17th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr.Speaker (Hon. j. S.Rosevear) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I rise to a question of privilege, and shall conclude my statement with a motion. I have referred previously to the repeated attention that has been paid to my mail by the censorship authorities. The first and, so far as mymemory serves, the only occasion on which censorship of a member’s mail was mentioned was when the former honorable member for Grey, Mr. Badman. referred to the matter on the 26th Feb- ruary, 3943. After due inquiry, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) said this -
Earlier to-day the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Badman) referred to the censorship of letters. This censorship is the responsibility of the Director of Posts and Telegraphs.
I am not sure that that is correct. The statement continued -
It does not come within the functions of the Chief Censor’s Branch. I have ascertained that the letter that was addressed to the honorable member for Grey was mis-sorted at the General Post Office at Adelaide, and was inadvertently includedamongst overseas mail for censoring. I regret very muchthat this should have happened. The occurrence may be said to be due almost entirely to the fact that,for some time past, the staff at the Adelaide General Post Office has been working under extreme pressure, for reasons which are fairly well known.
I pass on to the stage when, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) will well remember, it became expedient for me to send an air-mail letter to him from Sydney, hebeing then in Melbourne. That air-mail letter was sent express delivery. I posted it on a Monday afternoon, but it was not delivered. The right honorable gentleman finally had to telephone and make strong representations to the postal authorities for its release, and I believe that he received it at approximately 6 p.m. on the Thurs day. I do not know whether or not that letter was opened by the censor. The reply to the complaint which I made to the Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley), who was the only Minister to whom I considered I could. complain on that occasion, was very weak and most unsatisfactory. From that time on, I noticed that my mail was becoming subject to opening by the censor, for reasons which I do not understand. I submitted one envelope to the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt). This was posted to me by a constituent who, I believe, had a justifiable complaint concerning what he regarded as a miscarriage in the dispensation of justice in a certain part of the Commonwealth. As my memory serves me, that letter, which was posted by air mail and registered, was held for seventeen days before being delivered to me. The Attorney-General, so far as I know, still has the envelope; he has not returned it to me, although I have asked for it. An endorsement on it read : “ Damaged in transit “. How it came to be damaged, I do not know, but there was not much evidence of damage on it. The censor had opened it. Up to date, I have not had a final answer from the Attorney-General in response to the complaint that I made to him.
– That was an internal letter, and was not from anybody in the services ?
– It was from a man who had been conscripted into, and was employed by, the Allied Works Council. I claim that, if a constituent of mine has, or believes that he has, a grievance in respect of the administration of justice, he is entitled to approach his representative in Parliament on the subject.
– These were not the only instances. Before raising the question in this House, I endeavoured to ascertain the reason for the censorship through departmental channels. I sent to the Minister for the Army (Mr.Forde) another envelope that I had, and from that gentleman I received two days ago an undated letter in which he said -
Itis desired to refer again to your letter of 1 4th January, 1944, and to say that an investigation lias been made regarding the censorship of mail addressed to you, and, in particular, the letter from Private- .
– He was in ‘the Army?
– Yes ; I shall come to that. This envelope was censored twice, once by the Army and once by the base censor. The Minister’s letter continued - l t you read the instruction on the envelope, known as a “green envelope” that Private - used, you will note that it is liable to examination at the base. Many thousands of green envelopes pass through the base each week- [ knew that - of which a percentage are examined by the base censor-
I am being given evidence of that - in the course of his duty to ensure that the contents conform to the certificate printed on the envelope.
There was no complaint in that respect - lt appears that the envelope addressed to you was among a batch so examined.
Censorship whether at the base or elsewhere is carried out with the minimum delay-
I should be delighted were I sure of that - and with as little inconvenience as possible to the addressees of postal articles, and from inquiries made, I can assure you that your correspondence is not singled out for special attention.
I am returning herewith as requested the green envelope sent to you by Private- .
– Were the two letters delivered this week from civilians or servicemen?
– One was from a serviceman, and. the other from a civilian. I am holding eight or ten other letters that were opened by the censor. They have been seen by two Ministers, and I shall be able to produce them if they have not been mislaid as the result of my moving about. I have made certain inquiries among honorable members in the party to which I belong, and so far as I have been able to gather no other member of my party has been subjected to similar treatment.
– I have.
– If any censor has had the impudence to open a letter addressed to the Prime Minister of this country, it is an absolute scandal.
– It is perfectly lawful.
– If the censors, who are the servants of the Government of this country, place themselves above the Prime Minister, then it is time they were put in their places. Recently, I had occasion to deliver a letter to the Attorney-General. Within the last fortnight, a constituent of mine had his place raided by the authority of the Commonwealth, and all letters that I had addressed to him were impounded by the Commonwealth authorities. I do not think the raid was due to any correspondence that I, personally, had sent to him, but was on account of the fact that he was engaged in an argument with the legal authorities and had commenced certain legal actions - which I shall not divulge because, in my opinion, it would not be in the public interest that I should do so. Out of this arose correspondence between that constituent and me. I shall never attempt to influence the course of justice in the courts of this country, and I had occasion to tell this gentleman so. He wanted to publish my correspondence, and I wrote advising him that for my part he was at perfect liberty to do so, provided I was not involved in any expense. There may now be more interest in them than there would have been otherwise.
I have raised this question because I believe that it strikes at the very foundation of the privileges of this House. We are living under rather abnormal conditions. We see a great spread of governmental activity in this country. We see interference with the rights and liberties of the subject, by all sorts of people in authority exercising all sorts of power - real, shadowy, and perhaps even imaginary. If ever there was a time in the history of this country when it behoved the members of this Parliament to insist upon the retention of the privileges which they undoubtedly have, then this’ is the time. So far as I am personally concerned, the censors may open my mail. They will not find anything wrong in what I am sending through the mail. Nor will the “ Gestapo girls “ be able to find anything wrong with what I put over the telephone. That, however, is another story. My feelings can best be summed np in the following motion which I submit: -
That the opening by censors of letters addressed to members of this House, at Parliament House. Canberra, or at the rooms occupied by federal members in a State capital city, is ft breach of the privilege of Parliament.
Even service personnel have the right to communicate with a member of Parliament. I complain of the treatment L have received at the hands of the censorship for six or eight months. Any person in this country ought to be able to approach a member of the Commonwealth Parliament. Many persons will have occasion to correspond with members concerning the grievances which they undoubtedly have against the administration. Judging by press statements we have seen lately, it would appear that certain cases in court are being founded on information obtained by the censorship. The question is, whether a constituent of mine who asks me to redress a grievance can be sure, and whether I, too, can be sure, that his statement of the case will not be conveyed to some government department by the censorship authorities. That is the kernel of the question. It is not so much h matter of how I may be personally affected. Perhaps I do not count for ranch, except for the position that I hold in this Parliament, and the fact that a majority of the constituents of the electorate that I represent have signified that in their opinion I am a fit and proper person to represent them in this Parliament. That is an indication of their confidence in me. Unless the Government is able to show cause to the contrary, there should be a complete cessation of the opening of letters addressed to members of the Parliament at this House, and at the rooms which they occupy in the different capital cities.
Otherwise, how can the principle ‘be supported that the subject has certain rights against the Crown? The AttorneyGeneral should be one of the most eloquent members of the House on this subject, unless he has exercised dictatorial powers for so long that he has forgotten that he was ever a judge. I should be glad if the right honorable gentleman could divest himself of the attributes of Attorney-General, and discuss this matter as a student of the law.
– I was very annoyed about it when they opened my letters.
– I agree that it was an act of gross impudence on the part of those who interfered with the mail of the Attorney-General. Surely, under a democratic system, the supreme authority is Parliament, and the Government which Parliament keeps in office. 1 regret that the Prime Minister should have said to-day that he does not mind if the mail received by him as Prime Minister is subjected to censorship. That statement will not be acceptable to the people. Its implications are evident, and it will help the electors to clear up certain other doubts which they have in their minds.
I hope that honorable mem’bers will support the motion, because this is not a party matter. It may affect the electors of honorable members opposite just as much as it affects me. If the censorship authorities get away with it in my case, honorable members opposite will have no defence if similar tactics are applied to them.
– I second the motion, but I hope that it will be amended along lines which I propose to indicate. Some time ago, I directed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) a series of questions on this subject which have not yet been answered. I have no doubt, from my personal know-ledge of what hae been going on, that censorship is going beyond the limits required by security. I maintain that letters sent to members of Parliament, provided they do not come from service personnel or from military areas, should not be censored. To censor such correspondence is to commit a gross breach of the privileges of members of Parliament. By military areas I mean places where troops are congregated for operational purposes, or where they are undergoing preparation for operations. It is one of the cardinal principles of the democratic system that any man with a grievance should have an unfettered right to approach his parliamentary representative in an endeavour to obtain redress. No one with any sense of responsibility would deny the right of the censor to examine the correspondence of members of this House if it comes from service personnel - not because it may reach a member of Parliament uncensored, but because the correspondence may go astray before it gets into his hands, and get into the possession of the enemy. However, it is indefensible that mail despatched from within Australia should he opened, unless sent from military areas within the country. Mail is being opened by the censorship authorities under the Post and Telegraph Censorship Order for reasons that bear no relation to the security of the country. Documents that have no relation to national security are, it is freely said, being circulated in government departments to enable tab to be kept onvarious persons, and on the financial position and trading operations of firms. I am informed that one such document referred to advice given by a solicitor to a client overseas on the subject of taxation.
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the censorship of mails addressed to members of Parliament.
– If the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) will amend his motion asI have suggested, I shall support it.
Mr.CURTIN (Fremantle- Prime Minister and Minister for Defence) [10.57].- The Post and Telegraph Censorship Order was gazetted quite early in the war, and it lays down clearly that the censor may open and examine all postal articles as defined in the Post and Telegraph Act. I said by way of interjection that my mail was subject to censorship. That does not apply to all the letters I receive, but it certainly applies to some of them. I am more than the
Prime Minister. I have relatives associated with the fighting services, and they write to me letters from various places. Every one of those letters, when I receive it, bears the censor’s stamp.
Mr.Spender. - No one objects to that.
Mr.CURTIN.- Yet the motion says that all mail addressed to a member of Parliament at this building, or at the rooms placed at the disposal ofmembers of Parliament in the various cities - presumably a member’s home is excluded - shall be immune from censorship. The human relations of the people affected by this war are among the most vital factors associated with the conduct of the war. These communications that float about the country may contain information, not only of a kind that is useful to the enemy, but also of a kind that relates to a potentially subversive element in the community, and the sooner such persons are placed under surveillance the less mischief they are likely to do. Many such persons write to members of Parliament. I do not propose to put a label on them, but merely point out that no one should be immune from the requirements of the National Security Regulations gazetted in time of war in order that the country should not be imperilled. The communications censorship was established before this Government came into office, and there are now more than 600 persons engaged in the work, which is under the direction of a civilian. It is impossible for that staff to examine all the mail that goes through the Post Office, so they pick up a section here and there, and subject samples of it to examination.
Mr.Spender. - If that is how the censorship authorities work, how can they keep tab on any one who may be under suspicion ?
– The correspondence of a person already under suspicion would receive closer attention. The practice in regard to censorship has not been varied since the right honorable member forWarringah (Mr. Spender) was in office.
– I disagree with that. The power of censorship is now being exercised differently.
– The purpose of censorship is to withhold information calculated to assist the enemy, or to affect the war effort adversely. How is it possible to do that unless the mails are examined ?
– Unless every letter is examined ?
Mr.CURTIN.- The censorship staff is not large enough to examine every letter, and therefore it makes a selection, as I have stated. The fact is that there is no immunity from censorship for any citizen, and there ought not to be immunity. When a letter is in the post no one knows what it contains except the sender. Not even the censor can know its contents until he examines it.
– I cannot see how this affects the correspondence of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron).
Mr.CURTIN.- The honorable member for Barker may receive letters addressed to Major Cameron. There have been many successful prosecutions against persons, other than enlisted service personnel, who have written to friends stating that “ Tom “ has sailed on a certain ship, or is about to do so. Several such prosecutions have taken place in Adelaide against persons disclosing information likely to be of use to the enemy. How have the authorities learned about such cases except through the censorship? I agree that it is necessary that members of Parliament should be able to obtain full information from any one, and that every citizen ought to be free to send to members of Parliament anything which he wishes, but we cannot avoid the conclusion that this principle is unworkable in time of war, because a large section of the population is now in the forces, and correspondence from service personnel must be censored in their own interests so as to prevent them from giving information which may be of use to the enemy.
– That is conceded.
Mr.CURTIN.- Yes; that much is conceded. So the very principle , of immunity of members of this Parliament from censorship is admitted to be impracticable; therefore, the motion cannot be sustained.
– How does the right honorable gentleman reconcile his statement to-day with his letter to the former honorable member for Grey?
Mr.CURTIN.- I am quite ready to acknowledge that mistakes probably have been made by individual censors. What happened in Adelaide in regard to the letter to the former honorable member for Grey was that there was, as the honorable member will recall, a very large service personnel temporarily in Adelaide. Their mail had to be censored. That letter got in amongst their mail and therefore was censored. That is my recollection of my explanation to the then honorable member for Grey.. I do not want to interfere with the privileges of this Parliament. They need to be sustained. I shall endeavour to sustain them, but when it is acknowledged that the principle of immunity of members of Parliament from censorship is impracticable
– That is not acknowledged.
– It is acknowledged that all service letters to members of Parliament must be censored.
– That is all right.
– Is it then argued that a man of treasonable disposition who writes a letter to a member of Parliament, and only to a member of Parliament, should not have his letter censored?
– Is it argued that a member is going to sit quiet under that. The right honorable member knows that we all take an oath of allegiance to the King.
– The honorable member talks about the oath of allegiance. I have heard what certain honorable members have said about certain other honorable members in the last two or three years. I have simply to say that it is within the powers of the Post Office to examine all mail. A letter addressed to a member of Parliament could easily contain an explosive, a box of matches, or some inflammable material.
