23rd Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Mon. Sir Alister McMuIIin). took the chair at 11 a.m., and; Bead: prayers.
– I have, received’ from Mrs. Hays and’ family a letter of thanks for the- resolution of sympathy passed by the Senate on the occasion of the death of her husband, the late Senator Herbert Hays.
– I wish to ask a few questions of my friend the Minister for Civil: Aviation. Is. it not true that the Menzies: Government has worked vigorously and assiduously for parity between Trans.Australia Airlines, and Ansett-A.N.A.? iti not also/ a fact that there: is parity only two States so far as. intra-state airline business, is concerned? Is- the- Government working to establish parity in intrastate.business, in all States? While I am. on my feet, Mr. President,. I would like to ask the Minister whether he has read Mr.. Ansett’s remarkable, letter, part of which has been, published in the. capitalist press, of Aus-tralia. If so, does he. agree with, the charge made, by. implication, by Mr.. Ansett against the Government, to the effect that all its wealth, power and influence are being used in favour of T.A.A. - which we know is not true?
– I seize the opportunity to assure. Senator Brown- and other honorable senators again, that the Government has worked assiduously to establish and to retain a two.-airline system in Australia. That is the policy of the Government,, and it has been so since- 1’952. That will continue to be the policy. On the question whether Trans-Australia Airlines has certain rights intra-state; I point out- that I have answered- similar questions before-. The answer I. propose1 to give now is. the same as. previously. The Government takes the; view, that, overall, there shall be equal opportunity and equal access by both airlines to; the business, available-. Having regard to the fact that T.A.A. enjoys a. monopoly of. the- service- to. Darwin, it is; not considered that T.A.A. suffers anycompetitive disadvantage, by not being able, to trade intra-state in four of the Australian States^ I have said before, and-‘ I say again, that that matter is kept- constantly under review. Should it become apparent that modification of the arrangement is necessary, the Government will immediatelyexamine the situation.
As to the letter written by Mr. Ansett to a number of his customers and potential customers, which has assumed an importance somewhat akin to that in the play”The Letter”, I have not seen the document. I propose to get a copy of it in Melbourne to-morrow and to have- a look at it. As I have- said before, I regard it as nothing more than a part of a salespromotion, campaign. I have no doubt that if it is an effective letter, T.A.A. will bringto bear its equally efficient organization to counter it.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing- the- Prime Minister following his delightfully vague reply yesterday to my questions concerning the reconditioning of the Mount Isa toTownsville railway. Would it be true that, in- connexion with the. standardization of railways, South Australia has to find 30. per cent, of the total cost involved and. New South Wales and Victoria 15 per cent., each? Is it true that South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria have 50 years in which to. repay the money and’ that it is available at a lower rate of interest? Is it true that Queensland will1 have to find1 100 per cent., of the money advanced; that it will have only twenty years in which round it and that the money will be advanced at a high rate of interest? Is it true that the “Courier-Mail!” of 28th. March, in praising Mr. Nicklin, said that the antiLabour Premier of Queensland had “ to fight determinedly “ in- order to, as I would say, gouge the. necessary money out of the Commonwealth. Government? Is it true that, the anti-Labour Government of Queensland, in commencing the- necessary work at an early date, might be acting inadvisedly in that the Commonwealth Parliament has not yet given permission for the necessary money to be advanced, and knowing the flair of the Minister for getting under one’s guard-
– Order! The honorable senator’s statement is not a question.
– I apologize, Mr. President, and ask the Minister: If any or all of the above are not true, will the Minister tell the truth?
– Mr. President, I begin by thanking Senator Dittmer for his compliment on my “ delightful “ answer yesterday, but I rather resent the fact that he added the word “ vague “ which spoilt the effect. Applying myself to the question itself, I think it is quite unfair to contrast the arrangements that are being made in connexion with the national scheme for the standardization of railway gauges with the particular circumstances of the Mount Isa railway. If the honorable senator will give some thought to the scheme for the standardization of railway gauges he will appreciate that this is a national project, undertaken for defence purposes and many other reasons. A feature of the scheme is that it will be necessary for the States concerned, in the majority of cases, to scrap existing railway lines within their borders. Most of these lines are quite economic and useful for the purpose for which they are at present being used, but the States will scrap those economic assets to confer a national benefit by linking all States with railways of one gauge.
Queensland will derive a benefit from the standardization scheme as it comes to pass just as will other States of the Commonwealth. There is a big flow of goods in and out of Queensland going as far south as Adelaide and, indeed, right across the continent. Cheaper freight rates and faster train services are claimed to be assets of railway standardization and Queensland will get as much benefit from them as will the other States.
I remind Senator Dittmer that Queensland, on being asked to come into the standardization scheme, refused to do so. Queensland had the opportunity to come into the scheme but declined.
– As did the other States originally.
– The other States are now in it, but Queensland has stood out. That being so, I do not think that Queensland has the right to complain about the benefits obtained by other States, more particularly as Queensland itself does obtain benefits. That is, in general terms, the answer to the suggestion that there is a differentiation. One scheme is a national scheme. The other relates to the rehabilitation of a State railway line which it has always been Queensland’s responsibility to service. The Mount Isa railway scheme is an economic project which, with Commonwealth support, will pay its own way.
To the allegation of an argument between Mr. Nicklin and the Commonwealth Government, I give only the short answer that this was a big deal involving great sums of money and intricate matters. There were discussions, arguments and negotiations, but perhaps no more than one would expect in a deal of that size. In reply to the last part of the question, I say that I am not sufficiently acquainted with the detailed negotiations to say whether there would be any risk, but I would discard the idea. The two governments have agreed in principle. In my opinion, Queensland is quite justified in going ahead. If the question implies that Senator Dittmer will oppose this proposal completely when it comes before the Queensland Parliament, I think that Queensland should have notice of it.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Has the Government considered the specific proposals that I put forward in the Senate during the Address-in-Reply debate for a reasonably small grant of money for drought relief in South Australia, to cover only genuine cases of hardship, such cases to be decided by the South Australian Premier? As I said in the Address-in-Reply debate, I am not asking for, nor do I favour, drought relief in a general sense, as in my opinion that is not warranted. I merely seek assistance in genuine cases of hardship, where the effect of the drought was serious enough to make some relief urgently necessary to enable the farmers concerned to continue in production.
