23rd Parliament · 2nd Session
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid) took the chair at 1 1 a.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Leader of the Government in the Senate seen reports to the effect that a Singapore newspaper sharply criticised our Prime Minister for his attitude to the South African crisis? I ask the Minister whether it has been brought to his attention that the editor of one newspaper included the following words in an article on this subject: -
Mr. Menzies must understand too that Asia has no time for Australians who play at Pontius Pilate
Will the Government reconsider its present attitude to the South African problem, in the light of world opinion?
– I have no doubt that the Prime Minister is fully informed of the developments that are occurring, and of the opinions that are being expressed, in relation to the unfortunate situation in South Africa. I see no purpose in bringing to his attention the information contained in the honorable senator’s question, because I am quite confident that the right honorable gentleman is keeping closely in touch with the views that are being expressed. The situation in South Africa is extraordinarily difficult, and I think that we have been correct in refraining from taking an active part in criticism of the South African Government. I have a lot of confidence in the outcome of the Prime Minister’s representations which will be made in the proper atmosphere, I am sure, in the near future.
– I direct to the Leader of the Government in the Senate a question supplementary to that asked by Senator Kennelly. Has the Minister read a report which stated that the five apartheid bills were forced through the South African Parliament by a device known as the multiple gag, indicating that there was strong opposition to all five bills, but that the Leader of the Opposition in South Africa, and all other members of the Op position there, believe that the problem is a domestic one which can and will be solved by their own Parliament?
– I also saw that newspaper report. I think it adds strength to the opinion, which I expressed previously, that this is such a vexed question that there is more to be gained than lost by our exercising a little restraint until the matter is discussed in the proper way and at the proper level.
– My question, which is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, also refers to the subject of South Africa. In view of the fact that the Minister has now admitted that there is a serious crisis in South Africa, and having regard to newspaper reports of brutality probably unequalled in any other part of the world except Hungary, is he prepared to make an official statement in the Senate with the object of acquainting honorable senators of information regarding the position in South Africa which the Government has in its possession but of which we in this Parliament have not yet been informed? The only information we can get is from newspaper reports, and we want something official from the Government. We want to know whether these newspaper reports are factual. We want to know what the actual situation is, according to information which the Government must have, but which we have not.
– 1 see no useful purpose to be served by making a statement of information available to the Government. I merely give the Senate an assurance that the Government is very closely in touch with day-to-day developments in South Africa, and is adopting what it thinks to be the best course in this extraordinarily difficult situation.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army. Is the Minister aware of the outstanding work done by the Officer Commanding Tasmania Command, Brigadier A. D. Molloy, and his officers and other ranks, in undertaking rescue and relief work during the disastrous floods that hit Hobart and southern Tasmania last week-end? Is he aware that if the planned Army re-organization takes place, neither the personnel nor the vehicles which played such an important part in the saving of lives will be available in Tasmania in the future? Can any action be taken to ensure that these particular kinds of service vehicles, so necessary in times of flood or of bush-fires, are retained in Tasmania, and that trained personnel will be available to operate such vehicles?
– I am aware of the fact that a great number of organizations, including the police, the municipal authorities and the Army, rendered magnificent service in the emergency that arose through the sudden flooding of the city of Hobart, New Norfolk and other areas. I particularly noted the great work of the Army tinder Brigadier Molloy. The Army personnel were most helpful. As the honorable senator says, they had the use of vehicles which were vital in that emergency for the saving of life. It has been reported in the Tasmanian press that a move is being made by municipalities to approach the State Government with a view to setting up the kind of emergency organization envisaged by the honorable senator. Any action taken by the State Government to establish such an organization would be commendable, and I hope that the Government of Tasmania will give the matter full and urgent consideration. I agree, as I have already said, that the Army played a tremendous part in the relief and rescue work, and the fact that the necessary vehicles were available was of very great importance. Any one who saw the damage that was done can realize the extent of the emergency.
I shall refer to the Minister for the Army the question whether these vehicles can be retained in Tasmania, together with personnel to man them. If this can be done, it is possible that the vehicles and personnel could be integrated into the emergency organization that it is proposed to establish for the purpose of coping with disasters such as that which recently occurred in Hobart and surrounding districts.
– I wish to ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for the Army. It is supplementary to the question asked by Senator Marriott.
The honorable senator referred to the proposed transfer of the Army command from Tasmania to Victoria, with the consequent removal of the vehicles and personnel that were of such great assistance during the flood crisis in southern Tasmania. Will the Minister consider the retention of these vehicles and personnel in Tasmania as the nucleus of a civil defence organization in that State to be maintained by the Commonwealth, and to be used eventually as a pattern for similar organizations in other parts of Australia? I would stress the fact that Tasmania will now be without the Army organization that has operated in that State for the last 50 years, and I suggest that the Government should seriously consider setting up a Commonwealth civil defence organization to provide assistance which has previously been given by the Army.
– That supplementary question really should have been addressed to the Premier of Tasmania, the Hon. Eric Reece. For some time now, the Commonwealth Government has had a school for instructing a nucleus of staffs for civil defence organizations in the various States. It then rests with the State governments to set up civil defence organizations if they so desire. 1 am sure that if the honorable senator addresses that quite reasonable proposal to the Premier of Tasmania he will give it the consideration which it deserves.
SenatorO’Byrne. - Will you give him the money?
– The Government already has the money.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he noticed in to-day’s “ Sydney Morning Herald “ a statement that in Moree aboriginal children are not allowed to use the municipal baths and that, through the efforts of the Apex Club, a baths has been built for them. Did he notice that Mr. Heffron, Premier of New South Wales, agreed to liquidate the debt of £400 on the baths? Is the preventing of these aboriginal children from using the municipal baths a step towards the introduction of an Australian system of apartheid?
– I can give the honorable senator only the short answer that the matter to which he refers is one entirely under the control and jurisdiction of the Government of New South Wales. The Commonwealth Government has no part in arrangements relating to the municipality of Moree. If I remember correctly, the press report to which the honorable senator refers also stated that the Premier of New South Wales himself was in Moree at the time he made the offer, and I think this matter would be better left in his hands.
– I address a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. It relates to the Wynyard aerodrome. Should that aerodrome, which is on the north-west coast of Tasmania, be taken over by the local council concerned under the Commonwealth Government’s scheme for local control of such aerodromes, in view of the very restricted financial resources of municipal councils generally would such a move be in any way prejudicial to the future development of this aerodrome, especially with relation to the provision of lighting?
– When a local authority is to take over an aerodrome from the Commonwealth, before the aerodrome is handed over it is brought to a standard adequate to meet the operational requirements existing at the time. Any further capital improvements that are made necessary by an increase in operational requirements to standards approved by the Department of Civil Aviation after the aerodrome has been handed over are paid for by the Government and the local authority together. I think the best answer I can give Senator Lillico is to suggest that when considering this matter the local authority concerned would be well advised to discuss it in detail with officers of my department before proceeding with its acquisition plan.
– I ask the Leader of the Government whether he will agree that members of the Opposition are entitled to be informed by the Government of latest developments in South Africa. If he does agree that they are, will he state the reasons why the Government is suppressing that information, and will he make a statement to the Senate on the matter?
– There is no question of the Government’s suppressing information. This is a very difficult situation, which is changing from day to day. No clear solution of the problem has yet been found. As the honorable senator knows, it is likely to be under the personal consideration of the Prime Minister in the near future, and until that stage is reached I see no virtue in making any public statement upon it.
– Has the Minister for National Development had an opportunity of perusing the splendid detailed maps and aerial photographs, published in the Adelaide “Advertiser” of 21st April, relating to the huge Murray dam proposal which the Premier of South Australia plans to submit to the Commonwealth and to the States of Victoria and New South Wales? Would the Minister care to comment upon the details of the plan? Has the Minister anything to say on the possibility of there being more than one good site available for such an important dam?
– It is not easy to comment in detail now. This is a very big proposal indeed, with ramifications in many directions. I had the privilege of discussing it, not only with the Premier of South Australia, but also with his technical officers, in particular with Mr. Dryden. It was with a great deal of interest that I read the article and perused the maps published in the Adelaide “ Advertiser “. The proposal put to us was more than a tentative proposal, but it was pointed out to us that a good deal of detailed work remained to be done, and that there was a possibility of alternative sites. It was suggested that another site downstream might yield an even greater storage than would the one at Kulcurna. It seemed to me that the newspaper article indicated that further inquiries made by South Australia added strength to the view that the downstream site was better than the one that was originally proposed. As I said before, this matter is in the course of being referred to the River Murray Commission. My discussions with the commission’s officers showed that the commission would have a good deal of work to carry out in the way of hydrographic surveys and inquiries as to the result of a variation in the levels of the tributaries of the Murray above the dam site. This work could not be done overnight, but would take some little time. The great virtue is that professional opinion gives a good foundation for the view that the proposal is really worthwhile, and that the dam would be of great advantage to South Australia, and helpful to New South Wales and Victoria. But this is in the nature of a preliminary view. The matter has to go to the River Murray Commission, which is the only reservoir of the technical knowledge that can give us a proper evaluation.
– I preface my question, which T direct to the Minister for Civil Aviation, by stating that on 17th March last 1 asked when the Minister would be able to make availabe to the Senate the full report of Mr. Warren McDonald, the former chairman of the Australian National Airlines Commission, on airline equipment. In reply, the Minister said -
It will probably be a month or six weeks before the report is available, but by that time I shall be happy to let the honorable senator have it.
As it is now exactly six weeks since the Minister made that statement, can the Senate now be given the report?
– No. Examination of the report is continuing. I am not in a position to say when that examination will be concluded or when, with exactitude, I will be able to meet the request of the honorable senator.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Has his attention been directed to a statement made last week by a stipendiary magistrate in the city of Canberra, wherein he recommended that the drug known as Relaxa-Tabs should be placed on the restricted list?
– I did notice the report and I understand that the matter is being examined by the Minister for Health. As soon as I have some further information I will advise the honorable senator.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister for National Development. Is it a fact that electricity transmission lines from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority’s scheme have now been connected to both the Victorian and New South Wales networks? Can the Minister advise me whether there is any agreement between the Commonwealth and the State governments concerned on the amount of electricity each State may draw? Has any agreement been reached on the cost of power, and, if it has, can the Minister inform me of the price charged per unit to each State?
– The answers to Senator Scott’s questions are contained in the Snowy Mountains Agreement which is an agreement between two States and the Commonwealth whereunder power is made available at the cost of production. The present cost of production of electricity from both Guthega and TI is less than a penny a kilowatt hour. Power from the Snowy Mountains scheme is now connected to both the New South Wales and Victorian networks. The arrangement is that New South Wales gets two-thirds of the power and Victoria gets one-third. There is a provision in the agreement that both States can get the benefit of interconnexion. In other words. New South Wales, if it so desires, can draw some Victorian power, and vice versa. The electricity commissions of both States have made arrangements to suit particular circumstances. As with so many other things relating to the Snowy, as time goes on the virtues of those arrangements will become more apparent; and it is obvious that the arrangements will work to the great benefit of the electricity commissions in the two States.
– I desire to ask the Minister for National Development a question. Has the Government a graph, with comments, showing the results of the examination of the core of the bore-hole drilled at Innamincka in South Australia which was subsidized for stratigraphic purposes? If a graph has been prepared, will the Minister make a copy available?
– The Innamincka hole was one of those which were subsidized under the Petroleum Search Subsidy Act. One of the provisions of the act is that samples of the bore will be given at regular intervals throughout the whole of the drilling operations. I have no doubt at all that under the control of the Bureau of Mineral Resources there would be a complete sample of the result of the drilling at Innamincka. However, I do not know whether it is practicable to make that available now.
– You said you would make it available twelve months ago.
– I am sure that there is provision in the act for a delayed release of information, but that was not the thought that was running through my mind. I was wondering what stage the examination of the core had reached. I shall make some inquiries and let Senator O’Flaherty know whether the information can be provided.
– I should like to ask the Minister representing the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization a question. In view of the heartening results of experiments in rain making in the Snowy Mountains area during the past five years, announced recently by the Minister for National Development, will the Minister in charge of the C.S.I. R.O. use his good offices to see that these experiments are continued in any areas which may offer similar prospects of success? I realize that the Mount Lofty Ranges are, of course, much lower than the Snowy Mountains, but, being a South Australian, I am naturally interested in any experiments which might result in increased rainfall in such an area as that, or in any similar areas of Australia, where there are no high mountains. As the catchment areas on which capital cities rely for their water supplies are invariably in nearby ranges, those cities would be more than interested in such experiments.
– I should like the Minister for National Development to answer the question, because he has been closely connected with this matter and has some specialized knowledge of the aspect mentioned by Senator Pearson. I think my colleague could answer the question better than I could.
– I step in to answer this question because an unfortunate situation has arisen and claims are being made which I should not allow to pass unchallenged. Claims are being made that the rain-making experiments have produced very substantial increases in the rainfall over the Snowy Mountains area. It is said that these experiments provide sound ground for the view that the supply of water in the Snowy Mountains area can be increased by 15 per cent.
– That was definitely stated.
– That was definitely stated in the newspapers. These experiments have been going on for about five years. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, which has paid some £150,000 to have the experiments carried out, does not agree with the claims that are being made. Having regard to the importance of rainfall to the Snowy Mountains scheme as a whole, I have asked the Snowy Mountains Authority to give me an official appraisal of the position. I do not think that we should let this claim pass unchallenged and lead people to believe that there is a 15 per cent, greater benefit for the Snowy Mountains scheme if, in truth, that is not the situation.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade: Is it a fact that Japanese steel is being imported into Australia? If so, is that because of a shortage of locally produced steel? What tariff protection is being given to locally produced steel? Further, will the Minister ascertain the quantity of Japanese steel that was imported during the last six months and the quantity that was imported during the preceding six months?
– If Senator Sandford will refer to yesterday’s “ Hansard “, he will find the figures for which he has asked. They were given in reply to a question that was asked by another honorable senator. I obtained information concerning the imports of steel from Japan and from other countries of the world. It is given in column form, together with a statement that there has been a substantial increase in the demand for steel over recent months which the local steel-making industry, although working to full capacity, has not been able to meet.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for National Development, relates to the exploration and development of bauxite deposits by the Western Mining Corporation in the Darling Range in Western Australia, ls the Minister acquainted’ with the proposed agreement between the Western Mining Corporation and certain Japanese interests relating to the production and export of large quantities of bauxite from the Darling Range project? If so, will he inform the Senate of the details of the arrangement? Will the Minister also indicate whether he is aware of the actual extent of the bauxite deposits so far explored by the Western Mining Corporation? Can he give the Senate any information about the reported statement that this project for the export of bauxite will ultimately lead to the establishment in Western Australia of an aluminium industry?