– Well, it could, and, under the law, the Post Office is empowered to examine all mail for a variety of precautionary reasons. But it is not entitled to interfere with mail’ for the purpose of preventing a member of Parliament from getting information. Nor is it entitled to erase information contained in a letter to a member of Parliament. There is an essential distinction. The censorship ought to be entitled to examine all mail regardless of to whom it is directed, but it should not interfere with the most rapid despatch of all correspondence to members of Parliament. That is the principle that I shall insist upon having carried out. I shall make inquiries as to whether it has or has not been carried out.
– The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has moved -
That ‘the opening by censors of letters addressed to members of this House, at Parliament House, Canberra, or at the rooms occupied by federal members in a State capital city, is a breach of the privilege of Parliament.
That after the word “ addressed “ the following words be inserted: - “by other than service personnel or persons residing in operational areas “.
The claim made by the Prime Minister does not in any real sense meet the case that has been put by the honorable member for Barker and the honorable member for Warringah. It is not to the point to cite a regulation which says that the censor may deal with correspondence. Of course he may. Nobody in this House, certainly nobody on this side, has challenged the right of the Government to have a censorship of mails. What is challenged in this motion, as I now propose that it be amended, is the right of the censor to interfere with mail directed by civilians to members of this Parliament. The honorable member for Barker is eminently right when he says that this touches the privileges of members of Parliament, because, if there is one privilege that matters in this Parliament, it is that there should be, subject only to the most uncommon circumstances of national security, a right in every constituent to approach his representative in Parliament, and a right in that member to ventilate the grievances of that constituent.
– That was upheld by the royal commission which inquired into statements made by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward).
– Yes. The privilege which exists. in a member of this Parliament in relation to those who send him to Parliament, and those who constitute the Parliament, is so fundamental that to destroy it is to destroy the usefulness of Parliament.
– No constituent would care to send to his member a letter containing confidences if he knew that it was likely to be read by a third party.
– Of course not. Who is going to write with complete frankness to a member of Parliament if he believes that what he writes is to pass into other hands, the hands of some official and, in some circumstances, some politician other than the man to whom it was directed? This is a very, very important question. How does the Prime Minister answer it? He tells us frankly and with truth, of course, that the internal censorship, the communications censorship in Australia, does not open all correspondence, because life is too short, for so tremendous a scrutiny, but it takes a sample here and there. If that is to be accepted - and no doubt it is - we may assume that a very small fraction of the mail in this country ig censored. The risk i3 taken with the balance, but apparently no risk can be taken with a letter written to a member of this Parliament. I have never heard such an extraordinary statement before. We can take a risk with SO per cent., 90 per cent., or 95 per cent, of the internal mail of Australia, but to respect the privilege of Parliament and see that letters to members of Parliament are not opened would be much too great a risk to take with the national security. I have never heard an ‘argument which so completely defeats itself. This is a matter which concerns every honorable member of this House, some honorable members sitting opposite far more than me, because they represent electorates with characteristic industries which bring to them enormous constituency mail. It is essential that their constituents shall be able to write to them and tell them most confidential things, as people very frequently do. How many times have I said to a man on the telephone, “ Write to me. I will not have time to sec you when I am in Melbourne next, time, but write to me and give me the whole story without any reservations so that I shall have it. If you have any documents, send them to me. Address the letter to me and mark it ‘ personal ‘ and I shall be the person who will get it “. All that, we are told, is subject to the censor deciding in a happy, casual way to take a letter out of the mail-bag and open it. He may take out a letter and read it, and, in some circumstances, use it to the disadvantage of the man who is putting his confidence in me. This motion, as proposed to be amended, on the suggestion of the honorable member for Warringah, is unanswerable, and it certainly has not yet been answered.
– Any one would think that there had been some new departure in censorship from what was applied when the Opposition parties were in office, but there has been no extension whatever of the system of censorship. It was established upon the outbreak of war long before this party took office, and there has been no interference whatever with the discretion that is given to the communications censor, Colonel Ettelson, who was appointed by the Menzies Government. The justification for censorship and its principal aim is security, that is to say, interception in the mails, and in other communications, of material which, if left untreated, would be of use to the enemy. That is why censorship was established. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) does not object to mail coming from an operational or a training area being censored because it may contain information as to the number, movement, &c, of troops ; but a letter hearing the postmark of an area other than an operational area may be written by a person in touch with troops and having knowledge of troop movements, &c., and may contain information on such matters. It is not practicable from the security aspect, therefore, to confine censorship entirely to letters coming from areas where troops are concentrated, or where defence works are in progress. Consequently, this discretionary power has been used by the nian appointed, not by this Government, but by a previous administration, and there has been no interference whatever by this Government with the communications censorship which has been exercised in a judicial way toy Colonel Ettelson, a Melbourne lawyer, who, no doubt, is well known to the ‘Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies). He has been strictly impartial in regard to this matter, and, as the Prime Minister has said, he himself has received quite a number of communications that have been censored. That shows that it is not a political censorship at all, but an exercise of a function by the Commonwealth communications censor in the interests of national security.
– I hope that the Minister for the Army is not under the impression that this is a personal attack upon the communications censor. It is far from being that. I know the communications censor very well. He has been a friend of mine for years. He is a man of the utmost honour. It is not an attack on the communications censor, but an attack on the principle of the censorship of letters addressed to members of this House.
– I am glad to have the admission from. the Leader of the Opposition that the communications censor is a man of integrity and honour, whom he has known for years, and in whom he has the greatest confidence. He was appointed not by this Government, but, I believe, by the last Government. He has continued to exercise .the functions given to him by that Government. There has been absolutely no interference with hi in by any Minister. He is carrying out the duties to which he was originally appointed, and he uses his complete discretion.
– The question is whether he should censor mails received by members of this House.
– Yes. There is no objection to the censoring of mail coming from operational areas, but what about the man living across the street from a military camp who gets certain information and sends it in letters? Is it not possible that that information would be of use to the enemy? This discretionary power is being exercised by a man who, on the admission of the Leader of the Opposition, is of the highest integrity and honour, in the interests of the nation. It would not be safe to interfere with bis functions.
.- The statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) in reply to the case made out by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) was one of the most disquieting things to which I have listened in this .Parliament. I say to honorable gentlemen opposite that there should be disquiet in their minds if they have any sense of responsibility to this institution and this country. I second the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), because I think it expresses more clearly what the honorable member for Barker had in mind, and what is the proper view to be taken of this matter. The Prime Minister, in his customary style, picked on the weakest point in the case made by the honorable member for Barker, namely, communications from service personnel. The right honorable gentleman dismissed, with a wave of the hand, the real issue, namely, the censorship of letters addressed by civilians in this country to members of this Parliament. This matter concerns every honorable member regardless of the party to which he belongs. If supporters of the Ministry defeat the motion, they will be condoning a most dangerous precedent. Some of the contentions which the Prime Minister advanced were equally applicable in peace as in war. Me spoke of persons holding subversive or treasonable views. I remind honorable members that subversive or treasonable views are not confined to periods when a country is at war. They can exist in peace-time.
– Whilst I am reluctant to interrupt the honorable member, I remind him that he i3 not entitled to discuss censorship generally. He must discuss the subject of the censorship of correspondence addressed to honorable members at Parliament House, Canberra, or to the Federal Members’ Rooms in the capital cities.
– The argument which the Prime Minister advanced in favour of the censorship of letters written by civilians to members of this Parliament in war-time would apply equally to the censorship of this correspondence in peace-time. If we endorse the attitude that the right honorable gentleman adopted, we shall create a precedent which not only may operate for the duration of this war but also may become a permanent feature of our political life. The free citizens of this country should be able to feel that they have the right and opportunity to write fully and frankly to their parliamentary representatives regarding matters on which they feel aggrieved as the result of government action. They should feel that they can exercise that right without any danger of their confidence being abused, or their own personal position being endangered. Apart from an explanation of reasons for the general use of the censorship, no attempt has been made in this debate to justify the examination of correspondence addressed to the honorable member for Barker.
I ask all honorable members to examine their own responsibility in this matter. Do they propose to accept, not only for to-day but for all time, the examination of their personal correspondence, merely because one letter in a thousand may be written by a “ crackpot “ holding subversive or treasonable views? ls the ordinary citizen, who has a genuine grievance to place before an honorable member, to be denied that opportunity because he fears that his own representations will be “ floating around “ a dozen government departments, in the bands of individuals from whom he may expect or fear some reprisals? The moment the citizens of Australia cannot feel that they can communicate fully and frankly with their parliamentary representatives, the free expression of democracy will be lost. From that stage, it is only a short step to the point where the right of free assembly will be denied, and where liberties, for which people have fought for centuries, will’ toe swept away.
Evidences of Fascism are to be found in all countries at different times. Sometimes they creep in almost unnoticed. To begin with, they may creep in on a justifiable pretext, but once they become established it is more difficult to eradicate them than it was to prevent their insidious infiltration in the first instance. When these acts of censorship become known to the constituents of the honorable member for Barker, they must hesitate for their own protection to write to him about matters which they consider should come to his knowledge.
– It is just as well that members of the Opposition are listening to the honorable member for Fawkner, because government supporters are not paying any attention to him.
– It is just as well that a few defenders of freedom are left in this chamber. Honorable members opposite were elected by a free people, but I notice that they respond automatically to the crack of the caucus whip.
– Was not the caucus whip cracked when the honorable member for Warringah decided to remain a member of. the Advisory War Council?
– I ask supporters of the Government, who mouth the phrases of democracy and speak of free institutions as we know them here, how they reconcile those views with their conduct in this House. If they have any sense of responsibility to the principles of democracy, they will raise their own voices in protest against this violation of’ one of the fundamental liberties of the subject, and the fundamental right of his parliamentary representative.
.- The matter which has been raised by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) is important; but we should banish any idea that it is only his mail that has been censored.
– It seems that the honorable member for Barker received presidential treatment.
– My own mail, and other mail, has been censored at various times. This matter requires very careful consideration, for an important reason.
The proposal is that all mail addressed to honorable members, with the exception of mail from the fighting services, shall be excluded from censorship.
– No, mail from service personnel or persons in operational areas.
– .Obviously, that proposition will be difficult to apply in practice, because the information about troop movements which, if disclosed, might be of great danger to the country, may be given by service personnel to civilians, even their relatives; and that mail may simply repeat what has already been addressed to those relatives by the service personnel. Because of the obvious difficulty of defining the extent to which censorship is permissible - and it is admitted to be permissible to some extent - I ask the honorable member for Barker to withdraw his motion, and I assure him that the Government will have the whole question of this privilege of members of Parliament examined by a committee representing both sides of the House.
– That contradicts what the Prime Minister said.
– Not at all. I have the authority of the Prime Minister to make that suggestion to the honorable member. The Prime Minister made exactly the same point as I did regarding the difficulty of definition. He is as anxious as I am, and as every honorable member is, to see that the privileges of Parliament, are fully protected whilst ensuring that at the same time the war effort and the security of the country are not endangered. I make that offer to the honorable member for Barker, who submitted the motion, and to the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), who proposed an amendment to it. This is not the atmosphere in which a formula which will have the unanimous approval of all honorable members can be drafted. I assure the honorable member for Barker that my suggestion has not been made with a view to shelving the matter. The Government realizes that an important general principle is involved, and desires to obtain a solution that will be satisfactory to both sides of the House.
– Does the AttorneyGeneral propose to submit a motion for the appointment of a committee on privileges ?
– No. I have made an offer to the honorable member for Barker, and I am prepared to discuss it with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies). Surely honorable members will be satisfied when I make that offer on behalf of the Prime Minister from the table of this House.
– I believe that it is the proper approach.
– I am obliged to the honorable member for Warringah.
– The motion will be withdrawn if the Attorney-General is prepared to agree, first, that a committee of privileges shall be set up to examine those privileges; secondly, that this matter shall come before that committee; and, thirdly, that the AttorneyGeneral will confer with the leaders of the respective parties in this chamber regarding the appointment of the personnel of that committee.
– After all, the motion was submitted by the honorable member for Barker, and seconded by the honorable member forWarringah. If they will agree, that, will be the proper approach.
Mr.Menzies. - The honorable member for Warringah announced his willingness.
– Let us discuss the matter outside the chamber while the debate proceeds.
– No, I have made my offer to the honorable member.
– The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), and the leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) have done a great service to the country to-day by directing attention to the censorship of letters addressed to honorable members at Parliament House, Canberra, or Federal Members’Rooms in the capital cities. No one can object to the censoring of letters from service personnel or from operational areas. That has been agreed to in the proposed amendment. But in a democratic country, the Parliament is the last line of defence for, and the protector of, the rights and liberties of the people. Many people in Australia to-day need their parliamentary representatives to plead their cases for them either in the Parliament or in the press. I have listened to the rhetoric of the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), and to his sophistry about the appointment of a committee on privileges. The right honorable gentleman declared that it would be impossible in this atmosphere to get a suitable formula to cover this matter of censorship. It is not impossible.Addressing the Constitution Convention, the Attorney-General stated repeatedly that there was no difficulty in stating a matter plainly and grammatically so that ordinary people would be able to understand it. A formula to cover this matter of censorship can be found to-day, and this House should pass a resolution affirming the rights of the civil community to communicate freely with their parliamentary representatives in the. knowledge that their letters will not be opened in the post or that the contents of those letters will not be circulated to non-service departments which the authors of the correspondence might be criticizing.