– The matter is one that directly concerns the administration of the Treasury. I shall discuss it with the Treasurer and get a reply for Senator Pearson as soon as possible.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral been directed to reports coming to hand from the United Kingdom that Britain will soon have a cheaper telephone service, which is being planned in a reorganization of the Post Office involving a separation of the Post Office from the Treasury? The Post Office, I understand, will keep the money it earns, balance its own books, and operate as a competitive business. It is also proposed that the Post Office will re-introduce the system of allowing 100 free telephone calls a year and reduce rentals on domestic telephones. Is he aware that the British Post Office is considering cuts in charges for registered and printed paper rate packages and also that a special committee has been examining public needs in post office services? Will the Minister discuss with his colleague the possibility of taking some steps to see that the committee which has been promised to examine Post Office accounts in Australia gives full attention to the imaginative plans going forward in the United Kingdom?
– I understand that the report of the committee set up by the Postmaster-General’s Department is expected to be submitted some time during April. It will then be tabled. As to the other matters referred to, I ask the honorable senator to put the question on notice so that I may ask the Postmaster-General to inquire into it and let me have the information requested.
– By way of preface to a question which I direct to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, I mention that at the Weapons Research Establishment at Salisbury, South Australia, an explosion occurred recently causing the death of a woman and serious injury to others as well as extensive damage to property. Can the Minister inform me whether the investigation made prior to the explosion by the security service disclosed whether any of the political parties were responsible for such explosion, as the investigators seemed to imply? Has the investigation by the security service since the explosion disclosed whether any of the political parties were responsible for such explosion? Was it gross negligence and carelessness which caused the explosion?
– I am sorry to say I know nothing whatever of the circumstances surrounding the explosion. I ask the honorable senator to put the question on notice so that I may obtain an answer to it. This is the first time I have heard any suggestion that the security service has introduced an atmosphere of association by any political party with the occurrence. Up to this stage, I have read and understood that it was a most unfortunate accident.
– I ask the
Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry whether he has any information regarding the catches of the new Commonwealth fishing trawler based on Port Adelaide and operating in the Great Australian Bight for the purpose of investigating the fish potential of that area.
– Yes. I think the honorable senator is referring to the trawler “ Southern Endeavour “ which was bought with moneys from the Fisheries Development Fund. The trawler began to operate at the beginning of this month. It has made two trips into the Bight. ‘They were mainly exploratory trips, but, on one of them, it caught nine tons, and on the other 25 tons of fish which is being sold in co-operation with the Fishermen’s Cooperative in South Australia. It is a most interesting enterprise and appears to be something which might be watched with great interest by all concerned about our fisheries.
– I address a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation supplementary to that asked by Senator Brown. How does the Minister reconcile his answer to Senator Brown with the fact that on page four of the annual report of Trans-Australia Airlines the following statement appears: -
An operator barred from access to intra-state routes is at a very serious economic disadvantage compared with its competitors. Apart from intrastate revenue such routes generate on-carriage traffic beyond the originating State.
– I say at once, and with great respect to Trans-Australia Airlines, that I do not feel in any way obliged to dovetail anything I say with something that appeared in the T.A.A. report, valuable as it might be, for the simple reason that T.A.A. being what it is - a virile and effective organization - does not lose any opportunity to put its own point of view and to present its own particular case. That is how every honorable senator would want an effective Government organization to operate. Let me repeat that we as a Government have adopted a two-airline policy for this country and we are going to see that those two airlines carry on. In the division of business we shall introduce such arrangements as will make that possible. T.A.A. may say, “ Let us have intra-state rights that we do not now have “. That is all very well, but would Senator Kennelly favour a swap of intra-state rights for Darwin rights? Does Senator Kennelly believe that in addition to the Darwin monopoly T.A.A. should have intra-state rights? That is the situation in a nutshell. The fact that civil aviation is being administered in this country as it is by this Government is a manifestation of our belief in a two-airline system. It does not matter what the Opposition may say as an Opposition in criticizing the Government’s policy, that policy will remain. There will be two airlines until the distant day when the socialists are a government again and when no doubt they will do their best to try to run private enterprise out of business.
– I wish to direct a supplementary question to the Minister. Do I take it that the maintenance of two airlines in this country is possible only by the Government being unfair to its own airline and denying it the freedom to engage in air transport in those States in which at present it cannot operate?
– The honorable senator’s question is based on a completely incorrect assumption. This Government is not unfair to T.A.A. No one can assert that. Look at T.A.A. to-day! Look at any aspect of its operations, equipment, mileage flown, passengers carried and, if 1 may say so, its financial results- The progress year by year of T.A.A. made possible by this Government provides the best answer to the quite ridiculous statement made by Senator Kennelly that we are unfair to T.A.A.
– I should like to ask the Minister two questions arising partly out of my previous question and partly out of the question asked by Senator Kennelly. I ask these questions without heat and solely for the purpose of obtaining facts, ls the Minister aware that Ansett-A.N.A. carries approximately 350,000 more passengers on its intra-state routes than T.A.A. does on its Darwin route? Secondly, is that the Minister’s idea of parity?