– I am sorry to say that I have no knowledge of the Western Australian bauxite deposits other than that which I have gleaned from time to time from newspaper reports. However, 1 am very interested in this subject and I have kept myself in touch with it as far as practicable. As I understand the situation, substantial deposits of bauxite do exist in Western Australia as well as in the Northern Territory and in northern Queensland. 1 understand that the Western Australian company is at present negotiating for the export of bauxite in the hope that this may develop a trade that will justify the subsequent erection of an alumina plant. Some trial shipments have been made of Western Australian bauxite to the aluminium smelter at Bell Bay. I think Bell Bay took some 7,500 tons of Western Australian bauxite for this purpose. The Western Australian bauxite deposits are on the threshold of very great potential development. It is not practicable, I suggest, to attempt to forecast what may be the net result of such development. All we can say at this stage is that in Western Austra lia, as in the Northern Territory and Queensland, there are very large bauxite deposits for which a market must be found eventually as they are developed.
– I should like to ask the Leader of the Government a series of questions. I am somewhat diffident about asking them - perhaps they should be placed on the notice-paper - but I do so because the Leader of the Government has shown encyclopaedic knowledge in answering questions. I say that in all sincerity. The Leader of the Government has been courteous in his answers and has displayed a deep knowledge of many matters. He may be able to answer at least two of my questions.
Did Australia lend the United Nations a sum of £446,428 for the purpose of financially assisting in the clearing of the Suez Canal? If so, has any of that money been repaid? Did Egypt contribute anything towards the cost of clearing the canal? Are ships of all nations now using the canal without let or hindrance?
– Despite Senator Brown’s complimentary remarks, I think he takes my middle peg this time. I cannot answer all his questions. All I remember is that together with other nations Australia did make a contribution towards the rehabilitation work needed in the Suez Canal. My recollection is that the contribution was made by way of a loan. I think some repayments are now being made. If Senator Brown does not mind I will play safe and ask him to put his questions on the notice-paper. I undertake to obtain correct answers for htm.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, refers to the very interesting and excellent display of Post Office progress in King’s Hall, which, I understand, will be continued for a further ten days. I understand also that the postal authorities have not yet decided which State of the Commonwealth the display will visit next. In view of the fact that no decision has yet been made, I ask the Minister whether he will consider reversing the usual order of priority to enable the display to visit Tasmania first, instead of last, and whether the display can be presented in both Hobart and Launceston.
– In acknowledgment of the broad national outlook that is shown by Senator Wardlaw in this respect, I shall bring his representations on behalf of Tasmania before the Postmaster-General.
– Has the Minister for Civil Aviation yet ascertained whether Ansett-A.N.A. has approached TransAustralia Airlines, seeking an increase of fares? Is it a fact that the Minister recently stated that T.A.A. would make a record profit this year? If so, will he give an assurance that he will not intervene to force T.A.A. to agree to an increase of fares such as that proposed by Ansett-A.N.A.?
– I think I can best answer the question by explaining what happens when representatives of the two airlines meet, as they do under the terms of the legislation passed by this Parliament, to discuss matters of commerce and of business which bear equally on both organizations. They come along, sit down and discuss a problem that has arisen from a particular circumstance. It is a fact that in recent weeks - within the last two or three weeks - the question of costs and their relevance to the present scale of fares has been discussed. That discussion has continued between the two airlines.
The honorable senator is at some pains to try to create the impression, presumably, that the matter was taken up solely on the initiative of Ansett-A.N.A. I can only tell him that the management and the administration of Trans-Australia Airlines is in the hands of sound businessmen with practical experience, and that they, equally with the management of Ansett-A.N.A., look at fares and at costs and are prepared to discuss them. T.A.A. will not be subjected to any pressure from me to meet a suggestion made by Ansett-A.N.A. Machinery exists for the discussion and settlement of situations of this kind, and that machinery will be allowed to work without intervention by me. Indeed, my intervention is not necessary.
– It is a real monopoly, is it not?
– I say to the honorable senator that the procedure being followed is almost identical with what happens when a couple of trade unions get together with the object of making a wage claim. When the deliberations of the airlines are concluded, and if there is to be an increase of fares, the nature of the increase will be announced jointly by the operators concerned.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, refers to the shortage of steel. Is the Minister aware of the acute shortage of steel in Australia? Does he know that iron foundries and engineering, works, particularly in country centres, will be obliged to close their doors in the near future unless greatly increased supplies are made available? Is the shortage caused by the export of our steel? Will the Minister take urgent and appropriate action to relieve the shortage?
– In view of the number of questions relating to steel that havebeen addressed to me recently, I asked the Department of Trade to give me a short statement on the subject. I should say, Mr. Deputy President, that the statement that I have received from the Department of Trade, and which I propose to read, was given to me only in the last couple of minutes and, therefore, was not available tome when questions on this subject were asked earlier this morning. The Department of Trade has suggested that I give the following answer: -
I am aware that there are certain shortages of steel mill products in Australia, but apart from possible distribution problems I have no reasonto believe that the shortage is any more acute in country centres than elsewhere. 1 have no knowledge of any engineering works or iron foundries which are likely to have to close down due toinability to obtain reasonable steel requirements.
The shortages are not directly related to the export of steel. Steel producers give priority tothe local market and although there have been substantial exports of steel, these have in the main, and apart from the traditional New Zealand market, been in those categories where production was in excess cf Australian markets. The current shortage is due to the sudden upsurge in local’ demand which occurred about mid- 1959. Despite- greatly increased local output, demand for some categories is still in excess of the supplies available.
For most categories of steel at present in short supply, it is believed that supply demand will be in balance by the end of this year. It has been necessary for some years to import certain steel mill products where the local industry has inadequate rolling capacity to meet requirements. This situation will continue, and the Government has now removed all obstacles to the importation of steel.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for National Development, arises from an answer that he gave earlier to Senator Vincent, in which he stated that a trial shipment of 7,500 tons of Darling Range bauxite had been taken to Bell Bay. I now ask the Minister whether he can supply the Senate with information regarding the result of the trial shipment.
– I hesitate to do so. This was a trading transaction between the mining company concerned and the Bell Bay aluminium works. The mining company was keen to sell its bauxite, and I suppose that the Bell Bay people were keen to buy it at the best possible price. I merely say that I hope that further shipments are made.
– I invite the attention of the Minister for National Development to the proposal to modify the lay-out of the Snowy-Murray section of the vast Snowy Mountains scheme, referred to at page 17 of the tenth annual report of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, which was tabled in the Senate yesterday. The modification will have the effect of enlarging the storage of Lake Eucumbene and reducing that at Jindabyne. Can the Minister assure the Senate, by a detailed explanation, that the diversion so announced will not in any way adversely affect the distribution and diversion of water for South Australia?
– I would not be prepared to give a detailed explanation. This year’s annual report of the Snowy Mountains Authority contains a full description of the high level diversion, together with plans and sketchings of the proposal. The purport of the honorable senator’s question is whether the proposed diversion will make any difference to South Australia’s rights, or prejudice those rights in any way. The answer to that question is a clear “ No “. In general terms, the Snowy Mountains Agreement provides the amount of water and power which each of the States will get. True it is that South Australia is not a party to the Snowy Mountains Agreement, but it is a party to the River Murray Agreement. The Snowy Mountains Agreement provides that Victoria is to have so much water made available to it from the Murray that New South Wales is to get so much power, and so on. The whole scheme is based upon the building of power houses and the provision of water for irrigation, and this is all governed by the Snowy Mountains Agreement. Whichever way the Snowy Mountains scheme is carried out, or the various parts of it are constructed, the rights of the States under the Snowy Mountains Agreement must be preserved. In this way South Australia is automatically protected, because, as I said yesterday, in a good year that State gets its 1,250,000 acre feet, and in a drought year it gets three-thirteenths of the flow of the river Murray at Albury. The flow at Albury is closely watched by New South Wales and Victoria, because those States have a lively interest in ensuring that the maximum amount of water is available.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. I preface my question by stating that in New South Wales full and objective reports of the hearings of applications for television licences were published by the “ Sydney Morning Herald “. Now that hearings are to be commenced in Victoria, will the Minister make representation to the proprietors of the Melbourne newspapers and ask them to report the hearings in a similar fashion?
– I hardly think that this is a governmental activity. I am glad to hear the tribute paid to a Sydney newspaper by a Victorian senator. I suggest that he make his own representations to the Victorian newspapers, he being so kindly disposed towards them.
– I wish to ask a question of the Leader of the Senate, in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Defence. In view of the statement made by the Minister that some officers of the three fighting services will attend the Joint Services Staff College in the United Kingdom, and that other officers will attend the United States Armed Forces Staff College, will the Minister tell the Senate, first, the length and scope of the courses at each of these colleges, and, secondly, the number of Australian officers who have been trained at the colleges?
– Senator McCallum was good enough to tell me that he was going to ask for this information. I have asked the Minister for Defence to give me sufficient information to reply to the question, and it is as follows: -
The length of the course at the United Kingdom college is six months. The object of the course is to train officers for staff appointments on joint staffs, and for higher staff appointments in their own services. Broadly, a condition precedent to attendance at the course is that officers should be qualified in the staff work of their own services. Up to and including the present course, which will conclude in May. 1960, the following officers of the Australian services have attended the college: - Navy 16, Army 20 and Air Force 1 1 , making a total of 47.
At the United States Armed Forces Staff College the length of the course is six months. The objects of the course are somewhat similar to those of the United Kingdom course. Up to and including the present course, which will conclude in August, 1960, the following officers of the Australian services have attended the college: - Navy 5, Army 8 and Air Force 6, making a total of 19.
– I wish to ask a question of the Minister for the Navy. Is it a fact that H.M.A.S. “ Melbourne “, together with escorts, is shortly to begin a training and exercise cruise in the Seato area? If so. can the Minister briefly outline the proposed itinerary of the squadron, giving approximate dates and ports of call?
– If I were to attempt to give dates concerning the cruise that is to be undertaken by H.M.A.S. “ Melbourne “
I would probably be quite inaccurate. I think that I should just say that this vessel and two escorts will, in the usual way, be taking part in Seato exercises to be held very shortly. According to my recollection, H.M.A.S. “ Melbourne “ is at present at Singapore. After the conclusion of the exercises she will go to Japan, and on the way back to Australia will make a call at Djakarta.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Minister for the Interior has furnished the following reply: -
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has given these answers: -
asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers are as follows: -
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answer: - 1 and 2. The Postmaster-General in the United Kingdom has presented to Parliament a White Paper entitled “The Status of the Post Office” the main features of which are summarized in the paper itself as being - (a) Separation of the Post Office Finances from the Exchequer; (b) the abolition of the annual Parliamentary Estimate procedure and the Treasury control that goes with it; (c) its replacement by effective - but nevertheless flexible - parliamentary control; (d) Post Office staff will remain civil servants. The White Paper states that -
It is now proposed to give the Post Office greater commercial freedom while remaining under the direct control of the PostmasterGeneral. Ils current finances will be severed from the Exchequer and, subject to the PostmasterGeneral’s obligations as a Member of the Government and to Parliament, he will have greater scope and responsibility for running the Post Office as a self-contained business.
It makes no reference to any proposed adjustments in tariffs nor to any special committee examining Post Office services.
Each member of the special committee of inquiry into the commercial accounts of the Australian Post Office has been supplied with a copy of the British White Paper.
– On 31st March, Senator Pearson asked me, as the representative in this chamber of the Treasurer, a question with relation to the provision of drought relief in particular cases of hardship in South Australia. I said that I would discuss the matter with the Treasurer. I have done so, and the Treasurer has supplied me with the following information: -
The provision of relief in these cases is essentially a matter for the State government. The
Prime Minister has informed the Premier of South Australia that only in exceptional circumstances would the Commonwealth be prepared to participate with a State in the financing of drought relief arrangements, and then only after a careful examination of the terms and conditions of the State scheme and of the impact of such scheme on the State budget and the State’s ability to meet the cost from its own resources.
– by leave - I am pleased to be able to inform the Senate that, following negotiations which began in Melbourne on 3rd March and which were concluded on 14th March, a revision of the eleven-year-old air agreement between Australia and India has been completed. The Australian delegation was led by the Director-General of Civil Aviation, Mr. D. G. Anderson, and the Indian delegation was led by Mr. M. M. Philip, Communications Secretary to the Government of India, and the discussions were held in a friendly and cordial atmosphere. The revised agreement takes account of developments in international air transport which have taken place since the original agreement was concluded in 1949 and brings that agreement into line with the current requirements of the airlines of the two countries.
At these discussions, the delegations also took note of the Tripartite Partnership Agreement which had been reached between Air India International, Qantas and the British Overseas Airways Corporation. Under this commercial agreement which the Government recently approved, the international airlines of Australia, the United Kingdom and India will co-ordinate their operations in a drive to expand their share of the world air traffic market. The new partnership extends the famous 25-year-old Qantas-B.O.A.C. partnership on the Kangaroo Route and will cover air services operated by the three airlines between the United Kingdom, Australia and the Far East as well as certain other services. The partnership services commenced operations on 1st April.
The revised air agreement between India and Australia - along with similar air agreements between Australia and the United Kingdom and India and the United Kingdom - will provide the framework within which the three airlines may operate their partnership services into the territories of the three countries concerned. At the Melbourne discussions just concluded agreement was reached on the arrangements for the operation of air services by the Indian and Australian airlines for the duration of the partnership agreement.
In regard to the Tripartite Partnership Agreement between Qantas, B.O.A.C. and Air India, 1 should emphasize that each airline will retain its own identity although tickets will be readily interchangeable. Moreover, while the individual airlines have an obligation to use competitive aircraft, they have freedom to choose those aircraft which, in their own opinion, are best suited to their requirements. The three airlines will each sell the services of the others, and operations and reservations systems will be closely co-ordinated. The new arrangement will mean that air travellers will be offered unrivalled facilities for air travel through the world’s major air centres and the airlines will be able to deploy their new jet aircraft fleet, soon to total 50, to the best possible advantage on the world’s air routes. While this airline agreement will provide air travellers with very important advantages in the jet age, I am satisfied that it will also have important commercial advantages for the airlines of the three Commonwealth countries concerned.
The revised air agreement with India will be brought into force by an exchange of diplomatic notes which is to take place in New Delhi in the near future.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Paltridge) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The serious problem of the pollution of the coasts of many countries resulting from the discharge of oil from ships at sea has increased in recent years with the more general use of oil fuel in ships and the larger number of tankers in service. The result has been considerable damage to coastlines and inconvenience and loss to the inhabitants of coastal towns, not to mention the harmful effects on sea birds and shell fisheries. There have been instances of the undesirable effects of oil pollution in Australian waters under notice in recent times, and the problem could assume larger proportions here with the increased sea transport of oil and its products arising from the development of oil refining in this country.
