly the age pensioners, who will receive very little relief from this Budget, will not share his enthusiasm. Other sections in the same category are the unemployed people, and the many trade unionists who have been denied automatic cost of living adjustments of wages from September, 1953.
It is rather significant that, whilst Senator McCallum commended the Government, he criticized its immigration policy. Immigration is a matter that has exercised my mind over a considerable number of years, even before I came into this Parliament. I am concerned, in the first instance, with the effect that immigration will have on employment possibilities in Australia. Until some eighteen months ago, the immigration intake did not have a great effect on our employment position, but, over the last eighteen months, there has been a fallingoff in the availability of employment. Naturally, that causes me some concern, particularly in view of the fact that a large number of immigrants are to be brought into Australia within the next twelve months. I have no objection, nor has the Labour party or the trade unionists, to immigrants coming here, provided there is employment for them when they arrive, and that they can be provided with decent houses. We, on this side of the chamber, do not oppose immigration, provided it is properly controlled and the Government can provide the newcomers with adequate housing and jobs.
Senator McCallum referred to a rise in living standards. He may be correct in saying that standards, generally, are rising, but I venture the opinion that the standard of living of age and invalid pensioners is not rising. In 1948, an A class widow received a pension of £2 7s. 6d. a week, and under the present Budget she will receive £4 12s. 6d. When those figures are related to the basic wage paid in 1948, and to what the basic wage would be now if it had not been pegged - that is, £13 5s. - we see that an A class widow is losing 16s. a week. The B class widows are in a similar position. Under the 1949 Budget, when the basic wage was £5 16s. a week, they were receiving £1 7s. 6d. a week, and under this Budget they will receive £3 15s. On the same basis of comparison, they are losing 10s. 8d. a week.
There is also a considerable loss, on that basis, by people receiving child endowment. The present Government has done nothing to increase child endowment, with the exception of granting 5s. a week for a first child shortly after it came into office in 1949. At the present time, a weekly allowance of 5s. is paid for the first child, and an allowance of 10s. for the second child, making a total payment of 15s. a week for the first two children. We find that there is a loss of 7s. lOd. a week when we relate the payment to the basic wage paid in 1949 and that which should be paid now. In the case of a family with three children, the loss is over £1 a week, and it rises to £2 6s. 4d. a week in the case of a family with five children.
Another bad aspect of social service benefits is the maternity allowance, which is the same to-day as it was when this Government came to office. If we relate it to the basic wage, for the first grade there is a loss of £19 5s. 4d., rising through the other grades to £22 9s. 7d. That is a record of which no government could be proud. I suggest that there are many features of the social service proposals that could be more favorably considered.
I and many other people are concerned about the sum that is payable to the wife of an invalid pensioner which, if my memory serves me correctly, is 35s. a week. In many instances, the wife of an invalid pensioner is almost semi-invalid or may be unable to go out to work because of the condition of her husband or because she must remain in the home to care for the family. If the wife of an invalid pensioner can go out to work, she can supplement what is paid to her husband and herself. If she is unable to go out to work and the family is living in rented premises - in most cases they are living in rented premises - how the family exists is beyond my comprehension and, I think, that of most members of the Parliament. The Government has failed to grant any relief in that direction. It is another aspect of the social service proposals that should be accorded favorable consideration at the committee stage.
I know an invalid pensioner who is in a bad position financially. He was receiving the full invalid pension, and his wife was receiving £1 15s. a week. They did not have any family. They were living in rented premises and their pension was not sufficient to provide their requirements each week, so the wife had to obtain employment. She was unable to obtain casual work so that she could keep within the limit of the means test. She had to take a permanent position as a laundress at a hospital, but unfortunately she was earning more than the sum that was permitted by the means test. The result was that her allowance was discontinued and her husband’s pension was considerably reduced. They are now receiving very little more than they were receiving earlier in the form of a pension. The Government should extend consideration to such cases by abolishing the means test. If it cannot abolish the means test, it should consider easing it so that these persons shall be enabled to obtain further money to help them to live in some degree of comfort for the remainder of their lives.
I mention another case in the hope that the Government will be able to do something for persons in similar circumstances. I have in mind an age pensioner who is in his seventies, who has a home but no family, his wife having died a number of years ago. He has now reached the stage where he is almost unable to care for himself. His house is freehold, and he experiences extreme difficulty in getting people to care for him. He now wants to let his home at a certain rental and enter an aged persons’ home, but he has discovered that, if he does so, the income that he receives from his property will debar him from obtaining the age pension.
In my opening remarks, I said that people who were in receipt of social service benefits and those who were unemployed would not appreciate this Budget. I am particularly concerned about the unemployment situation over the last twelve months which I and many members of the trade union movement fear will be aggravated in the very near future. The Japanese Trade Agreement will be coming into operation and Australia will be importing a considerable quantity of goods from Japan. Quite apart from the fact that those goods will come in in unrestricted quantities, unemployment is increasing. Figures released by the Department of Labour and National Service on 20th August show that approximately 53.000 people were unemployed at the end of July and that some 20,000 were receiving the unemployment benefit.
