16th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S.Rosevear) took the chair at 4 p.m., and read prayers.
– Can the Prime Minis ter indicate the probable days of sitting and the programme for next week?
– It is imperative to have passed before the 30th June next measures that are related to provision for the departments. I propose to invite the House to sit until approximately 11 p.m. to-day, and to resume its deliberations to-morrow. I ask that as far as possible the debate be limited to matters which honorable members regard as of very great importance, in order that those measures may be submitted to the Senate in sufficient time to enable that chamber to consider them early next week. If it be not improper, I suggest that the Senate assemble on Monday. I intend to ask this House to meet on Wednesday of next week.
– I. present the report of the Public Works Committee on the following subject : -
Ordered to be. printed.
– Under the aliens service regulations made by a statutory rule issued on the 3rd May of this year, power was given to the Director-General of Allied Works to call up refugee aliens for service with the Civil Constructional Corps. I ask the Prime Minister whether the Director-General of Allied Works, acting on that authority, recently called up a number of aliens? Were representations subsequently made by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein) and a member of the Parliament of New South Wales for an alteration of the regulations with a view to the exemption of these refugee aliens from the call-up for civil constructional work? If so, was such action justified, in view of the fact that many businesses previously carried on by Australians who have been called up for national duty are being taken over and conducted by refugee aliens?
– I am aware of the order that was issued. Certain allegations were made of unfair discrimination. I am having these examined, and hope to make a further statement later on the position generally.
– In view of the fact that the danger of the invasion of Australia has now passed, will the Minister for Home Security arrange for a further relaxation or even the lifting of all lighting restrictions in towns and cities at present affected thereby; alternatively, will he modify the restrictions in respect of those towns and cities ‘that are south of “the Brisbane line”?
– I have told the House many times that the brown-out lighting restrictions are part and parcel of the set-up for the defence of Australia. The statement of the Prime Minister in regard to the possibility of Australia being invaded was that the danger had passed in respect of actual invasion. The circumstances were similar in Britain when the Battle for Britain was won ; but Britain was not then, nor is Australia now - as the Prime Minister has clearly indicated - free from the risk of sporadic raids from the air or by submarines. That is the reason for the imposition of the lighting restrictions. So long as the defence committee considers that these restrictions must remain in force, they will be continued.
– Is the Treasurer aware that, since the last sessional period terminated in April of this year, the United States of America has adopted a scheme of pay-as-you-go taxation, for application to incomes derived from the 1st July, 1943? Does the honorable gentleman also know that the view held in Australia is that there is no lag period in respectof Australian taxes, and that a pay-as-you-go plan could be more easily applied in Australia than in the United States of America? Having regard to this position, does the Government now intend to introduce such a scheme?
MrCHIFLEY. - I know, from newspaper reports and from certain official information, that a scheme of payasyougo taxation - one of quite a number proposed - has been adopted in the United States of America. I am not aware that the view held in Australia is that such a system ought to be adopted here.
– I said that the view held is that there is no lag period.
– I am not aware of that, except from what the honorable member has said.
– Has the SolicitorGeneral so advised the honorable gentleman? I understand that he has.
– The introduction of a system of pay-as-you-go taxation has not had the consideration of the Government. The matter being one of policy, I cannot express an opinion upon it in reply to a question.
– I ask the Minister for Supply and Shipping whether the Government, through his department, intends to establish in Brisbane a plant for the manufacture of petrol drums?
– The demand for 44- gallon drums has grown steadily in Australia since the outbreak of war with Japan. In an endeavour to meet the demand, the Department of Supply and Shipping has duplicated the plant at Footscray, Victoria, with the aid of lease-lend equipment from the United States of America. According to my knowledge, we are not able to meet the whole of the requirements. The Government of the United States of America has been petitioned to supply a further unit for the manufacture of these drums. For about three weeks, the department has been considering the matter of its location. Last week, I sent to Brisbane a representative of the department to examine the possibility of establishing a plant in that city. The problem now is man-power. We have consulted with the Premier of Queensland in order to find out what help he can give in that direction, and also what accommodation is available. At this stage the decision is to establish the plant in Brisbane.
– Has the Prime Minister received a telegram from Mr. L. L. Carter, of Perth, advising him that there is a strike in the baking trade there, and that the award of the Arbitration Court has been repudiated? Has the Govern ment taken any steps to treat the baking of bread as an essential industry under National Security Regulation No. .144, generally know as the “ work or fight “ regulation, and to compel compliance with the order of the court? If not, is the Government taking any steps to ensure that the public shall be supplied with bread ?
– I have received a telegram from Mr. Carter, and I am having inquiries made in order to discover the facts. It would be improper for me to act on the statement of one or other interested, or quasi-interested party in a matter of this importance. Mr. Carter is the secretary of the Employers Federation. I have the utmost respect for him, but it is necessary that I should ascertain the facts, and I am doing so.
– This has been going on for a long time.
– No; the men were at work until the day before yesterday. I understand that a great number of men are still working. I do not know all the facts, but I propose to get them.
Alleged Missing Document
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to statements in the Sydney press yesterday and to-day by Captain W. C. Wentworth, a former Army officer, that a document dealing with the state of Sydney’s defences disappeared from the office of the Minister for the Army late in 1941? Captain Wentworth claims that he has a letter from the Minister for the Army acknowledging the loss of this memorandum. Will the Prime Minister investigate the accuracy of that statement? If it be correct, will the right honorable gentleman institute inquiries to elicit how a valuable and confidential document could disappear from the office of the Minister for the Army? Finally, will the Prime Minister ascertain whether the memorandum had any bearing on “the Brisbane line” controversy?
– I have not read the statement. As I understand the matter, the allegation is that a Captain Wentworth claims that certain papers are missing from the files of the Department of the Army and that he possesses a letter from the Minister acknowledging that a certain document relating to some aspects of Army administration is missing. I shall be extraordinarily surprised if it is true.
– Captain Wentworth says that he has a letter admitting it.
– It is an ex parte statement. It is about time that, before accusations of this kind are made, or irresponsibly repeated-
– By Ministers of the Crown as well as honorable members.
– Yes. Statements about documents missing from the departments of the Commonwealth concern not only responsible Ministers, but also the whole public administration. Officers of the Public Service must feel that their integrity is involved. As one who has been Leader of the Opposition for a number of years, and who has held a most responsible position for the last twenty months, I consider that Australia can have complete confidence in the integrity of the Public Service. When the time comes for me no longer to hold a responsible public office, among those to whom I shall express my gratitude will be the public servants who have assisted me so well.
– I understand that the Arbitration Court will make an award covering the dairying industry. I should like the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to inform me whether the provisions of the award have been decided, and if so, will he communicate them to the House and announce when they will come into operation?
– I shall give consideration to the question, and supply to the honorable member an answer at an early date.
“THE BRISBANE LINE”.
– by leave - The statement during the no-confidence debate about a missing paper concerns the Department of the Army and the Department of Defence. The Minister for the
Army (Mr. Forde) informs me that he is unaware of any document that is missing from the records of his department. As Minister for Defence, I can state thaI the records’ of the War Cabinet, the Advisory War Council, and the department itself are complete, and that no unauthorized person has ever had access to them. As I said previously, all the documents relating to “the Brisbane line “ were supplied to the Advisory War Council. The information given to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) is, therefore, incorrect. The Minister for the Army and I have discussed the matter with the Minister for Labour and National Service, who withdraws the statement which he made in the belief that it was made on reliable information.
– by leave - During my address on the Opposition’s no-confidence motion, I told the House on Tuesday night that I had been informed that an important document was missing from the official files. Last night I conferred with the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde). In the course of the talk, I received an assurance from the Prime Minister that no document is missing from the files. I unreservedly accept that assurance, and I am satisfied that the document to which I was referring on Tuesday night is still in existence. M.y references to the document have been seized upon by the members of the Opposition as a device for disguising the real issue. The real issue is whether my charges against the former Prime Ministers arc, or are not, true. Those charges still stand.
– by leave - The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) having made, his statement on this subject, I had hoped that this unsavoury episode p.ould be closed. The Prime Minister said that he had discussed this matter with the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), who withdrew the statement which he had made in the belief that it was based on reliable information. However, from the statement first made by the Minister for Labour and National Service himself, it is obvious that lie made his statement on “ the Brisbane line “ in the belief, not that it was based on reliable information, but that it would constitute advantageous propaganda for the forthcoming elections, and that it would besmirch the reputations of the members of the previous Government. The Minister for Labour and National Service said the other day, “I am most reliably informed that one important report is now missing from the official files “. That was a very grave allegation to make. It was a reflection, not -only upon members of the previous Government, not only upon members oi the present Ministry, including the Prime Minister, but also upon senior Army officers and officials associated with the “War ‘Cabinet and the Advisory War Council. Because of the seriousness of the allegation, I demanded that the Prime Minister, as head of the Government, should require the Minister for Labour and National Service to substantiate his charge with facts and evidence. The Minister for Labour and National Service has now withdrawn his statement, with obvious reluctance, because he is not able to substantiate the charge he made. The Prime Minister has stated that, as Minister for Defence, he can give an assurance that the records of the War Cabinet and the Advisory War Council, and the department itself, are complete, and that no unauthorized person has ever had access to them. I join with the Prime Minister in that expression of confidence in the officers associated with those bodies. I have no hesitation in saying that no one who has ever been associated with the officers of the Defence Department, or with those connected with the War Cabinet or with the Advisory War Council, or with war administration generally in Australia, can have any doubt as to their conscientiousness, trustworthiness and integrity. I wish also to remove any doubt that may exist, by inference or otherwise, that I was not supplied with all the information on the records when I inquired into “ the Brisbane line “ controversy, and received from the Prime Minister an index of the relevant documents, and subsequently inspected them. I am confident that I saw every document bearing upon the subject.
Now the Minister for Labour and National Service has made a most extraordinary statement, following upon the statement of his leader, the Leader of the Government of Australia. He has said that he is confident that a document does exist. He made his first statement in regard to “ the Brisbane line “ as far back as October, 1942, and he repeated that statement from time to time up to a few nights ago. When the Minister’s statement was challenged in this House, he said that he had received from somebody what he believed to be reliable information that a document was missing from the official files. The Prime Minister must recognize that it wa3 the duty of the Minister for Labour and National Service to have informed him regarding this matter before he made his statement in October last, so that the accuracy of the statement could have been checked. This whole incident must disgust honorable members and the public. It must shake the confidence of the people in the democratic form of government for which Ave are waging war. The basis of democracy is responsible, constitutional government, associated with Cabinet administration. Surely .there was a responsibility resting upon the . Minister for Labour and National Service to inform his leader, the leader of the nation, that he had received information that a document was missing from the official file so that the accuracy of the allegation might be checked. Instead of doing that, however, he asserts that he is confident that such a document exists. The matter cannot be allowed to rest there.
– I ask leave to make a statement upon the same subject.
– Is leave granted?
Government Supporters. - No.
– As a former Minister for the Army, I consider that I have a right to make a statement upon this matter.
– Will the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) also be entitled to make a statement upon it?
– Order ! The Chair rules that leave has been refused.
Formal Motion for Adjournment.
– I have received from the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ Statements made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Labour and National Service in relation to an alleged missing document “.
.- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Is the motion supported ?
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– I was obliged to take this course because the Ministry refused me the right to make a statement earlier on the subject. I had no desire to move the adjournment of the House to deal with this matter specifically, but I have the right as a former Minister for the Army, to make a statement about it. The matter is germane to my administration, because the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) stated that the allegation affected the Department of the Army and the Department of Defence. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) stated, on the motion of want of confidence in the Government this week, that he had been most reliably informed that a document supporting his charges that the “ Brisbane line “ plan had been submitted to the previous Government, had been removed from a file. That charge could mean only one thing, namely, that the document had been abstracted from the file by the previous Administration for the purpose of covering up its political tracks. That raises a matter of paramount importance, which is not disposed of by even the frank statement of the Prime Minister. The Minister for Labour and National Service seeks to extricate himself from his predicament at the least possible cost to himself. The position is plain. First, the Minister, before making such a serious allegation, should have taken the trouble to check his information. It has been checked after the event. He could easily have checked it before the event by going to the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde). The Minister for the Army, I am sure, will agree with me when I say that a record is kept of every document of importance that has been dealt with by successive Ministers for the Army almost for generations, and it would have been an easy matter for the Minister for Labour and National Service to ascertain whether such a document did, in fact, exist. I have no desire to prejudge the matter. The Minister declared that he had been reliably informed, and I accept that statement, hut the circumstances permit of the following inferences: - First, the information was not given to the Minister for Labour and National Service by any one, in which case he has no right to hold a portfolio in any government; or secondly, accepting his word, the information was given to him by an official who has access to secret documents, or by some one who does not have access to them. If it be the latter, the matter calls for immediate action by the Parliament. If it be the former, it means that some one who officially has access to secret documents has given to the Minister false information. He should be identified and dealt with for having done so.
.- It would be difficult for me to be more frank with the Parliament than I have been. As a matter of fact, according to practice, I gave to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden), before the House assembled, the text of the statement that I proposed to make. I considered that that was due to him, because yesterday he waited upon me and drew my attention to the remarks that had been made in the House. I was not present in the chamber when the remarks were made. In any event, I would myself have caused inquiries to be made. They have been made. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) and I, as Minister for Defence, assure the House that no documents are missing and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) says, in his statement, that he unreservedly withdraws the statement.
– But he does not stop at that; he makes another statement.
– He says that the document is in existence.
– That is so.
– As I said in my statement, all the documents were submitted to the Advisory War Council by the Government.
– The Minister for Labour and National Service says that the missing document is in existence.
– There is no “ missing document “.
– The right honorable gentleman should give us the fullest information.
– The Prime Minister is not in the witness box.
– We want a royal commission to find out who gave the information to the Minister.
– I have not been asked anything on that point. My attention was drawn to an allegation that information had been given to the Minister for Labour and National Service, and that a certain document was missing. I was asked to establish whether or not such a document existed, and, if it existed, whether it is missing. In the short time available to me since yesterday, having regard to the circumstances of the business of the House, I have made inquiries and have made the fullest and frankest statement I can on the results of my inquiries. I take the responsibility of saying that no document relating to the security of this country is missing.
– But in view of the Minister’s subsequent statement the matter cannot be allowed to remain there.
– The information given to the Minister was incorrect. I also say that, as a result of my consultation with the Minister for the Army and the Minister for Labour and National Service the latter withdraws the statement he made.