In 1952 the United Kingdom Government appointed a committee to consider the problem and to recommend practical measures to prevent it. Because jurisdiction over ships on the high seas can be exercised only by the flag country, the committee recommended that general prohibition of the discharge of persistent oils be sought by international agreement.
An international conference, at which Australia was represented, was held in London in 1954, and resulted in the drawing-up of the International Convention for the Prevention of the Pollution of the Sea by Oil, 1954. General prohibition being strongly opposed, a system of prohibited zones was agreed upon. The date of the coming into force of the convention was to be twelve months after the date on which not less than ten countries had ratified, including five countries each with not less than 500,000 tons gross of tanker tonnage. As these requirements were fully met on 26th July, 1957, the convention came into operation on 26th July, 1958, in respect of the United Kingdom, Mexico. Sweden, Federal Republic of Germany, Denmark, Canada, Norway, Irish Republic, Belgium. France and the Netherlands. Finland subsequently ratified also.
Under the convention there are wider prohibited zones for tankers than for other ships. The zones off the Australian coast are 1 50 miles wide for tankers and 50 miles wide for other ships, except that the zone for all shins is 50 miles wide in the north of Australia, from Thursday Island westward to 20 degrees South, near Port Hedland.
Tt is important that Australia should have legislation to enable ratification of this convention, for two main reasons. The first and obvious one is to controlpollution within our territorial waters. The second is to control pollution by our ships in specified areas adjacent to the coasts of other countries, as it is only by ratification of the convention by all maritime countries, following the application of similar controlling legislation in respect of their ships, that the aims of the convention can be fully achieved.
Legislation to give effect to the convention within our territorial waters is of course a matter for the States. Whilst the Commonwealth legislation can require prohibition only to the extent laid down in the convention because the bill is an exercise of the external affairs power, the States will be able to apply more severe measures to prevent pollution if they desire to do so, under their powers to control shipping activities in territorial waters. Each State Government is in favour of ratification, and a model State bill is being drafted. After agreement as to its terms at a Premiers’ Conference, similar bills will be introduced in all State Parliaments, and similar requirements will be laid down in respect of the Northern Territory, and also the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, to which it is intended that the convention be applied. The State legislation will cover the matter of the installation of facilities at ports for the reception and disposal of oily wastes separated from tank washings and bilge water.
The Pollution of the Sea by Oil Bill now before the Senate represents the necessary complementary Commonwealth legislation to enable ratification of the convention. In September, 1954, shortly after the convention had been signed, the Government considered’ the question of ratification. It accepted the convention in principle and decided to seek the concurrence of the States to ratification by Australia. The matter was also referred to the Australian Port Authorities Association, which eventually reached agreement upon the provisions that might be included in the State legislation. Early in 1 959, the State governments having indicated that they too favoured ratification, the Government was in a position to proceed with the drafting of the necessary Commonwealth legislation. A draft bill was referred to the State governments and after further protracted consultation culminating in their concurrence in its terms, the Commonwealth measure was ready to be brought down.
The bill prescribes in relation to the following matters in particular: - (a) the areas of the sea in which ships registered in Australia may not discharge oil or oily mixtures; (b) a penalty of a fine not exceeding £1,000 for wrongful discharge of oil, excluding certain sediments, residues and bilge mixtures in certain circumstances; (c) inspection and control of ships, including those of other convention countries while they are in Australian territorial waters; and (d) power for the making of the necessary regulations, including regulations in respect of the oil records to be kept by ships, additional prohibited areas, equipment to be fitted in ships, the testing and approval of equipment, the disposal of oil and oil residues, and for certain exemptions. The text of the convention appears as Schedule I. to the bill.
Whilst it is intended that naval ships shall comply with the provisions in the bill as far as is practicable and reasonable, only government ships other than naval ships are subject to the legislation. The bill ensures that in certain circumstances, such as when oil is discharged for safety purposes or escapes following damage or by leakage not due to lack of reasonable care, a shipowner or master will not be liable to penalty.
As I have already mentioned, the bill has been referred to the State governments and each has indicated it has no objection to its terms. I am sure that it merits the support of honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Gorton) read a first time.
– I move -
That the “bill ‘be now read a second time.
This bill has a dual purpose. First, it contains provisions designed to ensure that Australia’s obligations under the International Whaling Convention of 1946 and the protocol of 1956 are fulfilled by the Australian vhaling industry. Secondly, it provides for the repeal of the Whaling Act 1935-1948 and for new legislative requirements that will be more appropriate in relation to the administration of land based whaling activities in Australia than the present legislation, which was framed to a great extent to cover the possible operations of factory ships and attendant catchers.
The Whaling Act of 1935 implemented the provisions of the International Whaling Agreement signed in Geneva in 1931, to which Australia was a party. That agreement was the first of a series of international agreements leading to the International Whaling Convention which was signed in Washington in 1946, and was ratified by the Australian Government in December. 1947.
The 1935 act was amended in 1948 to cover the provisions of the international convention. This act as amended was also flamed mainly to cover pelagic whaling operations. Australia was not then engaged herself in whaling but the government of the day had been seriously considering the possible operation of a mother ship and attendant catcher boats in the Antarctic in competition with other nations, which send their fleets to Antarctic areas each year during the international open whaling season in those waters. Since 1949, when a shore-based whaling industry became established in Australia, the old acts have not been entirely satisfactory as regards the administration of the land stations.
An amendment to the international convention effected by the protocol of 1956 provided for the inclusion of aircraft under the definition of whale catchers. It had previously been demonstrated that helicopters could be used for the taking of whales. Provision has been made in this bill to cover the use of helicopters in whaling.
Furthermore, since 1949 a number of amendments relating to the conservation and utilization of whale resources have been made to the schedule to the international convention. The present bill is intended to give effect to these amendments so far as Australia is concerned. It will also enable the Minister to provide for any future amendments to the schedule by means of notice in the “ Gazette “. In this respect the bill follows the pattern of the Fisheries Act 1952-1959 and the Pearl Fisheries Act 1952-1953.
The Australian whaling industry has become an important industry. Since 1949, when only one Australian station was in operation and took 190 whales at Point Cloates, in north-western Australia, a total of 16,884 humpback whales and 645 other whales have been taken. The sales of whale oil and by-products of these whales have realized over £18,000,000. At present four whaling stations are operating on the Australian coast. They are located at Carnarvon and Albany in Western Australia, at Byron Bay in New South Wales, and at Moreton Island in Queensland. There is also a station at Norfolk Island, and it is extremely important to the economy of that island.
While, as I have already mentioned, other species of whales have been taken in the past ten years, the Australian industry is dependent primarily on the humpback species which migrate annually from the Antarctic along the east and west coasts of Australia. Mating and breeding take place during this migration and the whale calves are born approximately a year later. The whale reproduction rate is very low and the stocks are susceptible to overexploitation. The virtual annihilation of whales in the northern hemisphere, brought about by uncontrolled killing, has clearly demonstrated the necessity for proper conservation measures in relation to the Antarctic stocks. In fact, the necessity for sound conservation measures by both the pelagic fleets in the Antarctic and by countries operating shore-based stations is the main reason for Australia’s adherence to the international convention. It is also a major consideration in the administration of our own industry.
Under the present bill, the Minister may prohibit the taking or killing of certain species of whales, immature whales, and females accompanied by calves. To support these prohibitions the bill provides that bonus payments shall not be made to masters, gunners or crews of factory ships or whale chasers on the basis of the number of whales taken alone. Provision is made for the greatest possible utilization of the whale carcases. In this connexion, it is of interest that the Australian whaling industry has developed along most efficient lines. Processing results may vary somewhat from station to station and from season to season, but in general they are satisfactory.
Unfortunately, the International Whaling Convention suffered a severe setback last year when Norway and the Netherlands withdrew from it. Japan had also given notice of withdrawal, but cancelled this notice at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission, in London, in June, 1959. The withdrawal of Norway and the Netherlands was caused by the failure of the five countries engaged in pelagic whaling in the Antarctic, namely, the United Kingdom, Norway, Japan, the Netherlands and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, to reach agreement on the division between themselves of the overall maximum quota of 15,000 blue whale units fixed by the International Whaling Commission for the Antarctic season. Although Norway and the Netherlands withdrew, both countries indicated that they would adhere to the provisions of the International Whaling Convention insofar as it did not prevent them from taking a fixed number of blue whale units to be determined by themselves during the present Antarctic season.
Notwithstanding this regrettable development in the international sphere, the Government considers that Australia should give full support to the International Whaling Convention, since a complete collapse of the convention would almost certainly be quickly followed by unrestricted exploitation of the whale stocks, and, as a consequence, by the loss of a valuable primary industry to Australia. The proposed statutory backing in this bill of the provisions of the international convention may be regarded as evidence on Australia’s part of the importance we place on international co-operation to preserve whaling as a long-term industry. The bill also ensures the sound administration of the industry in Australia. I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Tangney) adjourned.
Bill agreed to, and reported without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In November, 1957, the Government decided to withdraw from the field of flax production. At that point seven flax mills were being operated by the Flax Commission - a statutory Commonwealth authority. The commission has since processed the stocks of flax straw then on hand and has disposed of all the mills. It actually ceased activities on 31st March, 1960, leaving only the winding up of its affairs to be done. The bill now before the Senate provides for the official termination of the commission.
The Flax Commission was established in 1953 under the Flax Industry Act. The legislation authorised the commission to maintain and develop the flax industry in Australia in order to ensure that sufficient supplies of flax would be available for the purposes of the defence of the Commonwealth in the event of war. At that time the Government considered it was desirable to avoid a recurrence of the experience of the 1939-45 war when a shortage of flax and flax products proved an embarrassment until a flax industry was developed in Australia as a wartime measure.
However, in 1957 the Government decided to withdraw from the flax production field after consultation with its advisers on defence matters who considered that under foreseeable conditions the continuation of financial assistance to the flax industry in Australia would not be justified on defence grounds alone. The current legislation authorizing the existence and operations of the Flax Commission derives its constitutional authority from Commonwealth defence powers. The Flax Commission has always operated at a financial loss despite the best efforts of the members of the commission to make it a sound economic proposition.
Since taking the decision to discontinue flax production as a government project the Government has made it clear that it would give full consideration to any offers which might be made by private enterprise for the purchase of any of the flax mills as going concerns. However, of the seven mills controlled by the commission only one at Myrtleford in Victoria has, in fact, been sold as a going concern. The Myrtleford mill was purchased by Australian spinners who indicated they were buying it as a nucleus for possible expansion and as some security for supplies of flax fibre in case of an emergency. The mills other than Myrtleford were sold at auction for purposes other than flax processing. Since the Commonwealth vacated the flax production field it is of interest that some of the previous growers of flax in Victoria have found an alternative crop in linseed.
The present bill covers the arrangements that are essential to the winding up of the affairs of the commission. The actual work of the commission has been completed but for some time yet there will be debts to collect and accounts to pay. There are also assets to be disposed of. The staff of the commission has already been dispersed but the miscellaneous tasks involved in bringing the commercial and financial affairs of the commission to finality will be handled by the Department of Primary Industry. I commend the bill to honorable senators.
.- The Opposition does not oppose the passage of the bill, but I shall take this opportunity to make a few comments upon the subject of flax. It was at the instance of the United Kingdom Government that, during the last war, the Commonwealth appointed a committee, known as the Flax Production Committee, to stimulate flax production. The traditional suppliers of flax in Europe - Holland and countries of that type - were unable to provide the United Kingdom’s requirements, and Australia, very rightly, acted on a request by the United Kingdom Government to engage in flax production. The Flax Production Committee and those who supported it did a really splendid job throughout the war period in providing a commodity that was vital to our own war effort and to that of our allies.
– Hear, hear!
– I recall with great interest the very informative speech that Senator Scott made in 1953, when the Flax Production Committee went out of existence and was replaced by the commission. As I understand the position, Senator Scott himself was engaged in flax production during the war period. He displayed a very close knowledge of all the elements of the economics of this industry. I shall look forward to hearing him again, if he proposes to vouchsafe his thoughts to the Senate on this subject on this occasion.
When the war was over, the Australian Government - a Labour Government - made an effort to dispose of the “various mills under the control of the Flax Production Committee as going concerns, but it realized the importance of flax as an element in the defence of Australia, and regarded flax production as a matter of considerable importance to our economy. The Government was unsuccessful in disposing of the mills as going concerns except in one instance. The mill at Boyupbrook in Western Australia was purchased by the Western Australian ‘Government, and I understand that it has been leased to private enterprise in that State. As far as I know, it is still carrying on.
In 1953, this Government introduced the Flax Industry Bill, which was passed with the support of the Opposition. The bill provided for the appointment of a commission of five persons, and in clause 13 it defined the commission’s functions in these terara -
The functions of the commission are to maintain and develop the flax industry in Australia and the capacity of Australia to produce flax in order to ensure that sufficient supplies of flax are available for the purposes of the defence of the Commonwealth and that the capacity of the flax industry to produce flax for those purposes in the event .of war will be adequate.
The various powers of the commission were conferred by .clause 14, and in clause 29 it was provided that the commission should take over from the Flax Production Committee. It took .over the committee’s assets, liabilities and stocks, and it assumed responsibility for contracts to which the committee was committed. It was rather unfortunate for the newly-founded commission that, having taken over stocks of flax from ‘the
Flax Production Committee at figures representing the current values, the world price of flax began to drop. That taking over of the stocks of the committee at a high value is one of the factors that have caused the losses that have marked the work of the commission. The Opposition does not complain about those losses. They were incidental to the establishment and buttressing of a new industry - an industry to which a spirit of patriotism attracted many of the primary producers of Australia, both when a war was on and when an acute threat of war persisted.
The scheme devised in 1953 provided for a maximum bounty of £75 per ton to the flax industry, but the overseas price of flax kept falling for a few years. From 1956 to 1958 it fell, I think, from about £300 per ton down to something like £210 per ton. That, of course, did not encourage the producers to stay in the industry. Then, in 1957 the Commonwealth decided to withdraw from flax production. It stated that it wished to retire from the field, and down the years - T have followed the course of events as detailed in the several reports of the Flax Commission - stocks were sold and various mills were disposed of, but not, unfortunately, as going concerns. The one mill that might have been disposed of as a going concern was that mentioned by the Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton) in his second-reading speech - the mill at Myrtleford in Victoria. Australian spinners have taken that mill over, but apparently only as a reserve against future needs. Apparently they have no intention of operating the mill at present in accordance with its capacity, but want to have it as a reserve. That is rather unfortunate. It means that this industry is now practically dead in Australia.
– I did not understand that they were keeping it as a reserve. I said that it was a nucleus for possible expansion.