I admit that the Government has given some relief to the recipients of the unemployment benefit. That is a trend that one can commend, but unfortunately it does not go far enough. When we take the basic wage, which is supposed to provide for the needs of a family unit, and we discover that the unemployment benefit is less than half that wage, it is obvious that the amount by which the Government proposes to increase the benefit is considerably less than it should be.
In addition to the number of unemployed that I have just cited, there is a considerable number of unemployed persons who have not registered for employment. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the unemployment situation that has been in existence on the Hobart waterfront since June, 1956. Honorable senators might be astonished to learn that between June, 1956, and August of this year 61,360 man-days have been lost, not because of disputes, but through unemployment. During that period, the waterside workers have lost £245,440 in wages.
– But their average earnings have been more than the basic wage.
– Never mind what their average earnings have been. I am speaking of what they have lost. I would expect Senator Marriott to interject as he has done because we know how hostile he is to the waterside workers. Unfortunately, the Liberal party adopts a similar attitude towards the trade union movement. Supporters of that party have alleged that the Communist representation on the executive of the Australian Council of Trades Unions has increased by 100 per cent. Those who sympathize with the Liberal party are responsible for communism in the trade union movement. Communism is getting a foothold in Australia because supporters of the Liberal party will not give the workers adequate conditions. If they would give the workers something better than communism can offer, they would not want communism. I have heard talk about communism ever since I worked in industry. The catchcry of the Liberal party has always been the same. Immediately a man seeks something better than he has, he is labelled a Communist. I have, been called a Communist because I have fought for better conditions but I will continue to fight for the workers.
– You unloaded three Communists on the A.C.T.U. executive.
– Let us have the truth. Before the last A.C.T.U. congress, there were two Communists on the executive. Now there are three and, possibly, four. But let me return to the Hobart waterfront. In June last year, 1,296 man-days were lost on the Hobart waterfront. During the fruit season, when we should have had full employment on the waterfront, 7,321 mandays were lost in February, 7,908 in March, 2,476 in April and 5,041 in May. Since then the number of man-days lost through unemployment on the Hobart waterfront has increased progressively, and reached a total of 8,501 in August.
I have referred to the money that was lost by the waterside workers on the Hobart waterfront and I shall develop that theme further for honorable senators, although it will not interest Senator Marriott because it will apply to a loss to the workers. The point to which I shall direct attention is the money that has been lost by the workers by the freezing of the basic wage. The amounts lost in the capital cities between September, 1953, and June, 1957, are shown in the following table: -
I have obtained these figures from the “ Australian Year-Book “ for 1956, which is the last available issue, and I am basing my figures on the six capital cities. The “ Year-Book “ shows -that, in 1956, there were approximately 2,025,900 males employed in Australia, and the average loss in earnings for each person as a result of the freezing of the basic wage has been £85 14s. The total loss to the male working population of Australia is £173,619,630. There were approximately 758,900 females in employment. Their average loss was £63 10s. 6d. and the total loss was £48,209,122. Those wage-earners exclude rural and domestic workers, members of the defence forces and national service trainees. Nevertheless, the total loss to male and female workers has been £221,828,752. That is a considerable total and must cause grave concern. The workers are paying. They are financing the employers to fight the workers in the Arbitration Court and break down conditions.
There has been much unemployment in the timber industry, particularly in Tasmania. I am conversant with the situation there and I am able to tell honorable senators that the Tasmanian timber industry has lost about 700 men. Many were highly skilled and they will have difficulty in getting other employment because they have been engaged in the timber industry all their working lives.
A major factor in the slump in the timber industry throughout Australia has been the importation of timber from other countries. Many of our native timbers are suitable for construction work, but imported timber has been used. I know that some Australian timbers are not suitable for some forms of construction, but it is not necessary to bring into Australia the large quantities of timber that have been imported. If we did not import so much timber, we would have more employment for our timber workers. In addition to our own great number of unemployed, there are many non-British workers in holding centres for migrants who are awaiting employment. Further, we are now nearing the end of 1957, and by early 1958 a vast army of young persons will become available for employment and work will have to be found for them. If they are not given employment, these young people will simply become “ dead-end kids “, and “ dead-end kids “ are of no use to any country. I am greatly concerned about our unemployment position, about the number of immigrants who are unable to find not merely suitable employment but employment of any description, and I am greatly concerned about our own young people who will be available for industry early in 1958. Fortunately, I have no children who will be ready to enter industry for some years to come and, therefore, I am not affected personally, but I am greatly disturbed about the general position.
Let me revert now to the Japanese Trade Agreement. I remind the Senate that in August of this year one textile manufacturing company in Hobart found it necessary to retrench a number of its employees. T refer to the Derwent Park factory of Silk and Textile Printers Limited. The manager of that factory, Mr. Alcorso, who is efficient, found it necessary to dismiss 70 employees from the factory because he was unable to obtain orders for his company’s products.
He said that the reason for inability to obtain orders was the possibility of cheap Japanese goods coming into Australia, and J think he is right in what he says. 1 know of another instance in which a traveller for textiles was promised an order by a certain firm in Hobart but it did not sign the order at the time of giving the promise. It was an /order of some considerable size and the traveller went back the following morning ito obtain the prospective buyer’s signature only to find that overnight the prospective buyer discovered that he could get a cheaper product which was being imported from Japan and refused to sign the order.