– But he reiterates charges against former Ministers.
– And we want to know what evidence there is in support of such a charge.
– There is no evidence in support of the allegation about a missing document. I am sure that the right honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) is satisfied, from his own experience, and from the statement of the present Minister for the Army, that this i3 so. Speaking for my own department and also from my knowledge of departments generally, I say that I do not believe that any document is missing. I make that statement, having regard to a certain newspaper paragraph published this morning about a document.
.- This subject is, no doubt, distasteful to all sections of the Parliament, but’ I do not think that the case can be allowed to rest where it is at this moment, if we are to discharge our responsibilities to the people of this country. The matters involved are likely to affect the confidence of the people of thi3 country in our system of responsible government through Cabinet.
– Which is what we are fighting for.
– I do not think that the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), unhappy as he may feel about this whole business, can escape the responsibility that rests on him as the head of the Government with regard to a member of his own Cabinet who has offended against the ethics of public life and conduct as they are observed in this country. This is not the first occasion on which the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) has offended in this way. I think it is proper, as indicating his general conduct, to remind the House of previous occasions when the honorable gentleman has given evidence of his incapacity to observe the rudimentary concepts of public decency in his behaviour in this House. I shall refer, first, to a document of a confidential character addressed to a former Treasurer which, by error, came into the honorable gentleman’s hands because he happened to bear the same name as the private secretary of the then Treasurer to whom it was addressed. The honorable gentleman did not hesitate to make the fullest public use of the information contained in that confidential document. Even if one could gloss over that episode on the ground of the honorable gentleman’s comparative inexperience in the House, I have to point out that more recently, since he became a responsible Minister of the Crown in this Government, he attempted to read publicly in this chamber a confidential Cabinet document which had been left in his department by his predecessor in office.
– You invited him to read it.
– Just recently, with typical recklessness, the honorable gentleman has made certain references to what is known as “ the Brisbane line “, and only by reason of pressure on the Prime Minister in recent weeks by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Eadden), and by reason of the full discussion which has taken place this week on the want of confidence motion, is the public becoming aware of the full facts of that matter. That leads roe to the latest instance of the Minister’s conduct of this character, and we cannot brush it aside. I can understand that the Prime Minister is most unhappy in bis association with this man who has been put in a position of trust by caucus under our system pf Cabinet government. Under this system there must be solidarity among members of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister himself must accept responsibility for the conduct of the members of his Cabinet. On this occasion the Minister for Labour and National Service said in his place in this House that he had been “most reliably inf ormed “ that a highly important document relating to service matters is missing from the official files. I ask honorable members to consider the significance and implication of the words “ most reliably informed “. We have now been told that no document is, in fact, missing and that the Minister for Labour and National Service is now of the opinion that the information supplied to him was incorrect. But we cannot allow it to rest there, because, as the Minister said, “ I am most reliably informed “; the information must have been given to him by some person in authority or in a position of trust, on whose word the Minister should be entitled to make a statement in the House. Unless and until the Minister makes a full disclosure concerning the source of his information there will remain a cloud over a section of the Public Service or over some member or members of the Ministry. Was the Minister for Labour and National Service “most reliably informed” by one of his colleagues in the Ministry - by the Minister for the Army, or the Prime Minister, or some other member of the War Cabinet who would have access to confidential documents - or was the information given to him by an officer of the Public Service? The statement that a responsible Minister has been “most reliably informed “ is serious, particularly as the information was incorrect. If such a person is in a high position and can give such information, a Minister is entitled to give credence to it. I do not see how the Leader of the Government can allow the matter to remain where it is. There should be the fullest possible authoritative inquiry into it. That cloud will remain over the Ministry and defence sections of the Public Service until the fullest inquiry has been made.
– I have made the inquiry and reported that I found that no document was missing.
– But there must be an inquiry to ascertain who was this reliable informant of the Minister for Labour and National Service.
– The honorable gentleman expects me to expose to public inquiry all the documents connected with this matter?
– That is not necessary. The Prime Minister is burking the issue. The Minister for Labour and National Service, without disclosing a single document, could clear up the matter by saying who the reliable informant was. If he does not, he will leave over guiltless persons a cloud which only he is in a position to remove.
British system of parliamentary government, which we follow in this country, has been evolved from a thousand years of incidents which have become precedents, and those precedents have served to mould actions and conduct. This Parliament is now confronted with one of those incidents, which may become a precedent, for hundreds of years to come. The tradition which has developed in the British system of parliamentary government is that of joint cabinet responsibility, under which each Minister is sworn by a. carefully prepared oath to the service of His Majesty. Ministers speak, not as individual Ministers, but for the whole cabinet. In the last few months, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) has made the most positive charge words could frame that, in the days of the previous Government, there existed a plan to abandon the north of Australia to the enemy without firing a shot. That charge was laid against public nien representing this side of public opinion in this country. Months went by before pressure finally forced the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) to disclaim his Minister for Labour and National Service. Yet, contrary to every precedent in British parliamentary history, that Minister, after having been publicly disclaimed by his Prime Minister, is still allowed to remain a Minister of His Majesty and to make public statements with all the authority of his office. When the Prime Minister finally rose and said that there was no truth in the statement of the Minister for Labour and National Service that he had been reliably informed that a certain secret document had been abstracted from the most secret records of this country, the Minister rose to repeat his charge. This matter cannot be allowed to rest there, for, if it were, it would establish the most damnable precedent in the responsible government of this country. The Minister for Labour and National Service said, “I have been most reliably informed that a certain document was removed from the files “. That places a charge upon his fellow Ministers, the Advisory War Council and the officials who had access ito those files. The Prime Minister has said that that is not true, that no document is missing. That finishes that aspect, but what has not been disposed of is the allegation of the .Minister for Labour and National Service that there exists in this country a person who has gone to Mm. and declared that secret documents of such high importance that there could be none higher, have been abstracted from the files. Yet we are not promised that there will be an inquiry to ascertain who this individual is or whether, in fact, he really exists. If he does exist and did make that declaration to the Minister for Labour and National Service, he did so with malice aforethought or with criminal irresponsibility. In either case he must be discovered and dealt with. There can be no shirking the search for this individual. If it is untrue that some person did make that declaration to this Minister of the Crown, it is logical to conclude that the Minister invented the story, and nothing could justify the Prime Minister in retaining him in his Cabinet. In no circumstances could he be allowed to remain in the Cabinet. If he were allowed to remain, we should establish a precedent in this country which would destroy the parliamentary system of government which’ this country embraces, for, if it were to be the practice that a Minister, for political purposes, could make lying statements staining the honour of his political opponents for his own political advantage, the tradition which our forefathers spent a thousand years in perfecting would be wiped out. The Prime Minister nas a heavy responsibility to clear this matter up, and, if lie does not, he will have to carry the responsibility of having done a tremendous disservice not only to the people whose honour has now -been impugned, but also to the whole community.
– We .make one further step in our progress along the road of “ the Brisbane line “. This afternoon we heard the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) read to this House a statement which contains not one sentence of equivocation. It contains the assertion that the statement made by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward”) in this House this week is untrue. That .is the only construction to be put on the Prime Minister’s public disclaimer. But the Prime Minister has attempted to let the matter rest there. That is bad enough but the right honorable gentleman’s declaration was followed immediately by a statement from that same guilty Minister in which after admitting that the documents which he had alleged had been removed, had not been removed at all, he added insult to injury by declaring that the charges that he had made against previous Ministers from this side still stood. . There is an obligation on the Prime Minister to say whether he associates himself with those charges. “ The Brisbane line “ is one of the foulest things ever introduced in Australian politics. When I heard it first, being a careful fellow, I said in Sydney - the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) will remember the occasion - that if there existed some document, written in perfectly good faith, instructing the officer, whose name was, unfortunately, brought into use, to make an appreciation of a certain line, it might be that one could read something into it which was never intended at that time.
Getting down to tin-tacks - what was Lieutenant-General Sir Iven Mackay deputed to do? ‘ Simply what every general officer has to do day by day, week by week, at any time - make an appreciation of the situation, having regard to all the military and other factors on the board at the time. I now say what I have not said in this House before, namely, that I know something about this business. For the whole of the time during which Sir Iven Mackay was Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, I was a member of the staff of Home Forces. The day on which that staff met was not a day on which the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) or the right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) was Prime Minister of this country; it was on the 22nd December, 1941, that we first met at Victoria Barracks - twelve or thirteen days after the Japanese had struck at Pearl Harbour. That was the day on which Sir Iven Mackay took over the job of Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces.
Let us have two other facts. I put this to the Prime Minister,, and I defy contradiction: At no time during the existence of Home Forces was the Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, in charge of the defences of the whole of the Australian territory; he was never charged with the defence of the whole of the Commonwealth. Furthermore, at no time was he entrusted with the command of the whole of the Australian Military Forces in Australia. If the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) does not like that statement, he can cancel my commission; and he can do it before the elections. I put that offer forward in advance. There ought to be appointed by this Parliament immediately a royal commission before which the Minister for Labour and National Service should be forced to appear, not to disclose to it certain documents - that is not the matter at issue; what is at issue is, who is this trustworthy informant who went to the Minister and said, “Look here, Ed., old boy, I have a beauty on these fellows, and here it is “. If such a person exists, then the Prime Minister is under a moral obligation to the people of this country to force his Minister for Labour and National Service to disclose the identity of his informant.
– He might have been “ Foo”.
– He might have been “Foo”, or “Mr. Smith”. This matter cannot be allowed to rest where it now stands, whatever may be the conditions that prevail in this place at the moment. I say to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden), and I hope that he will listen to me for once, that if ever there was a time in his life when be should take action, that time is now. He should take specific action to force the Minister for Labour and National Service to face the barrier; to go into an open court; to go before a justice of the High Court, and declare the identity of this person. We are entitled to know whether certain persons who are sheltering in the Public Service to-day are conveying tales of this description to Ministers of State.
– Such a person would be in a high place.
– He must be in a high place, if he has access to such documents. So far as my limited experience informs me, such matters are not usually left to the fellow who brings in the firewood to start the fire in the morning. Therefore, this matter cannot be left where it is. I intend to have a little more to say about “ the Brisbane line “. I did not speak yesterday on the motion of no confidence, because I hate to speak at about the time when the cows are being brought in.
– The honorable gentleman could not speak after the Minister for the Navy had spoken.
– I shall clean up that gentleman, too. If ever there was a time when public life, public decency, and truthfulness in handling the affairs of the community demanded that a responsible Minister - allegedly so; I give him the benefit of the doubt - should be brought up to face the ‘barrier, and made to justify his statements - not made to produce secret documents, but made to disclose the identity of the person on whom he rested his case the other night - that time is now. There is another obligation on the Prime Minister. A few moments ago the Minister for Labour and National Service, before resuming hi3 scat, said that he repeated the charges he had made against former Ministers. I ask the Prime Minister whether he associates himself with that statement?
– If he remains silent, he does.
– If the right honorable gentleman does not care to answer my question, I do not mind; that is his own affair. But the Leader of the Opposition cannot allow the matter to rest where it is. I hope that the House will take determined, drastic, and immediate action to have the matter cleaned up once and for all.
.- Yesterday, the House debated a motion of want of confidence, directed against the Government. During the course of that debate, the Opposition charged the Government with maladministration in certain directions. The motion was defeated by the flimsiest of margins, and the Government still remains in office to-day. This afternoon, the B.ouse has had brought to its notice very clearly additional evidence of the disintegration of the Government and of its unworkability. It can no longer ignore the challenge of the Opposition to go to the country immediately. Under the conditions that we have witnessed this afternoon, it is not possible for the Govern ment to administer the affairs of Australia in a time of war. The charge that has been made by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) no longer concerns merely the present Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), certain ex-Prime Ministers, gentlemen who were Ministers for the Army in other times, or even the present Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde). It concerns this Parliament, and Australia as a whole. It concerns Australia’s conception of the kind of government it should have in a time of danger, when crisis is close at- hand. What we have witnessed this afternoon is most distressing. This is not the time for us to be swayed by sympathy with the Prime Minister. It is a time when the House should demand that the right honorable gentleman shall discharge the duty that he owes to the country, by cleaning up his Cabinet. The country should say to the Prime Minister that he can no longer continue to govern with a Cabinet which contains elements that are working in direct opposition to him. This matter will he regarded with apprehension by the whole nation. This afternoon, the Prime Minister has made a statement to the House on behalf of himself and his colleague. He has said that the Minister for Labour and National Service unreservedly withdraws certain allegations affecting the integrity, honour and administration of another Minister. Immediately the Prime Minister had resumed his seat, the Minister for Labour and National Service rose in his place and reiterated in other language the charges he had formerly made.
– The original charges.
– The original charges have been repeated in different language. This is evidence of the Government’s complete disintegration. Such a position cannot be allowed to continue. If it does continue, then a precedent will be established in the history of constitutional parliamentary government throughout all British countries and the position will be such as to cause the downfall of the democratic system. The charge in respect of the “the Brisbane line “ may have been believed in certain parts of Australia by persons who had no opportunity to become acquainted with the facts. It was not believed by many persons who had an opportunity to examine the matter thoroughly . The subject has so developed that it is now of far greater importance than the mere charge of the Minister fc-r Labour and National Service. It has developed into something that affects the continuance and the integrity of the British system of cabinet government. The Government must this afternoon make a decision. Either the Minister for Labour and National Service roust leave the Government, so that Australia can have a Cabinet able to control the affairs of the nation, or this Parliament and the country can no longer have confidence in it.