One of the cardinal liberties enjoyed by people in this country is that they shall have freedom of communication with their parliamentary representatives. Two kinds of censorship are now operating in Australia. The first is the actual opening and reading of letters. The second is the censorship to which the honorable member for Barker drew attention, namely, the censorship of delay. Letters to members of Parliament are held up by this means, thus preventing them in many cases from taking action or from being able to raise matters in the House. Last year, certain members of the “ Australia First Movement “ were interned, and the Attorney-General tried to defend that act. Honorable members, representing all shades of political opinion in this chamber, made representations on behalf of some of those internees. One of the interned persons wrote to me. He was able to prove conclusively that he was innocent. He should never have been interned and this was admitted by the right honorable the Attorney-General. The letter that the internee addressed to mewas held up for many days through the censorship or by some other authority. When 1 ultimately received it, I was able to use in this House the information contained in it, and I have no doubt that it had some effect in ensuring that justice was done to the writer. In that instance the censorship was used by the AttorneyGeneral and by other Ministers to shield a weak and incompetent Minister who was afraid to disclose that he had made a political blunder and a wicked error in interning men who should never have been deprived of their freedom. Because of departmental blundering, this man was slanderously charged with being a traitor to our country, and with wishing to sell our country to Japan. The charges were afterwards proved to be completely without foundation. Yet the whole galaxy of talent on the treasury bench was assisting to protect the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde). Although Ministers say that there has not been and will not be interference with the privileges and rights of the people, the A Attorney-General, at the recent summer school of the Institute of Political Science in Canberra, referred to the abandonment in the post-war period of the right of a man to choose his own vocation. He added that this was only one of the freedoms which would have to be given up. I ask the AttorneyGeneral, in particular, whether the right of people outside of this Parliament to approach their representatives in this Parliament in order to get justice when it. has been denied them is another right that must be surrendered? Is this right to be prejudiced and endangered by. censorship? I would not agree to the appointment of a parliamentary committee to consider that subject. The issue is plain, and it can be stated in plain language in a motion and affirmed by this Parliament. We must resist those who wish to adopt Fascist, Nazi, and national socialist practices by the setting up of a dictatorship of any kind or the means to permit of that being done. The House should resolve in the terms proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. Itcan be done without any difficulty whatever. The people of Australia should be, and must be, assured that the freedom of this Parliament still survives, and that we intend to protect the parliamentary institution and the rights and liberties of the people regardless of all the sophistry and explanations given by the Prime Minister to-day.
.- The booming indignation of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) leaves me cold. He can work himself up, at times, to a state of apparently passionate indignation about the reduction of the privileges of honorable members of this Parliament; but he has never, so far as I have noticed, made any indignant protest against the laws, rules and regulations which the Government has felt itself entitled to introduce and promulgate, as it declares, for the safety of the nation, and the carrying on of the war. We are living in an age in which no pretence is made ‘ that the liberty of the subject should any longer be protected or even respected. The question now is not the liberty of the subject as an individual, but the liberty of the nation as a whole. That is the reasoning or the excuse. It is that consideration which has moved the majority of honorable members of the House and the supporters of the Government to impinge upon liberties which we had previously thought were sacred and which, in all circumstances, we had hoped to maintain. That time has gone by. We have reached the stage at which some unnamed and unknown person enjoying the immunity of being attached to a body which is authorized to give directions does, in fact, issue directions in some cases that individuals of mature years, and the fathers of families, shall go hither and thither according as this un-. known person exercising this great delegated power, directs. I do not propose to pursue that thought any further. I expressed my opinions on the liberty of the subject at a very early stage of the war when it appeared to be in danger - when, in fact, we were asked to place on the statute-book certain national security legislation to which I was opposed, and which - I say it with some degree of pride - I did oppose and within the very narrow limits of my still remaining powers, will continue to oppose.
The question before us concerning the privileges of Parliament is one in which I am deeply interested. I have some sympathy with the mover of the motion though he too leaves me tepid, if not cold.
– Will the honorable gentleman vote for the motion?
– Yes, if necessary; but I hope that it will not be necessary, because I am still in opposition to honorable members opposite, and I have a strong sense of loyalty to the party whose interests I have endeavoured to serve in this Parliament for so many years. I wish to point out that the liberty which the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) claims, in this narrow instance, for members of Parliament is a liberty which really belongs to the electorate. It is the people’s liberty. An honorable member who speaks in this House may not be called to account in the courts of this country for what he says here, because he i3 protected by the privileges which belong, not to him personally, but to democratic government and to the people who sent him here as their representative. He is, in fact, exercising a popular right which belongs to the mass of the people. It is the privilege of democratic institutions. That is why it becomes important to protect the privileges and immunities of members of the Parliament. I am not, for example, interested in the extraordinary acumen of honorable members in clothing themselves with a privilege which frees them from the duty to defend their country on the field of battle ; I am concerned about the protection of the privileges of the people. An honorable member may rise in his place in this House for the purpose of criticizing an individual - it may be unfair, wrong - but it is a privilege of this democratic institution. For that reason it should be respected. Whether a member addresses himself here to a person or a political subject, he is upholding a popular right through this Parliament. It is from that aspect that I am entirely in sympathy with the motion, for what applies to him applies to his correspondence. I do not think that we should lightly reduce or impinge upon the privileges of the Parliament and the people. We must respect the right of a parliamentary representative to address himself with the utmost freedom and confidence to the subject with which he wishes to deal in this Parliament, just as we must respect the right of individuals outside of this Parliament to assemble and express their views with courage and confidence and convey those views by letter to their members. Consistently with the principles that I have always advocated in this House, consistently with my opposition to dangerous attacks upon what I conceive to be the rights of private citizens, consistently with my opposition to the principles underlying the National Security Act, and, at the same time, consistently with my view that honorable members of this chamber, in subscribing to compulsion and urging others to give up their lives if necessary for a supposed ideal whilst they themselves are not obliged to do so are clothing themselves with a measure of protection unbecoming in strong men. I think that this motion should be carried. I agree with the view of honorable members who have said that this subject should not be approached in a party spirit. Honorable members opposite have said that they are deeply concerned to maintain the privileges of the electors outside of this Parliament. I tell my friends opposite that we, on this side of the House, are just as much - indeed, a very great deal more - concerned than they are, to uphold the privileges of the electors and the right of their representatives to express their views in Parliament. I say that we are more concerned because I have found, in my long experience, that traditionally they have never shown a significant unwillingness, when their parties have been in power, to make inroads on the traditional British principle of the liberty othe subject. I have never found them specially unwilling in a time of war, to make such inroads. Therefore, even though it should entail the unpleasant experience of voting with the honorable member for Barker, I shall support the motion.
– The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has reminded us that the privileges of all members of Parliament and of the electors generally are concerned in this matter. In that view, I concur. I consider that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has a real grievance. It would appear to him more than a coincidence that twelve or fourteen letters of his were censored, whereas the correspondence of other members of Parliament, who have just as large a mail, has entirely escaped censorship. Prom that viewpoint alone, the matter is particularly disquieting. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) delivered a telling speech, in which he told us all that he knew without imparting further information. He stressed the honour and integrity of the censorship. Those qualities have never been questioned. The cold facts are these : A member of this House has had the unhappy experience of having had not one, two or three, but many of his letters subjected to a censorship to which the correspondence of other members has not been subjected. For that reason alone, he was completely justified in drawing the attention of this House to the inroads that are being made on the privileges of members of this Parliament and of electors generally. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has admitted that his correspondence is censored, and that he is quite willing that it should be. Would the right honorable gentleman say that the correspondence of His Majesty the King or His Excellency the Governor-General should be subject to a like censorship? Quite a lot of play has been made of the fact that correspondence to and from service personnel must be censored. There is unqualified agreement on that point. The honorable member for Barker has stressed that not only a military censorship but also a second censorship was imposed on several of his letters. I understand that he would be satisfied with the acceptance by the House of the proposed amendment. The matter is entirely devoid of party politics; it embodies a highly important principle. In the exercise of their judgment, honorable members should imagine themselves in the position that is occupied by the honorable member for Barker, and ask themselves whether or not they would care to be singled out for special attention by the censorship.
– No body of men is more appreciative of the need to preserve the privileges of this Parliament than are the members of the present Government. From time to time, that has been clearly illustrated by protests in this House - which I can recall having been made during the last 24 years - by members of the party to which I have the privilege to belong, in an endeavour to preserve the rights and privileges of members of a free legislature such as this is. No one could view with other than concern anything that . might infringe the proper observance of rights that have been handed down to us. In time of war, however, considerations of security have to be observed. Any person who honestly seeks to serve his country, and to comply with the conditions that are peculiar to the moment, will not fail to appreciate the difficulties that beset the Administration in the maintenance of security. Nothing can be ignored that is open to suspicion or question. In compliance with the promise of the Attorney-General, the Government is prepared to set up a parliamentary committee with a view to a thorough examination of the facts that have been recited this morning, and a survey of the degree to which the privileges of honorable members may have been infringed. It is desirable that this House should be fully informed of all the circumstances. I therefore propose, later, to submit the following further amendment : -
That all the words after “ capital “ bc left out, with u view to insert in lieu thereof the following words:- “ matter which should be submitted for report to a parliamentary committee on privileges”.
The acceptance of that amendment would enable the promise of the AttorneyGeneral to be fulfilled and a full investigation of all the facts to be made. The committee would report to the House the result of its investigations, and we should then be in a much better position than we now occupy to ‘make a sound judgment upon the complaint of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron).
– I invite the House to consider this matter from an angle different from that from which it has so far been approached. There is general agreement in respect of the rights and privileges of honorable members. The House has been asked to pronounce upon the censorship of the mails of honorable members. The investigation should go deeper than that, and should include a survey of the calibre of those persons in whose hands censorship rests. I propose to place before honorable members extracts from correspondence that has passed between the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and -myself, concerning the condition of affairs in the censorship office in Brisbane. .
– Order !
– I submit that what L am about to relate is very closely associated with the question before the Chair.
-Order! I cannot permit a general debate on the subject of the censorship.
– But the character of the censors is pertinent to the motion before the House. A person who was an officer in the Brisbane office of the censorship has been convicted and fined on a charge of embezzlement. His name, and the press account of the case, were forwarded to the Prime Minister on the 21st February. Another man, who called himself “ Stanley Cross “, also was employed in the office. He had many aliases, and was proved to be an international criminal, for whose arrest warrants had been issued in other countries. He was known personally t’o me as having embezzled funds in north Queensland. He held a very important appointment in the censorship office. Men of this calibre are entrusted with the censorship of my mail and that of other honorable members. Information was furnished to the Prime Minister, and a thorough investigation was sought.
– The right honorable gentleman should make it clear whether he is referring to communications or to publicity censorship.
– It is obvious that 1 am referring to communications censorship. Until recently, a ‘man was employed in the Brisbane office who conducted a starting-price betting shop under the name “ Reliance Turf Agency “. I have given his name to the Prime Minister. There are other features in connexion with the Brisbane office which need cleaning up. The necessary information has been handed to the Prime Minister. The appointment of a royal commission is justified.
– Who appointed these men ?
– I do not know. That is not the point. The position should be cleaned up. What is evident in Brisbane probably exists throughout Australia. Persons of this class are entrusted with the responsibility of censoring the mail of honorable members of this House and of citizens generally.
.- The amendment of the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin) is reasonable. If the Opposition is sincere, it will accept the proposal, and will not continue a heated debate. A very important issue has been raised. Honorable members on this side of the House appreciate many of the points that have been advanced by honorable members opposite. Of the privileges of honorable members, this is the most important. As the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has pointed out, it is a privilege not alone of honorable members but also of the people generally, and we are trustees of it. Perhaps in the times in which we are living it is the last privilege that we have; therefore, it should be jealously guarded. I do not entirely concur in the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) in regard to the position of honorable members. I realize that we may not have greater immunity than any other citizen. As a matter of fact, a member of the British House of Commons was interned for subversive conduct. However, the question of what honorable members may do is totally different from the censorship of the correspondence that they receive from’ their constituents. If they indulge in subversive conduct, they must expect to be treated as is every other citizen. The question is, whether or not correspondence between members of Parliament and other persons, including service personnel, is being censored. We realize that there is a tendency to encroach upon the privileges of honorable members. An order was issued a little while ago making it an offence for a member of the forces to communicate with his representative in Parliament. Honorable members took certain steps in regard to that, and the order was revoked. There are elements in the community and in the Army who would like to put themselves above the people, and above the people’s representatives in Parliament. We must vigorously oppose any such tendency. Otherwise, while we are fighting for the four freedoms, this most important freedom of all will be lost. The Prime Minister said that his own mail was not immune from censorship, but I point out that the representatives Of foreign countries enjoy absolute immunity in this respect. If that privilege can be extended to them, surely it can be extended to the Prime Minister, and to members of this Parliament. Recently, when a royal commission was inquiring into certain allegations made in this House by the then Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), one of the points which we had to determine was whether the Minister could be required to disclose the source of information which he claimed to have received. The commissioner held that the Minister was not so required, and I maintain that the same principle is involved here. It does not matter whether the information conveyed to a member of Parliament is verbal or written. If the point raised by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) be not upheld, the privilege which was confirmed by the royal commissioner goes by the board, because the mail of any honorable member may be opened in order to discover the source of information which he has received. This matter should not be disposed of hastily, and therefore, I believe that a committee should be appointed, as proposed hy the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), and by the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin), to consider it in detail. The Prime Minister said that the postal authorities should have power to open mail because, for example, explosives might be sent through the post. I cannot see the application of that observation to written communications addressed to members of Parliament. As the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) pointed out, the privilege here involved is really the privilege of the constituents of a member of Parliament. The question of keeping track of persons with subversive tendencies is one to be considered by the committee. In any case, if a member of Parliament receives subversive communications, it is his duty to disclose the fact to the authorities. If he cannot be trusted to do that, he should not .he trusted to represent an electorate in Parliament.