Most honorable senators on this side have expressed grave concern at the quantity of goods that it will be possible to import from Japan as a result of the signing and ratification of the Japanese Trade Agreement. The alarm is felt not only by honorable senators but also by many other people of good standing and many good business people in the community. The chairman of the Chamber of Manufactures in Tasmania has expressed great alarm at the importation of Japanese goods. He said that he expected a flood of cheap articles to come into Australia from Japan. I said a few moments ago that 70 employees had been dismissed from the Derwent Park factory of Silk and Textile Printers Limited. I visited that factory only about a fortnight or three weeks ago and had a discussion with the manager, Mr. Alcorso. He told me that the number dismissed had increased from the 70 in August to 110 at the time of our discussions. He had put off six or eight more while a number of others had left because they knew their jobs with the factory were shaky and they felt that if they did not get out when they had the opportunity of taking another job they might not be able to obtain employment later. The net result has been that the number of employees in this factory is now reduced by 110. That, in itself, is bad enough, but another serious feature of the situation is the fact that Silk and Textile Printers Limited had proposed to build 200 homes in Hobart for its employees. It has now cancelled the contract for the construction of .those homes. This, again, has had repercussions in that it has meant loss of employment not only for employees in the factory of Silk and Textile Printers Limited but also many employees in the building and timber industries. Further, it will have an adverse affect on the retail stores in Hobart because a considerable number of electrical appliances and other things would have been required for those 200 homes. The position is very serious indeed, and I earnestly trust that we shall not see the flood of cheap Japanese goods which we are expected to see.
I notice also that the chairman of directors of Kelsall and Kemp (Tasmania) Limited, another textile manufacturing company with a factory at Launceston, has expressed grave concern at the possibility of a flood of cheap Japanese goods into Australia. Another company which has expressed alarm about the position is Tootal Broadhurst Lee Company Limited, which has established a fairly new factory at Devonport. It brought out the machinery from England at considerable expense. It also brought out many key employees of the textile industry and housed them properly at Devonport. There is a possibility that this most modern factory may have to close. I have inspected this factory. The manager put in some time with me, going to great pains to explain the whole of the ramifications of the factory and I can express nothing but praise of it. Should we have the flood of cheap Japanese goods that I expect, this factory also could close,’ with the result that the number of unemployed would increase. I have received a considerable number of letters from various textile mills throughout Australia, and I have received a letter also from the Textile Workers Union, which, of course, has had considerable experience of employment in textile mills. The writers of all these letters express themselves as being very disturbed at the present position.
Getting away from textiles, a factory at Devonport, on the north-west coast, has completely closed one section which was devoted to the manufacture of clothes pegs, because imported pegs can be sold slightly cheaper than the locally manufactured peg. There is quite a large peg factory in New Norfolk, which has operated for very many years. Thirty employees have been discharged because the firm cannot obtain orders.
I feel that I have said enough about unemployment and social services to bring to the notice of the Government .tho seriousness of the position which exists, which is likely to be accentuated in the near future. I condemn the Government for the Budget that it has introduced, particularly for the small increases in some social service benefits and the failure to grant any increases in others.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland) [4.38]. - I rise with very great pleasure to support this Budget and to congratulate the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). 1 think it is good to remind ourselves of the wonderful service that he has given the Australian people for so many years. He has introduced Budgets in very difficult periods, and he has always faced the problems of the day with great courage, doing what was right for Australia and its people, and endeavouring to do the best he could for all sections of the community. Once more we have before us a Budget which shows the sincerity of the Treasurer’s desire to ensure the best possible future for this Australia of ours and for her peoples.
We have listened this afternoon to a speech which indicated a rather depressing outlook for the future, but to read this Budget is to have brought strongly to notice that we have a rapidly developing country to which we are bringing,, month after month, people from overseas to play their part within its borders. It is a country for which we can see a very great future, with more and more industries being established. Let us think of what has happened in the last little while. Before World War II. we were a relatively small primary producing country. To-day we are one of the big trading nations of the world, and within our boundaries we have a modern industrial community with twice as many factories as there were a generation ago. This development, of course, means a very great deal to the people of Australia. We see a great expansion in our mining fields and great development in our territories, but we still see care being taken of the individuals, with development of the areas in which they live, and practical help being given to the family man and to various other sections of the community. I therefore feel that the depressing speech to which we have just listened did not give a true picture of what the future of this country will be.
In addition, this country and its peoples have made friends of neighbouring nations. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has been welcomed in country after country, and he and other Ministers have played a leading part in conferences throughout the great British Commonwealth. I believe that these things are important to the people of Australia. If I may, I shall dwell for a moment on a few points of the Budget. We are pleased that provision is made for tax relief for the family, and the reduction of sales tax on household furniture will be of very practical assistance. From time to time many honorable senators have raised that very point, and now relief is to be given. An increase is to be made in Commonwealth scholarship allowances to students who seek a future in many fields of learning. The increased allocation of funds for war service homes will be very important. This Government has, throughout its term of office, done splendid work in that field. To-day and yesterday we listened to the debate on the Repatriation Bill introduced by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), who showed again the appreciation that he has of the needs of our ex-service personnel. He told us of the added benefits which will be paid to them. I join with Senator Marriott in his appeal for assistance to survivors of World War I. and to our war nurses.