.- This matter arises out of an allegation by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) regarding “the Brisbane line”. The allegation was made as far back as last October, and was published widely throughout Australia by the Minister himself, by some of his Cabinet colleagues, and by members of his party. Yesterday, in this House, the Minister for Labour and National Service reaffirmed his statement. To-day, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has categorically denied that there was any truth in the. statement. There can be no misunderstanding of the statement of the Prime Minister. He stated that there was no truth in the assertion of the Minister for Labour and’ National Service. Yesterday, when the Prime Minister denied the allegation about “ the Brisbane line “, the Minister for Labour and National Service said that he was most reliably informed that a certain document was missing from the files of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defence. To-day, the Prime ‘ Minister has denied that also, and the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), through the Prime Minister, has also denied it. They have denied that any document bearing upon this matter of “the Brisbane line” is massing from the files of the Department of the. Army or the Department of Defence. Now what happens? The Minister for Labour and National Service withdraws his original charge. He says that his information was wrong, that the document is not missing, but that the document still exists, that it is in the archives of the Department of Defence or the Department of the Army. When he made the assertion that the document was still in existence, what he said, in effect, was- that the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army were not telling the truth to the people of Australia. If the document is still, in existence and they know it, then they are accused by the Minister for Labour and National Service of being liars. I do not believe that either the Prime Minister or the Minister for the Army are such vile persons that they would be guilty of what is implied. I believe what the Prime Minister has said. The alternative implication contained in the statement of the Minister for Labour and National Service is that if the Minister for the Army and the Prime Minister do not know of the existence of this document, then the permanent head of the. Department of Defence or of the Department of the Army withdrew the document from the files, made available to members of the Advisory War Council. Throughout the whole history of British government, and throughout the history of the Commonwealth,, the record of the ‘Civil Service stands very high. I believe that in the Departments of the Army and of Defence, from the office boy and the cleaner right up to the head of the department, there is a spirit of honesty and loyalty to whatever government is in power that is unchallengeable. I do not believe for one second that either the head of the Department of Defence or the head of the Department of the Army would so betray his trust that he would withdraw from the official files any document made available to the Minister for Defence or the Minister for the Army. The charge brought by the Minister for Labour and National Service was not made on reliable information. It was a figment of his imagination, a product of that tortuous brain which, in this hour of peril, is allowed to play a large part in the administration of the country. The Minister for Labour and National Service has behaved1 so badly that the Government has no alternative but to suspend him f rem his office, and to prevent him from taking any further part in the administration of the country until eitherhe himself is absolutely cleared, or the members of theCivil Service, the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army, who are involved in the allegation, are themselves cleared. If the Minister for Labour and National Service is proved to be a liar, he should not only be discharged from the service of the Ministry, but also expelled from this House.
.- I should not have spoken on this subject to-day except that I am not prepared to hear in silence attacks upon the character of a man whom, I believe, to have spoken the truth. I should not have spoken had any one else been prepared to defend the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward). I believe that what the Minister has said he believes to be true. I do not always entirely agree with his methods or utterances, but I have had nine years’ acquaintance with him, and I believe him to be a man who, when he vouches for the truth of a thing, believes that he is telling the truth.
– He can prove that by producing his informant.
– I can make my statement without assistance. I am in the awkward position of saying something for the Minister when nobody else will say anything for him. What I say is this: the question arose as to whether a document had been removed from the official files. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has said that no such document was removed, and I understand that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) agrees with him. The Minister for Labour and National Service says that he accepts that statement unreservedly, but he also saysthat that does not dispose of the charges which he made in respect of “ the Brisbane line” - and I do not see that it does dispose of them. I listened intently to the debate, but I never heard at any time a denial by any Minister of the possibility of a report or suggestion of that kind mentioned by the Minister for Labour and National Service having been made before the present Government came into office.
– The honorable member must be pretty deaf.
– I did not hear it. I heard the Prime Minister asked a question which called for a denial and an affirmation of the making of such a report or suggestion before the present Government came in. I heard neither denial nor affirmation, and I feel sure that none was made.
– It is reported in Hansard.
– I did not hear it. On that basis, I feel that the matter has not been disposed of. I am not concerned as to whether or not there was, in fact, such a report. I believe that the Minister stated what he believed to be the truth.
Question put -
That the House do now adjourn.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. J. S.Rosevear.)
Majority . . 1
Question so resolved in the negative.
– by leave - I give notice that to-morrow I shall move - ( 1.) That a royal commission, under the presidency of a judge of the Supreme Court of a State, be forthwith appointed to inquire into and report upon the statement of the Minister for Labour and National Service that “he was most reliably informed that an important document is missing from the official files “ in respect of the following questions: -
Message from the Governor-General reported transmitting Additional Estimates of Expenditure for the year ending the 30th June, 1943, and recommending appropriation accordingly.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) proposed -
That the message, together with the accompanying Estimates, be referred to the Committee of Supply forthwith.
.- It would be without precedent if honorable members were to proceed with this business in the ordinary manner as if nothing had occurred to-day. An extraordinary position has arisen; I believe that it is without precedent since Walpole introduced the system of cabinet government240 years ago. A Minister of the Crown has been accused of lying. Hp is either lying or is placing in a most difficult position the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), members of the War Cabinet, and trusted public servants, by, in effect, accusing them of lying. That charge has been made, and not a member of the Government or of his party was prepared to rise and speak on the subject in his favour. I protest against such proceedings.
– The right honorable gentleman is not in order in discussing that matter. He must confine his remarks to the motion before the Chair.
– The matter that I am discussing is only covered, in a small way, by the notice of motion given by the Leader of the Opposition for the appointment of a royal commission. I raise the question of whether, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, with a Minister of the Crown under so serious a charge, it is competent for the House to proceed with the conduct of business. There has already been sufficient degradation of constitutional practice and a responsible government in this Parliament to-day without going further. It seems to me that if there were the slightest element of decency in the Government, the Prime Minister, immediately after the Leader of the Opposition had given notice of his motion, would have suspended the Minister for Labour and National Service from his Administration and the service of this House. He certainly should be suspended until the charge made against him has been disposed of.
– I rule that the right honorable member is not in order in discussing that subject on this motion. If he disagrees with my ruling he has his remedy.
– May I ask, with respect, Mr. Speaker, what my remedy is?
– The right honorable member may discuss the motion before the House or he may move dissent from my ruling.
– I rise to order and put to you, Mr. Speaker, this question, which you may be prepared to answer now or, if not now, at any rate after the general elections: Is it not the time-honoured procedure in British Parliaments that supply shall be granted to His Majesty only after grievances have been redressed ?
– The honorable member knows that supply would never be granted under those conditions.
– I do not think that there can be any question of granting supply to this Government until after the charge that has been made publicly against the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) has been disposed of, or, at least, until he has been suspended from his department.
– I have already ruled that that subject-matter cannot be discussed by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) on the motion now before the House. Nor can it be discussed by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). I rule the whole matter out of order. The honorable member may proceed to discuss the motion before the Chair, but not the subject-matter involved in the notice of motion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden).
– In- accordance with the Standing Orders, I submit my objection, in writing, as follows : -
That the Ruling of the honorable the Speaker - that on the motion that the Message be referred to the Committee of Supply it was not in order to debate certain charges against the Minister for Labour and National Service - be disagreed with.
No further business should be transacted until the notice of motion of the Leader of the Opposition has been dealt with by the House.
– Is the motion of dissent seconded?
– I second it.
– Under Standing Order No. 287, the debate on the motion will be adjourned until to-morrow.
– I address myself to the motion of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), the purpose of which is to permit the House to resolve itself into committee of supply to consider a grant of moneys to His Majesty. Such moneys as are voted by Parliament for this purpose are expended through various departments under the administration of different Ministers. If a vote bo agreed to, the expenditure will be administered, in part, by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward). I am compelled to take the extraordinary and regrettable attitude of not agreeing to a vote being partly administered by an honorable gentleman who, unquestionably, has been charged with being a liar, or with shielding a liar.
– And a traitorous liar.
– I do not allege that the honorable gentleman is a liar.
– The honorable gentleman said yesterday that he was a liar.
– That was on a different subject. Surely no one will desire that the subject that has been raised in relation to the Minister for Labour and National Service shall be brushed aside lightly! Surely funds that are being wrung from the taxpayers of this country are not to be administered by gentlemen whose integrity is not beyond reproach! If an honorable member of this Parliament be proved to be a liar, unquestionably he should not have control of any funds provided by the taxpayers; if, not being a liar himself, he is prepared to shield a liar-
-Order! The honorable gentleman must not anticipate the debate on a motion of which notice has been given. He will be in order in giving reasons why the House should not resolve itself into a committee to consider the Governor-General’s message, but he should not canvass the rights and wrongs of the motion that is to come before the House later.
– I respect your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and see the logic of it. You must see my great difficulty in expressing reasons, which, you will agree, I am entitled to express, why funds should not be voted if at the same time I am to be muzzled.
– The Chair is not muzzling the honorable gentleman.
– I meant no reflection on the Chair. I must go back to my main point, namely, that the House has already been’ notified that to-morrow it will be asked to vote on a motion. If that motion be resolved in the affirmative, obviously, the honorable gentleman who is the subject of that vote should not be administering public funds. That. is the essence of the matter. If the Prime Minister’ (Mr. Curtin), or a responsible Minister, were to stand up now and say that the Minister for Labour and National Service would not continue to administer his department until this matter was resolved, I should withdraw my opposition.
– How can the Prime Minister anticipate guilt?
– I do not ask him to anticipate guilt or innocence. When a man in a responsible position has a charge levelled against him he customarily ceases to administer public funds until the charge is disposed of. The greatest and most recent expression of that traditional principle of the British parliamentary system of government is that the Prime Minister himself some 48 hours ago declared that he would not be prepared to carry on the business of government until the charge against his Ministry levelled by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) had been disposed of. He took the unprecedented step of keeping this House in session day and night for 48 hours until the question had been resolved. One of his principal Ministers is under a charge and, in the observance of the principle accepted by the Prime Minister, it is improper that, while he is under that charge, funds should be voted for him to administer. If the Government did the proper and decent thing, it would not seek any funds until the charge has been disposed of. At any rate, the honorable gentleman who is the subject of the allegations should not be allowed to take public funds into his possession until his name has been cleared. Earlier to-day I made reference to the fact that the British parliamentary system of government is based, not on a written document, but on precedent. We are faced with the breaking of precedent. In breaking precedent one establishes new precedent. If this motion be carried and the House goes into committee to consider the voting of funds to the Government, we shall establish a most revolutionary precedent, namely, that we are prepared to put into the possession of a Minister subject to the most serious allegation of being an offender or shielding an offender, the disbursal of public funds, and the control of public officials. That would do a tremendous disservice to the people and we should be charged with having no regard for the high responsibilities of office.
.- I strongly support the remarks that have fallen from the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), and I want to express in my own words my reasons for that support. I want to do so with due regard to the ruling that you, Mr. Speaker, have given that the discussion must not anticipate the matter of which notice of motion has been given. I do not desire to discuss that matter, which is that a royal commission be appointed to investigate three specific matters. I would not understand your ruling to go beyond the very terms of the notice, and that does not exclude some further discussion of what we have been discussing already this afternoon. The honorable member for Indi has said with great force and point that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) is under a charge. He is. I desire to add that the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) himself is under a charge and the maker of that charge is his own Minister.
Opposition Members. - Hear, hear!
– When this “Brisbane line” controversy came into existence the first step taken ‘by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) was, through the Prime Minister, to see that all the relevant documents were placed before the Advisory War Council. We have the specific assurance of the Prime Minister that they were. That is item No. 1. Every document that relates in any way to that problem of evacuating any part of Australia was laid before the Advisory War Council by the Prime Minister. The second thing that we have on the authority of the Prime Minister is that the first document relating to the matter at issue is dated February, 1942. Then the allegation is made, I have not the slightest doubt, quite gratuitously and recklessly, that a file or document is missing. The Prime Minister has disposed of that because he said, after consultation with his own officials and colleagues, “ No document is missing “. That summarizes the statement of the Prime Minister. There never was a plan before February, 1942.
I am afraid some of us have missed a vital point of what has happened to-day.
This afternoon the Minister for Labour and National Service rose after the Prime Minister had made a specific and unambiguous statement and said - I have armed myself with a copy-
– The right honorable gentleman is fortunate, for I did not get a copy.
– The right honorable gentleman must be doubly unfortunate, because I got my copy from one of his officers.
– Let us have a royal commission to ascertain how the right honorable gentleman was able to do that.
– There is no mystery about that. I got it from an existing person, not some one imaginary. In the Minister’s statement he said -
During my address on the Opposition’s censure motion, I told the House on Tuesday night that I had been informed that an important document was missing from the official files.
Last night I conferred with the right honorable the Prime Minister and with the Minister for the Army.
In the course of the talk, I received an asssurance from the Prime Minister that no document is missing from the files. I, unreservedly, accept that assurance, and I am satisfied that the document to which ,1 was referring on Tuesday night is still in existence.
In other words, he has said, “I accept the assurance that it is not missing from the files, but say that it still exists “. He went on to say -
My references to the document have been seized upon by the members of the Opposition as a device for disguising the real issue. The real issue is. whether my charges against former Prime Ministers are, or are not, true. Those charges still stand.
Very well. This remarkable document contains an astonishing charge against the Prime Minister of this country, because it says, first, “ This document that I (the Minister) am talking about, is still in existence “. Now it. cannot be said that he was talking about an unofficial document.
– Unless one is to impute utter imbecility to the Minister, it would be impossible to say that he was founding the whole charge on some document that had no official quality.
– Order ! The right honorable gentleman will agree, I think, that he is transgressing the ruling I have given.
– May I ask,, sir, in what way I am transgressing your ruling?
– The right honorable gentleman may, with sound reasoning, advance an argument against the House going into committee to consider a certain message. But he is going a little too deeply into detail. I think he will agree with me that his most recent remarks definitely relate to a motion that is to come before the House to-morrow.
– Naturally, sir, I respect your ruling, and appreciate the force of it. I am directing my attention to the attack that has been made upon the Prime Minister by the Minister for Labour and National Service, and I am not prepared to be a party to the granting of Supply to a government which is presenting the public spectacle of a. senior Minister making a direct attack on the credibility of his Prime Minister. You see, sir, the statement made by the Minister for Labour and National Service is that the document is still in existence. Now, sir, the Prime Minister has said, “ I have put before the Advisory War Council every document that is in existence”. In the second place, the Prime Minister has said, “ No document is missing “. If, sir, those two things be added, then it will be perfectly clear that every document which has any materiality to this matter has been laid before the Advisory War Council of this country. The Minister for Labour and National Service says, “ That is untrue “. He adds, “ Of course, I do not pursue my allegation that the document is missing. I say that it exists; and when you, Mr. Prime Minister, tell me that you have put all the existing documents before the Advisory War Council, then I tell you that you are wrong, because there existed a document that would have proved my case, which you have not put before the Advisory War Council “. That is a “ beautiful “ allegation for a Minister to make against the Prime Minister of this country. It involves the charge that the Prime Minister has been suppressing information.