– I do not know whether the figures that were quoted by the honorable senator are correct, but I do want to point out one thing to him because it is of particular interest. He referred to certain intra-state operations. Included in them would be the operations carried on in South Australia, particularly, by an airline that is now a subsidiary of the Ansett organization but was formerly an entirely separate entity. For many years, that company operated in association with the old A.N.A. before the Ansett take-over. When the Ansett takeover occurred, T.A.A., in an ordinary commercial way, made an arrangement whereby it got the business from A.N.A. and, in the course of time, by virtue of another commercial arrangement, the Ansett organization regained the business. That was all clean, fair and above board; there were commercial arrangements on all three occasions. When it was running in T.A.A’s favour, Senator Brown and the socialists had no complaints. Now, because of the commercial arrangement that goes the way of the private enterprise group, Senator Brown and the socialists have all the complaints in the world. This is just another indication of the socialist mind.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation: Is it not a fact that T.A.A. is able to operate intra-state services within Queensland, because it was given permission to do so by the previous Labour Government of that State? Does not this indicate that intra-state services are under the control of the government of the State within which those services operate?
– As a matter of historical fact - this goes back to long before my assumption of the Civil Aviation portfolio - it was the case that the Queensland Government did in fact make a request for the intra-state operation of T.A.A., and the Airlines Agreement Act was constructed so as to enable that to take place. It is not altogether a fact that the matter is entirely within the control of the State governments. Indeed, we could amend the legislation without receiving a request from a State government to permit T.A.A. to operate intra-state; but for the very good reasons which I have indicated we do not propose to do that now.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Civil Aviation a question supplementary to that asked by Senator Brown. As the Minister was able to indicate the position in relation to South Australia, will he now state the position in regard to New South Wales?
– Yes, I shall be delighted to do so, Mr. President, because it is not altogether dissimilar from the position in South Australia. The predecessor of Airlines of New South Wales was the Butler Air Transport Company, which was owned by Bungana, a subsidiary of the old A.N.A. company. Because of that financial association Butler Air Transport Company had an operating arrangement with the old A.N.A. for many years. There was an argument followed by litigation, and as a result Butler’s operating association was transferred to Trans-Australia Airlines. That pleased the socialists no end. No complaint was heard then. But when, as a result of a further commercial arrangement, the ownership of Butler Air Transport Company reverted to A.N.A. and with that ownership went the operating arrangement, the socialists started to complain again. In other words, as in South Australia, when things are running their way, everything is all right; they want to compete; they want their own airline, but when in competition they lose those advantages, they squeal.
– My question is directed to the Minister for National Development. Is it a fact that the Government has recently finalized arrangements with the Petroleum Institute of France to assess the oil potential of our artesian basins? Will the Minister advise me whether those arrangements meet with the approval of oil search companies in this country? Will the Minister state when it is anticipated that the institute’s first report will be made available? Does the Minister believe that the information supplied by the Petroleum Institute of France may be the breakthrough in the search for oil in Ausralia?
– Answering the last part of the honorable senator’s question first, I would say that hope springs eternal in the human breast. I think that what the honorable senator has said is a forecast of what will come to pass. All the Government’s professional advice is that we have oil in Australia. We have not yet been able to prove the correctness of that advice. The Petroleum Institute of France is an institute of world-wide standing. I have been gratified to learn of the general approval that has followed the Government’s action in making the arrangement with the institute. That approval is not only on the part of the general public but on the part of the companies that are searching for oil in this country, most of which have already indicated their desire to co-operate with the institute in the work that it will be doing.
The first party from the institute will arrive in Canberra during the course of next week. It is contemplated that that original party will be in Australia for about a couple of months. It will get together a good deal of material for its examinations. It is thought that the institute’s detailed investigations may be spread over a period of about six months. The way the institute will go about its work - exactly what it will do - is a matter of professional skill that is not within my competence to attempt to analyze or even to describe.
– Coming down out of the clouds, I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation a question in his capacity as the representative in the Senate of the Treasurer. Some time ago I asked the Minister about the imposition of sales tax on biscuits for human consumption and the exemption from sales tax of dog biscuits because they are classified as food for livestock. Will the Minister consider having ordinary biscuits classified as food for human beings and thus placed on the same tax basis as dog biscuits? Is the Minister also aware that baby powder, which, as he may or may not know, is a necessity for young children, is classified as a cosmetic and attracts sales tax of 25 per cent, whereas dog powder is called a medicine and is exempt from sales tax? Will the Minister cause a review to be made of the whole field of sales tax with a view to the removal of such anomalies?
– AH I can say with certainty in respect of this question is that I am well aware of the need for baby powder. I will refer the remainder of the question to the Treasurer.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health whether the drug rastinon, which I understand is used in the treatment of diabetes, is included in the second schedule of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act? If not, will the Minister consider placing it on the free list?
– I understand that the question of whether drugs should be placed on the list is referred to a committee. If the drug to which the honorable senator has referred is not on the list, I shall ask the Minister for Health whether he will consider placing before the committee the request of the honorable senator to have it included.
– I apologize to the Minister for Civil Aviation for late notice of the question that I am about to ask him, and I hesitate to harry such a courteous Minister. I point out, however, that sensible people know that, by legislative enactment, the Government is wedded to the preservation of Ansett-A.N.A. and the shackling, if possible, of Trans-Australia Airlines. Having regard to the fact that millions of pounds are involved, I now ask the Minister: What is the actual amount of money for which the Treasury could be responsible in the event of Ansett-A.N.A. failing financially? In other words, what interest by way of guarantee and/ or loan has the Treasury in Ansett-A.N.A.?