Unemployment and sickness benefits are to be increased by 15s. for a single adult, 22s. 6d. for a man and wife, and 27s. 6d. for a man, wife, and one or more children. Those increases will be of tremendous importance to the family unit and I am glad that the Government has recognized its needs. I look forward with pleasure to the legislation which is foreshadowed. The Government proposes to increase hospital benefits. Hospital treatment is a very important matter, and during the Government’s term of office we have observed the very real appreciation by our Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) of the importance of these benefits.
I congratulate the Government most sincerely upon the proposed increase in assistance for homes for the aged. There are some points about this matter on which I want to dwell further, but for the moment I will just record my great appreciation of the fact that the assistance provided by the Government, is to be doubled. We have all seen the work that is done by these homes, and have been proud to be associated with the distribution of the funds made available by the Commonwealth for this very important purpose. Those of us who do social welfare work were always worried, before assistance was given for homes for the aged, about the fact that very often aged people had to be brought away from their own familiar surroundings to a city where some housing was available for them. With Commonwealth assistance, homes for the aged are being built in all areas, as close as the nearest suburb, and as far away as Alice Springs. So men and women are able to live within the areas which they know best, amongst the people with whom they have lived for so many years. If honorable senators were to see the figures of the amount of money that has been provided, they would notice that 50 per cent, of it has been distributed in rural areas. That is, I think, a very important aspect.
This Budget provides for an increase of pensions. Of course, we are always pleased t when pensions are increased. We always feel, I think, that we would like more assistance to be given, because all of us here are anxious that the greatest possible assistance should be given to the pensioners. I say again, sir, that I am always gravely concerned about the single pensioner who lives alone, because I feel that that person has a very difficult time indeed, possibly paying an excessive rental for accommodation. Most frequently, the single pensioner lives under very difficult circumstances.
I feel that we have to face this whole problem of old age with a looking-forward policy, if I may use that term for want of a better one, because we have to do a great deal more for our aged people than just making provision in the field of pensions for their needs.
Aged people, with the assistance of modern science, modern drugs and efficient hospitalization and nursing, now live many years longer than formerly.
Having seen the miracle of science in keeping people alive, we should interest ourselves in the organizations which work so hard in order that the aged people may enjoy in the very best way possible the years that are left to them. Let us see what we can do to make it possible for them to live in happiness and security during their remaining years.
Because I think this is so important, 1 shall ask the Government to endeavour to assist in the important new sphere of medical science, geriatrics. I should like a Chair of Geriatrics to be set up at one of our universities. We have an Institute of Child Health, and we have seen what is done in that field. I believe that, at the other end of life, as it were, there is very important work to be done.
Because I have been so interested in this subject, and because I have kept in close association with a number of people overseas, I feel that I can give honorable senators the best story if I tell them what has been done by geriatric units in other parts of the world. What has been done in this new approach to old age in Norway, Sweden, Finland, the United Kingdom and Switzerland makes a completely thrilling story. Attached to a general hospital is a geriatric wing and a team of three, five or seven persons. The team that I speak of now should consist of a geriatric physician, a nursing sister, an almoner, a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist, and it should have the services of a dietician, Such a team, working in the geriatric unit, give to aged people who are in hospital new hope for the future - hope of a kind that any one who knows nothing of the work can never fully realize. If I may quote one of the leading women in Australia in the field of geriatric nursing, I can best paint a picture of a geriatric unit. Muriel K. Doherty has written -
In a modern geriatric unit one is confronted with a hive of activity in which the aged are the prime actors, in a calm, unhurried, cheerful and hopeful environment, guided and encouraged, rather than assisted, by the members of the geriatric team under the leadership of the geriatric physician, as they progress to maximum independence. Given patient and kindly help even some of the so-called “ incurables “ will show remarkable improvement. Bedfastness is discouraged and reduced to a minimum, stress being laid on wellness rather than on illness. If the patient is in bed, it is well to ask oneself why? And so one sees, not rows of apathetic old people lying comfortably supported on pillows in tidily tucked-in beds (with the exception of those acutely ill, and even they are not immobilized) but old ladies and gentlemen up to 105 years old, the majority up and about, with a wide variety of disabilities (including incurable malignant disease) being encouraged to activity, even those who have been bedfast and crippled for many years.
This, I believe, is something that we must face when we are considering the problem of old age in ‘this country, because the number of aged people is going to increase. We shall have the problem of crowded hospital wards, of people who go to hospital and who, because they cannot receive this particular care, and because there is no place of this kind for them, remain there until they die. So .1 ask the Government to face up to this new aspect of care for the aged. Let us come to grips with this problem, realizing that we have to plan to-day for the situation that may exist in twenty years’ time. We should, first of all, interest people in the work of geriatrics - the care of the aged.