Having had some experience in this matter as a predecessor of the Prime Minister, I am able to say that I have not the slightest doubt that the right honorable gentleman is completely right when he says that there has been no tampering with any of the files, and that the whole of the material documents having been disclosed, there was no “ Brisbane line “ plan, or anything like it, before February, 1942. I am on the side of the Prime Minister in that regard. I should be infinitely more strongly on his side if he decided to be Prime Minister in reality and would not saddle himself with persons of this type who can make such allegations, directing them first, in vain, against the Opposition, and then not hesitating to direct them, as I have explained, against the Prime Minister himself.
.- Apparently, the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) is concerned not so much as to whether or not the documents that were alleged to be missing ure on the file, or what they proved, as to securing the removal from the Cabinet of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward).
– I have not confined myself to that honorable gentleman. I want to remove the whole Cabinet by having an election.
– The right honorable member for Kooyong has admitted that he desires to remove from office the present Labour Government.
– The right honorable member wants to remove from office not only the present Labour Government, but any and every government that may succeed it until he secures a government that he himself will lead. The hope that springs eternal in the breast of the right honorable member is, that if we have an election, it will result in the return of a government that he will lead. If that should not eventuate, then he will pursue the same hostility to whatever government may succeed the present Administration - if a change be made by the electors - until such time as he again becomes Prime Minister. I have no desire to pursue the matter further on that line. I was led into that channel of argument only for the purpose of exposing the real intention of the attack of the right honorable member for Kooyong on the Minister for Labour and National Service.
The explanation which the Minister for Labour and National Service has made to the House this afternoon has been grossly distorted and misquoted. There is no conflict whatsoever between the Minister for Labour and National Service and the Prime Minister. Not all the skill of honorable members opposite whose profession takes them to the law courts, can enable them to distort the explanation of either the Prime Minister or the Minister for Labour and National Service. I can see nothing irreconcilable in the two explanations. The Prime Minister has said, “ I am satisfied, from the explanation given to me by the Secretary for Defence, that no file is missing; and I am also satisfied, from the explanation given to me by the Minister for the Army, after consultation with the Secretary for the Army, that no document is missing from the files of the Army “. The Minister for Labour and National Service has said, “ I accept the assurances which both Ministers have given, that no documents, are missing “. He has added, “ I am satisfied that, if the document to which I referred, and which I believed to be missing-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is transgressing my ruling just as much as other honorable gentlemen have transgressed it. He may discuss whether or not the House should resolve itself into Committee of Supply, but he may not discuss the details of a motion that is to be dealt with to-morrow.
– I submit to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, as I would submit to the wisdom of Solomon. But if I am out of order; then every speech that has been made in opposition to the motion that the” House shall go into Committee of Supply has been equally out of order. I consider that the House should go into committee in order’ that Supply may be granted to the Government. I cannot understand why there should be opposition to the motion, unless it be on the ground that the Opposition desires to force some re-organization of the Cabinet, or to humiliate the Minister for Labour and National Service, and is taking advantage of the forms of the House in order to do so. The business of the country .should proceed. The explanations given by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Labour and National Service allow of no misunderstanding, unless honorable members opposite deliberately desire to imply that the Minister for Labour and National Service has said what is unparliamentary, inaccurate, or opposed to the national interest. The Minister for Labour and National Service has said, in effect, “If the files be examined, they will prove my contention “. If there is any trouble in anything that has happened since the Leader of the Opposition has seen the files, then that right honorable gentleman cannot read the files as intelligently as would the Minister for Labour and National Service if he had equal access to them. The Prime Minister has far more intelligence than have honorable members opposite; therefore, he sees quite clearly through the move to prevent this House from going into committee. As I have already said, the desire is to prevent the Government from carrying on the business of the country. That being so, the attack might have been made more directly, considerably more adroitly, with a good deal more ingenuousness, with a little more regard to the fact that the country is at war, with less, regard to the possibilities of the impending elections, and with a little more earnestness on the part of honorable members, after a recess lasting three months, to discharge their obligations to the Parliament of the nation. What we have witnessed this afternoon is extraordinary in every respect. I can never imagine that, at any previous time in the history of this Parliament, candid and straightforward statements by Ministers, even though somewhat provocative, were not accepted without reserve. However, members of the Opposition, baulked of the opportunity to spring on their prey, and with more mental alacrity than they usually display, proceeded by various devices to em,barrass and humiliate tha Government in every way possible. Supply is needed by the 30th June, and any further delays by the Opposition designed to prevent the House from going into committee can only result in delaying the business of the Government and the war effort. The Minister for Labour and National Service can surely never be charged with having delayed the war effort or the business of the country. The only “ charge “ that can be made against him with any degree of truth is that he wants to change the present system of society, and to change it as quickly as possible. There are many other people in this country who also are so dissatisfied with the present system of society that they want to change it. Therefore, I support the motion that the House go into Committee of Supply, and hope that it will be carried immediately.
– In order to fit in with the catering arrangements at the hotels, I have arranged to suspend the sitting of the House at 6 o’clock each day instead of 6.15. I have consulted with the President of the Senate, and he has seen fit to fall in with the arrangement.
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
.- Although the issue before the House is a simple one, it contains profound political and moral considerations. The issue is whether we shall proceed to consider the granting of Supply to the Government before the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) announces his decision1 on the motion of which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) gave notice this afternoon. Before proceeding to deal with that issue, I shall make a few preliminary observations. In my judgment, the political life of this country has reached the lowest ebb since the inauguration of federation. We have become accustomed to honorable members opposite levelling against the previous Government false charges of corruption, treachery, gross negligence and the abandonment of the national interests and I regret deeply that the Prime Minister, by his long silence, must accept responsibility for that. In the circumstances, the House must consider the most important issue of whether it shall proceed to grant Supply to the Government. For my part, I shall refuse to proceed further with that matter until the Government has announced its decision regarding the motion of which notice has been given by the Leader of the Opposition.
Honorable members are, to a large degree, the moulders of public opinion and public morality. If we are unable to maintain morality in this chamber what hope is there for the rest of the community? I see here a reflection of the events which occurred in France. Because political life had reached a low level, it infected the body politic of France, and the country collapsed in a national crisis. Although the present issue is within a small compass, I regard it as involving a most vital constitutional matter. I should like the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) to pay particular attention to my comments, because, regardless of the criticism that may have been directed against him from this side of the House, I believe that he will support my proposition. “We should not grant Supply to the Government until it declares unequivocally that it will not tolerate the situation that has been created by the statements of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward). I shall not prejudge the matter. It would be wrong for me or any other honorable member to attempt to do so; but the issues raise questions of fundamental and far-reaching importance. A senior Minister has declared that he had been most reliably informed-
– Order! The honorable member is not observing my ruling for the conduct of this debate.
– I shall not transgress it, but it is impossible to divorce oneself completely from the terms of the motion forecast by the Leader of the Opposition. I shall not discuss the merits of the motion; I shall refer to the facts only for the purpose of indicating the issues that are involved in determining whether we should grant Supply to the Government before it declares its decision on the motion. The issues involved are that a responsible Minister declared that he had been most reliably informed that a secret document was missing from a file. The implication is that the document was abstracted from a file. That allegation involves the reputations of members of the Public Service, as against the reputation of a Minister of the Crown. Either the information was given to the Minister or it was not. If it were given to him, it must have been given by a person who already had access to the official files. Even then, the matter is one of far-reaching importance, because the Minister is a member neither of the War Cabinet nor of the Advisory War Council. If, in point of fact, an official who had access to the files conveyed false information to him-
– The honorable member is prejudging the issue.
– Order ! The honorable member is obviously debating paragraph b of the notice of motion, which reads, “ Under what circumstances and upon what grounds and what information was given by such informant to the said Minister “. The honorable member is not in order in discussing that matter at this juncture.
– I am not debating the merits of the proposal; but, with great respect to you, Mr. Speaker, I submit that I am entitled, in discussing whether we shall proceed to grant Supply to the Government, to point out the issues involved without further comment. I reject the suggestion that I am prejudging the matter. When moving for the adjournment of the House this afternoon, I emphasized that I would not attempt to prejudge the issue, and I have not said anything to prejudge it. The three issues which arise from the uncontradicted facts are: That an official who had the right of access to secret papers gave a false story to the Minister, or that “some one who had no right of access to the papers gave a false story to the Minister, or that the Minister was given no information at all, and told a false story to the House. I hope for the sake, at least, of the dignity of this chamber, that it will be found that wrong information was given to the Minister; but, because one of the three issues must he found to be correct, we cannot proceed to give further consideration to the Government’s request for Supply until it has announced its intentions regarding the motion foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition. As I stated, the implication is that the previous Government sought to cover up its political tracks by deliberately abstracting a secret document from the files. No more serious charge could be made; and that charge has been negatived by the frank and unequivocal statement of the Prime Minister. The issue which now arises is whether the charge was made with or without justification. If, unhappily, there was no justification for the charge, the occurrence more directly touches this chamber than any other incident in Australian political history. When such a charge is levelled, all the denials in the world will never convince those who are ready to believe that it was correct. Consequently, consideration of public morality, and the prestige of this Parliament demand that we shall now obtain a decision from the Government regarding the foreshadowed motion. If the Government is not prepared to appoint a royal commission, itis our duty to maintain the prestige of the Parliament by refusing to grant- Supply.
– The circumstances which have arisen require from me, as Prime Minister, not a short review of the events which have led to this situation, but an indication of what I regard as the duty of the Government and the obligation of the Parliament. The end of the financial year is very near, and the Constitution provides that this Parliament must vote, prior to the commencement of the new financial year, some temporary provision to carry on the services of State and, generally, His Majesty’s Administration. Therefore, the Parliament has either to vote to myself, as head of this Government, or to some other honorable member as the head of another government, the requisite provision so that the administration of the country may be carried on. Unfortunately, time is pressing-. I summoned Parliament in what would ordinarily have been sufficient time to enable honorable members to give adequate consideration to the matter of providing Supply; but other questions have interposed, and, in consequence, the Government now asks the House to constitute a Committee of Supply in order to determine whether the requisite provision shall be made. Ordinarily, this would constitute a difficulty for any government; but the country is at war, and I need not do more than say that the problems of war are so colossal and, indeed, they press so grievously that they transcend any normal domestic activities which government would provide in peace-time. I ask the House to constitute the Committee of Supply in order that the requisite provision may be made for carrying on the war, and the administration of the country. Certain other matters have been raised in such a manner as to make it extraordinarily difficult for me to refer to them at this stage. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) has given notice of his intention to submit a motion for the purpose of seeking a certain inquiry, and I have decided to adopt towards it the attitude which I believe any Prime Minister would adopt to a representative request from the Opposition on a matter affecting a Minister or the administration of a. Minister. Such an inquiry the head of the Government would immediately consent to institute. Therefore, I have already informed the Leader of the Opposition that I am ready to constitute a royal commission to inquire into certain matters. I have informed the right honorable gentleman also that I am quite ready, in accordance with practice, to consult him respecting the terms of reference to be given .to the royal commission for the purpose of conducting the inquiry. I am ready, too, as I believe any other Prime Minister would be, to consult with the right honorable gentleman on the selection of the person or persons who shall constitute the commission. As the inquiry of the royal commission will affect the position of a Minister in my Cabinet, I have adopted the normal procedure of relieving him of his administrative duties until such time as the report of the royal commission is tabled in Parliament.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– I believe it would be a contravention of the Standing Orders for me to proceed beyond that, as I am quite certain that I should be led into some examination of matters which I hope are now to be remitted to the royal commission as soon as the commission can be issued. I shall advise His Excellency the Governor-General to issue the commission as speedily as it can be done. There will be certain delays in connexion with the issuing of a. commission, which I ask the House to accept as being just as inevitable to me as they would be to any other Prime Minister. I have not a royal commission waiting at my elbow, and I desire to be satisfied that the Leader of the Opposition would regard any appointment proposed to be made as being above the possibility of criticism.
I have been a member of this Parliament for many years. I have sat on the left of Mr. Speaker for six years as the leader of a great party. I do not know that I should ask for any special personal indulgence and I do not do so. As Leader of the Opposition, I endeavoured to maintain the dignity and authority of Parliament. As Prime Minister, I hope that I shall strive just as manfully not only to maintain the dignity of Parliament but also to uphold its authority. At the same time, I must stress what I believe to be a duty to the Parliament, which is to provide His Majesty with the requisite Supply in order to carry on the services of State. I hope that that question can now be resolved entirely upon its merits, and I invite the House to constitute a Committee of Supply.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
.- I move-
That the following additional sum be granted to His Majesty to defray the charges for the year 1942-43 for the services hereunder specified, viz.: -
The financial measures to be submitted to Parliament during this session are as follows : -
In the financial statement which I made to the House on the 11th February last, I indicated that additional revenue would be available for war expenditure this financial year beyond the original budget estimates. The increased estimate of revenue was due partly to the taxation proposals which were brought down at the time and subsequently approved by Parliament, and partly to an improvement in collections under other heads of revenue. An appropriation of this additional revenue was deferred until later in the year.
The budget estimate of revenue was £249,000,000, excluding £28,000,000 for taxation reimbursements to the States. On the same basis the revised estimate is now £269,000,000. The main increase is due to income tax which may realize a further £9,000,000, chiefly as a result of the measures which took effect on the 1st April last. Customs and excise is estimated to bring in a net increase of £3,000,000. Customs may be short of the budget estimate by £500,000 on account of restrictions due to war conditions, but excise has been buoyant and is expected to realize £3,500,000 over the budget estimate. Notwithstanding some war-time restrictions on civil services, post office revenue will probably exceed the budget estimate by £2,500,000. Other sources of revenue in which increases are expected are: entertainments tax, £600,000; pay-roll tax, £800,000; and miscellaneous receipts, £3,300,000. The total increase, in round figures, is put down at £20,000,000.
In the additional estimates of expenditure from the revenue account which are now before the committee I am seeking an additional appropriation of £20,000,000 for war purposes.
In February last I informed the House that the revised estimate of war expenditure for 1942-43 was £540,000,000, an increase of £100,000,000 over the original budget estimate. For the eleven months ended the 31st May, the actual expenditure was £501,000,000, and the estimate for the full year is now £560,000,000. This is £120,000,000 over the original budget estimate, viz., £30,000,000 in respect of overseas expenditure and £90,000,000 in respect of expenditure in Australia.
The budget estimate for overseas expenditure was £50,000,000. This figure was considerably below our commitments and was based solely on the amount of London funds which we expected would be available to meet those commitments. The increase of £30,000,000 is due, not to increased commitments, but to London funds reaching a sufficient level to enable us to pay for actual expenditure overseas this year, viz., £80,000,000, without calling upon the United Kingdom Government for assistance.