– I appreciate the old-world courtesy of the honorable senator. I have not been able to find out with precision the amounts outstanding under the various guarantees, but I shall obtain that information and let him have it. I think I should take the opportunity to inform him and also the Senate that the Ansett organization is completely up to date with its commitments. Indeed, never at any time has it failed to meet its commitments. It may be of some interest to Senator Dittmer to know that the Ansett organization had available to it, under legislation which this Parliament passed, certain guarantees which were not in fact taken up by the organization, finance being raised outside the Government guarantee. That may indicate, even to Senator Dittmer, that the financial failure to which he has alluded is rather more distant than he apparently thinks it is. I inform the honorable senator, if I need to do so, that it is not the intention of this Government to shackle or hinder Trans-Australia Airlines. What I said earlier this morning in answer to other questions indicated that this Government supports a two-airline policy, not a monopoly of either government or private enterprise. It does not favour the policy, pursued by the socialists, of a monopoly government airline.
– I direct a further question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Before doing so, may I say that I am delighted when he refers to me as a socialist. I should like him to know that by doing so he does not hurt me. I now ask him: In view of the fact that the Minister has often stated that persons travelling by air on Government vouchers have a free choice as to the airline with which they travel, can he say whether it is a fact that many delegates travelling to the recent Australian Citizenship Convention were issued with tickets without being given a choice? How does he reconcile his statement with the fact that during the visit of Princess Alexandra many Commonwealth drivers, who have advised me that they would have preferred to travel by Trans-Australia Airlines, when travelling interstate were issued with tickets on Ansett- A.N. A. without being given any choice? Will the Minister make inquiries with a view to ensuring that the provisions of the law are upheld?
– I have no doubt at all that the provisions of the law are being upheld. The law makes provision for both airlines to have equal access to Government business, and they have equal access. I do not know precisely who arranged air travel for people travelling to the Australian Citizenship Convention, but it seems pretty clear to me that the uplift of large numbers of people, such as those which would attend a conference of that kind, would create a demand for aeroplane seats which necessarily would have to be spread over the two airlines. I have no doubt that that is what happened. As to why Commonwealth drivers travelled on Ansett-A.N.A. aircraft during the visit of Princess Alexandra, I can only tell the honorable senator that I do not know.
– It is your job as head of the department to carry out the law.
– The law is being observed completely. The honorable senator knows, as well as I know and every other member of the Parliament knows, that when many officers of the Parliament or Commonwealth officers are to be transported from one place to another, their aircraft seats are secured by officers employed by the Commonwealth for that purpose. I should think that the only reason such travellers would be given seats with one airline rather than another would be to meet the particular convenience of passengers in accordance with the appointments or commitments they had to fulfil when they arrived at their destination.
– I direct a supplementary question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. What would happen if a large number of delegates, who proposed to attend a conference, all wished to travel by Ansett-A.N.A.?
– The honorable senator’s question underscores very plainly the stupidity of the question asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. If all the delegates, in those circumstances, wanted to travel by Ansett-A.N.A., that organization might not have sufficient aircraft capacity to transport them, and I imagine that some of them would travel by Trans-Australia Airlines.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following reply to the honorable senator’s questions: - 1 and 2. The following vessels owned by the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission are tied up at present for want of employment: - “River Glenelg” and “River Fitzroy” at Geelong. “ Daylesford “ and “ Binburra “ and “ Baralga “ at Brisbane.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Relative to the statement made by the Treasurer in his Budget speech in August last year that the Government in order to get the best advice, would appoint a committee of competent outside people to study and report upon the basis on which the commercial accounts of the Post Office should be prepared, will the PostmasterGeneral advise whether the committee has yet been appointed, and, if so (a) the names of its members; (b) whether any report has yet been made and, if so, whether it is available for study by senators; and (c) if a report has not yet been made, when it can be expected?
– The Postmaster-General has supplied the following reply to the honorable senator’s question: -
The Committee of Inquiry into certain aspects of the Commercial Accounts of the Post Office was appointed in October last, (a) Sir Alexander Fitzgerald, O.B.E., B.Com., F.A.S.A., F.C.I.S., F.C.A.A. (Chairman), Mr. L. B. Evans, F.A.S.A., Mr. Gerald Packer, C.B.E., B.Sc, Mr. J. F. Nimmo, M.A., Department of the Treasury, Mr. E. W. Easton, M.A., B.Com., Postmaster-General’s Department; (b) the Committee has not yet submitted its report; (c) it is anticipated that the report will be submitted in April, 1960.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions: -
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Sir Walter Cooper) read a first time.
Message received from the House of Representatives intimated that Mr. Luchetti, a member of the House of Representatives, has been appointed a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts in the place of Mr. Cairns, discharged.
Bill received from the House of. Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Gorton) read a first time.
– 1 move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to amend the Meat Export Control Act 1935-1953 so as to extend the present charter of the Australian Meat Board to enable the board to engage in the promotion of meat sales within Australia and to define the purposes for which and the manner in which moneys accumulated during the wartime period of Commonwealth Meat Control and under the meat contracts with the United Kingdom Government in the early post-war period may be used.
Under the existing legislation the Australian Meat Board has authority to expend funds on meat publicity and promotion activities only in oversea countries. The need for the expenditure of money on meat sales promotion within Australia became very evident last year when the Australian fat lamb industry was having a very difficult time, due to a combination of unfavourable seasonal conditions in important lamb producing areas and a substantial fall in fa lamb prices, resulting from a severe price recession in the United Kingdom, which is the main world market for lamb. In order to alleviate the situation the industry urged the introduction of a national sales promotion plan to cover the peak lamb production period. With the financial support of meat industry organizations in New South Wales a lamb promotion campaign was inaugurated in that State. The idea was that it would be in the nature of a pilot plan on which a national sales promotion scheme might be based. However the development of promotion on a national basis had to be deferred because the Australian Meat Board, which strongly supported the proposal in principle, was inhibited by its charter from providing the financial backing required for such a scheme.
The New South Wales pilot scheme has been rated as very successful and is regarded as having provided a .guide to what might be achieved in the sales promotion field on the whole Australian domestic meat market with an all out effort.