– The trend of this debate shows how necessary it is that honorable members should consider their attitude towards the preservation of not only their own privileges, but also those of their constituents. The debate has taken a strange turn. After the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) made his case, which seemed to me to be unanswerable, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), who is the leader of a party which claims to be particularly concerned with the preservation of the liberties of the people, explained that he, as Leader of the Government, enjoys no immunity in respect of censorship, and that the constituents of members of Parliament should enjoy no such liberty either. Thus, in his opinion, even he, as Prime Minister, a man in the innermost councils of the Empire, who has taken the oath of office, and who is responsible for the government and the defence of Australia, should not be entitled to immunity in respect of his correspondence. He is content that his letters should be opened, perhaps by a man with a criminal record, such a person as was referred to by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden). The Prime Minister repudiates the right of a person, who has been sworn in as a member of this House, to receive correspondence from his constituents on matters that may be . of great interest to the nation, without that correspondence being tampered with by the censor. Then, the Prime Minister, having delivered himself of that weighty observation, left the chamber. I ask honorable members to notice the wide divergence of opinion between members of Parliament generally, who are concerned with protecting the liberties of the people, and between members of the Government, who are concerned with reraining the powers which the Government lias taken unto itself. The Prime Minister was followed by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), who made an extraordinary oration. He seemed to think that this motion was an attack upon Army administration; that if the motion were agreed to, it might lead to the divulging of information that would reveal the deficiency of the organization for which he is responsible. His is the Gestapo-like mind that would like to see everybody dragooned by the authorities, and deprived of whatever liberties they may have possessed. Then the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) rushed into the fray, because he was dismayed by the scintillating arguments of the Minister for the Army, and he even felt that the Prime Minister had not entirely done justice to himself. Evidently, the Prime Minister himself realized that there was something wrong with his handling of the situation, because, when he had finished, he told the Attorney-General to carry on. The Attorney-General agreed that the liberties of honorable members were being filched from them, and he said, “ Let us do this thing in a way that will look nice. We shall have a little committee to consider it”. The revelations of the Leader of the Australian Country party indicate that it would be more appropriate to appoint a royal commission. The fact that there is a man with a criminal record in the censor’s office in Queensland calls for something more than the appointment of a small parliamentary committee. Either our liberties are being interfered with or they are not. If they are, and I think the case is conclusive, there is no need to appoint a committee. If the House is prepared to put up with this invasion of its privileges, then it must take whatever is coming to it, because this will be only a. beginning. The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin) supported the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army, but with modifications. He made it clear that he was not completely in accord with the observations of those of his colleagues who had preceded him. Then came the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), and it took me quite a long time to understand what he “really proposed to do. That is not surprising, when we remember that on one occasion he declared that he would vote in a certain way if it was the last act of his political life, and then he did not vote at all. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) wants to preserve his liberties, but would like to submit to a committee the question as to what those liberties ought to be. To me, it is clear that the liberties of this House, and of the people, are being attacked. One honorable member of the House is being singled out for special attention - it may be because of his forthright manner of expression. To-day, it is his liberties that are being attacked, but to-morrow it may be those of any of us. This is not a matter which should be decided on party lines. I appeal to honorable members to see that justice is done, and that their constituents are given the right to express themselves freely to their representatives in Parliament, without their correspondence being scrutinized by what is virtually a Gestapo.
.- J support the amendment moved by the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin). The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who proposed this motion, said that he approached the matter on a non-party basis, but his example was not followed by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), whose speech consisted of a tirade of abuse of the Government and its supporters. The people who were employed in the censorship office in Brisbane were appointed ‘ not by this Government, but by the previous Government.
– I did not say they were appointed by this Government.
– The Leader of the Australian Country party was Prime Minister when they were appointed.
– I do not think that is so. Surely everything could not have happened in those five weeks?
– At any rate, this Government was not responsible ‘for the appointment of the men who were cited by the Leader of the Australian Country party. I know that they wore in “ the Brisbane censorship office when this party came into power, because I complained about them before we took office, and I complained again later to this Government. I told the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) and the. Commonwealth Investigation Branch what kind of individual was employed in that office.
– How many years did it take to get action?
– This Government did take action when it was informed.
– But how long did it take?
– I do not know how long it took, but eventually those people were located and prosecuted.
– Order ! Locate the motion.
– I am jealous of” the privileges of honorable members of this Parliament, and I agree that we should guard against their being frittered away. The committee proposed in the amendment should investigate, not only the fact that the mail of the honorable member for Barker has been opened and censored, but also the fact, which amazes me, that the Prime Minister’s mail has been opened and censored.
– Is the honorable member not astonished that the Prime Minister does not care?
– He does not object to his mail being censored, because he has nothing to hide or fear. Nevertheless, I think that he should have extended to bini the same privilege as is extended to the representatives of foreign and British countries whose mails are inviolate in this country. Every honorable member of this House should be able to feel in his heart and conscience that if his constituents have matters which they wish to place before him they shall be able to do so without fear of their letters to him being opened by the censor and the information passed on to somebody else. I know that some of those who were employed at the Bris bane censorship office used to congregate after work <aX a wine saloon. One can imagine what secrets gained during the day’s work they exchanged after imbibing wine. I am pleased that the Government intends to have this matter investigated, and I give my full support to the amendment.
– in reply - I ask the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) whether the Government proposes to pursue the course outlined in the amendment moved by the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin) ?
– That depends on whether the honorable member undertakes to withdraw his motion.
– Does the Attorney-General agree to carry out the decision reached by him in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) ?
– Certainly, if the honorable member carries out his .part of the suggested arrangement.
– Does the Attorney-General accept these three points : (1) a committee to be established forthwith to consider this question of privilege; (2) the committee to be appointed by the Prime Minister and party leaders in consultation; (3) the committee to meet and report promptly?
– Then, with the approval of the House, I am happy to withdraw the motion.
Motion and amendment - by leave - withdrawn.
– I learned by telephone from Brisbane to-day that the inscriptions on the graves of soldiers buried at Lutwyche Cemetery, Brisbane, have been altered in the same way as in New Guinea, in that the letters “ A.I.F.” havebeen changed to “ A.M.F.” Early next week I shall be able to show to the Minister for the Army a photograph of the headstone on the grave of a man who was a corporal in the Australian Imperial
Force. . There is strong feeling in Brisbane, and in Queensland generally, that whatever security justification there may have been for the removal of the letters “ A.I.F.” in New Guinea, it does not exist in Brisbane. Can the Minister for the Army tell me why the inscriptions have been altered? “Will he call for a report and give me a reply on Wednesday?
– I am not aware that any alteration has been made of the letters on tombstones in some graveyards.
– It is not a graveyard ; it is the Lutwyche Cemetery.
– If the letters have been altered, I think it is a mistake. They should not have been altered. Immediate action will be taken to have the cause of the complaint removed. I shall let the honorable gentleman know the facts.
– Who did it, and why was it done?
– I shall let the honorable member know.
– I direct the attention of the Minister for theArmy to the case of Gunner Flannagan, son of the proprietor of the GranvilleIce Works, which is likely to close down because the proprietor is in a low state of health. He, his wife and his daughter have tried to keep the ice works going in order to supply thousands of people in the municipality as well as a large number of war industries. In view of the strong representations which have been made by the local council, and the member of Parliament for the district, willthe Minister give immediate consideration to this matter with a view to obtaining prompt attention to the application for Gunner Flannagan’s release from the Army?
– Yes. Discharges from the Army are made on the recommendation of the Deputy Director of Man Power in the State. I will immediately call for the papers and find out whether the Deputy Director of Man Power has recommended the discharge of Gunner Flannagan to enable him to return to industry and, if so, why the Army has not released him. As I pointed out yesterday, there are categories from which men can be discharged for industrial purposes, and other categories from which they cannot he discharged owing to operational requirements. But the honorable gentleman’s representations will receive immediate and sympathetic consideration.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether it is not a fact that applications for the discharge of men from the Army on compassionate or hardship grounds are dealt with, notby the man-power authorities, but solely by the Army?
– When applications are made for the release of men on compassionate grounds, the Army uses whatever instrumentalities are available to make an investigation. Frequently the Deputy Director of Man Power for the State, the local national service officer, the local stock inspector, or the local dairying inspector, is used, according to locality, to make a personal investigation ofthe circumstances of a case. I am sure that all applications are symtpathetically considered by whatever is the most convenient instrumentality in the district to check whether the circumstances are as stated to the Army by the applicant.
– A considerable time ago, the Australian Broadcasting Commission broadcast a statement that mail intended for Australian troops in New Guinea had accumulated in Australia to the extent of approximately 615,000 letters and a great number of parcels. In addition, mail from troops in New Guinea to Australian addresses was also considerably delayed. Has the Minister for the Army taken steps to overcome the congestion? What efforts have been made to avoid such accumulations in future?
– At one period, mail did accumulate, but the CommanderinChief has reported to me that the difficulty has been overcome and deliveries are now normal. I shall be pleased to supply to the honorable member more detailed information.
Bill presented by Dr. Evatt, and read a first time.
– I ask the Treasurer whether towards the end of last year a memorandum was submitted to him by the Associated Chambers of Manufactures expressing concern at the effect of present taxation exactions upon the capacity of industry to meet deferred maintenance charges and other inevitable costs and difficulties of the immediate post-war period, including replacement of obsolete machinery, provision for maintenance of buildings, and replacement of stock? Has he studied the memorandum and reached a decision on it?
– I did receive that submission, and a request from the Associated Chambers of Manufactures having reference to depreciation of buildings and machinery. I undertook that at a time mutually convenient I would meet a deputation from that organization. During my recent visits to Melbourne that has not been possible for various reasons. I again communicated with the Associated Chambers of Manufactures recently indicating that I would discuss the matter with them at the first opportunity. In the meantime, I am examining the whole matter of depreciation so that I shall have some details to discuss with them.
– I have received a communication relating to a man named Quick, of Western Australia, who was associated with the Australia First Movement, and who, I understand, was tried and acquitted. My information is that he is still incarcerated in an internment camp or some other place of confinement. Will the Attorney-General ascertain the facts concerning this man, and make a statement to the House in regard to his intentions ?
– I will refer that matter at once to the Director-General of Security, and give to the honorable member any information on it that I possibly . can. I am not conversant with the facts.
MR. J. McEWEN, M.P., AND MR, P. C. SPENDER, M.P.
– I rise to a personal explanation.
– Does the honorable member claim that he has been misrepresented in the House?
– Yes. In the course of debate last night, the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell), when directing criticism at me, stated that about a year ago, “the honorable member for
Indi asked the Prime Minister to recommend him for appointment to the Privy Council “. There is not a vestige of truth in the statement, and I can only interpret it as having been made for the purpose of discrediting me in some way.I desired to make my personal explanation when the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) was in the chamber, because obviously he is the person who can endorse my denial. But even though the right honorable gentleman is not present at this moment, I take this early opportunity to give an emphatic denial to the allegation of the Minister. No doubt if the Prime Minister considers that my denial requires substantiation, he will take the appropriate steps to confirm my statements.
– I desire to make a personal explanation.
– Does the Minister claim that he has been misrepresented ?
– Last night I made a statement which has now been challenged by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen).
– That is not the point. Was the Minister misrepresented ?
– Inasmuch as the honorable member for Indi stated that I misrepresented him. I made an allegation and, therefore, no question of misrepresentation arises. I claim that I am entitled to proceed along the same lines as he did, and say that my statement was based upon “ information received “.
– This is another instance of “ I am reliably informed “.
– I did not disclose the source from which I obtained the information, but it was common knowledge last year that representations were made by the honorable member for Indi and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) to have themselves elevated to the PrivyCouncil.
– Common knowledge, where ?
– In the sewer.
-In this Parliament. The incident to which I drew attention was the second attempt. There was an effort made, I understand, during the brief life of the Fadden Government.
– That is not true.
– On that occasion, the two honorable gentleman made an effort to have themselves elevated to the Privy Council.
-The Minister is going quite beyond the bounds of a personal explanation.
– What the Minister said is an entire fabrication.
– Order! The honorable member for Indi asked for the privilege of making a personal explanation arising out of something which was said in debate last night. When the Minister obtained the same right, I understood that he intended to refer to exactly the same incident. He is not entitled to extend the matter.
– Nor to repeat allegations.
– I do not propose at this stage to add to my remarks, except to answer the offensive interjection of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), about sewers. He has been wallowing in sewers all his life and he has recently been praised in Japanese sewers.
– I rise to order. It might add to the quality of this House if I demand a withdrawal of that statement. The words are most offensive to me, and the statement was disorderly. I demand that it be withdrawn.
– The Leader of the Opposition complains that the statement made by the Minister is offensive to him. It is unparliamentary, and I ask the Minister to withdraw it.
– I withdraw it, and ask that the interjection by the Leader of the Opposition, which provoked my retort, be also withdrawn.
– What was the interjection?
– That it was typical of the sewer.
– No, on the contrary.
– He said that my information was obtained from the sewer.
– I did not say that.
– I rise to order. The Leader of the Opposition, having used those words, now claims that he did not do so. I ask that he be compelled to withdraw the remark which I consider offensive.
– What is the remark?
– I said that it was common knowledge that the honorable member for Indi and the honorable member for Warringah had asked to be elevated to the Privy Council. Some one asked, “ Common knowledge, where ? “ and the Leader of the Opposition interjected “ In the sewer “.
– Did the right honorable gentleman say that?
– The Minister said that it was common knowledge that two honorable members of this House had applied for a privy councillorship. Some one said, “ Common knowledge, where?” and I said, “In the sewer’’. I cannot say that it was common knowledge anywhere else.
– If the Minister considers that the interjection is offensive - I consider that it is - I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw it.
– The remark was not applied to the Minister.
– I rise to order. Am I to understand, Mr. Speaker, that an observation of that kind, directed to no individual, must be withdrawn because some individual likes to attract it to himself? With the greatest respect,I have never heard of such a thing.
– There can be no doubt as to what was meant by the interjection. The Minister considered that it was offensive, so I ask the right honorable gentleman to withdraw it.
– If the Minister interpreted me as making a personal reference to himself, I unhesitatingly withdraw.
– Very well.
– I rise to a personal explanation. I give an emphatic denial to the allegation of the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell).
– Order !
– The Minister stated that the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) made representations to me when I was Prime Minister with a view to having himself appointed to the Privy Council. It is absolutely untrue.
Motion (by Mr. FORDE) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
Sir FREDERICK STEWART.Will the Deputy Prime Minister inform me whether the strikers at the Commonwealth Oxygen Factory, in Sydney, have obeyed the direction of the Prime Minister to return to work? If so, will he have that unique fact recorded?
– I have no information on the subject, but I shall make inquiries and furnish an answer to the honorable member.
– Will the Deputy Prime Minister inform me whether the announcement in this morning’s press that the Coal Commissioner has ordered miners on the South Coast of New South Wales to resume work, is correct ? If so, is the Minister aware that the miners have refused to obey this order and are holding pit-top meetings?. What does the Government propose to do now, as the Coal Dill, which the Prime Minister introduced, authorizes powers similar to those already vested in the Coal Commissioner whose orders are being disobeyed?