I am not yet in a position to give full details of the increase of expenditure in Australia, but, in the main, it has been due to additional commitments for all classes of arms and equipment for the Army, aircraft and aerodromes for the Air Force, and stores, camps and hospitals for the services generally. Additional male personnel and reinforcements and recruits for women’s auxiliary services have increased the liability for pay, and substantial unforeseen expenditure, particularly in respect of troop movements, has been involved in the mobilization of the Army in Australia on a full war footing. Increased expenditure has also been incurred for supplies and services, aerodromes, hospitals and other accommodation for Allied forces in Australia. The service Ministers will give further information at a later stage, subject, of course, to security limitations.
After taking into account the additional £20,000,000 which I have already mentioned, revenue available for war purposes will amount to £160,000,000, leaving £400,000,000 to be met from loan fund.
The following table summarizes the position : -
It is appropriate that I should make a statement here about an important aspect of government financial and economic policy which has been brought into operation since the last meeting of Parliament and for which provision is made in the additional estimates. I refer to the price stabilization scheme.
On the 12th April,the Government announced its new policy of price stabilization, involving the stabilization of the basic prices of raw materials, fuel and transport; steps to secure adequate production at reasonable prices of essential commodities like clothing, meat and vegetables; and an over-all ceiling on the prices of all goods and services at every stage of production and distribution. Under the new policy it is intended that the price level shall be stabilized round its present position, and that the practice hitherto adopted under price control of allowing prices to rise in accordance with unavoidable increases of costs shall be abandoned.
A policy of this kind is in operation in Canada and, to a modified extent, in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Its essential feature is that unavoidable increases in costs due to war conditions will be met by means of government subsidies. Two main advantages accrue from this method of price control. In the first place, subsidieswill permit the stabilization of retail prices generally, and this will be reflected in a new stability in the
Commonwealth Statistician’s “ C “ series index which measures retail prices and by which wages are adjusted.
The second important advantage which accrues under price stabilization is that the case for paying subsidies from government funds will be considered on a wider basis than would be the case for permitting a price increase, so that there will be stronger pressure for economy and efficiency in production.
Subsidies will be paid only for essential production. Wherever possible, increased costs will be met at the basic point at which the raw material is imported into or produced in Australia. This will simplify the administrative problem by enabling the payment of subsidies to be concentrated on the small number of basic importers or producers.
Where profit margins at any stage in the process of production and distribution of a commodity are sufficiently wide, a part or the whole of the increased cost will be absorbed. This practice has been consistently adopted under price control since the outbreak of war, and it will be continued unchanged under the new system.
In some cases increases of costs may be met by permitting a rise of prices. Thus a rise could be allowed for goods sold directly or indirectly to government departments. This practice has been adopted under the Canadian system on the ground that there is no need to pay subsidies on commodities which the Government itself is purchasing.
The main feature of the administrative machinery that requires emphasis is that no business firm will be allowed to be embarrassed by delays in making investigations as to costs, profits, economies and other related matters which may ultimately determine the amount of subsidy to be granted. Importers in particular require an assurance that they may proceed with their normal business on the understanding that increases of costs will not involve them in losses when selling goods within the ceiling prices fixed. The Government is anxious that no interference should take place with the importation of essential commodities, and importers should establish their basic landed costs of imported goods at the ceiling date, 12th April, 1943, with the
Commonwealth Prices Commissioner as early as possible, and make application for relief where the landed cost exceeds the cost on a basic date. The normal administrative machinery that has been operating in the Prices Branch since the outbreak of war for reviewing the amount of relief required will continue to function, and traders will be given relief through subsidies pending the completion of any investigations that may be necessary. This will apply equally to Australian manufacturers. The Stabilization Committee has already recommended payment of subsidies in certain cases, and its recommendations have’ been confirmed by the Minister for Trade and Customs and approved by the Treasurer.
It is impossible to estimate the cost of subsidies under this scheme. The main source of rising costs in the past has been rising prices overseas and rising freight and insurance charges. There is reason te believe that, now that the worst shocks of new war situations have been absorbed iii most countries, except perhaps India, import costs should not continue rising as they have in the past three years.
Price stabilization imposes a direct check on home costs. It therefore ensures that every possible effort will be made to minimize the increasing costs associated with a total war effort. Therefore the effect on government finance of these rising costs will also, be minimized.
In my financial statement last February I outlined the Government’s plan for a comprehensive scheme of national welfare. Parliament has since approved the creation of a national welfare fund into which the sum of approximately £30,000,000 will be paid annually from the 1st July, 1943, and which will be used to finance the various parts of the scheme subject to the approval of Parliament. Further taxation . has already been imposed to meet this liability.
Parliament has also passed legislation providing for increased maternity allowances, funeral benefits for oldage and invalid pensioners and allowances for the wives of invalid pensioners. These benefits will take effect in July.
A bill providing for unemployment, sickness and special benefits will be brought down during the present sessional period. The bill is designed to ensure a measure of income security to bread-winners whose normal earnings are interrupted by unemployment or sickness.
Another important aspect of social security to which the Government has given attention is that of reciprocity of social benefits. Agreement as to old-age and invalid pensions has been reached with. New Zealand. Appropriate legislation to ratify the agreement will be introduced this session.
During the year the Premier of Tasmania advised the Commonwealth Government that the amount of £575,000 which had been granted by the Commonwealth, on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, as financial assistance for the State of Tasmania for 1942-43, would be insufficient to meet the needs of the State, and the Tasmanian Government lodged an application for additional financial assistance.
The claim was heard by the Commonwealth Grants Commission which has now recommended an additional grant of £200,000 to Tasmania for the current financial year, subject to adjustment in a later year in order .to conform to the general policy of the commission in assessing special grants.
The Commonwealth Government has accepted the recommendation of the Grants Commission and a bill will be brought before Parliament to authorize the payment of a further grant of £200,000 to Tasmania in respect of the year 1942-43.
Assistance to the Dairying Industry.
The subsidy granted by the Commonwealth Government to the dairying industry for the year 1942-43 was at the rate of £2,000,000 a year, commencing from the 1st October, 1942, and the amount of £1,500,000 was appropriated under the Dairying Industry Assistance Act 1942. This amount has been distributed to dairy-farmers by the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Equalization Committee Limited.
This subsidy was regarded as a tentative arrangement, pending a decision by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration as to the basic rates to be paid to the industry and a final review of costs and prices by the Prices Commissioner.
The Government has now decided to increase the subsidy for 1943-44 to £6,500,000, and also to make a corresponding increase in the payments on the production from the 1st April to the 30th June, 1943. Moreover, the subsidy will be paid to primary producers in respect of milk used for the manufacture of particular classes of condensed milk and powdered milk, in addition to butter and cheese. Hitherto the present subsidy has been payable only to producers of milk used for the manufacture of butter and cheese.
Legislation will be introduced to cover the decisions of the Government and to provide for the allocation and distribution of the subsidy.
Increased financial assistance on the scale now provided, whilst it will not solve all the dairy-farmers’ problems under war conditions, will go a long way towards placing the industry on a sound foundation.
.- Mr. Temporary Chairman-
– On a point of order, Mr. Temporary Chairman. “What is the method under which the call is to be allotted? The honorable member for Lilley, the honorable member for Swan and I were on our feet before the honorable member for Robertson rose and caught your eye.
– Order! The honorable member for Robertson has the call.
– A few of us have had enough of this front-bench Opposition.
– I shall not speak for the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden). He in due course will seek his own call, and accept the special privileges that are accorded to him to make his speech on the Treasurer’s financial statement.
The statement which the Treasurer has made justifies the figures that I gave last night when, without knowledge of this statement, I forecast that for the year that will end on the 30th June next there would be a deficiency of revenue amounting to £410,000,000. The Treasurer’s statement sets the deficiency at £400,000,000. I indicated last night that in the coming twelve months the Government, with the plan of expenditure that is before it and the revenues that are available to it, must show a deficiency of not less than £500,000,000. I say that with special reference to the unfortunate financial debacle that is developing in Australia as the result of the failure of the Government to apply anything in the nature of a constructive financial policy. From October, 1941, to February last, when legislation was introduced to impose the taxes that commenced on the 1st April, the Government did not attempt by any means to bridge the difference between expenditure under war-time conditions and ordinary revenue. During that time the whole outlook for Australia changed, in that Japan entered the war and Australia’s obligations in the Pacific increased entirely out of proportion to any that were previously imposed upon it. Together with the increased responsibility, the Government’s expenditure for war purposes necessarily increased considerably. In October last the Treasurer told the House that the Government would spend upon the Avar £440,000,000 before the 30th June next. In February he was obliged to tell honorable members that his estimate was £100,000,000 short and that the expenditure would be £540,000,000. Now he is obliged to tell honorable members that that estimate was £20,000,000 short of the real figure, and that the expenditure would be £560,000,000 for the twelve months. Nothing is farther from my mind than to criticize expenditure necessary for the conduct of the war, but I cite those figures for the purpose of supporting my contention that the Government has lost control and has not been able to keep its fingers on the channels of expenditure. It does not know how or where money is being expended. There can be no other explanation of the fact that between October and February it was obliged to say, “ Our expenditure has increased from £440,000,000 to £540,000,000”, and now, eight months later, that there is need for further revision and that another £20,000,000 will have been expended before the year ends next week. That justifies me in saying that next financial year there will be greater expenditure than is indicated in the financial statement which the Treasurer has presented. I shall not complain if it is proper expenditure for the purposes of this nation, but I suspect and fear that a considerable part of the expenditure is wasted and that this results from the inability of the Government to control the channels of expenditure. A considerable amount could be saved if the Government had the executive ability to maintain even reasonable control over disbursements. I indicated last night that in my view the expenditure for the twelve months commencing on the 1st July next will be not less than £650,000,000. That is a conservative estimate. The Treasurer has told us that in the last twelve months he has expended £560,000,000. I shall not be surprised if, in October next, he tells us that the expenditure for the next financial year will be £700,000,000. The point of what I am saying is that the Government has failed lamentably during the last 21 months to provide any constructive means of finance which would have enabled the gap to be bridged. When the Treasurer has taken the amount which normally and reasonably he may expect to receive from the channels of revenue which flow - to him at the present .time, there will still remain next year a deficiency, which may be approximately £500,000,000, or even considerably more than that. During the last twelve months, the honorable gentleman has made the utmost efforts to take from the loan market all moneys that could be raised by voluntary loan. Last night the honorable gentleman misconstrued a statement that I made. I do not urge that the system of raising money by voluntary loans should be discontinued. That system must continue. But there must be superimposed upon it a system of raising money by compulsory loans in quarters where they will be calculated to produce results of value to the Government. It is now known that by the 30th June the Government will have issued to the Commonwealth Bank treasury bills for the issue of central bank credit amounting to approximately £200,000,000 during the last twelve months. . That will raise the total issue of central bank credit by that date to approximately £275,000,000.
– It is not enough.
– I hope that the honorable member makes that statement with proper understanding and due recognition of what it means. If it merely consists of a few meaningless words, and is intended to convey to the minds of his listeners no more than it conveys to his own mind, it is thoroughly irresponsible and does no credit to him as a member of this Parliament. If, with a full knowledge of the position, he says that the amount is not enough, and understands what that means, then he is entitled to his opinion; but I greatly fear that that is not the case, and that he does not appreciate the position that is developing by reason of the policy adopted by this Government to bridge the financial gap, whatever it may be, from time to time, .by the issue of central bank credit without limit or hindrance.
I have indicated that by the 30th June next the central bank credit issued upon treasury-bills by the Commonwealth Bank at the request of the Government will amount to approximately £275,000,000. The point that I want to make i3 that we are just about to commence a new financial year. I have shown from a reconstruction of the Treasurer’s figures, applied to next year, that during the ensuing twelve months we shall have to rely upon the Commonwealth Bank for at least an equal amount of central bank credit; equal not to the amount issued during the last twelve months but to the total amount issued during the last two years. “Whatever position may exist in Australia to-day, whatever may have already arisen, whatever dangers may have been imposed upon our financial structure, our industrial system, and our price levels by the issue of so much central bank credit will have been exactly doubled by this time next year. Now is the time for this nation to consider the application of a policy that will give greater protection to the currency and to the economic system. If, in October, 1941, the position that now exists had been anticipated, appreciated, and realized, there would not to-day be anything approaching the total of central bank credit that has since been issued. Since we have a long war to wage, since this nation may be dependent for a number of years upon support from its inner reserves and the resources of the Commonwealth Bank, and since, following the war, we stall have a period during which we shall need to provide a great deal of money for reconstruction purposes, then it behoves us to ensure that those reserves, whatever they may be, shall be spread over a long period. The Government is employing to the full, in a period of two or three years, what appears to be the maximum resources that should be available to the nation over a much longer period of warfare and the ensuing period of reconstruction. By its lack of policy, the Government is doing a great injustice and disservice to the people who will have to be put back into employment at the termination of the war. When the time arrives to proceed with expenditure upon major national works for the purpose of increasing the productive capacity of Australia and of employing thousands of persons who will seek engagement in normal avocations, the Government of the day will need to have access to resources such as those which we are now using. Without a proper sense of responsibility, the Government is pouring money out and leaving the future to look after itself. Had it been cautious and constructive, had it applied a policy for the eighteen months from October, 1941, to March, 1943, it could have withdrawn from the public such an amount that approximately one-half of the central bank credit so far used would not have been used; in other words, we have probably used twice as much as we might have used because the Government, instead of having a policy, considered it preferable to encourage the people to believe that the war could be waged and costs could be met without imposing any obligations upon them. If the people can be taught that they have no financial responsibility and can continue to live and spend as usual, then they must regard this Government as one that is heavensent, a wonderful administration which is able to avoid any responsibility falling upon the shoulders of those who should carry a portion of the burdens of the war.