I should like us to bring to this country for a period one of the geriatric physicians who could help us with this work. The name of Dr. Marjory Warren is one to be conjured with in Great Britain, lt is very interesting to read of the great work she is doing in her hospital. I read one report to the effect that 65 per cent, of the aged people who had been bed cases for a very long period were able, after treatment and care by the geriatric unit in the geriatric wing, to go back to their own homes and spend their remaining years moving about happily among their friends. They had been bed-patients before they had this treatment. I should like us to invite some one like that to Australia - some one who could create tremendous public interest, in the care of and work amongst aged people. Such a person would be of tremendous assistance to those wonderful voluntary organizations that are doing such magnificent work. People have to train in this great work, and of course they do. Perhaps we could also arrange for a pioneer geriatric team, if I may so describe it, to go to one of the great geriatric hospitals in the United Kingdom. The smallest team, 1 suggest, would comprise a doctor, a nurse and an almoner. On its return to Australia tit could visit the States to set up original pilot teams to commence this special work of looking after the aged, and planning as well for those who will be aged in twenty years’ time.
Sir, I also suggest that we should look to the problem of the next section of this very great work in connexion with our aged people - the provision of convalescent homes for the aged. When we read the history of the great and the very wonderful results of the geriatric wards and unit, we find that the aged people can, after care, ;leave hospital for a period of time and report for treatment at regular intervals. -But they must be able to .go to a home rand be cared for. They are not well enough, (perhaps, to go back to their own homes >which may be in a lonely place, miles away; but if they can live close enough to a geriatric hospital, they can obtain intermittent treatment there as required.
In the scheme of geriatrics that is carried out in other parts of the world, we see the next step after the geriatric wing and the geriatric unit. ‘We see the half-way house, or the convalescent section of the geriatric unit, where the patients remain under the care of the consultant physician of the unit.
There are advantages in .providing such accommodation away from the unit. Perhaps such homes could be financed by legislation similar to that by which homes for the aged are financed. I have, in this chamber and elsewhere, put forward a scheme which will, I believe, attain this aim. I have suggested some cottages for the aged who are intermittently ill, and I think that they could be provided on a basis similar to that by which the convalescent cottages of which I have spoken can be provided. I have no doubt that the whole scheme could be arranged .by a minor amendment of the legislation authorizing the homes for the aged scheme. I realize that such homes provided for under the act are intended for permanent occupancy by aged persons. Those that I envisage would be occupied by persons who had spent a period in hospital and could live near it, under the care of their wives, while they continued to receive treatment. Such a scheme would help to release hospital beds and do much to promote this very important work of caring for the aged.
I should like the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), to collaborate in this matter, because I believe that the two departments have much iti common where the care of aged people is concerned. If we are to face this problem squarely, we must first look at what is offering already. A geriatric unit has been in operation in Victoria for ten weeks.
Already six patients who were previously bedridden have been returned home well, and fully ambulant. That is a story of success in caring for the aged with the help of people who are anxious to assist.
I ask the Government, as a first step, to call a Commonwealth conference of medical people, nurses and social workers who, daily work with the aged. I believe that out of that would come a scheme which ensure the best possible use of the assistance available in this field. The treatment to which I have referred could be adopted and people skilled in geriatrics could be brought here from overseas. Geriatric units could be set up as part of the facilities of our hospitals.
I cannot stress too strongly that if we are to cope with the problem of old age we must begin to do so now. We must prepare for the hundreds of old people who will need care in the years that lie ahead. The statistics reveal that we may expect an increasing number of elderly sick in the community. To meet this urgent medical and social problem we must initiate, develop and co-ordinate plans for the care of the aged, and for meeting changing population conditions, which, of themselves, may well create a serious economic problem.
I have endeavoured, in a very short time, to illustrate the tremendous problem with which we have to deal. It involves not only the care of the individual, but also the possible economic consequences that may result from failing to face our responsibilities now. This Government has done a great deal for the aged. The medical benefits scheme has been improved, more people have been assisted to receive pension benefits by the alleviation of the means test, life-saving drugs have been made more readily available, and it has been possible to continue attending the doctor of one’s choice. But, in addition, we must tackle the problem of age on a grand scale. We need geriatric units acting in association with our hospitals. The World Health Organization has recognized the magnificent work that Australia has done in combating tuberculosis. If we undertake geriatric treatment in a proper fashion we shall place ourselves alongside the countries that have done such fine work in this field. It would be a very proud thing if. because of the joint efforts of voluntary organizations and the Federal
Government, Australia were described as one of the countries that was making a magnificent effort to care for the aged.
Let us face this problem with courage, vision and forethought. If we do we shall be able, in the future, to feel proud of what we have achieved. I do not often listen to radio sessions but the other day I was listening to a very well known character in a very well known radio story. It is strange that this particular person should have spoken these words -
It is a pretty poor thing if we do not help them to live the years that we give them. It is a very sad thing if we do not give them in those extra years a feeling of security and of being wanted.
That is what I believe the geriatric clinic and the geriatric unit can do.