– I agree with what the Minister said, but I think that what I have said is in line with that. The Minister said in his second-reading speech -
The Myrtleford mill was purchased by Australian spinners who indicated they were buying it as a nucleus for possible expansion and as some security for supplies of flax fibre in case of an emergency.
I think that that is in complete accord with the way in which I expressed it, in different terms. They bought it as a reserve production unit. I gathered from what the Minister said, and 1 mean to convey the same impression, that the owners of the Myrtleford mill do not propose to put it into action.
– I will look into that aspect. I think it may be put into action.
– I understand that they do not propose to put it into action, and that seems to be in line with what the Minister himself said in the course of his second-reading speech. One thing that interests me particularly in relation to this industry is that in 1953, when the late Senator McLeay introduced the Flax Industry Bill of that year into the Parliament, he said -
The industry is far too important in our defence preparations for us to allow it to disappear, so we are forced to find some way of ensuring its continuance. That is the reason for this bill. The flax industry must be retained in Australia because flax fibre is an important raw material in the manufacture of equipment for the fighting services. Aeroplane fabric, parachute harness, hangar canvas, gun and boat covers, fire hose, tents and other camp equipment, yarn and twine for cordage, and all linen sewing threads for boots and uniforms for the services are made from this essential fibre, for which no effective substitute has yet been found.
That was the Government’s outlook in 1953. We are now told that the Government, after consultation with its defence advisers, considers that - . . under foreseeable conditions the continuation of financial assistance to the flax industry in Australia would not be justified on defence grounds alone.
That is a very bald statement with which the Senate is presented. I hope that the Minister, in reply, will amplify that statement and will indicate what particular factors have caused the change of outlook between 1953 and 1960. I think the Minister should be in a position to tell the Senate in what way the defence significance of flax has evaporated. I take it that we still need flax for all the purposes enumerated by Senator McLeay in 1953 and the Minister should be in a position to give the Senate some assurance that if Australia is going out of flax production, at least our lines of supply will be assured. I would say not only that they must be assured in peace-time but also, and more importantly, that we should be told that they will be safeguarded in time of war. In short, I pose the question to the Minister: Where would Australia look for her supplies of flax in the event of war, particularly a war with local implications in which our overseas lines of supply may well be cut? 1 thought that the Government, in presenting this measure and really retiring from support of the flax industry, would give some more detailed information as to the defence aspect upon which I have touched. I notice that the Flax Commission, in its fourth annual report, drew attention to an extract from a letter from the appropriate Minister in relation to the matter. In addressing the Minister the commission said -
In that letter-
A letter written in 1957 - you also stated among other things: “ One important factor which has particularly influenced the Government in its consideration of the future of the flax industry is the view expressed by the defence authorities that the industry no longer has the same defence significance as it did in 19S3 when the Flax Industry Act was passed.”
I earnestly ask the Minister to tell us what change has been brought about since 1953. No information has been given to us in the Minister’s second-reading speech of the prices realized for the sale of the various mills. There is some information in the report of the commission for the year ended 30th June, 1959, in which the commission said -
In the absence of any firm offers to take over any of the mills, normal disposal action will be taken progressively . . . This has already been done in the case of the Drouin mill where the land and buildings were sold by public auction on Tuesday the 2nd June, 1959, for £10,050. The boiler and weighbridge were included in this sale.
The remainder of the plant, machinery and stores at Drouin were sold by public auction on the 9th June, 1959, for £6,193 17s. 6d.
Those amounts seem very small. They seem to indicate that the plant being disposed of at public auction has probably been dissipated over the Commonwealth for purposes perhaps not connected with flax production at all. Now, with the withdrawal of the Commonwealth and the closing down of the remaining seven mills, we lack the potential for flax production and apparently we would have a rather flat- footed start if we were ever again faced with a war emergency, ls the Minister in a position to give an assurance that the plant and machinery from the various mills is likely to be held where access may be had to it again for flax production if an emergency arises? The questions I have asked are rather obvious questions to which the second-reading speech of the Minister may well have been addressed. 1 note from the Minister’s speech to-day that the staff of the Flax Commission has been dispersed. I take it that members of the staff have been absorbed back into the Public Service or have found other avenues of employment. There again, we have a collection of specialists in this industry, most of whom, I presume, will fade away into general industry and commerce and who may not be gathered together again in a hurry in the event of an acute need arising in relation to flax. We of the Parliament are presented with an accomplished fact. The sale of the mills has taken place. The staff has been dispersed and very little is left to be done - merely the collection of some accounts, the paying of other accounts and the realization of the few remaining assets. We have been given no indication of the extent of the transactions that remain to be accomplished. The Auditor-General is obliged under this bill to audit the final accounts and presently the Parliament will have his report and information as to the winding-up. That will give to the Parliament - after the event, of course - an opportunity to hold a postmortem examination of the transactions connected with the winding-up.
At this stage I do not want to start a familiar hare running in the Senate, but I should have liked Senator Spooner or Senator Paltridge to be present to hear my comment that here is one Commonwealth instrumentality upon whose advances from the Treasury no interest has been charged. In its fourth and fifth reports the commission directed attention to that fact. I do not expect Senator Gorton to jump on my coat tail in this matter - I do not invite him to do so - but I cannot resist the opportunity to point to the differential treatment in this case and the case we were discussing yesterday.
– The Government i9 being most charitable.
– I am just gently touching on the matter in passing. We are at the wake following the burial of the corpse of the flax industry so far as the Government is concerned and I do not feel particularly hostile in those circumstances.
– You are treating the matter with due reverence.
– That is right. I should be grateful if the Minister could state whether heavy losses were incurred in the sale of plant, equipment and buildings. Generally, we recognize that the Government has decided that the industry is to vanish. We do not oppose the measure because we are merely at the wake following the burial of the industry. So I record the Opposition’s lack of opposition to the measure. The bill is simple. It does three main things. It bars the commission from exercising any of its powers under the 1953 act, except for purposes of winding up. It provides for a report and an audited financial statement to be furnished. Finally, it provides for the vesting of all the remaining property and assets of the commission in the Commonwealth. We were told in the Minister’s second-reading speech that the Minister for Primary Industry will be the person who will be concerned with the actual winding-up processes.
With those comments, Mr. Acting Deputy President, I speed the bill on its way.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– I am loath to allow this bill to pass without making a few comments on the flax industry in Australia, from its inception during World War II. until the decision of the Government to terminate the Flax Commission. Senator McKenna, during the course of his remarks this morning, mentioned the great work that was done by the Flax Production Committee, which preceded the Flax Commission, in the early war years, when flax fibre was unobtainable both in Australia and from overseas. At the request of the British Government, and with the approval of the Australian Government, a flax industry was established in this country to supply flax fibre for war-time requirements. The job of the Flax Production
Committee was to establish an industry that would supply the war-time requirements of flax fibre of the defence forces of Australia, and which could help to augment the production of other countries that were fighting alongside Australia.
– Can the honorable senator say how many people are employed in the industry?
– I should say that, at peak production periods, between 2,000 and 3,000 people would have been employed in the industry throughout Australia.
The crop may be grown in farming areas as an alternative to cereal crops. Because flax fibre was so necessary during the war years, prices were high, and that fact encouraged farmers to grow flax instead of cereal crops. It was found that flax could be grown in areas with a rainfall of between 23 and 30 inches. In Western Australia, due to encouragement by the Flax Production Committee, there were three mills in operation at the beginning of the war. In the later stages of the war, one of those mills was closed. The production of flax from the mills increased during the war years. When the war ended, another of the mills was closed, leaving only one in operation, and when the Government decided to sell its flax mills throughout Australia, that remaining mill was sold to the Blackwood Flax Co-operative Company Limited, which was able to buy the mill with the help of financial assistance from the Western Australian Government.
The bill now before the Senate seeks to provide for the termination of the Flax Commission, which was instituted in 1953. I think it was in 1957 that the Government decided that, because of the extremely high costs of operating flax mills, it would sell its interests in the industry. At this stage of our history, there are in Australia only two mills producing flax fibre. One of those is at Myrtleford, in Victoria, and the other at Boyupbrook, in Western Australia. I have no objection to the Government selling its flax mills and winding up the Flax Commission, because I think that, in the circumstances, that is a wise step to take. However, as Senator McKenna stated, in the event of a national emergency it would be essential for Australia to have a ready source of supply of flax fibre. We hope that we shall never be engaged in another war, but if we should be so engaged, our sources of flax supply could be cut off immediately, as they were at the beginning of World War II. If they were cut off, where would we go from there? We should have to appoint another Flax Commission, and it might take one or two years for the commission to function effectively, after which we would begin to meet our demand for flax fibre. I think it would be a wise step for the Government to keep at least one or two mills in operation.
I understand that, in addition to terminating the Flax Commission, it is also proposed to abolish the bounty that is at present payable on line fibre produced from flax straw. The Australian flax producers, Mr. Deputy President, approached the Tariff Board in an endeavour to obtain assistance for the flax industry. I point out that the price of flax has fallen in the last three or four years from almost £300 a ton for grade B line fibre to £167 a ton. Flax producers, particularly those in my State, sought from the Tariff Board protection to the extent of £130 or £140 a ton. The Tariff Board recommended to the Government that a bounty should be paid of £75 a ton for grade B line fibre, for a period which will expire on 31st October, 1960, and that from then on the bounty should cease. In these circumstances the bounty on flax produced in Australia will be cut out altogether after 31st October this year. This may, and probably will, mean that the two flax producing undertakings at Myrtleford and Boyupbrook will have to close down, and we will then have not one flax mill operating in Australia. Imagine the chaotic conditions that will arise if war breaks out, and we again have to set up an organization to promote the growing of flax.
The Tariff Board recommended -
That no increased assistance be given to the production of flax fibre in Australia and that the present bounty assistance in accordance with the Flax Fibre Bounty Act 1954-1957 should cease on the expiration of the current legislation, viz., 31st October. 1960.
With the removal of this bounty payment and the winding up of the Flax Commission, it will be practically impossible for flax production to be carried on in Australia. The Boyupbrook Flax Growers Association has endeavoured to co-operate with the Flax Commission. It stated, in its original submission when asking for a bounty and a duty, that it would endeavour to increase the quantity of flax produced per acre, and would mechanize its mill with the latest equipment so as to reduce costs. If we examine the results of the association’s activities, we find that the yield of straw per acre has been increased from 25 cwt. in 1943-44 to an average of 2i tons at the present time over the whole of the area planted. That is a notable achievement. It has been brought about not solely by the flax growers, because a good deal of assistance has been given by the Department of Agriculture in Western Australia and by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
I believe that if these growers could be encouraged to carry on they would reduce their costs even further. The Department of Agriculture in Western Australia is still conducting breeding tests with different types of flax, rust-resistant types and types that will produce more fibre per ton. There is no saying how much success they may achieve. I think it is a pity, and almost a tragedy, that we should act on this recommendation. I know that it was a recommendation of a responsible body, the Tariff Board, that we should cease paying the bounty, but I believe that we should look beyond the Tariff Board and consider what may be needed in the future. Do not let us be caught as we were caught in the last war. Let us protect ourselves at least to the extent of providing the infinitesimal amount of money - £20,000 or £30,000, or even as much as £50,000 a year - that is required to keep the flax producers and these two mills in operation. They could form the nucleus of a flax industry if such an industry is required in Australia at some later time.
Those are my comments on this bill, Mr. Deputy President. I know that it is necessary to close down the Flax Commission. I am very sorry that the growers throughout Australia that were supplying flax to the various mills established by the Commonwealth could not see their way clear to carry on the growing of flax, but when we realize that during the last four or five years flax has been available on world markets at prices roughly half what they were about four years ago, it is obvious that the industry must have assistance if it is to keep going. I would like the Government to have another look at the report of the Flax Commission, and, having in mind what I said this afternoon, give serious consideration to continuing a bounty payment sufficient to enable the two existing mills to keep operating.
– It is very seldom that I find myself in complete agreement with Senator Scott. I do so on this occasion because I feel this is a matter of national importance, and one upon which we, as senators, can have only one opinion; that is, that it is tragic that we should be deciding at this time upon the dissolution of the Flax Commission and the winding up of its affairs. As Senator McKenna has said, we are in the position of mourners at a funeral. We have not been called in to give advice or assistance during the illness of the deceased, and we are simply presented with an invitation to attend the funeral and the reading of the will - and there is not much in the way of assets to be distributed among the mourners.
I believe this legislation represents a complete reversal of form on the part of the Government. When the existing legislation was introduced only a few years ago in another place by the present Minister for Trade and Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen), that right honorable gentleman stressed the absolute necessity of maintaining this industry at a level sufficient for it to meet the defence requirements of the nation. After World War I., we failed to keep the industry in production, and when the necessity arose, at the outbreak of World War II., to supply our own flax requirements and also some of those of our allies, it became a matter of absolute urgency to re-establish our flax industry as quickly as possible. Because this industry required labour of a highly specialist kind, it was not possible, owing to lack of preparation and lack of continuity in the industry, to get maximum efficiency at that time, with the result that many mistakes were made and many losses incurred. Those losses and mistakes would not have occurred had1 we had more experience.
On 17th March, 1953, Mr. McEwen, who was then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, introduced the bill to establish the commission, and said, in the course of his second-reading speech -
At an appropriate time a further attempt will be made to dispose of the industry to private enterprise, subject to suitable guarantees that it will be continued on a basis of production adequate to meet our defence requirements.
Nothing has been said by the Minister for the Navy. in his second-reading speech on this occasion, about what has taken place in the last seven years to indicate that our defence requirements will be met once this commission has been wound up. Mr. McEwen also said, in the speech to which I have referred -
The maintenance of flax production is essential as a part of the defence preparations . . .
That point was stressed by speakers on both the Government and Opposition sides during earlier debates on the matter. Mr. McEwen went on to say -
The flax industry must be retained in Australia because flax fibre is an important raw material in the manufacture of equipment for the fighting services …. for which no effective substitute has yet been found.
I should like the Minister for the Navy to indicate, when replying to this debate, whether effective substitutes for flax have been found in the preparation of defence material. We were also told by Mr. McEwen in 1953 that the high cost of production during the early years of the war was due to the price Australia had to pay for its failure to maintain the industry after World War I. to meet defence requirements. As both Senator Scott and Senator McKenna have pointed out, exactly the same position confronts us to-day. Will we have adequate supplies to meet defence requirements if we are faced in the future with the same emergency as confronted us in the past? After World War I., the visionaries were quite certain that it could not happen again, that there had just been a war to end all wars, yet, within a comparatively short space of time, World War II., with all its problems, was upon us and we had to start from well behind scratch in trying to build up the flax industry:
At this juncture, I should like to pay tribute to the men and women who helped to develop the flax industry at that time. In particular, I pay tribute to the Land
Army girls. That is a branch of the women’s services that has received very little recognition over the years despite the fact that it was a very good branch and played a tremendous part in the maintenance of essential primary production during the war and the post-war period. This was especially so in connexion with the flax industry in which these girls had never been called upon to take part previously. I visited them at the flax mills at Boyupbrook and Yarloop and I have a deep appreciation of the valuable work these girls were doing.