That brief statement is the introduction to and, indeed, the explanation of what follows in that section of the Treasurer’s statement which applies to price stabilization. The sudden application of ceiling prices, of a price stabilization scheme, is not a constructive and economic policy, but something that has been forced suddenly upon the Government, because it found that it had to do something in order to conceal the evidence of inflation in Australia. ¥e had reached the point at which not only had prices risen to a level very much higher than they should have gone, but also the price rise was commencing to step up at a very much quicker rate than was safe or reliable. A couple of months ago the Government was obliged to apply a price stabilization scheme. In doing so, it has left in existence all the complications of the old price control scheme, a system that had been laboriously built up for a couple of years prior to the introduction of price Stabilization. The Government is now endeavouring to run the two systems hand in hand for the purpose of controlling profits and prices. This is not necessary. It has not been found necessary in Canada. If the Government is able to implement a policy of ceiling prices, and by this means to prevent retail prices from rising beyond the levels that existed at the date of price stabilization, then there is no need to continue the machinery of the old system in connexion with the control of profits and prices. The result is merely to confuse industry, cause complication, build up huge government departments with crowds of public servants, and add to the cost of administration as well as the burden of expenditure generally. The Government having embarked upon a ceiling price system, all the people will give the utmost support to it. There will be initial complications and anomalies, but they will adjust themselves as time proceeds. The application of ceiling prices is the policy which the Government should have introduced twelve months earlier. All its economic arrangements and financial proposals have been at least twelve months behind the time when action should have been taken. I believe that the ceiling price arrangement will receive sufficient support to make the system successful, provided that it is so administered as not to cause confusion in industry. The introduction of the scheme was delayed by the Government until the point had been reached at which it had to do something in order to conceal the evidence of inflation in Australia. Notwithstanding the application of ceiling prices and of price stabilization, the Government will not control inflation unless it also takes other steps to reduce the spending power in the hands of the public, which sooner or later must inevitably force up prices. Ceiling price control is only artificial, and no artificial control in an economy such as ours will successfully control prices unless supplementary steps be taken to reduce the force that is behind the system. The Treasurer must realize that a river coming into flood may be held for a certain time by a dam of some strength and resistance, but the time arrives when the flow of water is so increased that the dam is not strong enough to withstand it. Unless steps be taken to reduce the spending power in the hands of the public, the point will most assuredly be reached when price stabilization will not be strong enough to withstand the irresistible force of the flood waters as they come down. I utter that warning to the Government to-night. Let it not believe that, because it has introduced an artificial scheme of price stabilization, it has completed the task that confronts it. Ministers must listen to wiser counsels. They have been sold this idea by theorists and economists who believe that it is possible to run the internal financial system of the country by rule-of-thumb methods. Let the Government not believe such promptings, for they are unsafe and unreliable.
– It is being done that way in Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
Mir. SPOONER.- I have already pointed out that in Great Britain and Canada they are doing the very things which we say should be done here. Both in Great Britain and in Canada, they have a system of compulsory loans with post-war credits. They do not rely upon the imposition of artificial price ceilings; they have introduced supplementary methods of control. They “take steps to withdraw money from circulation, thus reducing the pressure on price levels.
– Taxation is as high proportionately in Australia as in the United Kingdom or the United States of America.
– The Treasurer is referring to the increased rate of taxation since the 1st April last, but I am pointing out that for eighteen months before that the Government did nothing to remedy the position. It allowed a volume of money to get into circulation which has had the effect of forcing up prices. It is true that the Government has now increased taxation, but it has failed in other ways to reduce the volume of money in circulation. There is still room for a compulsory loans scheme, applied, not perhaps to salaries and wages, but to the incomes of trading concerns. I have expressed that view to the Treasurer, but nothing has been done. I have pointed out that receipts could be increased by varying the method of taxation of certain companies. In that way millions of pounds could ‘be raised. I have explained to the Treasurer that, by its failure to discipline State authorities, the Government has allowed them to collect revenue which should have come to the Commonwealth.
– This Government has done more to control the States than did any other government.
– Many of the things that became necessary by the end of 1941 were quite unnecessary in 1940. When Japan came into the war, and expenditure rose from £170,000,000 to £560,000,000, certain action became necessary, as I have pointed out. At the present time, the local authorities in certain of the States are taking from property-owners and ratepayers money which should be coming into the Commonwealth Treasury. There are other methods by which expenditure by the public can be reduced, but the Government has taken no constructive steps in this direction. Until three months ago it had done nothing to reduce the volume of money available for spending by the general public.
The third section of the Treasurer’s financial statement is an explanation of the price stabilization scheme that has been suddenly brought into operation because the Government has found it necessary to do something to meet existing conditions. The next section of the statement deals with the Government’s national welfare scheme. We heard something of that during the last session when the Government introduced a bill to establish a National Welfare Fund. I do not propose to go once more over the objections which were raised at that time to the creation of such a fund. However, seeing that the scheme is allied to an existing act of Parliament, I point out that moneys payable to the National Welfare Fund can only arrive in the fund at a time when the Government has the cash in hand to make available for that purpose. For all practical purposes nothing can be paid into this fund until after the war. As the Treasurer pointed out in February last, it is proposed after the war to borrow on the market money for the National Welfare Fund. During the war, the Government will spend what money it can raise upon the urgent needs of the moment. The taxpayer, in the meantime, has the promise that after the war, he will obtain from the National Welfare Fund certain ‘benefits in the shape of social services. If the Government lasts a week or two longer, it will introduce a bill containing some of the details of the social services which are to be financed in due course from the National Welfare Fund, after the Government has borrowed money for the benefit of the fund. Let us contrast that with the policy which the Opposition has consistently advocated. The Opposition has never said that it will not give social benefits to the people. I have no wish to assume the functions of the Leader of the Opposition by stating just what the Opposition will do in regard to social benefits, but a statement has been made on behalf of the Opposition that it will introduce, and cause to be carried into operation, a national social service scheme on a contributory basis. I know that, before I entered this Parliament, a social services scheme on a contributory basis had been agreed to by Parliament.
– And we strenuously opposed it.
– The members of the Labour party always oppose any proposal for the benefit of the workers, unless they themselves can introduce it. The people can be sure that they will obtain the benefits from us under a sound, contributory scheme of insurance against unemployment and sickness. Such a scheme would be a much more reliable one to depend upon than the nebulous National Welfare Fund which the Government has promised. The present Government says to the people that they must wait until after the war. In the meantime, it has passed through Parliament legislation providing for a National Welfare Fund, which so far takes the form of a ledger account in the Treasury books. If any one has any doubt of the existence of the fund, he can be taken to the Treasury offices, and there shown the new ledger book. There is no money in the fund, and there will not be until after the war, but the people are asked to trust the Government. After the war, when the Government has borrowed some money, it will be able to provide out of the fund the benefits it has promised. I ask honorable members to contrast that method with the scheme which has been advocated by the Opposition since 1941. We ask the people to realize their responsibilities in regard to war finance, and to make their contribution to the revenue of the Treasury through taxation; then, immediately the war is over, we shall repay to the taxpayers by annual or quarterly instalments some portion of the taxation that they have been obliged to pay during the war. This is an opportune time to mention the matter again, because, quite evidently, the Treasurer has been actuated by political considerations in again drawing attention to the National Welfare Fund. It is clear that this financial statement is, in effect, the Treasurer’s pre-election statement. The Government has made promises in an attempt to attract votes at the elections which must be held within the next few months. Please God, they may be held within the next few weeks. That can be the only purpose which the Treasurer had in mind in mentioning the National Welfare Fund. This is merely a financial statement in explanation of the resolution asking for Supply for three months. Why, then, bring in the National Welfare’ Fund again, a subject which was discussed ad nauseam last session. Since the matter has been mentioned, it is in order for me to point out that the Government’s social service scheme compares lamentably with the policy urged from this side of the House, under which the people would, after the war, receive in cash, and without doubt, a refund of a part of their taxation.
– Where does the honorable member hope to get that cash from?
– The Treasurer asks me where the Government will get that cash. I note that he assumes that the Opposition will then be the Government, and I have no doubt that he is right.
– Yes, but that does not answer the question.
– The Treasurer’s fears are well founded. His intuition is correct. He sees the writing on the wall. He realizes that, because of the squabbling of his colleagues, the Cabinet of which he is a member is crumbling, not from day to day, but from hour to hour.
– Will the honorable member answer my question?
– The Treasurer estimates that, for the year which ends on the 30th June, revenue will be approximately £269,000,000. In 1938 the Treasurer of the day, Mr. Menzies, budgeted for the expenditure of £100,000,000. The press gave great prominence to his statement; it was a milestone in Australian finance. But after a period of only four years, Australia has a revenue, not an expenditure, of £269,000,000, of which £109,000,000 is absorbed by administrative expenses and £160,000,000 is available for war purposes. After the war, Australia will get the benefit of greatly reduced taxation, but will never revert to a revenue of £100,000,000 as in 1938. Apart from loan raisings, Australian revenue resulting from expanded production in the post-war period, should be sufficient to provide for the post-war repayments of a portion of the heavy taxes paid in war-time.
– In other words, tax the people in the post-war era for the purpose of repaying to them some of the taxes that they now contribute to Consolidated Revenue!
– The Treasurer referred to the dairying industry. Other members of the Opposition will deal fully with that subject. My purpose in mentioning it is to point out that the honorable gentleman is only applying a palliative to those Australian industries which at present are on a non-payable basis. He has yet to apply his mind in a more constructive manner to ensuring the prosperity of the dairying industry. The Government cannot shelve this problem by granting a subsidy to this industry. It will only pile up one trouble in order to mitigate another. The time must come when this industry will have to be dealt with in a constructive manner. Subsidies in any form are only palliatives, and the industries still depend upon a constructive policy which will provide a payable basis for their products.
All that the Treasurer has said in his statement appeared in the press recently. This is a political restatement of what the Government hopes will be an appeal for the votes of the dairyfarmers. It has no real part in an appeal by the Government to this Committee of Supply for the next three months. I am not speaking on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition; he will intervene in the discussion at a later stage; but the statement which the Treasurer has given to honorable members confirms the views which have been expressed by the Opposition this week. The Government’s appeal to the Parliament at the present time has a political basis. The time has arrived when the Government must go to the country. If it does not choose to do so, the decision must be made for it. An unworkable position has been reached. Neither the Parliament nor the country has confidence in the Government. There are influences behind this Parliament which are wrangling at the present time, and there is no unity in the influences which support the Government. How can people expect unity in the ranks of the Government itself? The appearance of the Government to-night is one of disunity, disintegration and disorder.
I charge the Treasurer with being unable to provide any constructive proposals in connexion with financial and economic administration. For five months I have urged the Treasurer to consider the introduction of the scheme of payasyougo taxation in Australia. Since this Parliament last met in April, the United States of America has adopted the scheme. A few months ago, the Treasurer would do no more than sneer at the proposal. He saw no virtue in it. But to-day in Melbourne the Australasian Council of Trade Unions unanimously carried a resolution demanding the introduction into Australia of the payasyougo system.
– Is the honorable member linking up with the trade unions ?
– The honorable member for Griffith is plainly surprised. Perhaps the Treasurer will now begin to believe that ‘the proposal is worthy of consideration. If, after the elections, the United Australia party government introduces the scheme, a great benefit will be conferred upon the hundreds of thousands of people who are supposed to support the Labour party. The system of pay-as-you-go taxation is of greater benefit, relatively speaking, to the workers than to other taxpayers. Perhaps honorable members opposite are not aware that a conference representing 3,000,000 trade unionists in Great Britain carried a resolution in favour of its introduction. The Commonwealth Government is twelve months behind the times. Its application ‘of a ceiling price was at least twelve months overdue.
– Order! The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.-When the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner) deals with financial matters, he is always interesting, although his views are unacceptable to me. Ever since I have taken an interest in public affairs, the anti-Labour parties have been producing the inflation bogy at election time. Long ago I ceased to regard the bogy seriously. Of course, central bank credit must be wisely used, otherwise excessive spending power in the community will detrimentally affect the workers.
The honorable member accused the Labour Government of having no constructive financial policy. For many years United Australia party governments were in charge of the Commonwealth legislative machinery, but they passed no measures to relieve unemployment, or to give to the people social security. They could not provide effective means for the distribution of the huge surpluses of goods produced in Australia to the undernourished unemployed. The honorable member for Robertson was a Minister in the Tory government of New South Wales which subsequently disintegrated as a result of lethargy and the absence of constructive policy. The honorable member spoke in glowing terms of what will be done for the people in the postwar era, but the United Australia party did very little in the past for the benefit of the general community. The Labour Government has at least stabilized prices to some degree. I hope that price levels will receive continuous attention under the stabilization scheme, and that more will be done to stabilize prices than has so far been attempted. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner), who spoke for the Opposition on this measure, was asked by the Treasurer how he would carry out the promises that he appeared to be making on behalf of the Opposition to improve things for the people at large, but his long, rambling statement did not get us very far and I do not think that his proposals will appeal to the electors.
I shall not speak at length on this measure because of the need to obtain Supply without delay, but I congratulate the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) on the references he made to the National Welfare Fund. I hope that before the House rises the welfare measures he has foreshadowed will be placed on our statutebook. Unemployment and sickness benefits are highly desirable, as the reports of the Social Security Committee indicate. The Government’s proposals are largely based on the reports of that committee.
I refer now to the need for returning to Tasmania the skilled personnel who left that State for the mainland in the early days of the war in order to engage in munitions manufacture. It was necessary for them to come to the mainland because very little munitions manufacturing work could be done in Tasmania at that time. Many of the personnel to whom I refer participated in the Commonwealth training scheme and were quickly fitted for expert work in munitions manufacture. The need for their presence on the mainland is not so great as it was, and the need for their presence in Tasmania is greater than ever before, particularly as Tasmanian industry has developed to such a degree as to need them. Many of the men own their own homes in Tasmania and owing to housing, transport and other problems, it is unsatisfactory for them to live away from their homes if they can do essential work at home. The men were promised permission to return to Tasmania when Tasmanian industry “ had developed sufficiently to absorb them. Apparently there is to be a change-over from the production of certain classes of munitions to other classes of work, so a favorable opportunity is available for returning these men to their home State in order that they may do their part in helping to develop it and lay the foundation there for the effectual carrying out of the Government’s announced intention to decentralize industry if they so desire. I regret that a great deal more has not been done in this direction, but I trust that we are reaching the stage at which decentralization, which is the policy of the present Government, may be achieved at a more rapid rate.
I wish now to refer to the necessity to establish the gasket manufacturing industry in Australia. In the past, 95 per cent, of the gaskets used in this country for automotive engines have been imported from America and Great Britain. Some gaskets are being made here to-day, though not many. Sheet copper and asbestos are the base constituents of this article. There is a tremendous need for the production of gaskets here. We should not be entirely dependent upon supplies from outside sources. Assuming that suitable asbestos and sheet copper of the correct thickness are available, the main essentials for the production of the finished article would be dies for use in the stamping-out process. Tasmania is well suited to be the home of this industry. It has one of the biggest copper mines in the world, and it also has an unexcelled hydroelectric scheme for power purposes. J, therefore, hope that the Minister for Munitions will give serious and sympathetic consideration to my proposal.