– I am not able to say whether the position is as the honorable member described it, but inquiries will be made and the Government will decide what action is to be taken.
– I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether it is a fact, as reported in this morning’s newspapers, that the Commonwealth Government has decided to appoint a committee to investigate the methods of selection and appointment of officers to positions in the Commonwealth Public Service and to recommend possible amendments of the Commonwealth Public Service Act? Is it true that this committee will consist of senior public servants, including the Public Service Commissioner, and representatives of Public Service organizations? If so, will the Government reconsider the matter and appoint a parliamentary committee to make a detailed examination of, and report on, the administration of the Public Service Board and the functions of the Commonwealth Public Service generally, including conditions governing the appointment of persons outside the service?
– The representations of the right honorable gentleman will be brought to the notice of the Prime Minister, who will furnish a reply to him.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform me whether the Government intends to ensure that where share-farming agreements exist, the additional l-&d. paid on wheat advances this season to cover increased costs of the harvest award shall be paid entirely to the share-farmer, as the person who supplies the labour?
– I shall discuss the matter with the Attorney-General and inform the honorable member of the result.
Censorship of Debate
– Will the Minister for Information inform me whether a censorship in respect of overseas communications was imposed upon the speech delivered in this chamber by the Minister .for Transport on the 10th February’ last following the Prime Minister’s review of the war? Was the context of that speech transmitted to Russia? If the answer is in the affirmative, will the Minister explain the discriminatory overseas censorship? Was the censorship imposed with the acquiescence of the Minister for Transport?
– The censorship was imposed not by the Government, but by the Chief Publicity Censor on the whole debate. It applied to not merely what the Minister for Transport said, but also to what the Leader of the Opposition and others said.
– To what the Prime Minister said?
– I am not aware that there was any need to impose any censorship on what the Prime Minister said; but the Prime Minister accepts the decisions of censorship and rightly believes that the Chief Publicity Censor is in the position of a quasi-judicial officer. This Government has not imposed a political censorship. Any censorship that has been applied was imposed impartially by the Chief Publicity Censor and his officers. In addition, it was imposed on all messages to all countries, including Great Britain, the United States of America and Russia. No discrimination was shown in any respect. The Minister for Transport was not consulted regarding the censorship of his speech.
– Did the Minister mean that the whole debate on the Prime Minister’s war statement was censored?
– The Leader of the Opposition has misunderstood me.
– That is what the Minister said.
– The right honorable gentleman has misunderstood me. E did not say the whole debate. I was referring to the debate on that particular night.
– The Minister said “ the debate “.
– Honorable members of the Opposition seem to have a queer way of misunderstanding things. I am trying to answer the question as fully as possible. The only recent occasion that I recollect of a member of this House being consulted in regard to whether the censorship should be exercised was when the Leader of the Opposition was told that the censor had deleted some statements he made in the course of his speech on matters that affected Australian generals. The right honorable gentleman consented to what was done. No other honorable member has been consulted by the censorship authority recently, although the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) made a complaint about the matter privately.
Sitting suspended from H7 to 2.15 p.m.
– I have received from the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) 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, “ The serious financial condition of many wheat-growers in Victoria and other States of the Commonwealth due to crop failures and delayed payments on. growers’ wheat acquired by the Australian Government “.
.- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Is the motion supported ?
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– It is some time since I have had occasion to direct the attention of the House to the affairs of the Australian wheat-growing industry, but I feel obliged to do so now in order to impress upon the Government the need to make some further provision to meet certain conditions which are adversely affecting the industry and which, to my mind, are retarding the production of this basic foodstuff, which is the staff of life. We are advised by the highest authorities that when the war is over, immense quantities of wheat will be required to feed not only our own kinsfolk of the British Commonwealth of Nations, but also a disorganized and, indeed, literally starving world. The truth of this statement cannot be disputed. The obligation that rests upon us, therefore, is great, and no financial considerations should be allowed to override it or set it aside. We owe it to ourselves, as residents in this favoured country, to discharge this obligation honorably, and we also owe it to the starving and suffering multitudes who will be found throughout this war-torn world. What I have said will apply to friend and foe alike once hostilities have ended.
But we also have an obligation to the Australian wheat industry which this Government, like previous governments, seems to have overlooked. The obligation is to see that every reasonable help and encouragement is given to wheatgrowers to remain in production. We should do all we can to ease the heavy burdens which war conditions have forced upon them and which they are bearing with heroic fortitude despite handicaps of- which every honorable member who represents a wheat-growing constituency is well aware. I do not propose to discuss all the difficulties that face the wheat-growers. I shall refer chiefly to certain inequities that have occurred in payments to growers for wheat acquired by the Government through the Australian Wheat Board. I hasten to say that, with thousands of other wheat-growers throughout the Commonwealth, I appreciate the good wort that this board has done in disposing of more than 500,000,000 bushels of wheat since it began operations in 1939 under the most difficult conditions in the history of the industry. The payments which have been made to wheat-growers, subject to deductions for expenses, aggregate more than £117,000,000. I have nothing but praise for the hoard, and I hope that it will continue to operate on a permanent basis in the years ahead of us to the advantage of the wheat-growers. I also express appreciation of the benefits which have accrued to the wheat-growers under the system of payments inherent in what is known as the .Scully plan, which provides for a net payment of 4s. a bushel at railway sidings on the first 3,000 bushels produced by individual wheat-growers. Many anomalies have arisen in the administration of this plan but, on the whole, it has been of great benefit to the majority of the Australian wheatgrowers. However, I register my entire dissatisfaction at the delays which have occurred in respect of subsequent payments on non-quota wheat, and generally on the withholding of progress payments on all acquired wheat. Why have Australian wheat-growers been singled out from all other primary producers and compelled to wait for such long periods before being paid for their product? The indications are that this Government, which began so promisingly, is slavishly following the precedent of previous governments in this matter. I say emphatically that no primary producer should be asked to wait more than twelve months for an approximate finalization of payments for his production. I know of no other section of the community of whom this is expected. Yet the wheatgrowers, who, as a whole, are more overburdened with debt and contractual obligations than any other section, are apparently expected to do so.
I assure the Government tha’t# the growers are’ thoroughly disappointed with the treatment that they have received in these respects. The majority of them have long ago reached the stage of financial exhaustion, and unless speedy relief be given all their efforts to maintain production will fail. Many farms will cease operations and the holders will be reduced to mere subsistence levels. Banks will not provide financial accommodation. In fact, under government regulations they are. not allowed to do so, to any considerable degree. But why should farmers have to approach these institutions when they have ample equity in the crops which have been acquired by the Government? This wheat is a solid and sufficient security for substantial further payments. To-day wheat is selling at as high as 5s. lid. a bushel f.o.b. at .ports. Yet on a considerable proportion of this wheat, acquired more than a year ago, the Government has paid only an advance of 2s. a bushel.
The No. 6 pool to which I shall now refer included approximately 45,000,000 bushels of non-quota wheat. If the Government would pay another ls. a bushel on this wheat, as it should do, and as 3 believe the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) desired to do, it would be only an act of justice. The cost, in round figures, would be £2,250,000, a mere drop in the ocean in these days, but it would mean a lot to the thousands of hard-pressed growers.
I understand that practically all the wheat that went into No. 5 pool has been sold. From figures I have seen, the growers should now be entitled to a payment of 3d. a bushel, or more, on that wheat. Why does the Government notmake this payment promptly seeing that it is well known to be long overdue to the growers? To do so would cost between £1,500,000 and £1,750,000.
An announcement has been made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) that for wheat produced and marketed in the season 1944-45, the Government will make advances of 4s. a bushel for quota wheat and 3s. a bushel for non-quota wheat. This is a decided improvement on previous advances and it will be welcomed bv growers generally. In view of this decision the question immediately arises: Why does not the Government pay a similar advance on both this year’s and last year’s non-quota wheat? Are we always to have a carrot held out to us and to be told, like the old horse, that we will get grass some day? In view of the realization prospects, and the probable future marketing conditions generally, the Government could make such an advance promptly without taking any risk whatsoever. Of course it would mean considerably increasing the Australian Wheat Board’s overdraft with the Commonwealth Bank, but I consider that farmers are entitled to this consideration in view of the better prices that are obtainable for wheat nowadays, and also of the desperate position in which many of them find themselves in seeking to finance the purchase of seed wheat for the next crop. The Government could make these additional payments with perfect safety, and the farmers would not object to its doing so, for they have paid the Commonwealth Bank interest rate of 3 per cent, for a number of years and, in fact, the bank has received millions of pounds from them since the inception of these wartime pools.
The Government has been fortunate in relation to its guarantees to wheatgrowers. Since it has come into office prices for wheat have risen, and estimated losses on guarantees have fallen to comparatively small proportions. In its first year of office, when the Scully plan was arranged, it was estimated, that there would be a loss of £5,000,000^ but it is unlikely now that the loss will exceed £1,500,000. In relation to the current year’s pool the estimated loss on the guarantees was £1,750,000. I am now informed it will certainly not exceed half that amount. So, after all, the helping hand extended to the wheat industry in guarantees is likely to cost the Treasury considerably less than £2,000,000 all told. That would be a small price to pay to keep this vital industry functioning under the stress of the greatest war of all time. .
But other considerations reduce the Government’s financial contribution to the wheat industry to even smaller proportions. Some time ago the Government decided to supply wheat at concession rates to all who required it for stockfeed. As compensation for any loss on this account the board was reimbursed to the amount of 6d. a bushel on such sales. Later, with the subsequent increases of the market price of wheat, it became apparent that the wheat-growers were ipso facto, contributing to the cost of this cheap wheat for stock-feeding to an even greater amount than the Government is by payment of 6d. a bushel. I am able to inform the House, from the figures at my disposal, that the Board will have provided wheat for stock feed from the last two pools, at a loss to growers, in addition to the Government subsidy of 6d. a bushel, aggregating £312,000 and £800,000 respectively. That process is still continuing. In addition, very large quantities of wheat are supplied to manufacturers of breakfast foods and other similar products ; these are receiving their supplies at concession rates, largely at the expense of the wheatgrowers. This latter concession, I understand, arises from the Government’s price-pegging plan, which operated some time ago and prevented the Wheat Board from charging increased rates to those sections. The loss to wheat-growers by reason of this factor must be considerable, but I am not able to give the figures at present. Then there have been concessions to stock feeders and manufacturers, in that they have been supplied with a large proportion of the non-quota wheat, on which the growers have had to bear all the costs. Thus the grower has been singled out as the main subsidizer of cheap stock feed, breakfast foods, &c. - a most unjust discrimination. If the Minister and the Government desire to subsidize these interests - and I see nothing wrong in that - the subsidy should be paid from general revenue to which all contribute. The correct method would be to supply all concession wheat from quota wheat, the price of which is fixed and upon which the Government pays all costs. I ask that this be done forthwith, and that the present complicated and unjust method be discontinued immediately. An examination of all the facts and figures that have been available since the inception of these pools” discloses that in actual money terms the contribution of the Government to the” wheat industry has become reduced to very small proportions indeed. The Parliament, the growers, and the taxpayers should be made acquainted with these facts. The taxpayers sometimes have the idea that the wheat-growers are the most spoon-fed section of the community, and that money is simply poured into their laps by the Government. That has never been the caseand it is certainly far from true to-day, as the figures that I have given amply demonstrate. I remind the Minister of the short payment to wheatgrowers, as a penalty for sowing more than their licensed acreages in the early stage of the operation of the stabilization plan. Many of the growers did not offend wilfully, but found that they had exceeded their allotted acreages when they received their licences late in the year after seeding time had passed. In that year, there was 13,000,000 bushels of socalled illegal wheat. The dividends that have accrued in the interim have been paid, but the first payment was considerably below the amount agreed upon in respect of wheat that was legally produced.
– How much?
– The guaranteed first payment was approximately 2s. 6d. a bushel, and the Government decided to withhold approximately ls. a bushel.
– They were given an advance of 2s. a bushel.
– Less freight.
– The net payment was from ls. 6d. to ls. 8d. a bushel. Quite an appreciable sum is in suspense. I urge the Minister to view the matter sympathetically because, to all intents and purposes, these growers have expiated their alleged crime and should now receive full payment for their wheat. [Extension of time granted.] The harvest in Victoria has been very light, the aggregate yield being approximately one-half, or less, of the normal yield. The Melbourne Age yesterday published the following statement by the chairman of the Corn Trade Committee of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Cameron : -
The small harvest in Victoria was due to control of the industry by regulation and lack of rain during the growing period. Victoria’s production of wheat this year would bo barely sufficient for her own internal needs, and Australia as a whole was to-day in a position where she had very little, if any, wheat for export. Present prices and conditions were not encouraging to growers, and the authorities concerned should try to do something better. Growers could not be expected to increase their acreages unless they were allowed a satisfactory price, and were free of restriction.
Mr. Cameron said that the yield in Victoria this year will be 20,000,000 bushels or less; this supports my estimate. I am very well acquainted with the degree of the drought conditions in Victoria, but have not a thorough knowledge of the position in the other wheat-growing States; nevertheless, I can say that several areas have suffered by reason of drought conditions. That has always been the experience of any area throughout the Australian wheat belt. I have constantly advocated the establishment of a fund for the assistance of drought sufferers, and those who have had crop failures or near failures by reason of factors beyond their control. Unfortunately, nothing of this nature has so far been done. The rainfall was very poor in Victoria during last season. The north-western portion of the State contains a large area on which the crops were a complete failure. So dry were the conditions, that many farmers did not sow any seed. Approximately from 500 to 600 settlers in this area alone had no return whatever, from either wheat or stock. In other areas further south the season was so patchy that whilst some growers received fair returns others harvested either nothing at all or almost nothing. These sufferers number hundreds. The growers who are endeavouring to carry on under most trying conditions, including those related to the war, have appealed to me to bring their claims for financial assistance before the Government and this Parliament. On several occasions I have stated a case to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, but so far the results have been negative. I have received the stock reply that the matter is one for the State Government. The growers have no desire to approach State departments, cap-in-hand, in order to borrow money. They look to this National Parliament to come to their aid in a national way, to provide a grant for distribution on an acreage basis that will enable them to carry on a national work and to sow the current year’s crop. More than once I have furnished the Minister with particulars of the basis of their proposals, which have the approval and endorsement of the growers’ association. I have played a large part in the organization of the wheat-growers of Australia. Time and again we have asked this Government and other governments to make provision for a form of insurance or equalization which would stabilize the incomes of the wheatgrowers and give to them something in their own right, whether the season be a success or a failure, so that they might be able to conduct their operations continuously. That is possible, and it should have been done long ago. I hope that the Minister and the Government will give the matter serious thought ; that they will collaborate with the representatives of the growers, and achieve this desirable objective as early as possible, so as to render unnecessary appeals such as have had to be made from time to time to this Parliament or to the State Governments for assistance to enable the industry to carry on.