At that time, Australia was faced with the problem that our overseas sources of flax supplies had been closed to us. At the request of the British Government, we engaged in flax production. Since the war, countries which have been traditional producers of flax - the Soviet Union, Belgium and Luxembourg in particular - have resumed production and in some instances are producing flax at a price lower than that at which we can produce it here. This is due in some measure to the difference in climate as well as various other factors which make it easier to produce high-quality flax in European countries than it is in Australia. In the southern States - Victoria and South Australia, and in the south-west of Western Australia - we have been able to overcome climatic and other disabilities to a very large extent. At Boyupbrook we have one of the best equipped of all flax mills. Its mechanical equipment is said to be as modern as that of any flax mill of similar size in the world. I think this is due to the foresight of the members of the Blackwood Co-operative Society in going ahead with flax production and developing the industry to the extent that 50 permanent employees are now engaged in the organization, and casual employment is provided for many seasonal workers. That achievement is worthy of commendation. Now these people find themselves up against a very severe problem. As the flax bounty is to be withdrawn, they are wondering what is to happen to the industry. They cannot be expected to carry on at a loss. Yet we all admit that this industry is vital in the realm of defence!
I do not know whether the Government has in view the use of any synthetic fibres in place of flax. If it has, I think the Minister should tell us of the latest developments. We are rather perturbed at the proposal, especially when we remember that after this Government came into office a committee was set up to inquire into the relevant importance of the flax industry to our national life. The Government did set up a committee comprising representatives of the various service departments, the Joint War Production Committee of the Department of Defence, which set out to determine the importance of flax to the defence of Australia. The decision of the Joint War Production Committee was that the flax industry had a high defence significance. Yet to-day we are saying that we will wind up the commission, we will realize on the assets, we will auction or otherwise dispose of these flax mills, without any regard whatever to the purpose for which they are to be used. Whether they are to be broken down and used in pieces, or whether they are just to be sold as they are at public auction, I do not know. The fact is that only two of the present mills are to remain in existence and the question now is just how long they can afford to continue producing flax which we say has not lost its importance as an integral part of our defence requirements.
The Minister has not told us what is our minimum safety requirement in respect of flax. He has not told us what minimum production we can have and still be in a safe position regarding defence needs. I suggest that the Minister should give some attention to these matters when he is replying to the debate. We are called upon to meet here and decide that the commission is to be wound up and that is all about it. The Government has decided, in its wisdom, that the commission shall be disbanded. We can do nothing but support the proposal, although we do so with great reluctance because we feel that there is a future for the flax industry in this country. We regret to see it going out of existence in this way. Honorable senators opposite may say that the sole purpose of the bill is to bring to an end by legislative enactment a commission which was set up by legislative enactment in 1953, and that if people care to go on producing flax they may do so. But we think this primary industry is too vital to be treated in this way. As I see it, this bill is in effect the sounding of the death-knell of the industry.
Another problem is that in the Boyupbrook district of Western Australia there is no other industry which can absorb the workers now employed in the flax industry. Many of those workers have built quite good homes in the district. The size of the mill, and the fact that it has every uptotheminute facility, led the people of the Boyupbrook district to believe that the industry was on a very secure footing, and, for that reason, they were quite willing to invest all their capital in the district. Now they find that their very livelihood is threatened. In addition, if they were to move away from the district they would get next to nothing for the homes they have erected. I feel that the whole proposition has been too hastily conceived. 1 dislike the way in which it has been submitted to Parliament without any alternative suggestions for fostering the industry. It would be too late to do this if war should come, as we hope it never will, or if there were any other national emergency during which we were thrown onto our own resources for the supply of flax. If that happened, then, in the words of the Minister, we should have to pay again a high cost of production as the price of our failure to maintain our flax industry.
T add my voice to that of Senator Scott in appealing once more to the Government to continue the bounty payment to mills which engage in flax production. If this is not done, it will be a tragedy not only for Australian flax producers but also for the Australian public as a whole. In Victorian districts where the flax industry has been carried on, it has been of subsidiary value to producers in other primary industries, because of the research that has been conducted into the feeding of stock. It is noteworthy that since 1954 very little research into the flax industry has been conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. The Flax Commission, in its report for the year 1957-58, deplored the fact that the assistance given by the C.S.I.R.O. in research work had been withdrawn from the industry, which made it very difficult for those persons engaged in the industry to carry on scientifically. They did not have the advantage of the experimentation being conducted by that organization.
Another important point is that the flax industry has saved Australia nearly £500,000 a year in overseas payments. Such factors as these are not taken into consideration when we talk about the profits and losses of the industry. We cannot assess the profits or losses only in terms of pounds, shillings and pence spent in Australia. We must consider the security given to the nation by the industry and the fact that it has saved us much money in overseas payments. This industry has, in time of crisis, proved invaluable to the nation. Quite a number of persons have confidence in it and many depend upon it for their livelihood.
I sincerely trust that we shall be informed whether we shall have in Australia sufficient flax to meet any emergency, and also that we shall be told the minimum amount of flax required for that purpose, whether synthetic fibres have been discovered which will replace flax for defence purposes, and whether the Government will give favorable consideration to the extension of the bounty for the development of the two flax mills which will, we hope, remain in production.
– I have been moved to say a few words on this bill by the question asked by both Senator Scott and Senator Tangney. What is the alternative for Australia in connexion with fibres? Over five years ago, I spoke at some length in this House on the introduction of kenaf into this country. Its production had already been tried in New Guinea and had proved most satisfactory. The climate of Queensland is most satisfactory for it. Kenaf is a universal fibre. It has the advantage that not only can it be used for purposes for which jute, flax and other fibres are used, but also, when it has been retted, the residue can be used, in conjunction with bagasse, for making fine paper pulp. Indeed, experiments carried out overseas show that with the use of 60 per cent, of kenaf residue and 40 per cent, of bagasse - which, as most honorable senators know, is the residue from sugar cane - paper equivalent to that obtained from Canadian spruce can be produced.
When I spoke on this subject about five years ago I asked the Government to have a look at the matter to see what could be done. At that time, the department told me that it knew all about kenaf, which was not worth bothering about. A new method of paper production, known as the hydrotropic method, has been introduced now. I have obtained information from many countries as to the workings of this method. I am speaking on the subject of paper because this is so closely allied to the necessity for a universal fibre in this country and I am trying to show how kenaf can be used in three different ways.
Recently I again made inquiries of a world-wide nature. I found that Mexico, by this new process, using kenaf and bagasse, is turning out over 100 tons of paper pulp a day. Cuba is producing 80 tons a day, and even little Jamaica is turning out 20 tons of first-class paper pulp a day. Although the department said that there was nothing to it, it seems to me that other countries have made something of kenaf. If the Government feels that this is a. matter which should be handled entirely by private enterprise - which, after all, is the policy of the present Government - surely private enterprise should be given some encouragement. The Government can collate information from overseas far more easily than I can as an individual. It can obtain all the particulars about this new process and try to interest private enterprise. The Government established the Australian Whaling Commission and sold the organization when it was a going concern. It is operating a trawler in the Great Australian Bight as a Government venture, to be handed over to private enterprise later on. That sort of thing is good. Information is obtained from the best possible sources. I ask the Government to have another look at this matter, and not merely to say that there is nothing in it, or that the Government cannot do anything because it is a job for private enterprise. There is a perfect alternative to flax in the form of a universal fibre. I rose to ask the Government to have another look at that fibre.
Senator GORTON (Victoria- Minister for the Navy [2.53]. - in reply - I shall go through the points raised during the discussion in the order in which they were raised by the speakers. I preface what I have to say by reminding the Senate again that this bill is not being opposed by the Opposition.
Having examined the bill, the Opposition has not thought fit to oppose it in this place. However, Opposition senators, quite rightly, wanted information on certain points.
The first point I want to clear up is one made by Senator McKenna. He was under the impression that, with the passing of this legislation and the winding up of the Flax Commission, no mills would be left operating in Australia. When I demurred, saying that in. fact the second-reading speech did not say that, he said that he was under the impression that that was the implication, of the second-reading speech. In fact, that is not the position. The mill at Myrtleford in Victoria has been bought by private enterprise, Kinnear and others, and this purchase was made after the decision not to pay a bounty was publicly known. The mill was bought to be carried on as a flax mill. These people believe that they can so carry it on in spite of the fact that no bounty win be paid. I think they regard it as a nucleus for future expansion. So there will be, in fact, some capacity for continuing the flax industry in Australia.
Senator McKenna raised a point which was raised again later by Senator Tangney. It dealt with the need for this fibre for defence purposes. I must say frankly that I do not. know whether some other fibre has been developed to take the place of flax for the purpose of making tents, sewing boots and providing a thread for use in tropical and difficult climates. It is my belief that those responsible for making the recommendations from the defence point, of view would not have considered the finding of an alternative fibre which could take the place of flax to be an important factor. I would think that their minds were running along the lines that, putting aside some holocaust, or atomic war, it was unlikely that any war would be of long duration and that needs of this kind might be better stock-piled, rather than that there should be kept in operation in this country, at public expense, many mills producing a fibre that may never be required, and which we hope will never be required.
– Can it be stock-piled?
– I think so. A further alternative might well have been in the minds of those who considered this question from a defence point of view. In the event of war this country will have to depend on many things brought from overseas, including the most vital of all, which is oil. They may well have had a proper realization and regard for the ability of the Royal Australian Navy to convoy to this country oil, flax and other requirements.
– That presupposes that flax is being produced elsewhere.
– Indeed it does, and the fact is that the flax is being produced elsewhere at the present time.
Senator Scott raised the point of the nonpayment of the bounty to the Boyupbrook Mill in Western Australia and Senator Tangney seconded his remarks. However, 1 should point out to the Senate that the Tariff Board, which went thoroughly into this matter, expressed regret that it could not recommend to the Government that any bounty at all should be paid after 3 1st October, 1960. The board recommended that up to that date only £75 a ton should be paid. This amount was roughly half of what was asked for by the Boyupbrook mill, which said that it needed a payment of about £150 a ton to enable it to even continue operations. If the industry says that it must have a subsidy of £150 a ton indefinitely, and the Tariff Board says that it can recommend only £75 a ton for five or six months, the Government, as governments usually have done, must take notice of this impartial body. It would be a foolhardy government which not only would reject the advice of the Tariff Board but would double indefinitely the bounty which the Tariff Board recommended should be paid for a period of only a few months. Honorable senators who want more details on this matter will find them - and no doubt those who are interested will have already found them - in the report of the Tariff Board itself.
In a most picturesque opening remark Senator Tangney mentioned that we were, as it were, coming to inter the corpse and that there had been no opportunity to offer the industry advice or medicaments during its sickness. At least let it be said that public tenders were called for the disposal of the machinery in these mills and. had any honorable senator any overriding interest at that time in presenting the requirements of this industry to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) he would have had plenty of opportunity, per medium of the public press, to see that tenders had been called for the disposal of the machinery involved in the processing of this product.
One other point comes to my mind. It is a point that was raised by Senator McKenna and one which I had forgotten. He said that the Senate has not had the opportunity to see the prices which were paid for these mills. I believe that the sales were concluded as late as the end of last month. What Senator McKenna has said is true, but before this machinery and these mills were sold valuations were placed upon them by the Department of Works and by others. In all cases the prices which have been received for this machinery were higher than the valuations which were previously placed upon it. Secondly, I can say there will be placed before the Senate, for the most minute scrutiny, criticism and dissection, all the facts relating to the sale of these mills. That will be done under the bill which is before us to-day.
– That will be when the whole thing is a fait accompli.
– That will be when it is a fait accompli but it will give any honorable senator an opportunity to point out whether anything has been done stupidly or wrongly, and it will give honorable senators an opportunity to censure, if they can on the evidence provided - which will be voluminous - the Government on the action which it has taken. It is not usual, and indeed it would be impossible, for any government, whatever its political colour, to conduct public negotiations for the sale of this or that, and state that firm A had offered so much and firm B had offered so much while the negotiations were going on.
Having endeavoured to answer, as well asI can, the points raised by speakers in this debate, I am happy to leave to the unanimous judgment of the Senate - I hope - the motion that this bill be read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– During the course of my second- reading speech I asked the Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton) who is in charge of the bill, whether he could inform the Senate of Australia’s minimum flax requirement per year and whether he had information that that minimum was to be maintained. Can the Minister give me that information?
– I am informed that there is no known figure for a minimum requirement, because out requirements fluctuate very considerably. That is the only answer that I can give to the honorable senator.
– While this bill is at the committee stage, I think it is only right that we should extend to the members of the Flax Commission - to the chairman, Mr. Stevenson; to the deputy chairman, Mr. Dolling; and to Mr. Hogg and Mr. Kentish - our great thanks for the job they have done during the time this commission has been in operation. I think that the public of Australia owes them a debt for the services they have rendered to this country during a very difficult period. At the time when the commission took over the flax industry, conditions were very difficult. These men have not had a very enviable job, but they have carried it out to the very best of their great ability, and I think that the community as a whole owes them a debt of gratitude.
– I would like to support the remarks of Senator Tangney in this matter. I have had a good deal to do with the flax industry in one way or another, as I live within a few miles of one of the very large Australian flax mills, at Mount Gambier. I know personally of the many hours, days and even weeks of work that the gentlemen to whom Senator Tangney made reference have put into the flax industry. However, the result was never in doubt. In view of the way in which the world economy was progressing, unless the industry in Australia was placed on an economic basis it could not go on. These men did all within their power to ensure the orderly handling of flax supplies. As a commission, they gave a lot of their own time to ensuring that weeds in flax crops were kept at the minimum, that the new Australians employed in the mills were happy, and that morale was always high. Much of what was done was due to the quality of the men composing the commission. I would like to pay a personal tribute to Mr. Stevenson, who was a departmental officer at one stage and then became chairman of the commission. I support the remarks that have been made by Senator Tangney in the committee. I regret the passing of this industry, and I hope, as other honorable senators who spoke during the debate at an earlier stage hope, that gainful employment will be available for the former employees of the commission. I hope also that if an emergency occurs again and we need quickly to revive the flax industry, the services of these men and these commissioners, who have given so much devoted attention to this work, will not be lost.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 31st March (vide page 399), on motion by Senator Gorton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The purposes of this bill are to enable the Australian Meat Board, a statutory authority, to engage in any advertising campaigns necessary for the purpose of promoting sales of meat in Australia, and to amend the principal act to provide that the Meat Industry Trust Account can be easily administered by the Minister for Primary Industry. When you examine the legislation, you come to the conclusion that when the Meat Export Control Act was originated in the Parliament, it was never contemplated that it would be necessary to promote the sale of meat within Australia. We are recognized as a meat-eating people. We should not need any encouragement, by way of advertisements or special concessions, to eat meat.