As funds are urgently needed not only for normal activities in this country but also for war purposes, I hope that the Supply Bill will have a speedy passage.
.- I bring to the notice of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) the urgent need for a review of the financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and State Governments. The time is ripe for an immediate review of this subject for, whilst the Commonwealth Government is at its wits’ end to find the money necessary to meet war needs, most of the State governments will show a substantial surplus in their accounts for the current financial year. In these days the State governments are assured of their income tax returns by reason of the operation of the States Grants (Income Tax Reimbursement) Act, under which the Commonwealth Government collects all income tax and makes specified payments to the States. The State governments have also received substantial windfalls lately in increased railway revenue, due largely to freights paid by the Commonwealth Government on the transport of war personnel and equipment. Moreover, the States have not been able to incur even normal expenditure on developmental projects. I have made a close examination of the railway accounts of the various State governments and have abstracted the following details, which will be of interest to honorable members: -
I have given the figures to the 30th June, 1942, because that is the last complete year for which they are available. It will be seen that the States have enjoyed an increase of their railway revenue over the period mentioned by £20,054,000. The working expenses have increased in the same period from £35,000,000 to £49,000,000, showing a net increase of £6,000,000. All the indications are that the railway revenue in the current financial year will show a further increase. “When the allocation of income tax was fixed at £34,000,000, the substantial increase of railway revenue that has occurred was not foreseen, and, although provision was made in the States Grants (Income Tax Reimbursement) Act for an increase to be made in the allocations, no provision was made for a decrease. Section 6 of that act provides -
C. - (1) If the Treasurer of any State to which payments may be made under section four of this Act is of the opinion that the payments so made are insufficient to meet the revenue requirements of the State he may, by writing, so inform the Commonwealth Grants Commission constituted under the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1033-1035.
Upon receipt of any such information the Commonwealth Grants Commission shall inquire into and report to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth as to whether it is just that an additional amount of financial assistance should be payable to that State, for which purpose the Commission shall have all the powers it would have if the information were an application made by a State under . the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1033-1035.
Where the Treasurer, after considering the report, is satisfied that it is just that a greater amount of financial assistance should be payable to that State than the amount payable in accordance with section four of this Act, there shall be payable to that State such further amount of financial assistance (not exceeding the amount recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission) as the Treasurer thinks just.
The Commonwealth Grants Commission will investigate claims by States for increased grants and, if necessary, recommend to the Commonwealth Government that further grants be made. In view of the serious financial position of the Commonwealth, this Parliament should consider the desirability of reviewing the financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and - the States. It is hardly fair that, while the taxpayers are being taxed to the limit by the Commonwealth, some of the State governments have money to burn. If it is not possible to amend the present arrangements, the Commonwealth Government should approach the State governments with a request that they reduce the freights charged to the Commonwealth Government. All the extra railway revenue in - the States results from the war. In some States, the increased railway revenue is 25 per cent, of the allocation of the uniform tax. I, therefore, think it imperative that the Commonwealth Government should immediately reconsider the financial arrangements that exist between it and the States. While I am on this question of State governments, I suggest to the Treasurer that some effort should be made to provide for a uniform system of presentation of the public accounts of the States. It is difficult to make a comparison of State accounts owing to the varying manners in which they are presented. The Commonwealth Government is now vitally interested in this matter because of having to reimburse the States under the uniform tax legislation. It would be in the interest not only of the Commonwealth Government, but also the public generally if there were a uniform system of presenting public accounts.
I ask the Treasurer if he has yet done anything about his promise to me during the last income tax debate that the system of taxation of private companies would be reviewed. The honorable gentleman assured me that that review would be made before the end of this financial year.
– What I said was that I hoped to be able to appoint the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) and the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner) as a special committee to look into that matter. I have not been able to do that yet, because the right honorable member for Yarra has only just been able to resume duty after his illness.
– I hope that that review will be possible soon, because private companies are unfairly treated under the taxation law.
.- I support the motion. The statement of the treasurer (Mr. Chifley) disclosed that the affairs of this country have been efficiently managed. Undoubtedly, th6 estimate of expenditure in the budget for 1942-43 has been considerably exceeded and supplementary financial statements have been necessary in order to make provision for meeting the deficiencies; but with war upon the ‘country all demands cannot be foreseen at the start of the financial year, and provision has to be made from time to time according to circumstances. The Government has adequately used the financial machinery to meet the requirements of the country. The honorable and vain member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner) came to light again to-night with splenetic criticism of the Government’s financial policy, and was not backward in repeating proposals that he has made on other occasions for a changed system. Whatever the honorable gentleman may think, the use of national credit has proved quite sound. The figures for the previous quarter showed an increased cost of living in only one State, Queensland, where the basic wage was increased by only ls. In New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, there has been no increase of the cost of living or of the basic wage. That in itself shows that the Government has ably used national credit in order to finance the war and, at the same time, “by the judicious use of such instruments as rationing, price control, preferences and priorities, has been able to achieve a considerable measure of stability. That stability- should be further increased now that the Government has wisely adopted the practice which has been in operation in Canada for fixing ceiling prices for all commodities. The same system has been adopted with success in other allied countries. Earlier, Canada operated only a partial scheme, but it soon found that it was better to cover all commodities. Since all commodities have been covered, the scheme has operated most satisfactorily. The United States of America adopted a partial scheme at first, fixing the prices of things that affect the cost of living of the people, such as the various items of food, but it did not fix wages or the returns to the farmers. The United States of America has found that that system is not satisfactory and is now about to adopt the Canadian system. In Great Britain, ceiling prices were imposed and a large degree of stabilization has been, reached. The subsidies paid are undoubtedly high. They amounted to £150,000,000 in 1941, and about £200,000,000 in 1942, but there are compensations in the fact that the provision of a fair return to the producers enabled them to continue to produce the needs of the country. It also produced a stable standard of living for the consumers, and in that way the system of subsidies is serving a very useful purpose. The Commonwealth Government has exercised its powers under the new scheme to fix the price of butter and cheese and other dairy produce. The substantial subsidy of £6,500,000 will be paid to the dairyfarmers. I think that that is far .beyond what they expected. It will go a long way towards stabilizing the dairying industry, and will induce the farmers to produce the needs of the country, the allied services, and Great Britain. It is most essential that the needs of the allied services and the United Kingdom should be met in this way. Figures that I saw recently disclosed that the cheese ration was reduced to 6 oz. and later to 4 oz. a week. Therefore, any additional quantities of cheese that we can send to Great Britain will be highly appreciated there.
Early this week the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) touched upon improvements which have taken place in the production of certain commodities in Australia under the administration of this Government. “We all know the difficulties under which the dairying industry is struggling. I think that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was rather generous to the Opposition, and he was conservative in his estimates of future production. In 1941-42, 169,454 tons of butter was produced, compared with 147,800 tons in the first nine months of this financial year. We should produce at least 200,000 tons of butter before the year ends.
– The last three months are not months of high production.
– That is so, but what is produced should brine the year’s total considerably above the total in the previous year. The output of butter has been improved notwithstanding a substantial improvement of the production of cheese. In 1939-40 we produced 31,154 tons; in 1940-41, 26,7S8 tons; in 1941-42, 29,798 tons; and for the nine months ended the 31st March, 1943, 31,250 tons. That is the greatest output recorded in any such period. It exceeds the output hi the corresponding period of 1942 by 7,255 tons, or 30.4 per cent. There are other commodities that are being produced for the allied services, such as sweetened and unsweetened condensed milk, concentrated milk and powdered milk, but for the production of which the output of butter would have been even more considerable. The armed services make great demands for condensed milk and other processed milk. In the year ended the 30th June, 1940, 37,544,000 lb. of sweetened condensed milk was produced, as compared with 77,982,000 lb. in 1941-2. For the eight months to February of this year, the production was 48,000,000 lb. The production of other processed milk products in those three years has been as follows: -
It will thus be seen that dairy production has been on a reasonably sound basis. I believe that under the Government’s present policy it will be even sounder.
The payment of subsidies, in my opinion, is one of the soundest proposals that the Government has adopted. It will ensure stability to the primary producer, and a greater measure of satisfaction to the consumer. The experience abroad in regard to the stabilization of prices is similar to that of Australia. In an article on price control in World War I., a copy of which I have, it is pointed out -
Ample experience abroad has shown that even when all prices, wages, rents and profits are frozen, cost increases never can be avoided entirely. These arise partly from disturbances in traffic, rise in transportation costs, the necessity of using substitutes for cheap imported commodities like rubber, and by dozens of similar deteriorations of quality and service.
That indicates the difficulty of achieving stability. The most recent figures in relation to the cost of living index, C series, show that there has been only a slight increase of ls. a week in Queensland. Under the . present scheme there will be only slight, if any, variation.
The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner) has claimed that it is impossible to control inflation; that it will take charge of this country, and terrors will come upon the land. Facing Japan, Germany, and our other enemies, all the resources at our disposal must be employed. During the depression our people suffered great hardship and poverty; there was the paradox of poverty amid plenty. “We were told that the people must deprive themselves of commodities that they ought to have, simply because the money needed to provide them could not be found. Yet hundreds of millions of pounds can be raised for war purposes. I do not regard that as wasteful expenditure if, because of it, we can hold this country and maintain our liberties. But never again will the people, in times of peace, accept the dictum that money cannot be found with which to ensure stability, security and social and economic benefits. Certain social measures have been brought down by the Government during the last twelve months; these will add to the security of the people. Further measures are contemplated, and I hope th a,t some of them will be implemented before the conclusion of this sessional period. The people should be given social benefits while the war is being waged, in order that they may be convinced that they will have, at least, some measure of social justice at the termination of it, instead of having dangled before them promises of something better later. If our fighting men believe that when they return to civil life the Government will ensure to them economic security, and guarantee that they and their families will never again know want, they will be imbued with the idea that the country is well worth fighting for, and will do their utmost to defend it. Now is the time to implement social services. I hope, that the experience which the Government has gained in the use of the financial resources of the nation for the financing of the war will be used in equal measure in the period of peace, in order to bring to the people of this land prosperity and economic security.
.- From time to time in this Parliament, I have expressed alarm at the continued building up of an enormous public service bureaucracy in this country. Every week, new boards and departments are being established. Yet we are led to believe that there is an enormous shortage of labour. Most certainly there is, in the primary industries. Particularly in the farming areas of Western Australia, there is a great deal of alarm and consternation because of a new proposal for the grouping of farmers, not only for the carting of their produce, but also for the servicing of their families and their farming operations. So far as I know, the proposal is that every ten farmers, irrespective of the size of their farms, their production, or their family needs, shall be serviced by what will be known as a community carrier. Such a scheme, if insisted upon,, must break down, because of the enormous distances between farms. Generally speaking, the agricultural lands of Western Australia have not the same carrying or productive capacity as have those of some of the older and more closely settled States, but are larger and more scattered. In the greater part of the wheat-belt, there is quite a substantial acreage of reserve country which has not been brought into production. I hope that it never will be, because I am in favour of forest reserves throughout Australia. If the plan be applied on a uniform basis throughout Australia, what might be suitable for Victoria could not possibly be acceptable to Western Australia. I have not been able to learn who is responsible for the scheme. I understand that the Minister for Transport has some connexion with it, because it is to be operated in the different States by the Transport Boards. The Department of Supply and Shipping also has some connexion with it. At present, if a farmer, because of isolation or the nature of his requirements, needs to use his truck almost from daylight to dark, at certain periods of the year, perhaps in carting water to his stock, and has to replace a tube, a tyre, or a part that has been broken, he is not able to effect the replacement unless he agrees to co-operate in the proposed cartage scheme. Therefore, the Department of Supply and Shipping is holding a pistol at the head of every farmer. A man who has to service ten farmers and their families will not be able to do any work on his own property. It is suggested that men will be provided to take his place on the farm, or to drive the truck. Neither of those plans can be successful, because the men who are available to-day are not able to look after his farm as he would care for it personally. Another suggestion is that if the farmers have not a truck which is capable of doing what is required, they should secure one under the lend-lease arrangement. Who is to guarantee payment to the carrier for the work that he does, or be responsible for the payment of compensation should an accident occur and death result from it? The authorities have rushed into this matter without any organization. I have discussed it with officials in the head office in Perth, and have been informed that an endeavour was being made to secure. the services of sixteen men to help to run the scheme. I can say without fear of contradiction that a lot of the new schemes that are being launched are absorbing more men in office employment in the cities than will be released under them. If sixteen men are required for the commencement of operations in Western Australia, what must be the number in some of the other States? The brunt of the introduction of clothes rationing, and the unravelling of anomalies in the first few months of its application in Western Australia, was borne by eight or ten persons. When the scheme was running smoothly, a staff of 50 or 60 officials was built up in that State. Only the Lord knows what the number is in New South Wales and Victoria, with six or seven times the population of Western Australia. An enormous bureaucracy, much of it entirely unnecessary, is being established, whilst primary industries are absolutely starved of labour. Recruiting for the Civil Constructional Corps still goes on. We have been informed in the last few days that Australia is practically free from the possibility of invasion. If that be so, surely some hundreds of the magnificent trucks that are being used to-day in military and other occupations could be devoted to the cartage of produce to the railhead, instead of imposing further hardship and difficulty on the few persons who still remain on their farms. Only those who are engaged in rural industries know what conditions are being borne by women and children in the effort to maintain the food production of the nation. Small children of six, seven and eight years of age are working like slaves to-day in an effort to maintain food production. Those who have been engaged in these industries have warned both this Government and previous governments of what would happen if the authorities continued calling up men indiscriminately. This talk of a blanket exemption for primary industries is all rot. I could cite instances of men being called up within the last few weeks, owners of properties among them.
– Then it is against the instructions of the Government.
– That may be, but it is being done by these bureaucrats. I wrote recently to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) regarding the case of a gardener at Osborne Park.
– Yes, and I took the matter up.