I urge the Minister to investigate carefully and seriously the matters I have raised, and to realize the position in which the growers are placed. I trust that he will ma:ke as promptly as possible the payments for which I have asked, and in particular that he will alleviate the circumstances of those who did not receive a return last year, and are to-day carrying on under the most extreme difficulties, by providing a sum for distribution on an acreage basis.
– I thank the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) for the temperate and fair manner in which he has pre sented his case; it will be appreciated by the industry. I recognize that more than 75,000 wheat-growers and their families throughout Australia are dependent upon this important industry. Wheat has been the subject of many debates in this House. That it has not received during the last two years prominence equal to that which it formerly had, may be attributed largely to the action taken by this Government to improve the economic position of the grower. The motion of the honorable member refers specifically to the financial position of the growers, to the effect of crop failures, and to delays in making payments. The Government altered the basis of the price guarantee for the 1942-43 season. A quota plan was introduced, which provided a guarantee for quota wheat, and an advance for wheat in excess of 3,000 bushels. Advances have been made to the amount fixed - 4s. a bushel bagged at growers’ sidings for quota wheat, and 2s. a bushel on the residue for bagged wheat in excess of the quota of 3,000 bushels. This represented a substantial increase to growers. As 70 per cent, of our wheatgrowers produce up to 3,000 bushels, the great majority of growers were assured of 4s. a bushel net f.o.r. for all wheat produced. Since then, the Government has accepted a recommendation from a special committee to provide for harvesting costs as a result of the introduction of an award covering harvest labour. The price -fixed for quota wheat has thus risen to 4s. ltd. a- bushel. The Government has also decided to increase the advance on the excess from 2s. 1-Jd. a bushel to 3s. a bushel.
Under the quota plan, the Government faces a heavy loss on sales, since the payments guaranteed to growers on quota wheat are above the average returns from war-time pools. The Government in this way ensures that growers secure a reasonable return. The principle of guaranteed prices thus enables farmers to carry on and bear the normal risks of farming.
I have referred to the fact that 70 per cent, of growers receive the maximum payment for wheat delivered. The primary objective of the Government is to ensure that the smaller growers earn a reasonable living, and to encourage the bigger growers to utilize their greater resources for the production of more urgently needed commodities, such -as fat lambs and pigs. At the time when the plan was introduced, there seemed little hope of reducing the huge surpluses of wheat that were building up. It is true that recent orders give ground for greater optimism, but Australia had a record carry-over of wheat at the start of this season.
The honorable member for Wimmera referred to crop failures which took place during last season. There were crop failures, in parts of Victoria especially, and there were considerable losses due to rust in other States. The season, in fact, was patchy. Drought relief, however, is not a matter for the Commonwealth. Honorable members are aware that State governments have a jealous regard for their powers over agriculture. Only on special occasions, when failure and drought are widespread, has the Commonwealth intervened to assist the States. Assistance must, therefore, primarily be regarded as a matter for the States. No representation has been made by any State to the Commonwealth for financial aid. The honorable member will realize that it would be impossible for the Commonwealth to assume responsibility for all crop failures. Every year, there are crop failures of various kinds in different parts of the Commonwealth. This is an inherent risk in farming. The Commonwealth has taken action to lessen the seasonal risks of wheat-growers. The Commonwealth provided money for the transfer of growers from marginal areas, but the money has not been applied for by all the States. However, the Commonwealth is prepared to advance the money upon application.
– How many farmers have been transferred, and what is the area of land affected?
– Some thousands of farmers have been transferred, and millions of acres of land are involved. The transfers have been mostly from districts in South Australia, the southwestern parts of New South Wales, and the north-western districts of Victoria.
– What factors are taken into account when deciding whether or not land is suitable for wheat-growing?
– Rainfall is the chief factor. In some instances, the areas originally allotted to growers were too small. These matters have been inquired into by commissions appointed in the various States. A great deal of unsuitable land from wheat has gone out of wheat production and wheat-growing is confined to areas where the seasonal risks are not so great. The war has slowed down Commonwealth plans, but most States have made considerable progress in transferring farmers from marginal areas to better-class land.
The honorable member for Wimmera has complained of delays in payment for wheat acquired by the Commonwealth. It has been the practice since the outbreak of war for governments to acquire wheat and to make a first advance on its delivery to the pool. Additional advances are made as the financial position of the pools improves. . As honorable - members are aware, growers receive payments for each pool even before realizations are effected. Thus, it is necessary to provide substantial credits so that pools can be carried on. At the present time, there are three pools in operation - Nos. 5, 6 and 7, covering the crops of 1941-42, 1942-4’3, and 1943-44 seasons. The No. 5 pool is nearing completion, and an advance of 4d. a bushel was paid on wheat in this pool during last month. This brought total payments up to 3s. 7d. a bushel for bagged wheat, less freight. A final payment will be made on this pool when the full amount of realizations can be accurately estimated. The No. 6 pool covers the 1942-43 crop,, and nearly half of the wheat in this pool remains unsold. Some wheat sold forward from this pool must await shipment until wheat from the No. 5 pool has been shipped. From No. 6 pool, £28,000,000 has been paid out for advances to growers and expenses, and, as the amounts received for wheat sold an; small, there is an overdraft of over £20,000,000, in this pool. For No. 7 pool, we have already paid out over £12,000,000, with practically no wheat sold. For No. 5 pool, payments have been- over £31,000,000, and although this pool is nearing completion, it is still working on an overdraft under Commonwealth guarantee. These figures show the extent to which the Commonwealth is committed in order to provide money for growers. As I have indicated, the prospects for this pool have been considerably improved during recent weeks. This is due to the increased orders received from Britain for wheat and flour for the British people and Allied forces based on India and the Middle East. No. 7 pool still has its life before it, but growers can take comfort from the possibility that its life is likely to be shorter than that of previous pools. The only sales from, the pool this year will be for local flour, and then No. 6 pool must be cleared before sales from No. 7 pool are made. However, with the markets that are now opening up, long delays and uncertainty about disposal are no longer likely. Meanwhile 4s. lid. a bushel is being advanced for quota wheat, 2s. 1-Jd. for non-quota wheat, and 3s. a bushel for the wheat surplus over and above the quota for the season 1945.
Marketing is done by the Wheat Board, which has gained and merited the confidence of wheat-farmers. Growers have majority representation on the board, and honorable members may have seen the results of the election just held when growers re-elected five of the seven grower-members. Marketing is, therefore, largely in the hands of the growers, who are assured that their interests will be looked after by fellow growers.
Some delay in making payments during the war is inevitable, but it has been reduced as much as possible. As I have already pointed out, the Government incurs each season a large liability so that first advances can be made on the crops before the wheat is sold. As time goes on, the Government incurs, further liability when more advances can reasonably be made. The pool is terminated when the overdraft is wiped out, and a final payment is made from the surplus. In No. 5 pool there is still an overdraft, but last month £2,000,000 was added to it to make another advance. That has been the rule with all pools - to make advances in anticipation of sales, as soon as it is reasonable to make a payment. Nobody knows what the present season’s wheat will sell for, and nobody knows just what the final result will be for wheat from the 1941-42 crop.
– Is the interest on the advance charged against the pool?
– Yes, except in respect of quota wheat. The Government accepts full responsibility for guaranteed payments in respect of quota wheat and bears all interest and other incidental charges.
– I would appreciate it if the Minister could make a statement covering the present position of the various pools, what is held in each pool, what quantity has been sold, the price received, the amount owing to those who have produced up “to 3,000 bushels, and the amount owing to those who have produced more than that.
– I have not the figures available at the moment, but I shall have them compiled and placed before the House. No money is owing to farmers in respect of quota wheat, and no wheat was produced this year in excess of the quota. In the first year of the stabilization scheme some growers violated the regulations, accidentally or otherwise - and inquiry established that in many instances it was otherwise. However, 95 per cent, of the growers honoured their obligations to the pool, and the Government did not see that there was any reason why they should be penalized. No prosecutions were launched, but action was taken in respect of the excess wheat, amounting to between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 bushels which had been produced over and above the quota. We penalized those growers by making an advance of only 2s. a bushel on that wheat. Subsequent payments “from the pool have been received by them. However, as the honorable member has again brought the matter to my notice, I shall instruct the Wheat Board that I think they have been sufficiently penalized and that they should be paid in full from the No. 5 pool.
I agree with the honorable member for Wimmera that there has Been a long delay in making payments. When I took over the department I tried to expedite payments to wheat-growers. That is why the quota system, was introduced. When deliveries are made at rail or mill, as the case may be, full payment is made on quota wheat and the advance on the residue is made as soon thereafter as possible. I admit that unseemly delays occurred last season, the first in which the plan operated. We have removed the cause of those delays this season and brought the organization up to date. It is most gratifying to me as Minister to receive from wheat growers’ organizations and individual wheat-grower’s commendation for the prompt manner in which they have received payment in the current season. I receive reliable information from all parts of Australia and, generally speaking, most wheatgrowers are satisfied. Of course, wheatgrowers who have experienced adverse seasonal conditions, such as those mentioned by the honorable member for Wimmera, could not be satisfied, but the overall picture of the wheat industry of Australia is that it was never in a more flourishing condition. Bankers, business men and machinery agents have told me that last season and this season theiraccounts have been settled more promptly than ever before.
– The wheat-growers are apparently more prompt in their payments than the Government is in its payments to them.
– They could not pay unless they first received money from the Government.
– But the Minister admitted delays in making payments.
– There was delay last year because of the difficulties of introducing the new plan. Those difficulties have been overcome and there has been no delay this season. Nor will there be any delay while the plan is in operation. [Extension of time granted.’] I assure honorable members that the Government has not on any occasion been responsible for delay. Long before the harvest was gathered last season, which, I repeat, was the first season in which the quota plan operated, money was made available by the Commonwealth Bank for the Wheat Board to draw on in order to make payments to the growers. In each of the two seasons in which the plan has operated, money has been available in the Commonwealth Bank before the har vests have been completed, and instructions have been given to the Wheat Board to make payments on receipt of delivery dockets. Even now, with the new scheme, the Treasurer has arranged with the Commonwealth Bank for payment on delivery of 4s. for quota wheat and an advance of 2s. for the residue. Therefore, delay has not been the fault of this Government. I assure honorable members that we have received the full cooperation of the State governments, and I do not say that the State governments were responsible for the delay, but, owing to the introduction of the new system, complications arose in the offices. That is why the delays occurred. The causes of the delays have been removed, and I think that the wheat-growers are more than satisfied with the present scheme.
Mx. BOWDEN (Gippsland) [3.5].- I support the motion proposed by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) , and, because he is so competent to deal with the difficulties of the wheatgrowers, he has presented a picture to which there is little that anybody could add. He stated the case very fully. Wheat-growing does not loom very large in the primary production of the electorate I represent, but this industry is not a parochial matter, and not even a State matter; it is a matter of national significance which must be dealt with in a national way. For that reason, I was pleased to see a number of honorable members on the Government side stand up to support this motion. I have been told a hundred times, and I have no doubt that I shall be told a hundred more times, that the wheat-grower is much better off under this Government than under previous governments. Comparisons of that kind never achieve any purpose or solve any problems. Using a homely analogy, I say that if this Government has added a brick to an unfinished house, the house is still unfit to live in. It does not become fit to live in because some little addition has been made. The wheat-grower is still the loser. Because we are primarily a foodproducing nation, food will be expected from us in the immediate post-war period, and, if we are to meet the demands and take advantage of all the opportunities which will be presented to us, again I say this will be a national problem and must be dealt with by this National Parliament. All that is asked for - it may sound a lot if we confine ourselves merely to figures, but actually it is nothingis that wheat-growing be lifted from a non-priority to a fairly high priority industry, so enabling the farmers to get duplicates and things of that nature which they require, and that the farmers be paid 4s. a bushel at sidings for all wheat grown on the licensed area, and another ls. on the non-quota wheat delivered to the No. 6 pool. The honorable member for “Wimmera has said that that would cost about £2,500,000 which is, as he said, only a drop in the ocean in these days of war-time expenditure. Going back in history, I remind honorable members that when the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) was Prime Minister the finances of the country were in a precarious position and he made an appeal to the farmers to grow more wheat - an appeal for the nation by the nation. The response was generous. The wheatgrower actually did more than was asked of him, and the Prime Minister’s objective was achieved, thus preserving the solvency of Australia. The reward to the wheat-growers for that magnificent effort was a legacy of debt amounting to £50,000,000 as was disclosed by the Wheat Commission which made its inquiry shortly afterwards. That represents the difference between the cost of producing the wheat and the price at which it was sold. If it is a national appeal for a national purpose, is it not logical that any loss incurred shall be a national loss? Instead of that, the wheat-grower was asked to shoulder the whole burden of debt involved in saving the nation’s solvency, and I suppose he is still paying interest on that debt. I instance that case in order to show that whatever this Government or Parliament does, we are not giving the wheat-grower anything, but are merely paying some of the debt we owe him. If honorable members looked at the matter from that point of view, it would make for far greater satisfaction all round, particularly in the wheat industry.