Indications are that the export outlook for lamb is such that further action may well be required next season to promote the sale of lamb throughout Australia. The present bill aims to ensure that the Australian Meat Board may, if it considers it necessary or desirable, engage in promotion activities designed to increase domestic consumption of lamb or any other class of meat when overseas markets for the product concerned are depressed.
Moneys accumulated during the period of Commonwealth meat control and under the meat contracts with the United Kingdom Government in the early post-war period have been held by the Australian Meat Board for many years in a trust account known as the Meat Industry Advancement Trust Account. The government of the day decided in 1947 that these moneys would be held under the trusteeship of the Australian Meat Board and would be available to be utilized for the benefit of the Australian meat industry on projects approved by the Minister for the purpose. No formal steps were taken at the time to define the statutory existence and the purposes of the account, but with Ministerial approval portion of the moneys has been expended on projects for the benefit pf the industry. As the moneys remaining in the trust account are legally held to be Government funds ut is considered desirable that the purposes for which they may be used should be defined by statute.
Under this bill the account hitherto known as the Meat Industry Advancement Trust Account is in effect continued in existence as the Meat Industry Advancement Fund under the administration of the Australian Meat Board. The bill provides that the moneys in the advancement fund may be applied with the approval of the Minister to defray the whole or part of any expenses incurred in connexion with any experiment, act or thing, which in the opinion of the board is likely to lead to the improvement of the quality pf Australian meat or its promotion in Australia or elsewhere. This provision is in line with the original conception of the purposes for which the moneys were placed in the trust of the board. This is virtually a machinery measure and no change of policy is involved.
Other amendments provided for in the bill delete from the Meat Export Control
Act 1935-1953 reference to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia by substituting the words “ Reserve Bank of Australia “. They may also be regarded as machinery amendments. The opportunity has been taken in the bill to provide for the repeal of the Meat Export Control Act 1955. That act, which became inoperative on 6th November, 1958, provided that certain members of the Australian Meat Board should cease to hold office in the event of the board’s structure being altered before that date. That did not occur, mainly because the federal primary producer organizations representing meat producer interests were unable to agree on a formula for the reconstitution of the board.
I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Kennelly) adjourned.
Seventh Annual Report.
Debate resumed from 30th March (vide page 388), on motion by Senator McKenna -
That the following paper: -
Seventh Annual Report of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, together with financial accounts and the Auditor-General’s report thereon, for the year 1958-59 - be printed.
– This is the third time I have risen to speak on this matter. There have been two interruptions, but, despite the interruptions, my experience has been almost in the nature of a trial by ordeal, if not by fire then at least by atomic energy. One feels, like Mandrake, that one is playing a part in a serial.
When the Senate adjourned last night we were discussing the question of atomic power and possible future trends. The Australian Atomic Energy Commission has included very interesting reference to this point in its seventh annual report. It contains reference to what has been done in the United States pf America in particular, what is expected there and what we may expect to see in Australia. It is useless for any one to seek to convince us that this form of energy is something mysterious or fanciful. It is already in practical use in various countries, in England and the United States of America in particular. For instance, in England, they have been reticulating electricity generated from the heat of atomic fission, so that atomic energy is serving a very useful purpose there.
I suggest in all humility that it would seem from some of the speeches on the Government side that the Government is somewhat complacent about the future use of atomic energy in view of power resources available now together with prospects for the generation of electricity by hydro-electric schemes and by the use of such common fuels as black and brown coal. But when we peruse the report of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and read of activities in other countries, and when we compare the peculiar and special environmental circumstances existing in this country with those in other highly industrialized countries, we must appreciate that there are distinct possibilities for the utilization of atomic energy. At first glance, the commission’s report would seem to indicate that overseas countries are embarking on vast programmes and that these programmes will not be gone on with. But when we study the report more closely we learn that extensive programmes of investigation into and the utilization of atomic energy are being pursued with full vigour in those countries.
For instance, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission has seen fit to include in its report the following statement by Etienne Hirsch, President of Euratom -
Europe’s 1980 power needs are unaffected by the improved coal and oil situation; by then Euratom will require as much nuclear capacity as it has conventional capacity to-day- 40,000 mW - and we shall continue to approach the problem with a deep sense of urgency.
Proceeding, the report states -
Most of the more advanced countries have extensive development programmes under way, involving the design, construction and operation of numerous experimental, proto-type and full scale plants. It is generally believed that as a result of this work nuclear power will be competitive in higher cost power areas in less than ten years, and in all but the very low-cost areas within twenty years. In the meantime most countries recognize the need to gain experience in nuclear science and engineering, and to build up a body of skilled scientists and technicians in this field.
I point out further that the members of the commission suggest that by 1970 nuclear power should be available in Queensland and South Australia and that by 1980 it may be available to the whole of Queensland, the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia, and that shortly afterwards it should be available to the whole of Australia irrespective of the utilization of ordinary fuels. In view of those circumstances, I submit that this Parliament has a responsibility to pay very close attention to the possibilities of this new form of energy.
We have read detailed reports of the performances of American submarines powered with atomic energy. Two of those submarines have been constructed already and their performance has been such as to encourage the United States Government to adopt atomic-powered submarines exclusively in the near future. That government is also having constructed a ship powered by atomic energy. When we realize that in Australia we have a country of vast distances, small population and great potentialities but in which the cost of transporting ordinary forms of fuel is extremely expensive, we should be anything but complacent about the future use of atomic energy here. I suggest that such should not be the case. When we take into consideration the words of the scientific and industrial men who constitute the commission, and when we realize what is happening overseas, I think there is an unanswerable case for greater interest to be taken in these matters and greater encouragement to be given to many of our competent scientists to embark on this form of scientific endeavour. That is our responsibility, and I for one would not hesitate to accept it.