Finally, I should like to suggest that consideration be given to the establishment of a Chair of Geriatrics at one of our universities. The Government should consider calling a Commonwealth conference of voluntary philanthropic bodies, doctors, nurses and departmental officials engaged in this field. I want to pay the highest possible tribute to these people for the splendid work that they are doing. Consideration should also be given to bringing to Australia one of the leading geriatric doctors of the United Kingdom. From such a person much could be learnt of the science of geriatrics, and of what we can do for the aged. We could also send a team comprising a doctor, a nurse and an almoner, to study this great science at one of the geriatric units of the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Finland, or Switzerland. In all of those countries magnificent work is being done. If time permitted I could give honorable senators further information in that regard.
The Government might well bring out a team to train pilot teams for work in the units of each State. Both voluntary and State bodies could continue their operations, and the Commonwealth could give the lead in offering them the best possible assistance. The adoption of such a course could make this Government and its Ministers remembered down through the years for their courage and vision in planning for the future. I should like to repeat a few lines which I believe to be appropriate -
For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
This Government has shown a very real desire to help the aged in the pensions and housing fields. I should like to think that in this greater and wider field it would be willing to follow what is being done in other parts of the world and help old people to find that there were indeed in the sky stars which had been invisible by day.
– The Budget papers before us cover the whole field of the activities of the Government. They deal with estimated expenditure, the economic prospects for the future and the budgeting of our national economy. lt is the custom to congratulate the Treasurer for bringing down a Budget. The present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has broken all records for length of service in that office, and that, no doubt, deserves recognition, but we on this side of the chamber feel that the Budget itself is so unworthy of praise that we have moved an amendment proposing that the Estimates and Budget papers be rejected because they are an integral part of policies detrimental to the defence and development of Australia, to the standard of living and employment of the Australian people, and wasteful of national revenues. That amendment gets down to the kernel of the economic situation. During the course of his Budget speech, delivered on 3rd September, the Treasurer said -
During the past year our economy has gained greatly in stability and strength. Twelve months ago, despite signs that inflationary pressures were easing, costs and prices were still rising fairly strongly.
Surveys of business conditions show that, in reality, our economy is not gaining in stability and strength, but that in several important sectors it is in a bad state. In his speech, the Treasurer expressed surprise that there should be diffidence and hesitancy in the business community. Government senators surely must be aware of the condition of many sectors of our economy. The purchasing power of businessmen and employees has been reduced, and the housewife finds it difficult to make ends meet. She has been encouraged to spend to the limit over the years by promises of continuing buoyant conditions, but now she, with other people, is feeling the economic pinch. The Treasurer and other members of the Government are doing a disservice to the people of Australia by closing their eyes to the facts. Instead of facing realities, they paint a picture of an economy that is gaining greatly in stability.
The true position is that, internally and externally, but particularly externally, adverse economic currents are hindering our progress, and the effects of these economic currents are much greater than is admitted by the Government. In these modern times, I feel that one can judge the prosperity of a country only by examining its economic foundations, so to speak. It has been said that figures cannot lie.
– They can be juggled.
– They certainly can be juggled, and they have been juggled by the Treasurer in the Budget papers and in his Budget speech. It would require an economic Sampson to solve all the economic problems of this nation single-handed, so the Treasurer has had to delegate authority to his economic friends, affectionately known as the egg-heads. They make a business of juggling figures. Their stockintrade is the juggling of figures.
Before we say that the economy has gained greatly in stability, we should look at some of the important elements of the economy. Let us consider the building industry, which is of first importance, because it is associated with the housing of the people of the country, who, after all, are the reason for the institution of government. Some of us tend to forget that the welfare of the people is the purpose of a government’s existence. Whether we are on one side of the Parliament or the other, the people have elected us to represent their interests, but superficial factors are often given continued attention, at the expense of personal, human factors. I feel that there is no great buoyancy or stability in our building industry.
In Tasmania many of the primary industries are in a bad condition, and I shall mention a few of them as I develop my argument. One of the sickest industries in Tasmania at present is the timber industry. Tasmania has been endowed by a beneficent Providence with a good rainfall and magnificent forests. Large areas in the south-west of the State are yet unexplored. These areas are being explored slowly and potential timber wealth is being discovered that was never dreamt of before. The other day a tree was discovered, the first limb of which was 300 feet from the ground. In the Florentine Valley in Tasmania there is one of the greatest stands of Eucalyptus Regnans or swamp gums known to exist anywhere in the Commonwealth or, for that matter, anywhere in the world. It is, in itself, a magnificent natural resource. It is certainly a lasting resource, because the eucalypt has the happy knack of regeneration. With careful forestry treatment, the forest can rejuvenate itself. There is no time limit to the development and exploitation of these resources, but a State such as Tasmania, which has these great resources, should do all it can to develop them. lt is not generally recognized that, of all the continents, Australia has the lowest growth of timber per acre.
– That is because of the lack of water.