Because this country has never known what a shortage of food means there has always been, in my opinion, a complete failure to recognize the importance of the primary industries. That failure is manifested in very many ways to-day. We are told that the basic food production has been greater since this Government came in than ever before. The wheat area has been reduced from 13,000,000 acres before the war, to 8,000,000 acres to-day, and the Government will not be long able to say that we have increased production. If things go on as they have been going, production will be drastically reduced. As the honorable member for Wimmera has said, owing to a shortage of superphosphate and the reduced amount available this year, we face the disquieting prospect of producing next season only sufficient wheat to meet the local demand. What sort of a position is that for a nation which hopes, after the war, to feed half the world? Our surplus wheat to-day is, in my opinion, terrifyingly low - something like 100,000,000 bushels, after all the demands are met, with a prospect of no surplus at all after the next crop. We shall have to look to other people to reap the reward for feeding the world after the war. I ask the Government to look upon this not from a parochial, party, or government point of view, but from a national point of view and to try to give to the wheat-grower what is long overdue to him. I know perfectly well that the Government cannot allow the whole of Australia to grow wheat and receive exorbitant prices, but it has licensed areas and it should give the wheat-growers in those areas encouragement to believe that the National Parliament is prepared to pay for the services they render, as it is prepared to pay those who make munitions.
.- We have an assurance from the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) that full payment will be made on the No. 6 wheat pool, but I think that another ls. should be paid in respect of the excess wheat in the No. 7 pool. I congratulate the Government on what it has achieved, as compared with past governments, in dealing with the wheat industry. There is more content among the wheat-growers, in my electorate particularly, than there has been for many years, despite the inconveniences caused by war. As the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has promised to increase the first payment to 3s. on wheat grown next season, I think that it is only reasonable that we should get a further payment from the No. 7 pool. The wheat is already in the hands of the Government and what is asked is not unreasonable. If the policy of the Government is to increase the production of wheat, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture must look eighteen months ahead. After planting this year’s crop, farmers will fallow land for the crop to be sown eighteen months hence. They will experience financial difficulties. Credit is not available to them as it was in the past. They have to pay cash for superphosphate, oil fuel, and most other requirements. To sow a bigger acreage, they must have ready money available. Therefore, I urge the Minister to impress upon Cabinet the necessity for making advances on the No. 6 and No. 7 pools.
The Minister should discuss with the Wheat ‘Stabilization Committee the advisability of allowing farmers to sow wheat in excess of their allotted acreage under the restriction scheme. If the Government proposes to withdraw the present restrictions, that intention should be announced without delay. Many farmers will fallow big areas on the mere prospect of a higher price, irrespective of the guarantee and the first advance. After the war, Australia will be expected to feed starving nations. To play this humane part, the Commonwealth must plan well ahead, because wheat cannot be grown in a few months. I hope that the Minister will bring .these matters to the notice of Cabinet, emphasizing the necessity for making an early announcement regarding future plans, removing the restrictions upon the growing of wheat, and making payments from the No. 6 and No. 7 pools.
– I support the motion. The purpose of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) in submitting the motion is justified because of the delay that has occurred in making payments to wheatgrowers. Farmers must be remunerated for their labours just as every other worker must be, in order to exist. I assure the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) that I have no intention of belittling the good features of the Government’s policy towards the wheat-growing industry. Any criticism that I may voice will be offered in a helpful spirit with the object of improving the position. I suggest that the policy is too limited in vision and too restricted in application. First, it is too limited in vision from the national viewpoint. There will be a great demand for large quantities of Australian wheat in the immediate future. That statement is supported by the Minister. Replying to a question yesterday, he appealed for the production of more wheat. Secondly, the policy is too restricted in application. I have only a limited knowledge of the wheat-growing industry in States other than Queensland, but I urge the Minister to withdraw the restrictions on acreage in that State. Such a decision would increase production without creating an undue surplus. Hundreds of acres of land on which wheat can be grown are lying idle in Queensland, and even if the restrictions were withdrawn, only a percentage of the growers would be able to take advantage of the change. Production would still be limited because of the lack of man-power, but those farmers could help to produce the additional quantities that this country needs. I made that suggestion earlier and 1 offer it again to-day. The policy of restricting acreage was not so advantageous as some honorable members would have us believe. The Commonwealth Government is not giving to the wheatgrower any more than a guaranteed price. The Government guarantees an amount. That is a help, and I am not decrying it. But the actual financial arrangements are made on the security of the crop itself. Commodity boards in Queensland, which for years marketed primary produce on behalf of the growers, were able to secure from the Commonwealth Bank Rural Credits Department advances up to 80 per cent, of the value of a crop. I believe that wheat-growers are not receiving one penny in excess of 80 per cent. on the security of their wheat harvests. Therefore, the Commonwealth Government is only guaranteeing a price. The Minister will correct me if I am in error, but I understand that growers are meeting all the costs. They are even bearing interest charges on the outstanding overdraft. What, then, is the Government’s contribution to the industry?
– The Commonwealth Government pays all costs in connexion with quota wheat.
– Are no interest charges added to the bill?
– To assist the wheat-growing industry, the Commonwealth Government should bear the total cost of and responsibility for all surplus wheat. By “ surplus wheat “, I mean that portion of the harvest in excess of Australia’s own requirements. The adoption of my suggestion would assist to bring about a speedier payment. It is a national obligation that should be borne by the Commonwealth Government. If Australia consumes 70,000,000 bushels, leaving a surplus of 40,000,000 bushels, why should growers wait until the whole of the crop is realized before they receive their final payment ? That wheat will be required by other countries, and the Commonwealth Government should accept it and pay for it. At present, the Government is receiving up to 5s. 7-^d. a bushel for wheat but payments of only 4s. ltd and 3s. are being made. Although I do not wish to appear parochial, I point out that wheat-growers in Queensland are worse off under the present scheme than they were before it operated. Under the Queensland Wheat Board, the first advance payments were in excess of 3s. a bushel. Prior to the war, farmers netted about 4s. a bushel. That price is not equalled by the average price for Australian wheat at the present time. On the basis that I have described, farmers could grow unlimited quantities of wheat. When the Minister visited Queensland recently, he threatened wheat-growers that if they failed to produce more wheat, he would acquire their land and provide labour to work it. I refer the Minister to the statement of the Primp, Minister (Mr. Curtin) on the coal-mining industry, and suggest to him that wheat growers will no more be driven than will coal-miners. Apart from that, I challenge him to carry out his threat. It is not practicable. The wheat-growers of Queensland or of any other State cannot and will not grow wheat for a price less than the cost of production. They have yet to be convinced that the average payments for the Australian wheat harvest exceed the cost of production. The Commonwealth Government is offering about 4s. a bushel for the first 3,000 bushels and 2s. a bushel for the balance of the crop. If the quantity of surplus wheat be considerable, the average price will not equal the cost of production. The sale of 3,000 bushels at 4s. l£d. will yield £618 15s., and no one with any knowledge of primary production will be prepared to attempt to grow wheat on land compulsorily acquired by the Minister while such a low return is offering. How could they obtain the machinery - tractors are unprocurable now - and pay for fuel and seed wheat, and planting and harvesting charges? On a gross income of £618 153., a wheat-grower would starve before the end of the financial year. The farmer also runs a risk of having his crop ruined by adverse weather. Obviously no one would take the Minister’s threat seriously.
I urge him to allow Queensland farmers, with the present labour and machinery, to produce more wheat, and so obviate the necessity for transporting 400 tons of wheat daily from the southern States. The increased production can be achieved without additional man-power; the machinery is available and is now lying idle. Strangely, Queensland has been affected conversely to the southern States. This year, the wheat-grower has had a good crop, but lost heavily through floods. One year he loses because of drought and in the next year because of floods. It is not right that he should be called upon to bear all the interest charges other than those mentioned by thi Minister.
– Order! The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- I support the representations of the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Langtry) for the payment of an additional ls. a bushel on wheat in- No. 6 and No. 7 pools. As a member of this House, I feel impelled to draw attention to the parlous position of the wheat industry when the Labour Government took office. I well remember that in 1939, this great industry, which is part and parcel of the economic structure of this nation, was in desperate need of assistance. The farmers were crying out to the Government of the day to do something to aid them in their extremity. At that time they were mobilizing not for war but for an advance on the Government in order to demand assistance. They made their demands in a vigorous fashion. As the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Langtry) knows, the farmers throughout the Riverina met in hundreds at public meetings and demanded help, but their appeal was disregarded. Not a cracker was forthcoming from the Government - not a penny piece! The farmers were on the verge of open revolt when the war broke out. That actually saved the situation. But it was left to the Labour Government to do something effective for these unfortunate people as, in fact, it is always left to a Labour Government to assist primary producers. I declare with all the vigour at my command that the antiLabour Government gave the wheat industry a raw and rotten deal, whereas the Labour Government has given it the best “ spin “ it has ever received. The wheat industry deserves every assistance we can give it. The farmers had to struggle for years while anti-Labour governments were in office, and they have not yet recovered their ground. But they may look with confidence to the future for a Labour Government will never let them down. It was this Government that provided for a net first advance of 4s. a bushel at country sidings on the first 3,000 bushels of wheat produced by growers, and 2s. a bushel on the quantity produced in excess of that amount. The Scully plan also provided that the Government should meet the cost of storage, handling, and other charges, which amounted to about ls. a bushel. On quota wheat, therefore, the payment was equal to 5s. a bushel. The Scully plan stabilized this industry and placed it upon a sound economic basis. It also provided protection for about 50,000 small wheat-growers who constitute 70 per cent, of the people engaged in the industry. Because of the Scully plan these people will be able to do their part to provide the wheat which the starving people of Europe will need after the war ends. Because of the Scully plan the small wheat-farmers of this country are now in a reasonably stable position. Their outlook has improved enormously since this Government assumed office.
I wish now to bring to the notice of honorable members some criticisms . of Australian Country party members. The Western Australian Wheatgrower of the 18th June, 1942, made the following statements in a leading article : -
It has taken eighteen months for the wheatgrowers of Australia to awaken to the political trick which Sir Earle Page played on them. It would also appear that the rank-and-file farmers are out of step with the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, and more especially as when the latter’s antagonism to Scully’s proposed wheat scheme is considered.
The Albury Border Mail, which is one of the most anti-Labour newspapers ever to come off a printing press, severely castigated the members of the anti-Labour government of the day in a leading article which it published in its issue of the 1st May, 1940. It selected for especially severe comment the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who was then Minister for Commerce and Leader of the Australian Country party. The article read -
He (Mr. Cameron) knows all about the raw deal the wheat-farmer has had in the past. For did not his party desert the man on the land not so many months ago. . . . So it all comes back to what the wheat-grower has learned from bitter experience, that the Country party as a fighting organization is impotent.
That honorable gentleman, speaking in this Parliament on the 11th December, 1940, on the wheat proposals of the government of the day said -
It is a .pretty piece of impudence on the part of the representatives of the grower to contend that the farmer should direct the operation of the scheme.
Evidently the honorable gentleman did not approve of the wheat-growers controlling their own affairs. When he was askedwhether he favoured the proposed price of 3s.10d. a bushel for wheat he said -
In my opinion the price is too high.I confess frankly that I have not been enthusiastic about any wheat stabilization scheme.
At that time the wheat-growers were in open revolt and were preparing to point a pistol at the Government.
– A bone would have been better !
– I agree. The vested interests which control the United Australia party and the Australian Country party alike promptly veto any proposal to assist primary producers, which would be likely to affect their own interests. Farmers should therefore ask themselves, “ How much better off am I as the result of what the Labour Government has done for me, compared with what anti-Labour governments have done ? ‘’ I realize the difficulties which confront the farmers. Their work is laborious and must be done within given seasonal periods. Fires or floods may ruin their crops. They have to face all kinds of hazards. Generally, I approve of the policy applied to the wheat industry by this Government. I say to the farmers that they can trust this Government, and that is more than I could say about anti-Labour governments. [Extension of time granted.] One’s blood runs cold when one hears political opponents criticizing what the Labour Government has done. I have come into this Parliament to represent, not misrepresent, the people. My opponents are misguided if they consider that they will succeed in silencing me. The wheat-farmers who returned me to this Parliament trust me, and so long as I continue to represent them, I shall fight their battles. Our opponents brought practically every industry in Australia to the verge of bankruptcy. I am wholeheatedly in accord with the proposal of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. “Wilson) that the great wheatfarmers shall be paid an additional1s. a bushel in respect of Nos. 6 and 7 pools.
. -I support the motion, and hope that this discussion may result in a decision by the Government for a further payment in respect of at least the two pools men tioned. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) has indicated that the Wheat Board, and through it the growers, are not involved in any interest burden in relation to the advances that have been made on quota wheat.
– No cost whatsoever; the payment is net. The Government takes full responsibility for all expenses in connexion with the quota wheat.
– I am glad to hear that. I understand that when the money is found for first payments in respect of quota wheat, the matter is one not of the Treasury crediting the Wheat Board with the amount involved, but of the Government guaranteeing with the Commonwealth Bank the overdraft of the board. Being a bank account, that naturally carries interest.
– A bill is to be introduced during this period of the session to validate the excess payments in connexion with quota wheat.
– Including interest?
– Including interest in connexion with the quota wheat.
– That statement seems to he clear-cut. The real point at issue is the delay that has occurred in the making of payments and the justification for further advances in respect of, particularly, No. 6 and No. 1 pools. I take the Minister’s mind back to the time when the policy in respect of wheat was changed by the introduction of what is known as the Scully Plan, which provided for a quota of 3,000 bushels and a discriminatory payment in respect of production in excess of 3,000 bushels. The Minister knows that much of the wheat which first became subject to the two-prices scheme was grown on land that had been fallowed before that scheme was mooted. The farmers had fallowed it in the full belief that the customary practice would be followed - that they would be enabled to grow wheat on the licensed acreage, and would be entitled to the one payment for every bushel produced on that acreage. Doubtless, many farmers who had fallowed substantial areas in the full belief that they would receive at least the price of 3s. 10½d. guaranteed by the previous Government, with a reasonable expectation that additional costs of production would he taken into account, suffered not only a shock, hut also considerable hardship.
– The guarantee of 3s. 10½d. a bushel was f.o.b., costs deducted, and applied only to 140,000,000 bushels. It aggregated approximately £27,000,000.