The utilization of this form of energy can be extremely dangerous. It is not as simple as some of the more utilitarian fuels in use at the present time. We realize the hazards connected with it, and our own radiation committee has not hesitated in its report to outline in some detail the hazards associated with this form of power. There are hazards associated with the generation of this power and hazards associated with the products prepared and released by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. I think sometimes that more attention should bc paid to this aspect, not only by the commission in its reports but also by members of Parliament. On many occasions and under many circumstances we protest about many things, but very rarely do we hear any protest about the possibility of lethal danger accruing to our citizens from the disposal of atomic waste. 1 suppose most honorable senators have read Nevil Shute’s book “ On the Beach “. Perhaps it is not extremely high-class literature, but it is eminently practical in that it deals with something that concerns everybody in the world to-day. The title of the book may be more literally true than the author realized. He postulated that death would come to the citizens of Australia, and to those in other parts of the world, as the result of the dispersal of atomic gases. But that may not be the danger to the citizens of this country or any other country. Taking the title of the book literally, it may be that we will meet death “ on the beach “. Possibly some honorable senators know, and possibly some do not know, that the present method of disposal of atomic waste by the United States is by placing the waste - whether liquid or otherwise - in steel containers, encasing them in concrete, and putting them underground or dropping them into the Pacific. In the United Kingdom they are discharging atomic waste into the Irish Sea. How Russia is disposing of its waste we do not know. Some may be disposed of underground and some may be dropped into the northern portion of the Pacific Ocean. .
Considering the tremendous forces of nature that we are harnessing who is to say that they will not be released by nature? What is going to happen to these containers? What is going to be the effect of ocean drifts on this product which carries death in its wake? No protest has been made about this by us in Australia and yet we live in a country which is bounded by the Pacific! I hope that the various committees associated with the Australian Atomic Energy Commission are in close collaboration with the United States about the disposal of atomic waste. I do not think that this matter should be treated in any cavalier fashion in view of the tremendously dangerous material that is involved. A steel container has only to be broken or the concrete wrenched and these dangerous agencies will be released. Apparently little concern is being shown. Much work is being done to find a way of using these waste products. Some are being used to produce radio isotopes which serve a useful purpose and present no real menace. I am not suggesting, by any stretch of imagination, that we should get panicky. As I said last night lire was feared when it was first discovered, but after ultimately realizing its purpose in life we were able to utilize it and to live with it. Realizing the vast potentiality that nuclear power has for improving the standard of living of our people and developing our country, we have to face up to our responsibility of living with it. However, that should not blind us to the dangers inherent in its use. I suggest that we should give due consideration to protesting, or at least sponsoring a protest, in an endeavour to eliminate the hazards associated with nuclear power and with radiation in general.
I now wish to deal with another aspect of the commission’s report dealing with the preparation of radio isotopes. Not only is the commission preparing them but it is making them available to industry and to various research bodies. Perhaps these isotopes would not yet be available to Australian industry had it not been for the establishment of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. I feel that just as the showmanship, as it has been termed, of Professor Harry Messel has brought about large financial contributions to the Nuclear Research Foundation, perhaps a little more publicity by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission would induce business leaders to avail themselves more readily of the facilities that are increasing industrial efficiency. We have had read to us from authorities such as Dr. Gregory and others the use that can be made of radio isotopes in industry. We know how they can be used to determine the thickness of paper, how they can serve the plastic industry, how they can be used to discover leaks in underground pipes, how they can be used to follow underground flows of water and how, through effecting mutations of a minor nature, they can assist us to improve crops. They are being used in thousands of industrial enterprises in the United States and in hundreds in the United Kingdom, but in Australia their use is comparatively rare. I do not think this is because Australian industry is backward in its methods but simply because businessmen do not realize the value of these products in increasing the efficiency of their particular enterprises. It is our responsibility through the activities of the commission to make this valuable aid available to industrial leaders.
I think we should congratulate the personnel of the commission - scientific and otherwise - for their collaboration and cooperation with international bodies. They have played their part nobly and efficiently and their ability has been recognized, not only in the International Atomic Energy Agency but also in the United Nations radiation committee. Australia has been placed in an honoured position in both these bodies and has served them well. We have seen the results of the activities of these bodies manifested in Australia and have realized the contribution that they have made. They have helped by their publicity, not only in the field of industry but also in the field of medicine. We should realize that nuclear products can improve the standard of living of our people, increase efficiency in industry and assist medical research, whether by diagnostic aid, such as X-rays, or by the treatment of cancerous and other conditions through the use of radiation and radio isotopes. The extent to which this new form of energy can contribute to the betterment of man should be quite evident to all.
Summing up, I think, as Senator McKenna pointed out, that more attention should be paid - even though this is only a matter of detail - to the financial affairs of the commission being recorded in accordance with the act. I believe that the Government, assisted by the Opposition, has a responsibility to provide a greater stimulus in the discovery of uranium deposits and other types of fissionable ores. It has a responsibility to provide the financial sinews for further research and to develop reactors to provide nuclear energy. It should investigate the further possible uses of by-products of radio activity. Furthermore, if we are going to embark on this programme only in a small way, we cannot do so successfully unless we have a properly trained, efficient corps of scientists. This science is of a particular type that requires, by and large, the possession by the scientists of extraordinary ability. These scientists can be trained only if the Government provides educational facilities for the boys and girls who desire to embark on this particular type of life and effort. We have a responsibility to take more interest in secondary education, particularly the scientific training of boys and girls. We should make possible the provision of a greater number of trained science teachers. At present, the teaching of scientists is left, by and large, to partially trained people. Is that good enough? Is it fair to the people of Australia for the national Government not to take a real live interest in this matter? I believe further that we have a responsibility to make known to industry the value of the side products of radio activity.