– That is true. The lack of rainfall has its effect on the germination of the seeds, and eventually the growth of the trees. Apart from the manufacture of paper, for which there is a ready market, to my mind the most important aspect of the timber industry is the milling of timber for lasting purposes. Although the softwoods such as pinus radiata or pinus insignis grow much more quickly, it takes up to 100 years for a hardwood tree to reach maturity. I think that the papermanufacturing industry makes too great an inroad into our timber supplies, but I shall develop that theme in a moment or two. When a hardwood tree is to be reduced to paper pulp, it is first reduced to the equivalent of the kunai grass of New Guinea, flax, or other fibrous plants. To reduce a hardwood tree to that form is, in my opinion, a waste of a magnificent resource.
The milling of timber should be encouraged. Timber is the basic commodity that is used to shelter people, and it has an almost infinite number of uses for man’s benefit in the form of furniture and other goods. In spite of that fact, timber-mills that have been in operation for many years, and which have been handed down from father to son, are closed. That is because there has been a great falling off of the demand for houses, and it is true not only of Tasmania, but also of the rest of the Commonwealth.
In addition to the falling demand for houses, there has been, as a matter of Government policy, a large increase in timber imports from Malaya. That timber is produced by labour which has a different standard of living and receives lower wages than do timber industry employees in Australia. Those imports, too, have struck a severe blow at the Tasmanian timber industry.
The influences that have led to the buoyancy and prosperity of this industry have been seriously affected by Government policy. It is much easier to obtain finance to purchase a washing machine, a radio or an air-conditioning plant to install in a house than it is to obtain finance to purchase the house. The economy, so far from being in a state of stability, as has been claimed by the Treasurer, is in a continuing state of instability.
What I am saying applies not only to Tasmania, but also to Victoria and northern New South Wales, particularly the electorate of Richmond, which I recently visited. In the little town of Kyogle, there are three timber-mills. One of them is producing plywood of excellent quality, but the other two were almost closed down when I was there. They were of immense importance to the economy of that area and, in conjunction with the outlying butter-producing and tropical fruit growing industries, they made an important contribution to the prosperity of the town. The timber industry is in the doldrums in north Queensland, too. Unless Government policy is . directed towards preserving and developing these basic industries, the unemployment that exists in the timber industry will extend to other industries.
Nature is the source of all wealth. Many of the figures that are presented to us in the Budget papers are merely transfers. A unit of money changes hands so often that it would need a magician to follow its course as represented by the transfers that are shown in the Budget papers. I repeat that wealth comes from nature and, through human skill and ability, is transformed into tangible things for man’s benefit. In any language, to do that is to add to the common wealth.
In spite of the Treasurer’s claim about the expansion of the Australian economy, the whole of eastern Australia - I am sure the same applies to Western Australia - is suffering from the slump in the timber industry. The workers in that industry who are unemployed are a loss to the community because they have not purchasing power. When money is not earned from its natural source - the soil - it is not passing into the hands of the tradesmen, the shopkeepers or the banks, and the economy loses momentum.
Supporters of the Government overlook fundamental facts when they claim that our basic industries are enjoying prosperity. We have been bringing into Australia each year about 120,000 immigrants. The population has grown in a few years from 7,000,000 to approximately 10,000,000. That is a magnificent achievement. In the light of such development, our industries, including our brickyards, should be busy; but the abunding prosperity that has been claimed by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and supporters of the Government does not exist. We cannot be prosperous while the brickyards are not in full production and the timber industry is going through a slump. There is no such thing as a stable economy. We are either progressing or regressing, and while basic industries are uncertain of the future, the country is passing through a low side of the economic cycle.
It is difficult to follow the statistics that are presented by the Department of Labour and National Service. Over the years, the department has established offices in the major towns and cities throughout the Commonwealth. The officers employed by the department are allotted the task of keeping a finger on the pulse of labour and industry. Many of the statistics they produce are of great value, but the important statistics relating to employment reveal grave anomalies. Some of the office staff regularly visit factories and other places of employment. From time to time, employers have required the services of skilled workmen or craftsmen. Their needs have been recorded by the Department of Labour and National Service and have inflated the figures showing the number of vacancies throughout the Commonwealth. No check is made of those figures from time to time. In Tasmania, it is impossible to buy a job for an unskilled ;man, but the jobs that are said to be available for tradesmen are still unfilled because of their character.
The statistical bulletin issued by the Department of Labour and National Service reveals that there are about 50,000 unemployed men in Australia, and that 18,000 or 20,000 are receiving the unemployment benefit. The latter figures, which are released by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), are exact statistically because the numbers shown to be drawing the unemployment benefit must be balanced against the amount of payments, but the figures showing the number of unemployed apply only to persons who go to the offices of the department voluntarily in the cities and major towns and register for employment. We know that in many townships and country areas, the department is not represented. When a man gets out of work in such places, he will not travel 40, 50 or, in the case of Queensland and Western Australia, 200 miles to register at an employment office. He will try to get into touch with employers close at hand, but the sources of employment are drying up. The numbers of those who apply for work in such circumstances are not recorded in the statistics of the Department of Labour and National Service. Therefore, the figures are misleading.