Mr.McEWEN.-I recognize that. My point is that the wheat was produced at a time when no farmer in the land had the slightest idea that the Government would provide for a payment of only 2s. a bushel in respect of a certain proportion of the production.
– That is only an advance.
– The Minister will not dispute my point. Although some persons still doubt the legality of that action, I am not arguing the matter.It is very difficult for any one to justify so long a delay in the making of a reasonable additional payment in respect of the non-quota wheat, particularly that which is in the No. G pool. Had there not been in the interim an increase of the world value of wheat, so lengthy a delay would be difficult to justify, yet there has been a substantial increase; the honorable member for Wimmera has said that wheat is being sold to-day at 5s.7½d. a bushel. That price establishes the value for export to-day of the non-quota wheat which still remains in that pool, wheat for which farmers have received not more than 2s. a bushel. There is no justification for further delay in the making of a substantial additional advance in respect of non-quota wheat, especially that which is in No. 6 pool; and on the facts, there is equal justification for a substantial additional payment in respect of the wheat in No. 7 pool. I hope that the difficulties which arose following the ad’option of the principle of discriminatory payments have convinced the Government that that plan is bad. Everybody in the country seems to be convinced of the need to produce more food for current consumption, and to establish a “bank” of foodstuffs capable of being stored and held pending the return of an overseas demand. Wheat is not only a basic foodstuff; it is also the easiest to store and hold. If the Govern ment wants a larger production, surely the first step is the lifting of the restriction on the acreage sown. I shall not argue that additional man-power, machinery and petrol ought to be provided.
– The Wheat Stabilization Board will take a liberal view of any application for increased acreage, but cannot in any circumstances guarantee the provision of additional supplies of superphosphate.
– I realize that supplies of superphosphate are restricted.
– If the licensed acreage were increased, demands for increased supplies of fertilizers and increased manpower would follow automatically.
– That is not correct. Thousands of farmers throughout Australia could increase their production of wheat with their present machinery and man-power. Farmers who could cultivate additional acreage without calling for additional man-power should be permitted to do so. Unless such a policy be pursued, there is not the slightest hope of building up a food bank. I urge the Government to make the additional payments asked for at an early date, to increase the licensed acreages as I have indicated, and to abandon the policy of discriminatory payments as between quota and non-quota wheat.
.- I support, in the main, the motion made by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), but not on the grounds advanced by honorable members opposite. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) said that the reason why he considered that this contribution should be made to the industry was that many years ago, when the Scullin Government called upon the wheat-growers to produce more wheat, they lost £50,000,000. That is not a logical argument. We could pursue it by recalling that the Government of that day endeavoured to introduce a scheme for the payment of 4s. a bushel, but the proposal was defeated in the Senate. The argument was advanced by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) that the Government had been taking wheat from the growers at 4s. and 2s. a bushel - this year the prices will be 4s. lid. and 3s. a bushel - and that it was being sold at 5s. 7£d. a bushel. That is entirely wrong. Many honorable members know that the last sales of wheat by the Australian Wheat Board have been made at about 5s. 7£d. a bushel ; but that is the f.o..b. price; whereas the price paid to the grower is the f.o.r. rate. The difference is very considerable. The Government has had to meet the cost of freight, storage, and depreciation, and bear losses which can occur through the ravages of vermin and from other causes, as well as pay wharfage dues and other charges that have to be met from the time the wheat leaves the carter until it is placed in the ship’s hold.
I support the motion because I consider that the wheat industry should have priority among grain crops. When the war broke out, wheat was a liability to the Government, because the shipment of the commodity was practically impossible. The Government had to face up to the necessity for preserving the industry, so that after the war wheat production could be profitably resumed. When the war broke out the price of wheat fell to about 8d. a bushel, and after a considerable period the wheat stabilization scheme was introduced. The farmers realized that their wheat was of very little value, and that the Government had assisted the industry by providing a guaranteed price. The position to-day, however, is different, because wheat stocks are beginning to diminish. Owing to the changing war-time conditions, particularly with regard to Italy, an increased demand has arisen for wheat. Our mills are working at full capacity in producing flour, and we are in the happy position of knowing that ample shipping is being made available to shift that flour. The Government realizes that wheat, which a few years ago was regarded as a liability, has now become an increasing asset to it. One of the results of the international food production conference at Hot Springs was a realization of the obligation resting upon wheat-producing countries to store up foodstuffs which could be made available to the starving people of Europe on the cessation of hostilities. No other commodity of a similar food value can be stored so cheaply as wheat. Australia, because of its climatic conditions and geographical situation, should make every effort to increase its wheat stocks, instead of allowing them to dwindle as they have during the last two years. One of the first problems confronting us is that of making wheatgrowing more attractive to the farmers than it is at present, and we can contribute to the solution of that problem by adopting the proposal of the honorable member for Wimmera.
The Scully wheat plan has saved many thousands of farmers throughout Australia from ruin, and is the best scheme of the kind that has ever been enacted in this country. It was said that the loss would be about £5,000,000 a year, but during the first year of the scheme’s operation the loss was only about £1,150,000. In the following year the loss budgeted for in respect of the No. 7 pool was £1,750,000, but it is problematical whether there will be any loss at all. When the Government introduced the scheme, it estimated a loss in those two years of approximately £10,000,000, but it is doubtful whether the loss will exceed £1,150,000. As it was thought that the cost of providing a guaranteed price for non-quota wheat in respect of the No. 6 and No. 7 pools would be not more than £2,500,000, the Government will not be in so bad a position as was anticipated when the scheme was introduced.
.- I congratulate the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Lemmon) upon having stressed the need to increase the production of wheat, not only in Australia, but throughout the whole world. The world stocks of wheat have undergone a most extraordinary change during the last twelve months. In this connexion the following remarks made by Dr. H. J. Hynes, the acting chief of the Division of Marketing of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture are of great interest : -
Very important changes in the wheat stock position are now taking place. Stocks which at the outbreak of war reached nearly 1,500,000,000 bushels are now rapidly declining and are expected to amount to less than 1,000,000,000 bushels at the end of the current year.
Within the last twelve months, 10,000,000 released Italians have come on to what I may describe as the food bank of the United Nations. As the war progresses, the numbers of released people will be tremendously increased, not only in Italy, but also in other parts of the world, so that more and more wheat will be required. I know that production in Australia is limited by the International Wheat Agreement, but it is not only our duty but also our obligation to the other United Nations to produce up to the limit permitted. Therefore, I support the remarks of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) and others who have asked that every encouragement be given to Australian growers to produce more wheat. Recently, Mr. Field, of the Australian Wheat Board, said that unless something were done to step up production we should be faced with a probable shortage of 3,000,000 bushels next year in the Commonwealth. The Government has recognized that production should be increased, and is offering 4s. 1-Jd. for quota wheat and 3s, a bushel for all other wheat produced. Recently, the Land newspaper asked whether, when advances are made from the pool, non-quota wheat will be brought up to the level of quota wheat, or whether the existing ratio will be preserved. In other words, if the whole pool returns 5s. a bushel, will that amount be paid over all the wheat, or will something extra be paid on the quota wheat?
– Everything over and above the expenses incurred by the Government will be returned to the growers, and if the final price realized exceeds what the Government has paid out, that price will be paid for all wheat received, including non-quota wheat.
– The extra price of 1-Jd. a bushel to compensate growers for the cost of the harvest award does not apply to wheat for seed, or to wheat required for feed on the farm. Therefore, it is suggested that this figure is too low.
– It is difficult to assess the cost of producing that wheat, unless it were done on a percentage basis.
– When the estimated production for Australia was 160,000,000 bushels,- it was estimated that 20,000,000 bushels would be required for seed wheat on the farms. From those figures, it should be possible to work out the proper proportion. I suggest that the Minister look into this matter.
– I shall do so.
– The price of wheat has risen considerably. At the outbreak of the war it was 2s lid. a bushel, f.o.b. By November, 1941, the price had risen to 3s. 8id.. while to-day it is 5s. 4£d. for bagged wheat and 4s. Id. a bushel for bulk wheat shipped to eastern ports. The price for wheat shipped to Britain is 4s. 10¾d. for bagged wheat, and 4s. 5d. for bulk wheat. Thus, wheat prices are steadily rising, and there seems to be every indication that they will continue to rise for a considerable time, because of the need to find cereal food for the armies and peoples of the United Nations and the distressed peoples of Europe and Asia. If the Government wishes to encourage the production of wheat in Australia, an increase of price will help this very materially and there will be no danger to Government finance.
Before the last general election, the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) promised to hold a full inquiry into the cost of producing wheat in Australia.
– The honorable member is mistaken. The only promise I made was in connexion with the added cost of production associated with the harvesting award. I admit that a statement appeared in the press that I had promised an inquiry into costs, but that statement was not made by me.
– I accept the denial of the Minister, but I point out that it is generally believed by farmers that an inquiry was promised, and I ask the Minister now to consider the holding of such an inquiry, so that the present cost of production may be ascertained with a view to ascertaining whether an increased price for wheat is not thoroughly justified.
.- I congratulate the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) upon the way in which he presented his case. It was a pleasure to listen to him. It speaks well for the subject-matter that the discussion proceeded so calmly ; it is one of the most important subjects with which this Parliament could deal. I agree with the honorable member for Wimmera that when hostilities cease there will not be enough wheat in the world to feed the people who to-day are on the verge of starvation, and therefore I urge that Australia should produce as much wheat as can be grown. For many years wheat-growers in this country have not received for their product an amount sufficient to cover the cost of production. An examination of insolvency statistics reveals that a majority of the persons who have come before the court have been primary producers. That is not a good sign in a country such as Australia. In my opinion, the wheatfarmer should be paid for his wheat immediately it is delivered ; he should not be compelled to wait as long as twelve months for payment. It is a great pity that so many wheat-farmers have to go cap in hand to the private banks in order to obtain finance sufficient to carry on. Those who finance primary producers - whether governments or private financial institutions - should at least give to those whose security they hold the measure of assistance to which they are entitled. The present Government has done a great deal for the primary producers of this country. In saying that, I do not underrate the difficulties which confronted previous Governments, but I submit that the present Government has approached the problems of primary production sympathetically and practically, and has assisted producers in every way possible. I am confident that the Government will take notice of the suggestions made in this House to-day, because they are well worthy of consideration. It is generally recognized that the greatest problem confronting the wheat industry to-day is lack of man-power, but I agree with the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) that, notwith-standing the difficulties which exist, primary producers should be encouraged to grow as much wheat as possible. The subject has already been dealt with effectively, if not exhaustively, and 1 shall do no more than express the hope that what has been said this afternoon, and the way in which it has been said, will cause the Government to give sym- pathetic consideration to the undoubted needs of the wheat farmers.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 257b.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.-1 draw the attention of the Minister repre- sen ting the Minister for Tirade and Customs to the unsatisfactory position which exists in relation to the issue of coupons to discharged soldiers in order that they may purchase civilian clothing. I shall cite the case of a man in my electorate who served in the Australian Imperial Force with an excellent record, and on discharge found that there was not any suitable civilian clothing at the General Details Depot, Brisbane, for him. All the suits available were much too large for him. The explanation given was that in the previous week a large number of Chinese had been fitted out with civilian suits of the size needed by him. The rehabilitation officer at the camp assured him that 35 -additional coupons would be issued to him so that he could purchase a civilian suit in lieu of the one which should have been provided for him on discharge. Acting in good faith on that assurance the discharged soldier set out to equip himself with civilian clothes. In a letter to me he sets out the garments he has purchased since his discharge. They include a ready-made suit, for which he had to tender 42 coupons. An order for a second suit was given, and another 38 coupons had to be handed over. For three shirts 42 coupons were necessary; two pairs of shoes required an additional 24 coupons; two hats, 12 coupons; 4 pairs of socks, 16 coupons; and 4 ties, ‘4 coupons. Although he has already expended 178 coupons he still needs other garments. The underclothing that he is wearing served him for a considerable time in New Guinea. With winter approaching, he requires an overcoat and other warm clothing, including a pullover. Application for the 35 additional coupons which he was promised on discharge has been made to the Deputy Director of Rationing in Brisbane, who has replied that he is unable to comply with the request as regulations issued in Melbourne provide that no issue of an equivalent number of coupons shall be made to enable a suit to be purchased in lieu of the one which was not available at the time of discharge. I ask the Government to review these regulations.
– I asked it to do so long ago.
– The regulations do not show any sympathy towards returned soldiers, especially discharged members of the Australian Imperial Force who have served overseas and in New Guinea. I am at loss to find words to express my indignation. Apparently the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) knows of other cases.
– I raised the matter in this House long ago.
– Then it is a reflection on the Government that nothing has been done to remedy the situation. I do not intend to leave the matter here. I do not raise matters merely for the sake of raising them. I ask Ministers present to take my representations to the responsible quarters. If nothing is done I shall take further action.
– in reply - The matters raised by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) will be placed before the appropriate Minister.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Lands Acquisition Act and National Security ( Supplementary ) Regulations - Orders - Land acquired for Commonwealth purposes -
Lithgow, New South Wales.
National Security Act - National Security (Timber Control) Regulations - Order - Control of timber (No. 13).
House adjourned at 4.22 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Power Alcoholfrom Wheat.
Clothing for Infants.
Tobacco: Supplies and Distribution.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
t asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Government is kept fully informed of the conditions existing at the Homebush Bay abattoirs, and is doing everything possible to increase the output.
y asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
When may the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Guy) expect a reply to the representations made by him on the 17th November last, concerning the Mona Vale-road?
– Approval has now been given for an expenditure of £127 on the Mona Vale-road at Army expense, subject to Ross Municipality expending an additional amount of £60 on the work.
d asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n - Yesterday, the honorable member forNew England (Mr. Abbott) asked if I would arrange for supplies of wire netting, 42-in. by1¼-in. mesh, to be made available to farmers through District War Agricultural Committees.
I have had this matter investigated and the position is as follows : - Total production of wire is allocated to various uses according to the demand, and increased production of one type oan only be achieved at the expense of another. Wire netting has been standardized at li-in. mesh to secure greater coverage from the wire available. Every effort is being made to meet all essential requirements.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 February 1944, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1944/19440225_reps_17_177/>.