Finally, if we do pay due regard to this new form of energy it will have in the near future a practical application. We claim that Australia is among the leading trading nations of the world. Let us also play our part in the atomic field and be among the leading atomic powers of the world, within the limits of our financial resources. At least, they are not small. Let us not be parsimonious in our approach to the production of nuclear energy and its utilization for the betterment of our people and our country.
– This debate has stemmed from the tabling of the seventh annual report of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, that is for the year 1958-59. I enter the debate for no other purpose than to support the statement that the. Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) made when he presented the report to the Senate. I think that statement can be crystallized in this way: The Government and the commission, having fostered a successful uranium mining industry, are determined to keep it alive and active in case there is a lull in demand for uranium in the short run from overseas.
Before developing that thought, I should like to refer to the remarks of Senator Dittmer, who preceded me in the debate. As the honorable senator, unfortunately, had to deliver his speech in sections - he has spoken on three occasions - I did not find it easy to follow all of his comments. On the second occasion on which he spoke, practically the whole of his contribution was devoted to developing the contention that this Government must accept responsibility for so little research being carried out in the field of nuclear energy in Australia, and for the non-provision of scholarships in this field. I feel constrained to direct the attention of the Senate to the fact that, according to the section of the report on page 36 headed, “ Scholarships, Studentships and Extra-mural Research “ - . . fifteen students were still undergoing training during the year. Forty A.A.E.C. postgraduate research studentships were current in Australian universities during the year.
That statement effectively rebuts the comment that was made by Senator Dittmer. The report continues -
In addition the Commission awarded research contracts to universities to the value of approximately £30,000.
Details of the research contracts that were awarded during the year 1958-59 are set out in Appendix C to the report. That appendix shows that during the year the commission awarded extra-mural research contracts as follows: To the University of Adelaide, for chemical engineering and plant physiology; to the University of Sydney, for geology and geophysics, and electrical engineering; to the University of Melbourne, for physics, and mining and metallurgy; to the University of New England, for physics; to the University of New South Wales, for the radiochemical laboratory, chemical engineering, and biological sciences; to the University of Queensland, for chemistry; and to the Canberra University College, for political science, and law. The footnote to the appendix reads -
Thirty-five separate research programmes are at present being undertaken in eight Australian universities and two hospitals in accordance with the Commission’s policy of encouraging universities to undertake research work important to Australia’s programme of atomic energy development which the Commission is not in a position to perform itself.
Therefore, the position is not so bad as Senator Dittmer would have us believe. Indeed, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission is playing a big part in the training of scientists by making grants to the Australian universities.
No one doubts the importance of uranium to Australia. The very fabric of our economy as an exporting nation, and the need for us to increase exports, are matters that are so well known as to need no elaboration by me. The fact that, as an exporting country, we have been striving over the years to lessen our dependence upon wool and to increase our exports of other commodities, particularly minerals, has been well canvassed in this chamber. This emphasizes one of the reasons why we must maintain the uranium industry in Australia. I do not think that any one doubts the wisdom of our pushing on with the research programme at Lucas Heights. As it is expected that great use will be made of nuclear power before many years elapse, Australia dare not relax its efforts by research to obtain the utmost information in relation to this form of power. We should examine the world situation in the light of the remarks of the Minister for National Development when he tabled the document. Why has there been a slowing down of what was three years ago almost a headlong rush to develop nuclear power? Does this mean there has been a re-appraisal of the value of nuclear power? Does it mean that scientists and governments have discovered that the value of nuclear power will fall short of original expectations? The answer clearly is: No, it does not. But the answer also is that because of the improvement in production of conventional power the sense of urgency for nuclear power has diminished. That is why we find this tendency towards an easing of the pressure.
Senator Dittmer and Senator McKenna claimed that this was not the case. Senator Dittmer quoted from page 30 of the report. He read the remarks of the President of Euratom, but he only read them in part. He did not read the relevant part which was the basis of the comment made by the Minister for National Development. I propose to read that part of the document which Senator Dittmer omitted to read. It states -
During the past two or three years there has been a considerable improvement in the coal and oil situation in the United Kingdom and Western Europe generally. Furthermore, because of reduction in fuel prices and technical advances in power plant design, conventional power costs have tended to decrease.
This is the point that has been denied by the Opposition -
These factors have reduced the relative attraction of nuclear power and as a consequence the nuclear power programmes of these countries have been slowed down.
That is the point that was made, I thought quite clearly, by the Minister.
We all know how energy and power have been important throughout history. We know that in the early eighteenth century James Hargreaves invented the spinning jenny and we learned at school how his invention came to be named the spinning jenny. We know that Sir Richard Arkwright invented the spinning frame. We know that in the early eighteenth century Thomas Newcomen invented a steam engine for pumping out the mines. We know that late in the eighteenth century - my authority for this information is Senator McCallum - James Watt perfected the stationary engine. Power, energy - those were the most vital things of the century. Early in the nineteenth century Stephenson built his first locomotive, which travelled from Stockton to Darlington. Watt’s steam engine and the new spinning and weaving machines - this striving for power - brought about the industrial revolution.
I do not need to remind honorable senators why Australia was short of power immediately after the last war. The historical facts are that despite our rich deposits of the coal that was essential for the production of conventional power, we were dismally short of power in the immediate post-war years. Let me cast my mind back to the Australian scene in those days. We had a shortage of coal. We had limited power. We had blackouts. Not only were the people in the homes inconvenienced by blackouts, but we had industrial blackouts and industrial power rationing. So while we were striving to develop the Australian economy, industry was only allowed to work for limited periods because of the shortage of power, which was brought about by a shortage of coal.
At one stage Sydney was dependent on trains arriving from Newcastle with coal. If the trains did not arrive Sydney had blackouts and industry was almost forced to close down. We had no coal at grass. We were mining coal from open-cut mines and very often we were getting a poor quality coal which was creating all sorts of problems and technical difficulties for the equipment that was used to generate thermal power.