I do not think that the department is deliberately misleading us, although I believe it suits the Government to produce statistics showing a large number of jobs available and a small number of persons registered for employment. No government will survive if it allows unemployment to grow. It is all very well for the supporters of the Government to close their eyes to that fact. Over the years, they have imposed conditions on the working section of the community, directly and indirectly, which are forcing the labour organizations to call a halt.
The recent congress of the Australian Council of Trades Unions reflected the feeling that is growing among employees and their union representatives that the Arbitration Court has been messed about by this Government. There has been so much frustration, so many delays and so much diversion from the original purpose of conciliation and arbitration under the administration of this Government, that the workers and their representatives believe they must find an alternative way of obtaining wage justice: It would be unwise for the Government to overlook the fact that: within the very, near future the major trade unions of this country will be approaching employers directly. under a system of collective bargaining, for a determination of wages and conditions. On the face of things, some major industries such as General MotorsHolden’s Limited and Broken Hill Proprietary Limited could well afford either to reduce the’ cost of their manufactures or pay their employees more. When big organizations are in a position similar to that enjoyed by B.H.P. which has a virtual monopoly of our iron ore, and at the same time are making huge profits, they are either underpaying their employees or overcharging the consumers.
– What do the em..ployees think about it?
– I am coming to that. I believe that instead of going to the Arbitration Court, such industrial bodies as the Vehicle Builders Union, for instance, and others operating in the automobile manufacturing industry will approach organizations like General Motors-Holden’s Limited direct. The unions will point out that they do not feel that their members are getting wage justice from the Arbitration Court and will ask the employers to do something for them direct. It is my firm belief that the directors of these huge organizations will have to give consideration to such approaches in the near future.
A tradition that we in Australia have inherited from the Mother Country is that every man is worthy of his hire. We also hold it as a basic principle that every Australian who is able and willing to work, every Australian who has ability or craftsmanship to sell should be able to find a market for that ability or craftsmanship at a just price. As our last line of defence, we hold that unless an employer is prepared to pay a just price, the employee has the right, in the final analysis, to withdraw his labour.
– He has that right now.
– That is the point I am making; but that right has been virtually taken from him by the Arbitration Court. Because of penal clauses, fines imposed on employees’ organizations, frustrations and delays under the present system of arbitration, opinion in the industrial movement of Australia to-day, as I interpret it, is that the Arbitration Court should be by-passed and a system of collective bargaining adopted as a means of obtaining wage justice. I realize that such a system would create tremendous anomalies. Members of a household who were employed, in a small factory might question why they were not paid the same wages as the employees of a larger factory further along the street.
A perusal of the history of arbitration in Australia will disclose that every time a government of the same political thought as the present Government is in office it attempts to swing, the industrial balance in favour of the employer. As an example, I mention that in 1928 the Prime Minister, Mr. S. M. Bruce, who is now Lord Bruce, attempted to take from the working man some of the protection he enjoyed from the Arbitration Court. We all know that the electors felt so incensed about this attempt that the Government was defeated and Mr. Bruce himself lost what was virtually a blue ribbon seat at the following election. Again, immediately prior to World War II., we saw the suspension of awards and the general breaking down, for economic reasons, of the right of people to obtain a just wage. Since 1949 the present Government has continually included in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act provisions designed to restrict the working man’s rights to what he considers wage justice. There is no doubt that we have a very stormy period ahead of us in the industrial field. The Government would be unwise to overlook what could really be the basic causes of this unrest.
Now let us consider the Government’s policy.
– Why do you not set up your own manufacturing industries?
– We have not the constitutional power to do so, but I think the time is coming when we shall have co-operatives. Senator Wardlaw has had personal experience of organizing what is now one of the biggest co-operatives and perhaps one of the biggest monopolies in Tasmania. I refer to the co-operative formed by the farmers and graziers.
– Do you think it is a monopoly?
– No, but it has developed to the stage where it has been able to buy out other co-operatives in the north of Tasmania. I do not know what has happened in the south. Senator Wardlaw has a full appreciation of the power of co-operatives, and the establishment of co-operatives could easily be the next phase in our industrial development.
We are now passing through a period of industrial re-adjustment and the Government would do well to study the position closely. Tremendously important issues confront industries to-day. For instance, there is the impact of automation on industry. So great has it been that the Australian Council of Trades Unions, at its last conference, carried a resolution to the effect that it should strive for a 35-hour week. The displacement of manual labour by automation has reached staggering proportions. I have before me an article on automation written by Dr. Gordon S. Brown, of the Department of Electrical Engineering,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in which he says -
No matter what standards you set for appraisal - technical, economic, or sociological - automation is the biggest thing in a long while. It is among the more difficult topics an engineer could be asked to discuss. Even if we master the problem of semantics and succeed in conveying to an audience an acceptable definition of the words “ automation, cybernetics, feedback mechanization, or data processing “, few people will experience an acceptable degree of satisfaction. No matter how explicitly engineers describe these things, the general public will evaluate what they say in sociological terms, and not in technical terms.
I quote that passage in order to draw attention to the enormous problems facing the industrial section of the community to-day. Those problems will have to be resolved, especially in view of disturbing features throughout our economy. Mr. President, I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Senate adjourned at 5.45 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 3 October 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1957/19571003_senate_22_s11/>.