When I see legislation of this kind going through the Parliament, I ask myself why it is necessary. Looking under the surface, I have found that it would appear that some difficulty has been experienced by the Australian Meat Board in disposing of all the lamb available for sale. As I come from a sub-tropical climate, I can understand that. I do not know of a more distasteful dish than a fat lamb chop placed on the breakfast table.
– The honorable senator is speaking for people in the tropics.
– I speak as one who comes from a sub-tropical climate, and I am expressing the opinion of many other Australians. There is the economic feature, too. We cannot discard that entirely. When lamb or mutton prices reach a high level, lamb is a poor buying proposition if it is extremely fat, because by the time you have cut reams of fat away, you find that you have very little meat left to eat. I say that only in passing.
If we have a look at the information that is made available to us in respect to the consumption of meat in Australia, we find that we are commencing to eat less meat than previously. As a matter of fact, last year we consumed 2.7 lb. of meat less per head of the Australian population than in the previous year. I know that the price factor has to be considered when we are dealing with the apparent consumption of meat per head of population in Australia over any particular period. It is rather interesting to note that last year less beef and veal was eaten than in the previous year, but more mutton was eaten than in the previous year. Last year, 2.4 lb. more lamb was eaten per head of the population than in the year 1957-58. In that year, the total quantity of meat eaten per head of the population was 215.7 lb., while last year the figure was 213 lb. That is only by the way, Mr. Acting Deputy President. The Government has deemed it necessary to make this fund available to the Australian Meat Board. The Minister may approve of sums being spent in the future, on advice submitted to him by the Australian Meat Board, to promote the sale of meat in Australia. We do not oppose the bill.
Senator MCKELLAR (New South Wales) p. 15]. - I have much pleasure in supporting the bill. As was explained by the Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton) in his secondreading speech, and by Senator Benn, the purpose of the bill is to promote the sale of meat within Australia. This was not possible under the set-up of the previous fund. In Australia for the last twelve or eighteen months we have had a surplus of fat lamb meat and the need for export markets has arisen. The Australian Meat Board has done everything possible, under its present limited powers, to promote the sale of lamb overseas and it has met with a measure of success. Unfortunately, in America, which is a great potential market if we can crack it, lamb meat is not looked upon with any favour. 1 understand that in America lamb is very different from lamb as we know it in Australia. Lamb in America is very much heavier and fatter than lamb in Australia. The usual practice, I understand, is to cook the meat in large slabs, somewhat like thick steaks, which does not put the meat into its best condition for eating. We must educate the Americans to eat lamb as we eat it here. If that can be done - I have no doubt that it can and will be done - we can look forward to much greater sales of our lamb in America.
One of our troubles in this country is brought about by high costs. The cost of running lambs as a side line has risen greatly in recent years and producers who are 300 miles from a market must pay about 10s. a head in freight and selling charges. That does not take into account losses, and sometimes unavoidable losses do occur in transit.
This bill has the support of the Australian Meat Board. The board, under the chairmanship of Mr. J. L. Shute, has been very active in promoting the sale of our meat and it gives this bill its blessing.
For the last nine or twelve months the raising of cattle has been very lucrative for Australian producers. Unfortunately, for the past six or nine months we have had dry weather in the cattle-producing areas of Australia where something like 12,000,000 head of cattle are raised. Queensland is the main cattle-producing State with New South Wales running second. A period of high prices for cattle has enabled producers to cull many of their poorer types of cattle and this has been done with very great advantage to the industry. Fears have been expressed that in many cases breeders have been sacrificed. Perhaps to a certain extent that has been so, but I do not think that our breeders have been sold in sufficiently large numbers for the continuance of cattle production in this country to be endangered. Much of the demand for Australian cattle has been brought about because America has ceased to import cattle from Argentina. One thing that we must guard against in this country is the introduction of the disease known as blue tongue. That disease may be brought into the country by cattle and ruminants and I understand that if the disease were to get a foothold here it would probably decimate our sheep population almost as quickly as myxomatosis decimated the rabbit population. We have heard some grumblings about the strictures that have been placed on the importation of cattle from overseas, particularly breeding cattle, but I think that those strictures have been in the interests of the producers and of Australia as a whole.
One of the difficulties with cattle raising is that you cannot run as many cattle as sheep on a given acreage. Speaking of unimproved pasture country, land that would carry one sheep to the acre would carry only one head of cattle to every seven or eight acres.
– Then they would die of starvation.
– I do not think so - at least, not in New South Wales. There is one bright aspect so far as cattle are concerned. In the past eighteen months a great deal has been learned about a plant commonly known as sorghum almum, sometimes referred to as Colombia grass. This plant is very drought resistant and grows well on heavy soils. It is a perennial and in many cases land on which it is grown will carry from four to seven beasts to the acre. Sheep also like it and producers of sheep and cattle should pay careful attention to the possibilities of this plant, f do not know the extent to which it has spread throughout Australia, but in New South Wales, particularly in the north-western and central districts, it is spreading very rapidly. To-day many sheep and cattle men are planting it with a view to making further experiments with it.
During the last twelve months the retail price of beef has reached very high levels. Unfortunately, the retail price of lamb has also been high. But whereas the price of beef on the hoof has been high, the price of Iamb on the hoof has been low. Apparently the wholesale and retail meat trade thought that the only thing to do was to recoup on lamb the profits that could not be made on beef because of its high cost. Indeed, the butcher with whom I deal in my own locality - he is a very good one - seems to charge just as much per pound for a leg of lamb as for a joint of beef.
One thing that has helped to stop the price of meat going even higher is the fact that the price of hides has also been higher than it was a few years ago. A beast weighing between 500 lb. and 550 lb. will give a hide weighing between 50 lb. and 55 lb. and worth about £5 or £6, which is quite a contribution towards the cost of the beast. In Sydney, at any rate, there has been a tendency for big wholesale and retail meat firms to take over small meatselling businesses. I was told only recently that one of the big meat companies controlled about 60 shops in the Sydney metropolitan area. As a result of such take-overs, the big meat companies are in a position to exercise an increasing degree of control over retail meat prices.
One of the problems facing the meat industry to-day is that young men who go on the land have difficulty in financing the purchase of their properties. There seems to be a tendency these days for banks to get right away from the old-time, long-term system of lending. They now look for short-term business, with provision for the repayment of a considerable portion of advances in a comparatively short space of time. Such business arrangements are not equitable to primary producers, nor are they sensible, because they impose conditions that cannot be fulfilled in ordinary circumstances. Over a period of years, primary producers usually experience several good seasons; then the pendulum swings and there are dry years, sometimes accompanied by falling prices for primary products. In such circumstances, it is difficult for primary producers to pay off sizable portions of their mortgages. That position must be corrected. I do not know how it can be done, but nevertheless we must consider the matter, for the sake not only of our primary industries but also that of Australia as a whole, because we shall all suffer if our primary industries are adversely affected.
Recently, in this Parliament we heard a great deal about lot-splitting in regard to wool sales. In that connexion the practice is more commonly referred to as the formation of pies. 1 should say that lotsplitting occurs at every country auction sale of stock. 1 know that there is a law for the ostensible purpose of preventing it, but it seems that it is impossible to police the law efficiently in this respect. I attended a stock sale in a very large country centre in New South Wales twelve months or eighteen months ago, and I was amazed to see that, when a certain man had cattle knocked down to him, the auctioneer would ask him, “ Who will we charge them to?” Apparently, that man was bidding for four or five fairly large wholesale butchers.
– That is not unusual. lt has been going on for years.
– Yes, 1 know that it has been going on for years. 1 am merely saying that it operates to the disadvantage of the producer, lt has been said that action should be taken to prevent the same kind of thing happening in regard to the sale of wool, but of course it is very difficult to control. People who have engaged in this practice have told me something of what goes on. In fact, it was not necessary for them to tell me that they had engaged in lot-splitting, because it was quite evident that they had done so. One such man said to me, “ I was asked how many cattle I wanted out of certain yards “. We all know that the practice is wrong, but it is not easily corrected.
The high prices that have been received for cattle, to which I referred earlier, have brought in their train a few headaches. A number of people, mainly speculators, have bought stock at various country sales. They have paid for the first few lots they have bought and then run up a fairly large account with agents. Because the purchasers have not had sufficient funds, the agents and the sellers have been left lamenting. That has happened, despite all the safeguards that the stock and station agents employ, and despite the fact that inquiries about the credentials of such people were previously made. If a man intends to welsh on his commitments, it is very difficult to prevent people from being seriously hurt.
As we know, Mr. Acting Deputy President, several shipments of Australian lambs have been sent overseas in “ Delfino “. Considerable publicity has been given to the shipments, some of it of an adverse nature. It has been rather difficult to ascertain the extent of the losses incurred during the voyage, because the various interests concerned have given different figures. However, it appears that it is a practical proposition to export lambs in this way. The shipments were a pioneering venture that could be of considerable advantage to Australia. 1 was told recently by a man who had been connected with the meat trade for many years, that even in America those in the meat industry have their headaches. He told me of a very large American meat company that had not paid a dividend for twenty years. Apparently, American shareholders art; far more patient than Australian shareholders would be in similar circumstances.
Other bills dealing with the meat industry are shortly to come before the Senate, and as I propose to speak during the passage of those bills, I shall conclude my remarks on the measure before us by commending it and also the Government for having brought it forward.
.- No doubt my friends of the Australian Country Party are eager to say something in regard to this measure, but perhaps my comments will be different from those of honorable senators opposite. We on this side of the chamber have always supported measures which have sought to advance our primary industries, and we are behind the measure before us now because we hope that, as a result of the powers of the Australian Meat Board being increased, the board may be able to restore the meat industry to the position that it occupied until quite recently.
Senator Benn, in his remarks, directed attention to the surprising fact that, in this day and age, it should be necessary for the Commonwealth Parliament to pass a measure to allow funds to be used to promote the sale of meat in this country. Australia has always been known as one of the greatest meat-eating countries of the world. What has happened that we are no longer great meat eaters? Is it because the propaganda of 4he vegetarians is having an effect, and we are becoming vegetarians? The Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton), in his second-reading speech, stated that the fat lamb industry had had a bad season, due to drought and to economic conditions in the United Kingdom, which is one of our best customers. I feel, however, that there is some other reason for the present situation in the meat industry. The plain fact is that we are pricing ourselves out of the local market. That is the real crux of the situation. The Australian housewife is unable to purchase the meat that is available because of the limited income she is receiving. Persons dependent on social service payments have to curtail their spending on meat for similar reasons. If a person wants a chop for his breakfast, there is no need for a compelling advertisement extolling the values of lamb, mutton, or, for that matter, beef, to induce him to buy it. He will buy his chop if he has the money. If the price is so high that he cannot afford it, he has to go without. Instead of eating meat on seven days of the week, he may be forced to eat meat on fewer days.
Senator Benn and I come from different parts of Australia. I live in the temperate zone of Victoria. It is a very good State, and we produce some fine fat lambs and excellent beef, notwithstanding the fact that Queensland and New South Wales may have greater numbers of cattle or sheep. I am sure that the people would eat our meat if they were able to purchase it.
There is one point I would like to make when referring to the promotion of sales of lamb. At one time we looked forward to the advent of spring, because then we could obtain spring lamb. All the retail butchers would display advertisements indicating that spring lamb was available. This practice seems to have gone out of fashion. Lamb - or, at least, meat that is alleged to be lamb - is available at all times of the year. I do not know whether the change is due to the fact that with new methods lambs are being bred at various times of the year throughout Australia, and are coming on to the market at different times. But some of them are pretty big lambs, so big, in fact, that one can hardly tell whether the meat is mutton or lamb. If the sheep have been slaughtered at a municipal abattoirs, one can examine a carcass and tell whether it is mutton or lamb from the way in which it is stamped. But the stamp usually appears on only one-quarter of the animal, and it is only meat from this quarter that can be accepted at its face value. Trade practices that have sprung up in recent years should be given some attention, so that purchasers may again be confident that when they purchase lamb they are getting lamb and not mutton. That is a matter which could be investigated by the proposed sales promotion authority.
Senator McKellar made reference to retail monopolies that have grown up. I agree that the retail trade, not so much in the country districts but more particularly in the cities, is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. In this way it has become possible to establish fixed prices in great numbers of retail shops. This is another matter that should be given some consideration by those who will be entrusted with sales promotion.
I do not believe that the great need is for advertising. The meat that is presented for sale is quite all right. I agree that it is not as good, generally speaking, as it was years ago, when one was able to purchase spring lamb, but I do not know what can be done about that aspect of the problem. However, if people want meat and can afford it they will buy it.
We were told recently that the price of lamb had to be increased by retailers to make up for the losses they were incurring on the sales of beef. We were told - and I believe, with a good deal of truth - that American buyers had made great inroads on the Australian market, that they had been buying all kinds of beef for the American trade, particularly for making hamburger steak, and that it was becoming unprofitable for retail butchers to buy beef for sale on the local market. One can appreciate this argument when one hears the prices that are obtained for live stock at the various sales, both in the country and in the metropolitan areas. We were told that the demands of the American trade had forced up the price of beef, and that retailers had to make up their losses on beef by increasing the price of Iamb. At least this was the excuse given to housewives when they remarked on the difference between the price of lamb on the wholesale market and the prices being charged by butchers over the counter. I do not know whether or not that was a legitimate excuse. I believe that this is tied up with the growth of monopolies in the meat trade. We should be able to find out whether prices being charged in retail shops are fair and reasonable and are sufficient to ensure retailers fair and reasonable profits. This is another matter that should be investigated. 1 know it is not of much use to talk to our friends opposite about prices control. We have been told on many occasions that prices will find their own level. Unfortunately in this case prices are finding a level which is detrimental to both consumer and producer, and also, to a certain extent, to the middleman.
The Government says it is now going to try to improve the position. Previously it was thought that we had to popularize Australian meat only on the overseas market. There is no doubt that it was necessary to popularize our meat on that market. I know that United Kingdom buyers have not been too keen on Australian mutton, because of the fact that certain glands were not removed from the carcasses in this country. I also know that they were afraid to purchase Australian beef because the carcasses were too big. The joints were too large for United Kingdom consumers. It may be that we are now exporting more of the lighter stuff than we did ten or fifteen years ago, during the war and immediately after it. Possibly the market is now in a better position.