– That is true, and I give the Minister full credit for his action. This man had 8 acres of market garden. He is an Australian, whose father was born in Italy. He is an excellent citizen, as is his father also. The father had worked in the mines until he became “ dusted “. Then he took up a piece of raw swamp and made it into a beautiful garden. The son married an Australian girl, and has two children. A security officer marked him down because of his family background, and he was called up. I ventilated the case in this House. This man last year produced 380 tons of vegetables from his garden, with the help of two workmen, one of whom had been rejected for military service, while the other was reserved. The owner was under contract to supply the military authorities with vegetables, and also to supply vegetables to a canning factory which was doing work for the Army. He is one of my constituents, and I have received testimonials to his character from many of the leading citizens of the district. The day after I raised the matter in this House, I received the following message from the Army authorities: -
Background of case is on security grounds. In event call-up, time will be allowed under supervision to recover growing crops.
I shall not disclose the man’s name, because he is now in the Army, and if his name were mentioned his case might be prejudiced. Just before the period of two months’ exemption expired, he appealed again, to the court for an extension so that he might get the remaining crop off. Five days later, I think it was, the bureaucrats took him out of his garden and put him into camp. I believe he also had to pay a fine, though I am not sure of that. He was put into uniform as quickly as possible, and then this letter was written to his solicitors by the Deputy-General of Man-power in Western Australia: -
T acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 18th inst.
I understand that the abovenamed is now a serving soldier and the question of his release is a matter for application to the Army authorities.
His appeal was to be heard on Wednesday, and on the Tuesday they took him from his garden and made -a soldier of him, despite the fact that, according to the lettergram sent to me, he had been called up in the first place for security reasons. I told the man-power authorities that if they had anything against the lad he ought to be in an internment camp, or he should be given an opportunity to clear his name, as is done in the case of any alien. However, because he is an Australian, he is not given the opportunity, although he would welcome it. As a matter of fact, his father and the other members of his family would stake everything they possessed for the opportunity to go before a court and clear their name. The local Agricultural Committee was written to, and told not to concern itself with the case because there were other considerations . behind it. To-day, this man is a soldier in uniform. He will probably volunteer for the Australian Imperial Force. He has said that if he must be a soldier, he would rather be in the Australian Imperial Force, but he believed that he was doing a more important job working fourteen hours a day, with the help of two men, producing food. He does not want to shirk his duty. Because I raised this matter in the House, the bureaucrats of whom I complain, these civil servants who have been pulled out of offices where they were working under authority, have taken this man and put him into the Army. I do not wish to say anything against the Civil Service. I have the highest respect for it, but I object to some of these under-strappers being put into high positions where the authority they enjoy goes to their heads, and makes them want to be dictators. I am determined that this lad shall get justice, that his name shall be cleared, or that he shall be placed in an internment camp. He was taken off his property and put into the Army by a piece of trickery. I make this statement deliberately, because I intend to have the matter out with these officials. They knew that he was about to have his appeal heard by a sympathetic magistrate who had previously granted exemption to him. Therefore, these bureaucrats, these dictators, some of whom could not earn a living for themselves before the war, dragged this man off his farm and put him into uniform, because the regulations say that a serving soldier cannot appeal.
We are not using war prisoners as they could be used. This is a matter which is causing the Allied Nations considerable concern, as in the North African campaign nearly 500,000 prisoners were taken. Most of them will be sent to Canada, India, and various parts of Africa. In my opinion, thousands of them should be sent to Australia in order to work on national schemes, for the development of our hinterland, such as the conservation of water, and the provision of roads, and more of the amenities of life. Unless something of that kind be done, we shall not continue to hold this country. If prisoners of war were employed to do this work a foundation for the settlement and development of much of our back country would be laid.
Some time ago I mentioned the urgent need for greater quantities of phosphates for agricultural purposes, and I am now happy to say that two of the places which
I then mentioned as likely sources of supply have proved successful. Sufficient deposits of phosphatic rock have been found in Western Australia to meet requirements for three or four years, and [ understand that similar success has attended the search for phosphatic rock in South Australia. These deposits are of good quality, and it is the duty of this Parliament, as well as those who have displayed some interest in this matter, to see that the deposits are exploited fully at the earliest opportunity. I have told the people of Western Australia that if they cannot get their supplies of superphosphate increased by 30 per cent, above last year’s quantity it will be to the disgrace of both Commonwealth and State Parliaments, and all others concerned. All that is required is some machinery - say five or six motor trucks, a bulldozer, and some scoops. On an island in a safe zone there is also 70,000 to 80,000 tons of phosphatic rock, but a small ship would be necessary to bring the rock to the mainland. The other deposits that I have mentioned are situated on the mainland in Western Australia and South Australia. Without delay we must approach whatever authorities are able to give assistance in this matter, so that we may be able to build up sufficient reserves to enable a greater quantity of phosphatic rock ‘to be allocated to persons engaged in rural industries, because we shall starve unless we can increase the supply of fertilizers. Our land is so deficient in phosphates that we must do our utmost to increase production of this fertilizer. The value of these deposits would never have been proved had it not been for myself and others who persevered for a long period and urged that something definite be done to develop them.- Seven years have passed since I first drew attention to them. I camped on the site for a week, and saw all the samples taken, because I was so anxious that the project should be brought to a successful conclusion. I ask for the assistance of every member of Parliament in order to get the necessary machinery as quickly as possible. I believe that _there is only one set of people in this country who can develop the deposits quickly: I refer to the experts who have come to Australia from Nauru and Ocean Island, and are associated with the British Phosphate Commission. The State Departments of Mines have too much on their hands at the moment in searching for and obtaining minerals necessary for war purposes, to engage in this work. Moreover, phosphatic materials are cheap, and in the past the State Mines Departments have not displayed any great enthusiasm about their development. I believe that prisoners of war could be used for the development of these deposits. Indeed, it is one of the most useful ways in which they could be employed. Phosphatic materials are necessary in order to enable us to produce the foodstuffs required for ourselves, the Americans who are in this country, and the people of Great Britain. I hope that nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of developing these deposits. Prisoners of war could also be used to convert to the standard gauge the railway from Broken Hill to Port Pirie. Ministers are aware of the conditions now existing on the “ trans-Australian railway and that the strain on the engines and rolling-stock in use there constitutes a real danger. Fortunately, the South Australian railway authorities are repairing some of the railway material. The quicker the railway from Broken Hill to Port Pirie can be converted to the standard gauge, so that New South Wales rolling-stock can be used to transport men and materials across the continent without any break of gauge, the better it will be. If prisoners of war were used for this purpose, it should be possible to do the job in a month or five weeks. That is the sort of work for which prisoner labour could be utilized. South Africa is taking full advantage of the presence in its territory of prisoners of war, and I have no doubt that Canada and India will do the same. We should endeavour to make this fair land a better place for those whom we must bring here if we are to hold Australia, and if Ave are to continue to supply foodstuffs to other countries. The people outback are experiencing many hardships. In almost every country town at least 50 per cent, of the shops are empty. That is particularly the case in Western Australia, where the proportion of empty shops is as high as 70 per cent. Those shops will never be opened again unless more of the amenities of civilization be provided in outback districts. Chief among those amenities are electric light and water. By the utilization of the services of prisoners of war for these purposes the foundations of the development of much valuable country could be laid.
I want to know why different prices for the same commodities exist in the several States, and I have prepared a series of questions on the subject. There is a different price in each State for honey, potatoes, and carrots.
– The Government has tried to get a uniform price for potatoes throughout the Commonwealth.
– I am glad to hear that, but I should like to know why the price of carrots was fixed at £1S a ton in Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia, at £25 in Queensland, and at £22 10s. a ton in South Australia and New South Wales.
– Is not the price related to the cost of production?
– If that be so, there must be something wrong, because I know that in Queensland twice the quantity of carrots can be grown to the acre than is possible in Western Australia and South Australia. I know the analysis of the soils as well as the climatic conditions in each State. Crops in Western Australia are much lighter than they are in Tasmania. These differences do not help the nation’s war effort, because they lead to discontent. It cannot be said that the reason for the different prices for honey is that the bees work harder in New South Wales than in Western Australia.
Mk. Dedman. - The beekeepers might be obliged to take their hives farther away.
– Exactly. In Western Australia they are transported for distances up to 300 miles, but honey is 2d. per lb. cheaper in Western Australia than it is in New South Wales.
– There is a justification for the difference of price.
– I disagree. The Minister may be content with the position, but he will not be able to satisfy practical men. The professors attached to the Department of War Organization of Industry may be able to convince him, but they will never satisfy the beekeepers.
– If the honorable member’s contentions be correct, honey should bring the same price in Scotland as in Australia.
– The Minister baa cited an extreme case. The value of the land, for example, is an important factor in determining the price. The producer must be paid the cost of production, plus a margin to enable him to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. In war-time no one asks for more than that. But when the Government indiscriminately fixes the price because the demand for honey is greater in New South Wales than in Western Australia, the primary producers become dissatisfied. The demand is the vital factor.
– Would there not be an extraordinary demand for honey in Western Australia?
– Yes, but it is not comparable with the demand in New South Wales. Western Australia has always produced more honey than the local market could absorb, and large quantities were exported to Great Britain.
– What becomes of the surplus at the present time?
– The Army takes large quantities after fixing the price of the commodity. Why should Western Australia be obliged to_deliver honey to New South Wales in order to obtain the additional 2d. per lb.?
– The principle is wrong. There should be a flat rate.
– While this discrimination exists, primary producers will be discontented. So far as I am aware, no practical farmer was consulted in Western Australia before the group carting scheme was foisted upon the primary producers. No farmer would have been guilty of recommending such a stupid scheme. The department claims that it is a voluntary plan, but a pistol is held at the heads of the primary producers, and they have no option but to accept it. If they do not join a group, they are prevented from purchasing spare parts and tyres for their motor cars.
Admittedly, their cars are not used always for carting produce, hut they are most useful in cases of sickness. A dangerous system of bureaucracy is developing in Australia. Admittedly it has arisen out of the demands of war, but some of . the officials are most incompetent. They lack practical knowledge and experience. They may be able to push a pen, but they have too much conceit to consult practical men.
Business of the Session - Dissolution of Parliament - General Elections.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
For the purposes of administration, it is imperative for the Parliament to pass certain bills which, as I indicated earlier this evening, are necessary for carrying on His Majesty’s services. I understand that the Senate has passed a measure, which will come to this chamber in due course, to amend the electoral law, in order to enable certain categories of soldiers to vote at the federal elections, and to provide for their enrolment. In whatever form that bill commends itself to this House, the measure, on becoming law, will impose on the Commonwealth Electoral Office a considerable amount of machinery work that will occupy some little time. Therefore, it seems to me that in any contingency that may arise, . the Parliament ought to be reasonably expected to provide not only for the services of His Majesty, which is an urgent matter now, but also the machinery to enfranchise certain categories of soldiers. I should like to add that, in my view, this Parliament has about exhausted its resources for constructive legislation. I believe that it must be palpable to everybody that when we have passed the necessary measures in relation to the carrying on of His Majesty’s services, and the protection of the revenue with regard to the validation of customs duties, the question of the capacity of this Parliament to continue to serve the country might he submitted to a higher tribunal.
Although it is not my prerogative to determine the life of the Parliament, there is certain advice which it is my privilege to give; and when the measures, which are vital to the carrying on of public administration and the conduct of the war, have been passed, I would then be disposed to give advice in accordance with the sentiments I have just expressed.
– I support whole-heartedly the suggestion that has emanated from the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin). I am sure that every honorable member must appreciate the fact that the capacity of this Parliament to marshal the full resources of Australia has been exhausted. Parliament has given ample, if distressing, evidence of its inability to work as the circumstances of to-day require. The Prime Minister’s responsibilities have been onerous, first,because his Government has not a mandate from the people, and, secondly, because the constitution of the Parliament is such that the position has been grave politically, and, consequently, the burdens of those in office have been aggravated. The Prime Minister’s responsibilities have not been lessened by the composition of his Government. I agree that the time has arrived when an appeal should be made to the people to constitute a workable Parliament that is so essential at the present time. The fact that Supply has been sought for three months is an assurance that the new Parliament will be called together within that time. Meanwhile I take it the Prime Minister, immediately, will tender certain advice to His Excellency the Governor-General in order that an appeal may be made to the people for a mandate that will render our political machinery workable.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Nationality Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1943, No. 158.
Navigation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1943, No. 101.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Wheat Industry: Appeals Against Acreage Allotments; No. 2 Pool; flour Millers’ Margins.
What is the number of appeals received in each State against the basic wheat acreage licences for farmers, and how many appeals have been received from farmers in each State against the wheat quotas for the 1942-43 season ?
The following appeals were lodged against wheat acreage allotments for 1942-43: New South Wales, 87; Victoria, 67; South Australia, 50; Queensland, 40; and Western Australia, 740. In addition, in Western Australia there were 2,960 appeals against the restriction by one-third imposed in that State.
Appeals against wheat quotas arc as follows: New South Wales, 208; Victoria, 1,100; South Australia, 476; Western Australia, 652; and Queensland, 82. Fifty per cent of these appeals are estimated as resulting from a decision to allow quotas or part quotas to wives of growers farming under certain conditions. Appeals had to be lodged in these cases to have them determined by the Appeal Committees.
Is it a fact that the balance-sheet of the No. 2 wheat pool reveals that the average realization without flour tax for bagged wheat was 3s.11½d. f.o.r. ports, and that only £1,400,000 (viz., £900,080 to the Australian Wheat Board and £500,000 for rural rehabilitation) was collected by way of flour tax?
Is it a fact that £1,933,333 should have been collected to bring the return for 32,000,000 bushels of home consumption wheat up to a home price of 5s. 2d. f.o.r. ports?
If so, will he investigate the cause of the discrepancy and take the necessary action to prevent a recurrence?
Will he arrange for the prompt release of the report of the Tariff Board, submitted to the Government some time ago, on flour millers’ margins?
No. Flour tax credited to No. 2 pool was collected in 1039-40. Sales of wheat in this pool were spread over several years and sales prices varied. The average pool realizations do not therefore indicate a discrepancy in amounts collected.
The variations mentioned are inevitable while wheat in any pool is sold over a period differing from the tax collection period for that pool.
The report will not at present be released. Margins have been adversely affected in many mills owing to the loss of export trade. The question of rationalization of flour-milling operations has been under consideration for some time. The matter of millers’ margins will be considered in this connexion.
Boards, Trusts and Commissions
Is he yet in a position to furnish the information asked for on the 17th March last, by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), namely, a list of all government boards, trusts and commissions appointed by the respective governments since the inception of war, with personnel and remuneration paid?
House adjourned at 10.48 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 June 1943, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1943/19430624_reps_16_175/>.