That was the position in Australia and no doubt the same thing was happening in other parts of the world. That is what stimulated this peace-time urge to find another form of power. But the position to-day is entirely different. I have before me a paper that was issued by the Minister for National Development on 26th February in which he states, dealing only with New South Wales, that overseas export is becoming an increasingly important outlet for New South Wales coal production. Japan, the Minister says, is our principal market and this financial year total exports of coal to Japan are expected to reach 714,000 tons. The Minister goes on to say that an annual export of 1,000,000 tons of coal is a possibility. The whole emphasis on power has been altered, first, because we have been able to win the coal, and,- secondly, because the world has a surplus of oil, which is another great source of power. We are also aware of the development that has taken place in plant and operating efficiency in the field of hydroelectric power.
I stress to the Senate the importance of maintaining the search for uranium in Australia. Uranium is vital to the creation ot atomic power. We must not slacken in our search for new uranium fields. The sale of uranium can greatly assist our overseas balances. The reactor at Lucas Heights will help us to train our young scientists and enable them to keep abreast of developments in the field of nuclear science. It will enable them to be ready for the day when we become a nuclear power country.
It would be wrong to rely on the fact that Australia has an abundance of uranium. Perhaps we have, but we must do something about the search for it.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Like most other honorable senators, 1 feel there is not very much I know about the subject under discussion. It is a matter for experts. All we can do as laymen is to express our views on the way the world is going in the application of nuclear science. I am happy about the note of restraint that has been evident in this debate. The report of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission reveals that a number of committees have been appointed. That indicates to me that it will be a long time before we get anywhere or do anything of real value in connexion with this matter. My experience of expert committees is that the more you have of them and the more experts there are on the committees, the safer it is and the longer it takes to reach a decision.
However, my purpose in rising is to refer to the speech delivered this week on this subject by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). The Minister said, for example -
I think the correct way to approach this matter is to make two points at the beginning. The first is the tremendous importance to Australia of power in its various manifestations. One is rather apt to deal with this subject of power in general terms, but the provision of power has such ramifications that I thought I might traverse some of them. My second point is to emphasize the importance of providing power to the community at an economic rate. Because of the vast sums of money involved, the development of trends in power and the way in which the various types of power are brought into operation will depend almost entirely in my opinion, on the competitive economics of the three different types of power.
I believe that economics should not be the guiding rule in this matter. If economics are going to determine what fuel should be used, that would be wrong because it might not be in the best interests of Australia. For instance, we have expended millions of pounds on the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric project. We have spent similar amounts of money on the coal industry. We have great reserves of coal and great towns on the coal-fields. All these matters must be considered. I think I speak for the Australian Labour Party when I say that the world is already going too fast. I do not mind if I do not see nuclear energy in my lifetime, because there are certain dangers associated with it. The world crashed into a nuclear energy campaign. Australia is only a small country and there is not much that we can do in this field. We must tag along in the rear, and to do so would be a good investment. Why should we engage in expensive experimentation in nuclear energy when the powerful nations are doing it for us? Let us tag along. If we do that we shall have nothing to be ashamed of. Our experts may learn what is going on about us, but we have not the capital to engage even in such a programme as that undertaken by Britain, which finds too expensive the work being done by the United States and the Soviet Union.
Another point is that we have not yet extracted everything that is to be extracted by the present means of production. We have not completely entered the age of automation, although we are moving into it. Big business interests here are alive to the situation and they advise restraint. I remember when Professor Harry Messel went around trying to encourage a crash campaign on nuclear energy. He established committees but he found great difficulty in raising much money. He addressed trade unions and employers’ organizations. He is a master salesman but they were very slow to put in their money. I do not know how much he raised for his university organization, but I was pleased to note that the industrialists did not rush headlong into a campaign for the introduction of nuclear methods to industry. I do not think that that is necessary in this country at this stage, although some day it may be necessary. Harry Messel, of course, was doing his job.
I was pleased at the note of restraint that permeated Senator Spooner’s speech. I want to speak about the coal industry, because Senator Spooner made some references to it that need elaboration. He was the first person on the Government side to indicate that while coal could be produced economically there was no danger of its being supplanted by nuclear energy. I think he went almost so far as to say that, and I am with him to that extent. He spoke about the future of coal and its price. He said that although coal cost £4 10s. a ton in 1952, it might be down to 30s. a ton by 1970. I do not think that he meant to imply that because of new production techniques the price of coal would fall so low. He was referring specifically to power-house coal. Although it may be possible to obtain cheap coal for power, coal will not necessarily be cheap to other industries, such as shipping or railways. It will be cheap for power-house purposes because of the action of the Cahill Labour Government of New South Wales. 1 think Senator Spooner should have mentioned that fact. After all, Trans-Australia Airlines and Ansett-A.N.A. get plugs, but I do not hear from the other side many plugs for a Labour government. The price of some coal in New South Wales will fall to 30s. a ton because of the work of the Cahill Labour Government and the State Electricity Commission. The two men who deserve the credit are the late Premier, Mr. J. J. Cahill, and the late Mr. Conde, who was chairman of the State Electricity Commission. Those two men were responsible for the revolution in coal prices. Instead of carrying coal hundreds of miles from mines to power-houses, they did the obvious thing, but something that the coal-owners do not attempt to do. Mr. Cahill and Mr. Conde took the powerhouses to the coal. Only yesterday we read of the establishment of three new mines, from which the coal will go straight into the power-house at Vales Point on Lake Macquarie. Freight costs have been a big item in coal distribution costs in Australia. It was the New South Wales Government which did this great work.
– He did not suggest what you are inferring from his remarks.
– Would coordination not lead to a great monopoly? Would we not lose the benefits of competition if there was too much co-ordination?
– But we are getting a lot more coal?
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 31 March 1960, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1960/19600331_senate_23_s17/>.