A question that should be examined very closely is this: Why is it that in this country, which has been renowned as a meat-eating country, we must now devise methods of popularizing our own meat on the home market? I suggest that this committee has a duty to investigate the whole of the ramifications of the industry in seeking to promote the sale of meat in Australia. If, by the passage of this legislation to permit the use of certain funds which have accumulated over the years, and which previous legislation has prevented from being used in Australia, the consumption of meat in this country is increased, so much the better for those producers who depend upon meat to provide a considerable proportion of their income.
We support the bill and hope that the Government and those responsible appreciate the difficulties confronting the industry. We hope that they will make a thorough investigation with a view to ascertaining where the trouble lies. Is it because the purchasing power of the people of Australia is so low that they cannot afford meat and are looking for something cheaper?
– I support the bill. It is a very simple measure, lt seeks to enable the Australian Meat Board to use certain accumulated moneys for the promotion of the sale of meat in Australia. The Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton) stated its purposes very clearly in his second-reading speech. Before proceeding further, I should like to reply to Senator Sheehan’s suggestion that Australia is not a great meat-eating country.
– I said the opposite. I said that Australia is a great meat-eating country and I asked why we are changing our habits.
– The main purpose of the bill is to promote the sale of lamb, r.ot beef. Senator Sheehan suggested that pensioners and others could not afford beef. That is not so. The fact is that despite the high, indeed record prices, of beef here and overseas, the purchaser still prefers beef to the cheaper mutton, and he has the right to choose his meat. Australia is the second largest meat consumer in the world, the largest being Uruguay in South America. Meat consumption in Australia is something like 250 lb. a head a year. 1 understand that the previous highest figure was 228 lb. a year.
The moneys in question amount to approximately £450,000. They are to be made available for increasing the sale of meat in Australia. Their accumulation has been due mainly to war-time contracts with the United Kingdom government. Under the original act, the moneys to the credit of this fund could be used only for promoting the sale of meat overseas. The bill under consideration seeks to amend that act and to enable the Australian Meat Board to utilize the money for the promotion of the sale of meat within Australia. Really, it seeks to promote the sale of lamb at the moment. Tt deals with moneys to the credit of the Meat Industry Advancement Trust Account, which is administered by thu Australian Meat Board. At the moment, the board cannot use those moneys for the promotion of the sale of meat in Australia.
It is interesting to note how the Australian Meat Board came into existence. It was established really as the result of a conference between representatives of Great Britain and the Dominions in 1932 at what was then known as the Empire Meat Council. That council decided to set up in each Dominion a board for the control of the sale of meat so that it would have some definite body with which to deal in the Dominions. The Australian Meat Board was established in 1935. It has carried on ever since and has experienced many difficulties, including war-time conditions.
In 1946, the membership of the board was re-organized. Prior to that, the industry had seven representatives. I understand that the lamb producers had three representatives, the beef producers two representatives and the mutton and pig producers one representative each. There were two representatives of abattoirs and one representative of the employees. The Commonwealth Government had one representative who acted as chairman. He was Mr. J. L. Shute, who is not a public servant. He received a salary from the Commonwealth to act as the chairman. The only other salaried member on the board was the employees’ representative.
Since the re-organization of the board in 1946 beef exports have increased considerably, and for that reason the beef producers claimed that they should have greater representation on the board. Whether the beef representation has been increased yet, I do not know. If it has not been, no doubt it will be in the very near future. This board has had the same regulatory and trade finance functions as were given to the Australian Dairy Produce Board and the Commonwealth Dried Fruits Control Board which were established a decade earlier. It supervises exports and finances research, etc. Since 1952, its major task has been to administer the fifteen-year meat contract with the United Kingdom. That alone has been a very onerous and full-time task. I do not know the board’s present income, but it was £138,000 in 1955. No doubt it is much higher now. It is also interesting to know that the board’s assets are worth over £1,000,000. The board has purchased two very fine cattle properties which are used at present by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization for genetic and pasture research purposes. It also conducts competitions in the development of types of meat required for the United Kingdom market.
Meat production is one of Australia’s largest and most colourful industries. The industry produces 1,500,000 tons of meat annually. Of that amount, 75 per cent, is consumed in Australia. That 75 per cent, is made up of 6,000,000 cattle, 27,000,000 sheep and lambs and 2,000,000 pigs. Most of the exportable surplus still goes to the United Kingdom, which, although it produces more meat than Australia, is still the largest importer of meat in the world. In spite of Australia’s large sheep population, its mutton and Iamb exports comprise only about 25 per cent, of the total meat exports. As we know, mutton is regarded almost as a by-product of the wool industry, with its availability moving in inverse ratio to the movement of wool prices. When wool prices are high, mutton production is low. The higher the price of wool, the lower is the production of mutton.
Queensland is our main beef-producing State. A preliminary survey has shown that beef cattle numbers reached the record total of 16,000,000 in 1959, and the numbers are steadily increasing. Sheep numbered about 152,000,000, which was also a record level. The number of pigs, which has decreased, stood at about 1,300,000. I remember that about 20 years ago there were well over 2,000,000 pigs in Australia, so pig production has fallen below pre-war levels. The value of exports of all kind’s of meat, including canned meat, exceeded £58,000,000 in 1957-58, and in 1959 it had increased to the very considerable sum of £97.000,000. According to the latest statistics, Australians are still consuming 215 lb. of meat a head a year, which is very little below the record established some few years ago.
It is well known that fat lamb producers have had a very bad time during the last twelve months, owing to the very low prices operating in our principal market. the United Kingdom. It is necessary, therefore, to develop the local market - to popularize and boost lamb sales in Australia. The Australian market, in my opinion, is undoubtedly our best outlet for primary products, and this market should be utilized to the fullest possible extent. I believe that a well-conducted and sustained marketing campaign will have a very satisfactory result for the producer. An improvement in local prices of lamb will, I think, have the effect of stabilizing and establishing high prices for lamb overseas. We cannot expect to sell overseas at a reasonable price, let alone a high price, a product we produce at a low price. Our exportable surplus of meat still goes mainly to the United Kingdom, although last year there was a considerable increase in our beef exports to the United States of America. With the population of Australia increasing at the rate of about 250,000 a year, unless we increase our production it will not be very long - perhaps 1965 or 1970 - before we shall be in the position that we shall have no surplus meat to export to the United Kingdom or America.
If the Australian Meat Board expends this £450,000, and works in concert with the New South Wales pilot scheme, which has proved a very great success, no doubt prices and markets overseas will improve. Surely there is nothing better in quality than spring lamb, lt seems strange, as I said before, that with an all-time record price for beef in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and with beef prices so high in Australia, the Australian public should still be buying more beef than one would expect, considering the very low price of mutton. The fact is that the Australian people are in a position to buy beef, a higher-priced product, instead of mutton and lamb. Therefore, I think that a campaign to increase the sales of lamb in Australia will be successful and will be of very great benefit to the industry. I have great pleasure in supporting the bill.
– in reply - I wish merely to express, in a very few words, my pleasure that this bill is going through without opposition, and to reinforce one facet of the remarks made by Senator Wardlaw in reply to Senator Sheehan’s statement that the people of this country have insufficient money with which to buy meat. I think the best way in which I can refute that statement - though I may repeat what Senator Wardlaw said - is by reading this explanation of the need to promote the sale of mutton and lamb in Australia -
A strange circumstance exists in this country. With the price of beef at an all-time record high, one would think that the public would be buying increasing quantities of fat lambs, but that has not been the case.
That indicates that it is not the price that stops the public from buying lambs, and that therefore promotion may well have a satisfactory effect. The passage I have read is from a speech made by Mr. Pollard in the House of Representatives.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 27th April (vide page 601), on motion by Senator Gorton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- There are three related bills on this subject, and I propose to take them together. The first has as its purpose the imposing of a levy on the slaughter of cattle for human consumption. It is a simple bill, setting out clearly what the levy will be. The maximum amount will be 2s. a head. The levy will apply only in certain cases. Cattle weighing under 200 lb. will be exempt, and persons slaughtering ten head or fewer a month will not have to pay the levy. That is perhaps all that can be said about the first bill.
The second bill provides for the collection of the levy. I have not examined the Constitution to satisfy myself as to the Commonwealth’s powers to impose a levy upon the slaughter of cattle and collect it from people conducting abattoirs and from other slaughterers. I have no doubt, however, that the Government has investigated that matter and has satisfied itself that it has the constitutional power.
The first two bills are of a minor nature. It is the third that is of national importance. The heart of this bill is to be found in clause 6; and in order to make quite clear what the purpose of the measure really is, I propose to read the clause. It states -
Subject to the next succeeding sub-section, moneys standing to the credit of the Research Account may, with the approval of the Minister, be expended for the following purposes: -
The research account will be a trust account established under the first two bills to which I have referred. Clause 6 continues -
To illustrate the importance of this legislation to Queensland I would point out that the average annual value of Queensland’s exports is £162,000,000. Meat products account for 17½ per cent. of that total. That, in itself, is sufficient to impress the Senate with the importance of doing something - no matter what it is - to extend the cattle industry in Queensland. Let me further mention that the total value of recorded production in Queensland in 1956- 57 was £424,000,000 and that meat production amounted to 1 1 per cent. of that total. The sugar industry had only 9 per cent. of the total production. From what I have said it will be plainly seen that the cattle industry is very important to Queensland. Some thousands of persons are employed in the slaughtering and pastoral industries.
The clause of the bill I quoted earlier indicates that it is proposed to carry out scientific, economic and technical research. There is scope for all of that research to be carried out within the Commonwealth, and particularly in Queensland. The raising of cattle presents definite problems. This is particularly so in Queensland. Growers have introduced new breeds of cattle with a fair amount of success. They have introduced the Santa Gertrudis breed and also the zebu strain and have experimented over the years to obtain a good beef-producing type of bullock. Some cattle breeders have met with a fair amount of success, but of course all cattle growers have had to face the problem of ticks and buffalo fly as well as diseases which are experienced in other parts of Australia.
Some time ago I examined the Estimates, the financial statement of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and other documents in order to ascertain for myself just what is being done at the present time in an attempt to deal with these problems. This embraces the scientific, economic and technical research side of the cattle industry. I found that a fair amount of duplication has taken place. I mention this to the Senate because something will have to be done in the very near future to streamline our research procedures. The Commonwealth itself may have to conduct all the research and then take some action - I do not know what it could do - to force the States to implement the findings. It is obvious that we are going to embark on a programme of research and that we will arrive at certain conclusions, but it is not clear what will be done after those conclusions have been reached. Unless the States co-operate fully our research will be futile. lt is proposed to collect a sum of money from the cattle industry. The Opposition has no objection to the cattle industry paying 2s. a head provided the 2s. is not woven into the cost structure of the industry with the result that the consumers in the end will be required to pay that amount. There is a possibility of that, but the fund will be there and it will be augmented by the Commonwealth Government. It will be administered by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) on the advice of the Australian Meat Board. The type of work that will be performed is clearly set out. First of all, the levy has to be collected and paid into the Treasury. Then the Minister will have the advice of men of experience so far as business is concerned - men who know exactly what is happening in the cattle-growing industry throughout the Commonwealth. 1 come now to the matter of research. According to the reports of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, that body is carrying out a fair amount of research at the present time. For the benefit of any honorable senators who have not had an opportunity to examine these reports, I mention that at page 58 of the eleventh annual report by the C.S.LR.O. covering the year 1959, this passage appears -
Cattle grazing is complementary to the raising of sheep in many of Australia’s abundant pastoral areas, and production from cattle is second only lo that from sheep in importance to the rural economy. The Organization aims to apply research to benefit the cattle industry in every way possible.
Current investigation includes: elimination of loss from disease in both beef and dairy cattle; improvement of nutrition by development of sown pastures; better management of natural pasture; and development of systems of breeding designed to evolve more productive beef and dairy types for northern Australian conditions.
I should like to mention in passing that only last week I travelled over an area of Queensland known as the Atherton Tableland, which comprises some of the very best grazing land in that State - or in Australia, for that matter. I saw a paddock that was rapidly becoming overgrown with a tree. I asked for advice about it and I was told that the plant that was growing there was known locally as the wild tobacco plant. I was given a sample of the plant, which I now show to the Minister.
– Has it been fumigated?
– If this plant is left alone to grow, it will exclude everything else. I saw some hundreds of acres of land on the Atherton Tableland on which this plant was growing. I brought this sample with me as I knew that this legislation would be coming before the Senate. The plant is one of the pests of north Queensland. I do not want the Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton) to be alarmed about my bringing it into the Australian Capital Territory, and I assure him that there will be no shortage of these plants here in the future because I have already planted the seeds around Parliament House, so that in the future we will have an ample supply of these plants to pass on to the C.S.l.R.O. for investigation.
Nearly every State has its own pet pest, and this plant is flourishing in north Queensland at the present time. It grows to a height of 8 feet or 9 feet. In time, I think it will spread up there as the prickly pear has spread in other parts of Queensland. Generally speaking, the graziers like their land to be cleared at a very cheap rate. They were in great glee when the cactoblastis was introduced in Queensland to clear the prickly pear off the land within a very short space of time, but so far as the wild tobacco plant is concerned, I am afraid it is a job for machinery or poison. I now pass this sample over to you, Mr. Minister, and I hope that you will send it along to the these plants to pass on to the C.S.l.R.O. for investigation.
– I think that the honorable senator had better do that himself, as it might have downy mildew on it. I will leave that to him to do.
– I cannot even give it away! I come now to cattle diseases, which have already been the subject of research by the C.S.l.R.O. Already the Division of Animal Health and Production has carried out research at its animal health laboratory in Melbourne into pleuro-pneumonia of cattle, infertility in cattle, virus diseases of cattle and internal parasites, and has made studies of the nodular worm and various other things. The problem of the cattle tick is another matter that has been investigated by the C.S.l.R.O. I have before me a couple of publications that have been produced on the subject. One is by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, dealing with the economic loss to the Commonwealth as a result of the cattle tick. 1 have ascertained from this production, “ The Economic Importance of Cattle Tick in Australia “, that Australia loses £10,000,000 annually from the depredations of the cattle tick. When I set out to stress the importance of research and what might be done as the result of research, I had in mind the loss to the Commonwealth through the cattle tick. I commend another booklet to any honorable senator who is interested in the subject. It sets out how the cattle tick is bred, how it spreads, how it attaches itself to cattle, and how it finally kills them.
We are dealing with a loss of at least £10,000,000 per annum. If there is collected from the cattle-growers a sum of £500,000 per annum with which research is carried out that leads to the total destruction of the -cattle tick, the Commonwealth will derive a benefit of much more than £10,000,000 - the amount of the annual loss at the present time. It is very difficult to assess the full benefit that would be derived, because many of the cattle that are destroyed by the tick are breeders. But for the tick, we should have many more cattle than we have.
Still dealing with research, I notice that work is being carried out under the direction of the Director-General of Health at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. I have before me the biennial report of the DirectorGeneral of Health, which contains this passage at page 106 -
Veterinary Products Section: During August, 1956, this section was divided into two subsections, one dealing with production of veterinary viral and bacterial vaccines and immune plasma, and the other with animal management.
Production activities of the Veterinary Products sub-section included the expanded production of cattle, sheep, dog and poultry vaccines. A number of vaccines were converted to tank growth, and purchase of further equipment for this facility initiated.
When we examine the report of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, we find that there is a group of officers there dealing with work that is evidently carried out also by officers of the C.S.l.R.O. While I am saying this, 1 am conscious of the fact that there may be officers of the C.S.l.R.O. operating at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and that I may be referring to the one group of officers, not two. If we turn to the Estimates for the year ending 30th June, 1960, we find that provision was made for officers in the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. There provision is made for a staff of 49 including the Principal Veterinary Consultant, senior consultants, section consultants, veterinary officers, research officer and others. The sum of £106,178 has been provided from Consolidated Revenue for their salaries. Provision has also been made for 78 biochemists and cadet bio-chemists and a sum of £97,731 has been provided for their salaries. A further 47 supervisors and laboratory assistants have been provided for with salaries amounting to £45,882. In a country like Australia those sums are quite infinitesimal having regard to the great volume of work that must be carried out for the benefit of the country. If we also examine the records of the State agriculture and stock departments we will find that those departments are engaged in similar work. I know that at the animal health station known as “ Yerongpilly “ the officers of the Agriculture and Stock Department work alongside officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, exchanging ideas in a congenial and friendly way.
I think a committee should be established to streamline all the research work that is being done. Under this bill a fund is to be established to provide money for the purposes I mentioned earlier in my speech. Action must be taken to see that the work that is financed from the fund is not duplicated by any other research authority in the Commonwealth. If you appoint special research officers to carry out complete research into cattle-raising, you do not want to duplicate the work that is already being carried out by the C.S.l.R.O. or officers of the State agriculture and stock departments. Let us have one body that will concentrate on essential work.
As I pointed out earlier, the trust account will be administered by the Minister for
Primary Industry. The fund will be kept at the Treasury and the Minister will be able to see whether the research work proposed to be undertaken can be financed. At some later stage it may be necessary to increase the amount of the levy in order to finance the project.
The Australian Labour Party does not oppose the bill in any way. It approves of it, but in the committee stage the Opposition proposes to move an amendment to improve the bill. We know that the future holds great possibilities for our cattle industry. An examination of cattle prices in Australia over recent years shows that the industry is gold-lined. To illustrate my point, in 1956-57 ox beef weighing between 650 lb. and 700 lb., first and second export quality, brought an average price of 122s. per 100 lb. in Brisbane. In 1957-58 the price had risen to 146s. per 100 lb. In 1958-59 the same quality beef brought an average price of 173s. per 100 lb. That was an increase of 51s. per 100 lb. between 1956-57 and 1958-59. From 1957-58 to 1958-59 the increase was 27s.
I turn now to the price of cow beef, first and second quality. The average price in 1956- 57 was 106s. 9d. per 100 lb. In 1957- 58 the price had risen to 129s. and in 1958- 59 the price had again risen to 159s. per 100 lb. That was an increase from 1956-57 to 1958-59 of almost 53s. The increase between 1957-58 and 1958-59 was 30s. per 100 lb. As we go down the scale we come to third quality beef prices. These prices are for third quality bullocks. The average price in 1956-57 was 110s. per 100 lb., but in 1958-59 it rose to 190s.- an increase of 80s. per 100 lb. That was a very substantial increase.
Earlier to-day we were discussing the necessity for advertising in Australia in order to boost sales of lamb and other meat. Perhaps if we could reduce meat prices by at least 50 per cent. we would not need to incur expenditure in advertising meat in Australia in order to dispose of our surplus stocks.
As I. have already indicated, in the committee stage we will move an amendment to the bill.
– I support the three bills that have been introduced - the Cattle Slaughter Levy
Bill, the Cattle and Beef Research Bill and the Cattle Slaughter Levy Collection Bill. I am particularly interested in the measure that deals with cattle and beef research. At present Australia is raising about 12,000,000 beef cattle and we can anticipate that by 1975 our population will have reached 14,000,000 people, who will require an extra 250,000 tons of beef annually. If that extra quantity of beef is to be provided we must increase our beef herds by up to 5,000,000 cattle. It would appear that most of these beef cattle will have to be produced in the northern areas of Australia, and they can be produced there. The money that is collected from the levy of 2s. per head on cattle weighing more than 200 lb. when they are killed will be spent on research in the beef industry. The total amount collected is expected to be about £320,000 a year. That sum will be supplemented by an equivalent amount, on a £1 for £1 basis, from the Commonwealth Government, so that altogether we may expect that between £600,000 and £700,000 will be spent on beef research.
In recent years, we have seen in northern Australia droughts which have lasted, in some cases, for more than twelve months, during which great numbers of cattle have become too poor to be driven out of the drought-stricken areas and consequently have died. It is estimated that in the drought that occurred three or four years ago in the north-west and Kimberleys areas of Western Australia, and the Northern Territory, of the estimated 1,500,000 cattle in those areas about 500,000 head were lost. Within the last two years we have had serious droughts in south-western Queensland and in the south-east of the Northern Territory, and a further 250,000 cattle have died. I say, therefore, that the Government would be wise to direct the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to carry out, perhaps with the collaboration of State Departments of Agriculture, further surveys with a view to seeing what could be done to develop the cattle industry in the northern areas of Australia, so that our cattle herds might be saved from the ravages of drought and their numbers increased.
I have read fairly widely on this subject of cattle industry research. Recently, an association of representatives of various organizations in the eastern States was formed with the idea of promoting the construction of a road from Bourke to Mount lsa, so that in time of drought cattle could be brought from the northern areas of Western Australia, the Kimberleys and northern Queensland, to Bourke, and then railed to areas in New South Wales or Victoria. That proposition has been supported by many organizations, and it is believed that if it could be carried to a successful conclusion, with the assistance of the Commonwealth Government, it would be of great benefit to the cattle industry of northern Australia.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable senator says, “ Hear, hear! “ because he wants to see more cattle come down to New South Wales and to Victoria, but if he took a broad national view he would appreciate that it is necessary for this Government, in conjunction with the Governments of Queensland and Western Australia, and the Administration of the Northern Territory, to develop our northern areas so that they could support a greater population, not only of cattle but also of people.
Those who have studied the results of the research that has been carried out in northern Australia will know that, with proper development, there would be sufficient country in the higher rainfall areas to carry as many stock as those that died during the recent droughts.
– But would there be transport?
– That would1 not be necessary, because the areas would be adjacent to those in which the droughts occurred. Instead of having to go south, the stock would need to travel only a few miles. Let us consider the work that has been carried out by the research station at Katherine for instance. In that region there is an area known as the Tippera Plain, extending for some 60 or 70 miles in length, and of a width of from 1 0 to 20 miles, with an annual rainfall of 36 inches.
– When does the rain fall?
– From the end of October until the beginning of April. Without irrigation, that area, in its normal state, could carry one beast to ten or fifteen acre9. The research station has investigated the possibility of introducing pastures there, and the experiments that have been undertaken show that it would be possible to grow grain sorghum, bulrush millet, sudan grass, cow peas, buffel grass, birdwood grass, and Townsville lucerne. From an agricultural point of view, peanuts and seed cotton could also be grown successfully. As a byproduct of peanut cultivation, peanut oil could be obtained and sold. The roughage could’ be used for cattle feed. The refuse from the peanut oil could be made into peanut meal and fed to the cattle. The same could be done with seed cotton. Seed cotton meal, containing a very high degree of protein, could be produced.
Cattle in this area grow rapidly for six months of the year and then, as soon as the dry season begins, they start to lose condition. The dry season extends from April to October. It has been estimated that cattle lose between 30 per cent, and 35 per cent, of their weight gain in those six months. A four-year-old beast which weighs 400 lb. at the beginning of the wet season will gain about 250 lb. in six months, making a total weight of 650 lb. It then loses about 30 per cent, of that gain in the next six months, so that the overall gain is not very great. What is the purpose of developing these areas?
– Just which areas are you speaking of?
– I am speaking of several areas in, the north. I am referring to the Tippera Plain near Katherine, a good deal of the country in the Northern Territory, the sub-tropical country of Queensland and practically the whole of the area in Western Australia known as the Kimberleys. I believe that in any research programme we should carry out experiments designed to achieve increased beef production in these areas, and we should also try to devise ways and means of encouraging people in the south to come to these areas for the purpose of raising beef cattle. The experiments that were caried out at Tippera were most successful. They proved that while local pastures could carry one beast to ten or fifteen acres, when imported pastures were introduced it was possible to fatten one beast to the acre. In that area producers have gone in for fodder conservation. They have the latest type of equipment, such as forage harvesters and hay balers. By adopting methods of fodder conservation they can feed back the silage and make it profitable to fatten cattle in the area.
Other experiments have been carried out in the northern part of Western Australia, in the Ord River district, at what is known as the Kimberley Research Station. It is estimated that at the present time there is only one beast to every fifty or one hundred acres carried in the Kimberleys, but it has been found that with dry pastures that are fenced and looked after, and with cattle fed rotationally, the carrying capacity can become one beast to four or five acres. That is an experiment worth noting. Where irrigation is introduced, three or four cattle to the acre can be fattened each year, lt appears that in this Ord River area, which is somewhat similar to the Tippera area, more cattle can be fattened each year than exist at present in the Northern Territory and in Western Australia. There is no need, apparently, for the graziers in those districts to accept the low prices that they receive al present, because of the extremely high cost of transport, for store cattle that are brought south. Cattle could be fattened in the areas concerned and killed, and the carcasses could then be taken to Darwin, to Wyndham in the west, or to Townsville and Rockhampton on the east coast.
I believe that intensive research should be carried out into the raising and carriage of beef before the Government is persuaded to spend £30,000,000 to £40,000,000 on providing railways to service these areas. The possibilities of air transport should be investigated. Western Australia is probably the most progressive State in Australia, as I am sure Senator Tangney would agree.
– Did you say Western Australia was the most progressive State?
– I said it, and I mean it. I am sincere when I say that. All we need is money to develop our State.
– During the next recess you should come to Victoria.
– I have had a look around Victoria, and I know your State.
If you built a decent road through it there would not be much of it left, whereas if we did the same in Western Australia, we would still have plenty of country. But I do not want to get into an argument with my friends on this side of the Senate. I prefer to argue with members of the Opposition. This progressive State of Western Australia saw the establishment - and not by the Government, but by private enterprise - of the Air Beef scheme, under which cattle were killed at Glenroy, and the carcasses transported by air - because there were no roads - to Wyndham, to be shipped from there either to the southern parts of Australia or overseas. That scheme has proved so successful that another company has been formed, and beef is being flown to Derby, in Western Australia, from where it is either flown or shipped to Perth.
– Do not forget the road trains to Broome.
– Of course, we also have road trains carrying live cattle to the killing station at Broome. However, I want to develop the story of Air Beef. 1 do not think the story is finished. The organization started off with a subsidy from the State Government. Then, if my memory serves me correctly, a subsidy was obtained from both the Commonwealth and State Governments, on a kind of partnership basis. At the present time, the organization can operate successfully without a subsidy from either government. I think this is quite an achievement. Cattle that would never otherwise have been slaughtered have been killed at Glenroy and sold profitably overseas or in the southern markets. I say, therefore, that one aspect of research should include an investigation of the question whether the Government should encourage the construction of further inland killing centres. We should weigh the cost of establishing these centres against the high cost, estimated to be from £30,000,000 to £40,000,000, of providing railway facilities for the area. If we accept the higher estimate of £40,000,000, and assume interest and sinking fund charges each of 5 per cent., we find that about £4,000,000 a year would be required, for interest and sinking fund alone, to provide transport facilities to cater for the 1,500,000 cattle that are at present in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. If all those cattle were put on the market to-day, under the auction system that at present operates, they would not bring more than about £8 a head on the average. This would give a total of £12,000,000.
– Do you mean £8 net value?
– Gross value.I say that subject to correction, but I know the area. I know of some stations in the vicinity with a carrying capacity of 125,000 head, which were sold at a price based on a valuation of £2 a beast. I do not say that would be the average price, but such sales have taken place in that area in recent years.
– Would that be to-day’s value?
– No. The sales I have in mind took place three years ago, although the value would not be far behind to-day’s figure. At this time of the year three years ago, beef was selling at something like £8 per 100 lb. in Victoria and Western Australia. To-day it is selling at little over £11 per . 100 lb., so that the difference is not very great. Some of those larger cattle stations are hard to control and manage. Difficulty has been experienced in keeping up the quality of the cattle and when they were sold a very low price was obtained. The point I am making is that if we sold all the cattle in the area - 1,500,000 beasts - at £8 a head we would obtain a total return of £12,000,000. As against that, if we constructed a railway costing £40,000,000 the total interest and sinking fund payments at 5 per cent. would be of the order of £4,000,000 each year; so that within three years we would pay in interest and sinking fund payments an amount sufficient to buy all the cattle in the area.
But that is not the way to look at the matter. What we have to do is find a method of developing the area as quickly and cheaply as possible. I am merely suggesting that the better way at the moment might be for the Government to pay a subsidy on the air carriage of beef to points of delivery such as Darwin, Wyndham, Derby, or even the eastern ports of Rockhampton, Cairns and Townsville, if necessary. I say that because I believe it would be possible to provide the necessary facilities for less than £500,000 a year. That could be the first step. After all, who, in this chamber, can say that the air carriage of beef has reached its maximum potential? Even during the ten yearsI have been in Parliament we have seen the rapid development of the air carriage of beef. During that period, we have seen that the MacRobertson-Miller organization has been able to carry out this service at reasonable cost, without subsidy from either the Commonwealth or the State. With modern aircraft, the transport by air of killed meat over vast stretches yet to be opened up could be the cheaper proposition in the next ten years.
I am not saying for a moment that air transport is going to compete with road transport in settled areas where there are large tonnages to be hauled, but I think we all appreciate the tremendous cost of repairing and maintaining a railway worth £40,000,000 and of providing all necessary facilities and employing stationmasters, drivers, guards and track maintenance men. The cost of repairs and maintenance would probably be more than the cost of a subsidy on the air carriage of meat from these areas.
I do not oppose the construction of roads in the area because I think we must have roads but I do suggest as one means of encouraging development, that we should give close consideration to the payment of a subsidy adequate to meet costs and provide a profit on the air carriage of beef. I repeat that we must have roads and we must have railways. On that matter 1 shall have more to say next week. I ask tor leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Senate adjourned at 5.1 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 April 1960, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1960/19600428_senate_23_s17/>.